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B'Midbar/Numbers 22:39 Bil'am went with Balak and they entered Kiryat Hutzot
Our text finds us part-way through the story of Balaam, the gentile sorcerer or prophet (depending on your point of view), who was summoned by Balak the king of Moab to curse the people of Israel as they sat just outside his country. At the beginning of the story we read that "Moab was in great fear because of the people, for they were numerous; and Moab was in dread of the sons of Israel" (22:3, NASB); Moab and Balak, its king, are afraid of the Israelites. As the plot unfolds, "the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand; and they came to Bilaam" (22:7, NASB), to summon Balaam to curse the threat on Moab's borders.HaShem doesn't initially allow Balaam to go, so "Balak again sent leaders, more numerous and more distinguished than the former" (22:15, NASB) and this time Balaam is permitted to go with them. When they arrive, they are greeted by Balak in person, who rebukes Balaam for the delay: "Did I not urgently send to you to call you? Why did you not come to me?" (22:37, NASB). The urgency and pitch of the summons and the conversation show us that Balak is really feeling the pressure of having Israel encamped on the border having seen and heard what had happened to Sihon, the king of the Amalekites, and Og, king of Bashan!
Why did Balak take Balaam to Kiryat Hutzot?Rashi translates the name as "a city full of marketplaces" and comments that there were "many men, women and children in its plazas," as if to invoke pity: "have mercy on these people, so that they should not be uprooted." Hirsch suggests that Balak showed him "streets, markets, busy traffic of commerce and full of people ... so that [Balaam] should realise the importance of the mass of innocent inhabitants for whose continued existence he was concerned." By emphasising the number of people whose lives and livelihoods were at risk, it is as if Balak is trying to convince Balaam that, as a conscientious and compassionate king, he has no choice but to get the latter to curse the potential invaders in order to protect his people. Alternatively, we can see Balak using the people as an excuse for wanting to curse Israel - you see what I must do, it is not for myself but for all these - when he wanted to do it himself to protect his kingdom, life, prestige and influence in the region.
The first king of Israel - Sha'ul - fell into the same situation. Sent by HaShem to destroy the Amalekites, with specific instructions not to spare people or animals, he and the people did not kill the Amalekite king and kept the best of the sheep and cattle. When challenged about the "bleating of sheep and lowing of the oxen" (Samuel 15:14, NASB) by Samuel, Sha'ul turns round and uses the people as his excuse: "I did obey the voice of the L-rd ... but the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen ... to sacrifice to the L-rd your G-d at Gilgal" (15:20-21, NASB). Sha'ul used the people - as if even as king he could not control them - as the excuse for his own disobedience. Consequently, Sha'ul has the kingdom taken away from him; partly because of his disobedience to G-d's explicit instructions, but significantly because he was not honest and tried to blame other people for his own sin. Although King David committed both adultery and murder, he was still known as a man after G-d's heart because when confronted by his sin he confessed it and repented. David's son Solomon wrote, "He who conceals his sins will not succeed; he who confesses and abandons them will gain mercy" (Proverbs 28:13, CJB). We must be honest with G-d: we do sin and we must confess it to Him so that He can forgive us: "If we claim not to have sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8, CJB).
Balak used his people as an excuse for hiring Balaam to curse Israel so that he might remain king of Moab and retain his credibility and influence in the region; Sha'ul blamed the people for his weakness and failure to carry out G-d's commands. Let us not fall into the same trap and try to avoid responsibility for our own shortcomings but instead own up and seek G-d's forgiveness.
Further Study: Shemot 32:21-24; 2 Samuel 12:7-14; Luke 15:21-24
Application: Do you find yourself pointing the finger at others when things go wrong: "She gave me the apple and I ate" (B'resheet 3:12), or do you come clean before the L-rd when you have done or been involved in something that you know does not please G-d? Now would a good time to recognise and stand up to your own responsibility, so that G-d can forgive you!
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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