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Parashat Balak: Various Teachings From Netivyah Staff

by Netivyah

In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.

Joseph Shulam: Answers to Questions About Balaam and the Donkey [2019]

The reading of the Torah this week (in Israel) is from Numbers 22:2-25:9. It is called Balak, because Balak the king of Moab could not have a victory over Israel, and he wanted to destroy Israel before they arrived in the land of Canaan. So, he saw that he could not have victory over Israel, and he wanted to enlist the help of the divine powers to be able to have victory.

In the history of biblical narrative and Jewish folklore, Balaam became the arch villain of all ages. From the book of Numbers all the way to the book of Revelation and rabbinical literature, Balaam is a recurring bad guy of biblical history.

However, the hero in the Balaam story is the donkey. Balaam, the international pagan prophet with a great reputation, invited by kings to put an evil spell on Israel, is a lesser prophet than his donkey. The donkey sees the angel of the Lord and hears him, but Balaam does not. The donkey speaks to Balaam, who does not hear from God. So, in this week’s Jerusalem prayer list we are going to learn from a donkey.

The story of Balak and Balaam is spread over 95 verses in our parasha. The story of the donkey is only 14 verses of the 95, and yet the most remembered part of the Balak-Balaam story is in this fraction of the story. This biblical story is a challenge to every Bible commentator for a number of reasons. I will answer each of the following questions:

Q: Does God speak to pagan prophets?

A: Yes, He does! We see that God is speaking to Balaam in this story, and gives him instruction what to do and what to say. We must remember that the God of Israel is the God of all the nations. He has chosen Israel to represent Him to all the nations, because He cares about them, and is working to restore them back to Himself.

Q: Do these pagan prophets, like Balaam, recognize the voice of the Lord, Creator of the Universe?

A: Apparently yes! But, their agenda is such that they, most of the time, ignore God’s instruction and have the wrong motives. The story of Jonah is a demonstration of this principle.

Q: Do these pagan prophets have a relationship with God that demands obedience?

A: Yes, like every human being, pagans have an obligation to the Almighty, and they too are obligated to hear and obey.

Q: Why is God angry with Balaam, and sends His angel to stop him from going to put an evil spell on Israel?

A: The anger of the Lord against Balaam is because God knows what Balaam is thinking in his heart. God knows that Balaam has every intention to receive the gold that Balak promised him for damning Israel.

Q: Why doesn’t the Lord stop Balaam in a different way, like sending a bolt of lightning to stop him dead in his tracks?

A: Because Balaam is being used by God, and has not yet finished his task.

Q: Why does the donkey see and hear the angel of the Lord? And the Balaam the false prophet not hear or see the angel?

A: Because Balaam was so set on his desire and greed, that his mind was blinded by his own agenda, that he could not see anything except to reach his own goal and satisfaction of his greed.

Q: If God gave Balaam permission to go bless Israel, instead of curse Israel, why is God still angry with Balaam? (“And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.” – Numbers 22:21–22 NKJV)

A: The permission that God gave Balaam was also a test to see if he would obey God or not. The Lord is always interested in converting people, including world leaders. The Lord knows what is in our hearts. He saw Balaam’s heart and knew that he has no intention to bless Israel. For this reason He sent his angel.

Q: Why does the angel of the Lord not bring to Balaam and to his donkey any new instruction? (He actually repeats what the Lord has already spoken to Balaam, “And the angel of the Lord said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.” – Numbers 22:35 KJV)

A: The Lord is patient with all of humanity, even with His enemies, and the enemies of Israel. Even with Israel, His chosen nation. He warns, more than one time, but in the end, when the cup of iniquity is full, the gavel strikes, and the Lord’s verdict is passed, and history is the judge of God’s righteousness.

Q: What is the difference between a greedy pagan false prophet, and a simple donkey to whom the Lord God is giving a revelation through one of His angels?

