(An Exposition of Balaam’s Parables)


























Chapter 2.  A FURTHER APPEAL   Page 9



Chapter 3.  FROM THE TOP OF THE ROCKS   Page 27



Chapter 4.  THE FIELD OF THE WATCHERS   Page 39



Chapter 5.  THE PARABLE OF PEOR   Page 47



Chapter 6.  THE COMING KING   Page 55



Chapter 7.  THE PARTING OF THE WAYS   Page 65



Chapter 8.  THE FINAL ATTEMPT   Page 79












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[Page 7]





AT one of the residential conventions of the Prophetic Witness Movement International, the responsibility for the morning Bible readings fell to the author, and he decided to give a series of simple talks on the subject of Balaam and his parables.  To his surprise the addresses seemed to attract a good deal of interest.  They were recorded at the time and one group of Christians subsequently held a full day’s conference at which the whole of the tape recordings were played over for the benefit of others.



Several friends have since asked whether the addresses could be put into print and this little book is the result. The author is very conscious of its shortcomings and has hesitated about publishing it, but if it proves of help to any fellow-believers, he will be amply rewarded for the work which has gone into it.



                                                                                                                 - FREDK. A. TATFORD.



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The Diviner’s Temptation



FROM time to time, the Old Testament draws aside the veil to disclose that spiritual knowledge was not always restricted to the chosen race and that occasionally the revelation of the Divine will and purpose came through totally unexpected media.  It is only necessary to turn to the profound discussions of philosophy in the Book of Job, or to the story of the mysterious king-priest Melchizedek, to whom Abraham paid tithes, to realise that God is sovereign and that He uses whomsoever He will to convey His message.  Barriers of racial and national privilege mean nothing to Him in that respect.  This was plainly indicated in the experience of that strange Old Testament character, the Gentile Balaam of Mesopotamia.



Balaam hailed from Pethor, a city located on the west bank of the Euphrates, near the point at which the river is joined by its tributary, the Sajur, approximately twelve miles south of the old Hittite capital of Carchemish. Pethor is described in Deut. 23: 4 as a city of Mesopotamia (i.e. the country of Aram-Naharaim, which stretched along the banks of the Euphrates).  Prof. A. H. Sayce identified it with the Pitru of Assyrian records and said that “it lay on the main road from cast to west, and so occupied a position of military and commercial importance.  The country in which it was situated belonged to the Semitic Aramaeans.  Its conquest by the Hittites, however, had introduced into it a Hittite population as well, and the two peoples, Hittites and Aramaeans, [Page 10] as we learn from the cuneiform texts, lived in it side by side” (The Higher Criticism and the Monuments, p.274). When the Assyrian Shalmaneser captured Pethor or Pitru in the ninth century B.C., he renamed it Ana-ashur-utir-asbat.



Balaam (whose name meant a devourer of the people, or a subverter) was the son of Beor (a name meaning a consumer or a destroyer).  Bela, the first king of the Edomites, was also described as a son of a man named Beor (Gen. 36: 32), but there was clearly no connection between him and Balaam.



The Biblical record refers to Balaam, not as nabi, a prophet, but as kosem, a soothsayer (see also Josh. 13: 22), and it is clear that he had no mean reputation as a magician and imprecatory prophet, “Of the magicians and seers found in Mesopotamia,” says The World of the Bible, the best known were the priests called in the Akkadian baru (seers), who fulfilled functions similar to those of Balaam.  They pronounced the will of God to His worshippers and they were also called upon to invoke blessings and curses by means of charms and incantations.” Balaam was presumably an adept in all the arts of the baru and was, in fact, so eminent a practitioner that his fame had travelled across the Assyrian desert to the shores of the Dead Sea as a soothsayer and sorcerer of outstanding ability.



Origen described Balaam as famous for his skill in magic, and Philo wrote (Vita Moysis, § 48), There was a man at that time celebrated for divination who lived in Mesopotamia, and was an adept in all forms of the divining art; but in no branch was he more admired than in augury; to many persons and on many occasions he gave great and astounding proofs of his skill.  For to some he foretold storms in the height of summer; to others drought and heat in the depth of winter; to some scarcity succeeding a fruitful year, and then again abundance after scarcity; to others the overflowing and the drying up of rivers; and the remedies of pestilential diseases, and a vast multitude of other things, each of which he acquired great fame for predicting.”



The divination practised by the baru and men of this type [Page 11] was normally an attempt to discern the future, not merely through a kind of inspiration or afflatus, but, in most cases, by means of signs and auguries, which were strictly forbidden to Israel (Lev. 19: 26; Deut. 18: 9-14).  Apart from astrology (Isa. 47: 13), where deductions were made from the conjunction of the stars, the most popular method employed was hepatoscopy (Ezek. 21: 21), which involved the examination of the disposition of the liver and other entrails of a sacrificed sheep or other animal.  By the use of hydromancy, conclusions were also reached from forms seen in water or in the configuration of drops of oil on water (Gen. 44: 5), while in pyromancy the fire was observed for signs. In arithmancy numbers were used, and in botanomancy plants (especially sage and fig leaves) formed the basis. In addition, omens were seen sometimes in the flight of birds, or in rhabdomancy - the throwing of sticks in the air (Ezek. 21: 21) - or by casting lots.  A further practice which sprang up was that of necromancy, or consultation with the spirits of the dead (Deut. 18: 11; 1 Sam. 28: 8).  The Scriptural record does not indicate the form of divination adopted by Balaam but, from the number of sacrifices he demanded before uttering his messages, it has sometimes been deduced that he probably practised hepatoscopy.  The ancients apparently categorised every shape and marking of the liver and reached their conclusions regarding future events by carefully examining and collating the details in each case.



At the same time, it cannot be ignored that Balaam claimed some knowledge of and contact with the true God.  He can scarcely, therefore, be casually classified as a wizard or false prophet.  Indeed, it is doubtful whether he was an idolator.  A. Gosman (Lange’s Commentary on Numbers, p. 121) writes, for instance, “He is at least a monotheist; he clings as a Mesopotamian, perhaps as a descendant of Abraham, to the name of Jehovah in its more general significance, which it had before acquiring its specific meaning (Exod. 3 and 6): and hence the writer uses in connection with him the name Elohim, not recognising him as strictly a worshipper of Jehovah.  He thus lies within the primitive, monotheistic [Page 12] traditions, the religious twilight which Melchizedek also represents (see Gen. 14: 18).”



Balaam appeared upon the Biblical stage because of the threatened invasion of the territory of the Moabites. The Israelites had made their exodus from Egypt and were making their way to the promised land of Canaan. They had reached the border of the newly-formed kingdom of the Amorites - the southern part of which had only recently been captured by Sihon from the Moabites (Num. 21: 26) - and had sought permission to pass through the country.  Evidently fearful of the consequences of acceding to the request, Sihon refused and promptly launched an attack upon them.  But the Israelites completely routed the Amorite forces and took possession of their country.



Their next advance brought Israel into the Moabite plains near Jericho on the east of the river Jordan.  Like some other of the Semitic tribes of the region, the Moabites had not long before constituted themselves a kingdom to consolidate themselves against any possible threat of attack from whatever land-hungry migrating tribes appeared on their borders.  The danger they had foreseen now confronted them and an immediate decision was necessary on the policy to be adopted.



The Midianites had established themselves in considerable numbers in Moab, and the ruler of the country was a Midianite named Balak (whose name meant a waster), the son of Zippor (literally, a sparrow, the feminine form of which was Zipporah, the name of Moses’ wife).  Indeed, Otto Eissfeldt has demonstrated that, at this date, the Midianites exercised a form of protectorate over Moab and Edom, and controlled the great caravan routes from Arabia.  The Moabites had been unable to withstand the attack of the Amorites and, since Israel had overcome the latter, the Moabites were obviously at considerable risk.



Balak naturally held consultations with his neighbours and blood relations, the Midianite rulers, and it was ultimately decided that other help should be sought.  No military alignment with neighbouring powers appeared practicable, but messengers were sent to the well-known soothsayer, Balaam, [Page 13] to persuade him to use magical incantations against the invaders.  To reach him was a twenty days’ journey of 400 miles across the Assyrian desert, but the embassy set out with presents and promises (Num. 22: 1-7).  Behold,” said Balak, a people has come out of Egypt.  They cover the face of the earth and they are dwelling opposite me.  Come now, therefore, I beg you, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me.  Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land.  For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed” (vv. 5, 6).



From what followed, there is a strong inference that Balaam was not only acquainted with the recent happenings, but was aware that the hand of God was with Israel.  There was no doubt as to his proper course and he must have been fully cognisant of it.  Yet he temporised with the messengers and bade them stay with him for the night, so that he might ascertain God’s will.  The sight of the rewards carried by the embassy had appealed to his mercenary spirit and his character was at once disclosed.  As one writer remarks, “We have here the living, vivid image of a remarkable character, thoroughly unstable, vacillating in obedience to predominant motives, two-sided; but a character whose two-sidedness does not show itself in distinct, stereotyped qualities, ever ready for action, but is wrought out in the progress of a spiritual conflict, in which avarice and ambition gradually work his ruin.  Below the summit of sacred zeal or inspiration, which Balaam seemed to have reached, begins the hidden process of his ruin.”






And God (Elohim) came to Balaam and said, Who are these men with you?  And Balaam said to Elohim, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, Behold, a people has come out of Egypt, who cover the face of the earth; come now, curse them for me; perhaps I shall be able to overcome them and drive them out.  And Elohim said to Balaam, You shall not go with them.  You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.  So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, Go to your own land; for [Page 14] Jehovah refuses to let me go with you.  So the princes of Moab rose and went to Balak, and said, Balaam refuses to come with us (Num. 22: 9-14).



It is clear from the Scriptural record that Balaam. actually possessed some ability (possibly by the use of enchantment) to bless and to curse.  This power,” says Keil, “is not traced, it is true, to the might of heathen deities, but to the might of Jehovah, whose name Balaam confessed; but yet the possibility is assumed of his curse doing actual, and not merely imaginary, harm to the Israelites.”  The power was not intended by God to be exercised at the vagaries of the prophet himself, however.  As with all gifts, whether natural or spiritual, the intention was unquestionably that it should be used in accordance with the will of God and for His glory.



The Bible states that the embassy sent to Balaam was composed of the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian,” so that the two races were patently acting in conjunction with each other.  Prof. D. M. Beegle (in Moses, the Servant of Yahweh, p. 331) says, “It is quite evident that the ‘king of Moab’ and the ‘elders of Moab’ were subservient to the ‘elders of Midian’.  In other words, the ‘elders’ were actually supervisors the Midianites had stationed within the territory of Moab ... the terms ‘elders’, ‘princes’ and ‘kings’ are simply variant designations for the Midianite representatives in the land of Moab.”



