Bil’am: The Prophet for Profit
The term “prophet for profit” suggests “one who speaks the Word of Elohim for pay”, or the so-called “professional priesthood” of today, as they call themselves. These “professional priests” believe they are entitled to receive the money after they have obtained the truth from the Scripture.
The Hebrew word navi “prophet” literally means one who fills up or gives substance of YHVH’s Word, that is to say, he is YHVH’s interpreter or spokesperson charged with producing a message, positive or negative, to His people. No prophet of YHVH had ever received or asked for the money.
But the “professional priests” are not the subject of this study. What we will study is the lesson of the most notorious prophet who worked for the profit.
Bil’am the prophet for profit
Israel came to threshold of the Promised Land and camped in the desert plains of Moav across the Yarden River of Yericho.
And when Balak the king of Moav saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, he became so exceedingly afraid of them because they were many that he said, “Now this multitude is licking up all that is around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field” (Num 22:1-4).
And he sent messengers to Bil’am the prophet to bring him to Moav to curse the people that came from Egypt and covered the surface of the land (Num 22:5-6).
Bil’am was promised a good pay to do his divinations, but he had some reservations: he told the king that he would speak only what YHVH would speak to him (Num 22:8.
We should also note here that Bil’am was clearly familiar with the Name of YHVH, because he called the Creator by His personal Name and not by impersonal titles “God” or “Lord”.
This should not surprise us at all, because Bil’am is said to have come from the land of Pethor near the River Euphrates (Num 22:5), near the same place Avraham descended from. From this we suggest that the people of that land knew the Name of the Creator because of Avraham.
The prophet was, at least initially, reluctant to accept the job even for a high pay, because he was unable to go beyond “the word of Yehovah my Elohim” (Num 22:18).
That he was a prophet for profit is more than obvious (see also 2Pe 2:15, Jud 1:11), but we must note here something even more peculiar: Bil’am the professional prophet called the Elohim of Israel “Yehovah my Elohim”.
As odd as it is, Bil’am was indeed a prophet of YHVH.
With that being said, the story comes to a very curious moment, when he inquired about what YHVH would say to him. Elohim came to Bil’am at night and said to him, “If the men come to call you, rise and go with them, but only the word which I speak to you that you do.” (Num 22:20)
What follows in our story cannot be easily explained from the available translations.
YHVH told His prophet to go with them, but when he indeed went out with the king’s messengers, YHVH sent His messenger (angel) to kill Bil’am, because he went out with them (Num 22:22). Why is that? Why would Elohim want to kill Bil’am for doing exactly what he was told to do: to go with them? Is something omitted in the story?
Here the reader is advised to read the article “The Bil’am story“, in which we studied this controversy in details, as we will continue further.
Note: The messenger of YHVH in Num 22:22 is described as an “adversary” or satan (in Hebrew) to Bil’am. This Hebrew word satan appears only twice in the Torah (in Num 22:22 and Num 22:32), but with total of 27 occurrences in the Tanak. As we studied in other occasions, the word satan does not denote any impression of a fallen angel appearing before Bal’am to kill him. Moreover satan is not a personal name but a title. The Torah is very monotheistic in its approach to good and evil (Deu 32:39) that it is YHVH who brings life and death and besides Him there is none. There are no two rulers in the universe but One: the Creator YHVH Elohim. Read more
After the prophet did not even noticed that he was talking to his dumb ass and barely escaped his death thanks to it, the story continues in its peculiarity as the messenger of YHVH let Bil’am go but he would speak only the word YHVH would speak to him—nothing more, nothing less—as if that was not the exact condition to go with the men in the first place.
Bil’am arrived in Moav and the first thing he put before the king was that he would speak only what his Elohim would put in his mouth.
The seven altars
To do his divinations, the prophet demanded that seven altars must be built on which he was to offer his offerings to Elohim. And Elohim came to Bil’am, and he said to Him, “I have prepared the seven altars, and I have offered on each altar a bull and a ram.” (Num 23:4)
As we see, the peculiarities in our story never end. The prophet for profit built altars and offered sacrifices to YHVH.
We should notice the odd expression “the seven altars”. The text does not say, “I have prepared seven altars” as if it may refer to any seven altars, but “I have prepared the seven altars” referring to seven particular altars.
According to Jewish tradition, the medieval Tanak commentator Rashi (Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040 – 1105) said that Bil’am said to YHVH: “The ancestors of this people built You seven altars, and I have prepared the equivalent of them all”.
