Printed from chabad.org
All Departments
Jewish Holidays
TheRebbe.org
Jewish.TV - Video
Jewish Audio
News
Kabbalah Online
JewishWoman.org
Kids Zone

Balaam and Balak

Balaam and Balak

E-mail

Balaam Sends For Balak

Frightened by the fall of the lands of the Amorites and Bashan, the kings of Moab and Midian, implacable foes for many generations, united for the purpose of a common attack upon the children of Israel. Balak, the newly elected king of Moab, had been put in charge of the plans. Thinking of the surprising victories of the outnumbered troops of the Jewish people Balak came to the conclusion that these victories could only be attributed to some form of magic. He believed that the only way to destroy the victorious Jews was to outdo them in magic by a spell stronger than theirs.

Balak, therefore, sent messengers to Balaam, the greatest magician of those days, asking him to come to Moab to curse the people of Israel who were threatening to overrun their lands.

Balaam knew that he could not do anything against G-d's will, and he so informed Balak's envoys, even though his personal hatred of the Jews made him only too willing to follow the call.

However, Balak was persistent. He sent an even more imposing delegation of princes and nobles and promised Balaam more gold and silver. Balaam received the deputation with the respect due to their rank. Regretfully, he told them that even if Balak gave him a full house of gold and silver, he could not go against G-d's command. He asked them, however, to stay overnight, because only at night was he privileged to receive Divine inspiration. During that night, Balaam had a vision in which he was informed that he might go with Balak's men, but that he was not to say anything save the words that G-d would put into his mouth.

Balaam's Ass

Balaam rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. But G-d was angry at Balaam's eagerness to do harm to the Jewish people, and He sent an angel to hinder his way, The ass saw the angel of G-d with a drawn sword, and she tried to evade him by stepping off the path. Balaam, who did not perceive the angel, got angry and hit the ass in order to guide her back to the path. A little while later, the angel with the drawn sword blocked the way on a narrow vineyard path, fenced by walls on either side. Trying to avoid the angel, the ass pressed herself close to the wall, thereby hurting Balaam's foot. Again Balaam hit the ass. Now the angel placed himself squarely across the path where there was no chance of avoiding him, so this time the ass lay down, refusing to move forward. Now Balaam was in such a rage that he savagely hit the ass with his staff for the third time. At this moment, G-d gave the ass the faculty of speaking. The ass asked the astonished Balaam why he had beaten her these three times. Her master, stupefied, though still in a rage, replied that he would have killed her, had he only had a sword handy. Yet while Balaam spoke, G-d opened his eyes, and he saw the angel with the sword drawn in his hand. Balaam bowed in reverence. The Angel told Balaam that it was he who had blocked the way, and that Balaam had done an injustice to the ass. Balaam excused himself, saying that he had not known that G-d wanted to prevent his trip, and that he was ready to return. But the angel replied that he should continue his journey, remembering to say only that which G-d would tell him.

Balaam's Blessings

When king Balak heard of Balaam's arrival, he went out to meet him and took the prophet up to the heights sacred to Baal. There they built seven altars, upon each of which they sacrificed an ox and a ram. Then Balaam went alone to a solitary place, hoping to receive the word of the L-rd. When he returned to the king, he had beheld a vision, and he felt inspired. He stood near his burnt-offering before Balak and the princes of Moab, and urged by an irresistible impulse, he broke forth into blessings. "How can I curse whom G-d has not cursed?" Balaam (Numbers 23:8) exclaimed. He went on to praise the marvelous people which will never lose its identity among the nations of the world, and concluded with the words (Numbers 23:10): "May my soul die the death of the upright and let my end be like his!"

Hearing Balaam's divinely inspired praise of Israel, Balak became angry at Balaam for blessing his enemies instead of cursing them. Balaam replied that he could say only what G-d put in his mouth.

Again Balak prepared sacrifices, and Balaam waited for an inspiration to curse the Jewish people. However, G-d put praise and blessings into his mouth. "G-d is not a man that He should lie, nor is He a mortal that He should relent. Would He say and not do, speak and not fulfill? I have received [an instruction] to bless, and He has blessed, and I cannot retract it. He does not look at evil in Jacob, and has seen no perversity in Israel; the L-rd, his G-d, is with him..."

The last time Balaam took a full view of Israel's camp, he exclaimed "How goodly are thy tents, 0 Jacob, thy dwellings, 0 Israel! As valleys stretch out, as gardens by the river-side; as aloes planted of the L-rd, as cedars beside the waters. Water shall flow from his branches, and his seed shall be in many waters; and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. G-d who brought him forth out of Egypt is for him like the lofty horns of the wild-ox; he shall eat up the nations that are his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces, and pierce them through with his arrows. He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a lioness; who shall rouse him up? Blessed be every one that blesseth thee, and cursed be every one that curseth thee."

