Parashah #40: Balak B’midbar (Numbers) 22:2-25:9

Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah # 40: Balak B’midbar (Numbers) 22:2-25:9
Haftarah: Mikkah (Micah) 5:6-6:8
B’rit Chadashah: Jude 11

Last week we discussed the concept of Moshe possibly adding to or subtracting from G-d’s Torah in the context of what G-d told Moshe to do when giving him instructions to speak to the rock versus hitting it. That is, could Moshe have thought that it was ok to hit the rock in addition to speaking to it? We learned that G-d meant exactly what He said and Moshe suffered for not following G-d’s instructions. This week we are again reminded of the severity of adding to or subtracting from G-d’s Torah and that what Satin means for evil, G-d means for good. The seemingly subtle yet severe sin of adding to and/or subtracting from G-d’s Torah is described in several events in the Torah. Recall in Genesis 3: 3 that Chava (Eve) told the serpent “We may eat from the fruit of the tress in the garden, but about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden G-d said, ‘You are neither to eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” In reality G-d told Adam “You may freely eat from every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You are not to eat from it, because on the day that you eat from it, it will become certain that you will die.”(Gen. 2:16). We will not go into depth on this subject, but we must wonder whether Adam conveyed what G-d said to him or if he added to the command. Regardless, the sin was accounted to him and it resulted in the fall of all mankind.
Similarly, Bil’am, the son of B’or was summoned by Balak who was the king of Mo’av to do his dirty work, not through physical force, but by having Bil’am curse the Israelites because Bil’am was a “seer”. Balak realizes that attacking the Israelites physically will not work because Jewish survival was proven through spiritual laws and Adonai’s protection. Balak figures that by attacking them through cursing them he will be victorious. Let’s first examine how Bil’am committed the same sin of adding to G-d’s Torah and then we will examine Bil’am’s character and the lessons for us.
Bil’am is a name with an uncertain etymology. However, it has been translated in Jewish and Christian literature as meaning glutton or foreigner. Balak translates as “destroyer; to lay waste.” Bil’am was a Gentile diviner, magician, and prophet. His name is also spelled as Baalam as he is referred by in the Old and New Testaments. One suggestion given in the Talmud infers the answer from his name. What is the meaning of Bil’am? Answers the Talmud: it means, “a man without a people” (belo am)
This is certainly an appropriate translation. Bil’am is a man without loyalties. Balak sent for him saying: “Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me . . . For I know that those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed.” Bil’am was a prophet for hire. He had supernatural powers. He could bless someone and that person would succeed. He could curse and that person would be blighted by misfortune. But there is no hint in any of the reports, biblical or otherwise, that Bil’am was a prophet in the moral sense: that he was concerned with justice, desert, the rights and wrongs of those whose lives he affected. Like a contract killer of a later age, Bil’am was a loner. His services could be bought. He had skills and used them to devastating effect. But he had no commitments, no loyalties, no rootedness in humanity. He was the man belo am, without a people. As we learned previously, actions without heart mean nothing to G-d. Skills and talents; all of which are G-d given, are for naught if they are not used for the glory of G-d.
Bil’am initially acted correctly when asked by Balak to curse the Jewish people. He asks G-d if he could go although it is not difficult to anticipate G-d’s reply. G-d immediately told him “You are not to go with them; you are not to curse the people, because they are blessed.” (Num. 22:12). This should have closed the issue. However, Bil’am tells the officers who come for his answer “…G-d refuses to let me go with you.” (Num.22:13). Balak does not give up and this is an excellent example of the insidious nature of evil and at least one of HaSatan’s methods to seduce us to commit evil. When we are confronted by temptation we are tested in progressively attractive ways that attack our weakest points. Temptation becomes more attractive and/or perhaps more lucrative to the point where we feel we can justify giving in and rationalize that surely G-d will forgive us just this once. Balak uses the tactic of monetary gain and moving to another location where Bil’am can only see part of the massive camp, perhaps lessening the sense of guilt and/or intimidation of cursing Israel. After all, we are only human, and we are still growing, right? Let’s move on for the answer.
