The Hidden Reality in This Present World

BalaamA d’rash (sermon) on Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9), the story of Balaam.

What is more real? The physical or the spiritual?

We are tempted by our daily experience to say that the physical is more real. We can understand it. We can write laws of physics about it. We feel, see, hear, taste, and smell it. But it is a deeper realization that the spiritual is more real than the physical.

In C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce we find that one atom of spiritual matter from heaven is larger than the entirety of hell. And the entire space of hell would fit millions of times into one drop of heavenly water.

What Lewis is communicating is that reality originates with God. And in the place of God’s ideal world we find the reality of things hinted at here below.

All our lives we have been learning of love. We will experience unspoiled love for the first time in the life to come. We have heard of beauty, but we will see what beauty really is. Every physical thing we know here — a tree, a lake, a mountain — is like an imperfect copy of the ones in that un-corrupted place and time that will come down on this earth. We haven’t tasted water like that water or heard leaves rustling like those leaves or seen a sharp peak like the ones that will be.

The story of Balaam is about our lack of awareness of the true spiritual dimension. Balaam is a polytheistic, pagan diviner. But he seems from the text of Torah like a believer in the One True God.

He says grand things about God: I shall reply to you as the Lord may instruct me . . . the Lord will not let me go with you . . . Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, big or little, contrary to the command of the Lord my God.

When Balak, king of Moab, offers a second time to pay Balaam a large sum of money to curse Israel, Balaam begins with piety. “Not me, no, I would never do anything contrary to what Hashem my God tells me.”

Don’t be fooled. If he were cursing Phoenicians the god he would be calling his own would be Dagon. If he were cursing Moab he would state his allegiance to Chemosh. If Egypt, then he would be a devotee of Ptah or whatever god was in power in Egypt at the time.

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Balaam’s strategy for cursing is similar to something the Romans used to do in a later period of time. As they were about to conquer a people, Roman priests would come out with offerings and prayers to the gods of those people. They would promise, “If you give us this city we will enlarge your temple and offer you more than this people ever did.”

We begin to see Balaam’s duplicity in that he did not take God’s original no for an answer. The second time, when he is offered even more money, Balaam piously refuses at first, I could not do anything, big or little, contrary to the command of the Lord my God.

But then we read, Stay here overnight, and let me find out what else the Lord may say to me.

In other words, “Let me ask God again. Maybe, since you offer so much money, he will let me do something against this people.”

And so Balaam went with his supposedly great insight. But God planned to use Balaam’s mission to express the messianic, redemptive truth about Israel’s future. God would turn the desired curse paid for by King Balak of Moab into a blessing. God would bring these blessings and prophecies from the mouth of a highly reputed but very foolish pagan diviner.

The ancients liked stories that came in threes, so God appeared three times to Balaam’s donkey but made his manifestation invisible to Balaam. God chose narrow places on the road to appear so that the donkey would have to leave the road or stop completely.

Balaam was completely unaware of what was happening. His so called vision was not what he claimed it was.

All of us can see only what God chooses for us to see. The things that matter most are beyond human reasoning. We can see galaxies and stars and nebulae far away but no telescope can show us the future or the world to come that God has prepared for us.

God enabled the donkey to speak to Balaam. An animal told the prophet what it had seen: the angel of Hashem standing in the road with sword drawn. Why did God appear as a human-like figure with a sword? It is because Balaam’s mission was about finding a way to destroy Israel with the sword. “If she had not shied away from me, you are the one I should have killed, while sparing her,” God said.

How often are we wrong about the things we think are so important? How many times will it take until we learn?

Balaam learned after the third time only because God chose to show him the truth.

There was something here much more than what Balaam or his employer, King Balak, could see. This people escaping from Egypt was not just a military threat. This people was the seed of something God is growing in history and leading us beyond history.

Who can count the dust of Jacob, Number the dust-cloud of Israel?

There is more to Israel than meets the eye — they are not just a numbered host of people. Their greatness extends into mystery, into the plan of God for future redemption.

May I die the death of the upright, May my fate be like theirs!

The ultimate thing people fear, God’s plan overcomes.Those blessed by God and in his covenant even die in blessing.

God is not man to be capricious, Or mortal to change His mind. Would He speak and not act, Promise and not fulfill?

A lot happens in this life from treachery and competition and deceit. God’s way is true and will not disappoint us like the so-called promises of this life.

