Walking Against God’s Will. As we saw last week, Israel had begun the final leg of the journey to Canaan land. Traveling northward along the King’s highway, they would pass directly through the land of Moab. Balak, the king of Moab, felt threatened by Israel so he sent an emissary to Balaam in Mesopotamia asking him to come to Moab and to curse Israel. In Numbers 22:12, God clearly commanded Balaam, “Thou shalt not go with them [Moabites]; thou shalt not curse the people [Israel]: for they are blessed.” Notice in verse 13, Balaam did not give the whole story to the Midianites. He only said, “the LORD refuseth to give me leave to go with you.” He did not tell them the most important thing – that God had absolutely forbidden him to curse Israel because they were blessed! You will note that the Hebrew word דֶּ֖רֶךְ (deh-rech – meaning ‘way’ – Strong’s #1870) is used 8 times [verses 22, 23, 24, 26, 31, 32, 34]. Often it has the Hebrew letter bet ( ב) as the prefix to indicate ‘the way’ or ‘in the way’ – בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ (b-derech). Verse 32 clearly shows us that God’s way and Balaam’s way were at odds: “I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me.”
Spiritual Vision Check. A secondary ‘theme’ in this Torah portion becomes apparent as we count the number of times the word ‘see’ appears in the text. First, the donkey ‘sees’ the angel of the Lord in verses 23, 25 and 27. The Hebrew word for ‘see’ is רָאָה (rah-ah – Strong’s #7200). Then God ‘opens’ the
donkey’s mouth so that she speaks to Balaam. Here the Hebrew word for ‘open’ is פָתָח (pah-tach) which literally means ‘open’. Then God ‘opens’ Balaam’s eyes in Num. 22:31. Here the word translated as ‘open’ is גָלָה (gah-lah – Strong’s #1540). The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) says, “When God revealed himself to Balaam it is said that Balaam’s eyes were “uncovered,” “opened”. (Num 24:4, 6) It appears that in this manner Balaam saw something which he otherwise could not see.” From this point forward, Balaam refers to himself as “the man whose eyes are open” (cf. Num. 24:3, 15) Spiritual vision is a key theme with at least 24 occurrences of the word ‘see’ (in various forms) in Numbers 22.
Curses Become Blessings. God’s will was clear. Israel was NOT to be cursed. However, Balak had offered Balaam great riches if he would curse Israel. Further insight from Deut. 23:5 shows that Balaam truly did WANT to curse Israel: “Nevertheless the LORD thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the LORD thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the LORD thy God loved thee.” This verse explains why Balaam blessed Israel when he really wanted to curse them because God overruled and turned each curse into a blessing! Balak was furious! Balaam’s four prophecies about Israel are true because God gave them. One of the greatest prophecies in the T’nakh about the Messiah was given by Balaam in Numbers 24:17: “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Seceptre shall rise out of Israel ..” This prophecy probably guided the wise men from the east (the same area that Balaam was from) thousands of years later that Matthew speaks about in his Gospel, to worship the newborn king of the Jews.
Etymology of the word ‘Prophet’. According to The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT), the word for prophet, נָבִ֣יא (navi), is derived from the Hebrew root, נבע, “meaning to bubble up, “boil forth,” hence, “to pour forth words, like those who speak with fervour of mind or under divine inspiration, as prophets and poets.” It occurs 277 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. The plural is נְבִיאִ֔ים (n’vi’im) and is also the second division of the T’nakh. 1 Samuel 9:9 gives some etymology about the word ‘prophet’: “Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to enquire of God, thus he spake, Come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer.” The Hebrew word translated as ‘seer’ in this verse is רֹאֶֽה – ro-eh, from the root for the word ‘to see’. The seer or the prophet was the one who could see the way to go during hard times. He could see God’s vision when no one else could. Because He saw God’s vision, he often also saw God’s coming judgments.
