By Joshua Spurlock
Parashat Balak (B’midbar / Numbers 22:2 – 25:9) reads a bit like a tale of fantasy. As Bnei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) go about their day to day business in the wilderness, a maniacal monarch bent on crushing them in battle summons a sorcerer with great powers.
As the imposing conjurer Bilam (Balaam) goes forth to call down darkness on Yisrael, HaShem (the L-RD) intervenes in an awesome display of sovereign will and power to defend His people.
Yet this is no fairy tale. And because of that, we have hope.
It Was Real
In our modern world, it is often easy to dismiss tales of the supernatural as though they are nothing more than tricks. Sleight of hand and elaborate cons have dulled our understanding that there are powers in the universe beyond what we see and hear. And some of those powers are very dark.
The Scriptures record many supernatural events, including those involving persons who oppose HaShem and His servants. In the Book of Shemot (Exodus), the magicians are able to match Moshe’s (Moses’) miracles almost exactly for the first few rounds before finally admitting that the power of HaShem’s miracles by the hand of Moshe is beyond their reach (Cf. Shemot / Exodus 7:10-13, 8:18-19).
Now if it were just tricks, the magicians could have kept faking it—so their inability to mirror the miracles implies that they had previously been doing the supernatural themselves.
Then there is the medium who contacts Shmuel (Samuel; Cf. Shmuel Alef / 1 Samuel 28:8-15). And let’s not forget the warning from HaShem about the false navi (prophet) who does signs and wonders (Cf. Devarim / Deuteronomy 13:1-2).
In the days of his flesh, our Lord Yeshua HaMashiakh (Jesus the Christ) cast out a variety demons, including those which caused people to be mute (Mattityahu / Matthew 9:31-33), epileptic (Mattityahu / Matthew 17:13-15), and granted them supernatural strength (Mark 5:3-4), for example.
Lastly, lest we think that forces of darkness wield no power today, the Book of Revelation says that the Dragon and Beast characters will have the apparent power to heal and to bring down fire from heaven (Cf. Revelation 13:3-4,13).
While we may forget or be unaware of such supernatural forces, Bilam knew of them and had the ability to use them. But Bilam did not realize that despite his power, he had nothing that could touch the sovereignty of HaShem.
The One and Only
HaShem is all-powerful and almighty, and despite the awe-inspiring nature of the forces of darkness in the previous Scripture references, HaShem triumphs with ease over them. He overruns Mitzrayim (Egypt) and inflicts judgement on their idols (Cf. Shemot / Exodus 12:12).
Yeshua wields infinite power over all of the demonic forces He faces, and He will soon return to shatter the power of the Dragon, the Beast, the False Prophet, and all those who follow them (Cf. Revelation 19:19-21, 20:9-10). So it was with HaShem when He faced off with Bilam.
Bilam was a noteworthy prophet. Balak had heard of his fame from far away and was convinced his ability to curse was worth a high price.
“So Balak the son of Zippor [Tzipor], who was king of Moab [Moav]) at that time, sent messengers to Balaam [Bilam] the son of Beor at Pethor [Petora], which is near the River in the land of the people of Amaw, to call him, saying, ‘Behold, a people has come out of Egypt [Mitzrayim]. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.’”
– B’midbar (Numbers) 22:4b-6, ESV
Lest we think that Bilam was just a great con-man, the Scriptures make clear that there is power in the tongue:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
– Mishlei (Proverbs) 18:21, ESV
So Balak asks Bilam to pronounce a curse on Yisrael. But that is where things get interesting, and where HaShem begins a wonderful intervention that proves all power belongs to Him. First, HaShem tells Bilam that he most certainly cannot do what Balak asks.
“God [Elohim] said to Balaam [Bilam], “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.”
– B’midbar (Numbers) 22:12, ESV
HaShem’s first move is to declare His authority over Bilam. Despite his power to curse, Bilam is not outside HaShem’s sovereignty. HaShem can and does tell Bilam what he can and cannot do.
Later, when Bilam rebels against HaShem and goes anyway with evil intentions, HaShem makes a mockery of Bilam’s powers by proving that all of his abilities, including the power of speech itself, are only possible because HaShem has given them. And HaShem does this through Bilam’s donkey.
The Spiritual Showdown
Remember, Bilam is powerful because of his words, his speech. So as Jewish teaching points out, how does HaShem make His point that Bilam’s power comes only from the will of Heaven? By making an inarticulate donkey speak (The Kli Yakar).
“Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam [Bilam], “‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?’”
– B’midbar (Numbers) 22:28, ESV
But that was not enough. Bilam was unconvinced of HaShem’s power to stop him, despite the donkey’s words. So HaShem further demonstrates Bilam’s own weakness with another display of His power—by allowing the donkey first and then Bilam to see the malakh (angel).
