This week’s portion covers the story of Balaam, a pagan diviner, and his interactions with Balak the king of Moab. Balak, realizing that Israel had just defeated Sihon and Og the Amorite kings, and that he was nowhere near as strong as they, decided to take a spiritual approach. [Tell the story of Balaam] Walter Kaiser brings this passage up as one of the places of Messianic prophesy in the Torah.[1]

[Read Numbers 24:15-19][2]

(Vs. 15-16) Here we have Balaam, not divining as in the first 2 cases, but having an open vision by the Ruach Elohim. We notice that his opening statement is the same as in vs. 3-4 where he is encountering Adonai in a powerful way. As with any prophesy we need to ask several questions. Has this already been fulfilled? Is it actually about the coming Messiah? How has this passage been understood through history?

(Vs. 17) We start by seeing that Balaam is referencing an individual not a group. This is important, because many do not believe that the messiah is a single individual; some say there are many messiahs and some look only for a messianic age. This passage attributes a “star” and “a sceptre” with this coming individual. Many believe that this was the primary reason that the Kings from the East were looking for a specific start, however, none of the Apostolic authors mention this passage in that context.

So was this passage fulfilled through David or Solomon, or any future king of Israel? Well David did subjugate Moab, Edom and Amalek, which are all mentioned here. The problem is that he never extended the kingdom to include the Kenites. So we have a case where the prophesy is fulfilled, but only in part, which tells us that the total fulfilment has not happened yet. This is another example of the “now” but “not yet” of prophesy. In fact this is brought up by Jeremiah in (Jer. 48-19). Jeremiah speaks of the destruction of Moab, Ammon, Edom and Babylon. And of course his prophesy is hundreds of years after David. We also see in vs. 17 that the sons of Seth are mentioned. This is most probably a parallel ethnic term for Moab, which was not good news for Balak[3]; however, it could be referring to Seth, the son of Adam, which would expand the conquest of this coming leader to the entire world.

We also know that historically this passage was considered by early Jewish interpreters as being messianic. The most obvious example is Simeon Bar Kochba. Rabbi Akiva claimed that Simeon was The Messiah, in A.D. 132 and encouraged his rebellion against Emperor Hadrian. Simeon’s name “Bar Kochba” literally means “son of a star.”

(Vs. 23-24) We see here that Balaam exclaims, “O, who can live when God does this?” He goes on to see the destruction of Asshur (Assyria) and Eber (Babylon) the greatest empires of the world now that Egypt had just been destroyed.

From all this Walter Kaiser concludes that, “The picture painted by Balaam of the “star,” “sceptre” and “ruler,” the man who would arise out of Israel and be awesome in his conquests and decisive in his actions, is a picture of the coming Messiah. Indeed, “Who can live when God does this?” This portion mainly depicts what will take place at the second advent of Messiah. He will literally clean house of all evil and all opposition to his rule and reign.”[4]

Oh how I wish for Balaam’s sake that the story ended there. Balaam ends up getting killed with the Midianites, because he did not go home straight away. We see that he died in Joshua 13:22, where the discussion of the conquests East bank of the Jordan was brought to remembrance. But to find out why we actually go to the words of Yeshua in (Revelation 2:14) Here Yeshua warns the believers to stop following the ways of Balaam “who was teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before Bnei-Yisrael, to eat food sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality.” This is referring to what happened in the next chapter (Num. 25). Since Balaam could not get Adonai to curse Beni Yisrael, and he really wanted that “house full of silver and gold,” he told Balak and the Midianites how to get Adonai to bring judgement Israel. He showed Balak that since Adonai would not curse Beni Yisrael, all Balak needed to do was to get Adonai to judge them, by making Adonai jealous through idolatry and sexual immorality.

(1 Cor. 10:13) states that “No temptation has taken hold of you except what is common to mankind. But God is faithful—He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can handle. But with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so you will be able to endure it.” This goes along with what Rav. Sha’ul states in (Rom 8:37-39) “But in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.” We notice that the one thing that is not mentioned in this passage is ourselves. Just as was the case with Beni Yisrael, our enemy, the Devil, cannot destroy us or remove us from Adonai’s love through externally means. So he brings temptation and/or idolatry so as to cause us to fall into sin and under the judgement of Adonai.

[1] Walter Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1995. Pg.53-57

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the Tree Of Life Version (TLV), 2014.

[3] Ronald Allen, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol 2, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2008.       Pg. 330-336.

[4] Kaiser, Messiah, pg. 57.