No harm is in sight for Jacob, No woe in view for Israel. The LORD their God is with them.

How can anyone curse those whom God has blessed? If God is for us, who can be against us?

How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!

Those who are part of God’s covenant and included in his congregation are even blessed here and now for those who are able to see it. This does not mean earthly suffering is avoided, but that those with eyes for spiritual reality can already see what is true.

What I see for them is not yet, What I behold will not be soon: A star rises from Jacob, A scepter comes forth from Israel.

The reference here is to the promise of King David, a messianic view of Israel’s future.

What do we see in Balaam’s songs of prophecy? God’s plan for Israel shows in the darkness of history like points of light, like bright stars on the field of black space. In the spaces between the points of light the destiny of Israel may look lonely and bleak, but at the shining moments we see the reality of greatness and salvation.

Flash ahead to another story. The disciples of Yeshua were gathered, afraid, talking after their teacher’s crucifixion. A few were trying to tell them, “He is alive.”

But as they were discussing he suddenly appeared among them. They did not rejoice. Their first reaction was fright. They were startled and thought they saw a shade from Hades, a ghost from the underworld.

“Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” Yeshua asked.

That is a great question for all of us. Why are we frightened at the appearance of this present world? Why are we depressed in the empty spaces between God’s great acts of light in this world?

“See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:39 ESV)

When the spiritual comes it won’t be ghostlike. It won’t be a holograph or a misty apparition or a non-material vision.
The risen and glorified body of our Divine Messiah is more solid and real than any body we know here and now.

To the disciples he said, “Touch and see.”

God’s promise is real, tangible, and it lasts forever whereas all other things decay.

And our ultimate state of being is at once physical and spiritual, natural and supernatural. In one place Paul calls what we will possess “spiritual bodies.”

The trees and the fruit in the future will be more beautiful and real. The water will be more lovely and fulfilling. The sky bluer and more eternal.

Israel looked like a people who could be cursed. God showed Balaam otherwise. Messiah appeared dead and defeated. Life looks long and difficult.

But some things are temporary and all they do is point to what will be. Israel’s condition was not yet redeemed and Yeshua’s was not yet resurrected. Our lives have not yet reached the promise.

We should keep the real condition of things in mind, the one God promises will be.


  1. It was beautiful to read what you posted thanks God bless u. I similarly look at pain in its true manner to ,I like to say to myself deep down when my heart hurts ” God is bigger than any amount of pain or suffering I can ever be in or experience,And If Jesus can give Himself and go all in unto death on a cross and 3 nights in sheoul/ hell then why can’t I go all in for Him even if life on earth can feel like hell but it doesn’t end there He got resurrected and He will at the appointed time get His Joy prayed in full when He makes all things new 🙂 in Revelation, And my Joy set before me is being with Him in unity with all whom choose Him unto death may He give us strength to overcome I pray in Jesus amen .Shalom

  2. Derek,

    You said that G-d (as the angel or messenger of G-d) appeared in the form of a man with a sword, but there is another possible explanation that I think has been overlooked. I think the angel is the angel of G-d’s presence from Isaiah 63:9 and described in Exodus 23:21-22. I think it has G-d’s name or presence in it, and G-d speaks through it like it is a puppet. (I call it a puppet angel.) Exodus 23:21-22 says to listen to it’s voice and do what G-d will speak. I think that people heard it’s voice, but actually it was G-d talking through it like a puppet or a telephone. This way G-d could talk to people by an angel that did not have to bring a message to them saying “Thus says the L-rd…”.

    When Jacob wrestled this angel, he called the place G-d’s face or presence because he saw G-d face to face (not in a vision or dream, but in reality). I think he meant that he saw the angel with G-d’s presence in it and that G-d actually spoke to him through it, so it didn’t say “Thus says the L-rd…” I think this is a unique thing that G-d could do that human beings can’t, so we don’t realize that G-d is not the angel, but His presence can be in the angel.

    In Deuteronomy, it says that G-d spoke to them face to face at Mount Sinai, but it also later says they only heard a voice, and they did not see an image. I think this shows that “face to face” does not have to mean they saw G-d’s face.

    I have always wanted to ask you your opinion on this possible explanation about the angel of G-d, so I hope you don’t mind if I went into so much detail.

    Kenneth Greifer

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