The next Torah portion is called “Balak” and it goes from Num 22.2 to 25.9. Balak means “destroyer” and that is exactly what he tries to do. Israel was on the plains of Moab (of father) and Sihon had taken it from them. This portion is going to be a study in Replacement Theology. Balak was the son of Zippor, which means “Bird.’ You will remember that the wife of Moses was named “Zipporah” which is the feminine form of the name. Balak’s motive for what he is trying to do is replacement theology. Here is a modern example.
In 1990, the Secretary of State for George Bush was a man named James Baker. He appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and told them Israel was refusing to be moderate and to make peace. Then he said an undiplomatic thing. He gave the phone number of the State Department and said, “When you are ready, call me.” On Jan 17, 1991, Iraq fired the first SCUD missile at Israel, and the Israeli Air Force scrambled. The U.S. State Department panicked and they had to keep the Israeli’s out of the Gulf War or the coalition that was built to fight Iraq would fall apart. Who called whom? James Baker who said “You call me” is the one who came calling and begging. In another irony, in 1981, the Israeli’s bombed the nuclear reactor in Iraq. The person who offered the motion in the U.N. condemning Israel was the ambassador from Kuwait for an act of aggression against their “brothers” the Iraqis. In 1990, the Iraqis invaded Kuwait.
Balak has heard of the sons of Israel and their victory over the Amorites, and they believe they are next. This is an ancient version of the “Domino Theory.” He needs help, so he sends messengers out to a man named Balaam, which means “devourer of the people.” He is from Mesopotamia (Num 23.7). He is a type of the religious man who condemns and curses Israel, like Constantine, the Church Fathers, Martin Luther and modern day teachers. He is a non-Jew who is hired by Balak to curse Israel (22.5).
Balaam will refuse to curse Israel but his error (Jude 11) will come because he told Balak how to get the Israelites to sin by enticing them into sexual immorality, and it succeeds (Num 31.16). If you combine Balaam and Balak, you have Amalek, the perpetual enemy of Israel and a picture of the false messiah and false teachers. Josh 13.22 calls him a “soothsayer” or “diviner.” He is a type of a fake Babylonian religious system and false teachers/prophets.
There are two concepts we need to start out with. First, this story is not about Israel. They are not even part of this story because they are not even aware that all of this is even taking place. The second point is that it is not about what happened, but about what did not happen. Unlike war where Israel fights back in this realm, in the spiritual realm, Israel has to do nothing. All the fuss, the multiple altars, blessings, arguments, different mountain peaks and the repeated efforts to find the right “angle” to hurt Israel all takes place without Israel paying any attention to it. Magic and curses are irrelevant against Israel. Israel was not to rely on magic for success, either.
Sacrifices are repudiated, in general, when they are used to guarantee success (Mic 6.6-8). There is only one way for Israel (and this lesson is for us as well) to fail. If we are going to make mistakes as believers, we are going to do one of three things. Basically, it is the way of Cain, the error of Balaam and the mutiny of Korah (Jude 11). The way of Cain is jealousy and anger, with bitter resentment. Cain thought he was losing his status as first-born. The error of Balaam is causing Israel to sin by getting them to disregard the Torah (Num 31.16). Basically, it is replacement theology for personal gain (2 Pet 2.15). The mutiny of Korah is not being satisfied with your role. He was not anointed to replace Moses and Aaron. Again, replacement theology.
Balaam was a spiritual leader seeking fame and fortune, and he had some knowledge of Yehovah (2 Pet 2.15). He is known as a “prophet” and he was from Aram (22.8). Kings came to him for counsel and he was a contemporary of Moses. What this story shows us is God is not just involved with Israel here, he was working through others who were not in the camp. He had a reputation and he fails. This is not a new thing. Evidently, he had the authority from God to bless (22.20). He should have had a proper estimation of himself. Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of God or is even saved (Matt 7.21-23).
Balaam has been asked to curse Israel because Balak fears them. However, prophets don’t go around cursing Israel. His job was to speak the very words God gave him to speak, no more and no less. His job is to speak to the people so they won’t be cursed! Today, so called “prophets” and “teachers” will try to get Jews to turn from the Torah, believe in “Jesus” and follow Christianity. They tell them they don’t have to keep the Sabbath and they can eat pork now, all that has been done away with. But, by believing and teaching this, they are actually going to bring a curse on Israel (Deut 28.15-68).
In Num 22.9 Yehovah says, “Who are these men with you?” Now, he knew who they were but he wants Balaam to see where his heart is. So, in Num 22.10, Balaam says, The King of Moab has sent word to me.” In other words, “see how important I am, Lord? A king wants to see me. My reputation and ministry has spread even to the top of the political world. I am an important guy now!” But in Num 22.12 he tells Balaam not to go with them to curse Israel because they are blessed (Gen 12.3; Prov 26.2). Balaam responds to Balak’s leaders in verse 13, “God has refused to let me go” but that is not what Yehovah said. He said that Balaam can’t go and curse a people who are blessed, but he conveniently leaves that part out of his response.
So, the messengers of Balak returned and said to Balak, “Balaam has refused to come with us” (v 14). In Num 22.17 the king gets the impression that Balaam is holding out because he wants more money. So he sends another delegation more numerous and prestigious than the first one to show Balaam greater respect. So he says to Balaam, I will indeed honor (honorarium) you richly.” He is promising money and a possible role in his court if Balaam will come and curse Israel. But Balaam says that money isn’t the issue. He cannot come and do anything contrary to what the Lord has said (v 18).
In Num 22.19, Balaam wants them to stay the night and he will go and find out what else Yehovah will speak to him. In Num 22.20, God basically says that if they come back, rise up and go with them but he is only to speak the word that he gives him. I never said you couldn’t go to bless them, he just couldn’t curse them. So, Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey. The donkey is symbolic of Balaam’s stubbornness. He is going to get paid to do something that God told him not to do, curse Israel. In Num 22.22 God is angry because God told him to wait for the princes to come (v 20), but he saddled his donkey and left before they arrived. He is already going against what the Lord told him to do. Does Balaam think he is going to manipulate this situation for his own benefit and personal gain (2 Pet 2.15)?
We will pick up here in Part 25.