Now Balak was really angry, and he ordered Balaam to return home. Before he left, however, Balaam told Balak that the only way to harm the people of Israel was to seduce them into sin. For only then would G-d punish His people.

The kings of Moab and Midian acted upon this shrewd advice of Balaam. They arranged a big feast in honor of their idols and invited the children of Israel to participate in the ceremonies. Many of the Jewish people fell for this ruse and participated in these heathen celebrations. Amongst them was Zimri, a prince of the family of Simeon, who was not ashamed to let the entire Jewish community witness his evil conduct.

From Our People by Jacob Isaacs published and copyrighted by Kehot Publication Society 1946-1948
E-mail
1000 characters remaining
Email me when new comments are posted.
Sort By:
Discussion (7)
January 2, 2014
Balam
I agree that it seems duplicitous of God to tell Balaam not to go, then give him permission to go,. It also seems he is unfairly blamed for Isreal's seduction. My thought is that God knows our thoughts and desires. While Balaam refused to go to Balak at first, it is clear that Balak was not going to take no for an answer. The angel in the road is a clear sign from God to Balaam that even though Balaam was in error he had better only say what The Lord was going to tell him to say. Let's think about it: Was Balaam a Levite? What gave him the right to offer up sacrifices on altars before God and expect to meet with The Holy One of Isreal and not be struck down? The Lord did not tell Balaam to tell Balak to lead the Isrealites into sin, that this would be their undoing. Balaam knew enough of man's own tendencies. Therefore, I believe this is a story of God's grace and mercy in action once again, as Balaam, or Isreal certainly did not receive what they deserved .
Anonymous
November 6, 2013
Balaam
Balaam feared God more than he feared man. I think this is an amazing story of what we should do. It also shows me that God can use anybody and/or anything. I also see that Balaam told Ba'lak what he had to in order to get God's people to sin because he knew that god would punish them because he hats sin. here I see the Permissive Will of God. because he allows us to sin so that we can eventually repent and turn back to him.. That's just my view.
Anonymous
March 26, 2012
balaam
Numbers 31:16 shows that Balaam was one who started the mess with Israel going to the Midianites' idol feasts.
James M
Bossier City, LA
July 26, 2011
Balaam
God permitted him to go after "a permissive will", how would he have asked God the second time after he has been originally told not to go. God sent the angel to stop him because God knew he would have proclaimed curse on His people so he had to be warned seriously. Secondly, a true prophet would have known that Israel was God's chosen, he needed not to consult God in the first instance, possibly he taught the red sea experience was an act of divination. It was certain Balaam had other motives and most likely material gains
ADETOMIWA
Ibadan, Oyo/Nigeria
January 1, 2010
balaam
If one is to read carefully this account you will see that Balaam's "gift of prophecy" is actually akin to sorcery. He was a "prophet" who practiced sorcery which was forbidden. Sorcery & divination can be a source of true revelation but through the wrong means. It had already been made clear to Balaam that God would not allow him to curse the Israelites & yet he went anyway. My conjecture (based on other scriptural references to this story) was that he had hopes of some financial gain & that God would allow it after all.
Peter
Bedford, VA/US
December 22, 2009
balaam
Good question. I've been reading about Balaam and I'm astonished at his story. If you look at the biblical accounts in Numbers 22 to 25, it is clear he was a man of God who didn't want to do anything without God's permission. Matter of fact he wouldn't have gone to meet Balak if God didn't tell him he could go (as per the scriptures). Then after getting the ok to go, then suddenly God is angry with him and sends an angel to stop him. Even when he gets there, he still consults God as God told him to and blessed Israel. At the end of his story it says he went his and Balak went his way. However later in Numbers 32, Balaam is slain in the war and suddenly he is blamed for the Israelite men being seduced by the Midian woman. Then in Deuteronomy, it says he cursed the Insraelites but God changed it to a blessing, then he is mentioned again in Micah and even in the new testament as a villain. It begs the question what's the true story of Balaam?
JE
London, UK
October 31, 2009
balaam
In this synopsis you made the following comment "Before he left, however, Balaam told Balak that the only way to harm the people of Israel was to seduce them into sin. For only then would G-d punish His people." Where exactly is this found in the Hebrew scriptures?
Anonymous
Portland, Oregon/USA
FEATURED ON CHABAD.ORG