Parashah 40: Balak "Destroyer""
B'midbar (In the desert / wilderness) (Numbers) 22:2-25:9 Psalm 79
Mikhah (Micah) 5:6-6:8 Romans 11:25-32
by Dr. Daniel Boley
2 Now Balak the son of Tzippor saw all that Isra'el had done to the Emori. 3 Mo'av was very afraid of the people, because there were so many of them; Mo'av was overcome with dread because of the people of Isra'el. 4 So Mo'av said to the leaders of Midyan, “This horde will lick up everything around us, the way an ox licks up grass in the field.” Balak the son of Tzippor was king of Mo'av at that time. 5 He sent messengers to Bil'am the son of B'or, at P'tor by the [Euphrates] River in his native land, to tell him, “Listen, a people has come out of Egypt, spread over all the land and settled down next to me. 6 Therefore, please come, and curse this people for me, because they are stronger than I am. Maybe I will be able to strike them down and drive them out of the land, for I know that whomever you bless is in fact blessed, and whomever your curse is in fact cursed.”
• Balak [בָּלָק] “waster,” devastator,” “destroyer”
• from בָּלַק [ba-lak] meaning to annihilate, to waste, to lay waste, to devastate
• Balak had seen all that Isra'el had done to the Emori and was very afraid of the people
• The “destroyer” was “very afraid” he was about to be destroyed
• Whenever we see a move of God against someone there is fear generated
• a Godly fear for the LORD, His ways, His righteous justice, etc., and / or
• a fear because we know we deserve the same
• Were it not for the grace and mercy of God, we would all be in hell, because we are all guilty before Him (Rom 3:23).
• By God's grace, without earning it, all are granted the status of being considered righteous before Him, through the act redeeming us from our enslavement to sin that was accomplished by the Messiah Yeshua (Rom 3:24).
• But to as many as did receive Him [Yeshua / Jesus], to those who put their trust in His person and power, He gave the right to become children of God, 13 not because of bloodline, physical impulse or human intention, but because of God (John 1:12-13).
P'tor by the [Euphrates] River
פְּתוֹר [peh-tōr] = “soothsayer”
• Pethor was in Mesopotamia (Deuteronomy 23:4), a long way from the land of Moab. This indicates that Balaam was known far and wide as a great prophet. However, he had begun to use methods of divination (Numbers 22:7) and enchantments (Numbers 24:1), which were prohibited by God (Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 18:10), and thus had become a false prophet, deriving his occultic powers from evil spirits, rather than the Holy Spirit, much like modern “channelers,” “psychics,” and so-called “prophets.” (http://www.icr.org/books/defenders/1002, accessed 01 Jul 15)
• A town in Mesopotamia where Balaam resided (Nun 22:5; Deut 23:4). It was probably a noted seat of Babylonian magi, because those wise men were accustomed to congregate in particular localities. Shalmaneser II of Assyria captured this place from the Hittites, who called it Pitru. Still earlier, it appears in the lists of the great Egyptian conqueror Thutmose III (fifteenth century B.C.). The town was located on the W bank of the Euphrates a few miles S of Carchemish. (New Unger's Bible Dictionary in PC Study Bible)
• A direct attack against Isra'el had not worked for the Emori (Num 21:23-34), so Balak gathered reinforcements from Midyan (Num 22:4) and sent messengers to Bil'am [Balaam] to curse Isra'el for them.
• If the enemy is unsuccessful in a direct attack, we should never be surprised when he tries some type of indirect attack – if fact, we should expect it!
• Be aware of the Adversary's schemes so that we are not taken advantage of (2 Cor 2:11).
• Use all the armor and weaponry that God provided, so that you will be able to stand against the deceptive tactics of the Adversary (Eph 6:11).
• Blessings and curses have power
• The tongue has power over life and death; those who indulge it must eat its fruit (Prov 18:21)
• I will bless those who bless you, but I will curse anyone who curses you; and by you all the families of the earth will be blessed (Gen 12:3)
• Whether or not a person knows the specifics of the Word of God, it is written in their hearts (Rom 2:15) and Creation itself testifies to the glory of God (Rom 1:20; Ps 19:1-6)
• Its principles still carry weight and will affect our lives
• How many of us know the specifics of planetary and interplanetary gravitation, for instance? Yet the principles of gravity still carry weight and affect our lives.