The Seer Who Could Not See. Matthew Henry says that Bishop Simon Patrick (1626-1707) and also many Jewish scholars of his time, thought that Balaam had been a great prophet referring to Balak’s accolade in Num. 22:6, “he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.” Although God gave him many chances, and showed him a great miracle in letting his donkey speak, Balaam never repented. He never aligned his way with God’s way and died trying to help the Midianites to destroy Israel when God clearly told him that Israel was blessed. Numbers 31 speaks of the children of Israel’s destruction of both the Midianites and of Balaam. This event is also recorded in Joshua 13:21-22, “Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, did the children of Israel slay with the sword.” Sadly note that at the end of his life, Balaam was not called a prophet or seer, but a soothsayer. There are several Hebrew words translated as ‘soothsayer’ in the T’nakh, but the one used here is קּוֹסֵ֑ם (ko-sem). TWOT says that ko-sem referred to one who practiced divination and, “The major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel and the minor prophets Micah and Zechariah all mention קָסַם [ko-sem] in a derogatory sense.” In the New Testament, Balaam is used as an example NOT to follow: 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14.
Don’t Ignore God’s Word! All of Balaam’s problems started when he ignored God’s Word concerning Israel in Gen. 12:3: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” By attempting to curse Israel, Balaam actually put himself under God’s curse! Although God showed him the truth, he did not repent and his life spiraled downwards. God is still on the throne and looking out for His ancient people, the Jewish people. And although many ‘Balaks’ and ‘Balaams’ have come on the scene down through the centuries, none have been able to destroy Israel, but rather, eventually they have met with destruction. I do not want to be like Balaam whose way was perverse before God. Just this week I have been praying through Psalm 119 which has 176 wonderful verses about God’s Word. I want my way to align with God’s way: “O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!” (Psalm 119:5)
Esau’s Inheritance. The book of Numbers is partly a narrative of Israel’s desert wanderings interspersed with the laws and requirements of the offerings and also, rules for dividing the land of Canaan. Deuteronomy recounts (and summarizes) the events of the desert years and here we find God’s command to Moses to begin the final leg of the journey home to Canaan: “Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness [desert]by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spake unto me: and we compassed [circled] mount Seir [Edom] many days. And the LORD spake unto me, saying, Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward. And command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau, which dwell in Seir; and they shall be afraid of you: take ye good heed unto yourselves therefore: Meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession.” (Deut. 2:1-5) We have to go to Genesis for the backstory to Esau’s possession. When Jacob returned to Canaan to live, Esau, “went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob.” (Gen. 36:6) Two verses later, we learn the location of the land where Esau fled: “Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom.” (Gen. 36:8) The Lord warned Israel that He had given Edom to Esau and He would not give any of this land to them.
Numbers 20, where we are studying this week, gives some extra details that Edom denied Moses’ request for passage: “Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king’s high way, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders. And Edom said unto him, Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.” (Num. 20:17-18) Note that Moses said Israel would use, “the king’s high way” to pass through Edom. The Hebrew says: דֶּרֶךְ הַמֶּלֶךְ – “derech ha-melech”. The word הַמֶּלֶךְ (ha-melech) means “the king” while דֶּרֶךְ (derech) means ‘way’ or ‘path’ hence the phrase, “king’s high way” in the AV.
Two Major Trade Routes. Two vitally important trade routes criss-crossed the land of Canaan joining three major continents: Africa, Europe and Asia. The King’s Highway extended from Egypt (in Africa) across the Sinai Peninsula, northward across Transjordan, past Damascus and onwards to Mesopotamia (in Asia) and the Euphrates River. The Via Maris (Latin for “way of the sea”) is the modern name for an ancient trade route linking Egypt with the northern empires of Syria and Mesopotamia. Its earlier name was “Way of the Philistines“, a reference to a passageway through the Philistine Plain (which today consists of Israel’s southern coastal plain and the Gaza Strip). It was the most important route from Egypt to Syria in the Fertile Crescent and followed the Israeli Mediterranean coastal plain before crossing over into the plain of Jezreel and the Jordan valley. Together with the King’s Highway, the Via Maris was one of the major trade routes connecting Egypt with Mesopotamia on the western edge of the Fertile Crescent.
The Via Maris (purple), King’s Highway (red), and other ancient Levantine trade routes, c. 1300 BCE (Wikipedia)
The Long Road Home. According to the Biblical record, during the Exodus from Egypt, God instructed Moses to purposefully avoid the Via Maris route:“And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt. But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.” Exodus 13:17-18 The Lord knew that by following the shorter Via Maris route, Israel would encounter the Philistines. Instead, He led them into the desert so that He could save them from Egypt at the Red Sea.
