Parashah Balak (Balak) Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

Here is one of the best known biblical tales- the story of Balaam’s talking ass.

We start with Balak, son of the the king of Moab, seeing the Children of Israel on his doorstep having just annihilated both King Og and King Sichon, and taken their lands. Being afraid for his own kingdom, Balak sends envoys to Mesopotamia to find Balaam, a known prophet who’s reputation is that whomever he blesses is blessed, and whomever he curses is cursed.

Balaam is an enigma in the bible- he is obviously a true prophet of Adonai because when asked to come curse a people (at this point he doesn’t know who the “people” are) he sacrifices and asks the guidance of Adonai. Adonai tells him that these people are blessed (indicating God has blessed them), so Balaam cannot curse them. Balaam tells the envoys he cannot go with them, and sends them away (it is important to note that he doesn’t tell them what God told him, just that he cannot go with them.)

Balak figures Balaam is holding out for more money, so sends more important men with a better offer. Once again Balaam asks God, who this time relents to say go if you are called, but say what I tell you. Balaam saddles up his ass and rides with them the very next morning. However, God places an angel in the way where Balaam has to pass a narrow gap, and although Balaam is blind to the angel, the ass is not and steps to the side to avoid the angel. Balaam is peeved at this and strikes the ass. This happens again, and this time Balaam’s foot is crushed against a wall by the ass while trying to avoid the angel. Again, the ass gets a beating. Finally, the angel with sword drawn is directly in the path at a point where there is no way around, so the ass just plops down on the ground. Balaam gets off and beats it, cursing at it. Then two remarkable things happen:  first, the ass talks to Balaam asking why he is beating it these three times. The second remarkable thing is that Balaam answers without skipping a beat, as if having your ass talk to you is an everyday event!

Finally, Balaam sees the angel, confesses his sin to God and says he will return home. At this point God tells him to continue to go, but he must say only what God tells him to say.

Balak is overjoyed to see Balaam, and takes him to a high point where he can see the tribes encamped. Balak says to curse them, but after Balaam sacrifices and gets a word from God, he blesses them as God directs. Balak is upset, and Balaam tells him that he warned Balak’s envoys and Balak that he could only say what Adonai told him to say. Balak is unrelenting, takes Balaam to two other locations to see (stupidly enough) if that would change God’s mind, but each time Balaam blesses even more.  Now Balak is so peeved that he sends Balaam away without pay, but before going God gives Balaam a prophetic word for Balak, as well as the kings of the Midian tribes that were with them regarding their future.

The parashah ends relating how the women of Midian lure the men of Israel into worshiping their gods, and how this sin results in a plague from God. One prince of Israel, from the tribe of Simeon, goes as far as to rebelliously display his Midianite woman right in front of Moses. This so angers Phinehas (Pinchas), Aaron’s, son, that Phinehas grabs a spear and runs it through both of them, pinning them together.

It is interesting to note that even after Balaam is told don’t curse the Israelites, when urged a second time to do so, he again asks God if he can go. God relents to let him go but warns he must say only what God tells him to say; the Talmud explains this apparent change of mind by God as God, having warned him not to go, allows that if he is absolutely determined to go to his destruction, so be it. The Rabbi’s tell us the angel that was placed in Balaam’s path was not a destroying angel, as the story may imply, but an angel of mercy to try to turn him back before it was too late. Later in the Torah we learn that Balaam was the one who gave the idea to the kings of Midian to have their women seduce the men of Israel to sin, and Balaam (finally) got his reward when Israel fought against Midian and he was slain with the sword.

I have to ask myself: What is it with this guy, Balaam? He is clearly a prophet of Adonai because not only does he ask of Adonai, but he is answered by Adonai! And he should know that when God said these people are blessed by Him, that no curse he may give would have any effect, anyway. Also, as I mentioned above, Balaam doesn’t tell the first envoys that God has blessed this people, only that God said Balaam cannot go with them. This didn’t slam the door shut in Balak’s face, as it should have, but left it open a bit, so to speak, so that Balak could send a better offer. It is clear that Balaam, although a prophet of Adonai, from the very beginning wanted to have the rewards offered by Balak.