7 The leaders of Mo'av and Midyan left, taking with them the payment for divining, came to Bil'am and spoke to him the words of Balak. 8 He said to them, “Stay here tonight, and I will bring you back whatever answer Adonai tells me.” So the princes of Mo'av stayed with Bil'am.
• “payment for divining” here is the one Hebrew word קֶסֶם [keh-sehm] meaning:
• Strong's: a lot: also divination (including its fee), oracle
• BDB: divination, witchcraft: used of the nations, Balaam; used of false prophets; in a good sense (the king's lips as oracles)
• from קָסַם [kah-sahm] meaning:
• Strong's: properly, to distribute, i.e. determine by lot or magical scroll; by implication, to divine
• BDB: to practice divination, to divine: used of diviners of the nations, Balaam; used of the false prophets of Israel; prohibited
• “Stay here tonight, and I will bring you back whatever answer Adonai tells me.”
• Bil'am (Balaam) has no recorded genealogy that ties him to Isra'el or even to Avraham, yet he calls on יהוה (Adonai).
◦ Regardless of our past, the LORD will answer all who truly seek Him.
• Even pagans are afforded the honor of speaking the LORD's name and calling on Him (otherwise, how could anyone ever be saved?). If, however, someone is not seeking a relationship with Him, does not know Him, and is not living in covenant with Him, calling on the Name of the great Judge of the Universe certainly will not be to their advantage.
9 God came to Bil'am and said, “Who are these men with you?”
• Interestingly enough, God came to him!
12 God answered Bil'am, “You are not to go with them; you are not to curse the people, because they are blessed.”
• “You are not to go with them ….”
• “not” here is the Hebrew לֹא [lo], meaning “not” or “no.” BDB brings out that with a verb this is an absolute prohibition. We see לֹא used in a number of the “Ten Commandments.”
• Not, “You are not to go with them this time,”
• or “You are not to go with them right now,”
• or “You are not to go with them until they offer you more money.”
◦ A temporary prohibition or simple negation is expressed using אַל [“awl”].
• This was pretty straight forward (clear, easy to understand).
• “... You are not to curse the people [of Israel]”
• Again here, “not” is לֹא .
• “Curse” here is the Hebrew אָרַר [ah-rahr] meaning curse or to execrate (to express or feel great loathing for)
• Since the LORD is Omniscient (All-Knowing), Ever-Present, and Eternal, might this still apply today?
• Doesn't it make sense that any form of anti-semitism (including the BDS propaganda and actions) fall into this category of behavior that is forbidden by the LORD?
• “... for they are BLESSED.”
• In Hebrew this phrase is כִּי בָרוּךְ הוּא
hu ba-ruk ki
he/she/it [is/are] blessed for/because
• Both Strong's and BDB bring out that the use of הוּא in a construction such as this indicates emphasis, and that beyond the Torah / Pentateuch the feminine is הִיא [he].
13 Bil'am got up in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, “Return to your own land, because Adonai refuses to give me permission to go with you.”
• Essentially true. The LORD had told him not to ever go with them.
◦ Bil'am did, however, leave out some important details, i.e. that he was not to ever “curse the people,” and that the reason given for that prohibition is “because they are blessed.”
14 The princes of Mo'av got up, returned to Balak and said, “Bil'am refuses to come with us.”
• Essentially not true, but their perspective is understandable since they have never known Adonai.
15 Balak again sent princes, more of them and of higher status than the first group. 16 Then went to Bil'am and said to him, “Here is what Balak the son of Tzippor says: 'Please don't let anything keep you from coming to me. 17 I will reward you very well, and whatever you say to me I will do. So please come, and curse this people for me.'”
Natural from a human perspective: e.g. “If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.”
Even more natural from a satanic perspective: e.g. to keep upping the ante (increasing the enticements) to try and get us to fall / sin / disobey the LORD.
18 Bil'am answered the servants of Balak, “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of Adonai my God to do anything, great or small.”
A bold, strong statement. A good stance. It sounds good on the surface, however ….
19 “Now, please, you too, stay here tonight; so that I may find out what else Adonai will say to me.”
Even though this may have been some time later (indicated by the distance traveled), Balaam / Bil'am had already gotten a strong, direct, clear, permanent answer.
So why did he have Balak's representatives stay the night?
Was it simply Middle Eastern hospitality since they had traveled so far?
Was he hoping he might really get a palace full of gold and silver?
Was he hoping the LORD would change His mind?
Bil'am, himself, later makes this proclamation: God is not a human who lies or a mortal Who changes His mind. When He says something, He will do it; when He makes a promise, He will fulfill it” (Num 23:19).
