Christian Churches of God
(Edition 2.0 20050709-20061126)
Balak saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites and Moab was terrified. So Balak, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to summon Balaam. This paper has been adapted from Chapters 46 and 47 of The Bible Story Volume II by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press and covers Numbers chapters 22 to 25 in the Bible.
We continue here from the paper Water from the Rock (No. CB48).
Meanwhile, news of what had happened swiftly spread to the surrounding nations whose rulers were somewhat shaken to learn that such a powerful army had suddenly emerged from the south. Probably the most worried ruler was Balak, king of Moab. He hadn’t realized, when Israel had quietly passed along his nation’s east border, that these people possessed such a great military force.
Toward the ancient land of Mesopotamia, by the upper Euphrates Valley, lived a prophet named Balaam. This man was known in many areas as one who had such a special gift of prophecy that he could pronounce wonderful blessings and great curses on people.
Balak had heard that Balaam had the power, through God, to bless people and to curse them. Such a power, he thought, might be much greater than that of any wizard or enchanter who worked through spells and magic and strange mixtures.
"If this man Balaam could be hired to pronounce a curse on the nation of Israel," Balak told his officers, "those trespassing people might be so crippled that we could drive them out or even destroy them. We must try every possible means to keep those Israelites away, and therefore I want Balaam to be brought here."
The king immediately sent several of his princes eastward into Midian, where they were joined by Midianite princes. The caravan then moved on northward to the city of Pethor where Balaam lived, taking with them the fee for divination. Then they told Balaam what Balak had said:
“A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. Now come and put a curse on them, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the country. For I know that those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed” (Num. 22:1-7).
Balak knew that what he said was not true. God had forbidden Israel to attack Moab (Deut. 2:5, 9, 19). Balak was jealous of Israel because God had blessed them and not Moab. The Moabites were worshipping false gods and so were not favoured by the One True God.
“Spend the night here, Balaam said to them, “and I will bring you back the answer the Lord gives me”. So the Moabite princes stayed with him (v. 8).
The Lord came to Balaam and asked, “Who are these men with you?” Balaam told the Lord that the men had come to ask him to put a curse on Israel (vv. 9-11).
“You must not go with these men to curse the Israelites, for they are blessed,” the Lord told him. Next morning Balaam met with the princes, and told them to return to their country because the Lord had refused to let him go with them (vv. 12-13).
So the princes returned and told Balak that Balaam refused to come. Then Balak sent other princes, more numerous and more distinguished than the first (vv. 14-15).
They came to Balaam and said, “Balak says: Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me” (v. 16).
But Balaam answered them, “Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God. Now stay here tonight as the others did and I will find out what else the Lord will tell me” (vv. 18-19).
That night the Lord came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you” (v. 20).
Balaam got up very early next morning and went with the princes. But God was angry with Balaam in view of his attitude, and the Angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, she turned off the road into a field. Angered by the animal’s unusual action, Balaam beat her to get her back on the road (vv. 21-23).
His fury would have swiftly melted away if he could have been aware of what had startled the donkey, but the angel had made himself visible only to the donkey. Next the angel stood in a narrow path between two vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord she pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat her again (vv. 24-25).
Then the Angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw it could not get by the angel, it collapsed with fright and lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her again (vv. 26-27).
With God all things are possible (Mk. 10:27). Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” (v. 28).
Balaam was astonishment that an animal had actually spoken yet he somehow felt obliged to reply. “You have made a fool of me. If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now” (v. 29).
Then the animal spoke again. “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
“No!” he finally managed to mutter (v. 30).
God then gave Balaam the ability to suddenly see the angel. So he bowed low and fell facedown. The Angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away three times. If she had not turned away I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her” (vv. 31-33).
Balaam realized how wrong he had been in coveting the fortune offered him to curse Israel. “I have sinned!” he cried out. “I didn’t realize you were standing on the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back” (v. 35).
The angel said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with the princes to Balak.
