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” becomes “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 mistakes as a rebellious streak in the animal and strikes her… twice. Finally, the angel has them blocked in a narrow place, from which there is nowhere to turn, and all the donkey can do is lie down. Balaam is furious and begins mercilessly beating the poor thing (where is PETA when they’re actually needed?), 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 even register with Balaam how bizarre it is that his donkey is 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 admonishes 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 King Balak had hoped. Every time Balaam opens his mouth, instead of a curse, a blessing comes out. And Balak is furious. In fact, one of those blessings, found in 24:16-17, proved to be a great messianic prophecy, and verse 5 has even been made a liturgical song in our synagogues to this day (Ma Tovu)! Balaam tells Balak that he can only speak what the Lord puts in his mouth. But it’s a pretense; Balaam was a venal, greedy man. Meanwhile, as the blessings keep coming, instead of curses, Balak is beside himself with anger.

When that strategy falls apart, Balaam suggests that the best way to get Israel cursed would be to entice the Israelis 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 Israeli men to come to one of their sacrifices – sacrifices which were highly sexual in nature.

It worked. Israel engaged in pagan religious rituals 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.

Let me share five lessons we can take from parasha Balak:

  1. Don’t let money be your god. Money is certainly useful, but the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil; and what good is it if you gain the whole world but forfeit your soul? Balaam bartered his soul for some silver and gold. By contrast, Messiah Yeshua, though tempted by the adversary with the wealth of all the kingdoms of the world, would not yield for even a moment. And because of His perfect faithfulness, we have a Righteous, risen Messiah and Redeemer, and He has secured our eternity with God.
  2. Balak wanted Israel cursed, but God has blessed the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in a covenant; when you oppose or try to harm those whom God has blessed, you are asking for a cosmic-level curse on yourself. Those who argue that God is done with Israel are going to find themselves painfully on the wrong side of history.
  3. God doesn’t waffle on His decisions. He doesn’t break agreements. You should imitate Him: let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ no. Honor your word every time.
  4. It took a talking donkey to get Balaam’s attention. Hopefully, the Scriptures are sufficient to have yours.
  5. Despite the fact that the main character is Balaam, the parasha is entitled ‘Balak’. That wicked ‘seer’ is enshrined in Scripture for all eternity in infamy. So, how do you want to be remembered? Think that through, and begin to act accordingly.

The ‘seer’ who was blind to the judgment awaiting him is an example, a type, of those who today make a show of religion, who even quote from Scripture, but who are in it for gain. It’s frightening to consider that God used Balaam to accomplish good, but Balaam himself would be forever accursed. Don’t sell your soul for a little gold and silver.