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B'Midbar/Numbers 23:13 "Go, I pray, with me to another place from whence you will see them ..."
Bila'am having been unable at his first attempt to curse Israel as requested, Balak tries taking him to another vantage point to see if he can do any better. There once again a set of of altars will be built and sacrifices offered in the hope that this will "bribe" G-d into letting Bila'am speak the wanted curse.Rashi tells us that the place was , the field of lookouts or watchers, "It was a high place - where the lookout would stand to keep watch, to see if an army would come against the city." Milgrom offers an alternative explanation - that it was a lookout post for "astrological observation or for observing the flight of birds," commonly taken as a sign or omen from the gods. He continues that "the Phoenicians called the astrologer by the same root - , watcher of the skies."
This is the second of three attempts to curse Israel thatHaShem turns around for blessing. Balak provides three different venues: the high places of Ba'al (22:41), the field of watchers/seers (23:14) and - the head of Pe'or - a ritual site of a cult that deified the most basic bodily functions. It is as if, Hirsch suggests, Israel is being attacked at three successive levels to see if there is any weakness to be found. Ba'al - the most popular Canaanite god - was considered the god of Nature and so the source of physical prosperity and material well-being; did Israel have vulnerability to the forces of nature, material growth and decay, prosperity and poverty? Bila'am's first answer is that Israel is "a people who dwells apart, and shall not be reckoned among the nations" (23:9, NASB); Israel's existence is not dependent on the physical world in the same way as the other nations - our continued existence after all the vicissitudes and exigencies of 1900 years of exile out of our own country are a testimony to G-d preserving the Jewish people regardless of place, circumstance or physical well-being.
The second site focused on the supernatural as if to see whether Israel had a dependency on seers, clairvoyants and astrologers - could they be attacked by magic? Bila'am's second answer, then, first rebukes Balak for his assumption that G-d is fickle or can be manipulated by a few offerings, "G-d is not a man, that He should lie; nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it?" (23:19, NASB), then continues that "there is no omen against Jacob, nor is there any divination against Israel; at the proper time it shall be told to Jacob and to Israel, what G-d has done" (23:23, NASB); in spite of the bad times that were to come in the years when they did pursue the local gods, Israel is fundamentally proof against all supernatural influence and attack because, "the L-rd his G-d is with him, and the shout of a king is among them" (23:21, NASB) and they will hear G-d telling them what to do when they need to do it.
Finally, Balak challenges Israel about their inner purity and morals: are Israel's heart and standards pure or do they have an inner addiction or sickness that would make them flawed and eventually rot from the inside out? Bila'am's third answer demolishes the question by extolling Israel's dwelling and way of life: "How fair are your tents, O Jacob; your dwellings, O Israel; like valleys that stretch out, like gardens beside the river ... water shall flow from his buckets" (24:5-7, NASB). Whether the tents during the wanderings of Jacob, or in the houses and mansions of Israel, generation after generation will seek G-d, will teach His word and His ways to the next generation for the Children of Israel are G-d's chosen people and they will breed true, passing on a spiritual inheritance that will resist even the basest of depredations.
In the gospels we read of a very similar three-fold process. Immediately after his immersion by John in the Yarden river, Yeshua is led by the Ruach HaKodesh into the wilderness for forty days. There He is tempted by the enemy to see if He is vulnerable to the same three challenges to which Israel was subjected. The first venue is the wilderness itself where, after many days of fasting, Yeshua is tempted at a physical level: will He bow to the material needs of His body; the second venue is "the holy city ... the pinnacle of the temple" (Matthew 4:5, NASB) and the challenge is supernatural: will He force a high-profile miracle to jump-start His ministry rather than just waiting for the due process that G-d has already laid out to work through; the third venue is "a very high mountain" overlooking "all the kingdoms of the world and their glory" (Matthew 4:8, NASB) when His basic integrity and inner strength are tested: will He take the short and quick fix to rescue the world but sacrifice His inner self by worshipping the devil? In all three cases, just as with Israel, the answer comes directly from G-d's word; in Israel's case, a prophetic word spoken through Bila'am, in Yeshua's case, the written words of the Torah, G-d's revealed word through Moshe at Sinai.
The gospels also record another three-fold test, that of Simon Peter, the bluff and forthright fisherman and one of Yeshua's inner circle of disciples. In three connected but separate venues - "outside in the courtyard" (Matthew 26:69, NASB), "out [by] the gateway" (v. 71, NASB) and later, "after about an hour had passed" (Luke 22:59, NASB) - Peter denied knowing Yeshua, being one of His disciples and even being with Yeshua when He was arrested. Almost all commentators connect this three-fold denial with the tripartite restoration process in John 21:15-17.
If Yeshua, Israel and Peter were tempted or tested in this way, examined to see if they had flaws or weaknesses that would allow the enemy to curse them, to destroy their ministries or cause them to deny their faith and calling, how much more so should we expect to be challenged in the same way. The onslaught of the media, peer pressure from friends, acquaintances and work colleagues, sometimes even physical interventions such as car accidents, sickness and bank managers, all conspire to destroy our integrity, defeat our walk with the L-rd, or walk away from our identities or calling as G-d's people. In every case, G-d provides the resources for us to survive: "with the temptation [G-d] will also provide the way out, so that you will be able to endure" (1 Corinthians 10:13, CJB), "so that when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist; and when the battle is won, you will still be standing" (Ephesians 6:13, CJB).
Further Study: 2 Corinthians 11:1-4; Ephesians 6:10-18
Application: If you are going through trials and temptations at this time, take comfort that you are not the only one and that not only is G-d continuing to work His purposes out in your life, but that the discomfort is a part of the discipling process (cf. Hebrews 12:7-11) that is making you more like Yeshua and better able to comfort and encourage others.
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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