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)