A: This question is very important to me. Because we see today, in the spiritual sphere of evangelical christianity, like in the time of John’s revelation, some of the same phenomena. Leaders who report friendship with Israel for satisfaction of their own greed. There are not many, but they stand out. Sometimes an anonymous “donkey” can see what the famous VIP leaders don’t see, and it is these simple men of God that save the day.

Q: What can we learn from this story that will help us hear from the Lord, understand the Lord better, and be obedient to the Lord? Even if the revelation of the Lord is not exactly to our liking?

A: Everyone can be used by God, even a donkey! If you hear from God, don’t say to yourself, “I am simple and God can’t be speaking to a simple man like me,” say to yourself, “I am a simple person without high degrees from university, God has spoken to me, and I will do what He tells me to do! I will speak the Lord’s truth with love, even if it seems strange that the Lord of all has spoken to me!”

Joseph Shulam: Why Do the Nations Fear Israel? [2018]

The reading of Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2 – 25:9) is the portion that teaches us that if the Lord wants, He can make a jackass into a prophet. This portion of the Torah starts with a statement of Balak King of Moab that interests me greatly. Balak King of Moab says:

“Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel.” – Numbers 22:2,3 [NKJV]

The big question is why should Balak the King of Moab be afraid of Israel. There are a few reasons that we could glean from the word of God.

  1. Here in this text, Balak is afraid of Israel, because they are many. Yes, Israel was a formidable force coming out of the Sinai Desert and sweeping the land. However, Israel was a not a militant force. The people of Israel were not a real threat to the nations living in the Land of Canaan.
    • In Numbers 20:20: “Now Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom. ‘Thus says your brother Israel…’” Moses promised the king of Edom to follow the international highway, the King’s Highway. Moses promised to pay for anything that the people would use while passing through the land of Moab. The response the King of Moab was, “You shall not pass through my land, lest I come out against you with the sword.”
    • The Children of Israel promised to pay for the water that they drink and for the water that their animals drink while crossing the land of Moab. However, the response of Moab was harsh and selfish, and it came with a threat of war and annihilation: “You shall not pass through.” “So Edom came out against them with many men and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory; so Israel turned away from him.” (Numbers 20:20,21)
  2. Later the same situation came about with the king of Amon. In response to the favor (and actually the international right) to pass through the highway, they all refused, and did not act neighborly and started to war against Israel. Here is what the Word of God says: “Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Please let me pass through your land.’ But the king of Edom would not heed. And in like manner they sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained in Kadesh. And they went along through the wilderness and bypassed the land of Edom and the land of Moab, came to the east side of the land of Moab, and encamped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the border of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab. Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, ‘Please let us pass through your land into our place.’ But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together, encamped in Jahaz, and fought against Israel.” – Judges 11:17–20

What can we learn from these historical events:

  1. Much of the anti-Jewish sentiments that the nations have evolve from two factors:
    • Fear of the success and ability of the Jewish people to survive and to come out victorious even from the most difficult circumstances. Like World War II and the Nazi Holocaust. Not only did the Nazi plan fail, but the remnant of the Jews arose from the ashes of the death camps in Europe and built a country that is a rose blossoming in the wilderness, both in reality and also internationally.
    • Jealousy of many nations of Israel’s success, Israel’s agriculture, and Israel’s hi-tech breakthroughs. In the last 12 months Israel hi-tech Companies have had exits and were purchased by the giants of the industry, Google and Intel, for more than 19 billion dollars. This jealousy can be seen in the Torah portion of Balak, and so can the fear of Israel be understood by reading the first verses of the parasha: “Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel.” – Numbers 22:2,3 [NKJV]
  2. The wise thing for King Balak of Moab would have been to learn from the mistakes of the Amorites and the Edomites and allow Israel to pass peacefully and pay for the water that they used, and for the passing through. This would have made Balak a friend, and would have given him the privilege of enjoying the blessing that God gave to Abraham: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2,3 [NKJV]
  3. In all this there is a lesson for the nations that oppress Israel and terrorize Israel today. The Psalmist asks the following questions: “Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces And cast away Their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, And distress them in His deep displeasure…” – Psalms 2:1–5

I pray for the leaders of the Arab nations to wake up and learn from history, and for Israel to do the same. The formula is simple.