After the 40 years of the desert wanderings, Moses would now finally lead Israel up the King’s Highway until they crossed over the Jordan river into Canaan. In modern Jordan, Highway 35 and Highway 15 follow The King’s Highway, connecting Irbid in the north with Aqaba in the south. The southern part of the route crosses several deep wadis, making it a highly scenic if curvy and rather low-speed road. (see photo at the top) The Lord picked the King’s Highway as Israel’s long road to their new home – Canaan. He knew it was in the desert, far from water; but He was the water of life. It was far from food – but He supplied their food. It was steep and hard to climb; but He would give them strength. It was curvy and one could become easily lost; but He was their guide. Yes, the Lord choose the King’s Highway on purpose to teach Israel that He would supply all they needed on the long walk home. The Lord wanted to develop in the children of Israel the faith in Him that they at first lacked (hence wandering in the desert for 40 years). The desert is always the best school for developing faith because it is a place where we truly must trust the Lord for even basic needs. Is your life path hard and steep? Confusing? Lacking in even basic resources? Don’t despair! The Lord may be sending you this direction on purpose to increase your faith. Remember if you only walk on the flatlands of the Via Marias, yes you will reach your destination faster and easier, but you won’t arrive with as much faith!
When God gave the Ten Commandments, He was establishing the foundation for society and truly “western civilization” and esp. the laws of the United States are built upon them. Their importance cannot be denied (although many people try to do so in this day). The Ten Commandments are generally divided into two lists of five commandments each. This bodes well with the “two tables of stone” (Heb: שְׁנֵ֖י לֻח֥וֹת אֲבָנִֽים -snei luchot avahnim) that they were originally written on. The fact that the Ten Commandments were contained on two stone tablets is also conveyed in the term: ‘two tables of testimony’ – שְׁנֵ֨י לֻחֹ֤ת הָֽעֵדֻת֙ (snei luchot habrit) mentioned in Exodus 34:29 and in the Passover song, “Echad Mi Yodea”.
The traditional Jewish division is to divide the ten into two lists of five to be paired with the two tablets of stone. According to the Jewish sage, the Ramban, the two lists of five commands are two sides of the religion and divides into themes – five laws dealing with our relationship to God and five social laws. But why is the command to honor parents located in the section that deals with belief and God? The Ramban writes: “for as I [speaking of God] have commanded you in My honor, (referring to the first four commands), so I command you in the honor of My partners in creation (ie, our parents).” He adds, “It is correct for a person to recognize and repay, in some measure, the good which has been offered to him … A person should realize that his father and mother are the cause of his existence in this world; therefore it is appropriate that he render them all the honor and do them all the service he can. For they brought him into the world and labored greatly on his behalf.” The phrase “our fathers” is only one word in Hebrew: אֲבֹתֵ֔ינוּ – ah-vo-tei-nu. It occurs 80 times in the Bible. The direct reference is to the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but it also refers to all the forefathers of the Jewish people – ie, the preceding generations.
The fifth commandment begins with the word ‘Honor’ (Hebrew: כַּבֵּ֥ד – kabed). The Hebrew root is kaf-bet-dalet (כבד) and means ‘honor, respect, glorify’. It also means ‘to be weighty or heavy’. The fifth commandment is also the only one with a promise of long days. On this Father’s Day weekend, let us be sure to honor and thank our father’s! They gave us life and made us what we are!
There is a strong logical connection between teaching and learning. We cannot
teach without learning and the best teachers are those who are lifelong students. Also, we can learn a new subject better if we also simultaneously teach someone else what we are learning. Both learning and teaching have always been very important Hebraic concepts and literacy and education are hallmarks of the Jewish people.
