Numbers / Bemidbar 22:2 - 25:9
For the week of July 11, 1998
17 Tammuz 5758

Discerning Truth

But Balaam answered them, "Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the LORD my God (Numbers / Bemidbar 22:18).

Voices! Voices! There are so many voices calling to us, telling us what we should do. Sadly the sophistication of today’s advertising has tricked us into thinking that their sales pitches do not affect us. Educators tell us to make up our minds all the while influencing us to think just like they do. Journalists are accepted as experts telling us "the facts", while we blindly accept their points of view.

We relate to teachers of spiritual things in much the same way. It is the ones that sound like they know what they are talking about that most often have the greatest influence.

As our society continues to drift away from the acceptance of the existence of objective truth, the more it scrounges around for someone who knows what he or she is talking about.

Balaam was a man who seemed to know what he was talking about. He was some sort of soothsayer that was hired by a king by the name of Balak. Balak was concerned that the people of Israel would do to him and his people what they had done to a couple of other neighbouring city-states. Balak recognized that Balaam had spiritual clout of some sort. If Balaam would curse Israel, he thought, then Israel would have no effect on Balak and his people.

It is beyond our scope this week to discuss whether or not things work this way. I want to look at Balaam and at what he did.

A superficial reading of the story makes it seem that he was a true follower of the true God. For example he said, "Must I not speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?" (Numbers / Bemidbar 23:12); and "Did I not tell the messengers you sent me, 'Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the LORD - and I must say only what the LORD says'?" (Numbers / Bemidbar 24:12,13).

And this he did. Several times at King Balak’s urging he speaks God’s words of blessing rather than Balak’s desired curses. There are other things that suggest that Balaam was of God. When the elders of Moab and Midian first asked him to go with them to the king, Balaam inquired of God. When God told him not to go, he didn’t. Upon the second request, Balaam didn't just do as he pleased, he asked God again. This time since God said to go, he did. Every time he inquired of God, God spoke to him, telling what to say and he would say it.

But that's only part of the story. There was a lot more to Balaam than what his spiritual front suggests. Interestingly, one does not have to dig very deeply, find hidden clues, or read between the lines to discover that this man was not all he was cracked up to be. You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to know the truth. You don’t have to know Hebrew to really understand. You just have to read the whole story.

There are two obvious things that we are told about Balaam that reveal to us his true nature and one not so obvious. We read later in Numbers:

Moses was angry with the officers of the army - the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds - who returned from the battle. "Have you allowed all the women to live?" he asked them. "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD's people (Numbers / Bemidbar 31:14-16).

This is referring to an incident that occurred immediately following the story of Balak and Balaam. After Balak's evil intentions were not fulfilled, the Israeli men indulged in immorality and the worship of false gods, which in turn brought on the Lord's wrath and a plague (Numbers / Bemidbar 25:1–10).

It is not until chapter 31 quoted above that we learned that this escapade was instigated by no other than Balaam: They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice.

It may be hard to believe that the same man who insisted that he could only speak God's words would turn around and cause ruin to Israel through such means. And notice while Balak's plan didn't work, to some extent, this other thing did.

Some may think that maybe Balaam was a true prophet that turned from God. But that does not appear to be the case. First notice that this incident happened right after the other one. But there is something else that Balaam said that gives him away. We read in Numbers / Bemidbar 24:1, " Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not resort to sorcery as at other times…". Balaam had been using illegitimate means to discern God's will. While he was using God's name and God was telling what to say, he was not walking in God's ways. He was a sorcerer.

A final aspect we find in Balaam's story is the fact that after God had at first clearly told him not to go, he still inquired of him (and most likely through sorcery) that second time. Balaam's heart was not to follow God at all. God had told what to do. Why did he pursue this further? Whether it was the pressure he felt under these men, or the lure of money offered by the king, his motives were not pure.

Therefore we mustn't be impressed by someone's apparent spirituality or expertise. Balaam appeared to have good intentions, when, in reality, he could not be trusted.

The ones we should listen to must both speak the truth and live the truth. If we follow the lure of those who only look and sound good, yet lack the substance that only righteous and good living brings, we will be led down dangerous paths.

Comments? Please e-mail:

E-mail this TorahBytes to someone? Click here

Subscribe? To have TorahBytes e-mailed to you weekly
enter your e-mail address and press Subscribe

[ More TorahBytes ]  [  TorahBytes Home ]