Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Response to the question about the Book of the Wars of the L-rd
Before we get into today’s parashah, I want to respond to a question presented last week about the Book of the Wars of the L-rd. I do not respond in haste to questions presented in the synagogue as there is often additional research required for a complete answer. In the case of this book, there is no definitive answer, only conjecture. This book does not exist any longer but is mentioned in the Book of Jasher as being a collaborative writing written by Moshe, Y’hoshua, and the children of . There is a reference to a book that is unnamed in Exodus 17:14, where G-d commanded Moshe to inscribe a military victory over the Amalekites and recount it later in the hearing of Y’hoshua who was his successor. At least one Torah scholar suggested this book may refer to the Book of the Wars of the L-rd.
There are other opinions that this book is a collection of hymns describing military victories, curses, mocking songs and other subjects that relate to the victories of G-d over his enemies. This opinion hinges on the idea that this book may have been written using the oral and written traditions.
The fact that this book is mentioned in the Book of Jasher, provides more validity to its mention in scripture as G-d saw fit to mention the Book of Jasher. So why was the Book of Jasher not canonized? We know that G-d directed the use of many extra-biblical sources as part of the written Torah. The Book of Jasher is mentioned in Joshua 10:12-13 when the L-rd stopped the sun in the middle of the day during the battle of Beth Heron. It is also mentioned in 2 Samuel 1:18-27 as containing the Song of Lament of the Bow that David composed at the death of Saul and Jonathan. This lends credence to the opinion that the Book of the Wars of the L-rd contains songs and other genre. The mention of the Book of Jasher in G-d’s Torah provides an external source of validity regarding the context to which it is referred.
The history recorded in G-d’s Torah did not happen to the exclusion of other writings. G-d integrated those which He deemed germane to be chosen as the canonical books. But just because some of the extra-biblical books are not included, does not infer that information found within their pages does not help the Torah student/believer gain a deeper understanding of G-d’s Word. It would seem that G-d “invites” us to look beyond His Torah at times for information that augments scripture when prayerfully and humbly researched. We must always take great care not to place any other source of information “above” G-d’s Torah as Truth. But there are many extra-biblical sources that can certainly help us in our Torah walk. Research on the Book of the Wars of the L-rd provides just such an example.
Parashah #40: Balak B’midbar (Numbers) 22:2-25:9
Read in regular years with Parashah #39
Haftarah: Mikhah (Micah) 5:6-6:8
B’rit Chadashah : Jude 11
Today we set the stage with clarification of who Balaam was and why his services were so important to Balak( who lays waste or destroys). Balaam(not of the people) was a sorcerer who was called upon to place curses on others, Curses were and are very serious in G-d’s economy, especially when they are place on His people. Belief in blessings and curses was common in Old Testament times and it was thought that sorcerers had power of the gods. So Balak wanted to solicit Balaam to use his “powers” with the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to curse Israel in the hope that G-d would turn against His own people. It should be obvious that neither Balaam nor Balak had any idea about the differences between their pagan gods and the G-d of Israel.
So we might ask why G-d would even speak through a sorcerer when He forbids such practices? It would seem that as he refused Balak’s sum of money more than once, that he was not going to take the job of cursing Israel. But Balaam was only willing to acknowledge that G-d was a powerful G-d, not that He is the only true G-d. The story of Balaam reveals the unkosher status of a pig. That is, he appeared righteous on the outside just as a pig has a split hoof. But Balaam was not one of G-d’s people just as the pig does not shew the cud. Kosher appearing on the outside, but inwardly unclean. Balaam was at the ready to obey G-d’s command as long as there was a profit to be made. The mixture of obedience and profit is a dangerous combination that more than not leads to a fall from G-d’s grace. Indeed, it was the cause of Balaam’s death. Although he realized the awesomeness of G-d’s power, his heart was driven by money that he could gain in Moab. He returned there only to die when the Israeli army invaded.
Application of this teaching for today is significant. At some point in our lives, we fight the same battle between secularism and pagan ways with which we are often all to familiar and often raised, and the spiritual draw by the Ruach (Holy Spirit) to separate ourselves from an antinomian lifestyle and follow G-d out of love and an awesome fear. Who and what we are will one day surface, either through the refinement process of life driven by G-d, or when we stand before Him at the judgement. Efforts spent on vanity in any form are wasted as the Book of Ecclesiastes describes. Such efforts would be better spent on asking G-d to search our hearts and minds and remove any unclean thing found in them as stated in Psalms 139:23-4. We can avoid the mistakes of Balaam by acknowledging who we are and who G-d is, repenting of our sins including rebellion against His Torah/instructions, and starting our walk on the King’s Highway, neither turning to the right nor the left (Num. 20:17). We must remember that motives are just as important as our actions. Where our hearts are, will be our treasure (Matt. 6:21).
Haftarah: Mikhah 5:6-6:8
In this haftarah, Micah reprimands Israel for conveniently forgetting the incident of Balak and Bil’am. The Children of Israel must remember that Bil’am was sending a message to all generations. 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). Note that “walking” is more than simple verbal profession.
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 warns 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 at the time of judgement . Cain’s road led to him murdering his brother Abel, but it was not the primary reason for 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 cheaper 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). May it be so!
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart