G-d is on my side… whose side?
Balak King of the Moabites is honoured with this portion named after him, so again there is a key truth to learn from him as a role model. He looked at Israel and realised the writing was on the wall, destruction was assured due to our might and power, so he tried to get a little extra help against us. On comes Balaam the other key actor in this play, a man of some talent and apparent spirituality. Who was he, this enigmatic figure of history? He was a man who apparently was a prophet, who heard the words of G-d and spoke them. On the surface he seemed a righteous man. Note what he says about himself: Num 24:4 and 15-16. Here is a man who has a very inflated view of himself, a view that Torah refuses to accept as true. In Josh 13:22 he is described as a sorcerer, son of Beor. Read what the writers of the Messianic Writings had to say about him too: 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 4 and 11, Rev 2:14. From these we can see that he was a false teacher who used the truth to gain riches, prophesied to gain wealth and influence (Balak certainly agreed with that!) and inserted sexual immorality and idolatry into the patterns of belief and practice. He is not at all seen in a good light.
So how did he hear from the Lord? Balaam was a polytheist who consulted whatever tribal or geographical deities suited his needs. If a curse was needed against Israel, who better to consult than their G-d? This is a cynical pursuit of power and position to further his own inflated ego and personal agenda. It shows us that not everyone who uses the Lord’s name or uses spiritual language is redeemed or even interested in calling on the Name of the Lord for salvation. In fact many use it even today to advance their own agenda and needs.
G-d is on my side they say. The very language tells you something, they have pulled G-d in line with their own thinking and wishes, instead of aligning themselves with G-d’s will. Sadly, there are many today who think that by persecuting Israel, just as Balak wanted, they are doing G-d a favour and making a stand for righteousness. But the key to this is the donkey. In this section we see G-d speak through Balaam but also through the donkey. G-d is able to speak through whomever He wishes. Just because He used Balaam doesn’t mean he had a hotline to G-d anymore than the donkey did. G-d just used him for a purpose. If you look at what he prophesied it was very much what was already known and had been revealed.
Notice how Balaam uses the sacrifices here, in a way not allowable by Torah, only the Cohen could do this, yet he uses the formula he thinks will work. One famous Jewish commentator says of Balaam: ‘normally one wishes to draw closer to G-d by bringing sacrifices etc and obedience; we move towards G-d. But Balaam wanted to draw G-d down to his level for his own ends’. This is ultimately the act of rebellion and manipulation, a deception hiding under the cover of a ‘fake’ external form of righteousness. Trying to control G-d rather than allowing Him to rule us. How often we try to fit G-d into our own ideas rather than allow Him to fit us into His! By trying to impress Him with any forms of righteousness, even if otherwise right, will not yield G-d’s will to yours.
Balaam was keen to carry out the curse of Israel, intent on doing this. Actually G-d didn’t physically stop him going, but what he found was that once he arrived G-d used his mouth just as the donkey’s. G-d will give you what you want if you are intent on a path of action but it won’t do you any good, and when you arrive you may just find that He brings you up short. The final outcome was for Israel’s good and blessing, there was nothing he could do about it. What he had intended for harm became used for good too. Balaam learnt a useful lesson about the G-d of Israel that day, He cannot be controlled or used as a force for your own desires.
Why could he not curse Israel? Because G-d has ordained blessing for her. There is no point trying to curse what G-d has blessed, it won’t work. When judgement falls on Israel it is from HIM and it is part of the covenantal response from G-d, and it is for our eventual blessing.
Yet the Israelites learnt also. G-d had protected them from the Moabites and Balak. He was their shield indeed. But once they fell foul of Balaam’s other weapon, idolatry, they came under G-d’s judgement. They played the harlot with the Moabite women, and so forfeited the protection they had enjoyed thus far from Moab.
G-d will protect you as you walk in His way, but as wrong turns are made the protection begins to disappear. If your desire is for what the world has to offer, or what seems good to you, be careful.
We need to train ourselves in walking only His way for His glory only and no other motive. Check that you’re not trying to bend the will of G-d to your ends rather than yielding to His will.