Bil’am is persistent. Interestingly, when he asks G-d a second time about going with the men, G-d in his unmerited kindness and patience allows Bil’am to go, but to do only what G-d tells him (Num. 22:20). Sometimes when a door opens that we know or suspect is contrary to G-d’s Torah, we are tempted to believe that G-d has changed his mind. However, in such cases He is giving us just enough rope to hang ourselves. If we follow G-d’s Torah, the Ruach will guide us but not force us. There comes a time when the Ruach will simply allow us to turn our own way toward complete ruin. Bil’am’s story illustrates a dilemma we are all faced with throughout our lives. If G-d does not want Bil’am to go, why doesn’t He tell him to turn around and go home? If, on the other hand G-d doesn’t care if Bil’am goes, why does the angel block his path? How are we to react to conflicting messages? It is clear G-d does not want Bil’am to curse Israel. Yet, just as Balak persisted in sending messages, so Bil’am persisted in asking G-d to give in to his selfish desires. The answer to our dilemma is that we should pay attention the first time. Had Bil’am obeyed G-d, it would have been a done deal. The reality is that a person will be lead on the path they wish to follow. G-d knew that just as Balak would not take “no” for an answer, Bil’am would not take “no” from G-d. A similar tactic is used by many car salesmen as they go back and forth between the customer and the manager and return to “up the ante.” G-d allowed Bil’am to go with a warning. This is also a similar situation to that when Israel asked G-d for a human king. G-d knew it would cause nothing but heartache for the Israelites, but He allowed it with conditions. He knew the people would not take “no” for an answer. There is never any good that can come of settling for less than G-d’s perfect will for us.
Bil’am wanted material wealth more than he wanted G-d’s blessings. Too often we too, are much too eager to settle for less, perceiving whatever we get as “more.” We are just beginning to reap what we have sown as humankind; loveless children, and secular humanism taught to our children under governmental mandate and protection, which is a doctrine completely in conflict with G-d’s Torah. Sinful practices such as homosexuality, sorcery and divination, idolatry of all kinds, child sacrifice on the altar of sexual pleasure in the majority of cases, and disregard for the land; all of which exacted severe punishment from G-d as described by the prophets are but a few examples of how far we have diverged from G-d’s Torah.
Next, the angel comes as a warning to Bil’am that G-d knows the thoughts of man and nothing is hidden from Him. Afterwards, Bil’am being duly warned, is allowed to continue his journey. At this point, G-d becomes extremely angry and “the angel of the L-rd stood in the road to oppose him” (Num. 2:22).Who was this angel of the L-rd? Interestingly, if we look in the Hebrew Bible we see an Alef-Tav placed immediately preceding “Angel of YHVH.” In the Hebrew Bible, the Alef-Tav is not translated. There are only asterisks placed beneath it. But thankfully, Yahshua and His testimony have shown us that He is the Alef-Tav, the Beginning and the End as He says in Revelation 22:13 which the Orthodox and Conservative Jews do not read. The angel of the L-rd is Yahshua, ever watching out and guiding us if we will just trust and obey. Today He is also manifest as the Holy Spirit (Jn. 15:26, 16:7). Even so, Bil’am continues to go with Balak from place to place trying to find an angle from which to curse Israel. But the Angel of the L-rd blocks the donkeys path three times! Finally, he realizes there is no tricking YHVH Elohim. It would have been so much easier for him and us if we recognized early on that G-d’s will will be accomplished with or without us. Now let’s look at another of Bil’am’s comments.