God knew that Balaam's heart was not right and that he spoke for the reward he would get. So God would not let him curse Israel in His name, which is what Balaam intended to do. The Bible tells us in Micah 3:11 that it is wrong for priests to teach for reward (hire). The word of God is free (cf. Pro. 23:23). If the priesthood does not repent of this Christ said he would punish them with the sword of his mouth (see Rev. 2:14-16). The sword symbolises divine judgment.
Balaam gladly agreed to God’s terms, but remembered the wealth of Balak. Accompanied by his two servants, who had excitedly watched and heard his strange experience from only a short distance, he hastily rejoined the princes headed back toward Moab (Num. 22:34-35).
When Balak heard that Balaam was coming he went to meet him at the Moabite town of Arnon.
“Why didn’t you come to Moab the first time I sent for you?” King Balak asked a little impatiently, on meeting Balaam. “Didn’t you realize that I am able to reward you?” (v. 36). Balaam was happy to hear the reward mentioned again. He had again begun to think more about it and less about the warning God gave through His angel.
Balaam replied. “Here I am at last, but I want you to know that I have no power to curse or to bless any nation unless God gives me that power. I can speak only what I am told to speak” (vv. 37-38). Balaam was careful to speak in such a way that King Balak would not give up, but would keep trying harder to buy his services. He had become greedy for the reward Balak promised.
The king was convinced that the prophet somehow could manage to bring down God’s anger on Israel. Then Balaam went with Balak further into Moab, to the town of Kirjath-huzoth, which means “a city of streets”. Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep and gave some to Balaam and the princes who were with him. The next morning the king took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal, and from there he saw part of the people (vv. 39-41).
Balaam knew of this nation that had come out of Egypt, and he knew that the God of the Israelites was the only True God - the One he was afraid of. He realized that he had run into a very serious situation. If he were to ask God to curse Israel, he would be asking God to crush the nation the Creator had chosen for a very definite reason. Balaam decided to try to get in touch with God.
Then Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me”. Balak did this and the two of them offered a bull and a ram on each altar (Num. 23:1-2).
Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here while I go aside. Perhaps the Lord will come to meet with me. Whatever He reveals to me I will tell you.” Then he went off to a barren height (v. 3).
Because God was using Balaam for a purpose - and not because of the sacrifices Balaam had asked Balak to make, the Lord put a message in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this message”. When Balaam went back he found Balak standing beside his offering, with all the princes of Moab. Then Balaam uttered his oracle:
“Balak summoned me all the way from my home in Aram in the mountains of the East. The king’s wish has been that I call down the wrath of God on Israel, the nation that has recently come up out of Egypt to destroy the Amorites. God is the God of Israel. It would be impossible for me to bring a curse by God on a nation that He has already blessed. It would be most foolish, in fact, for any one or any nation to try to go against a nation that God is not against and is protecting.
God has chosen these people for some great purpose. Israel shall always stand out above other nations, and it shall be one whose numbers can be compared to the numbers of specks of dust in the ground. I trust that when I die, my death shall be as honorable as that of those people we see below who have been chosen for some high purpose” (vv. 6-10).
An important point to think about here is that the Devil wanted to have Israel cursed so that Christ would be cursed. But God was not about to let that happen.
Balak was surprised and irritated by the unexpected speech from Balaam. He had hoped for a curse, but Balaam’s words, which God required him to speak, amounted to a magnificent blessing rather than a curse.
“Why have you spoken these good things about Israel?” the king angrily asked. “I brought you here to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them” (v.11).
“Don’t I have to say what God told me to say?” Balaam asked (v. 12).
The Moabite king then asked Balaam to come to another mountain from where only a part of Israel could be viewed. It was Balak’s plan that Balaam should curse the Israelites from there. So he took him to the field of Zophim on the top of Pisgah, and there he built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar (vv. 13-14).
Meanwhile, Balaam again went into a remote section of the mountain to try to contact God (v. 15). Even though Balaam was still greedy for Balak’s reward, God was very patiently waiting to see if Balaam would finally repent and quit serving himself and the devil. Though he was afraid of God he did not repent.
Once more he was successful, but only because God purposed to contact him. Again a message was put into Balaam’s mouth and he was told to go back and give Balak the message (v. 16).
So for the second time Balaam returned from a mountain visit with the Lord to report to king Balak.
