This week's Torah portion is named after Balak, the king of Moab, but Balak is hardly the main character. The focus, rather, is on Bil'am, a diviner who purports to know HaShem. The sages of blessed memory have even referred to him as a gentile prophet, and this is plausible since he did prophesy about Yisrael and about the nations surrounding her. What is the real story of Bil'am, and what really happened between B'midbar 24:25 and B'midbar 25:1? Furthermore, what can we learn from him?
Despite his involvement with sorcery, Bil'am speaks the language of the believer, but under closer scrutiny, we find he is a wolf in sheep's clothing. For instance, when the Moabite princes come to him and request that he meet with Balak, Bil'am gives the seemingly devout response of telling the statesmen that he will consult with the L-RD to see what His will is. That night, HaShem forbids Bil'am to go for the purpose of cursing Yisrael because they are blessed. So, Bil'am tells the princes that he can't come with them. Never the one to give up, Balak sends more statesmen who are higher-ranking than the first ones. It seems that Bil'am would give them the same answer he gave the first group of dignitaries, but he says something very interesting. In B'midbar 22:18-19, Bil'am says: “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of ADONAI my G-d to do anything, great or small. Now, please, you too, stay here tonight; so that I may find out what else ADONAI will say to me.” Verse 18 may seem like a refusal, but it is actually a proposal. Compare this passage with B'reishit 23:10-16, specifically verse 15 where Ephron the Hiti names his price in a roundabout way. Such is the nature of Middle Eastern bargaining. Could it be that the expression of having one's house full of silver and gold is an idiom for a specific amount of money? Consider that Bil'am repeats this phrase in B'midbar 24:12-13. If it is, then this elucidates what the Shlichim "Apostles" wrote concerning Bil'am in 2 Peter 2:15 and Jude 1:11. Verse 19 shows us that Bil'am treats the will of the Holy One, blessed be He, as something negotiable. One would think that once HaShem has spoken, He is not likely to change His mind, but Bil'am hopes for just that. Later in the narrative, Bil'am faithfully communicates the words of HaShem to Balak, and B'midbar 24:25 seems to indicate that since Bil'am wouldn't curse Yisrael, he and Balak went their separate ways. However, our L-RD Yeshua clarifies what really happened at this point. Revelation 2:14 states: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: you have some people who hold to the teaching of Bil'am, who taught Balak to set a trap for the people of Isra'el, so that they would eat food that had been sacrificed to idols and commit sexual sin.”
Bil'am reminds me of those who call Yeshua "L-rd, L-rd," but don't do the will of Abba our Father in Heaven. Matthew 7:21-23 says: ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘L-rd, L-rd!' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, only those who do what my Father in heaven wants. On that Day, many will say to me, ‘L-rd, L-rd! Didn't we prophesy in your name? Didn't we expel demons in your name? Didn't we perform many miracles in your name?' Then I will tell them to their faces, `I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!'” In short, just because someone can talk the talk, and even do miracles, that doesn't mean they walk the walk. We must always exercise discernment and judge an individual or ministry by its fruit. As it is written: “Dear friends, don't trust every spirit. On the contrary, test the spirits to see whether they are from G-d; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. Here is how you recognize the Spirit of G-d: every spirit which acknowledges that Yeshua the Messiah came as a human being is from G-d, and every spirit which does not acknowledge Yeshua is not from G-d – in fact, this is the spirit of the Anti–Messiah. You have heard that he is coming. Well, he's here now, in the world already! You, children, are from G-d and have overcome the false prophets, because he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:1-4)