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B'Midbar/Numbers 23:20 Behold: 'Bless!' I have received; and He has blessed and I cannot turn her back.
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Balaam - the sorcerer or Gentile prophet, depending on your point of view - called in by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse Israel is in the middle of his second burst of prophecy inspired by the Holy Spirit. He starts by addressing Balak directly - "Up, Balak, attend, Give ear unto me, son of Zippor!" (B'Midbar 23:18, NJPS) - to make sure that he is listening and paying attention to the words thatHaShem has for him. Balaam then reminds Balak that, unlike men, G-d does not change His mind or fail to carry our promises that He has given. God will do exactly what He has said He will do and will certainly not be swayed from His plan of action by attempts to manipulate Him as Balak seems to think He will.
Our text starts with the exclamatory particle, , 'Behold!' or more commonly in modern Hebrew, 'Look!'. Balaam wants to draw attention to this part. is the Pi'el ms imperative form of the root , to bless or pronounce a blessing (Davidson), so here the command or instruction that Balaam has been given by HaShem: this is what he has been told to do. Finally, for the first half of the verse, is the Qal 1cs affix form of the root , most often "to take", but here - perhaps a little euphemistically - I have received. Balaam knows exactly what he has been told to do, there is no wriggle room or possibility of misunderstanding. TheRashbam explains: 'Literally, "I have taken' the command to bless. I have accepted that I am to bless them today."
In the second half of the verse, Balaam starts again with , the Pi'el 3ms affix form of the root . Is the leading vav a vav-reversive, giving a future reading - "and He will bless", or a simple vav conjunction with the normal past tense reading: "and He has blessed"? Both are possible. Balaam could be speaking of a fully completed past blessing and the Israelites certainly have been blessed in a number of ways: multiplied from a family of "seventy people" (Shemot 1:1) to a nation of over two million souls; brought out of Egypt "with a mighty hand" (13:14); or he could be prophesying HaShem's future plan to bless Israel: with the gift of the Land, "a land flowing with milk and honey" (D'varim 26:9), in order to fulfil His promise to Avraham: "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing" (B'resheet 12:2, NJPS). Finishing the verse is , the Hif'il 1cs prefix form of the root , to turn or return, in Hif'il, "to bring back, avert, withdraw" (Davidson), with a 3fs object pronoun suffix, pointing to an implied object: , His blessing. G-d has already blessed, or is about to bless, Israel and Balaam cannot turn G-d's blessing away or aside. How could he? He is just a man and G-d is G-d!
A little flurry of commentators rush in to push the point home.Rashi says, "He blessed them and I cannot retract His blessing"; the Sforno adds, "He has blessed - and He has already blessed." The deed has been done. Rabbi Hirsch puts words in Balaam's mouth to show how powerless he is: "And see, now too blessing is given to me as my mission, and He has already blessed the people in general and in particular with the commission which has been given to me, My mouth only expresses what He has already done. I can do nothing to alter that." Dennis Cole reports that "G-d's blessing is so powerful and irrevocable that even the most renowned divination expert of the day could not counter its effectiveness. Only G-d could rescind His blessing upon Israel, and He would not because such an act would violate His character."FootNote(1)
We should note too the amplification caused by the juxtaposition of our text and the previous verse. There, Balaam has just said that "G-d is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?" (B'Midbar 23:19, ESV). By that measure, our text is the natural outcome. Because G-d will not lie or change His mind, to try and place Israel under a curse is a pointless and meaningless exercise. No matter how many altars Balak builds or the number of bulls that he sacrifices on them, G-d's preset and determined course of action will take place; He cannot be manipulated or controlled through sorcery.
Nachmanides points out how confident Israel can be in HaShem "their confidence in G-d is not false confidence, and their hope in Him will not disappoint them. No, their blessings will stand for all time." As Isaiah tells us, "The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isaiah 40:8, NRSV). The Psalmist chips in to add his weight to the argument - "Forever, O L-RD, Your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Your faithfulness endures to all generations; You have established the earth, and it stands fast. By Your appointment they stand this day, for all things are Your servants" (Psalm 119:89, ESV) - before leaving the last word here to Dennis Cole and Isaiah: "G-d's word is entirely efficacious; what He says He will do, what He speaks He will accomplish. His word is never uttered into the void and never fails to produce what He intends (Isaiah 55:11)."FootNote(2) Balaam is adamant that God's blessing, once given, cannot be rescinded, as Rav Sha'ul will later point out: "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29). God has already blessed Israel and that blessing will stand forever because of God, not Israel.
Yeshua too is very clear about the permanence of G-d's word - "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Matthew 5:18, ESV) - later adding with regard to His own words: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away" (24:35, ESV). Balaam insists that he has to do (and say) exactly and only what G-d has said, "The L-RD manifested Himself to Balaam and put a word in his mouth, saying, 'Return to Balak and speak thus'" (B'Midbar 23:16, NJPS). Yeshua stresses that He does the same: "the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise" (John 5:19, ESV). Perhaps at this point we should ask ourselves whether we are similarly committed to following G-d in Yeshua. Do we only do what we see Yeshua doing? Do we only say what Yeshua would say?
Now let's step back towards the beginning of the current section of the Torah and consider how HaShem told Moshe to instruct Aharon:
Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say
The L-RD bless you and protect you!
The L-RD deal kindly and graciously with you!
The L-RD bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!
Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them. (B'Midbar 6:23-27)
Aharon (and his sons after him) are told to bless the whole people of Israel, in the name of HaShem, linking His name to His people. When they do that, He says, He will bless them; then, because of G-d's nature and character, that too is irrevocable and no-one (else) can revoke it. It cannot be cancelled or revoked; it cannot be annulled or ignored. Even if the High Priest were to announce that the blessing had been withdrawn for some reason, it cannot; he is only a man and G-d is G-d. G-d has blessed and even the complete and abject failure of the people name no difference. Rav Sha'ul again: "I ask, then, has G-d rejected His people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. G-d has not rejected His people whom He foreknew" (Romans 11:1-2, ESV). We see the same principle and permanence of blessings when Ya'akov took the blessing that Yitz'khak wanted to give to Esau. Esau asks if there is nothing left for him and "Yitz'khak answered and said to Esau, 'Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?'" (B'resheet 27:37, NJPS). Blessings are powerful tools to shape those who receive them.
We too, as followers of Yeshua, are called to bless those around us - even those who persecute us. Yeshua told the disciples to "bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:28, ESV), echoed by Rav Sha'ul: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them" (Romans 12:14, ESV). Perhaps Peter offers the most comprehensive guide: "Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing" (1 Peter 3:9, ESV). Receiving a blessing is contingent upon blessing others. Like Balaam, we are commanded to bless and we cannot turn G-d's blessing back. Ultimately, it is G-d's blessings that cause people to turn to Him and find salvation in Messiah Yeshua.
1. - R. Dennis Cole, Numbers The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2000), page 411.
2. - Ibid.
Further Study: Zechariah 8:11-13; Galatians 3:13-14; Ephesians 1:3-4
Application: If blessings are powerful tools that draw people into the kingdom of G-d, how can you be creative today in blessing those whom God puts in your path? How can you show G-d's grace through your words and attitudes? Ask the Source of All Blessing to bless His people through you - you'll be blessed as He does it!
Comment - 01:44 10Jul22 kcb: In Yeshua we are blessed beyond all we could ask or even think! So grateful to Him! He is The Friend of all friends! Faithful and True.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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