Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah Balak: B’midbar (Numbers 22:2-25:9)
Haftarah: Mikhah (Micah) 5;6-6:8
B’rit Chadashah: Jude 11; Revelation 2:14-15
As Israel ends their forty years’ of wandering in the wilderness and approaches the Land of Promise, they camp on the East Side of the Jordan River in the plains of Moab. Balak, King of Moab, saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. They destroyed Sihon, king of the Amorites, who had previously fought against the former king of Moab and taken “all his land out of his hand” (Numbers 21:26). The entire nation of Moab was in a state of fear. The reputation of Israel had preceded them. Everyone knew they were invincible for their G-d was with them. In a strategic move Balak joins forces with Midian, thinking their combined military strength will defeat the Israelites.
To ensure his victory, Balak sent for Bil‘am, who was not a prophet in the Biblical sense, but one who combined worship of Adonai with the practice of the occult-a soothsayer or diviner (see Joshua 13:22). Balak could have asked him to bless his armies, but instead he asked for a curse against Israel which can extremely detrimental to the object of the curse. He understood they were blessed and protected by G-d and desired to break this blessing with a curse before attempting battle.
Balak first sent elders to bring Bil‘am back to Moab. When he refused, Balak sent “leaders more numerous and more distinguished.” At this Bil‘am inquired of Elohim a second time. This time Elohim allowed him to go to Moab but cautioned him only to speak what He told him. In going with the leaders, who were expecting him to curse Israel, Bil‘am deceived them by not telling them that G-d had prevented him from cursing. Thus, he allowed them to think that G-d had given him permission to curse Israel, and he incurred YHVH’s anger.
Balak, a very good example of the insidious nature of evil does not give up so easily. He then sends more important messengers with greater gifts to try and persuade Bil’am to consent to his desires. True believers at all levels of spiritual maturity will be confronted by temptation and will be assaulted with all sorts of reasons why we should consent to hasatan’s urging. This Parashah is a remarkable example of how hasatan works. Temptation becomes more attractive, more lucrative to the point where we may ask ourselves, “How can I turn this down?” Finally, many will rationalize that it really isn’t so bad, and YHVH Elohim if anyone can, will understand. After all you’re only human! However, there’s one problem. Not only is YHVH an understanding G-d who extends to us His grace through Yahshua, but He is also an Elohim of justice. Once we have been reconciled to Him by Yahshua’s sacrifice; YHVH expects us to be adults, resisting evil and choosing the good as given to us in His Torah, which by the way is incorruptible and non-negotiable. We as mature believers cannot choose to follow what we like and discard what we do not like. That’s moral relativism!
Instead of Curses-Blessing
An angel YHVH appears with a drawn sword as an adversary against Bil‘am to prevent him from continuing on his journey. At first, only his donkey, one of the most lowly of creatures, could see the angel. This is a lesson in itself, that we need to humble ourselves that we might not “miss” any opportunities to ascend in our relationship with G-d. The beast of burden stopped twice then finally sat down, unable to continue with the angel blocking the way. Bil‘am was angered and struck her with his stick. Then a most unusual miracle occurred. The donkey began to speak and admonished his master for the beating. Instead of Bil‘am acknowledging this as a divine act of YHVH Elohim, he foolishly spoke back to the donkey. “Then the L-rd opened the eyes of Bil‘am, and he saw the angel of YHVH,” who rebuked him for his spiritual blindness yet allowed him to continue on his way. G-d’s response illustrates that fact that G-d will accomplish what He set out to do one way or another, regardless of mans attempts to thwart His plan.
Bil‘am greeted Balak, then instead of cursing Israel he blessed her… three times. Outraged, Balak’s anger flared against Bil‘am and he ordered him to flee for his life. As a parting gesture, the soothsayer predicted what would happen to the enemies of Israel-complete annihilation.
This Parashah ends with the people of Israel “playing the harlot” with the daughters of Moab, causing the outbreak of a plague upon the nation. When one of the sons of Israel brought a Midianite woman right to the doorway of the Tent of Meeting, Pinchas killed them both with a spear. The plague was stopped but not before 24,000 died as a result of their sexual immorality and idolatry.
The “Righteousness” of Bil‘am
Bil’am is persistent and it is very interesting to note, that this time, YHVH gives him permission to go, but tells him he will have to say whatever YHVH Elohim instructs him to. Sometimes, when a door opens that we know or suspect is contrary to YHVH’s Torah, we are tempted to think that YHVH has acceded to our wish to defy His Torah, but it sounds to me like YHVH is just giving us enough rope to hang ourselves, as was the case with Bil ‘am. If we are mature Believers we have to ask, why do we concern ourselves with the pros and cons of every spiritual decision, when, if we follow Torah, the answer is there before us, and certainly not open to debate. When will we realize that when we take one step further toward disobedience, it just makes the journey shorter to complete ruin? Unfortunately, as felled human beings we think we can control our passions, and get just one step closer, but inevitably we find that our passions have a way of controlling us.
