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The Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah 580. Balak’s sacrifices. Numbers cap 23 v 24. De Vos.jpg
Balak (wearing a crown) with Balaam
Title King of Moab
Family Zippor (father)
Spouse(s) Amina
Relatives Eglon (grandson)
Religion Chemosh
Nationality Moab
Birth place Kingdom of Moab
Death place Kingdom of Moab

Balak (Hebrew: בָּלָקBālāq)[1] was a king of Moab described in the Book of Numbers in the Hebrew Bible, where his dealings with the prophet Balaam are recounted. Balak tried to engage Balaam for the purpose of cursing the migrating Israelite community (Numbers 22:1-5). A famous but enigmatic scene in which Balaam talks with a speaking donkey ensues (Numbers 22:21-35). According to Numbers 22:2, and Joshua 24:9, Balak was the son of Zippor.

In the preceding chapter of Numbers,[2] the Israelites, seeking the Promised Land following their Exodus from Egypt, had defeated the Canaanites at a place named Hormah, as well as the Amorites and the people of Bashan, and next approached Moab. The biblical narrative stresses the fears of the people of Moab, who were 'exceedingly afraid' and 'sick with dread' (NKJV) or 'terrified (GNT) (Numbers 22:3). Their fears appear to relate to the size of the Israelite population and the consequent resource depletion which could be expected if they were permitted to occupy Moabite land.

Balak initially conferred with his Midianite allies [3] in order to block Israelite settlement, before sending his elders to seek Balaam's curse on them. The Midianites appear to have been co-located with the Moabites - according to the Targum of Jonathan, they were one alliance of people at this time [4] and therefore had a common interest in preventing Israelite settlement of the area.

After his mission with Balaam to curse Israelites failed, Balak decided to ally with Midianites to gather their women in order to lead Israelites men astray in adultery.

Other sources detailing the story of Balak:

According to the Pulpit Commentary, Balak seems to be mentioned by name on a papyrus in the British Museum.[5]

The Zohar[edit]

The Zohar, the basic text of the Kabalah, offers a special interpretation to the Balak being "The Son of Zippor". In Hebrew, "Zippor" (ציפור) means "bird". According to the Zohar, this was not the name of Balak's father but rather referred to a magical metal bird which Balak made use of. As the Zohar recounts, such a bird has a head made of gold, a mouth made of silver and wings made of copper mixed with silver, and its body is made of gold; once the bird is made, it should be put during the day in a window facing the Sun and during the night in a window facing the Moon, while burning incense in front of it for seven days and seven nights. Thereupon, the bird would start talking and foretelling of what is about to happen. Only the most skilled of wizards could construct such a bird. Balak, the greatest wizard of his age, managed it. The bird was always sitting on Balak's shoulder and whispering in his ear, and therefore he was nicknamed "Son of the Bird". The Zohar further recounts that the bird spoke true words of prophecy in Balak's ear and warned him not to set himself against the Sons of Israel, and also foretold of the harsh punishment in store for himself and for the Moabits. Nevertheless, Balak persisted in his wrong way and was punished exactly as the bird foretold.[6]

New Testament[edit]

Revelation 2:12 - 2:14 also refers to Balak:

12 `And to the messenger of the assembly in Pergamos write: These things saith he who is having the sharp two-edged sword:
13 I have known thy works, and where thou dost dwell—where the throne of the Adversary [is] -- and thou dost hold fast my name, and thou didst not deny my faith, even in the days in which Antipas [was] my faithful witness, who was put to death beside you, where the Adversary doth dwell.
14 `But I have against thee a few things: That thou hast there those holding the teaching of Balaam, who did teach Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the sons of Israel, to eat idol-sacrifices, and to commit whoredom. (Young's Literal Translation)[1]

Weekly Torah Portion[edit]

Balak is also the name of the weekly parshah or portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading, constituting Numbers 22:2–25:9 which tells the story of Balak.


There are various proposed etymologies for the name Balak, all having to do with children or "waste" - The name Balak is in modern times claimed to come from the sparsely used Hebrew verb (balaq), waste or lay waste (Isaiah 24:1,3; Jeremiah 51:2). There are no derivations of this verb besides this name[citation needed]. Other proposals are: Devastator (BDB Theological Dictionary), Empty (NOBS Study Bible Name List), or Wasting (Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names).


  1. ^ McKenzie, John L. (1965). Dictionary of the Bible (1995 First Touchstone ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 77. ISBN 0-684-81913-9. 
  2. ^ Numbers 21
  3. ^ Numbers 22:4
  4. ^ Gill's Exposition of the Bible accessed 24 June 2015
  5. ^ accessed 21 June 2015
  6. ^ Quoted by Rabbi Moshe Yazdi of Ahavat Yisrael Yeshiva, Jerusalem, in (Hebrew) commentaries on the Balak Weekly Torah Portion.