Hukkat & Balak
For the week of July 12, 2003 / 12 Tammuz 5763
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 19:1- 25:9
Haftarah: Micah 5:6 - 6:8

Avoid the Reckless Path

The angel of the LORD asked him, "Why have your beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me" (Bemidbar / Numbers 22:32).

The story of Balak and Balaam is a confusing one. I hope that what I share with you this week may clear up some of that confusion.

Balak was the king of Moab, a land located on the south-east shore of the Dead Sea. Balak was concerned that Israel, who had recently defeated two neighboring kings, would mean trouble for him and his people. Having some understanding of the spiritual dynamics involved, he sought to enlist the services of a diviner by the name of Balaam. Balak wanted Balaam to place a curse upon the Israelites so that Balak would be able to defeat them.

At first God tells Balaam not to go with Balak's messengers, nor was he to curse the Israelites. Balaam does what God says. Balak then sends a more influential group with promises of greater rewards. Balaam inquires of God again. This time God tells Balaam to go, but with a warning to only speak what God tells him. So the next morning Balaam heads out by donkey.

An unusual encounter ensues between Balaam and his donkey. We read that God was angry with Balaam and sent an angel to oppose him. The donkey was able to see the angel, while Balaam could not. When Balaam's eyes are finally opened and he could see the angel, he learns what is really going on, and is willing to turn back. The angel then repeats what God told him the second time: He should go, but only speak what God tells him.

Why was God so angry with Balaam when after his second inquiry God told him to go to Balak? Did God want him to go or not? The angel also gave this double message, saying that his agreement to go to Balak was a bad idea, yet he should go anyway.

What I think is going on here is both serious and frightening. I cannot say for sure that what I suspect is the principle at work here is really the case, but I want to propose it. If you disagree or have any insights on this I would be happy to hear from you.

The reason why I think Balaam was getting this double message from God was because he himself was double minded. He had asked God if he should go, and God clearly said no. Yet when the more influential group came with a sweeter offer, he asked God again. He didn't need to ask God a second time. He had already gotten his answer. But God seeing Balaam's heart, gave him what he wanted, which placed him, as the angel said, on a reckless path. The Hebrew word translated "reckless" here in other versions is translated using such words as "contrary, perverse, and obnoxious."

So apparently when we know what is right, yet persist in going against God, God may allow us to go that way. The scary part is that God himself gave Balaam the go ahead. We might think that as long as we pray and have a sense in our hearts that God is involved, then everything must be fine. But that's not the case here. Once God tell us what is right, that's what we must do. Anything else will place us on a reckless path.

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