This week’s parasha is Balak, Numbers 22:2 – 25:9.[i] The Haftarah is Micah 5:6 – 6:8 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is found in Romans 11:25-32.
Israel is moving through the Wilderness on their way to the land of Canaan. Like other rulers in the area, Balak the king of Moab is concerned with his country’s survival, as well as his own, in the face of Israel and Israel’s God. Balak turns to the prophet Balaam for help,
“Come now, curse this people for me, because they are too strong for me! Perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them away from the country. I know that whoever you bless will be blessed and whoever you curse will be accursed!” (22:6).
Balaam was a non-Israelite diviner, obviously famous for his effectiveness. Balaam was not a follower of the God of Israel, he was at best a polytheist – acknowledging the multiplicity of gods of the various surrounding countries and peoples. It was this acknowledgement of others’ gods that led Balaam to approach ADONAI to see if HE would allow His people to be cursed. This is what Balaam tells the first emissaries from Balak, “I will give you an answer just as ADONAI speaks to me,” (22:8). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us would so guard the words of our mouths and the thoughts of our hearts? The Psalmist cried out, “Set a guard, ADONAI, over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart turn to any evil thing, to practice deeds of wickedness…” (Psalms 141:3-4). We all know the story! Even though Balaam sought ADONAI’s direction and spoke His blessings over Israel, while acknowledging the God of Israel (Numbers 23:6-10; 23:17-24; 24:3-9; 24:15-24), he eventually brought curses upon Israel – not by what he said but by what he suggested Balak should do. In Numbers 25:3 we read about the sin of Israel as they “became bound to Baal of Peor”, the god of the Moabites. While Balaam is not mentioned in this narrative, we see later that he was responsible for the events occurring in Numbers 25.
Before Israel entered into the Promised Land, they had another encounter with the Moabites. Israel was told to exact vengeance upon Moab for the events described in Numbers 25. However, when Israel returned from battle, Moshe was less than happy with the plunder the army brought back.
But Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands, the commanders of hundreds, those returning from the campaign of the war. Moses said to them, “You let all the women live? Why, they are the ones—because of Balaam’s advice—who caused Bnei-Yisrael to be unfaithful to ADONAI in the matter of Peor, so that the plague was on the community of ADONAI! (Numbers 31:14-16)
The in Deuteronomy, HaShem not only reminds Israel of Balaam’s sin, but also of the judgment upon the Ammonites and Moabites.
No Ammonite or Moabite is to enter the community of ADONAI—even to the tenth generation none belonging to them is to enter the community of ADONAI forever—because they did not meet you with bread and water on the way when you came out from Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor from Petor of Aram-naharaim to curse you. But Adonai your God refused to listen to Balaam, and Adonai your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because He loves you. You are never to seek their shalom or welfare all your days. (Deuteronomy 23:4-7)
This warning, about not following Balaam’s example, is not only a Torah command, is also in the Apostolic Writings. Peter reminds his community that they are not to be like Balaam, seeking rewards for wrongdoing (2 Peter 2:15-16). Also, in the short book of Jude, Yeshua believers are encouraged to avoid “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into indecency and deny our only Master and Lord, Yeshua the Messiah,” (Jude 1:4). Jude goes on to describe those whom these people are imitating,
Woe to them! For they went the way of Cain; they were consumed for pay in Balaam’s error; and in Korah’s rebellion they have been destroyed. (Jude 1:11)
Finally, in the Revelation, the Ruach acknowledges that the believing community in Pergamum lives in the midst of demonic activity and yet continues to hold on to the Name of Yeshua and to their faith in Him. However, some correction is needed.
But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who was teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before Bnei-Yisrael, to eat food sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. (Revelation 2:14)
Throughout the Torah and the Prophets, there is a continue plea for Israel to obey ADONAI and to stay away from idols. Balaam’s advice impacted both of these commands, thereby bringing judgment upon Israel (Numbers 25:1-7). These are not just a historic events or issues. Ancient Israelites are not the only ones to have problems with obedience and idolatry. Today each of us potentially have idols that we have allowed in our lives. It is said that idols are anything that we allow to come between HaShem and ourselves. We need to remember and remind ourselves continually of the beginning words of the Ten Words (Decalogue)
“You shall have no other gods before Me. Do not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or on the earth below or in the water under the earth. Do not bow down to them, do not let anyone make you serve them.” (Exodus 20:3-5)
Following ADONAI is a choice, one which we have to make, regardless of what is going on around us. There will always be those people and situations that will seek to pull us away from serving the LORD alone, at times with seemingly good works and projects. We must learn and discipline ourselves to keep our eyes and hearts upon the LORD and His Messiah, not drifting or turning to the right or left. Rav Shaul exhorts us to “pay careful attention to how you conduct your life — live wisely, not unwisely. Use your time well, for these are evil days. So don’t be foolish, but try to understand what the will of the Lord is,” (Ephesians 5:15-17, Complete Jewish Bible).
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.