God knew that Balaam’s intent was to curse the people, and he put the fear of God (literally) into him by sending the angel. God then allowed Balaam to continue to go because God used this human desire to sin and turned it into a way to glorify Himself.

He’s good at things like that.

The lesson Balaam teaches us today is this: anyone can be turned from service to God by the allure of worldly rewards. Anyone. That means you, that means me, that means anyone. It also shows us that God is going to warn us, and try to stop us from hurting ourselves, but if we stubbornly refuse to listen, even if our family donkey is telling us we are doing something stupid, then God will move out of the way as we rush towards destruction.

During our lives God will give us more than enough rope to pull ourselves up, or to hang ourselves. It’s our choice. We need to listen to God, whether He speaks to us directly or through another medium. Often events in our life proclaim God’s will for us, other times it may be events in someone else’s life that we see happen, that warn us of what will happen to us if we do the same things. And then we may just get a direct word from God through the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) that is designed to keep us on the right path.

Shaul warns us against this, as well. In 2 Peter 2, Shaul talks about false prophets and wicked people who sin, and entice others to sin. When we see sin and work with our brother or sister to help them overcome it, we must be careful not to get too close to it, or we, ourselves, may be enticed into it. Just as the men of Israel were enticed by the Midianite women, as Balaam was enticed by the riches offered, and even as Judas was enticed by the offer of silver, we all, every one of us, must be careful not to allow the innate sinfulness within us to be given any leeway.

The best guide we have is the Ruach HaKodesh. We must discipline ourselves to listen to it. Next, we need to make sure we are surrounded by godly people who can encourage and help us. Finally, we must never judge sinners or backsliders harshly, but instead treat them with love and encourage them to do T’Shuvah (repentance) that they may be saved. Again, though, be warned- work with sinners but do not allow yourself to get too close. Even if you never touch a fish, hang around the fish market all day you will stink like old haddock! Sin comes slowly and stealthily, so stay alert. Read your bible, know the signs, and listen to those who are godly and knowledgeable.

Remember: you can learn a lot when you are open to hearing what others say, even if the one talking is an ass.

Parashah V’Yashev (And he dwelt) Genesis 37 – 40

There is sooooo much here if I started, I couldn’t finish.

We are introduced to Joseph, Jacob’s favorite, and the jealous hatred of his brothers, fueled by Joseph telling them of his dreams. The coat of many colors, the treachery of the brothers, the narrow escape from death in the cistern and the eventual sale into slavery to Potiphar.  We also have a tangential telling of the story of Judah’s first born sons, and how Peretz was born out of his father’s (Judah) relationship with his own daughter-in-law, although Judah did not know it was Tamar at the time.

Back to Joseph, in Egypt, slave to Potiphar, but now because of his righteousness and competence, the slave is in charge of the masters household, and the masters wife wants the slave for her sexual partner. Joseph refuses to the point where the wife accuses him of doing just what he refused to do, and he is thrown into jail (probably because Potiphar was being merciful- normally an accusation of attempted rape would get the slave killed.)

In jail Joseph again shows his righteousness and is made a trustee, and this parashah ends with Joseph correctly interpreting the dreams of the baker and the cup bearer.

Like I said, just sooo much: but what I want to talk about today is not regarding any of these events, but what happens to the righteous in an unrighteous world.

Joseph was a Tzaddik, a righteous man. When he was younger he was a little immature, and didn’t show good judgement by telling his brothers about his dreams, but we see as he went through some tsouris that he matured to the point where his acts of righteousness talked for him.

So here we have this righteous man, a slave yet trusted by his master so much that he was, in truth, the de facto master of the house. But although Joseph was righteous, the environment he lived in wasn’t. What made Joseph stand out so well what also what got him into trouble so quickly.

Didn’t Izabel want to kill Elijah when he demonstrated the goodness and power of God? Wasn’t Jeremiah thrown into a cistern to die, then kept under arrest for years? Wasn’t Shaul (Paul) stoned, whipped and jailed for speaking righteousness?  John was marooned on Patmos, and James was killed. Many who spoke and did nothing but what the Lord had commanded of them, righteous, holy and moral people, became martyrs because of their service to God.