“What has God spoken?” Balak calmly asked, though anxiously hoping that either God or Balaam had undergone a change of mind (vv. 15-17). Then he uttered his oracle:
“He has said that you, Balak, should listen to Him,” Balaam replied. “He has said that you should learn that He does not lie, as does a mortal man, and that He will surely carry out any purpose or promise He had made. God has blessed Israel, and I have been instructed to carry on according to that blessing. It would be impossible for me to change God’s blessing into a curse.
“You should know that God has not regarded the shortcomings of Jacob, the forefather of Israel, as something so evil that all of Jacob’s descendants should be cursed into oblivion. God brought Israel out of Egypt, and gave that nation the strength of the giant wild bull. No prayer, no art, no craft nor enchantment from outsiders can affect Israel. In time to come people will marvel at how this nation was kept alive under God’s protection. In fact, Israel shall become known as a strong young lion that doesn’t rest until he has eaten well of his prey, and that prey will be nations that can be compared to gazelles, deer and other animals much weaker than the lion” (vv. 18-24).
Balak stared in shock at the prophet. Balaam was wearing the king’s patience to an end. If he hadn’t been so desperate for help against Israel, he would have ordered the prophet out of his presence. “If you won’t curse the Israelites now,” Balak muttered wearily, “then at least you can refrain from pronouncing a blessing on them.” Balaam again answered that he must do what the Lord says (vv. 25-26).
Then Balak said, “Come let me take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God to let you curse them for me from there.” And Balak took Balaam to the top of Mt. Peor, overlooking the wasteland. Balak was dismayed to hear Balaam ask for the third time that seven altars should be built for sacrificing animals (vv. 27-29).
But he again thought he could influence God to let him curse Israel so he could obtain Balak’s reward. Balak gave orders to carry out Balaam’s wish (v. 30).
In spite of his hopes to earn favor and fortune from the Moabite king, Balaam realized it would be useless to continue hoping God might curse Israel for Balak. His recent contacts with God made it quite clear that it was impossible to tempt God to change His mind.
For this reason, Balaam did not even go to seek another vision as he had previously done. As the prophet looked down from Mt. Peor on the Israelites camped in their orderly manner on the plains of Moab, he was suddenly required by God to speak another clear and vivid prophecy to Balak and those about him.
“I, Balaam, the son of Beor, have been given understanding by God in matters I am about to relate,” Balaam declared. He then went on, to the growing discomfort of most of his audience, to speak of Israel and what would happen to that nation.
“How fine is the array of colorful tents and tabernacles of Israel on the plain below” Balaam exclaimed. “They are spread out as watercourses from the mountains, as gardens by a river, as sandal trees and cedars of Lebanon growing naturally in rows beside the streams.
“Israel shall have plenty of prosperity. His descendants shall be uncountable. His king shall have more power than any other king, and the kingdom of Israel shall become the strongest one in the world. God brought this nation out of Egypt and gave it the strength of the giant wild bull. This people will swallow up its enemies after breaking their bones and piercing them with deadly weapons.
“Israel is like a great lion that people fear to bother. Those who bless Israel shall be blessed. Those who curse Israel shall be cursed” (Num. 24:1-9.)
This was exactly the opposite of what the king of Moab hoped to hear. He felt that Balaam had betrayed him, and he violently struck his hands together, an action in those times that indicated great anger.
“I offered you handsome rewards to come here to curse my enemies” Balak shouted as he strode up to Balaam. “Instead, you blessed them. Now take your servants and get out of here without the reward God has prevented you from receiving” (vv.10-11).
“Perhaps you have forgotten,” Balaam calmly reminded the king, “that when your messengers first came to me I told them that a whole house full of gold from you would not cause me to do anything in this matter but what God allows me to do. Didn’t I say then that I had to say exactly what God requires me to say?” Now I am going back to my people, but come, let me warn you of what this people will do to your people in days to come” (vv. 12-14).
Then God ordered Balaam to utter another astonishing prophecy:
“An Israelite king will come into power who will strike your nation with such force that it will be smashed at once. Those Moabites who remain alive will be taken as servants of Israel.”