If we do the Lord’s will and keep His commandments (not those that were made up by man and oppress the people, not the commandments that are kept by tradition, but those that ought to be kept with the heart), the Lord will bless Israel and all who have attached themselves to Israel by faith in Yeshua the King of the Jews.

The Arab nations will see the grace of God, and repent of their iniquity and hate against Israel. This hate is as old as the Bible, it has to end sometime, and it will end.

Joseph Shulam: The Unholy Trinity of Money, Power, and Sex [2017]

This week’s portion of the Torah is Balak (Numbers 22:2 – 25:9). Balak was king of Moab. Moab was born by Lot’s daughter who, after the fall of Sodom, raped her father together with her sister, under the false belief that the whole world was destroyed, and humanity will disappear if there is no one to continue it.

Lot’s two daughters acted under the impression that they and their father are the last human beings left on earth. The offspring of Lot and his daughters became Israel’s most bitter enemies, and that enmity continued all the way to the time of “Herod the Great”, who ruled in the time that Yeshua was born.

The history of Israel has been, and is now, like a wheel within a wheel, and a cycle within a cycle. Over 400 years have passed and Moab is not a powerful nation. Israel is an emerging nation, coming out of the Sinai desert after hundreds of years of slavery. It would seem right that this relative of Abraham’s family would welcome its distant cousins, and allow them to pass through the land of Moab on the east side of the Jordan River, and reach Canaan, the promised land. But no, Balak invites the secret weapon – Balaam the most famous of magicians and false prophets in the world – to come and curse Israel, even before they enter the land of promise.

Why would a powerful, rich, king like Balak invite Balaam to curse Israel? Israel was a distant relative of Moab, and we read that even years later, during the period of the judges, there were problems with Moab. In Judges chapter 3, we are told that Moab actually conquered Israel and enslaved them for 18 years during the reign of Eglon, king of Moab. God allowed Eglon, king of Moab, to conquer Israel because of Israel’s sins. From this story in the book of Judges we learn that Israel’s security is in the hands of God, and not only in the hands of our wonderful soldiers and military might.

Back to Balak, and his idea that if Balak would put a curse on Israel, the “voodoo” would work, and God will do something to stop Israel from passing through Moab and entering the land promised by God to Abraham and his seed forever. Balak is a witch doctor/prophet, and to some degree a politician of international acclaim. But, Balak knows to hear from God, and actually wants to appear to be obedient to God’s instructions.

In Numbers 22, we find out that God is talking to Balaam, and Balaam responds to God:

“Then God came to Balaam and said, ‘Who are these men with you?’ So Balaam said to God, ‘Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying…’ And God said to Balaam, ‘You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.’ So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, ‘Go back to your land, for the Lord has refused to give me permission to go with you.’” – Numbers 22:9-13 [NKJV]

This conversation between the Lord and Balaam is one that interests me. At first sight, it seems like Balaam hears from God and is interested in being obedient. He tells Balak’s men that he is not coming to Moab, because God refused to give him permission to go and curse the children of Israel.

He sends Balak’s messengers back empty handed. It is not easy to discern if at first Balaam was sincerely wanting to do God’s will, but in the continuation of the story we learn that, in his heart, Balaam wanted to go and get all the gain that Balak promised him for cursing Israel.

This phenomena is common among religious leaders in the history of all religions. At times the relationship with the divine is not strong enough to curb the passion for wealth and power and “faith/religion” becomes an instrument for gain, rather than an expression of devotion and sincerity in the service of God.

