A Few Thoughts on Barak

This week’s parasha, Balak, (Numbers 22:1 – 25:9) is not one of most popular readings in the yearly cycle. Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab along with the Midianites were quite concerned with Israel’s victory over King Sihon of the Amorites and King Og of Bashan. Consequently, Balak’s idea of counting the cost for further battles was to employ the services of Balaam son of Beor the premier sorcerer in the region. Balak’s message to Balaam was simple and to the point,

Come now, curse this people for me, since they are stronger than I; perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land; for I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed.

Numbers 22:6

Most know the outcome of the story. Try as he may and to the great disappointment of Balak, Balaam was not able to curse Israel. By his words, he stayed true to the command of HaShem,

Balaam said to Balak, “I have come to you now, but do I have power to say just anything? The word God puts in my mouth, that is what I must say.”

Numbers 22:38

Therefore, what was supposed to be curses, actually became blessings, one from Numbers 24:5-9 found its way into the Siddur (Jewish Prayer Book).

How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel!

Like palm-groves that stretch far away, like gardens beside a river,

like aloes that the LORD has planted,  like cedar trees beside the waters.

Water shall flow from his buckets, and his seed shall have abundant water,

his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.

God who brings him out of Egypt, is like the horns of a wild ox for him,

he shall devour the nations that are his foes and break their bones.

He shall strike with his arrows. He crouched, he lay down like a lion,

and like a lioness; who will rouse him up? 

Blessed is everyone who blesses you and cursed is everyone who curses you.”

Like the first three, the rest of Balaam’s oracles were equally displeasing to Balak, as they all spoke of coming judgements on the surrounding nations either at the hands of Israel or of foreign armies used by HaShem to execute judgement. Sadly, Balaam did not leave well enough alone. At the end of the parasha we read of Israel playing the harlot and Balaam’s involvement is noted later Parashat Matot.

While Israel was staying at Shittim, the people began to have sexual relations with the women of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. Thus, Israel yoked itself to the Baal of Peor, and the LORD’S anger was kindled against Israel. … These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the LORD in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the LORD.

Numbers 25:1-3; 31:16

Instead of being remembered as the premier sorcerer who heard and followed the ways of HaShem, Balaam has gone down in history as an anathema. Peter wrote these words concerning those who knew the right way but chose to deviate from the ways of HaShem,

They have left the straight road and have gone astray, following the road of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of doing wrong …

2 Peter 2:15, also see Jude 11

Balaam example proves that one must follow the ways of the LORD completely, not picking and choosing what one might wish to do. Balaam spoke the words that HaShem put in his mouth, but then Balaam proved that the plans of his heart were truly evil, and this brought about his downfall.

Rav Shaul affirmed this truth as he wrote to the Yeshua-believers in Galatia.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:7-9

Let commit this week and forever more to follow Solomon’s advice to “trust in the LORD with all our heart, and do not rely on our own insight.” (Proverbs 3:5)

* All Scripture readings are from New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.  

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