Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Rabbi's Reflection on the Reasoning Behind Balaam's Murder

Some months ago, I posted a reflection on the story of Balaam in the book of Numbers, and focused on the similarities between this story and Saul's conversion.
(To see my post click here:
However, at that time I had not read far enough in the book of Numbers to know that Balaam was eventually killed by the Israelites. Suddenly the question arises as to why this is. After Saul's conversion, Paul was given a new life. His past, it seems, was fully forgiven and forgotten, and yet Balaam did not receive this grace. Below is a reflection written by a Jewish Rabbi on Numbers 22:2-25:9. I think it is very intersting.

This portion, Balak, is named for the Moabite King who feared the Israelites as they journeyed toward the Promised Land. The Israelites are encamped on the steppes of Moab opposite Eretz Yisrael and have defeated in battle two different kingdoms already, Sichon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan. The Israelites have gained strength since they left Egypt almost four years previously and united as a community and as an army.

Balak wants an edge over the Israelites without engaging them in battle directly and sends for a prophetic specialist, Baalam to curse the Israelites. Baalam is a non-Hebrew prophet. He lives by the Euphrates and Balak’s messengers, elders who are themselves experts in the arts of divination went to find him and bring the king’s plea for help.

Baalam however is reluctant to help. Baalam is indeed a prophet and the Torah records that God speaks with Baalam. How interesting that God has direct communication with a prophet who is dedicated to another religion! Like Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law and himself a high priest of the Midianites, God can be present for them.

God speaks to Baalam and tells him that he may not go with the king’s messengers. This Baalam conveys. But the king sends more dignitaries and offers of riches to provide curses against the Israelites. God gives permission to Baalam to go with the king’s dignitaries but will only be able to speak the words that God gives to him.

Baalam disappoints king Balak because even though the king wants the Israelites cursed—blessings flow from Baalam. These blessings are directly from God who becomes manifest to Baalam. Three times, Baalam and the king, Balak, offer seven sacrifices at special high altars overlooking the encamped Israelites. And three times, Balaam’s prophecies with blessings are stated. Balak the king says, “I called you to damn my enemies and instead you have blessed them these three times! (24:10).”

God protects the Israelites and provides great blessings for them even through the mouth of a non-Jewish prophet.

And yet Baalam—though subject to God’s words –is not looked at with favor in Jewish tradition. He represents pagan religion and in the closing words of the Torah portion—the Children of Israel are led astray by the intermingling and marriage of Israelite men with Moabite women who bring them to worship the pagan god—Baal-peor. Later in the book of Numbers, chapter 31 in the war against the Midianites—Baalam is killed for his role in advising the Midianites and Moabites on the weaknesses of the Israelites. He could not curse them—because God’s blessing was stated, but traditionally it is understood that Baalam advised the Moabites and Midianites that the Israelites could be infiltrated and converted thus helping to weaken them!

In 1967, in Jordan in Deir Allah, an archaeological dig discovered a plaster wall remnants with inked inscription in a local dialect with Aramaic and South Canaanite characteristics. These inscriptions were a previously undiscovered prophecy attributed to Baalam! This was written about by Professor Jo Ann Hackett of Harvard University in Balaam Text from Tell Deir Alla.

This article was taken from:

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