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Parashat Balak -Table Talk Summary

Quick Summary of Balak

Further thoughts on Parashah

by John J. Parsons

Note: The following entry provides a brief summary of parashat Balak that I wrote for the Shabbat Table Talk page. Please read the Torah portion  for more information...

Last week's Torah portion (Chukat) ended with the description of events that occurred some 38 years after the "Sin of the Spies." The Exodus generation had finally died out, and the new generation was getting ready to enter the Promised Land. Both Sihon, the king of the Amorites, and Og, the king of Bashan, had tried to prevent the Jewish people from passing through their borders to get to the Promised Land, but both kings were decisively defeated by Israel.

This week's Torah portion is named after a Moabite king named Balak (בָּלָק). The Israelites were camped east of the Jordan River, near the border of the land of Moab. When king Balak considered how the Israelites had defeated the Amorites, he began to fear they would try to take over the entire region, and therefore he sought alliance with the nation of Midian to create a united front. The Midianite princes explained that since Moses used the Name of the LORD to strike down enemies in battle, king Balak should seek the services of a Midianite magician named Balaam (בִּלְעָם), since he knew the Divine Name and could use it to invoke a curse against Israel. Balak then sent messengers to Balaam offering him a lucrative reward if he would come and curse the Israelites.

After hearing the king's request, however, Balaam sent the messengers back to Balak with the reply that God had told him not to curse the Jewish people, for they were blessed. Balak then delegated his highest dignitaries to return to Balaam and to offered him great honor and financial rewards if he would reconsider. When Balaam consulted with God the second time, he was allowed to go, though he was warned to speak only whatever God commanded him.

The very next morning, Balaam saddled his donkey and began making his way to Moab. As he journeyed, however, his donkey saw the Angel of the LORD blocking the way. As she balked and brayed, Balaam beat the animal until God gave her a voice to rebuke him. God then opened Balaam's eyes to see the Angel, who repeated the warning to speak only as he was directed.

When he finally arrived in Moab, Balaam instructed king Balak to build seven altars and to offer a ram and a bull on each one in a sacrificial rite. As Balaam went to consult with the LORD, God "put a word in his mouth" that forced him to proclaim God's words of blessings upon Israel. When Balak heard this, he was exasperated and took Balaam to a different place, hoping that the prophet would be enabled to curse the Israelites from there. At each place, however, Balaam blessed the Israelites, to the great consternation of Balak. Finally, king Balak dismissed Balaam, but before he returned to Midian, Balaam prophesied the destruction of Moab and the surrounding nations.

Though God miraculously had overruled his tongue so that he was unable to curse Israel, Balaam remained perverse of heart and plotted with Balak about how to weaken the people by enticing them to sin (Num. 31:6). Balaam reasoned that if he was successful, Israel's blessing would be withdrawn and the LORD would then judge them for their transgression. Apparently Balaam brought young Midianite women to the edge of Israel's camp to offer themselves to the Israelite men on the condition that they worship "Baal Peor," a local semitic deity. When the Israelite men began cavorting with the women, God immediately ordered the leaders of the people to be slain.

In punishment for their idolatry, a plague broke out and the Moses instructed the judges to kill all those who "yoked themselves to Baal of Peor." Before the order was carried out, however, a prince from the tribe of Simeon (i.e., Zimri) publicly took a Midianite princess into a tent set up near the Tabernacle. When Pinchas (Phinehas), the son of Eleazar (and grandson of Aaron) saw this, however, he took up a spear and impaled them both, thereby stopping the plague. Nonetheless, Balaam finally succeeded in cursing the Jewish people, since 24,000 Israelites died because of the transgression he sponsored.

Note: You can download the Table Talk page for Balak by clicking here.

Did Balaam Prophesize of the Messiah?

Balaam's prophecy (Num. 24:17) of the "star from Jacob" is thought to be "dual aspect," even among traditional Jewish commentators: ‎"I see him, but not now," this is David; "I behold him, but he is not near," this is King Messiah; "There shall shoot forth a star out of Jacob," this is David; "And a scepter shall rise out of Israel," this is King Messiah; "And shall smite the corners of Moab," this is David, as it is written (2 Sam. 8:2) "And he smote Moab"; "And rule over all the children of Seth," this is King Messiah, as it is written (Zech. 9:10), "And his dominion shall be from sea to sea" (Maimonides).

Note that the phrase: "A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel" (i.e., דָּרַךְ כּוֹכָב מִיַּעֲקב וְקָם שֵׁבֶט מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל) caused Rabbi Akiva (50-135 AD) to mistakenly claim that the zealot Simon ben Kosiba, later dubbed Simon "Bar Kochba" ("son of a star") was the Messiah, which caused the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews during the Roman wars. Later rabbinical writers referred to bar Kokhba as "Simon bar Kozeba," Aramaic for "son of deception." Even more tragically, Akiva's endorsement of this false messiah incited great persecution among Jewish believers in Yeshua, since these believers refused to take up arms against the Romans on behalf of a false messiah. Since they objected to Akiva's claim, many Messianic Jews were regarded as traitors to the Jewish state and were ostracized. Soon afterward, the great worldwide Diaspora began...

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