With the messengers of Balak lodged at his home, Balaam awaited some nocturnal indication that he could safely respond to the request which had been made to him - virtually anticipating that God would permit what was obviously evil.  There could be only one possible outcome.  In the stillness of the night came the Divine enquiry, Who are these men with you?”  And Balaam was compelled to confess the origin and purpose of the mission on which his guests had come to him.  Balak had invited him to lay a curse upon Israel in the hope that, thus hampered, they might be rendered vulnerable and that the forces of Moab might be able to drive them out of the land. 


[Page 15]

The word translated curse is derived from a root, signifying “to hollow out.”  The object was, therefore, to lay a spell upon Israel, which would have the effect of draining away their confidence and strength and rendering them weak and powerless.  Balak’s hope was to deprive them of their inspiration and courage, and thereby, to raise the morale of his own troops, so that he might overcome Israel.



But the forlorn hope was doomed to disappointment and, additionally, Balaam’s cupidity was frustrated.  You shall not go with them,” came the Divine declaration.  You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.”  Nothing could have been more explicit.  God’s will was perfectly clear.  The prophet was not allowed to accept the invitation or the reward, and the Almighty made it plain that Israel were a people upon whom His smile rested.  No curse could affect them; they were already blessed.  It would consequently be futile for the prophet to dream of assisting Balak in his machinations.  In any case, he was explicitly forbidden to curse them.



There seems to have been no change of heart or repentance on the part of Balaam.  There was no evidence of regret that he had harboured those whom he knew to be God’s enemies.  His conscience still slumbered and his inclinations were unaltered.  He merely carried out his instructions, albeit plainly with reluctance, or he would never have entertained the men a second time.



In the morning Balaam rose early and told the Moabites to return to their own country, since he had been refused permission to accompany them.  No persuasion seems to have been used to induce him to change his mind.  Evidently the messengers accepted the statement as conclusive.  Jehovah had declined to allow the prophet to go, and Balaam had accepted the decree as final and patently expected them to do the same.  There was no dubiety and they returned to their royal master with the unwelcome news.  Nevertheless, the lack of success attending their mission seems to have only strengthened Balak’s resolution to secure the help he had sought.



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A Further Appeal



BALAK’S first mission had failed, but this was not the end.  His purpose was not so easily thwarted and he was, in any case, desperate for help.






Again Balak sent princes, more in number and more honourable than they.  And they came to Balaam and said to him, Thus says Balak the son of Zippor, Let nothing, I pray you, hinder you from coming to me.  For I will promote you to very great honour, and I will do whatever you say to me.  Come, therefore, curse this people for me.  And Balaam answered and said to Balak’s servants, Even if Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the command of Jehovah my God (Elohim) to do less or more.  Now, therefore, I pray you, tarry here this night also, that I may know what more Jehovah will say to me.  And Elohim came to Balaam at night and said to him, If the men came to call you, rise and go with them; but only the word I say to you, shall you do (Num. 22: 15-20).



The rebuffed monarch’s determination to secure his ends only increased.  He was apparently more convinced than ever that the prophet’s powers of enchantment were the answer to his need, and he sent a larger and more distinguished embassy to entreat Balaam to come to him.  He was emphatic that nothing should prevent him from coming.  He repeated his request and now offered greater attractions.  I will do you [Page 18] great honour.” Presumably richer presents were conveyed to induce a change of attitude on Balaam’s part, but there is no mention in the record of increased rewards.  The royal suppliant professed himself to be ready to do whatever Balaam dictated.



Balaam’s immediate reaction, as Hirsch remarks, “betrays his real character.  However much he seeks honour, he seeks wealth still more.  Balak had not intimated in his message anything about gold.  He had spoken only of great distinction, and said that every wish should be gratified.  But Balaam immediately translated honour into gold.  This was the supreme good with him.”



His conduct was completely inexcusable.  He was fully acquainted with the Divine will.  He had been forbidden to accompany Balak’s messengers and commanded not to curse the people of Israel.  There was no possible misunderstanding of the Divine injunctions.  Yet, for a second time, he lodged the enemies of Israel with him for the night, on the plea that he must ascertain what more Jehovah would say to him.  What more could possibly be said?  He already knew God’s will and yet he apparently conceived it possible to tempt the Almighty to change an immutable purpose.  It was the crassest of folly.



In pious insincerity, he declared that he could not go beyond God’s word, whatever it might be, although he knew quite well that, if he could possibly do so, he would.  Yet how many Christians today follow the same foolish path.  Allegedly desiring only to do God’s will, they still allow their desires to rest upon that which is patently out of accord with His will.  While declaring unctuously that their treasure is in heaven, they determinedly seek the material prosperity of this world.  Claiming that Christ is the sole object of their affection and His will their only thought, they allow their minds to be occupied with the unclean and defiling. The Gentile prophet was not the only one whose actions belied his words.



It is amazing that, with his knowledge of the Divine will, Balaam should thus put himself at risk of Divine punishment.   However restricted his knowledge of God, he had obviously had contact with Him previously and could not but be aware [Page 19] of God’s methods and purposes.  He demonstrated an unhappy “contradiction between an ostentatious and vaunted faith in Jehovah, and the ever reappearing and strong lusting after the rewards of unrighteousness, after the glory and the gold which ultimately leads him to ruin.”  Poor Balaam! Yet his story was recorded for our warning, whose hearts are possibly cast in the same mould.



In gracious condescension, God again came to him at night, whether in a vision or merely through the spoken word is not disclosed.  He had declared that he would discover what Jehovah (the ever-present covenant-keeping God) would say to him, but it was as Elohim (the mighty strong One) that He spoke to him.  On this occasion, the prophet was told that, if the men came to call him, he was to rise up and go with them.  But he was to do only what God said.  The R.S.V. possibly tends to imply that he was allowed to go because the men had come to summon him (“If the men have come to call you”).  The emphasis seems rather upon whether or not the men called him.  The answer sufficed for Balaam, however.  He evidently waited for no call, but rose early and prepared to depart.  He had virtually received two clear indications of God’s will, but he had quite deliberately chosen his own way.






So Balaam rose in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.  But Elohim’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of Jehovah stood in the way as an adversary against him.  Now he was riding on his ass, and his two servants were with him.  And the ass saw the angel of Jehovah standing in the way, with a drawn sword in his hand; and the ass turned aside out of the way and went into the field; and Balaam struck the ass, to turn her into the way (Num. 22: 21-23).



In blind adherence to his own desires and ignoring the will of God, Balaam departed with the Moabite envoys and two of his own servants.  The infatuated prophet threw in his lot with a race which had originated in incest and whose king had [Page 20] sought his help against the chosen people of God.  It is little wonder that the Almighty’s anger was aroused and that an adversary confronted the guilty man.  The adversary was described as the angel of Jehovah.  This term is frequently used in the Old Testament with reference to a theophanic appearance, or a manifestation of God Himself (see Appendix 2).  In Gen. 22: 11, 12 and Exod. 3: 2, 6, 14, for example, the angel of Jehovah is explicitly described as God.  It would seem, therefore, that the Eternal Himself had decided to intercept the prophet in his folly.



The angel stood in the road with a drawn sword and, although he was invisible to Balaam, he was seen by the ass, and the animal turned aside into the field.  Unconscious of the reason for this unusual behaviour on the part of his beast, Balaam struck it with the staff he carried and forced it back into the road.  Apparently it never occurred to him to attempt any investigation to discover the cause of the strange conduct of the animal.  Some commentators question whether the ass actually saw the angel, but the statement is clear and there seems no possible alternative interpretation.






Then the angel of Jehovah stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on each side.  And when the ass saw the angel of Jehovah, she pushed herself against the wall, and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall; and he struck her again (Num. 22: 24, 25).



The small party rode on until, after a while, they came to a narrow path between some vineyards.  Again the angel of Jehovah barred the way, and again the ass was miraculously afforded the vision of the adversary, which was evidently denied to Balaam.  Naturally the brute beast tried to avoid the danger and attempted to pass the angel by pressing into the wall.  But Balaam’s foot suffered in the process, for it was also crushed against the wall and, indignant at the animal’s conduct, he again struck it with his staff - still unaware of the cause of the unusual behaviour.



The editors of The World of the Bible consider that “The incident probably occurred in the territory of Moab where vineyards were plentiful (Isa. 16: 6-11), after Balaam had crossed the desert which separates Aram-Naharaim from Transjordan.  We know that the King’s Highway, the ancient international road which passes through Edom and Moab, occasionally cuts across cultivated fields and vineyards (Num. 20: 17; 21: 22). Boundary walls of stones or wayside hedges were an integral part of ancient vineyards (Isa. 5: 5; Prov. 24: 31). To this day such walls are a characteristic feature of the landscape in Israel.”



In the distance which had been traversed and in the warnings which he had been given, Balaam might well have given some thought to the course he was pursuing and to the clear revelation he had been given of the Divine purpose.  But he seems to have been completely oblivious to what should have been plain.  There was no heart-searching and no evidence of any hesitation or uncertainty: he had determined upon his path and nothing apparently could shake him from his intention.






Then the angel of Jehovah went farther, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left.  And when the ass saw the angel of Jehovah, she lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the ass with his staff.  Then Jehovah opened the mouth of the ass, and she said to Balaam, What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?  And Balaam said to the ass, Because you have made sport of me.  I wish there was a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.  And the ass said to Balaam, Am I not your ass, on which you have ridden ever since I was yours unto this day?  Was I ever accustomed to do so to you?  And he said, No (Num. 22: 26-30).



The angel of Jehovah had not finished with the prophet yet.  Going on ahead, he presently stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn.  Once more the eyes of the ass were opened to see the potential danger.  It was impossible to [Page 22] turn aside or to avoid the angel in any way if the animal continued.  Following its natural instincts, the beast accordingly halted and lay down in the road, leaving the prophet reclining uneasily on top of her.  Balaam’s anger was now thoroughly aroused and he once more struck the ass furiously with his staff.  Under the cruel and insensate scourgings which it suffered, the ass finally reacted in a totally unexpected way.  Doubtless, in the violence of his passion, Balaam had punished the groaning, shuddering animal as he had never done before, and his unbridled rage might well have carried him to further excess, as, in fact, his subsequent words implied.  But the ass suddenly spoke, not in the inarticulate groans of brute creation, but in words of human speech.