We should recall that our fathers indeed built seven altars: Avraham built four (Gen 12:7-8, Gen 13:18, and at Mount Moriah, see Gen 22:9); Yitschak built one (Gen 26:25); and Ya’akov two, one at Shechem (Gen 33:20) and one at Beth-El (Gen 35:7).
And only when the prophet of YHVH built the seven altars, He came to him and put words in his mouth. Bil’am began speaking, but no curses came out of his mouth, as the king was expecting, but blessings upon blessings: seven blessings at each altar of Elohim. The king was angry because what he was hearing was not what he paid for.
And when Bil’am saw that it pleased YHVH to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times, to seek to use sorcery, but he set his face toward the wilderness, lifted up his eyes and saw Israel encamped according to the twelve tribes (Num 24:1-2).
And the Ruach of Elohim came upon him, and the prophet of YHVH uttered one of the most beautiful blessing one has ever said about Israel; blessing that is recited in every synagogue today,
“How good are your tents, O Ya‛akov, your dwellings, O Israel! Like valleys that stretch out, like gardens by a river, like aloes planted by Yehovah, like cedars beside waters. He makes water flow from his branches, and his seed shall be in many waters. His king shall be raised over Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. El who brought him out of Egypt is for him like the horns of a wild ox; he devours nations, his enemies; and he shall break their bones in pieces, and pierce them with his arrows. He bowed down, he lay down like a lion, and, like a lioness. Who shall rouse him up? Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is everyone who curses you.” (Num 24:5-9)
Balak the king could not have been angrier, because he called the prophet to curse Israel for profit, but YHVH’s people were blessed instead.
The hidden message
Not to disappoint his employer the prophet for profit said something that was no less peculiar,
Come, and I will advise you what this people shall do to your people in the end of days. (Num 24:14)
To advise him what?
This is a verse characterized by extreme economy of expression and omission of superfluous elements, whose meaning, however, is hidden in the next verses,
The saying of Bil’am, son of Be’or, and the saying of the man whose eyes are opened, the saying of him who hears the words of El, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, who falls down, with eyes opened wide: “I see Him, but not now; I observe Him, but He is not near. A Star shall come out of Ya’akov, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Mo’av, and shall destroy all the sons of tumult. And Edom shall be a possession; and Se’ir shall be a possession – enemies – while Israel is doing mightily. And out of Ya’akov One shall rule and destroy the remnant from the city. (Num 24:15-19)
This means: where it says “I will advise you, for my eyes were opened, and I heard the words and knowledge of the Most High and saw His vision”, it is to be understood “what action you should take”.
And where it says, “what this people shall do to your people”, it means “how they will punish you at the end of days and crush the princes of Moav“.
This concise wording of the end of days prophecy encapsulate all that has been said concerning the Anointed One (Mashiach) by the prophets, as it is spoken here by Bil’am. For it was prophesied on the two comings of the Anointed One.
The first coming of Mashiach was as the son of David, and the second time: as the Judge who will save Israel in the end of days.
Because it is said: “I see him, but not now”: this is the first coming, and “I observe him, but he is not near”: this is the second coming.
“A Star shall come out of Ya’akov”: this is his first coming, as the son of man, and “a Scepter shall rise out of Israel”: this is the second coming as the King Mashiach, and “shall smite the corners of Moav”: this is the Judge Mashiach.
For more insight of the fivefold nature of the Messiah, refer to the article “The fifth Gospel of YHVH“.
Therefore, the whole counsel reads thus, “I will advise you how to make them stumble, but also I will tell you how they will punish Moav at the end of days”.
So, what was the counsel Bil’am gave to the worst enemy of Israel: the Moabites?
The counsel of the prophet for profit
The counsel was this: “Israel came out of Egypt and all Egypt was destroyed. You will not be able to overcome them, for you saw for yourself that they are more numerous than you. Come, and I will advise you what to do. The Elohim of these people hates immorality, therefore, in order to curse them, as you wanted me to, entice them to sin with your women”.
How did we come to this conclusion? The following chapter gives the answer.
Israel dwelt in Moav and the people began to whore with the Moabitish women (incestuous descendants of Lot and his daughter) as a result of Bil’am’s advice. But before that the women invited the Israelites to sacrifice to their idols, thus Israel was joined to worshiping the idol of Moav, Ba’al Pe’or, and the displeasure of YHVH burned against Israel (Num 25:1-3).