“As for Edom and Seir, those countries shall also fall to Israel. Even the powerful Amalekites shall go down before Israel, and shall disappear forever as a nation. The Kenites shall also be taken captive, though they live in the rocky strongholds of the mountains.
“The climax will bring frightening changes in many parts of the world. Nations from across the seas will attack and be attacked. There will be great trouble in time to come. Israel, the nation God has chosen for carrying on His purpose in the world, will end the most glorious nation.”
Balaam and his two servants mounted their animals and rode away on the trail that led down Mt. Peor. And Balak went his own way (vv. 14-25).
Most of the prophecies made by Balaam were for Old Testament times. Some are yet to come true in these latter days because God always does what He promises to do.
Balak returned to the city from which he ruled Moab, but Balaam never got back to his hometown. He continued to lust after the reward he had missed. He began to devise a plan he thought might get him a part of it. So he stopped in the land of Midian (see Num. 31:8,16).
Knowing that the Midianites as well as the Moabites wished to see Israel destroyed, Balaam taught them the way to bring down God’s curse on all Israel. His plan was to promote sin between Israelite men and the pagan women of Midian and Moab.
While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to be attracted to the Moabite women. Due to Balaam’s teaching, many Moabite women and Israelite men were taking the physical privileges of married persons, although unmarried. This meant that they were breaking the seventh and tenth commandments (Rev. 2:14).
More and more Israelite men married these pagan women. God had forbidden Israel to intermarry with outsiders of pagan nations. Yet individuals of nations who were pagan, and who had accepted Israel and its faith, could be accepted into Israel as was Rahab and Ruth and others.
But the forbidden and critical matter was that the Moabite women were leading their Israelite husbands and lovers into Sabbath-breaking and worshiping pagan gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshipping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them (Num. 25:1-3). One sin led to another then and today the same sins are being repeated.
The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel (v. 4). This was to be a warning to others of the consequences of sin.
Balaam taught the Moabites and Midianites, the nations surrounding Israel, that they might cause God to turn against Israel by getting them to sacrifice to idols and to commit fornication. So Balaam’s wicked project was beginning to pay off for Midian and Moab.
Moses said to Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshipping the Baal of Peor” (vv. 4-5).
There was much loud wailing and moaning, a habit acquired from the Egyptians. Most of the Israelites truly regretted what had happened, and from them there were genuine groans and weeping of shame and repentance (v.6).
Even in the face of these abrupt and terrible developments there were those who were so scornful of God that they refused to put aside the women of these pagan nations.
Such a one was Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Simeon. Even at the height of the time of mourning and repentance, Zimri came into the tabernacle area with a Midianite princess named Cozbi (vv. 13,14). The couple brazenly passed through the mourning Israelites and on to a private tent in the camp of Simeon. Because of Zimri’s high rank, however, officers who should have detained him allowed him and his Midianite princess to go their way without bothering them.
When Phinehas, son of Eleazar (one of Aaron’s grandsons) saw this he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. There he drove the spear through both of them. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 23,000 (Num. 25:6-9).
The Lord said to Moses, “Phinehas has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he is as zealous as I am for my honour among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honour of his God and made atonement for the Israelites” (vv.10-13).
All this heartache and grief came because Balak was jealous of Israel and because Balaam lusted so much after the wages promised by Balak that he taught the pagans how to lead rebellious Israelite men into sin (2Pet. 2:15; Jude 11; Rev. 2:14).
God had this shameful and tragic episode recorded to teach us that we should not lust after dishonest money and should not marry or follow the practices of evil women, and that we should worship only the One True God (1Cor. 10:6-11).
The next few days were ones of misery, shame and sorrow in Israel. At the same time, though most people weren’t aware of it to the full extent, they had reason to rejoice and be thankful because of God’s anger having been turned from them.
This didn’t mean that God was satisfied with the way matters turned out. He was well aware that the Midianites and Moabites - especially the Midianites - had plotted to use their women to wrongly influence men of Israel. He planned to punish Midian, but not until He had accomplished some other things (verses 16-18).
(The paper The Doctrine of Balaam and Balaam’s Prophecy (No. 204) and The New International Study Bible were used as sources of reference in this paper.)