Gleanings from Balak

The first chapter of Genesis concludes with HaShem’s final act of creation, 

God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. (Gen. 1:27)

I believe that this verse from the conclusion of Genesis is important in understanding this week’s parashah, Balak, Numbers 22:2 – 25:9. The reason for its importance should become clear directly. As we begin to read Parashah Balak, we soon discover that the two main characters are not Israelites or even part of the myriad of non-Israelites that left Egypt in the Exodus almost forty years earlier. We are first introduced to the main supporting character of the narrative, Balak, son of Zippor, king of Moab, (Num. 22:2-4), who was understandably afraid of the Israelite hoard that had recently decimated the Amorites (Num. 21:34-35). Next, we come to the main character in the narrative, Balaam, son of Beor, who was at Pethor near the Euphrates in northern Mesopotamia, probably Balaam’s native land (Num. 22:5). We all know the story; Balaam was not a military commander or even a fighter of any kind. He was a priest-diviner, interpreter of dreams and omens, and a maker of amulets and charms. Balak however was not interested this part of Balaam’s stock and trade, he had another job in mind.

He (Balak) sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, at Pethor near the River in his native land, saying to him, “Look now, a people have come out of Egypt. See now, they cover the surface of the earth and are settling beside me. 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!” (Num. 22:5-6)

It is significant, the answer Balaam gave to Balak’s messengers, “Spend the night here. I will give you an answer just as ADONAI speaks to me” (Num. 22:8). If one reads the Hebrew of this verse, one quickly discovers that Balaam would be speaking to and expecting an answer from HaShem, the God of Israel. After dialoging with HaShem, Balaam returned to the messengers the next morning and said, “Go back to your country, for ADONAI has refused to let me go with you” (Num. 22:13).

At this point, I return to the Genesis passage, reminding us that God created (all) humankind in his image. This fact brings to mind a term I first learned in Bible school, more years ago than I want to remember, that being general revelation or the knowledge of God’s existence that is given to all humanity, his character, his moral and physical laws. To the Romans, Sha’ul wrote,

His invisible attributes—His eternal power and His divine nature—have been clearly seen ever since the creation of the world, being understood through the things that have been made… (Romans 1:20)

In an impassioned speech to the Lycaonians, Sha’ul explained,

In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own ways. Yet He did not leave Himself without a witness—He did good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with joy and gladness. (Acts 14:16-17)

So, whether it was by studying nature and natural phenomenon, or paying attention to HaShem’s actions in or behind historic events, or simply as all humanity has been created in the image of God there remains an inner sense of HaShem’s being in every human heart – even though in many it is often pushed aside and ignored. Balaam, attuned to spiritual things as his profession and reputation required, knew of the God of Israel. This is evident by his response to the messengers when they approached a second time, “Even if Balak gave me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot cross beyond the mouth of ADONAI my God, to do anything small or great” (Num. 22:18)!

While it should be acknowledged that Balaam knew of the God of Israel, that he had general revelation of God that is available to all humankind, he did not have special revelation, that which led him to make the God of Israel his own God, forsaking all others. While Balaam knew of HaShem, even spoke with him, he did not choose to internalize that general revelation in his heart, in his very being. As it were, he kept God on the outside, much like a tool to be rented and used then discarded when no longer needed. Balaam would not have grasped the importance of Yeshua’s words,

My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. (John 10:27)

Balaam heard the voice of HaShem, he knew what he ought to do, in fact his three oracles and then Messianic prophecy proved this to be true. But though Balaam heard the voice and knew what he should do, he did not internalize HaShem’s desires. He blessed Israel with his mouth in obedience to HaShem, but in his heart he was looking for a work around to be able to satisfy Balak’s desire to see Israel cursed. And he apparently succeeded. In the Book of Revelation, to the ecclesia in Pergamum, the angelic messenger spoke these words, 

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. (Rev. 2:14, cf. Num 25:1-3)

Kefa (Peter), in describing false teachers who attempt to lead Yeshua-followers astray, stated, 

They have abandoned the straight way. They have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. (2 Peter 2:15)

Balaam, just as all humanity, had the option, of not just hearing the voice of HaShem, but responding to that voice with his whole heart; internalizing and accepting HaShem not just as Israel’s God but his own. Unfortunately, Balaam chose the ways of the world and its riches – which in the end led to judgement and his death. 

Before closing this week’s thoughts, let’s consider an individual, similar to Balaam, this time from the Apostolic Writings. In Acts 8 there is the story of Simon the Sorcerer. “Now a man named Simon had been practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, saying he was someone great,” (Acts 8:9). Then under the preaching of Philip “…Simon himself believed; and after being immersed, he continued with Philip. And when he saw signs and great miracles happening, he was continually amazed,” (Acts 8:13). Things seemed to be going well until the Apostles came from Jerusalem and conferred the gift of the Ruach upon the new believers. We have no idea why Simon did not receive the Ruach initially. But whatever the reason, Simon thought he could acquire the Ruach by his own means, by offering Kefa money. Kefa was less than impressed to say the least and immediately corrected Simon offering him the way of returning to proper faith. The last we hear of Simon is his request to Kefa to pray for him. “Pray for me, so that none of what you have said may come upon me,” (Acts 8:24). Since there was no judgement recorded, I choose to assume (and this is only an assumption) that Simon was restored. If this assumption is factual, it should give us hope; if we falter or stray, the opportunity to return is always available. By the way, another reason for this assumption is found in Luke’s account of the hours leading up to Yeshua’s arrest. Yeshua told Kefa, 

“Simon, Simon! Indeed, satan has demanded to sift you all like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32-33)

Kefa knew what it was like to falter, to make a serious error in judgement. He also knew what it was to receive forgiveness and restoration to fellowship upon repentance. There is such power in Yeshua’s words, “when you turn back….” Yeshua not only acknowledged Kefa’s return, in doing so he offered the option for any of us to return if we falter. There always remains the opportunity to choose life, not death so long as we have breath. 

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

All Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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