It is, of course, frequently argued that the ass was anatomically incapable of uttering articulate expressions, but the Scripture specifically states that Jehovah gave the ass the ability to speak (v. 28), and the apostle Peter plainly states that a dumb ass spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness” (2 Pet. 2: 16).  It is idle to contend that the whole thing was visionary and that Balaam heard the ass in a dream, or that the hearing was some internal occurrence and that no external sound was involved.  This was no natural happening, nor is it explicable by natural or scientific explanation.  A miracle had taken place, and God attributed it to His own action.



Lange argues logically that the line which separates the intelligent and the brute creation was not crossed, and that the ass was not represented in the narrative as a rational creature.  Mere articulate sounds do not constitute human speech,” he says, “but words as the vehicle of thought, expression of the spirit.  When the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, He enabled it to use articulate sounds instead of inarticulate groans.  The form was changed, not the nature.  She made no revelation from God, does not speak to Balaam of his headlong way, simply utters the animal feeling and experiences under the brutal treatment of her master. Balaam would not understand her shudderings and groans, the natural and ordinary method of expression.  God gave her articulate [Page 23] utterances in her case ... It is the mere animal soul, feeling, experience put into the form of human speech.  The animal has not changed its nature, has not passed into the rank of intelligent creatures.”



Gregory of Nyasa endeavoured to explain away the miracle by treating it as the experienced diviner’s interpretation of his beast’s groans, while Le Clerc and others solved the problem to their own satisfaction by assuming a belief on Balaam’s part in the transmigration of souls, but these attempted explanations do not dispose of the explicit Scriptural statement that Jehovah opened the mouth of the ass.  The only satisfactory course is acceptance of the plain Biblical record as meaning what it says.



The protesting animal asked what it had done to be so severely beaten three times, and was told that it had made a mockery of its master by its actions.  In the eyes of those around him, he had been rendered the object of ridicule and, if he had had a weapon in his hand, Balaam declared that he would have killed the ass.  So blind was he to the obvious fact that what had happened could not have been without cause.  The animal asked whether there had ever been similar conduct on its part during all the years he had ridden it, and the perplexed prophet was compelled to admit that there had not.  It was then that he was brought face to face with reality.






Then Jehovah opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of Jehovah standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed his head and fell flat on his face.  And the angel of Jehovah said to him, Why have you struck your ass these three times?  Behold, I have come forth to withstand you, because your way is perverse before me; and the ass saw me, and turned aside from me these three times.  If she had not turned aside from me, surely now would I have slain you and let her live.  And Balaam said to the angel of Jehovah, I have sinned, for I did not know that thou didst stand in the way against me.  Now, therefore, if it displeases thee, I will go back again (Num. 22: 31-34).


[Page 24]

His eyes opened, Balaam saw the danger in which he stood.  The angel of Jehovah faced him with a drawn sword.  He had chosen his way in deliberate defiance of God.  The instructions given to him on two occasions in the darkness of the night had now been followed by three clear warnings, which he had implicitly ignored.  There was no doubt as to his culpability.  Was the angel now about to execute a well-deserved sentence?  Utterly subdued, he fell flat on his face, whether in fear or in the realisation of the identity of the one who confronted him is not indicated.



Then the angel of Jehovah condescended to explain.  Because of the prophet’s perverse behaviour and his disobedience to God’s express prohibition, the angel had come out to withstand him.  (The words of the angel, Your way is perverse before me,” and not perverse before God,” clearly confirm that the angel was no other than God Himself in a theophanic appearance).  Only the action taken by the ass on three occasions had saved her owner’s life: yet he had rewarded her in such cruel fashion.



I have sinned,” said the thoroughly frightened man, but there was no evidence of any real penitence or contrition for his wrongdoing.  If it had displeased God, or if his actions seemed evil in His sight, he was prepared to return home.  There was no obvious recognition of the character of the sin, no admission that he had transgressed the explicit command of God, You shall not go ... You shall not curse.”  His heart was still on the reward of unrighteousness, but if it was a question of saving his life, he was prepared to withdraw from his mission and to return home.  This was not repentance.  There may have been an admission of guilt, but how significant was it?  How deep was the sense of sin?  His words were merely the outcome of fear and not of any heart exercise.



The test came.  Was it a sincere determination to return home and to live henceforth in a manner glorifying to God?  Or was the desire for gain still the motivation?  It soon became apparent.


[Page 25]




And the angel of Jehovah said to Balaam, Go with the men; but only the word that I speak to you shall you speak.  So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak (Num. 22: 35).



The temptation was too great.  The opportunity to repent and to return home had been before him, but God knew his heart and the desires that were paramount, and He bade him to go with the men.  Even then, Balaam might have turned in contrition and declined the permission to continue with the enemies of God’s people. They had come for him to curse Israel: it was the sole purpose of his journey.  If his heart now beat true to God and if his confession of sin was sincere, he had only one course open to him - to retreat from his intentions and to bid farewell to Balak’s emissaries.  But, accepting the angel’s words as mandatory rather than permissive, he went on.



Again he was warned that he would only be allowed to speak what Jehovah determined (The angel’s reference to the word that I speak to you again identified him with Jehovah).  Whatever the prophet’s inner purpose, God would work out His will.  But Balaam went on with the princes of Balak.



How often in life are similar circumstances found.  The believer, who has become obsessed with materialism or with the attractions of this world, is suddenly brought face to face with reality.  At that moment he becomes conscious that now is the opportunity to repent, to change the mind and attitude, and resolutely to eschew the old life, and deliberately to decide to follow the Master’s will.  But the temptation is too great, and only too frequently the pull of the world proves stronger than the constraining love of Christ, and he weakly drifts on.  So Balaam went on.



Five clear indications of the Divine will had proved insufficient to divert him from his purpose.  Balaam went on.  He went - not to achieve the honour and fame he sought, not to enrich himself with the treasure of a Moabite king, not to demonstrate his powers of enchantment against a migrant [Page 26] people.  He went - to leave a besmirched name on the pages of history and a dead body among the heathen on the battlefield.  But Balaam went on.



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[Page 27]




From the Top of the Rocks



IN hiring Balaam to curse the people of Israel, Balak overreached himself in a way he could not possibly have foreseen.  Not only did his plans recoil upon his head when God transmuted curses into blessings, but he permanently disbarred his own people from blessing in Israel.  In a much later day, it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever come into the congregation of God, because they ... hired Balaam against them (Israel) to curse them: although our God turned the curse into a blessing” (Neh. 13: 1, 2).  Balak ... invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you,” said God in Joshua’s day, but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I delivered you out of his hand” (Josh. 24: 9, 10).  All the Moabite machinations and all the prophet’s anticipations were doomed at the outset.  Israel’s sinfulness had been apparent in the wilderness and the people had suffered under the punitive hand of God, but, so far as the heathen were concerned, He saw no imperfection in His people and none was allowed to curse them.



Balaam reached the country of Moab, and Balak went out to meet him at the city of Moab at the extremity of the boundary.  The city in question was the Ar of Moab referred to in Num. 21: 28 and it was located on the boundary formed by the river Arnon.  It lay on the northern border of the country and on the upper course of the river.


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And Balak said to Balaam, Did I not earnestly send to you to call you?  Why did you not come to me?  Am I not able to advance you in honour?  And Balaam said to Balak, Lo, I have come to you.  Have I now any power at all to say anything?  The word that Elohim puts in my mouth, that must I speak (Num. 22: 37, 38).



When Balak eventually met the man for whom he had sent two distinguished embassies, he not unnaturally reproved him for his apparent reluctance to respond to the royal invitation.  Had he not summoned Balaam? Why had he not responded immediately to the royal command?  It was within the king’s power to honour him and, by inference, to reward him richly for his services.  Balak obviously felt aggrieved that he should have been treated with such a complete lack of respect and that this prophet should regard his summons so lightly.



Balaam ingratiatingly replied, however, Lo, I have come to you.”  He admitted the respect due to his royal host and inferred that there had been a willing and ready response to the invitation.  At the same time, however, he disclaimed any ability to utter words of cursing (or of prophecy) of his own volition.  He virtually represented himself as but an instrument, used by a superior power, and he frankly declared that he could utter nothing but what the mighty God put into his mouth.  (It is interesting to note that, although he knew Jehovah, he used the more general name of Elohim when referring to God in his conversation with Balak.)



His admission was patently genuine.  Whatever his normal practice - and it seems evident that he was usually prepared to prostitute his gift for material reward - he recognised that, in this case, it was impossible for him to act of his own volition.  Whether or not this was an exceptional experience with him is not indicated, but certainly he realised a Divine restraint in this instance.  Only what God put in his mouth would he be able to speak.  This was not some pious platitude.  He was conscious by this time that there was a special [Page 29] relationship between God and the people whom he had been summoned to curse.  Only by Divine permission, therefore, could he utter anything concerning this people.






Then Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kirjath-huzoth.  And Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam and to the princes who were with him.  And on the morrow Balak took Balaam and brought him up to the high places of Baal, that from thence he might see the nearest of the people.  And Balaam said to Balak, Build for me here seven altars and provide for me here seven bullocks and seven rams.  And Balak did as Balaam had said; and Balak and Balaam offered on each altar a bullock and a ram (Num. 22: 39 to 23: 2).



Balak then led the way to Kirjath-huzoth. (literally, “the town of streets”), a city which cannot be identified today, but which was apparently located near the river Amon and also near Bamoth-Baal (Num. 21: 19; Josh. 13: 17), which was probably identical with the Beth-Bamoth named in Mesha’s inscription on the Moabite stone.  Here the king sacrificed oxen and sheep - evidently for a feast - and honoured his guest (with whom apparently he did not eat) by sending selected portions to him and his companions.  It is not stated whether portions had also been presented to Baal, but presumably they had, in which case the prophet would have acknowledged the person and power of Baal if he had eaten of the meat, of which part had been offered to the pagan deity (c.f. Acts 15: 29; Rev. 2: 14).



Impatient to proceed without delay in carrying out the real purpose of the prophet’s coming, Balak took him to Bamoth-Baal, a place on the top of the mountains where offerings were presented to Baal.  From this spot Balaam could see the nearest groups of the Israelites (the majority were possibly hidden by the hills), and the heathen ruler waited optimistically for the achievement of his purpose.



Lange takes the view that the cunning and politic Balak led Balaam to a mountain summit from whence he could see [Page 30] only the ends of the Israelite camp, lest he should be too deeply impressed and his curse be affected. But Gosman (ibid., pp. 131, 132) points out that “a comparison of chapter 22: 41 with chapter 23: 13 seems to show that, in the former case, the words, ‘the ends or the utmost of the people’, refer not to a small part of the camp, but to its extreme limits.  He overlooked the whole people, even to the ends or utmost bounds.”  The point is arguable, however, and commentators differ in their view.



