The Difference Between Bilam and the Prophets of Israel


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The prophets of Israel were not interested in being prophets. Not only were they not looking for the honor, in many cases they tried to turn down the job. Some of the most well known prophets such as Moshe and Yirminyahu actually told God that they were “not interested in the position” yet God did not take no for an answer.


Bilam, a non Jewish sorcerer, on the other hand, did everything that he could in order to try to convince God to make him a prophet. He built seven altars, offered seven bulls and seven rams with the hope that (Bamidbar 13:3) “perhaps God will happen toward me and show me something that I can tell you.”


Each time that God appeared to Bilam, he was convinced for the moment to bless the Jewish people but then he went back to his evil ways.


According to Rashbam, when Bilam finally gave up his divinations (Chapter 24), he did receive prophecy. However, the way that he gave over his prophecy was very different from the prophets of Israel.


Nechama Leibowitz points out that the prophets of Israel started their prophecies by saying: “The word of God…” (We find this phraseology in Yirmiyahu, Yechezkel, Hoshea and Yoel). Bilam on the other hand says in Bamidbar 24:3 “The words of Bilam son of  Beor, the words of the man with the open eye; the words of the one who hears the sayings of God, who sees the vision of Shadai, while fallen and with uncovered eyes.”


According to Hirsch, this prophecy, his third, was not words forced into his mouth, against his will the way that the first two prophecies were. Rather “the spirit of God came upon him”.


Although Bilam did finally see the light, it took him a long time to part with his sorcery. Bilam, unlike the prophets of Israel was self-centered and focused on chasing after honors.


When looking for role models, it is clear that the prophets of Israel win hands down as humble men and women who are not seeking out honor yet in their own quiet way end up earning the honor and respect of B’nai Yisrael.