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Sunday, February 9, 2014

"Teaching of Balaam" (which refers to seducing the people)


Balaam (Hebrew: בִּלְעָם, Standard Bilʻam Tiberian Bilʻām, English pronunciation /ˈbeɪlæm/ )
is a diviner in the Torah, his story occurring towards the end of the Book of Numbers (Hebrew: במדבר). The etymology of his name is uncertain, and discussed below. Every ancient reference to Balaam considers him a non-Israelite, a prophet, and the son of Beor, though Beor is not so clearly identified. Though other sources describe the apparently positive blessings he delivers upon the Israelites, he is reviled as a "wicked man" in the major story concerning him. Balaam refused to speak what God didn't speak and would not curse the Israelites, even though King Balak of Moab offered him money to do so. Numbers 22-24

But Balaam's error and the source of his wickedness came from sabotaging the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land. According to Numbers 31:16 (Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.)  and Revelation 2:14 (But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.), Balaam returned to King Balak and informed the king on how to get the Israelites to curse themselves by enticing them with prostitutes and unclean food sacrificed to idols. The Israelites fell into transgression due to these traps and God sent a deadly plague to them as a result (Numbers 31:16).

Wow he went from righteousness to wickedness with quickness!



Balaam and Balak

The main story of Balaam occurs during the sojourn of the Israelites in the plains of Midian, east of the Jordan River, at the close of forty years of wandering, shortly before the death of Moses, and the crossing of the Jordan. The Israelites have already defeated two kings on this side of the Jordan: Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan. Balak, king of Moab (Numbers 22:2), consequently becomes alarmed, and sends elders of Midian and his messengers (Numbers 22:4–5), to Balaam, son of Beor, to induce him to come and curse Israel. Balaam's location, Pethor, is simply given as "which is by the river of the land of the children of his people" in the masoretic text and the Septuagint, though the Samaritan Pentateuch, Vulgate, and Syriac Peshitta all identify his land as Ammon.


Balaam and the angel. Nuremberg Chronicle (1493).


Balaam sends back word that he can only do what YHWH commands, and God has, via a nocturnal dream, told him not to go. Moab consequently sends higher-ranking priests and offers Balaam honours; Balaam, in his coveteousness (greed), continues to press God, and God finally gives him over to his greed and permits him to go but with instructions to say only what he commands. Balaam thus, without being asked again, sets out in the morning with the princes of Moab and God becomes angry that he went, and the Angel of the Lord (Numbers 22:22) is sent to prevent him. At first the angel is seen only by the donkey Balaam is riding, which tries to avoid the otherwise invisible angel. After Balaam starts punishing the donkey for refusing to move, it is miraculously given the power to speak to Balaam (Numbers 22:28), and it complains about Balaam's treatment. At this point, Balaam is allowed to see the angel, who informs him that the donkey is the only reason the angel did not kill Balaam. Balaam immediately repents, but is told to go on.

Balak meets with Balaam at Kirjat Huzoth, and they go to the high places of Baal (Biblical Hebrew: בעל), and offer sacrifices on seven altars, leading to Balaam being given a prophecy by Yahweh, which he speaks to Balak. However, the prophecy blesses Israel; Balak remonstrates (opposes), but Balaam reminds him that he can only speak the words put in his mouth, so Balak takes him to another high place at Pisgah, to try again. Building another seven altars here, and making sacrifices on each, Balaam provides another prophecy blessing Israel.

Balaam finally gets taken by a now very frustrated Balak to Peor, and, after the seven sacrifices there, decides not to seek enchantments but instead looks upon the Israelites from the peak. The Spirit of God comes upon Balaam and he delivers a third positive prophecy concerning Israel. Balak's anger rises to the point where he threatens Balaam, but Balaam merely offers a prediction of fate. Balaam then looks upon the Kenites, and Amalekites and offers two more predictions of fate. Balak and Balaam then simply go to their respective homes... for the moment.

However, Balaam's story did not end after their departure. Evidently, Balaam returned to King Balak and explained how he was unable to curse the Israelites due to God having control of his tongue, but instead explained to the king on how he could get the Israelites to curse themselves, thereby removing the protection God had on them. He counseled that King Balak and his people ensnare God's chosen people by offering them prostitutes and unclean food sacrificed to idols. Numbers 25:1-9 describes how Israel engaged in sexual immorality and idolatry with the women of Moab, resulting in God's anger and a deadly plague. Numbers 31:16 attributes this to the advice of Balaam: “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the LORD in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people."

Deuteronomy 23:3-6 summarizes these incidents, and further states that the Ammonites were associated with the Moabites. Joshua, in his farewell speech, also makes reference to it.

With God's protection taken from him, Balaam is later listed amongst the Midianites who were killed in revenge for the "matter of Peor", which is where Balaam showed King Balak how to trap the Israelites so that God might destroy them.



Balaam in rabbinic literature

In the process of killing Balaam (Num. xxxi. 8), all four legal methods of execution—stoning, burning, decapitating, and strangling—were employed (Sanh. l.c.). He met his death at the age of thirty-three (ib.); and it is stated that he had no portion in the world to come (Sanh. x. 2; 90a). The Bible devotes a special section to the remarkable history of the prophet, in order to answer the question, why God has taken away the power of prophecy from the Gentiles (Tan., Balak, 1). Moses is expressly mentioned as the author of this episode in the Pentateuch (B. B. 14b).J. Sr. H. M.


Balaam in the New Testament, Josephus & Philo

An interesting, but doubtful, emendation makes this poem describe the nun of Shamal, a state in northwest Syria. In the New Testament, Balaam is cited as a type of avarice; for example in Book of Revelation 2:14 we read of false teachers at Pergamum who held the "teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication." Balaam has attracted much interest, alike from Jews, Christians and Muslims. Josephus paraphrases the story more so, and speaks of Balaam as the best prophet of his time, but with a disposition ill adapted to resist temptation. Philo describes him as a great magician in the Life of Moses ;elsewhere he speaks of "the sophist Balaam, being," i.e. symbolizing "a vain crowd of contrary and warring opinions" and again as "a vain people" — both phrases being based on a mistaken etymology of the name Balaam.

Balaam also figures as an example of a false teacher in both 2 Peter 2:15 (15 Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;)  and in Jude 1:11 (Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.).  In both of these verses, Balaam is cited as an example of a false prophet motivated by greed or avarice (extreme greed for wealth or material gain.). These references harken to the Old Testament account of Balaam in Numbers 22–24 in which King Balak hires the renowned Balaam to curse his enemies (Israel). Even though God intervenes and makes Balaam deliver blessings instead of curses, it's clear that Balaam was normally a prophet for hire. The verses in 2 Peter and Jude are then warnings to the early Christians to beware of religious leaders who are enjoying financial advantages.


Balaam in the Quran

Regarding the Islamic view of Balaam, there is no clear reference to Balaam in the Qur'an. However, the commentators argue that he is the one that the following text is referring to:
Relate to them the story of the man to whom We sent Our signs, but he passed them by: so Satan followed him up, and he went astray.

If it had been Our will, We should have elevated him with Our signs; but he inclined to the earth, and followed his own vain desires. His similitude is that of a dog: if you attack him, he lolls out his tongue, or if you leave him alone, he (still) lolls out his tongue. That is the similitude of those who reject Our signs; So relate the story; perchance they may reflect.

—Qur'an, sura 7 (Al-A'raf), ayat 175–176
The Muslim commentators explain that Balaam was a Canaanite who had been given knowledge of some of the books of God. His people asked him to curse Moses (Musa) and those who were with him, but he said, "How can I curse one who has angels with him?" They continued to press him, however, until he cursed the Israelites, and, as a consequence, they remained forty years in the Wilderness of the Wanderings. Then, when he had cursed Moses, his tongue came out and fell upon his breast, and he began to pant like a dog.
The story as told by Tabari is somewhat more Biblical. Balaam had the knowledge of the Most Sacred Name of God, and whatever he asked of God was granted to him. The story of Balaam and the ass, then follows at length. When it came to the actual cursing, God "turned his tongue" so that the cursing fell upon his own people and the blessing upon Israel. Then his tongue came out and hung down on his breast. Finally, he advised his people to adorn and beautify their women and to send them out to ensnare the Israelites. The story of the plague at Baal-peor and of Cozbi and Zimri follows.

According to another story which al-Tabari gives, Balaam was a renegade Israelite who knew the Most Sacred Name and, to gain the things of this world, went over to the Canaanites. Al-Tha'labi adds that Balaam was descended from Lot. He gives, too, the story of Balaam's dream, his being forbidden by God to curse Israel. Another version is that Balak, the king of Bal'a, compelled Balaam to use the Most Sacred Name against Israel. The curse fell automatically, and Moses, having learned whence it came, entreated God to take from Balaam his knowledge of the Name and his faith. This being done, they went out from him in the form of a white dove.


Etymology

The etymology of the name Balaam is uncertain, and several Jewish, and Christian, sources translate it either glutton, or foreigner. The rabbis, playing on the name, call him Belo 'Am, meaning without people, more explicitly meaning that he is without a share with the people in the world to come, or call him Billa' 'Am, meaning one that ruined a people. This deconstruction of his name into B—l Am is supported by many modern biblical critics, which considers his name to simply be derived from Baal Am, a reference to Am, a Baal of Moab.

It is often supposed that the name given for a king of Edom, Bela, son of Beor, is a corruption of Balaam, and that, therefore, this reference actually points to Balaam as having once been an Edomite king.

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