Messianic Education Trust
    Balak  
(Num 22:1 - 25:9)

B'Midbar/Numbers 22:12   "You shall not go with them! You shall not curse the people for they are blessed!"


These are the words of The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem, spoken to Balaam, when he is first approached by the messengers from Balak, king of Moab. Israel has come out of the desert, defeated the Amorite kings Sihon and Og and is now encamped on the plains of Moab, on the east bank of the Jordan opposite Jericho. All of Moab, the narrative tells us, was disturbed by the proximity of the Israelites in their territory: "Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel" (B'Midbar 22:3, ESV). Balak had sent messengers to Balaam in order to fetch him that he might curse Israel, speak execration and words of disaster over the Israelites so that Moab would have both the strength and the morale to be able to expel these unwelcome and self-invited guests from their land. Jacob Milgrom reports that Pethor has been "identified with Pitru on the Sajur River, a tributary of the Euphrates, some 12 miles south of Carchemish. What Is ...

Targum Onkelos: An early (1st-2nd Century CE) translation/paraphrase of the Torah into Aramaic; attributed to a Roman convert to Judaism, Onkelos; used in Babylonian synagogues during the Talmudic era
Targum Onkelos identifies the region as Aram, and this is confirmed by an Egyptian text." That makes the distance between Moab and Pethor around 400 miles. Milgrom points out that a single one-way journey in those times "would have taken at least twenty days". Allowing for hospitality, time to pack and so on, that probably means that from the time Balak sent his messengers until Balaam finally arrived in Moab, at least three months must have elapsed.

Biblical Hebrew has no negative imperative; that is, the negative particle - no, not - is never used with imperative verbs. Instead, the verbs are presented in the second person prefix form and accompanied by either - used for immediate or short-term application - or - used for permanent prohibition. The phrase - literally, "you shall not fear", often translated "do not fear" (e.g. D'varim 1:21, Joshua 10:8, Jeremiah 30:10) - is an example of one; the other is used twice in our text above, where is the 2ms prefix form of the verb - to walk or to go - and is the 2ms prefix form of the verb . These instructions are meant as permanent prohibitions rather than temporary injunctions; HaShem (although, interestingly, the text uses the name , G-d, in these verses) is not telling Balaam to decline this particular invitation at this time, He is telling him that he is not to go at all, at any time.

The Who Is ...

Ba'al HaTurim: Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1269-1343 CE), born in Cologne, Germany; lived for 40 years in and around Toledo, Spain; died en route to Israel; his commentary to the Chumash is based upon an abridgement of the Ramban, including Rashi, Rashbam and Ibn Ezra; it includes many references to gematria and textual novelties
Baal HaTurim points out that the verb used for curse in this verse, - to curse or execrate - is much less harsh than the verb Balaam uses in recounting Balak's request before G-d: - an imperative of the verb , to curse. The Tur suggests that HaShem is not just telling him not to go, but that he must not invoke even the mildest of curses. This is a key point, if Balaam would have heard it, because Balak's confident assertion, "I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed" (v. 6, ESV) appeals to Balaam's pride by suggesting that Balaam would have been able to reverse G-d's blessing. "No", The Tur would have G-d say, "not only shall you not go, but you couldn't curse them if you wanted to!" What Is ...

Targum Jonathan: An early (1st-2nd Century CE) translation/paraphrase of the Prophets into Aramaic; attributed to the 1st century Jewish scholar Jonathan ben Uzziel; similar to Targum Onkelos, but at times a looser paraphrase
Targum Jonathan claims, based upon Yitz'khak's statement to Esav after Ya'akov had stolen the blessing of the firstborn - "I blessed him; now he must remain blessed!" (B'resheet 27:33, JPS) - that a blessing from the time of the patriarchs cannot be reversed. Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch confirms this idea: "Do not go with them for you will not accomplish the purpose of your journey. You will not curse this people, for I will prevent it; for it is blessed ... for which I have pledged My word to further with the whole of My rule." Friedman comments that the original blessing - "I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you" (B'resheet 12:3, JPS) - is in fact later to be repeated by Balaam: "Blessed are they who bless you, accursed they who curse you!" (B'Midbar 24:9, JPS).

