Friday, July 8, 2022

Tents and Terror

 In this week’s Parashat “Balak”, we certainly meet some interesting characters.  Balak king of Moab and a seer, Balaam, who has had his eyes "open" to hear from YHVH, the Elohim of Israel.  Although seeing is not normally attached to hearing, in regards to this issue, Balaam is like Habakkuk, who stated: “I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart, and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me”, (2:1 emphasis added).  'Seeing the speech' was also true for this prophet, who had a reputation for “blessing” and “cursing”.  A very strange profession indeed. Yet, having open eyes can mean gaining an understanding regarding a specific issue or reason.  The exclamation “Oh, I see!”  is quite common when one suddenly grasps an idea or comes to an understanding of a certain matter.

In the case of Balaam – ironically this seer was actually blinded by his own reputation. He understood (open eyes) ordinances/laws that govern blessings and curses, but his pride would not allow him to be obedient to YHVH’s command.  This becomes evident in his answer to Balak, in which he did not repeat all of YHVH's instructions to him.  “And Elohim said to Balaam, 'Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people; for they are blessed" (Numbers 22:12). Balaam (whose name means "swallow up the people") chose to tell the king's messengers only the first part of that message, but nothing regarding His decree concerning these people (ref v. 13). What was Balak to make of this refusal, other than that the magician/prophet was demanding more pay?  However, the message that Elohim wants to convey in the rest of the story is not about either man, but about how He views His people who belong to Him, and about His faithfulness to bring them to their promised inheritance. "How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel"! (Numbers 24:5)  

Balak, whose name means “devastator”, was defeated by his imagination. Israel was told by YHVH not to harm the Moabites, as He had given to them their territory (see Deut. 2:9), but king Balak and his people were fearful and full of dread from what they had heard and now are seeing, masses of Israelites and their tents.: “Behold, a people came out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land, and they are living opposite me… "Now this horde will lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field” (Numbers 22:5 and 4).  

 The song that Moses and the Israelites sang after having crossed the Reed Sea on dry ground, is no less than a prophecy. Among other issues, it also describes the reaction of the inhabitants of Canaan to the Israelites and their wanderings.  "The peoples have heard, they tremble; anguish has gripped the inhabitants of Philistia.  Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed; the leaders of Moab, trembling grips them; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.  Terror and dread fall upon them; By the greatness of Your arm they are motionless as stone; until Your people pass over, YHVH, until the people pass over whom You have purchased” (Exodus 15:14-16). 

What are we to learn today from the Torah portion of Balak? 

As mentioned, this story is really not about a king and a diviner/prophet, but about YHVH and His chosen people, not only then, but also today.  The Haftara of this Parasha brings us to the reality of YHVH’s people in this generation: “Then the remnant of Jacob will be among many peoples like dew from YHVH, like showers on vegetation which do not wait for man or delay for the sons of men.  And the remnant of Jacob will be among the nations, among many peoples like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, which, if he passes through, tramples down and tears, and there is none to rescue” (Micah 5:7-8).  

How very sad that the multitudes of this remnant of Jacob today do not know who they are, and what they are called to!  YHVH did not fail to accomplish His purposes with the hordes of Israelites that came out of Egypt and neither will He be sidetracked in accomplishing His end-time goals for His redeemed remnant in this generation of the descendants of Jacob and Israel.  “’For, behold, days are coming,' declares YHVH, 'when I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel and Judah.' YHVH says, 'I will also bring them back to the land that I gave to their forefathers, and they shall possess it.' Now these are the words which YHVH spoke concerning Israel and Judah, 'For thus says YHVH, 'I have heard a sound of terror, of dread, and there is no peace”’ (Jeremiah 30:3-5).  Notice again that at that time there will be “terror and dread” in the nations.  Are we, His people, in this day and age ready for this condition that will strike the nations and will trigger the second exodus and the return to our homeland? Should we be singing the song of Moses: "I will sing to YHVH, for He is highly exalted; the horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea.  YHVH is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; this is my Elohim, and I will praise Him; my father's Elohim, and I will extol Him…”? (Exodus 15:1-2). 

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