Balaam’s Shameful (and Effective) Tactic

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Balak’s Sacrifice and Balaam’s Prophecy. Artist: Augustin Hirschvogel 1548 National Gallery of Art

his week the reading is from the portion (parasha) of Pinchas (Phinehas) Numbers 25:10 – 29:40, and from the Prophets (haftarah) the reading is from 1 Kings 18:46 – 19:21. From the New Testament we read from the Gospel of John 2:13-22.

One of the things that I recommend to you when you read the text from the Torah and from the Prophets and from the New Testament is to ask yourself why has tradition selected these particular texts to be read together on a particular Shabbat? I think that it is an important exercise that will reveal to you what was on the agenda of the sages who between the 7th and 9th century C.E. (Common Era) chose these readings.

It will also give you a clue as to why the complementary texts from the New Testament were chosen. Try it after your reading. Ask yourselves why was this text from the Prophets chosen to complement the reading of the Torah?

I like the story of Pinchas. I suppose that I like Pinchas because I identify with his character. The Law (every law of every country) is there to help the masses to maintain an orderly society. However, an orderly society has to have an escape door for those people who are not politically correct and who have the courage and spirit to do what needs to be done outside the box.

People who are willing to go to jail if necessary in order to do what is right and outside the box. The born-to-be-rebels, the Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke. The little boy who was standing on the street with his father and mother to see the king’s new clothes, and when everyone was speaking of the beautiful clothing and gold buttons and the cufflinks of the shirt of the king. The little boy, said out loud, “But Mom the king is naked!”

There always has to be a little boy like this that is willing to see the true reality and not be afraid to speak it out. Most times these little boys are not very popular because they are standing alone against the majority of society, those around them.

They are not popular because they see what others refuse to see or can’t see due to their selective hearing and seeing, motivated by a namby-pamby society that chooses to live comfortably with the attitude of “le deluge apres moi”= which literally means, “After me, the flood.” (Or, I don’t care what happens after I am gone.)

What is the story of Pinchas? It is directly connected to last week’s reading from Numbers 22 – 25. The internationally famous wizard, false prophet, and greedy Balaam was invited to curse Israel. The king of Moab, Balak, invited Balaam and promised him great wealth as a reward for cursing Israel.

Balaam is willing to come and curse Israel, but the Lord sends his angel to stop him and forbid Balaam to curse Israel. In turn Balaam seems to bless Israel and for this he gets no reward. Balaam is a person who wants the best of both worlds. He wants to appear as one who hears the Lord and who wants to keep his orders and commands.

On the other hand Balaam also wants to get the reward from Balak. He wants to live in both worlds and get the best from both. In the final count Balaam gives Balak the winning advice. Send your beautiful young women to seduce the men of Israel.

There is nothing new in this tactical approach. The same tactic has been used a million times by every government and every intelligence agency. We know from our modern times that Israel has used it several times but not on a major national scale. Israel has used the same tactic on an individual scale more than once.

Balaam was successful in giving this advice to Balak, king of Moab. The beautiful young maidens of Moab were very successful in the use of their bodies to drag the Israelites to worship their idols and draw them away from the God of Israel, the creator of the Universe.

Numbers 25 starts with this statement:

“Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab. They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel.” – Numbers 25:1-3 [NKJV]

What was God’s response to this harlotry and idolatry of the men of Israel with the daughters of Moab? The Lord commanded Moses to command the leaders of each tribe to arrest the men who participated in this horrible worship of Baal Peor, to take these men and kill them and hang them out in the sun so that everyone who didn’t commit this abomination would see and learn not to follow.

“And indeed, one of the children of Israel came and presented to his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.” – Numbers 25:6 [NKJV]

The King James language is trying to be clean. The phrase in the King James Version “presented to his brethren” in Hebrew means much more than “presented” – it means that he was having sex with the Moabite princes in front of the leaders and judges of Israel including Moses who was standing there and doing nothing. Moses the great man of God was so shocked and bewildered that he knew not what to do.

The text tells us what happened:

“Now when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel. And those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.” – Numbers 25:7-9 [NKJV]

We learn something new from this text. This blatant sin that was going on in the camp of Israel also brought a plague on the camp of Israel. As soon as Pinchas (Phinehas) killed the couple that was having sex at the door of the tabernacle of the Lord the plague stopped. We are told that in that plague, 24,000 children of Israel died before it was stopped by Pinchas with the use of his javelin by performing radical surgery on the Israelite man and the Midianite woman.

The text tells us who was the person who did this abominable act at the door of the tabernacle of the Lord:

“Now the name of the Israelite who was killed, who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, a leader of a father’s house among the Simeonites.” – Numbers 25:14-15 [NKJV]

What Zimri the son of Salu, the prince of the tribe of Simeon and Cozbi the daughter of the head of the people of Midian did was not just sin, a horrible sin of desecration of the tabernacle of the Lord, but was also trying to show that the God of Israel is impotent and that the leadership of Israel was impotent as well when compared to to the idol worshiping harlots of the Moabites and Midianites.

What Pinchas did was outside the box. He was not authorized to take the law into his own hands. He didn’t ask permission from Moses or from anyone else. He took the law into his own hands and executed the two sinners right on the spot.

You would think that God would have been angry with Pinchas because he didn’t respect the system, the legal procedures and just did what he felt necessary at the moment. On the contrary the Lord rewarded Pinchas and praised him and made him the chief of staff of the armies of Israel.

If someone today were to do something similar he would be judged in a court of law and thrown into prison. But not before the Lord God of Israel:

“Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal.” – Numbers 25:11 [NKJV]

In special circumstances when no one in the leadership is willing to stand up and be counted on the side of the Lord someone has to stand up and be counted. This is not a call for rebellion against the leadership of your churches, but it is a call, first and foremost, to be ready to stand up for the truth and for the righteousness of God when the elected leadership is not functioning, and is at a loss as to what is the proper way, to demonstrate what is in fact, righteous indignation.

Stand up and be counted on the side of the Lord and let the chips fall where they may.

Political correctness is good and proper when all things are working in order and when there is no plague cutting down the lives of God’s children. When there is a plague raging through the house of the Lord’s people it is time to take action like Pinchas did.

I never advocate violence as a solution to anything spiritual or political, but I do advocate standing up and speaking the truth in love, and to not worry about popular opinion or the consequences of speaking the truth in love.

If there is ever a situation where you are forced to take even physical action remember the judge of all flesh is still the same God that saw what Pinchas did and blessed Pinchas and all of Israel and who stopped the plague that killed 24,000 of the people of Israel.

Every plague in the Bible was started and deployed by the almighty God as a punishment for sins and the abominations that His children executed. At times the only way for God to get His children to wake up and to recognize their abominations is to punish them with plagues.

He used it on Egypt and on Israel many times, but confession and repentance with a contrite heart always stops the plague and blesses the children of God.

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.