In spite of having been arrested and forbidden to do so (see Acts chapter 4), Peter and the other emissaries continued to teach in the Temple and proclaim the good news about Yeshua the Messiah to all the people who would hear them. They are again arrested and put in prison overnight. G-d supernaturally releases them so that they return to teaching again in the Temple courtyards the next morning. Meanwhile, the Temple authorities have gathered and send for them to be brought from the prison. Finding not only that they are not in prison but that they are publicly teaching again in the Temple, the Sanhedrin send officers to bring the emissaries to them, only gently because they were afraid of the people. After asking the emissaries why they have carried on teaching in the name of Yeshua, and receiving the somewhat uncompromising reply, "We must obey G-d, not men" (Acts 5:29, CJB), the members of the Sanhedrin get sufficiently infuriated that they want to put the emissaries to death. However, a Pharisee on the council, Gamliel, who we know was also the teacher of Rav Sha'ul (Acts 22:3) and is mentioned prominently in the rabbinic writings, stands up and offers this advice to his irate colleagues:

Men of Isra'el, take care what you do to these people. Some time ago, there was a rebellion under Todah, who claimed to be somebody special; and a number of men, maybe four hundred, rallied behind him. But upon his being put to death, his whole following was broken up and came to nothing. After this, Y'hudah HaG'lili led another uprising, back at the time of the enrollment for the Roman tax; and he got some people to defect to him. But he was killed, and all his followers were scattered. So in the present case, my advice to you is not to interfere with these people, but to leave them alone. For if this idea or this movement has a human origin, it will collapse. But if it is from G-d, you will not be able to stop them; you might even find yourselves fighting G-d! (Acts 5:35-39)

His conclusion exactly follows the theme of the text from the Torah. "You might even find yourselves fighting G-d!" Balaam is about to set himself up for a fight with G-d. Gamliel is urging the Sanhedrin not to do the same.

Have we, as believers, ever found ourselves fighting against G-d? The obvious answer might be: yes, of course, before we are believers. That is certainly true, but doesn't answer the question. I would suggest that all of us have, at one time or another, some more than others, resisted G-d in our lives as believers, after coming to faith in Yeshua. A fair number of us have had periods of definite rebellion, where we have fallen away from our relationship with Him and had to be restored after a time of walking more in the world that in the Kingdom of G-d. But now, today - is that still happening in our lives? It can, even if we think that we are obeying Him and doing what He has told us to do. Oftentimes, we get an idea in our heads and it sounds so exactly right and in line with what we think G-d has said that we pick it up and run with it, even though G-d didn't actually say it and didn't want us to go there. It can sometimes be half a lifetime before we realise that we are in the wrong place and doing the wrong thing. We have failed to hear G-d saying, "Don't go there and don't do that." Depending on your point of view, this can be the promised great delusion - "G-d will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false" (2 Thessalonians 2:11, NASB) - or the work of the enemy: "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons" (1 Timothy 4:1, NIV). Yeshua Himself clearly talks about the risk of even the saints being being deceived: "For there will appear false Messiahs and false prophets performing great miracles - amazing things! - so as to fool even the chosen, if possible" (Matthew 24:24, CJB).

We must be careful to make sure that we are correctly hearing G-d and following His instructions in our lives. We need to submit our ideas and plans to Him and be prepared to put anything and everything down in order to follow Him alone. We must not be found to be fighting G-d!

Further Study: Matthew 27:17-20; 2 Kings 19:19-22; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

Application: Are you sure of your course and direction? Today would be an excellent opportunity to review your current position and plans before the L-rd to make sure that you have heard correctly and are headed in the right direction.

© Jonathan Allen, 2011

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