The story ends, we all know, with Joseph eventually reaping the fruits of his righteousness, and as such, showing for the first time the effect of God’s promise to Abraham that those who bless His people will be blessed- Joseph saved not just himself, but the Egyptians, and the people of God. Pharoah blessed and treated Joseph well, and God rewarded Pharaoh by saving his kingdom.

We all live in a cursed world, which wants anything righteous and godly to be gone. The righteous person has, as Paul described in 2 Corinthians, 2:16, the smell of death on them to those who are not righteous, to those who are of the world. That is because those who do as God wants, which should be all of us who profess to be saved and who have the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) living in us, speak to the very soul of the unrighteous reminding them that their ways will turn on them, that a judgement is coming, and that they will end up with the short end of the stick.

Think about it this way: you have been hiking and camping out for a week, no shower, no bathing, no toothbrush, and you walk into an elevator full of people. How do you think they might react to you? You don’t think there’s anything wrong- you are used to your smell, but they aren’t. You think you are OK, but the truth is you stink!!

That is sort of how it is with the righteous in the midst of the unrighteous, except instead of them realizing how much you stink, your “cleanliness” forces them to realize how much they stink!

And, just like Joseph suffered not for his sins but for his righteousness, we will suffer for our righteousness, too. The world hates us because it hates Yeshua. In fact, He told us all about that, didn’t He?  In Matthew 10:22, John 15:18, Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17, and throughout the Gospels we are told by Yeshua that following Him is no bed of roses. We will be hated, attacked, tortured, killed and…well, I guess once you’ve been killed it can’t get much worse.

Being righteous in an unrighteous world sucks. That’s all there is to it. The good news, however, is that this life is but a mist, a moment, the wink of an eye, and we can look forward to reaping our just rewards in the presence of the Lord of lords and King of kings, forever!  Things always seem to take a long time when looking forward to them, but when you have come into your time, looking back it seems to have happened in a flash!

When your righteousness gets you in trouble, don’t look to the present but think on the future. As we have been commanded to do, pray for those that hurt and harass you, give our enemy water and food and show compassion and forgiveness: it will demonstrate your righteousness even more, and thereby give glory to God. And, it will really eat at them, too.

Hey! There’s nothing wrong with knowing that your goody-little-two-shoes behavior will really rub their noses in it. After all, doesn’t God direct us with His staff (gently leading us) and His rod (giving us a good whack upside our heads) when it best suits His needs? We can allow our righteousness to foster some level of jealousy in others, hopefully which (with the help of our prayers for their deliverance) will lead them not into more sinning but make them jealous for our peace, our joy in the midst of tsouris, and bring them to the Lord.

The one thing you need to remember is this: being holier than another person doesn’t mean you are any better than they are- you are still a sinner! Yes, you are a saved sinner, but you are still a sinner. Righteousness has to be tempered with humility. That is what Joseph learned (probably sometime right after his brothers threw him into the cistern.) You can’t “lord it over” others (see Matthew 20:25, Mark 10:42, Luke 22:25) and you must be humble. Allow your actions to speak for you, and don’t talk of yourself as if you are any better than anyone else.

Remember that you were once like them, so be humble and thankful you are changing, that you are becoming holier. That doesn’t mean better, it means more righteous. There are plenty of unrighteous people who do righteous things. Even Nebuchadnezzar did good things, now and then. So be holier, just not “holier than thou.”

The world hates the holy, hates the righteous, and really, really hates to be reminded of the fact that they aren’t. That’s their problem: we need to be what God wants us to be, which is to be humble, to be compassionate, and to be righteous. And to be prepared to suffer for it.

It’s hot in the fire, but that is the only way to purify the gold.

Just doing my job

How often do we hear that God is love? How many times are we reminded by our leaders and fellow Believers that God loves us and cares for us, and that He is all about love? Love, love, love….we all love to talk about God’s love.

But are they really just talking about affection, and not thinking about what it means to be loved by God; at least, not the way God describes it?

Let’s start with Proverbs 13:24, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”   Now let’s go to Hebrews (Messianic Jews), 12:5-7 in which we are told,”…“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

These are the two verses that I remember best, and I believe there may be a few more. These indicate that discipline is as much a part of love as compassion is. In fact, compassion that extends to truly wanting to do what is best for someone requires that you discipline them when needed. Not in anger, and not cruelly, but to the degree that it is required and with the goal to teach the person how to live.