However, there is also a Hebrew etymological connection between teaching and learning because both ideas are derived from the same Hebrew root: lamed, mem, dalet: ( למד ). If you look up this root in the book, “501 Hebrew Verbs”, you will find that two important verbs come from this same root with the only difference being the vowels. You do not see the connection between ‘teach’ and ‘study’ in English, but in Hebrew it is crystal clear:
לָמַד – (la-mad) – meaning ‘he studied’ in the past tense, masculine, singluar, 3rd person and in the P’al binyan, the most common.
לִימֵד – (li-med) – meaning ‘he taught’ in the past tense, masculine, singular, 3rd person and in the Piel binyan, the 2nd most common.
תָלמִיד – (tal-mid) – a noun meaning ‘student’ or ‘disciple’
When reading the Biblical Hebrew text, you will soon come across a very tall letter, the only one that extends above the line; the letter lamed ( ל ). In order to analyze the significance of lamed in both biblical and post-biblical contexts, we must first understand some important concepts concerning the history of the Hebrew alphabet.
The original Hebrew letters looked very different from the block script of
today. [Modern Hebrew letters take their look from the Aramaic alphabet.] The original Hebrew letters, often called paleo-Hebrew, were all pictographs meaning they represented a picture of a concrete object. In order to understand the meaning of pictographs, we will look at the example of the letter lamed (ל) that Dr. Jeff Benner gives in the appendix of his book, “The Ancient Hebrew Language and Alphabet”, (which I highly recommend). The original pictograph for lamed looked like a shepherd’s staff. A shepherd’s staff had a curved end so that the shepherd could use it to capture or direct individual sheep who may be straying, etc. From this you can see how the pictograph of the shepherd’s staff eventually became the letter lamed. The shape of the letter evolved from the shape of a shepherd’s crooked staff, to the shape of the letter lamed. Going back to our root for both teaching and studying, למד, we note that lamed (ל ) is the first letter of the root. As the shepherd used his staff to direct the sheep, so our teachers direct our thinking so that we may learn the subject at hand.
Finally we will look at the noun, talmid ( תלמיד ) which means ‘student’ or ‘disciple’. It first appears in the Hebrew Bible in 1 Chronicles 25:8 and is translated in this verse as ‘scholar’ (from the Latin scola which means ‘school’ or ‘student’). In the New Testament the word ‘disciple’ occurs 270 times and Jesus’ followers are always referred to as disciples. It is important to note that in the New Testament era, discipleship was expressed by the teacher-student relationship. The learning process was not a matter of the disciple gaining knowledge, but it was more like an apprenticeship where the disciple learned how to “do” as the teacher “did”.
The Mishnah has a quote from Yose ben Yoezer, one of the earliest members of the rabbinic movement, who lived about two centuries before Jesus. The English translation roughly reads:
“Let thy house be a meeting-house for the wise;
and powder thyself in the dust of their feet;
and drink their words with thirstiness.”
Yose ben Yoezer was teaching people to make their homes places of Bible study, and to welcome itinerant teachers to learn from them. Before 70 AD, these teachers were called “sages” and afterwards, the title “rabbi” was used. The middle line of the quote above is sometimes translated as “sit amid the dust of their feet,” which referred to the custom of students honoring their teacher by sitting on the floor (at his feet) while he taught seated in a chair. From this custom arose the popular idiom used by students who studied under a teacher, of saying you “sat at his feet”. Paul used this idiom in Acts 22:3, “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.” And of course, it is used to describe Mary in Luke 10:39, “
And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.”
Dr. Howard had a sermon that he often preached from Luke 10 titled, “Sitting at the feet of Jesus”. He taught us that ultimately, Christians are to be like Mary and to be a disciple of Jesus Himself rather than of other believers regardless of how learned they are or what position they hold. We are to learn from Christ’s example, and then we are to teach others through our example and our words. The greatest teacher is the one who teaches us to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and I am so thankful that Dr. Howard did just that. May his memory be a blessing!