Bil‘am’s story illustrates a dilemma we are all faced with at times. If YHVH doesn’t want Bil’am to go, why doesn’t He tell to do and “about face” and go home? If on the other hand, YHVH doesn’t care if Bil‘am goes, why does the angle block Bil’am’s path? What is the purpose of these conflicting messages? What should we do when faced with conflicting messages?
It’s clear that YHVH doesn’t want Bil‘am to curse Israel. That much is certain. Yet, just as Balak persisted in sending messages, so Bil’am persists in asking YHVH for permission to go.
The answer is that a person is led on the path he wishes to go. YHVH knew that just as Balak would take “no” for an answer, Bil‘am wasn’t taking “no” for and answer either. So YHVH let him go with a warning. Bil‘am like you and I sometimes think we can outsmart YHVH, and that we can find a way to satisfy our desire as Bil‘am thought he would find a way to curse Yisrael. Bil‘am wanted the material wealth he’d receive for this act more than he wanted YHVH’s blessing.
On the surface Bil’am appears to be a righteous man. From a reading of this Parashah it could seem so, albeit with some confusion. However, as we look at the rest of Scripture, we see a different picture of this false prophet. Kefa (Peter) condemns the “way of Bil‘am” as he discusses the motives of false teachers who see religion as a means for gaining riches (2 Peter 2:15). Jude speaks of “G-dless men who change the grace of our Elohim into a license for immorality” who “rushed for profit into the error of Bil‘am” (Jude 4,11). John mentions “the teaching of Bil‘am” when addressing the Believers in Pergamum which apparently had members who committed and condoned sexual immorality (Revelation 2:14).
Did Bil‘am really want Balak to honor him with wealth? Did he really want to curse Israel? In light of these defining scriptures in the Messianic Scriptures we are left with some clear principles in understanding this passage. Though Bil‘am was given a specific warning by Elohim not to accompany Balak’s messengers, he was so enticed by the offer of wealth that he sought YHVH Elohim again for permission to go. Bil‘am was given strict instruction by the L-rd to “speak only what I tell you”. Nevertheless, he tried three times to bribe YHVH with sacrifices to allow him to curse Israel. Bil‘am conceded to pronounce YHVH Elohim’s blessings over Israel simply because he had no choice in the matter. He had to speak the truth or die by the hand of the angel with the drawn sword.
Bil‘am says that he is “one who hears the words of G-d, who has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty:’ Some have taken this to mean that he is in fact a prophet of YHVH. Yet, as we study the full counsel of Scripture including the B’rit Chadashah passages above, it is possible to take these words of Bil‘am as expressions of wonder that YHVH had actually spoken to and through him. Bil‘am was corrupt and seemingly desired to heed Balak’s demands. He was the one who instructed the women of Midian to seduce the men of Israel and was killed with the sword for his evil counsel (Numbers 31: 8).
The Shield of Israel
How secure are the people of YHVH Elohim? How protected are they from the schemes of the evil one? Who can come against YHVH’S elect? Not only was Israel shielded from Bil‘am’s occultist practices and error but, although those who were seduced suffered heavy loss, his plot ultimately failed. There is penalty for sin, but the L-rd is quick to forgive those who confess their sin and keep the commands of G-d. He will neither leave nor forsake us (Deut. 3:16; Heb. 13:5).
For Adonai Elohim is a sun and shield; Adonai will give grace and glory; no
good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).
On entering a synagogue for Shacharit, the morning service, the first blessing recited (see below) begins with words prophesied by Bil‘am (Numbers 24:5):
“How goodly are your tents, 0 Jacob, your dwelling places, 0 Israel. As for me, through Your abundant kindness I will enter Your House; I will prostrate myself towards Your Holy Sanctuary in awe of You. O L-RD, I love the house where You dwell, and the place where Your glory resides. I shall prostrate myself and bow, I shall kneel before the L-RD my Maker. As for me, may my prayer to You, YHVH, be at an opportune time; O Elohim, in Your abundant kindness, answer me with the truth of Your salvation:’ Amen!
Our sages say, “He who wishes to purify himself, is helped along.” Had Bil‘am gone with the messengers in order to be a willing vehicle for YHVH he would have reaped rewards, but instead he went to get fame and wealth and lost everything.
That’s the lesson for all of us! We have choices in our lives and when we make choices in accord with His Torah then YHVH will help us along the way becoming successful in our endeavors. Don’t be like Bil‘am and squander your opportunities and let them pass by, instead use these opportunities to make YHVH’s goals our own and reap the rewards.