Numbers 23:21 reads “No one has seen guilt in Jacob, or perceived perversity in Israel; Adonai their G-d is with them and acclaimed as king among them.” You may have noticed Bil’am was one of the greatest anti-Semites in history. Anti-Semitism is not like any other type of hatred. It is not a hatred of perceived faults. It is a hatred of virtue. True believers are an “in your face” testimony of the power of G-d in believers to resist the norm; to be separated; to be able to resist what others may justify as permissible against G-d’s instructions. Bil’am hated the Israelites’ lifestyle and their relationship with G-d. Bil’am could have chosen to join the Israelites, just as people have the choice today. But a blessed status with G-d requires obedience and love for G-d. This necessarily mandates following G-d’s Torah. Bil’am chose to hate the Israelites rather than become part of a people he knew were blessed by G-d. Just look at all of the antinomianism rampant and increasing in our world and in our own country. We have a government that is aggressively promoting a socialistic paradigm becoming totally dependent on and obligated to those in “leadership” positions. This is part of the One World Order agenda, and it is discouraging to see the majority of U.S. citizens embracing this change in “American” values and attitudes. A socialistic agenda with anyone other than G-d in charge is completely contrary to what G-d teaches about helping others. The greatest mitzvah is to help others become independent, not dependent. We are to be as productive as possible and not willfully depend on a free ticket (1 Pet. 2:16; Gal. 5:1; 2 Thess. 3:10). Those who cannot physically work in any capacity are to be assisted by their families and fellow believers (1 Tim. 5:8). Unfortunately, there are many who feel they are disabled and entitled to governmental support because they cannot perform one kind of work, even though they may be able to do many other kinds of work. Our only dependence is to be upon G-d and no other (Rom. 13:8). 2 Thess. 3:6-14: “Now, in the Name of the L-rd Yahshua the Messiah we command you, brothers, to stay away from any brother who is leading a life of idleness, a life not in keeping with the traditions you received from us. For you yourselves know you must imitate us, that we were not idle when we were among you. We did not accept anyone’s food without paying; on the contrary, we labored and toiled, day and night, working so as not to be a burden to any of you. It was not that we hadn’t the right to be supported, but so that we could make ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: if someone won’t work, he shouldn’t eat! We hear that some of you are leading a life of idleness-not busy working-just busybodies! We command such people-ad in union with the L-rd Yahshua the Messiah we urge them-to settle down, get to work, and earn their own living. And you brothers who are doing what is good, don’t slack off! Furthermore, if anyone does not obey what we are saying in this letter, take note of him and have nothing to do with him, so that he will be ashamed.” Sadly, our government encourages just the opposite. It is futile to attempt to convince any anti-Semite that the reason behind Torah observance is a love and fear of G-d and the Ruach who strengthens us to become and remain set-apart from mainstream humanity. Our best witness to this truth is a consistent lifestyle in thought and behavior. It is important to understand that anti-Semitism is not simply a hatred of “Jews.” It is a hated of anyone who follows G-d’s Torah. Remember, a Jew as defined by Yahshua in Romans chapters 2-3 includes both biological Jew who chooses to follow G-d’s laws and not rabbinic law where it conflicts with G-d’s laws/Torah, and those who are circumcised of the heart only. Biological Jews are still mandated to undergo physical circumcision according to the covenant G-d made with Abraham. Therefore, any “true Jew” according to Yahshua’s definition in the Book of Romans is subject to anti-Semitic persecution and labeling as being a “Jew.” Unfortunately, even some of the Jewish sects have turned away from G-d in any form such as the Humanistic Jewish movement that parallels the secular humanism taught in America’s schools. Messianic Jews who most closely follow the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the One G-d of whom Yahshua and the Ruach are included, are regarded as apostate Jews, Christians, or “Completed Jews.” But just as Yahshua was despised, we who follow YHVH/Yahshua must expect no less until the fullness of the Gentiles is accomplished and the blinders are taken off Judah.