First of all, the prophet requested that seven altars should be constructed and that a bullock and a ram should be sacrificed on each altar.  His intention was obviously to propitiate God, in the hope of securing His help and guidance.  Yet the offerings were presented at the very place where sacrifices were made to Baal - almost as though a deliberate attempt was being made to link heathenism with true monotheism and to eliminate the differences between the two.  How could contact with God be expected in this chosen place?  To present sacrifices to Him in the centre where Baal was worshipped was virtually an insult to God.  How could He smile on the one who acted so foolishly?  Balaam stood in the high places of Baal and, by implication, viewed Israel from the stand-point of their enemy and the god of their foes.  The very location was sufficient to invoke Divine condemnation.



Balak obeyed the prophet’s instructions, and the smoke of the offerings soon ascended from each of the altars. The offerings presented were all burnt offerings, which were regarded as the food of God and were devoted entirely to Him (Lev. 1).  There was no acknowledgment of personal need or admission of sinfulness requiring atonement, for no sin or trespass offerings were presented.  The sacrifices were intended to invoke the favour of God, and the number of altars and animals implied that He might more easily be propitiated with a number of offerings than with one.  It is possible, however, that several animals were provided in order that the liver and other entrails might be available to furnish auguries for Balaam, although there is no specific evidence that he actually employed this means of divination.


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And Balaam said to Balak, Stand beside your burnt offering, and I will go.  Perhaps Jehovah will come to meet me; and whatever he shows me, I will tell you.  So he went on to a high place.  And Elohim met Balaam; and he said to him, I have prepared seven altars and I have offered on each a bullock and a ram.  And Jehovah put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, Return to Balak, and thus shall you speak.  And he returned to him, and lo, he and all the princes of Moab were standing by his burnt offering (Num. 23: 3-6).



Balaam bade the king to remain by his burnt offering on the site of the evil Baal-worship, while he went on to a bald peak, possibly to seek for omens, but professedly to meet Jehovah.  At the mountain summit, with the people of Israel in view (perhaps with an unobstructed view of the whole company), it might be possible to detect some indication of the Divine will in the phenomena of nature - in the clouds or in the flight of birds.  If Jehovah met him as anticipated, he promised to disclose the Divine message to his royal confederate.



He went to meet Jehovah, the covenant-keeping God, but it was in the character of Elohim, the God of power and might, that the Almighty met him.  Balaam attempted to curry favour by reference to the altars and sacrifices which had been prepared and offered - primarily by Balak, although he claimed the full credit for it.  How could the offerings be acceptable to the holy and true God?  Were they presented by men of sincerity and loyalty to Him?  Even the place of sacrifice was defiled by the filthy worship of Baal.



Nevertheless, what the prophet had sought was granted to him.  God put His message in Balaam’s mouth and commanded him to return and to convey the message to Balak.  Whether or not he was aware of the contents of the message before he uttered it is not indicated, but plainly his mouth was controlled.  There was no room for interpretation or for manoeuvre.  He had been given the precise words to utter.  Whether or not the man had ever truly prophesied before, he was to do so now.


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He returned to Bamoth-Baal, to find the king and all the princes of Moab standing beside the altars and the burnt offerings, waiting for the long-expected denunciation to be poured out upon their foes.  The whole of the ruling class had evidently gathered for the purpose.






And he took up his discourse and said, Balak the king of Moab has brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!  How can I curse those whom God (El) has not cursed?  How can I denounce those whom Jehovah has not denounced?  For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him.  Lo, the people dwell alone and are not reckoned among the nations.  Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number the fourth part of Israel?  Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my latter end be like his! (Num. 23: 7-10).



Standing in the stronghold of the evil one, Balaam might well have been expected to hurl the lightning bolts of hatred and denunciation upon the hosts encamped below.  He could scarcely have been unaware of their behaviour in their wilderness journeyings and of the way in which they had rebelled against Jehovah.  The Divine hand of punishment had fallen upon them on more than one occasion.  There was surely strong presumptive evidence that God was weary of this disobedient and erring race and that denunciation for their sins was all that they could justifiably anticipate.  Doubtless the Moabite princes shared the same view.



As Balaam looked at the leaders of Moab, he paid respect to his host by reiterating the king’s summons of him from Aram-Naharaim, from the high ranges of the Syrian desert.  The call had been for the express purpose of laying a curse or an enchantment upon the people of Israel.  Balak had said, Come, curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!”  How utterly futile was the journey to Moab!  How useless were all the preparations which had been made!  


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How can I curse those whom God has not cursed?” he asked.  How can I denounce those whom He has not denounced?”  However logical it might seem that God should reject such a wayward people, He had, in fact, laid no curse upon them, and there was nothing on which Balaam could build.  The words he had intended to utter died upon his lips and he now spoke under the inspiration of God and in words of His choosing.



The Divine attitude must have seemed amazing to the heathen prophet.  Jacob was a deceiver, a supplanter, known for his cunning and duplicity.  He had defrauded his brother, deceived his father and deserted his mother.  But there was no curse to light upon Jacob.  And for Israel, God’s prince, there was no denunciation. Jehovah might [will] deal with His people for their shortcomings, but no heathen hand was to be laid upon them [at this time].  The machinations of Balak and Balaam were completely ineffectual.  No enchantment could be laid upon this people.  Any attack upon them was doomed to failure.  They were [eternally] secure in Jehovah.



The prophet’s “parable” was delivered in the form of seven brief couplets.  Granted a glimpse of the Divine purpose, un-obscured by earthly views or human considerations, he realised that this was an elect people.  Their blessedness was indicated in three respects: first, they were separate from all the nations of the world; second, they were countless in number; and third, the end of the righteous in Israel was the envy of those who were strangers to God’s grace.



Above all the mists of the valley, Balaam saw clearly.  He stood at the summit of the mountains with unimpeded view.  The foothills were apparently no obstacle to his vision (although this is questioned by some).  He saw from the Divine angle and not from the low level of human reasoning.  The serried hosts of Israel were below in their peaceful encampment.  I behold him, he declared.  If he had had doubts regarding his mission previously, he could have had none now.  The Divine purpose had been disclosed and nothing could frustrate the will of Jehovah.  How puerile were the schemes of a pagan ruler, and how absurd were the intentions of a [Page 34] heathen soothsayer!  Nothing could thwart God’s plans; no one could withstand Him or alter His immutable will.



The people dwell alone and do not reckon themselves among the nations,” he declared.  When God called Abraham (or Abram, as he then was) out of Ur of the Chaldees, His intention was to make of His descendants a people for Himself.  They were to be His own treasure - a people peculiar to Himself, His own possession.  They were never to be assimilated by the Gentile nations.  They were sanctified to Him.



They were (and are) not reckoned among the nations.  This does not imply that there was to be no contact with other peoples.  God’s intention had been that His glory should shine through Israel and attract others to Him.  It was not His purpose that they should selfishly hug His blessings to their bosom and condemn the Gentile who had no relationship to the covenant-keeping God.  It was here that they so miserably failed.  They should have been witnesses to others, and the Gentiles should have found blessing through their revelation of the Eternal.  But they gloried in their racial and national distinctions and cut themselves off from all others.  It was this national pride that gave rise to much of the natural reactions against them on the part of their neighbours.  In a future day, the purposes of God will be fully implemented, and during the glorious millennial age blessing will flow out to all nations from Jerusalem (Gen. 26: 4; Zech. 14: 16).



We too are a separate people.  The Christian has been separated from the world and sanctified to God.  This does not suggest for one moment that he should live in monastic seclusion, with no sense of responsibility to those around him.  The intention of our Lord Jesus Christ is that His glory might be manifest in the lives of His people and that others might be brought into blessing by their testimony to Him.  If Israel felt herself superior to the Gentiles because of the nation’s covenant relationship to Jehovah, a similar spirit is unfortunately not lacking in some believers today.  Indeed, some groups of Christians detach themselves from all others and refuse to associate even with fellow-believers, under the [Page 35] mistaken impression that they are doing God’s will and glorifying Him.  Yet the Master who declared, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17: 16), was the One who directed His disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel* to every creature” (Mk. 16: 15).


[* NOTE That is, not just half of the divine truth but the whole of His counsel!  That is, (1) the “gospel” (good news) of God’s “grace” (His unmerited favour) and His “free gift” of eternal life - after resurrection in “a new heaven and a new earththrough “faith” in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ: and (2) the gospel (good news) of Messiah’s kingdom for “a thousand years” - after the “First Resurrectionupon this earth, and life in the “Age” to come. 


God hates the sectarianism He sees in His redeemed people!  The works of the flesh are manifest, which are thesefactions, divisions, heresies, envyings, drunkenness, revilings, and such like: of the which I [Paul] forewarn  YOU, that they which practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom (presumably the millennial kingdom, since God’s eternal kingdom is not an inheritance based upon the believer’s works) of God:” (Gal. 5: 19, 21).]



No one could count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel (possibly an indication of the proportion of the people which he saw), confessed Balaam.  To their progenitor, Abraham, Jehovah had promised that He would make his seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then would his seed also be numbered (Gen. 13: 16).  Inspired, as possibly never before, the prophet reiterated the expression, Who can count the dust of Jacob?”  Even the fourth part of Israel was beyond numbering.  In an age when blessing was measured by the size of posterity, the significance was plain.  In his vision of a later day, the seer of Patmos saw a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people and tongues,” standing before the eternal throne, ascribing salvation to God and to the Lamb (Rev. 7: 9, 10).  God’s chosen people of both earth and heaven are innumerable.



As he visualised the blessings of the Israelite host, Balaam cried, Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my latter end be like his.”  Matthew Henry somewhat caustically remarks, “There are many who, like Balaam, desire to die the death of the righteous, but do not endeavour to live the life of the righteous.  They could be saints in heaven, but not saints on earth.”  So impressed was the prophet by the peaceful scene before him, and by his realization of the Divine purpose for this people, that - while unwilling to associate himself with them in fact - he envied their end.  When his time came, his divination and enchantments would be valueless; soothsaying would then be ineffective, and auguries and omens would no longer be of interest.  But Jehovah’s people were sheltered in Him [and in the truth of His Word].  Their future was not the grave: there was the hope of [a better] resurrection” and future blessing.*  If he could have had the same assurance, Balaam's mind would have been at ease.