The Hebrew word שָׁבֻעֹת֙ – Shavuot (sha-vu-ote) literally means ‘weeks’. The word ‘week’ in Modern Hebrew is שבוע – shavuah. Exodus 34:22 says, “And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest.” The phrase ‘feast of weeks’ is from the Hebrew – חַ֤ג שָׁבֻעֹת֙ – chag shavu’ot. In Modern Hebrew, the word חג – means ‘holiday’. The time of shavuot is given in Leviticus 23:15-16: “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD.” The phrase ‘seven sabbaths’ is from the Hebrew – שֶׁ֥בַע שַׁבָּת֖וֹת – sheva shabatot (plural of Shabbat). Therefore Shavuot occurs 7 weeks and one day or 50 days, after Passover. In the New Testament, Shavuot is called Pentecost – which is a Greek word derived from the root for ‘five’ – referring to the 50 days.
According to Jewish tradition, Shavuot marks the giving of the Law, Matan Torah ( מתן תורה ) to the children of Israel on Mt. Sinai, therefore, much emphasis is placed on the Word of God at Shavuot. In 1533, a Rabbi named Joseph Caro invited many of his colleagues to study Torah all night on Shavuot and so began the tradition of the “all night Torah study” on Shavuot and many people study until the morning light.
It has been said, “Reading the Bible without meditating on it is like trying to eat without swallowing.” We must read it. We must meditate on it, but most of all, we must obey it! For only if we obey it do we really believe it.
A Primer on the T’nakh
Since the Word of God is studied at Shavuot, I thought a simple “primer” on the layout of the Hebrew T’nakh would be helpful and interesting to all Bible students. The Hebrew Scriptures were originally called the Mikra (מִקרָא ) from the root (קרא ) meaning ‘reading’ or ‘that which is read’ because Bible texts were always read publically. The “Jewish Canon” (the order of the books of the T’nakh), was compiled by the men of the Great Assembly, lead by Ezra, and completed in 450 BC. It has remained unchanged ever since. I am teaching you the Jewish Canon so that you can be somewhat familiar with the Mikra or T’nakh (both words are still used). The word “T’nakh” came into use during the Rabbinic period as it reflects the three-part division of the Hebrew Scriptures as shown in the below table:
Hebrew Name <-
The Law of Moses
Taking the first Hebrew letter from each division (the letters in read above), we have the Hebrew acronym – תנ״ך which is transliterated as T’nakh (also Tanakh). In the tables below, we study the Hebrew names of the books of the Bible which is often very different from the English name The Hebrew names of the books is either the name of the writer or, the first word (or sometimes a prominent word in the first verse) from the Hebrew text.
The first section of the T’nakh, the Torah, contains the five books of Moses:
Hebrew Title <-
“in the beginning”
“and he called”
“in the desert”
The second section of the T’nakh, the Prophets, is divided into two groups:
the Former Prophets (Nevi’im Rishonim – נביאים ראשונים)
the Latter Prophets (Nevi’im Aharonim – נביאים אחרונים)
The Former Prophets contains four books:
* Note that Samuel and Kings are counted as one book each.
The Latter Prophets also contains four books:
Hebrew Title <-
The Twelve *
* Note that “The Twelve” (Minor prophets) are counted as one book
The Twelve are the Minor Prophets:
Hebrew Title <-
The third and final section of the T’nakh, the Writings, has three divisions:
The Poetic Books
The Five Megillot (Scrolls)
The other books
It is important to note that the Poetic books are written in Hebrew poetry. In masoretic manuscripts and some printed editions, they appear in a special two-column form emphasizing the parallel rows in the verses. They are also the only books in the T’nakh with special cantillation notes that emphasizes these parallel rows. The Poetic books are:
Hebrew Title <-
The Hebrew word for ‘scroll’ is מְגִילָה (megillah) with the plural, ‘scrolls’ being מְגִילוֹת (megillot). The Five Megillot are traditionally read in many Jewish communities in the synagogue on the holidays as follows: Passover – Song of Songs; Shavu’ot – Ruth; Tisha B’av – Lamentations; Sukkot – Ecclesiastes; Purim – Esther.
Hebrew Title <-
Song of Solomon
Song of Songs
The last group of the writings have in common that they describe late events (i.e. the Babylonian captivity and subsequent restoration of Zion). Two of these books, Daniel and Ezra, are the only books in the Tanakh with portions written in Aramaic. Aramaic is also a semitic language and became the lingua franca for much of the Semitic world. Aramaic portions of Scripture include: Jeremiah 10:11; Daniel 2:4-7:28; Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26