Parasha Balak (Destroyer)
Numbers 22:2–25:9; Micah 5:6–6:8; Romans 11:25–32
“But God said to Balaam, ‘Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.'” (Numbers 22:12)
In last week’s Parasha Chukat, God taught Moses the laws of the Red Heifer, whose ashes were to be used for the purification of the Israelites.
In this week’s Parasha, God uses a donkey to reprimand Balaam, whom Balak, the king of Moab has hired to curse Israel.
The Plans of Balak Thwarted by the Plans of God
“Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites… So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor.” (Numbers 22:2–5)
In this week’s Torah portion, a foreign sorcerer named Balaam is offered incredible riches to curse Israel. Instead of cursing, however, under the compulsion of the Spirit of God, he blesses Israel.
This is a testimony to the unique character of the nation of Israel since he was was speaking contrary to his own intention and self-interest.
Surprisingly enough, Balaam’s blessing over Israel has now become the opening prayer of every morning service in synagogues.
“Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishkenotechah Yisrael”—“How beautiful are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel.” (Numbers 24:5)
The clear message of Parasha Balak is that all attempts on the part of man to foil the purposes of God in regards to His people are utterly futile.
Despite repeated attempts throughout history to destroy the Jewish People, every attempt has failed. Moreover, God’s Word promises that a glorious future awaits Israel.
Balaam: Evil for Hire
“Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.” (Numbers 22:6)
Because of the Israelites’ victory over the Amorites, Balak, the king of Moab, dreaded Israel. In hiring Balaam to curse Israel, he thought that he had come up with a winning solution for a losing situation.
Balak hired Balaam because he was a well-known soothsayer whose curse was feared throughout the East.
He is a study in contradictions, making him somewhat of a compelling, enigmatic character.
On the one hand, he’s a prophet and a self-proclaimed worshiper of the one true God. On the other, he is a heathen sorcerer and a willing accomplice in plotting the destruction of God’s people.
As such, he fully demonstrates the complexity of humankind, which can be fickle and changeable in loyalty.
It’s no wonder that the Bible says that the “ heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure…” (Jeremiah 17:9), and that it’s better to place our trust in the Lord, who is absolutely trustworthy, than to place our confidence in princes (Psalm 118:8–9).
For All the Riches in the Palace
“Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God.” (Numbers 22:18)
Balak promised Balaam heaps of riches and honor if he would comply with the King’s request to curse Israel.
Nevertheless, Balaam tells Balak that if he gave him a palace full of silver and gold, he still could not go beyond the word of the Lord (Numbers 22:18).
If only more people possessed a mindset to mirror God’s Word in their speech and attitudes about God’s people, Israel.
Instead, people like King Balak disregard the Word of God that states the Israelites are a people to be blessed, and choose to curse them instead.
God had made His will very clear to Balaam. He did not want him to go with Balak’s men and did not permit him to curse Israel.
Why then, did Balaam ask the men to stay the night?
Was the temptation of riches and fame too great for Balaam to give up so easily? Did he hope that maybe God would give in, or change His position on the matter?
Too often we are like Balaam. When we don’t like the answer to our prayer, we hang around a bit longer, hoping that God might see things from our perspective.
But God did come again to Balaam, this time in the night. He told him that he could go with the men but he could only do what God told him to do (Numbers 22:20).
Curiously, when Balaam rose up in the morning and went with the princes of Moab, God’s anger was kindled against him. Why? Was it fair for God to be angry with Balaam after giving him permission to go?
God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of our hearts. He saw the double-mindedness of Balaam, and knew that despite what the man said, he was still hoping that things would turn around, and he would be able to curse Israel for his own personal gain.
Balaam was greedy for riches; he erred in running after profit. His sin is is linked with that of Cain, who murdered his brother, and Korah, who led the rebellion against Moses.
“Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.” (Jude 1:11)
Balaam knew that it wasn’t God’s will for him to go with Balak’s shlichim (emissaries), but he went anyways, likely hoping to return a rich man.
Likewise, we must make sure that the intentions of our hearts are pure, even for those things which are permissible.
Beware of greed. Even when God prospers and blesses us, we must not allow the desire for riches to consume us or become the root of our behavior and actions.
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10)
The Donkey Speaks to Balaam
“I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.” (Numbers 22:32-33)
Quite often, we blame ‘the devil’ for frustrating our plans and standing in the way of our chosen path.
Sometimes, however, our plans are amiss, and God may send a messenger to keep us from following a path that leads to our own destruction.
In Balaam’s case, he had two messengers: his donkey and an angel.
Upon seeing an angel standing with his sword drawn, ready to strike Balaam, the donkey turned aside from the path and went into the field.
In his anger, Balaam struck his donkey. Three times the donkey attempted to avoid the angel and three times Balaam struck his donkey.
Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth to reprove Balaam, and Balaam’s eyes were opened, so that he too saw the angel of the Lord.
The angel explained to Balaam that his path was reckless, and had it not been for the donkey, he would be dead.
When everything seems to block our way and frustration overtakes us, we should ask ourselves, “Is this really the enemy or could it be possible that my way is contrary to the Lord’s?”
After this encounter, when Balaam met in person with Balak, he told the king that he had no power to speak anything except the message God gave to him to speak.
