Balak (Destroyer) Numbers22:2-25:9) Micah 5:6-6:8; 2Peter 2:1-22
This parasha contains the famous story of the talking she ass as well as some of the most beautiful poetry in the Tanach, which was the blessing over Israel which came through the prophet Balaam.
The Historical Setting
Balak was a militaristic ruler, living and interacting with other militaristic rulers in a society that was essentially devoid of what we understand to be moral values. In his world, a mighty nation simply ran from one victory to the next, and would not stop unless beaten back. No nation emerging from a successful campaign against Sichon and Og as Israel did, would lay down its weapons when facing Moab and so Balak was afraid, because he could not comprehend the idea of a nation that would refuse to wage war merely because Yahweh told them to stop and had ordered them to live in peace and not attack another nation when it was clearly within their power to do so. Balak saw Israel’s victory over Sichon and Og, and he worried.
Balak (waster) was the son of Zippor (little bird) king of Moab. He reported back to his father that Israel had grown very great since coming out of Mitz-ra-yim (Egypt), so Zippor sent an ambassadors to Balaam whom Josephus tells us lived by Euphrates, and was the greatest of the prophets at that time (Josephus Book 4 Chapter 6). He was from Pethor, a city located on the Northern Euphrates/Tigress Rivers area called Mesopotamia. (Stone Chumash, p. 857). Thus Balaam was a Babylonian.
The king offered Balaam a great reward to curse Israel. Balak, fearing his demise at the hands of the Israelites, calls upon Balaam who has a reputation as a man with prophetic gifting and power with his predictions, and invites him to come and curse the people of Israel. Yahweh instructed Balaam not to go with them.
But the enticement of honour and riches causes Balaam to seek permission from Yahweh to go with the delegation that Balak sends to him. He has enough fear of Yahweh God to know He cannot speak other than what Yahweh gives him to speak and to not go without His seeking the liberty to do so. “And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men come to call you, rise and go with them, but only the word that I speak to you - that you shall do.” Numbers 22:20
Balaam, in his blindness of heart, invoked the wrath of Yahweh in seeking to go and join Balak against His perfect will. Yahweh sends an angel to arrest him in the way and block his progress.
The Angel of Yahweh. The term Angel/Messenger of Yahweh used here shows this “Messenger” to be equivalent to Yahweh himself (see Gen. 31:11,13; Exod. 3:2,14; Jud. 6:12-24).
The donkey, upon which Balaam is riding is the only one seeing the angel with his sword drawn and proceeds to turn off the path, squash Balaam’s foot and lie down, in this process incurring many a beating from Balaam. After a discourse with the angel, Balaam is allowed to continue with the instruction that he is only to say what he is given to say.
Yahweh actually humbles this famous, renowned “prophet” of the nations and “prophet” to kings by speaking to him through his ass. This “prophet/seer” could not even see the angel until He opened his eyes. Yahweh is always in control and he let Balaam know it in a most curious, humbling and demonstrative way.Yahweh makes a mockery of Balaam’s claims in front of the Moabite delegation when the lowly she-donkey is able to discern the presence of the Messenger of Yahweh and Balaam is not. Notice how Balaam‘s words regarding himself do not acknowledge his dependence upon God. “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, and the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, The oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered. “ (Nu.24:3-4)
Scripture seems to indicate that Balaam had some knowledge of the truth of Yahweh (2 Peter 2:15). Balaam calls Yahweh “Most High” and “the Almighty”. He had great respect for Yahweh, but he had no faith, fear or love of him to obey him. (23:15-25)
Balaam claimed to hear the voice of Yahweh, yet his claims and the reality of the facts were two different things. 2 Peter 2:15 indicates that Balaam had some knowledge of truth, but turned away from it loving instead the “wages of unrighteousness.”
Josephus never supposes Balaam to be an idolater, nor to seek idolatrous enchantments, or to prophesy falsely, but to be no other than an ill-disposed prophet of the true God. He views it that Yahweh only permitted Balaam to go along with the ambassadors, in case they came and called him, or positively insisted on his going along with them: whereas Balaam seems out of impatience to have risen up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and rather to have called them, than stayed and waited for their calling him, so zealous does he seem to have been for his reward of divination, his wages of unrighteousness.
