Torah Portion for week 40: Numbers 22:2 – 25:9
This week we are looking at the Torah portion named for the ancient Moabite king, Balak. Our parasha begins when Balak son of Zipor is fearful of the Israelites. He has heard about the great victories the Israelites had against two other mighty kings and he is petrified, realizing he cannot stand against the Israelites. In his despair, he attempts to call a famous sorcerer, Balaam ben Beor, to curse the Israelites for him. It should be noted that Balaam lives about 500 km away from Moab, so he must have been very famous. Ironically, since the Moabites descended from Lot, Abraham’s nephew, Balak would have done well to remember that his people, the Moabites, came into existence because of God’s faithfulness to Abraham (Gen 19:29). In other words, joy, rather than fear, would have been a far more fitting reaction to God’s continued blessing of Abraham’s seed!
A repeated theme of divine protection in this portion comes directly from God’s original promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: “those that bless you I will bless and they that curse you I will curse.” In that verse, God promises Abraham’s seed, the Israelites, his divine protection despite many adversaries.
The first one to make explicit reference to that promise is Balak, on his first of two attempts to call Balaam, “Come now, curse this people for me . . . for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed” (Num 22:6). Balak attributes divine powers to Balaam’s words. As Balaam considers this invitation, God reveals himself to him that night and says in verse 12, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” When Balaam refuses, Balak doesn’t take no for an answer. He is so fearful of Israel that he sends more dignitaries to summon Balaam, promising him even greater honor and greater reward. The promise of great honor and wealth is too much for Balaam, and despite the specific instruction from God the first time, he attempts to go with Balak’s messengers. Verse 22 indicates that God is angry with Balaam for going, and he opens the mouth of Balaam’s donkey; then a lively discussion begins between Balaam and his donkey. Though Balaam, at first glance, appears to be motivated entirely by his obedience to the Lord, we later read in Numbers 31:7, 16 and in 2 Peter 2:15-16 that Balaam’s greed led to his downfall.
When Balak and Balaam finally meet, Balak takes Balaam to three different locations in order for him to curse the Israelites, but Balaam is unable to utter curses on God’s people. Instead, he refers twice to the Abrahamic covenant’s promise of divine protection, and in the end, even utters a famous Messianic prophecy. God is faithful and does not change his mind!
Listen to Balaam’s words. The first prophecy is found in Numbers 23:19-20: “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.” The second time is in Numbers 24:9: “Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.” And finally, the Messianic prophecy in Numbers 24:17: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” This star that shall come out of Jacob is none other than the Messiah himself.
Please note that while all this is happening, the Israelites, God’s very people, are completely oblivious to what is going on. Like them, we aren’t always aware of the spiritual war going on around us. But God is faithful, his promises are completely reliable, and he doesn’t change his mind about his word. And like the Israelites, as followers of Messiah, we too are safe under the wings of his protection! This should be a great encouragement for all who walk with the God of Abraham and his Messiah, Yeshua, even if at times God must remind us of this great truth by the mouth of a donkey!