Haftarah: Michah 5:6-6:8
In the Parsha Balak hires Bil‘am to curse B’nai Yisrael but every time he tries to curse them, he ends up blessing them instead. In the Haftarah, the prophet Micah, reprimands B’nai Yisrael for forgetting what happened with Bil‘am and Balak. B’nai Yisrael has to remember that Bil‘am was sending a message to all generations as we do. This is a warning that we far removed from that time should not forget either. Micah reminds them that as long as they do the mitzvoth, dwell together in peace, and pay homage to YHVH Elohim they are unconquerable. YHVH is not looking for mindless sacrifices (mechanical offerings without truthful intent), but He wants them to: “to do justice, love kindness, and walk modestly with YHVH Elohim.” (6:8)
B’rit Chadasha: 2 Kefa (Peter) 2: 1-22; Y’hudah (Jude) 11′ Revelation 2: 14-15
In 2 Peter the Apostle is addressing “false prophets.” The word-translated prophet most commonly means “preacher” here, (one who proclaims the word of YHVH). He writes that they will fabricate doctrine and lead people away from the truth. Antinomian (anti-law) is a prominent feature of this teaching. The bible clearly teaches that YHVH’s Torah is truth and eternal. Teaching that YHVH’s Torah is dead, done away or only for the Jews are untruths, and the bible identifies the father of untruth as hasatan. So, we have to ask ourselves, those that preach this; who is their father, the YHVH of truth or hasatan the father of lies?
Some other interesting topics addressed here by Peter is the nefilim, (fallen ones, of Genesis 6:4. These are the angels b’nei-ha’elohim (“sons of Elohim” or “sons of angels” (6:2), who fell from heaven which was their proper sphere and “came in to the daughters of men.” But now because of their sin they are imprisoned spirits being held in limbo in dungeons lower than Sheol for Judgment day. Kefa and Jude are not giving vent to their imaginations but are drawing on earlier commentary found in Jewish writing such as 1 Enoch. In verses 15-16 we see a reference to Bil’am and to the Messianic promise (Numbers 24:17) referred to as the “star of Jacob.” As to Bil’am the Mishna, describes him and his disciples as having the “wicked or an evil eye,” which even in the Messianic Scriptures at Mathew 6:22, 23 means “stinginess or greedy.”
In verse 17 we see described how these preachers pray on our gullibility, promising us everything, depending on the desires of the old nature to entrap us. Not giving us the liberty of Torah, but enslaving us to license, in the name of freedom from YHVH’s Torah, which was given for our protection, blessings, and well- being.
In verse 22 Peter addresses the believer who has turned back from Torah as one who is like a “dog who returns to his own vomit.” He also renders a proverb that would have been very familiar to his Jewish readers, “The pig washed itself, only to wallow in the mud.” The Jewish expression sums this up well. “To enter the Mikvah (Immersion-Baptism) while still touching the corpse,” means that though the ritual bath can cleanse ceremonial impurity, immersion is ineffective if one continues to hold onto the source of defilement.
Jude 11 addresses some of the same problems with false teachers. He has already spoken on how some teachers turn liberty into license to practice immorality and disobey YHVH’s Torah, and he warns that YHVH who once delivered Israel from Egypt destroyed them when they rebelled against Him. Verse 11 speaks specifically of Kayin (Gen 4:1-16) who would not accede to YHVH’s instructions, and who had even been afforded five or six opportunities to repent but did not. Kayin (Cain) was shut out of YHVH’s presence, as all who rebel against Him shall be. Cain’s road led him to murder his brother Abel, but it was not the primary road to ruination itself, for Jude says they Cain like Korach had given themselves over to the error of Bil’am (greed and stinginess). Could it be that Cain knew he should have offered a blood sacrifice, but did not want to part with the value of an animal, and tried to make a cheaper substitute offering? How many of us give YHVH our best, but instead offer only our second best even if that? Are we following the example of Cain? How will a little pleasure now substitute for an eternity of being put out of His presence? How few of us, right now, have a real fear of YHVH Elohim. YHVH promises that someday we will all recognize His Glory and majesty, but for some of us it will be too late.
Bil‘am was a great prophet among the other nations as Moshe was for B’nai Yisrael. Why did YHVH give the other nations such a great prophet? The Sages say that YHVH didn’t want the other nations to complain, saying, “If you had given us Moshe, we would have been great too!” So YHVH gave them Bil‘am, but unlike Moshe, he squandered his gift, spending his time trying to figure out how to outsmart YHVH and gain wealth.
“And Yisrael settled in Shittim…and the nation began to sin with the daughters of Moav.” (25:1)
The Tractate Sanhedrin (106a) states that the word “settled” denotes sadness. The Torat Haim (a rabbinical association of Orthodox rabbis made up of men and women) explains that whenever B’nai Yisrael lives outside Israel, and put down roots in foreign soil, sadness is always bound to follow, for they forget that the Land of Israel is their home. From this we too can determine that we will not be totally happy until we come into the kingdom in Israel with Yahshua HaMashiach ruling over Jerusalem in the world to come.
Hayn am l’vadad yishkon,” “They are a nation that dwells in solitude.” (23:9)
‘ Bil’am blesses Israel that they will dwell by themselves. When will this happen? The numeric value of this phrase is 420., the same as the phrase B’ymay Mashiah, which means, during the days of Messiah. Only then will B’nai Yisrael be left alone to live undisturbed by its enemies.