Also, Balaam is really desirous of pleasing Balak, even though he renders token obedience to please Yahweh, recognising that He is the source of all power (23:36). At heart Balaam is a man-pleaser, not one who pleases Yahweh. Yeshua castigated the religious hypocrites of his day for the same thing (John 12:43). Do we care more what men think when it comes to obeying the truth of Yahweh, or do we often take the easy way out, the path of least resistance which pleases the flesh and those around us?
The wickedness, foolishness and arrogance of Balaam, to think Yahweh would give him a curse against Israel, Yahweh’s own people. Yahweh who made the ass to speak, pried out of a stubborn ass of a man, words contrary to the man’s heart’s desires making him to speak a prophetic word in accordance with the divine will. Numbers 23:1
But the moral of the story is that Yahweh is sovereign over the affairs of men regardless of men’s machinations. Yahweh cannot be manipulated or bent to men’s selfish ambitions. In the end man will be humbled and Yahweh will be exalted as was the case with Balaam, the arrogant and esteemed international “prophet”. He was made to look like a fool through a talking donkey and all this in front of the accompanying delegation of Moabite leaders.
It was evident to all that Balaam was but a pawn in the hands of Yahweh, and that if Yahweh could make a brute beast speak, then he was certainly capable of making a mortal man say what he wanted him to say. How often do we attempt to bend His will to fit our own, and how often do we have our own carnal and selfish agendas and then attempt to convince ourselves and others that it is the will of Yahweh? Some people go through life on this basis and never succeeding in anything since they have never learned to distinguish between their will and that of the Almighty.
The Prophetic Declaration
Balaam tried to find some iniquity, some perversion in Israel which would give him legal grounds to curse Israel, but could find none (23:21). Remember, a curse causeless shall not land (Prov. 26:2). It is only after several failed attempts that he finally realizes that Yahweh will not allow Israel to be cursed. Even a wicked, greedy, scheming sorcerer/“false prophet” had enough spiritual savvy to know that he could only speak when and what Yahweh willed (1 Corinthians 12:11).
Eventually, he turns quite sarcastic towards his patron, Balak, King of Moav, and then provides him with one more “free,” unsolicited prophecy (Bamidbar 24:14-24). In this last speech, Balaam is finally free from his internal struggle and his attempts to satisfy Balak’s desire to pronounce a curse. Balaam is at long last able to see things in a wider perspective. He soars in prophetic genius. With prophetic insight, he is able to envisage the people of Israel as they are meant to be. He transcends the narrow vision of Israel in the desert, his new perception leading him to an appreciation of the true destiny of Israel. We find that the words of Balaam which were intended as a curse, in the end were high praise for the nation. They not only made it into the Torah for all time but also into the daily liturgy, “How goodly are your tents oh Yaakov, your dwelling place Yisrael...” (Numbers 24:5- 9) as a blessing on the people of Israel. The blessing closes with the verses, “Blessed be all who bless you! Cursed be all who curse you!”
The place where Balaam went to offer sacrifices was called the “heights of Baal”. He offered seven sacrifices on seven altars on a mountain high place used for Baal worship from where he could see the edge of Israel. Numbers 23:4 –
In the Aramaic Targums it is recorded that when Balaam went to one of the high places with the intent of cursing, he was so overcome with the sight of Israel’s encampment and the presence of Yahweh upon them, that the anointing came upon him and he declared, “The Word of the Lord is with them, and the trumpet of their glorious King protects them” (Targum Jerusalem XXIII)
He took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, and the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, The oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered. “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel, and shall crush through the forehead of Moab, and tear down all the sons of Sheth. “Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, while Israel performs valiantly. “One from Jacob shall have dominion, and will destroy the remnant from the city. “And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said, “Amalek was the first of the nations, but his end shall be destruction. “ And he looked at the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said, “Your dwelling place is enduring, and your nest is set in the cliff. “Nevertheless Kain will be consumed; how long will Asshur keep you captive?” Then he took up his discourse and said, “Alas, who can live except God has ordained it? Nu 24:15-23
In verse 17 we see the promise of the Messiah who shall be King of Israel coming forth from Jacob or Israel who will defeat the enemies of Israel. This is a Messianic passage - this verse mirrors the blessing spoken by Jacob, as he lay dying on his bed, over his son Judah. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Genesis 49:10 (Shiloh Means ‘he whose it is,’ as such it is a Messianic title)
The wording used in verse 17 is almost the same when compared to Genesis 49:10. The main difference is in Genesis 49:10 we see the term Shiloh used and in verse 17 the term star is used. Some definitions, particularly the Strong’s, give a meaning of Messiah to the term star as it is used in this passage. In these prophecies of Balaam and Israel’s own prophet Micah we see Israel’s final triumph against her enemies.