On the one hand, the person wants to hear from God and wants to have the power of God/the Holy Spirit in his service, but on the other hand, he also wants the wealth and the power to work in his personal favor. Balaam becomes the quintessential protagonist enemy of God’s people, all the way to the end of the Bible.

In the book of Revelation we still find out that Balaam has disciples who are deceived by him and his false charm, and continue to beset the brothers and sisters in Asia Minor (Turkey of today). In three places in the New Testament Balaam is mentioned:

“They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness…” – 2 Peter 2:15

“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.” – Jude 1:11

“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.” – Revelation 2:14

In all of these three places we learn the same things:

  1. Balaam’s disciples have forsaken the right way. This implies that at one time they, like Balaam their master, did know the right way. You can’t forsake something that you don’t have. So, Peter implies that the disciples of Balaam at one time did have a relationship with the Lord, like the one who they followed.
  2. The sin of Balaam according to Peter was the wages of unrighteousness, what the letter of June calls “greed” and “profit”.
  3. The book of Revelation describes that the doctrine of Balaam also included the use of immorality and putting a stumbling block before the innocent in order to pervert them to idolatry and immorality.

What we see in Balaam is actually the unholy trinity of money, power, and sex. In the case of Balaam and his desire for wealth from Balak the king of Moab, there was a periodic success. Balaam got his wealth from Balak. Israel did fall into sexual sin, and Balak enhanced his power.

However, the success of unrighteousness continues only until some person like Phinehas raises and takes action while the older leaders, as great as they are, stand helpless not knowing what to do and how to handle the complicated diplomatic situation.

The issue of integrity enters into this picture. A person can be world-renown for his religion, like Balaam. He can have the reputation of a holy man, but when greed takes over, even if he heard from God directly and even if his donkey talks to him with a revelation from God, the minute that he allows that greed to capture his heart, he has become a disciple of Balaam. This same heresy, with minor modifications, was what brought Ananias and Sapphira his wife to lose their lives at the hand of the Lord.

There are many more important lessons that can be learned from this parasha of Balak, but I chose to share this one because the heresy that beset the seven churches of Revelation is not some virus that with time will disappear, it is an endemic problem, and Balaam is the prime example of it.

Yehuda Bachana: Prophecy is Worthless Without Love [2018]

Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.

This Shabbat we read and study Parashat Balak. Balak saw the progress of the people of Israel. He witnessed that the people of Israel enjoyed the blessing of God and therefore he feared them greatly. Balak understood that the blessing over the children of Israel was from above, a spiritual blessing of strength that cannot be measured physically.

Due to this, Balak, employed Balaam’s services in order to curse the people of Israel, to harm their spiritual power as well as their military victories and progress.

Balak’s Infamous Blessing for the People of Israel

parashat-balak

Balaam was a great prophet, but he lacked love.

In the course of this parasha, we encounter a donkey that spoke to Balaam. Did it really happen or was it simply a dream? The truth is that the story of the donkey can be read in two ways: both as a true story as well as God’s response to Balaam in a dream (or vision).

In any case, Balaam went with Balak to curse Israel, but God did not allow him to do so. Instead, he ended up blessing Israel several times, one of which is one of the most famous blessings that we pray to this day in every synagogue around the world, including in our congregation:

“How beautiful are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel!” – Numbers 24:5 [NIV]

Only God Himself has the Right to Criticize His People

God expects us to be good children. Our behavior sometimes causes us to distance ourselves from Him, but even this is only between us and the Lord. When there is an external threat, such as Balaam, who sought the weak link among the people of Israel, God’s love is revealed, and this love shows us that He has never abandoned us and never will.

Inwardly, God can be angry with us, at the people of Israel. However, no one else should criticize Israel – that is His exclusive right.

It’s like this with us at home, we can quarrel and get angry at our family, but it’s only inward. Once an outsider dares to say a bad word about a family member, we’ll protect him.