Moreover, the Eternal One of Isra'el will not lie or change His mind, because He isn't a mere human being subject to changing His mind (1 Sam 15:29).
20 God came to Bil'am during the night and said to him, “If the men have come to summon you, get up and go with them; but do only what I tell you.”
“If” here is אִם [“eem”]
Strong's: used very widely as demonstrative, lo!; interrog., whether?; or conditional, if, although; also Oh that!, when; hence, as a negative, not
BDB: conditional clauses (used of possible and impossible situations); oath contexts (no, not); if … if, whether … or, whether … or … or; when, whenever; since; an interrogative particle; but rather
So this could be rendered, “Since the men have come to summon you ….”
Regardless of how pious or religious we might try to sound, the LORD knows our hearts and minds; we can not fool Him.
So, though a casual reading may suggest that the LORD has indeed changed His mind, within set parameters, the next paragraph shows God 's willingness of honor man's free will, even when that means his destruction.
Pastor, author Max Lucado speaks of this:
How could a loving God send people to hell? That’s a commonly asked question. The question itself reveals a couple of misconceptions.
First, God does not send people to hell. He simply honors their choice. Hell is the ultimate expression of God’s high regard for the dignity of man. He has never forced us to choose him, even when that means we would choose hell….
No, God does not “send” people to hell. Nor does he send people to hell. That is the second misconception.
The word “people” is neutral, implying innocence. Nowhere does Scripture teach that innocent people are condemned. People do not go to hell. Sinners do. The rebellious do. The self-centered do. So how could a loving God send people to hell? He doesn’t. He simply honors the choice of sinners.
(Max Lucado, When Christ Comes, (Nashville: Word, 1999) cited in Grace For The Moment; Inspirational Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, (Nashville: J. Countryman, Nelson, 2000,) 182.)
21 So Bil'am got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Mo'av. 22 But God's anger flared up because he went, and the angel of Adonai stationed himself on the path to bar his way. He was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him.
“God's anger flared up”
Balaam might not have seen this before, but we have in Numbers 12:9 when Miryam had led Aharon into speaking against Moshe and she was struck with tzara'at. The same words are used in both cases:
וַיִּחַר אַף יהוה in Numbers 12:9, referring to the anger of the LORD (יהוה), and
וַיִּחַר אַף אֱלֹהִים in this verse, referring to the anger of Elohim (אֱלֹהִים);
וַיִּחַר אַף יהוה in Numbers 25:3 we will see it again
As we saw in Numbers 12:9
“flared up” here comes from the Hebrew חָרָה [khah-rah] meaning:
Strong's: to glow or grow warm; figuratively (usually) to blaze up, of anger, zeal, jealousy
BDB: to be hot, to furious, to burn, to become angry, to be kindled
“anger” here comes from the Hebrew אַף [aph] meaning:
Strong's: properly, the nose or nostril; hence, the face, and occasionally a person; also (from the rapid breathing in passion) ire
BDB: nostril, nose, face; anger
This was a righteous anger that, anthropomorphically speaking, would shoot up the breathing rate and flare the nostrils.
No disrespect to the LORD (or the San Antonio Spurs), but Cantor's illustration of this idea reminded me of something I'd seen when we lived near Chicago.
the angel of Adonai stationed himself on the path to bar his way
these messengers of the LORD stand, always at the ready, to perfectly execute His will
“angel” here is the Hebrew מַלְאָךְ [mahl-akh] meaning:
Strong's: to despatch as a deputy; a messenger; specifically, of God, i.e. an angel (also a prophet, priest or teacher)
BDB: a messenger, a representative (a messenger; an angel; the theophanic angel)
Many Hebrew words that have the same root letters (normally three, but sometimes two letters) are related. Here are some other words with the same מ.ל.ךְ root letters to consider (remember Hebrew reads right-to-left):
מָלַךְ [mah-lahk]: to rule, to reign, to counsel
מֶלֶךְ [meh-lehk]: a king
מֹלֶךְ [mo-lehk]: Molek (i.e. reigning king), the chief deity of the Ammonites
Isn't it just like the great counterfeiter, satan, to try and mimic the LORD, the real King?
satan (שָׂטָן, which is Hebrew for “adversary”) can not create anything new, he can only counterfeit, twist, manipulate, distort
מָלְכוּת [mahl-khūt] dominion, royal power, reign, kingdom, realm, sovereign power
The third letter looks different here because when it ends a word the כ [kof] changes shape slightly to ך [kof sophit].
מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק [mal-kiy-tzeh-dehk] (Melchizedek in most English translations) from
מַלְכִּי a personal possessive of מֶלֶךְ meaning “my king” and
צֶדֶק meaning right, rightness, righteousness, justice
The name Malki-Tzedek (Melchizedek) tells us “my King (is) righteousness” or “my King (of) righteousness” (cf Heb 7:2)
23 The donkey saw the angel of Adonai standing on the road, drawn sword in hand; so the donkey turned off the road into the field; and Bil'am had to beat the donkey to get it back on the road.
Was it that the donkey was more spiritually astute than this wayward prophet / fortune-teller?
Was it that the donkey was more in tune with the LORD?
Was it that the LORD knew He could more easily get through to the donkey?
Was it that Bil'am was blinded by greed … or pride?
The donkey turned off the road and saved his life, but because of his blindness he beat her
How often does it seem in this life that we try to do something, convinced that it is of the LORD, only to feel like we get beat up for the effort?
So, my dear brothers [and sisters], stand firm and immovable, always doing the Lord's work as vigorously as you can, knowing that united with the Lord your efforts are not in vain (1 Cor 15:58).
So let us not grow weary of doing what is good; for if we don't give up, we will in due time reap the harvest. 10 Therefore, as the opportunity arises, let us do what is good to everyone, and especially to the family of those who are trustingly faithful (Gal 6:9-10).
28 But Adonai enabled the donkey to speak, and it said to Bil'am, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” 29 Bil'am said to the donkey, “It's because you've been making a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand; I would kill you on the spot!” 30 The donkey said to Bil'am, “I'm your donkey, right? You've ridden me all your life, right? Have I ever treated you like this before?” “No,” he admitted.
How incredible! That the LORD enabled the donkey to speak, yes, but also that Balaam engages her in conversation without a hint of shock or dismay.
He was so wrapped up in himself, his goals, wants, and desires, with his image, that he misses the miracle.
31 Then Adonai opened Bil'am's eyes, so that he could see the angel of Adonai standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, and he bowed his head and fell on his face.
May HaShem open our eyes to see with spiritual eyes and to be discerning
32 The angel of Adonai said to him, “Why did you hit your donkey three times like that? I have come out here to bar your way, because you are rushing to oppose me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside these three times; and indeed, if she hadn't turned away from me, I would have killed you by now and saved it alive!”
This passage is an encouragement in that if God could use one donkey, there's hope for me!What about you?
34 Bil'am said to the angel of Adonai, “I have sinned. I didn't know that you were standing on the road to block me. Now, therefore, if what I am doing displeases you, I will go back.”
I have sinned.
Sometimes easy to say, especially as a mighty angel of the LORD appears with a word of confrontation and a drawn sword.
But Bil'am had already demonstrated that he would question and try to go around clear and specific direction from God.
There is a difference between what some have called true and false repentance
True repentance is when a person is truly sorry for what they have done, i.e. with a broken heart, and they turn away from that behavior.
Thankfully, God allows U-turns!
He allows us to come to our senses and turn back to Him and His ways.
A “false repentance” is only being sorry for being caught.
There is no true remorse, there is no true turning away, there is no true turning back to God or true change of heart.
Each Hebrew letter has ancient (paleo) meanings. The meanings of the individual letters can help us better understand the concept(s) behind the word those letters come together to make. The Hebrew word for “repent” and “return” is שׁוּב [shūv].
ש [sin / shin] can represent teeth, something sharp, to consume, to destroy
ו [vav] can represent a nail or peg, to secure, to bind together, to add, “and”
ב [bet / vet] can represent a house or tent, household, family, in, into
Put together we can see the idea that to repent (שׁוּב) joins destruction and the house. In other words to repent is to “destroy the house” leaving nothing to go back to. An American idiom is to “burn the bridge” so you can not return to … whatever.
In alcohol rehab patients are told they need to change their “playmates” and “playgrounds.” No longer associating with people or places that might tempt or encourage them to drink: to “burn those bridges.”
The same idea can be applicable to any addictive behavior.
For most people, that can be like trying to push a large boulder up a mountain: nearly impossible ...
Unless you have the help of the One Who made the mountains.
If what I am doing displeases you, I will go back.
Bil'am already knew he was going against the LORD's first word to him, (which was clear, concise, and to the point,) so of course what he was now doing would displease a servant of God.
