Next morning after the feast king Balak of Moab sent his entertainers back to their homes. But he continued onward to the west with Balaam, Balaam’s two servants and the Moabite officers and servants. The caravan journeyed on to a mountain overlooking the site where the hosts of Israel were camped (Num. 22:39-41).
“There you see all those powerful people who have swept up from the south to swallow up our nations,” Balak said to Balaam. “Camped there as they are, they appears peaceful. When they move, however, they seem to sweep up and devour everything in their path like locusts. They must be stopped. Otherwise every nation, including mine, could fall before them.”
Balak knew that what he said was not true. God had forbade Israel to attack Moab (Deut. 2:5, 9, 19). Balak was jealous of Israel.
Balaam knew of this strange nation that had come out of Egypt, and he knew that the
God of the Israelites was the only true God – the One he had always feared. 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 didn’t completely understand why God was with Israel, but before he went any further for Balak, he decided to try to get in touch with God.
“Have your men build seven altars on this mountain,” Balaam told Balak: “Have them bring seven oxen and seven rams to sacrifice as burnt offerings” (Num. 23:1).
King Balak was willing to do whatever Balaam asked. The altars were quickly set up and the sacrifices were made. While ceremonies were in progress, Balaam slipped away to a higher part of the mountain, hoping that he could get in touch with God.
Because God was using Balaam for a purpose – and not because of the sacrifices Balaam had asked Balak to make – God spoke to Balaam from the rocks of the highest part of the mountain, instructing him just what to say to Balak when he returned. When Balaam finally arrived back at the site of the seven altars, Balak and the high officers of Moab stood by the sacrifices and anxiously awaited what he would have to say. They hoped that he would at last utter a curse on Israel.
Balaam hesitated a little before saying anything, because he realized that what he was about to speak would be rather startling to the Moabites (vs. 2-6).
“As all of you before me are aware,” Balaam began, “I was summoned all the way from my home in Aram in the mountains of the East by king Balak. The king’s wish has been that I call down the wrath of my God on Israel, the nation that has recently come up out of Egypt to destroy the Amorites. If my God’s wrath would suddenly come on Israel for sin, then how much more would it fall on the nation of Moab! My God is the God of Israel. It would be impossible for me to bring a curse by my 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 any nation that my God is not against and is protecting.
“Even now we are able to look out and see these people God has chosen 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” (vs. 7-10)!
Balak was surprised and irritated by the unexpected speech from Balaam. He had hoped for a curse, but Balaam’s words, inspired by God, amounted to a magnificent blessings rather than a curse.
“Why have you spoken these good things about Israel instead of what I expected?” the king angrily asked. “I didn’t bring you here for this sort of thing. How could you do the opposite of what I have counted on you doing – especially when you consider the rich rewards that could be yours” (v. 11)?
“Don’t I have to say what my God told me to say?” Balaam asked. “What else could I do” (v. 12)? Balaam intended these words to soften the blow of God’s prophecy and encourage Balak to keep trying to bribe Balaam with bigger sums of money.
Balak was discouraged by this answer, but as Balaam hoped, he didn’t intend to give up. He reasoned that Balaam had been so awed by the vast spread of Israelites that he feared to utter a curse on them.
The Moabite king quickly decided to take Balaam to another mountain from where only a part of Israel could be viewed. Balak was well aware of how the camping Israelites appeared from all directions, what with his spies having carefully watched them ever since they had come out of the south.
Regardless of God’s instructions that Balaam should speak only good things concerning Israel, the prophet went with Balak to a flat section of a high ridge known as Mt. Pisgah (vs. 13-14).
“There you again see those intruders,” Balak said to Balaam. “Why not implore your powerful God to punish them?”
“I still must obey what my God tells me to do,” Balaam answered. “To approach Him again, we must once more build seven altars and offer a ram and a bullock on each altar. Then I’ll seek another meeting with my God to inquire if He intends to punish Israel.”
At a command from Balak, seven altars were set up on Mt. Pisgah, and a bullock and a ram were sacrificed on each of the altars. Meanwhile, Balaam again went into a remote section of the mountain to try to contact God. Once more he was successful, but only because God purposed to contact him. Even though Balaam was still greedy for Balak’s reward, God was very patiently waiting to see if Balaam would finally choose the eternal riches that are given for serving God, instead of the gold he was offered for serving Balak.
“Tell Balak what I am about to tell you,” God said to Balaam, and Balaam carefully memorized what God had to say.
For the second time Balaam returned from a mountain visit with God to report to king Balak.
“I have been in touch with my God,” Balaam called to Balak, “and He has told me more things to tell you.”