“Then the remnant of Jacob will be among many peoples like dew from Yahweh, like showers on vegetation which do not wait for man or delay for the sons of men. The remnant of Jacob will be among the nations, among many peoples like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, which, if he passes through, tramples down and tears,and there is none to rescue. “ Micah 5:7-8
The Prophet Micah gives us the hope of Israel. The hope of Israel is the remnant to be kept for the day when Yeshua returns. To keep the remnant of Israel safe Yahweh had to protect them from Satan. He did so through a simple yet effective way. He needed to punish Israel for their sins and at the same time He wanted to keep them safe from the evil Satan intended for them. So He scattered them throughout the nations of the earth mixing them into the peoples around them.
They are among the nations of the earth in all four corners of the earth. He hid them in plain sight. While punishing them on the one hand He protected them with the other. Ephraim was seeded among the nations in a way different from Judah. Judah was seeded in plain sight while Ephraim was planted deeper. Now Ephraim is growing and coming into view but he needs Judah to help him find his way back. Judah holds the scepter and the staff while Ephraim has the promise of the firstborn.
Both hold a key role in the final restoration of the kingdom, the firstborn of the firstborn sonship and the sceptre of the King.
He prophesied about four periods of time:
- In the wilderness 23:7-10
- Their conquest of the land 23: 18-24
- Their greatness after the conquest 24: 3-9
- End of days 24:17-24
Rashi comments that the star represents a king and the sceptre is the power to overcome opposition and bring everything under subjection. Balaam gets a peek into the future for Israel, he gets a vision of the Messiah of Israel in the form of a star with the scepter of power literally coming forth from Jacob and, perhaps the heavenly realm, and coming and crushing the very forehead of Moab. This is a prophetic picture of the return of Yeshua when He will come forth from his temporary earthly absence at the right hand of the Father, to execute judgment upon the nations of the earth and the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. Balaam prophesied that Israel would bring Moab under its control and all of Seth - that includes the rest of the world, as all are descendant of Seth. His prophecy is profound an d far reaching in spite of the fact that he, himself, was a vessel unto dishonour. The Septuagint identifies Agag (24: 7 -generic name for Kings of Amalek) with Gog of Ezek.38: 2.
Balaam’s hatred of Israel and greed overpowered his better judgment and although he had to admit that he could not curse the people of God, he devised another way to please Balak and fulfill the commission he had given him.. Balaam saw the anointing and the presence of Yahweh upon Israel he realised that his power of divination to bring a curse would be useless and that another method would be necessary to succeed in his mission. (Targum Johnathan XXIV)
The Targum Onkelos XXIV says “And Balaam saw that it was appointed before Yahweh to bless Israel; and he went not as at those former times to inquire by divinations, but set his face towards the calf that the sons of Israel had made in the wilderness. (i.e. he set his mind toward the downfall of the Israelites with the idolatry of the golden calf) And B’laam lifted up his eyes, and beheld Israel dwelling by his tribes; and the Spirit of prophecy rested upon him from before Yahweh”
The Torah tells us that Balaam went to go home afterward, but in Talmud, Sanhedrin 106a, the rabbis tell us that Balaam found a way to bring curses on Israel and counseled Balak to seduce the Israelite men into debauchery. On his return from offering the sacrifices, when the spirit of prophecy had lifted from him, his evil heart directed him to regain the monetary favour that he had lost through not cursing Israel, and he gave Balak the counsel he needed to rob them of their strength and power with Yahweh from his knowledge of the incident with the golden calf at Sinai. Balaam reasoned (rightly) that if they worshipped another god, they would be cut off from their source of strength and power in Yahweh God (Targum Onkelos XXIV).
In the Targum of Johnathan we are led to understand that Balaam was encouraged in his mission to bring a curse upon Israel when he discerned that the tribe of Dan who took up the rear of the camp and was inclined to idolatry, therefore was not completely under the covering of the Cloud (Targum Johnathan XXIII), thus leaving themselves open to the enemy.
