|Needed: A Spiritual Vision Check Reading Numbers 22 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). These verses contain the famous story of Balaam’s talking donkey. Balak, the king of Moab, had 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.” At first Balaam said ‘no’ to the Moabites, but when they returned a second time, God permitted Balaam to go with them. Balaam had entered God’s permissive will which is evident by God’s admonition in verse 32, “I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me.” This verse sums up this passage about the way of Balaam – it was perverse or contrary to God’s way because he was intent to curse Israel. If one’s intent is to harm or curse Israel, then their way is contrary to God’s way! As we continue reading ch. 22 and then esp. through ch. 24, the second ‘theme’ 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 root for ‘see’ is ראה (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 פתח (pah-tach) which literally means ‘open’. Then God ‘opens’ Balaam’s eyes in vs. 31. Here the word translated as ‘open’ is גלה (gah-lah – Strong’s #1540). The Theological Workbook 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) There are least 24 occurrences of the word ‘see’ (in various forms) in this chapter! So it is all about spiritual vision! God’s will was clear. Israel was NOT to be cursed. However Balak had offered Balaam great riches if he would curse Israel. Also, we have further insight from Deut. 23:5 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.” Balaam blessed Israel four times when he really wanted to curse them because God overruled and turned the curses into blessings! 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 ..” I personally think this prophecy guided the ‘wise men from the east’ to travel to Jerusalem and worship the newborn king of the Jews many thousands of years later (as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew). Those wise men would have been of the same area as Balaam. Despite all that God did to help Balaam find the right way, in the New Testament [2 Peter 2:15, Jude 11, Revelation 2:14], he is used as an example NOT to follow. Primarily these verses refer to Balaam’s doctrine, but we could make a secondary application that Balaam’s way was to curse Israel. God is against anyone who is “cursing” Israel, but of all people, Christians should know better!! The modern “BDS movement” is clearly against the Scriptures! I want to end on a positive note because God works out all things to our good and His glory! (Romans 8:28) One good thing we can glean from this story is that God would NOT let Balaam curse Israel! God overruled each time and caused Israel’s enemies to bless her with great blessings! God is still on the throne and looking out for His ancient people, and although many ‘Balaks’ and many ‘Balaams’ have come on the scene down through the centuries, no one is able to curse or destroy Israel. God is still telling these peoples the same words he told Balaam, “thou shalt not curse the people [Israel]; for they are blessed!” – Numbers 22:12 Every single person or nation who have gone ‘against God’ concerning Israel has met with destruction. I do not want to be like Balaam whose way was perverse before God. I want to be on the same page with God and I want to be a blessing to those He has blessed!|
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.
|The Via Maris (purple), King’s Highway (red), and other ancient Levantine trade routes, c. 1300 BCE (Wikipedia)|
This week we begin the book of Exodus and the Torah portion, Sh’mot (שְׁמוֹת ), which means ‘names’. This is the 2nd word in the Biblical Hebrew text which begins: וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת <- (v’eh-leh sh’mot) – translated as, “and these are the names”. Sh’mot (“names”) is also the Hebrew name of the book of Exodus. Chapter’s 1-2 let us know that hundreds of years (430 of them) have passed since the closing events of Genesis 50. Also, we are introduced to Moses and his younger years. When Moses kills the Egyptian in ch. 2, he forever leaves his life of grandeur in Egypt (as Pharaoh’s daughter’s son) and flees to the land of Midian to become a humble shepherd. Here he lives for 40 years.
Where God Spoke to Moses
A few years ago, I took a class on Bible geography with Dr. Jonathan Lipnick of eTeacher and He taught us a very important observation, “The physical setting of the Bible plays a major role the theology of the Bible. To understand the God of the Hebrew Bible, you must understand the place (ie, Israel!) where He has that relationship with His people. The Bible would not be the book we know if it were situated anywhere else.”
Exodus 3:1-2 gives us the geographical setting for the passage under consideration: “Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.” Notice I highlighted the phrase, “backside of the desert”. The Hebrew word translated as ‘desert’ is מִּדְבָּר (mid-bar) and means exactly that – ‘desert’. If you have ever visited Israel and gone to my favorite places – the Judean Wilderness or the Negev, then that is the mid-bar. (Although Moses is not in Israel at this time, but in Midian.)
The desert is in general a still and quiet place. I love the desert and love to visit desert places. Many prophets received revelations from God while in the desert (among them, Moses, David and the apostle Paul). It is not that God is more real in the desert than in other places, because God is everywhere present. It is just that we are so easily distracted from knowing God due to the many distractions of life. In the desert, we detach from the noisiness of everyday life that demand our attention and can focus on God. It is then that God can speak to our heart. I think it is most important that Moses was not just in the desert, but in “the backside of the desert” when God gave Him this revelation. God wanted Moses in a place where He had his undivided attention before He revealed to him His most important name!