We learn that Bil’am also went to the Midianites and advised them to do the same: to seduce the Israelites by tempting them to worship Pe’or in exchange for sex.
In His wrath, YHVH said to Mosheh to take all the leaders of the people and hang them up so that His burning displeasure might turn away from the people. But one of them brought a Midianite princess named Cozbi before the eyes of Mosheh at the Tabernacle and had sex with her. That was a defiant act of rebellion and sin in front of the Tabernacle .
When Pinechas, son of Eleazar, son of Aharon the priest, saw it, he took a spear and thrust both of them through their genital organs (literal translation). Thus the plague stopped but at the cost of twenty-four thousand lives (Num 25:4-9).
Bil’am knew that as long as Israel was shielded by Elohim there would be no possibility to defeat the enemy of his employer. Therefore, his counsel to Balak was to cause Israel to stumble through immorality: sin Elohim exceedingly hates. Mosheh understood the conspiracy of the prophet for profit after the fact, when YHVH spoke to Mosheh,
Harass the Midianites, and smite them; for they harass you, by their tricks with which they deceived you in the matter of Pe’or, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the prince of Midian (Num 25:16-18)
And furthermore, Mosheh said after the revenge on the Midianites,
Have you kept all the women alive? They are the ones who caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Bil’am, to trespass against Yehovah (Num 31:15-16).
We may suggest Bil’am was still with the Moabites at the time when the Israelites engaged in the war of vengeance, and was slain by the Israelites along with the five kings of Midian (see Num 31:8 and Jos 13:22).
Therefore, we learn that while Bil’am was unable to curse Israel, he gave Balak critical information to removing Israel’s protective shield: make them sin exceedingly before their Elohim.
But what made him come to this notorious conspiracy that was so crucial to defeat Israel?
The lucid clue
While Bil’am was preparing the seven altars, YHVH came to him and said, “Go to Balak and say this” (Num 23:17)
Say to Balak what? Most unfortunately, we are not told what exactly YHVH said to His prophet. But whatever it was it is important to note here that Bil’am fully understood how to defeat Israel, because he said to the king of Moav the following,
El is not a man, to lie; nor a son of man, to repent! Has He said, and would He not do it; or spoken, and would not confirm it? Behold, I have received, to bless. And He has blessed, and I do not reverse it. (Num 23:19-20)
What the prophet told Balak was this, “Elohim of Israel does not lie, nor would He repent if He has done something. Whatever He says, He will do it and I cannot reverse it. But this is what you should know”.
And here is the lucid moment of “enlightenment” in the conspiracy of the prophet for profit,
He does not see wickedness in Ya’akov, nor has He seen trouble in Israel. Yehovah his Elohim is with him, … (Num 23:21)
What Bil’am actually said was that Elohim had not found any wickedness in Israel, nor any blemish in His people, and he understood that as long as this status was maintained, YHVH would be always with Israel, meaning YHVH would be always their shield.
But the opposite, Bil’am concluded in his mind, should also be true. If Elohim could find any wickedness in His people, His protection would not be with them any longer, and He would punish them, because Bil’am knew how much YHVH hated sexual immorality. Brilliant evil mind!
Armed with this key information concerning Israel’s vulnerability, Bil’am went to the kings of Moav and Midian and counseled them to send their women to seduce the Israelites. But before the pleasure the women were to require worship of their idol Pe’or, which was the ultimate goal (Num 25:1-3). The rest they should not have concerned at all. Their Elohim would punish them more severely than the armies of Moav and Midian could.
In support of this interpretation, we should also conclude that Bil’am being a prophet of YHVH knew what happened in Egypt and how severely He punished His people because of the whoring after the Egyptian idols. But for more insight, refer to the article The exodus from Israel’s whoring in Egypt.
And that was the key and last piece of information the prophet for profit needed to devise his conspiracy plan.
After the fact Mosheh understood what happened and why. He understood that this was the cause of the sin of Israel: the whoring of the Israelites by the Moabite and Midianite women after their idols is the cause why Israel was defeated. That Elohim’s people could never be hurt nor destroyed, but by drawing them to sin against Him, appears to be true. Once his eyes were opened he sent an army to destroy the Midianites.
We find this fundamental truth also in the Ammonite testimony (Ammonites are descendants of Lot and his other daughter) in Judith 5:5-21.
