Balak – The Virtue of Self-Interest
The story of Balaam and Balak is one of the most enigmatic narratives in the Torah. Virtually every segment of the story has its own perplexities. The entirety of the story is beyond what we can discuss here, but we will look at least at the beginning.
King Balak’s delegation approached Balaam, requesting his aid in weakening the nation of Israel which has “…covered the surface of the earth.” Balak asked that Balaam employ his divine talents and curse the nation so that he could successfully drive them from his territory. Balaam instructed the delegation to stay the night and in the morning he would have an answer for them. During the night God conversed with Balaam and His directive was unequivocal. “God said to Balaam, ‘You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.'” (Numbers 22:12)
Desperate for assistance, Balak was not prepared to accept Balaam’s rejection. He sent a more prominent delegation to Balaam, with an offer that Balaam could not refuse. He promised him glory and wealth if only he would curse Israel. Balaam’s response was less than enthusiastic. He acknowledged that all of Balak’s riches could not compel him to oppose the will of the Lord. Balaam nevertheless instructed the delegation to spend the night, with his final answer to be given in the morning. God again conversed with Balaam, but this time God allowed Balaam to go. “…If the men came to summon you, arise and go with them, but only that which I speak to you shall you do.” (vs. 20)
We can readily understand why Balaam was more inclined to cooperate with the second delegation. The first delegation appears to have made no offer of compensation to Balaam. With nothing in it for him why should Balaam go to the trouble? The second delegation, however, came with promises of great reward, providing Balaam wit