What God Spoke to Moses
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who was the Chief Rabbi of the UK from 2001 – 2013, wrote that Moses asked God two questions at the ‘burning bush’: Who am I? and Who are you? God’s answer to the second question is worth close examination. In Exodus 3:14, God tells Moses,
אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה – transliterated as Eh-he-yeh asher eh-he-yeh. The word that is repeated twice, אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה (eh-he-yeh) is the future tense form of the verb ‘be’ – (ie, “I will be”). So literally the phrase is, “I will be what I will be.” In the AV this phrase is translated as, “I AM THAT I AM”. However, the reader must remember that in Hebrew, the verb ‘be’ does not have a present tense form – only future and past. Therefore there is no way to say, ‘I am’ or ‘he is’ or ‘we are’. You can say ‘I was’ or ‘he will be’. Also, there are NO CAPITAL letters in Hebrew so all capitalization in English translations is added by the translators. Capitalization does not exist in the original Hebrew text.
The following concept is very important. The root of the verb that is repeated twice in the Hebrew text, אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה, is היה (Strong’s #1961) – the verb ‘to be’. Now, look how similar the Hebrew letters are for the verb ‘be’ (היה) to the letters in God’s covenantal name – יְהוָֹה (also known as the tetragramaton – a Latin phrase meaning “the four letters”). The Hebrew word for the verb ‘to be’ or ‘to exist’ is basically derived from God’s name! Thus etymologically, we see that all existence is derived from God! God does not officially introduce the name יְהוָֹה to Moses until Exodus 6:3, although Moses has used it many times already in Exodus and in Genesis (remember that he wrote these books).
Rabbi Sacks reminds us that God really never answered Moses’ first question as to why He had chosen him. However God did assure Moses of success. Rabbi Sacks explains God’s viewpoint this way, “You [Moses] will succeed because I am not asking you to do it alone. I am not really asking you to do it at all. I will be doing it for you. I want you to be My representative, My mouthpiece, My emissary and My voice.” He goes on to say, “In the Tanakh as a whole, the people who turn out to be the most worthy are the ones who deny they are worthy at all. … The heroes of the Bible are not figures from Greek or any other kind of mythology. They are not people possessed of a sense of destiny, determined from an early age to achieve fame. They were people who doubted their own abilities. There were times when they felt like giving up. Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah and Jonah reached points of such despair that they prayed to die. They became heroes against their will. There was work to be done – God told them so – and they did it. It is almost as if a sense of smallness is a sign of greatness.” To this great insight, I simply say, ‘amen’.
There are so many great applications from this passage that just “fall out” if we are faithful to study out the details of history, culture, geography and language. The inductive method of Bible study will always give the best grasp of the Bible truths.
There are many qualities of the desert that God can create in our life regardless of where we live geographically, and one of them is that of ‘limited resources’. God often puts His servants into ‘desert situations’ regardless of where they are living to teach them the same principles that He taught Moses, and the children of Israel and David and Paul. So if we find ourselves in a desert of God’s making, let us not fret, but rather rejoice that God is wanting to speak to us and give us a deeper view of Himself and so He is sending us to the school of the desert.
This weeks Torah Portion, ‘Vayechi’, is named for the first Hebrew word of Genesis 47:28 – וַיְחִ֤י יַעֲקֹב֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם <- (‘Vayechi Ya’cov b’eretz mizraim). The AV translates it exactly as written, “And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt…” The first Hebrew word in the above phrase is וַיְחִ֤י(vah-yi-chi). The root of וַיְחִ֤י is חיה and means ‘live’! Often it is used in the plural, חַיִּים֙ – chaim, like in Genesis 2:9 speaking of the ‘tree of life’. However, it is always translated into English in the singular ‘life’. Chaimis a frequently used Hebrew word. Perhaps you have heard the phrase l’chaim meaning, ‘to life’. Chaim is also a popular male name in Israel. Israel’s first president was Chaim Weizemann.
The Etymological Origin of the Word ‘Israel’
According to Webster, etymology is, “the tracing of a word back as far as possible in its own language.” The first occurrence of the word ‘Israel’ (yisrael) – יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל in the Hebrew Bible is found in this week’s Torah portion in Genesis 32:28. In this passage, the angel of the LORD confronts the patriarch Jacob at Peniel and changes his name: “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” What does ‘Israel’ ( יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל <-) mean? First, note that the last two letters, אל, (El), is one of the names for God and occurs 6,581 times in the Hebrew T’nakh. [The longer form of this word is אלוהים (Elohim) and occurs 2,602 times in the T’nakh.] (more…)
The first line of text in this week’s Torah portion:
This Hebrew text of this week’s Torah portion, Genesis 12:1-17:27, begins with the phrase ( לֶךְ־לְךָ֛) Lech-Lecha. The word, לֶךְ (Lech) is from the Hebrew root ( הלכ) and means to walk or to go. Thus the Hebrew phrase lech-lecha literally means, “You go!” In the KJV, it is translated as, “Get thee out”.
Genesis 12:1-3 is known to Bible scholars as the Abrahamic Covenant because here God first made His covenant with Abram:
“Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (more…)
Think of a modern day princess and how she is would be trained and taught. A lavish lifestyle, special privileges, tutors, etc. But, remember that God’s ways are different from man’s ways (Isaiah 55:8). So how does God determine who will be one of “the mothers” of the Jewish people? Genesis 24, part of this week’s Torah portion, records the story of Abraham sending his servant Eliezer back to Mesopotamia, (Abraham’s ancient home), to search for a wife for Isaac. Eliezer’s test for the right girl seems unusual at first, but later we realize it is perfect and very appropriate. (more…)