A foreigner does not have the right to open his mouth because he does not understand nor does he belong. In the face of foreigners, the family, community, and nation unite, and those tensions disappear.

Who Exactly was Balaam the Prophet?

Towards the end of the parasha, as in all the recent weekly Torah portions, the people of Israel left their first love, God. They rebelled against Him and this led to a plague. At the very end of the parasha, in the last verses, we encounter a young, energetic priest who was zealous for God. One point that is fundamental about this young priest was that he not only spoke, but acted. As a matter of fact, next week’s Torah portion was named after him.

Balaam is a very interesting figure. If we read between the lines, we understand that he was one of the greatest prophets in the Torah. He was filled with the spirit of God. This parasha shows us that Balaam spoke with God on a regular basis. Here we stop and think to ourselves, who exactly was this great prophet?

The people of Israel saw him as the enemy or villain. Who was this wicked man who sought God and immediately received an answer? Who was this prophet who is written as being “…one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High…” (Numbers 24:16)

How You Utilize Knowledge is Important

The New Testament describes Balaam as a false prophet. That is to say that he was a true prophet, however, he was one who chose the path of evil, of greed, full of self-importance, and pride. One who sought to fulfill his own lustful desires. We find this description in 2 Peter 2:15.

In the epistle of Jude, it is written that he was a man without fruit.

This means, you can be a great and wise man and you can even know the secrets of heaven. At the same time, however, you can still be evil and greedy, seeking wisdom for your own personal benefit.

We can learn an important lesson from Balaam. It does not matter how much knowledge you possess – it’s how you utilize that knowledge.

That’s exactly what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 13:

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:2 [NIV]

Knowledge is Worthless without Love

All knowledge, secrets, and prophecy – all these are worthless without love. Love means caring for others; goodwill towards those around you and protecting individuals who can’t fend for themselves.

We are all believers who are familiar with the Bible, and we are all wise in one form or another. We tend to delve into our faith, into the correct theology, the proper understanding of the Bible, as well as the study and interpretation of the principles of our faith.

The question that arises from the story of Balaam is: what do we do with this knowledge? Is it only for personal benefit or personal salvation? Do we live out our knowledge for those around us including for our families? The Bible dwells mainly on the relationship between man and his fellow man, on helping others and on caring.

Can you Win God’s Favor with Money?

Let’s return to the parasha, the Moabites saw the progress of Israel and her many victories, and they are afraid. In a moment of desperation, Balak, king of Moab, turned to Balaam. It was clear to all the nations surrounding Israel that her success was supernatural, therefore, the Moabites thought that the intervention of a prophet like Balaam could tip the scales.

Why did Balak offer Balaam large sums of money? After the first officials returned without Balaam, Balak thought that Balaam would want more money and honor, so he sent additional distinguished officials, and promised more money (Numbers 22:14).

This was because Balak thought that if a prophet performed certain actions he could cause God to comply with his request.

We can only chuckle at Balak’s way of thinking, what did he expect? As if you could buy God with a little money or that somehow Balaam had the power to influence God and cause Him to curse Israel for a certain amount.

Many people are similar to Balak, Jews and Christians alike. These individuals see God as a rich and good grandfather filled with treats.

This approach is not so distant from us. Sometimes we too think that we can “buy” a blessing from God, we think we can make “give and take” deals with the Almighty. For instance, you say a prayer in order to gain health, or you do a mitzvah just to receive blessing. Another example is seen with visiting the house of God, just so that your life can now be blessed.

This approach hits home, because it is based on truth. It is possible to speak with God, and even influence Him. It is possible, through a true and sincere prayer, one that comes from the heart, to touch God. We can all lift our eyes to heaven, open our hearts, and see and feel that there is someone who listens and hears us.

Please leave a verse in the comments below, that you think sums up, or adds to the discussion today.

Shabbat Shalom.

Click here to download a pdf version of this teaching.
Published July 1, 2018 | Updated August 25, 2019

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