Relationships – Balak and Balaam

Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.
Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.
The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.”
So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the Euphrates River, in his native land. Balak 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 these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.”
The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said.
“Spend the night here,” Balaam said to them, “and I will report back to you with the answer the Lord gives me.” So the Moabite officials stayed with him.
God came to Balaam and asked, “Who are these men with you?”
Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me this message: A people that has come out of Egypt covers the face of the land. Now come and put a curse on them for me. Perhaps then I will be able to fight them and drive them away.’”
But God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.”
The next morning Balaam got up and said to Balak’s officials, “Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.”
So the Moabite officials returned to Balak and said, “Balaam refused to come with us.”
Then Balak sent other officials, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. They came to Balaam and said:
“This is what Balak son of Zippor 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.”
But Balaam answered them, “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God. Now spend the night here so that I can find out what else the Lord will tell me.”
That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.”
Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. But God was very angry when he went, 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, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.
Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.
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 the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”
Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”
The donkey said to Balaam, “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 said.
Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. 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 from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”
Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.”
The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.
When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?”
“Well, I have come to you now,” Balaam replied. “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.”
Then Balaam went with Balak to Kiriath Huzoth. Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep, and gave some to Balaam and the officials who were with him. The next morning Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal, and from there he could see the outskirts of the Israelite camp.

  • Numbers 22:1-41

Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” Balak did as Balaam said, and the two of them offered a bull and a ram on each altar.
Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering 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.
God met with him, and Balaam said, “I have prepared seven altars, and on each altar I have offered a bull and a ram.”
The Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”
So he went back to him and found him standing beside his offering, with all the Moabite officials. Then Balaam spoke his message:
“Balak brought me from Aram,
    the king of Moab from the eastern mountains.
‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me;
    come, denounce Israel.’
How can I curse
    those whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce
    those whom the Lord has not denounced?
From the rocky peaks I see them,
    from the heights I view them.
I see a people who live apart
    and do not consider themselves one of the nations.
Who can count the dust of Jacob
    or number even a fourth of Israel?
Let me die the death of the righteous,
    and may my final end be like theirs!”
Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!”
He answered, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”
Then Balak said to him, “Come with me to another place where you can see them; you will not see them all but only the outskirts of their camp. And from there, curse them for me.” 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.
Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I meet with him over there.”
The Lord met with Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”
So he went to him and found him standing beside his offering, with the Moabite officials. Balak asked him, “What did the Lord say?”
Then he spoke his message:
“Arise, Balak, and listen;
    hear me, son of Zippor.
God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill?
I have received a command to bless;
    he has blessed, and I cannot change it.
“No misfortune is seen in Jacob,
    no misery observed in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them;
    the shout of the King is among them.
God brought them out of Egypt;
    they have the strength of a wild ox.
There is no divination against Jacob,
    no evil omens against Israel.
It will now be said of Jacob
    and of Israel, ‘See what God has done!’
The people rise like a lioness;
    they rouse themselves like a lion
that does not rest till it devours its prey
    and drinks the blood of its victims.”
Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!”
Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?”
Then Balak said to Balaam, “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 Peor, overlooking the wasteland.
Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

  • Numbers 23:1-30

Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not resort to divination as at other times, but turned his face toward the wilderness. When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came on him and he spoke his message:
“The prophecy of Balaam son of Beor,
    the prophecy of one whose eye sees clearly,
the prophecy of one who hears the words of God,
    who sees a vision from the Almighty,
    who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:
“How beautiful are your tents, Jacob,
    your dwelling places, Israel!
“Like valleys they spread out,
    like gardens beside a river,
like aloes planted by the Lord,
    like cedars beside the waters.
Water will flow from their buckets;
    their seed will have abundant water.
“Their king will be greater than Agag;
    their kingdom will be exalted.
“God brought them out of Egypt;
    they have the strength of a wild ox.
They devour hostile nations
    and break their bones in pieces;
    with their arrows they pierce them.
Like a lion they crouch and lie down,
    like a lioness—who dares to rouse them?
“May those who bless you be blessed
    and those who curse you be cursed!”
Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times. Now leave at once and go home! I said I would reward you handsomely, but the Lord has kept you from being rewarded.”
Balaam answered Balak, “Did I not tell the messengers you sent me, Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the Lord—and I must say only what the Lord says’? 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.”
Then he spoke his message:
“The prophecy of Balaam son of Beor,
    the prophecy of one whose eye sees clearly,
the prophecy of one who hears the words of God,
    who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
    who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:
“I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
    a scepter will rise out of Israel.
He will crush the foreheads of Moab,
    the skulls of all the people of Sheth.
Edom will be conquered;
    Seir, his enemy, will be conquered,
    but Israel will grow strong.
A ruler will come out of Jacob
    and destroy the survivors of the city.”
Then Balaam saw Amalek and spoke his message:
“Amalek was first among the nations,
    but their end will be utter destruction.”
Then he saw the Kenites and spoke his message:
“Your dwelling place is secure,
    your nest is set in a rock;
yet you Kenites will be destroyed
    when Ashur takes you captive.”
Then he spoke his message:
“Alas! Who can live when God does this?
    Ships will come from the shores of Cyprus;
they will subdue Ashur and Eber,
    but they too will come to ruin.”
Then Balaam got up and returned home, and Balak went his own way.