[* See Heb. 11: 35b. cf. Luke 20: 35.]


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By his “latter end”, he may have looked beyond death to what he knew (perhaps relatively little) of the ultimate end.  But he may also have had in mind his own posterity.  Israel was beyond number or counting. When the number of a family was indicative of blessing and prosperity, he may very well have expressed the natural yearning that his descendants might be countless too.



If the blessings of God’s people do not arouse the interest and proper envy of others, there is something lacking in their life and witness.  It should be only natural for the unbeliever to experience the longing that his future might be similar to that of the Christian.






And Balak said to Balaam, What have you done to me?  I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have blessed them completely.  And he answered, Must I not take heed to speak what Jehovah puts into my mouth? (Num. 23: 11, 12).



It is not surprising that Balak should have been resentful at the utterance of the hireling prophet.  He had sent two missions a journey of 400 miles across the desert to fetch a man of considerable reputation to undertake a task for which, in his view, he was admirably suited.  Evidently Balaam commonly used his gifts for gain and presumably a substantial reward had been offered to him in this instance.  But the king’s plans had gone seriously awry.  He might justifiably have questioned whether Balaam was working for him or for Israel.  What have you done to me?” he asked indignantly, thoroughly incensed at the apparent unfairness of the prophet’s actions.



He had summoned Balaam to lay a curse upon Israel by some means of enchantment.  Instead, the enchanter had only and consistently blessed the enemies of Moab.  Was this the way in which the man was earning payment for his services?  It was a complete reversal of the intention, and the expression of his dissatisfaction was plain and unmistakable.



Balaam presented no apology and offered no excuse.  Must I not take heed to speak what Jehovah puts into my mouth?” [Page 37] he asked, as if this was final.  His powers of divination and enchantment had failed him.  He was subject to the will of Jehovah, and whatever Jehovah gave him to speak, he was compelled to utter.  He was without choice, but was in the hands of One greater than all the powers he had previously known.  It is significant that he implied that he was virtually an automation - that the very words to speak were dictated to him by the Almighty.  The inspired prophets whom God used to reveal His truth were no automata, the Holy Spirit used them to convey the mind of God and safeguarded them from error in their utterances, but He used words from their own vocabulary and adapted Himself to their own personality.



The event was the sixth indication the soothsayer had had of the Divine will.  He had heard the voice of the Eternal on two occasions in the dead of night.  He had been intercepted three times on the way by the angel of Jehovah.  And now the curse he had intended announcing had, been transmuted into blessing on his lips.  Was this not enough to convince him?  Yet he ignored every warning and resolutely continued in the attempt to earn his reward.  How many another has foolishly followed the same path!



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The Field of the Watchers



BALAK evidently concluded that his own mistake was the cause of what he must have regarded as the calamitous turn of events.  He had shown Balaam the whole of the host of Israel - an unobstructed view from the top of the mountains.  It now seemed apparent that this had been a serious error, which had produced a result entirely contrary to what he had anticipated, and that it would have been wiser not to have overawed the prophet by such an extensive vista.  He decided to correct his mistake by taking Balaam to another place, where his view would not affect his denunciation of them.






And Balak said to him, Come with me, I pray you, to another place, from which you may see them.  You shall see only the nearest of them, and shall not see them all; and curse them for me from thence.  And he took him to the field of Zophim, to the top of the Pisgah, and built seven altars, and offered a bullock and a ram on each altar, And he said to Balak, Stand here by your burnt offering, while I meet the Lord yonder (Num. 23: 13-15).



The schemers’ plans had so far failed, and Balak now led Balaam to the top of Pisgah, where he might see only the extremity of the host of Israel.  Some expositors interpret the king’s words as implying that the prophet would there see the [Page 40] whole of the camp of Israel to its utmost extremity, but it seems clear that, despite the height of Pisgah and the uninterrupted view it afforded, the intention was to restrict the prophet’s view.



“‘The Pisgah’,” says A. H. McNeile (The Book of Numbers, p. 117), seems to have been the name applied to the broken edge of the Moabite plateau where it falls steeply to the Dead Sea and the Jordan valley; and ‘the top, or head, of the Pisgah’ (Num. 23: 14, Deut. 3: 27; 34: 1) is a collective term for the projections or promontories slightly lower than the main plateau and standing out from the western slopes.  The word is derived from a root, which in Aramaic and later Hebrew signifies ‘to cleave’; and it may describe the appearance of the range as seen from the west, standing out in a series of separate peaks.”



When Moses had been debarred from entering the promised land, he was Divinely allowed an extensive view of it from the top of Pisgah (Deut. 3: 27), although not allowed to cross the river Jordan to enter it.  Balaam stood with the heathen ruler in the field of Zophim (or “the watchers”) at the top of the hill, surveying at least part of the vast company of Israel.  The exact site of Zophim cannot now be identified with any certainty.  It was presumably one of many places where sentinels were posted when necessary.  Once again, seven altars were built, and bullocks and rams again presented thereon.  The prophet seemed almost under the impression that the sacrifices presented upon the altars would appease God and secure His approval of the actions he proposed to take and that the greater the value and quantity of the offerings, the more effective would be the appeasement.  Once more Balaam bade the Moabite to stand by the offerings while he personally went to meet Jehovah.  Possibly he went to seek auguries, or possibly he imagined that God would again actually meet him and disclose His purpose to him.






And Jehovah met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, Return to Balak and say thus, And when he came [Page 41] to him, lo, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him.  And Balak said to him, What has Jehovah spoken? (Num. 23: 16, 17).



On the first occasion, Balaam went forth to meet Jehovah, but the record described the One who met him as Elohim, although stating that Jehovah put a word in his mouth and directed him what to say.  In the second case, it was as Jehovah, the covenant-keeping God of Israel, that He met the prophet and again put His message into his mouth and restricted his utterance to the words He had given him.



Balaam returned to the king of Moab and, as previously, found him and the princes of Moab standing by the altars of sacrifice.  Without any apparent realisation of the incongruity of his words, Balak used the name of Israel’s God as he enquired what Jehovah had said.  Did he really anticipate that the God who had covenanted with Israel’s ancestors and who had, for so long, promised them blessing, would retract His pledges and revoke His promises, merely because a heathen ruler had sacrificed to Him (if, indeed, the sacrifice had been to Jehovah) and had hired a soothsayer to denounce God’s chosen people?  If he did, he was soon to be undeceived.






And he took up his discourse and said, Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken to me, 0 son of Zippor.  God (El) is not man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should repent.  Has he said, and will he not do it?  On has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?  Behold, I have received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.  He has not beheld iniquity in Jacob, nor has he seen perverseness in Israel.  Jehovah their Elohim is with them, and the shout of a king is among them. God (El) brought them out of Egypt; they have, as it were, the horns of a wild ox.  Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, nor is there any divination against Israel.  According to this time, it shall be said of Jacob and Israel, What has God (E1) wrought!  Behold the people!  It rises up as a lioness and lifts itself up as a lion.  It [Page 42] does not lie down until it devours the prey and drinks the blood of the slain (Num. 23: 18-24).



Balaam had gone forth to seek signs and had found none.  Instead, he had been given a clear commission from Jehovah, which could not be evaded and could not be amended.  Almost as though addressing a subordinate, he bade Balak to rise up and hear: there may even have been a suspicion of contempt in his command to the son of Zippor (sparrow) to listen to him.  The might and power of Moab meant nothing to him at the moment: the message of Jehovah was on his lips and everything else was relatively insignificant.



Balak had brought him to the elevated plateau of the field of the watchers for a more limited view of the people, hoping that thereby he might ensure that some curse or enchantment was laid upon Israel.  The king was prepared to propitiate Israel’s God by offering Him sacrifices if only He would reverse His decree and turn away from His people.



Listen, said the prophet, God is not man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should repent” (cf. 1 Sam. 15: 29).  Caprice may affect the decisions and actions of men, but God is not a [mortal] man.   Once He has made a statement, that is final and conclusive.  Nothing can reverse what He has said.  His plans are irrevocable: nothing can affect their immutability.  He does not change His mind because of argument or plea.  Sacrifices are no bribe to influence His will.  Balaam assured Balak of the complete irreversibility of the Divine purpose.  If God had announced His intention, He would do what He had said.  His pledges would be redeemed and His word would be fulfilled.  He had commanded the prophet to bless.  Indeed Jehovah had Himself blessed His [redeemed] people.  Nothing that Balaam could do could annul that blessing. Revocation or abrogation was impossible.



How often we need the reminder that we have an unchanging God.  He is not affected by the changing circumstances of life.  Nothing can affect His purpose and He will unquestionably perform what He has promised.  We are so often disturbed by the vicissitudes and vagaries of life that we [Page 43] lose sight of the immutable One.  In Him we may confidently trust, knowing that, however much we may change, He changes not.



The character of Israel must have been well known.  Here were no paragons of virtue.  Surely God could not ignore their wrongdoing or be blind to their waywardness.  Yet, amazingly, He declared that, in that great company, He saw no iniquity in the descendants of the double-minded Jacob, nor had He seen perverseness in Israel.  Verse 21 may perhaps more accurately be interpreted as implying that no calamity or misfortune could be seen in Jacob and no trouble in Israel, but the basic implication is clear.  Israel was God’s justified people.  No ill could befall them because He saw no evil in them.  If He loved them, it was not because of their merit, but because He had chosen to do so.  His blessing was not dependent upon their wealth, morality or loyalty, but was due to His sovereign grace.  Since He saw no iniquity in Israel, there was nothing to which a curse could attach itself.



The [regenerate] believer today is equally undeserving, but the love of Christ has been set upon him.  God sees no blemish in His people because He views them as in Christ.  Their eternal blessing does not depend upon either their merit or their fidelity: it is completely unmerited.  God has determined to bless them [eternally] because of the work of Christ and nothing can consequently affect His purpose or alienate them from Him.  Their perfection is not in themselves but in Christ.



Jehovah, the everlasting God, was with Israel.  Calamity and defeat were, therefore, impossible.  Moreover, His triumphant shout could be heard like the victorious cry of a king among his people.  If God be for us, said the apostle Paul, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8: 31).



The mighty God brought Israel up out of Egypt.  The power of the Eternal had been exerted on their behalf.  Was not this in itself an indication of His ultimate intention?  Here was a people who would sweep on irresistibly with the strength of the buffalo, or wild ox, with mighty destructive horns.  According to The World of the Bible, the aurochs, or wild ox, with its majestic horns, “was a symbol of heroic [Page 44] power.  Thus Hammurabi, the king of Babylon, proclaims himself to be ‘the fiery wild ox who gores the foe...’ In the Ugaritic epic we read that, when Baal and Moth fought together, they gored each other like wild oxen.  On a relief from Ugarit, Baal is represented with the horns of an aurochs on his head...  In the blessing of Moses, the might of the tribe of Joseph is glorified in similar terms, ‘His horns are the horns of the wild ox; with them he shall push the peoples’ (Deut. 33: 17).”  Invincible strength belonged to Israel.