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 106a) also says that Balaam advised Balak “The God of these people hates immorality” and presented him with a plan to entice the Jewish people to commit harlotry with the women and with their god Peor, so that Yahweh would be angry and punish them. The episode related in the Torah about the relationship between the Jewish people and the daughters of Moav was a result of B’laam’s advice. ( although scripture is brief on the details, Josephus, Philo and other writings give them)
The Aramaic Targums, Josephus, Philo and the Legends of the Jews all give the same account of the counsel he gave for the Moabite women to entice the men with appeals to their kindred link back to Abraham and the supposed intent of friendly relationships because of their common heritage. They then invited them into their dwellings to eat their food and seduced them into worshipping their god Peor which involved nakedness and sexual relationships. The men were led innocently into the initial deception and were overcome with this strategy of appeal to their lusts, and after eating their unclean food and drinking wine, they became inflamed with passion for these women. Blinded to their motives, they succumbed to worship Peor and incurred Yahweh’s wrath and judgement.
Because of their open sin, Yahweh had them hung, at evening. Even after this severe punishment, one of the men of Israel openly repeated this sin in the same way. Phinehas (mouth of the serpent) son of Eleazar (God is my help) ran the rebellious man through with a spear and saved Israel from the wrath of Yahweh. “And, behold, a man of the sons of Israel came and brought to his brethren a Midianitha, before Mosheh and all the congregation of the children of Israel; and, behold, they were weeping at the door of the tabernacle. And Phinehas bar Elazar bar Aharon, the high priest, saw, and arose from among the assembly, and took a lance” and he thrust them through and by so doing, the plague that came upon them because of their sin, was stopped. (Jerusalem Targum)
The Downfall of Israel
Sexual immorality is the downfall of many who consider themselves to be strong and righteous. The enemy knows the weaknesses of the flesh and will do what he can to capitalize on them for our destruction. Romans 13:14 says, “But put ye on the Master Yeshua Messiah, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” What doors of immorality have you kept open in your life to gratify the immoral cravings of the flesh? What spiritual stronghold exists in your life that the enemy can use to keep you under his thumb and from walking in joy and freedom in the will of God? It is time to cry out to Yahweh for help and deliverance and to repent.
The women of Moab enticed the congregation with their hospitality, and their food and drink. These inflamed the men with carnal passions which when aroused, before they would agree to satisfy their lust, they would take out of their robes the images of their god Peor and insist they worship them first. In so doing they broke covenant with Yahweh and incurred His wrath.
The Midianites who were in league with Moab, on the other hand attempted to seduce the leaders of Israel, even Moshe himself unsuccessfully, but they did succeed with Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Simeon. Moshe and the elders were brought to tears in desperation knowing that there was no stopping them in their rebellion.
Phineas the son of the new High priest rose up in righteous indignation at the flagrant sin of Zimri bringing the Midianite woman before Moshe and went and slew them in the act of their depravity. This stopped the plague. Phineas, the priest, took a stand for righteousness and was commended for it. We need to be priests of such character that we will put our lives and reputation on the line standing for righteousness against the forces of evil. (25:7) Yahweh commands false prophets to be put to death (Deut. 13:5), and indeed, we read of Balaam’s death at the hands of the Israelites in Numbers 31:8. Yahweh used Balaam to instruct Israel in His righteousness (Mic. 6:5). Yahweh can use anyone, even a secular “prophet” or one’s enemy, to speak His words. Yahweh is sovereign, all-powerful and always in control of everything.
We lose our spiritual standing with Yahweh when we bow down to the gods of this world and the lusts of our flesh, even though it may be in the more subtle form of the goods and pleasures of this life and in the acquiring of them.
Balaam is the model of spiritual pride. He presumes to have God figured out. He supposes that He has a corner on truth and revelation. The story of Balaam is further evidence that it is possible to be utterly self-deceived about one’s relationship with God. Balaam is like the patron saint of spiritual pride. The Torah tells us that our ultimate goals must not be material wealth, glory or honor - and certainly not ill-gotten gain. Rather, we are to put aside our own desires, and submit our will to God in order to better pursue our spiritual destiny.