Part of Bilam’s powers granted to him by HaShem was the ability to “see” the supernatural in prophetic vision.
“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor [Bilam beno Beor], the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God [El], and knows the knowledge of the Most High [Elyon], who sees the vision of the Almighty [Shaddai], falling down with his eyes uncovered.”
– B’midbar (Numbers) 24:15b-16, ESV
And yet, lest Bilam think he has the power to control that ability outside of the sovereign will of HaShem, it is not Bilam who sees the angel first, but the donkey. And then, in the ultimate mockery, HaShem silences the navi by letting him see what the donkey had seen all along.
“Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam [Bilam], and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.”
– B’midbar (Numbers) 22:31-33, ESV
The display of HaShem’s power works. Not only does Bilam relent and accept HaShem’s will, he even tells Balak that his hands are tied by HaShem.
“And Balaam [Bilam] said to Balak, “Did I not tell your messengers whom you sent to me, ‘If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of the LORD, to do either good or bad of my own will. What the LORD speaks, that will I speak’?”
– B’midbar (Numbers) 24:12-13, ESV
And just like that, the spiritual showdown between Bilam and HaShem is over. Bilam admits unequivocal, unconditional defeat. It is a majestic display of HaShem’s power over the evil navi. Even the will of the great Bilam is broken before the sovereignty of HaShem.
Bilam and Us
HaShem’s power over Bilam serves as a beautiful demonstration of His supreme ability to protect Ha’Am HaShem (the people of HaShem).
As Bilam himself states,
“God [El] is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it… For there is no enchantment against Jacob [Yaakov], no divination against Israel [Yisrael].”
– B’midbar (Numbers) 23:19-20, 23a, ESV
Shaul (Paul) expounds on this idea and notes that there is nothing at all, supernatural or not, that can stand between HaShem and His people:
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God [Elohim] in Christ Jesus [Mashiakh Yeshua] our Lord.
– Romans 8:38-39, ESV
So as you face the challenges and struggles of life, or even what seems like supernatural forces working against you, remember that HaShem’s purposes are never thwarted and His plans are always for the good of those who love Him (Cf. Romans 8:28).
“Little children, you are from God [Elohim] and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
– Yokhannan Alef (1 John) 4:4, ESV
Of course, there is one way for you to expose yourself to curses. And that’s to disobey HaShem. If you do, you cannot and will not escape HaShem’s power.
Your Worst Enemy Is Sin
The story of Bilam ends tragically, because Moav (Moab) takes on a new approach to defeat Yisrael: seduction to sin.
“While Israel [Yisrael] lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab [Moav]. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel [Yisrael] yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel [Yisrael].”
– B’midbar (Numbers) 25:1-3, ESV
Tens of thousands of Bnei Yisrael would die as a result of this sin, a blow that Balak was doubtless hoping Bilam could deliver. In other words, it was not the curses of a sorcerer that most threatened Yisrael, but their own actions.
HaShem has promised blessings on those who obey Him, and curses on those who do not (Cf. Devarim / Deuteronomy 28). Woe to the man who thinks he can escape HaShem’s reach and get away with his sin!
“Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and His jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven.”
– Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:18b-20, ESV
Similarly, we too can be so easily swayed into justifying our actions and think that we can get away with our sin—or worse, that HaShem is encouraging us with circumstances to sin. One of the saddest tragedies is the man or woman who claims that their adultery was encouraged by G-d or that they are divorcing their spouse without cause because ‘G-d wants me to be happy.’
On the contrary, HaShem wants us to find our happiness is doing what pleases Him. If you go against HaShem’s Word, happiness will elude you in the long run. Even though He will forgive the one who confesses and turns from his sin (Mishlei / Proverbs 28:13, Yokhannan Alef / 1 John 1:9), there will be consequences.
As Shaul says,
“Do not be deceived: God [Elohim] is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit [Ruakh] will from the Spirit [Ruakh] reap eternal life [Khayei Olam].”
– Galatians 6:7-8, ESV
Are you tempted to lie to escape trouble? Know that the lies will be exposed. Even if the people never uncover the truth, HaShem knows and will respond. Are you prepared to compromise your actions to keep a job or get a promotion? Know that wealth and honor come from HaShem (Mishlei / Proverbs 8:17-19).
So as you move through this week, do it with courageous obedience. Know that even if circumstances and forces unseen seem to dissuade you at every point, HaShem’s good will towards you cannot be thwarted. And remember that as long as you follow Him, everything will turn out for blessing.
As Shaul says,
“And we know that for those who love God [Elohim] all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
– Romans 8:28, ESV
The grace of the Lord Yeshua be with you as you walk in obedience to Him.