Whether or not Balaam had attempted to use his arts of enchantment against the people, he was compelled to admit the utter futility of so doing.  Soothsaying and divination were completely ineffective against Israel.  The full revelation of the Divine purpose had not yet been made but, in wonder, Balaam declared that, at the right time (possibly now,” as in the R.S.V.), it would be said of Jacob and Israel, What has God wrought!”  The wonder of the mighty doings of God on behalf of this particular people will fill others with awe.  The complete fulfilment of this clearly lies in the future, but the Moabite king would unquestionably realise some of the significance of it as he listened to the prophet’s words.



Balaam’s eye may have travelled beyond the camp to the river Jordan, with the thick bushes which provided a lair for the lions, and he may have seen one of the royal beasts emerging from the thicket (Jer. 49: 19), and the similitude patently impressed him.



Like a great lioness, he declared, would Israel rise up in its terrible power, and the nation would lift itself up as a young lion in its strength, ready to attack the prey.  The lion the king of animals and the most dangerous of the beasts of prey - is used to symbolise the military prowess of Israel.  The awesome spectacle of the lion rearing up to devour its prey sank deep into the imagination of the ancients’” (see also Gen. 49: 9; Dent. 33: 20, 22).  Once Israel was aroused, said Balaam, the people would not rest until the prey was devoured or the foe destroyed.  The picture was a frightening one and Balak’s hopes must have been dashed [Page 45] to the ground.  Was this why he had brought Balaam hundreds of miles across the desert?  But he still refused to abandon his purpose.






And Balak said to Balaam, Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all.  But Balaam answered Balak, Did I not tell you, All that Jehovah says, that I must do? (Num. 23: 25, 26).



Realising the evident impotence of the prophet to provide what he sought, the unfortunate Balak turned pathetically to Balaam with the plea that, if it was impossible for him to lay an enchantment upon Israel, he should at least neutralise the blessing he had pronounced.  Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all.”  He patently considered that his own position might be improved vis-a-vis Israel if the nation received neither advantage nor disadvantage, neither curse nor blessing.



But the prophet, in another momentary flash of honesty, reminded the king of his initial declaration that he could convey only the message given him by God (Num. 22: 38).  He was powerless, either to bless or to curse.  He had become merely a mouthpiece for the utterance of Jehovah’s will.  A more honest man might perhaps have refused to continue in his attempt to earn his reward, but Balaam’s desire for Balak’s gold was too strong, and he listened to the king’s entreaties.  Probably, by this time, he was well aware that all his efforts were doomed, but he was prepared to complete the tragic farce.



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The Parable of Peor



THE parables from Baal-Peor and Pisgah had been diametrically opposed to all that Balak had anticipated, and he seems to have been thoroughly perplexed by the unexpected turn of events.  Hence his somewhat astonishing request that Balaam should neither curse nor bless Israel.  Despite the discouraging answer he received, he decided upon a further attempt to secure his ends, and Balaam seems to have been nothing loth to co-operate.  Possibly from a still different site, the outcome might be more favourable.






And Balak said to Balaam, Come, I pray you, I will bring you to another place; perhaps it will please Elohim that you may curse them for me there.  And Balak brought Balaam to the top of Peor, that looks toward Jeshimon.  And Balaam said to Balak, Build for me here seven altars, and prepare for me here seven bullocks and seven rams.  And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bullock and a ram on each altar (Num. 23:: 27-30).



From Baal-Peor, the king had led the prophet to Pisgah, and now they travelled still farther north to Peor, one of the peaks of the Abarim range, on the other side of the Jordan [Page 48] valley from Jericho, and in sight of Jeshimon and the desert.



The view stretching out before Balaam here was extensive.  Behind him,” writes Gosman (ibid, p. 136),lay the vast expanse of desert extending to the shores of his native Assyrian river.  On his left were the red mountains of Edom and Seir; opposite were the dwelling-places of the Kenite, in the rocky fastnesses of Engedi; further still was the dim outline of the Arabian wilderness, where ruled the then powerful tribe of Amalek; immediately below him lay the vast en­campment of Israel, amongst the acacia groves of Abel-Shittim - like the water-courses of the mountains - like the hanging gardens beside his own river Euphrates, with their aromatic shrubs and their wide-spreading cedars.  Beyond them, on the western side of the Jordan, rose the hills of Palestine, with glimpses through their valleys of ancient cities towering on their crested heights.  And beyond all, though he could not see it with his bodily vision, he knew well that there rolled the deep waters of the great sea, with the isles of Greece, the isle of Chittim - a world of which the first beginnings of life were just stirring, of which the very name here first breaks upon our ears.”



The two men had climbed to the top of the mountain to a place where sacrifices were probably often presented to Baal and possibly to other pagan deities.  Here, as on the previous occasions, Balaam requested that seven altars should be built, and the stones were once more piled together for the purpose.  The sacrificial animals were prepared as before and, upon each altar, Balak again offered a bullock and a ram.  The prophet was obviously convinced that God would be propitiated by the offerings and that a sevenfold work would secure perfect acceptance with Him.  On no occasion does there seem to have been any sense of the incongruity of presenting sacrifices to Jehovah, the true God, in the very place where offerings were made to the false deities of Moab.  His intrinsic holiness and His infinite superiority to the impotent and lifeless gods of the pagans found no place in the prophet’s reckoning.


[Page 49]




When Balaam saw that it pleased Jehovah to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but he set his face toward the wilderness.  And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe.  And the Spirit of Elohim came upon him.  And he took up his discourse and said, The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eyes are opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God (El), who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, but having his eyes open (Num. 24: 1-4).



Num. 24: 1 indicates quite clearly that, on the two earlier occasions, Balaam had gone forth to seek auguries before returning with his message.  Whether he carried with him the entrails of one of the sacrificial victims in the attempt to divine by examination of the liver, or whether he gazed into the sky above to observe the drift of the wisps of cloud or to detect the direction of the flight of the birds, we do not know.  But his divination had proved valueless.  This time he made no attempt to look for omens.  He was at last convinced of the Divine purpose and of the hopelessness of trying to alter it.  As he turned to the desert, he surveyed the great company of Israel encamped below in tribal order.



The Holy Spirit seized hold of him.  He no longer attempted by any magical art to control the purpose of God,” says Hirsch, “but became the organ which God used in the communication of His will.  He spoke now in the spirit of prophecy.”  In the two previous parables,” Jehovah had placed His message in his mouth and had rendered it impossible for him to speak any other word.  But now, possessed by the Spirit of God, he spoke freely.  His words were inspired but unconstrained.



His eyes were now open to a full realisation of the Divine will.  It was not merely his earthly vision to which he referred, but the inward prophetic understanding.  Overcome by his experience - as Saul, Daniel and John in later experiences [Page 50] of a similar character - he fell to the ground and yielded himself completely to the power which held him.  Here was no trance or phantasy: his eyes were open to see the vision of the Almighty (Shaddai).






How fair are your tents, 0 Jacob, your encampments, 0 Israel!  Like the valleys are they spread forth, like gardens by the river’s side, like trees of lign aloes which Jehovah has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters.  He shall pour water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters.  His king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.  God (El) brought him forth out of Egypt.  He has, as it were, the horns of the wild ox.  He shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones in pieces, and pierce them through with his arrows.  He couched, he lay down like a lion, and like a lioness; who will stir him up?  Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you (Num. 24: 5-9).



As he saw the orderly arrangement of tents below, the prophet involuntarily burst out, How fair are your tents, 0 Jacob, your encampments, 0 Israel!”  These were far more than the abodes of insignificant nomadic tribes, and the language of the poet broke from his lips.  The open ground between the tents reached into the distance like long wadies or beautifully watered glens, with the tents forming lovely gardens by the side of the rivers.



A later prophet declared that, in a coming day, Israel will be like a watered garden and like a spring of water” (Isa. 58: 11).  Water was (and still is) one of the greatest blessings of the east.  The lack of water was often used as a symbol of Divine judgment (Isa. 1: 30), as an abundance of water was of Divine blessing (Psa. 1: 3).  Balaam saw the settlements of Israel spreading out like broad valleys, with the rivers pouring their wealth of water through the valleys.  The people were like beautiful riverside gardens, planted by God.  He likened them to cedars and aloes.  Since the cedar [Page 51] does not grow by the side of the water, it is possible that two lines have been transposed by a copyist.  The fragrant aloe groves by the streams would provide the most precious of spices (Psa. 45: 8), and the stately cedars would transform the entire landscape (Psa. 104: 16).



The people, declared the prophet, were like a water carrier, whose buckets were overflowing in blessing to others.  Not only would Israel enjoy an abundance of the water which was so essential to fertility, but the nation would distribute blessing to other nations also, as their ancestor had been promised long before (Gen. 28: 14).  Just as the seed was cast upon the water, so would Israel’s progeny spread abroad and multiply.



Israel as yet had no royal dynasty but, anticipating the future, Balaam predicted that her [future] king would be exalted above the ruler of the Amalekites, the kingdom which, at that time, was her strongest foe.  The kings of Amalek were all designated Agag, as the rulers of Egypt were all called Pharaoh, or those of Philistia were referred to as Abimelech, or later those of Russia as Czar.  The reference, therefore, was not to a particular king of Amalek, but to the rulers of that country generally.  The term “king” was also, of course, equivalent to the word “kingdom,” and the prophet was virtually implying the supremacy of Israel over other nations, who were at present her foes.



This was confirmed by the succeeding statements.  Like a wild ox or aurochs - the great homed beast almost the size of an elephant - Israel would rage through the ranks of her foes.  God had brought up this nation from Egypt and nothing could withstand her.  In picturesque language, Balaam portrayed the powerful beast devouring all who set themselves against it, consuming their flesh and crunching their bones.  Some commentators see the wild ox rampaging through the archers as they vainly launch their feeble arrows against it.  But the construction tends to imply that it is Israel who shoots the arrows at her enemies - as though to give the final blow to their defeat.  The change of simile is abrupt and unexpected, but it is difficult to interpret the words in any [Page 52] other way.  Israel’s victory [under the leadership of their King] over every opposing foe was to be complete.