  • Numbers 24:1-25

In addition to those slain in battle, the Israelites had put to the sword Balaam son of Beor, who practiced divination.

  • Joshua 13:22

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.

  • Jude 1:11

A Quote

[Numbers 22:30] Balaam’s donkey was able to see the Angel of the Lord with His drawn sword (vv. 23, 25, 27). Realizing the danger to herself, she sought to avoid the angel. In doing this, she preserved Balaam as well. Miraculously, the donkey was able to communicate with Balaam.”

  • John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary

What Do We Know about their Relationship?

Note: Maybe it is my perversity, but I prefer Balaam’s ass instead of donkey.  Until the twentieth century, the terms were interchangeable and the KJV was definitely written prior to the twentieth century.  But in the modern definition of the two words.  The donkey is a domesticated version of the wild ass.  Thus, since the donkey had been with Balaam for a long time, and we have the donkey’s own words to corroborate that, it is indeed, by the modern usage of the terms, a donkey.

Balak goes to Balaam by reputation.  Balak makes his contractual request of Balaam, but Balaam, who had initially refused to go with the Balak emissaries, countered with the provision that he could only say what God would tell him to say.  With the vision and command to not go, then only go if you say what I tell you to say, and then his donkey talks to him, Balaam is properly conditioned to do as he is told.

Seven times Balaam turns his curse into a blessing.  Balak makes excuses thinking that the location wasn’t right.  He admonishes Balaam to not say anything if a blessing is about to come from his lips.  But after the seven failed attempts at cursing the Israelites, Balak and Balaam part company.

But Balaam eventually dies at the hand of the Reubenites for practicing divination.  He is not killed for accepting money to curse the Israelites and then failing in doing so.  The practice of divination is punishable by death in Levitical Law (Leviticus 19:26).  Divination is considered equal to witchcraft in Deuteronomy, punishable by death.

What Can We Infer about their Relationship?

Balak, the king of Moab was a supreme ruler in his land.  He could have had Balaam executed, but Balaam’s reputation as a sorcerer must have been strong enough for Balak to fear the false prophet.

There is two ways of thinking of what Balaam said in his blessings of Israel.  He was either so afraid of the real God telling him what to do that he would not dare vary in the wording, but it could be that the Holy Spirit spoke through Balaam without Balaam being able to change any of the words.  Consider that Balaam knew the dark arts well, but in knowing his magical tricks to be fake, hearing from the true God would be doubly frightening.

Rev. MacArthur makes the distinction in another comment about how Balaam refers to God as “Lord”, but when God is speaking to Balaam, He is referred to as “God” and not “Lord” in that Balaam had no saving knowledge of God, just the recognition that He was indeed the true God.  Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, but at the Judgment Seat of the Great White Throne, it is a bit late.  Balaam was not surrendering his life to God, just the moment to save his own skin.

In What Ways Can We Fill in the Gaps about their Relationship?

When I read these seven blessings, I was reminded of a very mindless movie, Liar Liar, where the Jim Carrey character, a lawyer, had to tell the truth over a set period of time.  With Carrey’s goofiness, the movie was predictably slapstick, but it was surprisingly heartwarming in the end.  But the constant fighting within himself (that is, Carrey’s character) may have resembled the inner struggle for Balaam.  Balaam had accepted the contract and he wanted to be paid, but he could not pull it off.

But another movie also comes to mind, maybe not well known, but more hilarious.  The movie, The Villain, stars Kurt Douglas as the villain, Cactus Jack Slade.  The movie was released as Cactus Jack in the UK and Australia. Arnold Schwarzenegger, playing the role entitled “Handsome Stranger”, picks up Ann-Margaret (Charming Jones) in a wagon to take her from the train station to the farm.  Cactus Jack tries so many Wile E. Coyote tricks (from the Looney Tunes Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons) to stop “Handsome Stranger” that you knew what was about to happen, which prolonged the laughter.

The similarity with The Villain is that the first attempt did not work let’s try again, and again, …

What Can We Learn from this Relationship?

We should never enter a job or contract if the conditions are to go against God, God’s Word, or God’s plan for our lives.  It will never end well.

What Have We Learned thus far?

We have learned to:

  • Own our own mistakes and not blame others.
  • Be faithful to God, and worship properly, in the proper spirit.
  • Do not show favoritism among family members, but always go to God.
  • Forgiveness is extremely important for none of us are perfect except for God.
  • Beyond physical love, there are other expressions of love, and respect is very important.
  • A relationship requires maintenance, nurturing, and an acceptance of the roles.
  • And to love, love, and love.
  • And don’t worry.  God has this situation, and He has us in the palm of His hand.
  • And remember to forgive others and confess our sins.
  • And never go against what God instructs us to do.

A Closing Prayer

Lord,
You have given us Your Holy Word, the Bible.  We know that some things are not to be done, and we should honor You by not doing them.  Then again, there are some things that we should do and do as praise to You, honoring Your name.  Help us by giving us wisdom in determining the right path.
In Thy Name we pray,
Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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