But he pretends ignorance and appeasement, perhaps in hope of avoiding his death sentence.
35 But the angel of Adonai said to Bil'am, “No, go on with the men; but you are to say only what I tell you to say.” So Bil'am went along with the princes of Balak.
In verses 8-11 Bil'am presents the situation to the LORD Who tells him (verse 12,) “You are not to go with them; you are not to curse the people, because they are blessed.”
In verse 19 he goes to “find out what else Adonai will say” knowing that he already has clear directions not to go with them and not to curse the people of Isra'el.
It appears that he had already made up his mind and was trying to convince God to bless it
God says, “but do only what I tell you,” limiting even Bil'am's rebellion
Here the angel says, “No” as if saying, “you have already made your decision and acted on it, go on with the men; but you are to say only what I tell you to say.” Further limiting Bil'am's activities.
In our walk with the LORD He will often give us enough “rope” of free will to explore the parameters He has set or to tie ourselves up and restrict our own movements; to tie ourselves to Him or to hang ourselves with – but the choice is ours to make.
LORD God, please help us to make wise choices and to live according to Your will and Your Word.
36 When Balak heard that Bil'am had come, he went out to meet him in the city of Mo'av at the Arnon border, in the farthest reaches of the territory.
• Balak goes out to meet him at the far northern border of Mo'av.
◦ Going out to meet someone and escort them is a sign of honor and respect.
◦ If Bil'am was traveling south on the King's Highway, Balak would have met him as he entered Mo'av (blue arrow at right).
37 Balak said to Bil'am, “I sent more than once to summon you! Why didn't you come to me? Did you think I couldn't pay you enough?”
• The assumption is that everyone has a price and since Bil'am did not come at Balak's first bidding that it must have been because of money.
38 Bil'am replied to Balak, “Here, I've come to you! But I have no power of my own to say anything. The word that God puts in my mouth is what I will say.”
What we really believe will shape our thoughts; our thoughts our attitudes; our attitudes our actions; our actions our habits; our habits our character; and our character our eternal destiny.
A casual reading of Numbers 22-24 can give us the idea that Bil'am was an okay guy. Comparing other Scriptures, however, gives us a fuller picture, e.g.
• Num 31:15 Moshe asked them, “You let the women live? 16 Why, these are the ones who – because of Bil'am's advice – caused the people of Isra'el to rebel, breaking faith with Adonai in the P'or incident, so that the plague broke out among Adonai's community!” (cf Deut 23:4-5; Neh 13:2; Mic 6:5)
◦ The P'or incident is recorded in Num 25 where 24,000 died.
• Josh 24:10 But I refused to listen to Bil'am, and he actually blessed you. In this way I rescued you from him.
• 2 Pet 2:15 These people have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Bil'am Ben-B'or, who loved the wages of doing harm 16 but was rebuked for his sin – a dumb beast of burden spoke out with a human voice and restrained the prophet's insanity! (cf Jude 11)
• Rev 2:14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: you have some people who hold to the teaching of Bil'am, who taught Balak to set a trap for the people of Isra'el, so that they would eat food that had been sacrificed to idols and commit sexual sin.
1 Isra'el stayed at Sheetim, and there the people began whoring with the women of Mo'av. 2 These women invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, where the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 With Isra'el thus to Ba'al-P'or, the anger of Adonai blazed up against Isra'el.
• This reasserts our need to be diligent in our walk with the LORD
◦ It brings up the fact that men and women are “wired” differently and both need to be careful
▪ men need to be prayerfully aware of the affect of the visual on them sexually
▪ women need to be aware of the affect of the visual on men so they can be mindful of their dress and pray for men in their lives
▪ Dennis Prager of Prager University addresses the differences in a five minute video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9WZFeA4FzI
• “the anger of Adonai blazed up” – see note on Num 22:21 above
• “against Isra'el” here in Hebrew is בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל [beh-yis-rah-el], which more literally means “in Isra'el”
◦ physically the LORD was in the midst of their camp
◦ mentally Adonai was to be constantly, consistently in their thoughts
◦ emotionally HaShem was to be in their hearts, the sole object of their affections
◦ spiritually He was their husband and in them much more than they were in Him
▪ How well do we compare?
The plague was stopped by the act of one man with a spear (vs 7-8)
• In the incident with Korach the plague was stopped with incense (Num 16:46-50)
• In the incident with the snakes the plague was stopped with a fake snake on a pole (Num 21:8-9)