Balak, the son of Tzipor, the king of Moab at that time, was terrified that the People of Israel would attack the Moabite people and destroy them, as they had recently vanquished the Amorites.
Knowing that the Israelites did not battle in a conventional manner, but rather relied on Divine help to succeed, Balak called upon the services of Bilaam, son of Beor. Bilaam, who was known as a talented prophet, possessed the ability to curse the People of Israel and defeat them through his words and imprecations.
After much convincing to secure Bilaam’s participation in the strategy to defeat Israel, Bilaam finally agrees. God, however, appears to Bilaam to warn him not to curse the Jewish people.
After several rounds of prophecy in which Bilaam offers favorable words toward Israel, Balak, in utter frustration, says to Bilaam, Numbers 23:25, גַּם קֹב לֹא תִקֳּבֶנּוּ, גַּם בָּרֵךְ לֹא תְבָרְכֶנּוּ. “If you can’t curse them, at least don’t bless them!” Bilaam responds to Balak, saying, הֲלֹא דִּבַּרְתִּי אֵלֶיךָ לֵאמֹר, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר השׁם אֹתוֹ אֶעֱשֶׂה, “Have I not spoken to you saying, ‘Whatever the Lord shall speak, that shall I do?’”
After another round of blessings, Balak’s anger flares against Bilaam. Clapping his hands in fury, Balaak says, Numbers 24:10-11, לָקֹב אֹיְבַי קְרָאתִיךָ, וְהִנֵּה בֵּרַכְתָּ בָרֵךְ זֶה שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, and behold you have blessed them these three times! Now go, flee to your place. I wanted to honor you, but God has withheld honor from you.”
Again, Bilaam tells Balak, Numbers 24:12-13, “I told your emissaries who came to fetch me, that even if Balak were to give me an entire household of silver and gold, I cannot transgress the word of God to do good or bad on my own. Whatever the Lord speaks, that shall I speak.”
Perhaps by stepping back a bit, we can properly absorb what has transpired in this story. After all, it’s not very often in Jewish history that anyone, especially an avowed enemy of the Jews, blesses the Jewish people.
The prophecies of Bilaam are beyond beautiful. Says Bilaam, Numbers 23:21, “God does not behold iniquity in Jacob or see the perverseness of Israel, God is with him [Israel].” In Numbers 24:5&9, Bilaam concludes, “How goodly are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel. Blessed are those who bless you and cursed are those who curse you.”
Comes along Bilaam, a man who abounds with hatred for the Israelites, and pronounces a most hopeful message, saying clearly that Israel will vanquish its enemies, Numbers 24:8-9, “The people [of Israel] will lift up itself as a young lion; will not lie down until it eats of the prey,” Numbers 23:24, “Israel will eat up the nations, its enemies, will break their bones and pierce them through with its arrows. It lies down like a lion and, like a great lion, who will stir him up?”
When the angels sing praises to God about Israel, says Rabbi Ben David, they are tainted witnesses. All those who love Israel and say nice things about them are also tainted. But, when our enemies say nice things about us, we have to perk up our ears to listen and believe them.