This morning’s parasha (Numbers 22:2-25:9) is entitled Balak, the name of the king of Moab, who attempted to hire Balaam the seer to come and curse Israel. It had become evident that God was giving Israel victory after victory over the nations adjacent to Canaan. Fearing the same fate for his own country, Balak sends a delegation to Balaam, with an offer to pay him handsomely if he will come and invoke a curse on Israel. Balaam was neither a good prophet, nor a non-profit. At first, he declines, but when the offer is repeated and the financial incentive increased, he is seduced by the prospect of great riches. His “no” became “yes”. Adonai allows him to go with Balak’s representatives, but sternly warns him only to speak the words God will give him.
What happens on Balaam’s journey to meet up with Balak is truly one of the most humorous and yet bizarre events recorded in Scripture. An angel of the Lord appears, but only Balaam’s donkey can see him. The ‘seer’ doesn’t see; he’s oblivious to the peril that confronts him. And the donkey keeps trying to move out of the angel’s path, which Balaam takes to be a rebellious streak in the animal and strikes her… twice. Finally, the angel has them blocked in a narrow place, and all the donkey can do is lie down right there. Balaam is furious and starts beating the poor thing, at which point the donkey opens its mouth and talks to him (probably not in Eddie Murphy’s voice) “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And it doesn’t seem to register with Balaam how weird it is that his donkey is suddenly speaking to him in fluent Aramaic, because he answers back.
Finally, Adonai opens Balaam’s eyes to see the powerful and threatening angel, who then tells him that his donkey saved his tuchus. The warning is repeated that the ‘seer’ is only to speak the words that Adonai gives him.
At last, they arrive at the meeting place, overlooking the camp of Israel. But things don’t go the way Balak had hoped. Every time Balaam opened his mouth, instead of a curse, a blessing came out. And Balak was furious. In fact, one of those blessings, found in 24:16-17, proved to be a great messianic prophecy, and has even been made a liturgical song in our synagogues to this day (Ma Tovu)! Balaam put on a veneer of piety, telling Balak that he could only speak what the Lord put in his mouth, but he was corrupt to the core. Meanwhile, after this keeps happening, Balak is beside himself with anger.
When that strategy fell apart, Balaam suggested that the best way to get Israel cursed would be to entice the Israeli people to sin against Adonai, thus inviting His judgment on themselves. And so, in chapter 25 the Moabites of Peor send their most beautiful girls to entice the Israelis into coming to one of their sacrifices (sacrifices which were highly sexual in nature). Israel engaged in pagan religious rites and fornication, and God sent a plague. It was only through the zeal of Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, putting Zimri and Cozbi to death (the two who had flaunted their illicit relationship), that the plague was stopped, but not before 24,000 people of Israel died! For his treachery, Balaam is recorded in Scripture with disgrace, not just here, but also in Deuteronomy, Joshua, and in the New Covenant books of 2 Peter and Jude. He will, for all time, be remembered as an example of greed and of deception.
Here are a few lessons we can take from parasha Balak:
- The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil; what good is it if you gain the whole world but lose your soul? (1 Timothy 6:10)
- God has blessed the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in a covenant; If you stand in opposition, or try to harm those whom God has blessed (Gen.12:3), you are asking for a cosmic-level curse.
- God doesn’t waffle on His decisions. He doesn’t break His agreements. Be an imitator of Him: let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ no. Be good to your word.
- It took a talking donkey to get Balaam’s attention. Hopefully, the Scriptures are sufficient for Him to have yours.
- Despite the fact that the main character is Balaam, the parasha is called Balak. That wicked ‘seer’ is enshrined for all eternity in infamy. File that under “what kind of legacy will I leave, and how will I be remembered?”
Let me sum up the parasha by reminding us that God promised to give our people the land of Canaan, and He made good on that promise. But we broke covenant with God repeatedly. Consequently, though our people are back in the Land today, there is no peace. There can never be peace when we are not at peace with our Creator. May God open the eyes of our people Israel speedily and soon, that they may embrace Messiah Yeshua as their own and know the peace that transcends all understanding.