The Plot Against Israel

Balaam found he could not curse Israel, but he had other tricks up his sleeve. Even today, the people of God must beware Balaam's fiendish plot against Israel.

A 19th century landscape by Joseph Anton Koch depicts portions of the story about Balaam from parashat Balak, including his encounter with the angel and the sacrifices on the high places. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Balak

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Balak (בלק | Balak)
  • Torah: Numbers 22:2-25:9
  • Haftarah: Micah 5:6-6:8
  • Gospel: Matthew 21:1-11

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Numbers 22:1 | Balak Summons Balaam to Curse Israel
    • Numbers 22:22 | Balaam, the Donkey, and the Angel
    • Numbers 22:41 | Balaam's First Oracle
    • Numbers 23:13 | Balaam's Second Oracle
    • Numbers 24:1 | Balaam's Third Oracle
    • Numbers 24:15 | Balaam's Fourth Oracle
    • Numbers 25:1 | Worship of Baal of Peor
  • Prophets
    • Mic 5:2 | The Ruler from Bethlehem
    • Mic 5:7 | The Future Role of the Remnant
    • Mic 6:1 | God Challenges Israel
    • Mic 6:6 | What God Requires

Portion Summary

Balak (Balak, בלק) was the name of a Moabite king in the days of Moses. It is also the name of the fortieth reading from the Torah. It comes from the second verse of this week's reading, which says, "Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites" (Numbers 22:2). This week's Torah reading tells the story of how Balak hires the occult prophet Balaam to lay a curse on Israel. Balaam meets resistance from God, has a conversation with his donkey and ends up blessing Israel instead of cursing them.


Balaam failed to curse Israel. Worse yet, he failed to win a large reward from Balak. Then a thought occurred to him. Perhaps he could not curse Israel, but he could induce Israel to curse themselves. In Numbers 31:16, we learn that he conspired with the Midianite and Moabite leaders and suggested a plan.

He counseled them not to march out to make war against Israel. Instead, he advised them to invite the men of Israel to a party hosted by the daughters of the Midianites and Moabites. He told them to use their daughters as bait to lure the Israelite men to an idolatrous feast.

While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. (Numbers 25:1)

Even the noblewomen of Midian participated in the plan to prostitute themselves to Israel. For example, the infamous Cozbi was the daughter of Zur, one of the five princes of Midian. When Moses saw the women of Midian, he declared, “Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD” (Numbers 31:16).

The daughters of Moab “invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor” (Numbers 25:2-3). The choice of words intentionally evokes sexuality, a theme that the prophet Hosea picks up in his rebuke regarding the Israelite fertility cult.

They came to Baal-Peor and devoted themselves to shame, and they became as detestable as that which they loved. (Hosea 9:10)

Balaam’s wicked plan succeeded. He managed to finagle the nation into bringing a curse down on its own head. The LORD unleashed a plague among the tribes and 24,000 died.

In the book of the Revelation, Yeshua rebuked the assembly at Pergamum for eating food sacrificed to idols and engaging in sexual immorality under the influence of “the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (Revelation 2:15). The Master referred to sexual immorality and eating food tainted by idolatry as “the teaching of Balaam.”

But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (Revelation 2:14-15)

The sexual allure and inherent idolatry of the heathen world continues to entice believers and draw us away from singular devotion to the LORD. To break free from the spell of sensuality and materialism takes a radical resolution on our part.

Adapted From: Torah Club Commentary Set: Depths of the Torah. Learn more about Torah Club and how you can start a Club of your own, or join a Torah Club in your area. Visit TORAHCLUB.ORG

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