God’s discipline is designed to do just that- help us to live. Not as useful members of society (although that is a side-benefit) but to LIVE: not die the second death and spend eternity with Him. Certainly more important than getting the Man of the Year award, don’t you think?

And we can see this discipline throughout the Bible, from the Genesis story of Esau’s eviction to the death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts. Yes, their deaths were for sinning against the Ruach HaKodesh, but isn’t that a form of discipline? And doesn’t it also teach and discipline those that saw it happen, and (probably) knew them personally?

We live in a world today that is full of victims. Everyone is being attacked and harassed and bullied by everyone else. It has come down to such a level of disgusting childishness that in a corporate or formal environment, the first one to complain wins. The other person is guilty, just as long as someone complains. There doesn’t have to be merit or even evidence, just complain about another person being abusive in language or mannerism, and they are in trouble.

Likewise, since we are all victims without any real responsibility to be accountable, we think that we are also entitled to whatever we feel we deserve. I should get a raise at work because I come in pretty much on time, most of the time. It’s not my fault I did poorly on this test but I paid for the course and so I should be given a passing grade. I didn’t do what you asked of me as a partner or child or spouse, but it’s not all my fault. I should still be given my allowance or whatever.

“It’s not my fault”; “I am not responsible”; “I still should get what I want.” That’s what it boils down to: I want what I want and if I don’t get it it’s not my fault. You have to make sure I get what I want.

You know what I want? I want to get to the Throne of Judgement and hear Yeshua say, “This one is mine, Father.” And then have the Lord God Almighty, Creator of all things, King of kings and Lord of lords, Host of the Heavenly armies and the One and only true God look down at me and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come into your Master’s rest.”

That’s it. If I get a shack of wood to live in, that’s OK. Anyplace He wants to put me, in heaven or on Earth (the new one, of course) will be fine. I won’t argue about the living quarters, or ask where are the riches I built up, or complain that person has a better home, or anything like that.  Just let me be there because I did my job well.

Yeshua tells of a servant that had worked in the field all day long, then came in and cleaned up the master and served the master his food. The slave was working hard all day and the master was served first. The slave came in dead last for food, rest or anything else. You might think this unjust and cruel- the master should have shown compassion to the poor, tired slave.

Not so. Yeshua, the loving Messiah, the compassionate Son of God, the one who is all about loving each other, said that the slave was doing what he is supposed to be doing. The slave serves, the master is served. That’s how it is, and the slave shouldn’t expect to be given extra credit or treated extra nicely for doing what he is supposed to do.

That’s a hard word, but you need to hear it, just as I do, just as we all do. God does love us, but that doesn’t mean He is an enabler. He expects us to do what we are supposed to do without looking to any special treatment or expecting extra reward for it. We are to pick up our execution stake and follow, we are to run the good race, we are to die to self and we are not just expected to do this, we are required to do it. Without any expectation of reward other than what has been promised. No extra credit, no superior status in heaven. Just do your job as you are told to do it.

Will there be people with higher status in heaven than others? Absolutely. Yeshua tells us that there will be those who are considered great in heaven, so a comparison is made. Those who sin and teach others to sin will be considered the least in the kingdom of God. Your efforts in serving the Lord are going to earn you a place in heaven, but that’s not what matters; you are to do what you are expected to do and not expect anything for it, other than the most wonderful reward that there ever was or ever  can be- eternity with God.

Act on earth as you are expected to act in heaven- do you work as if working for the Lord and not for men, and don’t expect more than what you are promised. If the other guy works much less and still gets the full denarius you received for working in the blazing sun all day, don’t kvetch about it. Take your denarius and be happy.

A job well done is reward enough- desiring and wanting anything more than that is from the Enemy. Be like the Marshall of the old Westerns who, after saving the town, receiving their affection and being asked by the lovely and unmarried school Marm (who secretly loves him) to stay simply says, “Shucks…t’wer nuthin. I was just doing my job.” Then he rides off into the sunset.

If it happens as I hope, and God tells me I did well, I want to simply say, “Thank you, Father… just doing my job.”