Furthermore, God gave Balak a prophetic message through Balaam in which Israel was blessed (Numbers 23:5–12).
“How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced?” (Numbers 23:8)
When Balak finally resigns himself to the fact that Balaam will not curse Israel, he tells him to at least refrain from blessing them:
“Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all.” (Numbers 23:25)
Sadly, today some people take this stance with regards to Israel.
They know enough to realize that they had better not be cursing God’s people, but they don’t want to go so far as to actively bless Israel either. And so, they sit on the fence, neither cursing, nor blessing Israel.
Balaam, however, realized that “it pleased the Lord to bless Israel.” (Numbers 24:1) Moreover, when he looked out over the Israelites, the Spirit of God came upon him (Numbers 24:2).
Who among us does not want to please the Lord and be filled with His Spirit? Perhaps we need to get down off that fence and ask “how can I bless Israel?”
Speaking with the Intention of Blessing
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)
Although today, we tend to minimize the power of the words we speak, during the time of Moses and Balaam, the entire ancient world believed in the very real power of blessings and curses.
In fact, the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) clearly says that the tongue has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21).
This is why the patriarchal blessing was so significant in ancient days, and why, even today, we must be careful to speak blessing and not cursing over our loved ones, especially our children.
Our words are so powerful!
When the Israelites complained in the wilderness and said that surely they were going to die in the wilderness—speaking through fear rather faith, God basically said, “Okay, you’ll have what you have said.”
Remember, God brought the universe into existence through speaking.
And since we are created in the image of God, our words also have the power to create and shape reality.
Pause and think about this. Imagine if your life was the sum total of the things that you or other people had spoken. Or your children’s lives.
If we were absolutely certain that this was the case, we might be more careful about the words that we allowed out of our mouth.
We should be grateful to God that He, in His mercy, has not allowed some of the negative things that we have spoken out of fear, anger or distress to come upon us.
The Word of God exhorts us to guard our mouths, so that we may speak forth life and blessings over our own lives and the lives of others.
Thankfully, if we are willing, God can and will help us to control our mouths, for therein lies perfection and self-control.
“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)
“If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” (James 3:2)
As Believers in Yeshua Hamashiach (Jesus the Messiah), we are a people whom God has blessed, and no man can reverse those blessings.
Whereas some worldly blessings can bring with them trouble and sorrow, God’s blessings do not.
“The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and He adds no trouble with it.” (Proverbs 10:22)
If God has blessed Israel, then Israel is blessed. The unconditional covenant God sealed with Abraham remains unbroken. Although Israel has many enemies who wish to curse them, God is their defense.
Those of faith in Messiah are also the seed of Abraham, whether they are a Jew or Gentile. They are blessed through Messiah Yeshua (Psalm 2:12).
Sometimes, we are too concerned with what people may be saying about us behind our backs or what people may be doing to harm or cheat us.
But our confidence should remain unshaken knowing that He loves and cares for us and that an undeserved curse will not come to rest upon us (Proverbs 26:2).
What is to be our response to those who do curse us? Yeshua told us to bless those who curse us and despitefully use us or unjustly treat us (Luke 6:27–36).
The Star and Scepter Prophecy in Parasha Balak
“A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 4:17)
In Balaam’s fourth message (Numbers 24:15–19), he prophesies the coming of the Messiah King.
In Matthew 2:2, we see that Yeshua (Jesus) fulfilled this prophecy.
“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2)
Bar Kokhba: False Messiah
About 60 years after the destruction of the Second Temple in the First Jewish-Roman War, Simon Bar Kokhba led a revolt against the Roman Empire and re-established Israel as an independent state. It lasted three years.
The leader of this Jewish War of Independence was born Simon Ben Kosiba, but he changed his name to Bar Kokhba, which translates as ‘son of star.” This name is an obvious reference to Balaam’s Star Prophecy. In other words, he proclaimed himself the messiah of Israel.
Although he had many followers, he was proven to be a false messiah when he was slain in 135 AD, just 100 years after Yeshua’s (Jesus) death and resurrection.
This war split those who followed Yeshua from the rest of the Jewish community, since the believers in Yeshua knew that Bar Kokhba was not a true Messiah and therefore refused to take part in the rebellion. They fled to the mountains, while those who followed Bar Kokhba perished fighting for a false messiah.
The Messianic Jewish Believers were therefore, perceived as traitors.
Although today, Jewish people know Bar Kokhba was a false messiah and rabbinical writers call him “Simon bar Kozeba” (son of lies/son of deception), the rift has grown and Jewish Believers in Yeshua now are perceived to be followers of another religion.
Yeshua: Messiah King and Suffering Servant
“The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” (Genesis 49:10)
The second half of the Star Prophecy says that “a scepter will rise out of Israel,” echoing the prophecy found in Genesis 49:10.
Both clearly refer to the Messiah, who has already come as the Lamb of God in order to die as atonement for our sins (Isaiah 53) and will come again as the Lion of Judah to defeat the enemies of God and Israel, and to rule the nations with justice and righteousness.
Psalm 2 refers to this Messiah, who will rule the nations, as the Son:
“You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (Psalm 2:7–9)
This psalm also contains a warning to revere God’s Son, the Messiah, and promises that those who take refuge in Him will be blessed:
“Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for His wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.” (Psalm 2:12)