Numbers 22:2-25:9; Micah 5:6-6:8; Hebrews 10:5-9, 31-39
In this week's Parasha, the Jewish people pass through the territory of Moav (Numbers 22:2-15). The context is that Balak, the King of Moav, wanted to wage war against the Israelites but was fearful for 2 reasons:
1. Israel had just defeated the Amorite kings Sihon, and
2. Israel’s numerical superiority
3 And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel.
The Moabites entertained this fear even though God had forbidden Israel to attack Moab. But of course, the Moabites were unaware of this:
9 Then the LORD said to me, "Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land.
19 When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot."
So, HaShem had forbidden Israel to attack either the Amorites or the Moabites. But, Og and Sihon had attacked Israel for no reason whatsoever, and for their folly, they were soundly defeated. This caused Balak to become fearful of Israel. Notice that Balak was both ‘exceedingly afraid’ and ‘sick with dread’. Because Israel had multiplied exponentially and miraculously, Balak was justifiably concerned that they would overrun his territory. One would think that this would be sufficient reason for Balak to back off and allow Israel to pass through his territory unhindered. Israel was not looking to wage war against Moav and take over their territory; they were merely camping there before crossing over to take possession of the Land promised to the Patriarchs.
Balak therefore joined with the Midianites in hiring the prophet-magician Balaam to curse Israel so the Israelites could be defeated (Num 22:1-20). Moab and Midian had been traditional enemies, but now they came together in response to the perceived threat from Israel, which, they feared, would uproot and destroy everything in its path.
Seeking some understanding of why Israel was unstoppable, Moab hoped that the Midianites, among whom Moses had lived when he fled Egypt as a boy, could shed light on the reason for his success and how he could be defeated. The Midianites said that his strength lay in his mouth, so the Moabites sent for the evil prophet Balaam, whose power lay in his ability to curse (Rashi). With Samson, Delilah discovered that his strength lay in his long hair. The enemy believed that Moses’ strength lay in his ability to speak the utterances of G-d and so, their strategy was to bring a renowned sorcerer to come and speak curses upon them.
The sages teach that Jewish survival is governed by spiritual laws, and thus the only method to defeat them is with spiritual powers.
And so, King Balak hires the greatest spiritual master of the non-Jewish world, a man named Bila’am, to wage metaphysical warfare against the Jewish people by forming an alliance with his former enemies, the Midianites.
6 For I know that those you (Bila’am) bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed."
Does this phrase sound familiar? You will the same promise in Gen 12:1-3, when HaShem entered into a covenant with Avraham Avinu. Balak then sends a delegation to woo Bila’am to accompany then to curse Israel. And, of course, knowing that Bila’am was primarily interested in money, they took along a diviner’s fee! They tried to entice him with words of flattery and money.
Yet, somehow, in the mystery of this all, HaShem actually conversed with him. What is even more strange is the Bila’am – the heathen sorcerer, pronouncing the ineffable Name of G-d – YHWH!
9 Then God came to Balaam and said, "Who are these men with you?"
10 So Balaam said to God, "Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying,
11 'Look, a people has come out of Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come now, curse them for me; perhaps I shall be able to overpower them and drive them out.'"
12 And God said to Balaam, "You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed."
What do you think is most striking about this entire story? That a parasha is named after a heathen sorcerer!
Out of 54 parashiyot, only 6 are named after individuals. Our parasha is one of those rare occasions where a parasha is named after an individual. One would imagine that an Abraham or a Moses warranted a parasha to be named after them. But, no! Instead, we have a parasha named after a heathen sorcerer which is quite bizarre! (Yitro is another example of a parasha named after a heathen; although, he later proselytized. Can you name the others that are named after indiividuals? Well, we know 2 already – Balak & Yitro. What are the remaining 4? No’ach, Hayah Sarai, Korach, Pinchas) At least perhaps the parasha could have been named after Bilaam who at least knew about HaShem and who heard Him speak!
And so, the sages ask why did wicked Balak deserve this honour? And they answer that he had at least one good character trait – he was honest! He made no attempt to conceal his fear and hatred of the Israelites! You knew exactly where you stood with him! Bila’am on the other hand, did not even possess this quality. He was thoroughly duplicitous and double-minded, something that HaShem abhors.
24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
HaShem demands complete fidelity – You shall no other gods before Me! He must alone be first in our lives. The Shema has been historically translated as ‘Hear O Israel, the LORD our G-d, the LORD is One’. Be an equally acceptable translation is ‘Hear O Israel, the LORD IS our G-d, the LORD alone! Out of the myriad of gods that exist, we will worship and serve only the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He must have the place of pre-eminence and the Psalmist frequently mentions this:
1 Praise the LORD! I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation.
2 Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart!
7 'Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the LORD; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.
Furthermore, in his message to the ecclesia at Laodicea, G-d warns us against double mindedness.
15 "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.
16 "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
The Greek word for ‘lukewarm’ is used only once in the new covenant and it implies neutrality that is an affront to G-d and His response is vivid – “I will spew or vomit you out..’. Smith’s Bible dictionary defines Laodecia as not only a specific territory in Asia Minor, but also as meaning ‘justice for the people’ i.e. human rights. The final stronghold that will fall before Messiah’s return will be secular humanism, a most duplicitous and deceiving spirit and one we must guard against because it is rampant in today’s societies and unfortunately, even within the Body of Messiah!
In fact, G-d says that if you entertain double mindedness, he will help you make up your mind:
2 Th 2:9-12
9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,
10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie,
12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
You can understand then why the spirit of Bila’am is so offensive to G-d. It’s non-committal, neutral spirit playing both sides of the fence watching where the chips fall and then, identifying himself with that winning side. You cannot remain neutral; you must make a choice! As Bob Dylan sang: “you got to serve someone. It may the devil or it may be the Lord. But, you got to serve someone!”
14 "Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD!
15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve , whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
And so, in the new covenant, the spirit of Bila’am is portrayed as something to be avoided at all costs:
2 Pet 2:14-19
14 They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children.
15 They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;
16 but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man's voice restrained the madness of the prophet.
17 These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
18 For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error.
19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.
10 But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves.
11 Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.
Rev 2:13-16 (congr at Pergamos)
13 "I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
14 "But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.
15 "Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
16 'Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
The spirit of Bilaam is seducing, anti-G-d spirit that will try and draw G-d’s people away into compromise, into lukewarmness, idolatry and adultery. It tries to weaken the people of G-d away from their absolute focus and obedience to HaShem.
And then ultimately, the prophet Micah warns us against not to neglect the lessons contained in this parasha:
5 O My people, remember now what Balak king of Moab counseled, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, from Acacia Grove to Gilgal, that you may know the righteousness of the LORD."
6 With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
Balaam had a strong gift from God, but his heart was far from G-d. He wanted the reward that he was offered. He was carried away by his greed, and is listed as a warning example, for all time, of what a false prophet is like. He received a very tragic ending, despite his wonderful prophecies. “Balaam also, the son of Beor, the one who practiced divination, was killed with the sword by the people of Israel.” (Jos 13:22).
By now, we should know what the priorities of the Kingdom are; “to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our G-d’. The spirit of Bila’am is an enemy of this high calling, that which Paul calls ‘the more excellent way’.