Then the prophet went on to picture the people like a mighty lion crouching in the thicket.  In his previous parable he had seen the lion rising up to seek out its prey and to satisfy its hunger.  But now the great beast was painted as lying down, having devoured its prey and, completely satiated, resting satisfied and triumphant.  Those who aroused it would only do so at their own peril.  The dying Jacob said of Judah, Judah is a lion’s whelp.  From the prey, my son, you have risen up.  He stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion, who shall rouse him up”? (Gen. 49: 9, etc.).



Balaam daringly applied the words to the whole nation and not merely to the royal tribe, but patently what was appropriate to Judah and the king who was yet to come, must have a repercussive effect upon the whole nation.  When the Lion of the tribe of Judah enters this world once more, nothing will be able to withstand the irresistible might of His people.  Balaam looked far beyond the mists of his own day into an age, which is still future.  The predictions of the centuries will one day reach their complete fulfilment in the Coming One – [Their long awaited Messiah-Jesus].



Well might the old soothsayer conclude his third parable with the words, “Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you.  It was completely logical.  If Israel was so Divinely blessed, it was folly to oppose her.  The nation which did so was doomed from the outset.  If Balak continued in his search for a curse, it would only recoil, like a boomerang, upon his own head.  The nation which displayed friendship, on the other hand, was one which could just as reasonably expect blessing with Israel.  Our Lord enunciated the same principle in his references to the judgment of the living nations at His Second Advent (Matt. 25: 31‑46).  It is a lesson that the anti-semitist might well learn today.  Israel is a people upon whom God has set His choice.



The terms of Balaam’s parable and particularly his closing words - with their obvious allusion to the attitude of the Moabite king - could only have one effect upon their hearer.  The expense he had incurred and the trouble to which he had [Page 53] gone to seek the help of the diviner from the Euphrates perhaps justified his reaction.  He had hired a man to curse the people of Israel, and three times he had announced their blessing.  The king’s anger was thoroughly aroused and he inveighed against the soothsayer who had so utterly failed him.






And Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he struck his hands together.  And Balak said to Balaam, I called you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have consistently blessed them these three times.  Therefore now flee to your place.  I intended to promote you to great honour, but, lo, Jehovah has held you back from honour.  And Balaam said to Balak, Did I not tell your messengers whom you sent to me, If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of Jehovah, to do so, either good or bad, of my own will; what Jehovah says, that will I speak (Num. 24: 10, 13).



In sheer exasperation the king struck his hands together.  He had been bitterly disappointed and he angrily rebuked the prophet.  He had summoned Balaam to curse his enemies and had fully expected that some enchantment would be laid upon them to render them impotent or, at least, incapable of resisting his army until he had overcome them.  Instead, to his utter chagrin, Balaam had three times declared their blessing and so completely that it was clear that his message was inspired of God.  There was no doubt in Balak’s mind: his plans had been completely frustrated.



Indignantly he reminded the prophet of his intention to reward him and to bestow great honour upon him.  But he accepted that it was Jehovah who had thwarted his purpose and who had consequently robbed Balaam of his coveted reward.  Ruthlessly and abruptly he dismissed him, Flee to your place.”  There was possibly an implicit threat in the words.  If the prophet failed to depart at once, the furious [Page 54] ruler might well have thrown him out physically or even have put him to death.



Yet Balaam ventured to reason with the irate man.  When the king’s messengers had come for him, he had distinctly warned them that, whatever the size of the reward, he was unable to go beyond the word of God.  He had, in fact, repeated the warning to the king himself (Num. 22: 18, 38).  If Balak felt aggrieved, it was not entirely fair to wreak his wrath upon the man who had virtually advised him of the very contingency, which had now aroused his ire.



However, he had been commanded to flee from Moab and, unhesitatingly, he prepared to go - but not before a final revelation of the will of God, delivered without fear or reserve.



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[Page 55]





The Coming King



BALAAM’S covetousness was to go unsatisfied, for there is no indication that any payment was made to him.  There was, therefore, no incentive to appease the angry king.  He had already been ordered to leave Moab and return to his home.  But Balak’s passion seemed to communicate itself to Balaam.  If he was to be driven away in contemptuous scorn and to suffer indignity in place of the expected honour, he decided that the last word should not rest with the infuriated monarch.  The latter had virtually described his summoning of the prophet as a royal command.  Balaam proceeded to reveal the advent of a far more potent Sovereign than this petty desert chieftain.






And now, behold, I go to my people.  Come, and I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the latter days (Num. 24: 14).



The breach was complete.  I am going to my people,” said Balaam, but be announced that, before he left, he would inform Balak what Israel would do to Moab in the latter days.  There is no doubt that this prophecy related to the end time (for which the term latter days is frequently used in the Scriptures almost as a synonym), which still lies in the future, although Kurtz maintains that it commenced with the dynasty founded by David, “The prophecy then received its [Page 56] preliminary and practical fulfilment,” he says, but he admits that “there remained yet a future and wider fulfilment.  The end of days’ was not yet complete.”  Biblical predictions frequently do have more than one fulfilment and there is something to be said for his view, although his reference to the Davidic dynasty is a little doubtful.



Willy-nilly, the pagan ruler was now forced to listen to the ultimate purpose of God through Israel, and his feelings could scarcely have been relieved by the message to which he listened.






And he took up his discourse and said, The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eyes are open, the oracle of him who heard the words of God (El) and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, but having his eyes open.  I see him, but not now: I behold him, but not nigh.  A star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.  It shall smite through the princes of Moab, and destroy all the sons of Sheth.  Edom shall be a possession; Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly.  Out of Jacob shall he come who shall have dominion, and shall destroy the survivor of the city (Num. 24: 15-19).



The introduction to the fourth parable was very similar in phraseology to that of the third one.  Balaam declared that his discourse was the oracle of the man who eyes were open, who had heard the words of the mighty God, and to whom had been imparted the knowledge of the Most High, and the one who saw the vision of the Almighty - not in any dream, but in full consciousness.  There was no question of sooth-saying or divination now: no acts of enchantment were to be employed and no auguries to be sought.  He knew the mind of God and was not prepared to make any attempt to frustrate or to alter the Divine will.  His claim to have heard the words of God and to know the knowledge of God was stupendous [Page 57] enough, but he also claimed that a vision of the Almighty had been afforded to him, which caused him to fall to the ground, although he was fully conscious and had his eyes uncovered.  Like the seer of Patmos, the incomparable glory and majesty of the Eternal bowed him to the earth in awe and wonder.



His prediction now reached on to a time still future as he foretold the coming of a mighty ruler, breaking like a tempest upon Moab and the surrounding nations and utterly destroying their possessions.  He depicted the unparalleled judgment to be poured out during the period of the great tribulation (Matt. 24: 21), when even Israel would suffer.  The one, whose fearful advent was thus portrayed, was described as a star coming forth out of Jacob and a sceptre rising out of Israel.  A star is not infrequently used in the Scriptures as a symbol of authority (e.g. Rev. 9: 1), and the sceptre is an apt metaphor for kingly rule (cf. Jacob’s blessing of Judah in Gen. 49: 9; Esther 5: 2; etc.).



Ibn Ezra considers that the words applied to David but adds that many interpret them of Messiah.  E. W. Hengstenberg (Christology of the Old Testament, p. 35) argues that the prophecy has nothing to do with the Messiah, but that it was “completely fulfilled in David.”  He says, “This king destroyed many of the Moabites, and made the remainder tributary.  He smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive, And so the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts’ (2 Sam. 8: 2).  Here the historical fulfilment is described in language that comes near, in strength at least, to the language of this prediction.  (So Psa. 60: 8).  He also subdued the Idumeans (2 Sam. 8: 14), and all the neighbouring enemies of the theocracy (2 Sam. 8: 11, 12).”



This prophecy is possibly an example of the fact that more than one fulfilment of a Biblical prediction may frequently be sought, but it is difficult to accept that the significance of this one was completely exhausted in David.  As Lange and others point out, the Jews at any rate regarded the prophecy as Messianic.  So widespread was this explanation.”  Writes [Page 58] Lange (Commentary on Numbers, p. 142), that the renowned pretender, or pseudo-Messiah, in the reign of Hadrian styled himself Bar-Cochba (the son of the star), with a clear reference to this prophecy ... It is no objection to this view that, at the time of Christ, Moab and Edom had disappeared from the history.  For these nations appear here as the present enemies of Israel, but at the same time as the representatives of all the nations hostile to the kingdom of God.  It is not as Moabites that they are to be smitten.”



It is sometimes suggested that the star referred to by Balaam may be identified with that seen by the wise men at the time of our Lord’s nativity (Matt. 2: 1, 2), but this is a confusion of the obviously symbolic with the literal and does not seem a very satisfactory interpretation of Num. 24: 17.  Moreover, the prophet’s words seem to have reference to our Lord’s Second Advent rather than to His First Advent.



I see him, but not now,” said Balaam.  I behold him, but not nigh.”  In other words, although the glimpse had been given of a mighty One, it was not relevant as at the time then present.  Although he beheld (possibly “looked for”) that One, he was aware that He was not near at hand.  The words clearly implied a future fulfilment rather than an immediate one.  The universal judgment and complete destruction portrayed in the succeeding verses have not yet been experienced and no events of past history can be regarded as satisfying the description given.



There has not yet appeared a descendant of Jacob of such outstanding character and power as to be termed a star and a sceptre.  Possibly the words might have been fulfilled at our Lord’s First Advent had the nation of Israel accepted Him, but at that time He certainly did not appear in supreme power to wield the royal sceptre and to destroy His foes.  But the many predictions of His future coming to earth clearly indicate that He will come in power and might, to crush His enemies beneath His feet, and to exercise a universal rule in righteousness and equity.  The sceptre in that day will be rightly held in His hands, and the Star of Jacob will rule as King of kings and Lord of lords.


[Page 59]

That One, declared Balaam, would smite through the princes of Moab and destroy all the sons of Sheth.  It is maintained by some expositors that, since the nations mentioned by the prophet do not exist today under these names, his words must relate solely to what is now past history.  But Moab’s territory is occupied at the present time by a power that is hostile to Israel, and Lange is justified in his view that the nations in existence at that time are representative of those foes of Israel who will be present at the end times.  Balaam, the heathen seer out of Mesopotamia, the centre of the national development of the ancient world,” he writes, “proclaims, first to the existing representatives of the nations hostile to Israel, and through them to all hostile powers as they should arise in succession, that in their enmity to Israel ... they were struggling against the power of the Almighty and must perish.”



