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A False Prophet Employed by God

A False Prophet Employed by God

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Published by Paul Ikonen
Notes and research from my study of this week's Torah Portion. BALAK - Numbers 22:2-25:9. Hesedresource.blogspot.com
Notes and research from my study of this week's Torah Portion. BALAK - Numbers 22:2-25:9. Hesedresource.blogspot.com

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Published by: Paul Ikonen on Jun 25, 2010
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06/25/2010

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A False Prophet Employed by God?
My Parshah JournalPaul Ikonen
25 June 2010
Portion: Balak  Numbers 22:2-25:9When I first read through this portion the story was almost completely different than howI had remembered it. Sure there was the cast of Balaam, Balak, the Angel on the road andof course, the talking donkey. But I remembered Balaam as the good guy in the story; infact I was confused when I learned that Balaam wasn't even Hebrew. I confess this wasreally embarrassing because the text couldn't be clearer, maybe I can blame it on a pastSunday School teacher.The story starts out with Israel setting up camp along the Jordan within the plains of Moab. They had just defeated the Amorites who had taken up their swords against themand the news of this people had been spreading. News of this traveling nation who hadfled Egypt and were overpowering their adversaries had even reached King Balak son of Zippor and his people. He knew the stories of how they had slaughtered the Amorites andhis people were terrified that they would soon “lick clean all that is about us”. (Num22:4) It’s interesting to me that King Balak didn’t first gather his troops and fight theIsraelites, instead he summoned a local prophet named Balaam.From what we can gather from the Hebrew Scriptures of Balaam, we know -He was some sort of Prophet (Numbers 22:6)He practiced divination (Joshua 13:22)He came from Pethor which was along the Euphrates (Numbers 22:5)He spoke with the Hebrew God (Numbers 22:8-12)He was an enemy of Israel (Joshua 13:22, Numbers 31:16)He intended to curse Israel (Deuteronomy 23:4-6; Joshua 24:9-10; Nehemiah 13:2)
 
With the above in mind I started to read the text in a different light. Rather than seeing a prophet who goes to the pagan king to speak on behalf of God, I see a man who in spiteof God's command goes to see the king and maybe, with consideration of another text hemeant to speak a curse but, like the donkey, God placed words of blessing instead. Alsofrom Revelation 2, it might be that after failing to give a curse, Balaam gave advice to theking on how to handle the Israelites.Starting on the road to Moab I read the text with another picture in mind. Balaam is onhis donkey and is stopped three times by the Angel of the LORD. Each time the donkeysees what Balaam could not see, (maybe this is a discernment that the prophet did nothave) and each time Balaam is angry with the donkey. The text says that the Angel wasset up as an adversary, why would an adversary be needed if Balaam was going to speak for God? The third time, Balaam beats her again but this time God opens the mouth of thedonkey and she speaks to Balaam. The conversation ends when the donkey, appealing toher history with Balaam, asks if she was in the habit of behaving like this and Balaam hasto answer "no". Then the LORD uncovered Balaam's eyes and he saw as the donkey saw,the Angel of the LORD standing in the way of their path and He said to Balaam that thereason for standing in his way was that the journey Balaam was on is obnoxious to Him.The Angel seems to see in Balaam an intention to not do what he said he would do.Balaam tells the Angel that he is willing to turn back if He wishes but the Angel insteadallows him to pass but with another warning only to say what He tells Him to say.Balaam arrives and in the morning he and king Balak give offerings to God and Balak takes Balaam to a high point to see the Israelite camp (the practice of divination requiredthe person who is cursing to see the one being cursed). We don't know what Balaam'sintentions were but the text does say, at least, that he sought the manifestation of God.God did meet with the prophet and gave him instruction to go back to Balak and to speak a blessing over Israel. He does so and Balak is angry because he brought Balaam to curse,not to bless. The explanation Balaam gives, I think, is important; he says that "I can onlyrepeat what the LORD puts in my mouth". Could it be that Balaam would have cursed
 
Israel but God kept his mouth from doing so?Balak takes Balaam to a second place, they offer another sacrifice and Balaam seeks God.Another blessing is given rather than a curse and Balak doesn't know what to do withBalaam. He pleads for Balaam not to curse or bless, just stop! Balaam continues to saythat he can only speak as God commands; Balak attempts one more time to see if at anew location God would allow Balaam to curse Israel. He is taken to the top of awasteland, they offer their sacrifice and the text says "seeing that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, Balaam did not go in search of omens as he did before." We didn't know this before, Balaam was trying to curse Israel but instead God put a blessing on the tongue of the prophet. This time however, Balaam allows himself to be open to the Spirit of Godand he is given a third blessing.The text says that Balak is enraged at this point and tells Balaam that he must leave andhe has forfeited his reward. Balaam appears fine with this because he knows that his onlyoption was to speak the words God gave him. On his way out he says one more thing toBalak, Balaam prophesies to the king about what will happen to Moab by the hands of Israel. From this prophesy a word concerning the Messiah is spoken. From the lips of afalse prophet God still speaks "A star rises from Jacob, a scepter comes forth fromIsrael."After the prophecy which spoke of Moab's eventual destruction, Balaam, according to Numbers 24, leaves for home. The story isn't complete though, in chapter 25 we aregiven a continuation that for me didn't make sense until I put the other Biblical textsmentioning Balaam into the story. Before the last part of the Parshah, I read these texts-"(The Moabites) are the very ones who, at the bidding of Balaam, induced the Israelitesto trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so that the LORD's community wasstruck by plague." NUMBERS 31:16"I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of 

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