Now therefore, my lord and governor, if there be any error against this people, and they sin against their God, let us consider that this shall be their ruin, and let us go up, and we shall overcome them. But if there be no iniquity in their nation, let my lord now pass by, lest their Lord defend them, and their God be for them, and we become a reproach before all the world. (Jdt 5:20-21 KJVA)
See also Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, Book 4, Chapter 6:6.
The lesson for His people
Most certainly, this is the lesson YHVH teaches His people before they enter the Promised Land: we are not to deviate from His Torah, neither by adding to it nor by taking away from it, but in all our walk of life to show ourselves blameless as a set-apart nation to YHVH,
All the words I am commanding you, guard to do it. Do not add to it nor take away from it. When there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he shall give you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder shall come true, of which he has spoken to you, saying, “Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and serve them”, do not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for Yehovah your Elohim is trying you to know whether you love Yehovah your Elohim with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deu 13:1-6) (Deu 12:32-Deu 13:1-5 in Christian Bibles)
This admonition is a ban against anyone who speaks presumptuously in His Name and who teaches His people to abandon the Torah; it clearly equates not keeping YHVH’s laws with worshiping idols. Furthermore, we read,
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My Name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And when you say in your heart, “How do we know the word which Yehovah has not spoken?” When the prophet speaks in the Name of Yehovah and the word is not, or comes not, that is the word which Yehovah has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him. (Deu 18:20-22)
Read more in the article “How do we know the word which YHVH has not spoken?“
By now the reader should have asked the question, “Was it not Bil’am a prophet of YHVH to whom was given everything he needed to know to entice His people into immorality?”
So, why did YHVH provided Bil’am with all information he needed to deceive Israel? Did He not know that Bil’am was a prophet for profit and would use this knowledge in a wicked way, namely, that He hated sexual immoralities and idolatry?
The reason why YHVH gave all this knowledge to the false prophet was to test His people whether they would walk on the righteous path of His Torah, or they would go astray.
Bil’am presumptuously spoke words in His Name, which YHVH had not commanded him to speak; even worse, Bil’am spoke in the name of other gods and he deserved to die. YHVH knew that Bil’am was a prophet for profit whose mission was to speak only what he was told to speak.
Bil’am was not told to go and incite Israel to sin against Elohim, for YHVH tempts no one. But Bil’am being a prophet took the advantage for easy profit and after he did not receive his pay from the Moabites, he went to the Midianites to receive his reward.
The prophet for profit spoke and did more than he was allowed to and died: he received his reward.
From here we learn that not only does Elohim test His people, but so does He test the false prophets. Bil’am the prophet of YHVH had his choice to make, and he indeed made it: he chose the profit.
The role of a prophet is to bring the people back to the Covenant of YHVH and the Torah observance when they went astray. And this role was best fulfilled in Bil’am, the prophet for profit: he indeed brought the people back to YHVH, the hard way.
The prophet for profit of today
In Deu 13:1-6, we learn that Elohim empowers those “prophets” to give us signs and wonders that will come true. And then these miracle worker (dreamers of dreams) will try to entice us to abandon His laws and go after the laws of religions, which we have not known and to serve the idols that created those laws.
Meanwhile they will ask a ten percent religion tax to keep on doing their miracles.
These miracle workers we are not to listen to, for YHVH our Elohim is testing us to know whether we will stay faithful to His Word or go astray. Every prophet for profit is tested, too; he just does not know it.
The admonition of the last prophet
Remember the instructions of Mosheh, My servant, which I commanded him in Horev for all Israel– decrees and judgments. Behold, I am sending you Eliyah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of Yehovah. And he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with utter destruction. (Mal 3:22-24) (Mal 4:4-6 in Christian Bibles)
The admonition, “Remember the instructions of Mosheh”, forms the conclusion not only of the whole of prophecy of Malachi but the whole of prophecy in the Scripture; Malachi was the last prophet YHVH spoke to.
It is an admonition to lay to heart and guard the Torah of YHVH. After Malachi, no other prophet arose in Israel.
Malachi’s last words mark the closing of the era of prophecy. He ends his admonition, whose real essence is expressed in the words of Yeshua the Messiah in Mat 5:17-20, by showing to us what it is our duty to do (Deu 4:1), if on the day of judgment we would escape the curse with which transgressors are threatened in the Torah.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.