We fread the account of Bil’am after a long run of extremely serious and disappointing sins of the Israelites. It is no mistake that the Torah places Bil’am’s words after so many spiritual failures, including but not limited to Korach’s rebellion and subsequent complaints in the aftermath of Korach’s destruction against Moshe. With this ammunition, how can Bil’am proclaim that no one has seen iniquity in Jacob? The answer is that Bil’am himself knows, therefore he hates that G-d still holds Israelites as a treasure unto Himself. However, we must make a choice to serve G-d by restraining our egos and submitting ourselves to the re-shaping and refining power of YHVH/Yahshua and no other. G-d demands that we live justly, obey His commands with kindness, and to walk modestly (Micah 6:8). The Seven-Fold witness in Revelation that defines a true believer according to Yahshua himself.
It is encouraging to note that in the final analysis, the events involving Balak and Bil’am work toward the good for the Israelites. We can apply this to our daily lives. What we perceive as adversity will work out for our ultimate good. if we love G-d by following His commands as Yahshua described in John 14. Recall the verse in Romans 8:28. Read the passage carefully to the end and meditate on its true meaning. In Num. 24:5, as Bil’am attempts to curse the Israelites, what emerges is a beautiful blessing instead: “How lovely are your tents, Ya’akov, your encampments, Israel…” The remainder of the prayer guided by the Ruach tells the past, present and future of Israel in six short verses. The culmination of this pronouncement will be the fulfillment of G-d’s unconditional promise to Avraham. May it be soon and in our lifetimes!
Haftarah: Micah 5:6-6:8
In the haftarah this week, Micah reprimands Israel for conveniently forgetting the incident of Balak and Bil’am, just as many in America ignore the reason for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and miss the entire point that greed and rebellion against G-d will not be tolerated. The Children of Israel (all true believers) must remember that Bil’am was sending a message to all generations as we discussed in his final pronouncement. This is a warning that although we are far removed from that time, we see prophecy fulfilled every day. Micah reminds the Israelites that as long as they are faithful to do the mitzvoth, dwell together in peace, and pay their allegiance only to YHVH Elohim, they will be unconquerable. G-d does not want repetitious, heartless sacrifices. Rather, He wants them to “do justice, love kindness, and walk modestly with YHVH Elohim” (Mica 6:8). This applies to each of us today. You will see in Rev. 2:14-15 Yahshua addresses those who have placed a snare before the Children of Israel and continued to teach the ways of Bil’am to the time of the end of the age. The battle is not won yet!
B’rit Chadashah: Jude 11
Jude addresses problems with false prophets or teachers. He has already spoken on how some teachers turn liberty into license to practice immorality and disobey YHVH’s Torah, and he warms that YHVH who once delivered Israel from Egypt, destroyed them when they rebelled against Him. Verse 11 speaks specifically of Cain (Gen.4:1-16) who would not accede to YHVH’s instructions, and who had been afforded five or six opportunities to repent but chose not. Cain was shut out of YHVH’s presence, as all who rebel against Him shall be. Cain’s road lead to him murdering his brother Abel, but it was not the primary road to his demise; for Jude said Cain, like Korach, had given themselves over to the error of Bil’am (greed, arrogance, and stinginess). Could it be that Cain knew he should have offered a blood sacrifice but rather than parting with a valuable animal, chose a cheaper offering in the way of produce instead? Do we follow this example? How will a little pleasure now substitute for an eternity of being out of YHVH/Yahshua’s presence? Let us examine our fear, awe, and love factor of YHVH/Yahshua. YHVH promises that someday we will all recognize His Glory and majesty; but for some it will be only a chance to see what could have been before being sent to Hell. Revelation 2:14-15 reminds us that there are those who will be found to be following the teaching of Bil’am “who taught Balak to set a trap for the people of Israel, so that they would eat food that had been sacrificed to idols and commit sexual sin. … therefore turn from these sins. Otherwise, I will come to you very soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.” I pray that we will not be among these; rather we will hear Yahshua say as we stand before him one day, “Excellent! You are a good and trustworthy servant… Come and join in your master’s happiness.” (Matt.25:21).
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart