“God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?” — Numbers 23:19
The Torah portion for this week is Balak, after the king of the Moabites, from Numbers 22:2–25:9, and the Haftorah is from Micah 5:6–6:8.
At some point in our lives, we all have experienced broken promises. Perhaps someone broke a promise to us that left us feeling disappointed or even betrayed. Sometimes, we might be forced to break a promise ourselves because something legitimately important came up, and we feel terrible about breaking our commitment. There is only one being who we can count on to never break His promise and that is God. In this week’s Torah reading, the evil sorcerer Balaam discovered that the hard way.
First, let’s take a look at some background information. According to Jewish tradition, this was not Balaam’s first encounter with the children of Israel. No, Balaam had been plotting against this nation for centuries. The Jewish sages teach that Balaam was the mastermind behind the Egyptian plan to enslave the Israelites as a way of permanently subjugating them. So, as you might imagine, Balaam was more than a little disappointed when God set the Israelites free. It upset his entire plan, his greatest “accomplishment.” It’s no surprise then that Balaam was all too eager to curse the Israelites when asked by the king of Moab.
However, try as he might, every time that Balaam tried to curse the children of Israel, blessings came out instead. Balaam’s goal was to have the Israelites die in the desert or, better yet, return to slavery in Egypt. Balaam would be vindicated, and his honor restored. However, God had already promised to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
On his second attempt to curse the people, Balaam couldn’t help but declare, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” In other words, Balaam, by his own unwilling admission, would not be able to change God’s plan nor could he cause God to break His promise.
Let’s use this teaching to remember that God does not break His promises and reflect on a few of His promises.
God promises reward for obedience: “If you follow my decrees . . . the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit” (Leviticus 26:3–4). He promises to save the righteous from trouble: “and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you . . ." (Psalm 50:15). The Lord promises to forgive those who repent: “If my people… turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin...” (2 Chronicles 7:14). And God promises to bless those who bless Israel: “I will bless those who bless you …" (Genesis 12:3).
Let’s live according to God’s promises. His faithfulness is assured; His kindness is forever.
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With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President