“What has your God spoken?” Balak calmly asked, though anxiously hoping that either Balaam’s God or Balaam had undergone a change of mind (vs. 15-17).
“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 has made. My 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 blessings 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” (vs. 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!”
“Didn’t I tell you,” Balaam replied, “that I would have to speak whatever my God would tell me to say?” Balaam should have flatly refused to help Balak, but he didn’t. He still hoped he could please two masters, God and Balak.
If Balaam hadn’t feared God’s great power, he never would have spoken or acted in such a manner. But he still had a desire for the reward that Balak was willing to give him merely for the ceremony of mumbling a few words against Israel.
Balak refused to give up what he had set out to do through the prophet. Immediately he suggested that they go to Mt. Peor, which was a high point of the Abarim range. From there all of the camp of Israel could be seen. Balak hoped that there was a chance that Balaam might break down and pronounce a curse on Israel if he could be convinced that such a large and powerful nation might well move eastward and destroy Balaam’s home town.
Later, when the Moabite caravan and those with it viewed the Israelites from Mt. Peor, Balak was dismayed to hear Balaam ask for the third time that seven altars should be built for sacrificing animals. Balaam was fearfully aware that invisible angels were listening to all his words and watching everything he did, and he wanted to continue giving the impression that he was trying to please God. Balak gave orders to carry out Balaam’s wish. The Moabite king didn’t want to seem to offend the God of Israel, though he was actually more interested in getting Balaam to curse Israel than he was in pleasing a God he didn’t know (vs. 25-30).
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 contact with God made it quite clear that it was wrong to have anything to do with curses, enchantments and trying to foresee the future unless God inspired such things. For this reason, Balaam did not even go to seek a vision 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 inspired by God to speak another clear and vivid prophecy to Balak and those about him.
Moabites, Midianites and even Balaam’s two servants gathered around in curiosity as the prophet’s voice rang out from the mountain top to tell them marvelous things they hadn’t expected to hear.
“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 your God had prevented you from receiving” (vs. 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 my God told me to do. Didn’t I say that I would say exactly what I was told by God to say” (vs. 12-13)?
Then God inspired Balaam to utter another astonishing prophecy: “Now, before I leave, I should tell you what my God says Israel will do to your people in the future. 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!”
The king of Moab sensed that Balaam spoke the truth, and his haughty expression quickly turned to one of uneasiness.
“When – when is this supposed to happen?” Balak asked, forcing a tone of command into his voice.
“You will not live to see that day,” Balaam answered. “But it will happen as surely as the sun is in the sky. 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 in the rock-city of Kadesh 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!”
There were only low murmurs from the Moabites and Midianites as Balaam and his two servants mounted their animals and rode away on the trail that led down Mt. Peor (vs. 14-25).
Balak was sobered by what Balaam had said, but, lest those about him should notice his fear, he shrugged his shoulders and managed a smirk of derision that would have faded quickly if he could have foreseen his nation being overcome by a future Israelite king by the name of David (II Sam. 8: 1-2).
Most of the prophecies made by Balaam were for Old Testament times. Some are yet to come true in these later 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 home town. He again began 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.
As Balaam’s love for gold grew, so did his determination to help the Midianites against God’s people Israel. He worked out a scheme designed to cause the young men of Israel to turn away from God and bring a curse on themselves. Here is what happened.
The Israelites continued to stay on the verdant plain that was partly shaded by many acacia trees. It was a pleasant, fruitful area in which to camp and the Israelites were in the midst of plenty. But an exceedingly unpleasant matter soon began to develop.
Some of the men of Israel were attracted to some of the Moabite, Ammonite, and Midianite women. This situation swiftly grew into a mountainous problem. More and more Israelite men married these pagan women, something forbidden by God. Israel was not to intermarry with outsiders – especially those who were heathen. Besides, due to Balaam’s teaching many Moabite women and Israelite men were taking the physical privileges of married persons, although unmarried. This meant they were breaking the seventh and tenth commandments (Rev. 2:14).
What was more, the Moabite women were leading their Israelite husbands and lovers into Sabbath breaking and worshipping pagan gods (Num. 25:1-6). These gods included Astarte or Ishtar, a deity giving her name to “Easter” eggs. This idolatry was later brought into so-called Christian churches to be known as Easter. One sin led to another.
God’s fierce anger was aroused when he noticed these things continuing and growing.
“Seek out and punish by death the individuals who have committed these sins before it spreads further,” God told Moses. “If you don’t, I will curse the whole nation of Israel” (Num. 25:3-4).
Balaam’s plan was working well up to this point.
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.