Lament of God’s own curser

In this biting article, Balaam, the prophet who agrees to curse the Israelites but is forced to bless them, and whose story is read this Sabbath morning during synagogue services, tells us of his posthumous reward.

Tags: Media Durban
Steve Apfel

OpEds Anti-Semitic PA cartoon
Anti-Semitic PA cartoon

How beautiful are your tents, oh Jacob, your dwelling places, oh Israel!”

For the tribute that fills Jewish prayer houses every morning thank a pagan prophet for hire. Odder yet, thank a lifetime antagonist of the people he bountifully blessed. Thank outcast me, Balaam – in Aramaic “man without a people”. Already the traits I’m known for in a dark operatic theme of vengeance are making a pattern able to be understood…If there is anything to understand.

What is difficult? By the machinations of the Hebrews’ God I was deprived of belonging. Is it possible not to feel bitter? Could anyone, castbefore conception mind you! for the role of wicked non-Israelite, grow up to be anything but villainous? I was to be the tool of the Almighty who wanted Israel to be blessed by a prophet from the nations of the world. It would strike fear in hearts. It would help Israel conquer the land of milk and honey. My prophesies would make Israelites believe they were as unique as unicorns. Come hell or high water the Creator would wring beatific blessings and good tidings out of Balaam the unwilling clown. Where oh where was the free will all of mankind is meant to have? 

It was the same God, when it suited Him, who gave His creature Balaam some gifts of prophecy even the favourite Moses was not given. I knew when God wanted to speak with me. I could also read His mind, so knew what God was about to say. We talked face to face, as God did with Moses. The two of us were the only ever prophets that did not have to fall into a deep dream state in order to hear the Lord. Yet annuls of all religions vilify me. Think, would Moses who wrote as Divine lips dictated, bother to record the full doings of a lunatic or a charlatan! I was an emissary of God; why deny me the plinth of Israelite hero, not wicked greedy hack?

Had the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob not split uncle Abraham and nephew Lot, you would learn of me in heroic terms. Uncle Abraham set up base camp in Beersheba while more fabulous or fabled pickings (spit it out then! – greed) drew Lot to Sodom on the Dead Sea. The Almighty and that dry humour He puts into scheming! Lot gets lubricated in a cave; wine vats, to assist the plot, appear out of nowhere; two daughters, distraught from the obliteration they and father had fled, then witnessing their mother turn to salt, plied him until Lot would have coupled with anything, never mind with two bold daughters.  Don’t I know – my father was Beor (Beast in Aramaic)

...But then… to my eternal abasement Lot fathers a nothing people. I am the offspring from a jest. I was crippled before birth in order to play the morbid corrupt sorcerer who, bit between the teeth like a carthorse, blessed a nomadic hoard going to their Promised Land.      

There. Again my tongue trips, gadget of fortune and misfortune, bridge to my soul, mouth organ of militant curses, master of talking donkey, inventive user of the male organ, plotter of Israel’s downfall. When God famously told me, of all sorcerer-prophets to shut my mouth I listened with half an ear. Day and night I lay traps and prepared curses. My time had come. Until then I had made a name, and good money, from plaguing victims to death. Now a colossal commission: a king’s ransom with immortality into the bargain; to bad-mouth a people protected by God. Moses and his rabble were to be cursed into spiritual oblivion.

The vision was intoxicating, and Balaam the wily wizard was intoxicated by it. Feted celebrity-hood beckoned like a pot of gold. With the prophetic gift of knowing the precise time of the day when heaven’s anger blazed, I was equal to the task. If it took all my cunning and guile, the God of Israel would divorce His bride, tearing up the Covenant with Abraham.

And what! Frantic in two minds I rode from pillar to post. An angel barred the way. My donkey complained. Pressure between donkey and wall lamed my one foot. Curses I had composed tumbled past petulant lips as awesome compliments. My client, King of Midian, sent me packing. Immortality was mine, but wrongly earned.

Granted one wish I’d take my words back, have my blessings and tidings expunged from the Book of Numbers. I’d forgo fame and fortune to erase the blunder. Death would not be a dear price to relieve my eternal torment when the Jews (who came to be so called after Judah, one dispersed tribe among the twelve) swell with a peacock’s pride as they parrot a ridiculed prophet’s praise.

Let’s be clear. Admittedly my oracle mouth spoke the tributes. May it be struck dumb. I was not however the author. I would have spoken differently, with the same trademark eloquence, but not in the time-honoured phrases that found their way into Judaic liturgy. Not in three thousand years (that’s how long ago my words bounced from hilltop to hilltop) would I laud such rabble. The words would stick in my throat.

If you do not already know let me be upfront. I, Balaam of Moab, son of Beor, was not the prophet you’d go to for a blessing. For cursing was I born, for blessing the Creator casted me, then recast me back to wizard once I had met the purpose. Perfidy personified, using improbable methods that no mortal would dream up, I took wizardry and cursing to heights never reached before or since.

In the aftermath many chickens came home to roost. Recall that I knew the time of day when anger blazed in the Heavenly Court. I also knew the sins which provoked it. They tend to go together: lustful  license and idol worship. Nothing but nothing gets up God’s nose more than Israelites falling for women and pagan rites. So I told my client the King, furious with me for blessing after he hired me to curse. “Let their God do the work for you,” I advised. Seduce those rodents of the desert with your beauties and your Baal-peor idols.        

The King liked the plan so much that he contributed a princess from the royal court. It worked so well that twenty four thousand Israelite scum succumbed to plague. Moses ordered the hanging of hundreds more. Not a small victory, though it cost me my life in the battle that followed Israel attacked the might of Midian. On God’s orders they took no captives. A war observer, I was put to the spear by the Israelite zealot, Pinchas, with the magical weapon on which he’d earlier impaled elites Zimri and Kosbi in their lewd defiance inside a booth bedecked in the royal colours. 


Yet I was to merit a posthumous reward. God took three millennia and more to give it, longer than I’d have liked. But there you are. With some adaptation for modernity, a new generation copied my cursing model.

“Listen,” myriad voices urge at a far-ahead point in time, at which point the people of Israel are living, and thriving, in the Promised Land, and “Human Rights” delegates meet on the side of a game-changing conference at the Indian Ocean city of Durban near the tip of Africa. The year is 2001, and plots are afoot.

“Listen,” gabble the plotters. “War after war has left Israel not just intact but invulnerable. Why not wage a different kind of war? This will be a war it cannot win. Words will be our weapon. We’ll bring Israel to its knees through the power of negative publicity, condemn and demonize the Zionists to the point where they become a pariah people. One hatred, fiery and focused, shall unite nations of the world."