Hiring a Sorcerer

Jun 24, 2015

וַיַּרְא בָּלָק בֶּן־צִפּוֹר אֵת כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל לָאֱמֹרִי׃

Balak son of Zippor saw all that Yisrael had done to the Amorites.

Numbers 22:2

וַיִּזְבַּח בָּלָק בָּקָר וָצֹאן וַיְשַׁלַּח לְבִלְעָם וְלַשָּׂרִים אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ׃

Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and had them served to Balaam and the dignitaries with him.

Numbers 22:40

Balak, king of Moab, is determined to protect his people from the nation camped in the plains of Moab. He sends messengers to known sorcerer Balaam, asking him to come curse the Israelites. Balaam insists he can only do what God allows him and consults with God in a dream. God tells Balaam not to go with the messengers and he dismisses them.


When Balak sends messengers a second time, with promises of greater payment, Balaam again consults God in a dream. This time God acquiesces but tells Balaam he will only be able to say the words God Himself gives him.


Along the way, Balaam is beset by an angel of God, determined to kill him. Balaam is oblivious to the holy being, but his donkey can see the angel. Each time the angel appears, the donkey strays from the path to protect her master and, each time the ignorant Balaam strikes the loyal beast. Finally, they reach a point where the donkey cannot move out of the angel’s path, so she stops altogether. Angered, he beats her with a staff.


God miraculously allows the donkey to speak, and she pleads with her master for mercy on account of her track record. At this point, God reveals the angel to Balaam and the heavenly creature tells him that his donkey is the one who has repeatedly saved his life. As Balaam apologizes for his misdeeds, the angel warns him again that he will only be able to speak the words God gives him.


Balaam arrives to an impatient Balak who wishes to know why the sorcerer initially refused to come when called. Balaam replies that he can only act in accordance with the will of God. The two go off together and prepare sacrifices.


When God asks Balaam in his dream who the messengers are, he tells Him they have come to hire him to curse the people who “cover the face of the earth”. As the Israel Bible points out, this statement serves to highlight Balaam’s own anti-Semitism. Though the Jews represent less that 0.2% of the world’s population, they are often considered a demon intent on taking over the world. The story of Balaam and Balak reminds us that anti-Semitism will not prevail in the face of God’s will.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

If God told Balaam he could go with the messengers, why do you think he sends an angel to stop him on the way?

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