The rulers of Moab were to be smitten through.  Their authority was to be broken and they personally were to experience retribution for their attitude and conduct.  They had sought to lay a curse upon the people of God. Those who touched Israel touched the apple of God’s eye (Zech. 2: 8) and were destined to pay the price of their folly.  This, of course, was true of those immediately addressed, for the country of Moab, in due course, was completely ravaged, precisely as Balaam implied.



All the sons of Sheth were also to be destroyed.  It is doubtful whether this was an allusion to any particular tribe.  The expression might equally well have been rendered, “all the sons of tumult or confusion.”  The mighty Ruler, who is still to come, will crush every rebel and trouble-maker, and there is no doubt that these words anticipated that future event (Zech. 14: 3).



Edom and Seir were threatened with dispossession.  They seemed secure in their mountain fastnesses and might have assumed that no invader could successfully attack them, but in David’s time their fortresses were to be garrisoned by Israel’s soldiers and they were to become servants of Israel’s king (2 Sam. 8: 14).  In a still future day, however, the cities [Page 60] of Edom are to be laid waste and Seir is to be completely depopulated (Ezek. 35: 1-9), while another prophet tells vividly of both the past and the future sufferings of that country (Obad. 1‑9).  The Judge of all the earth is not blind to men’s doings and when He acts, it will be in perfect justice, but with full severity for the evildoer, be it nation or individual.



The possessions of Edom and Seir, predicted the seer, would become the property of their enemies and, by implication, the forces of Israel would prove invincible against their foes.  Whilst partially fulfilled in David’s day, this prophecy also awaits its complete fulfilment in the day of “great David’s greater Son.”



Again, Balaam looked on to the future and foretold that, out of Jacob, would issue the One to whom dominion rightly belonged - the One of whom the dying Jacob spoke in his blessing of Judah (Gen. 49: 10).  That One, he revealed, would destroy the survivors of the city, i.e. presumably of the cities of Edom.  When the Messiah descends from the celestial heights into this world, it will be with all the insignia of majesty and might, and that One is to come to the very country where He spent those 33 years on earth.  Out of Jacob or Israel will His glory shine: out of that despised country will supreme power be manifested.  The pre-eminent Ruler is to be seen on earth.  The [obedient] Christian looks for a Lord to return to the air and to remove him from this world, but that same One is subsequently to be seen in this world in all His power and glory (Matt. 24 : 30).






Then he looked on Amalek, and took up his discourse and said, Amalek was the first of the nations, but his latter end shall be even to destruction.  And he looked on the Kenites and took up his discourse and said, Strong is your dwelling-place, and you set your nest in the rock.  Nevertheless, Kain shall be wasted.  How long shall it be ere Asshur carry you away captive?  And he took up his discourse and said, Alas, who shall live when God (El) does this?  And ships shall come [Page 61] from the coast of Chittim, and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber; and he also shall come to destruction (Num. 24: 20-24).



The Moabite king must have listened with increasing fury, but the story was not yet complete, and the prophet continued to predict the destruction of other nations as well, un­doubtedly adding thereby to the perturbation felt by Balak. To the extreme south and south‑west, barely visible from where Balaam stood, the eye might catch the outlines of the countries of the Amalekites and the Kenites, and these were the next to come under review.



The Amalekites were the first of the nations who warred against Israel (Exod. 17: 8).  They had been routed at Rephidim but, at that time, God had declared that He would blot out the memory of Amalek, and Moses, after building an altar in commemoration of the victory given by Jehovah, said that, because the hand of Amalek had been against the throne of Jehovah, God would war against this people from generation to generation (Ex. 17: 14-16), i.e. permanently.  Balaam now foresaw the conclusion to the Divine dealings with the Amalekites: it was to be final destruction.  None can attack God’s people with impunity: the day of reckoning must eventually come.



The shadows of the Kenites’ country could be seen against the sky.  They dwelt securely in their rocky fortresses in the northern mountains of Canaan.  Their abode seemed strong and enduring; their rocky nest was surely unassailable.  But, describing them by the name of their blacksmith ancestor, Kain, the prophet foretold that they would be involved in utter ruin.  Before long the people would be carried away captive by Assyria, Balaam’s own people.



Ellicott, however, points out that an alternative rendering of verse 22 is, For surely the Kenites shall not be destroyed until Asshur shall carry thee into captivity” (cf. Jud. 1: 16).  He adds that “This version has the support of the Targum, of Palestine and other authorities.  If this interpretation of the text is received, the antithesis between the doom of the [Page 62] Amalekites and the deliverance of the Kenites corresponds to the attitude assumed by these tribes respectively in regard to Israel.”



As the prophet saw the picture - and possibly an even fuller revelation than he disclosed to Balak - he burst out with the cry, Alas, who shall live when God does this?”  The Biblical descriptions of the awful judgments of the great tribulation and of the widespread devastation of the nations of the world, would lead to a similar cry, and it is not unreasonable to deduce that some of the horrors of that day flashed across the prophet’s gaze.  His prophecy certainly anticipated that dreadful period, even if it had an earlier and partial fulfilment in the past, and his words were remarkably echoed by the Master Himself when, centuries later, He said that, except those days should be shortened, there would be no flesh saved” (Matt. 24: 22).



There was a further reason for his evident distress.  While other countries were to suffer under the punitive hand of the Almighty, Assyria - which was to be used as an instrument of judgment on the Kenites - was also destined to reap the full harvest of her deeds.  She was to be smitten by a western power, which the prophecy described as Chittim.



There has been a certain amount of controversy regarding the identity of Chittim.  Keil maintains that it “is Cyprus with its capital Cituim (Gen. 10: 4) mentioned as intervening between Greece and Phoenicia, so that all the fleets passing from the west to the east necessarily took Cyprus on their way.”  McNeile (ibid, p. 141), on the other hand, argues that “Kittim, derived from Kitti, a town in Cyprus, was a name used for Greece (cf. Gen. 10: 4, where Kittim is reckoned as a son of Javan, i.e. Greece). ... it was also used sometimes for the western maritime powers generally (Jer. 2: 10; Ezek. 27: 6).  In Dan. 11: 30 it is even referred to the Romans.”



Ships were to come from Chittim to attack Assyria and that nation would also meet with the same fate as the others denounced.  It is possible that the prophecy still looked beyond the immediate to the future.  Isaiah later portrayed Assyria as the instrument to be used by God in the punishment of His [Page 63] people (Isa. 10: 5, 6, 24), but he intimated that, when this had been completed, Assyria would herself suffer Divine punishment (vv. 12, 16, 25, 26).  Some have also identified Assyria with the king of the north (Syria) in Dan. 11 - a chapter which again ends in the complete destruction of that great power (v. 45).



Nor was Israel to be exempt from trouble.  Eber (Gen. 10: 21, 25) was also to be afflicted by the western power.  But, in perfect equity, once the purpose of God was achieved, the instrument itself would suffer.  The western power also shall come to destruction.”  If, as seems probable, the words relate to a future ultimate fulfilment, Rev. 17: 17 and 19: 20 show the manner in which God will deal with those who have afflicted His people.  It has been suggested that the term Eber covers the Arab nations as well as Israel and that they also will pass through this period of trouble.  In equity, the day of reckoning must, of course, come for the Arab peoples and it is not unreasonable to place this interpretation upon the prediction.



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The Parting of the Ways



THE Moabite king had hired the eastern soothsayer to lay an enchantment upon the people of Israel but, instead, had been compelled to endure the mortification of listening to four “parables” predicting their utter blessing.  The end had now come, however, and the two conspirators parted from each other.






Then Balaam rose and went and returned to his place; and Balak also went his way (Num. 24: 25).



Both men were by this time fully cognisant of the Divine will and, after such a complete revelation, might perhaps have been expected to submit to it and possibly even to seek the friendship of the people of Israel.  But the historical record makes no reference to any change of heart or any sign of repentance, unless the statement in Micah 6, referred to below has any relevance.



The disappointed prophet, robbed of the reward he had anticipated, turned his back upon the king, to take the long and arduous journey back to his own home, unaccompanied this time by Moabite princes and their retinue, but to ride alone with his thoughts.  There is no mention even of the two servants with whom he had commenced his journey from Mesopotamia.



The pagan Balak, undoubtedly thoroughly incensed by all that had occurred, showed none of the normal eastern [Page 66] courtesies and apparently offered no provisions for the journey, but disgustedly went his way.  His hopes had been dashed to the ground and he wanted no more of Balaam.  The Israelite hosts were at his border and he was still confronted with his unsolved problem.



This, at any rate, is what might be deduced from the concluding verse of Num. 24.  But there is a curious account in Micah’s prophecy, which implies that a final discussion of an entirely different character took place between Balak and Balaam.  It must be admitted that, apart from the introductory verse, the passage is commonly assumed to be a general statement, unrelated to the story of Numbers.  But it is, at least, possible that the whole of the relevant four verses are a report of a discussion which actually occurred between the two men.






0 my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of Jehovah.  With what shall I come before Jehovah, and bow myself before the high God (Elohim)?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will Jehovah be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has showed you, 0 man, what is good; and what does Jehovah require of you, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Elohim)? (Mic. 6: 5-8).



Like many another Old Testament prophet, Micah referred to Jehovah’s controversy with His wayward people, who, despite all His goodness to them, completely ignored His claims upon their allegiance.  Then, in illustration of his message, the prophet suddenly called upon Israel to consider the story of Balak and Balaam, to remember the machinations of the king of Moab and what the eastern soothsayer had uttered in response, and additionally to recall what had happened between Shittim and Gilgal.  Thus they might understand the [Page 67] righteous acts of Jehovah.  This might quite reasonably be regarded as the significance of verse 5, and the following verses 6 to 8 would then be construed as the reply of Israel to Jehovah and the prophet’s answer thereto.



At first it may appear difficult to discover any connection between the story of Num. 22-24 and the reference to Shittim and Gilgal.  As T. K. Cheyne says (Commentary on Micah, p. 50), “Shittim was the last station of the Israelites on the other side Jordan; Gilgal the first in the land of Canaan.  It is not clear how these words are to be connected grammatically with what precedes.”



The words may not be entirely irrelevant, however.  Immediately after the record of Balaam in Num. 22-24, the Scripture states that Israel abode in Shittim and there began to indulge in sexual immorality with the Moabites (Num. 25: 1).  The circumstances giving rise to this are not mentioned in that particular passage, but it seems clear that the reason was to be found in the activities of Balaam, in consequence of which the hand of Divine chastisement fell upon Israel.  Yet, in fulfilment of His unchanging purpose, God - [after the accountable generation perished in the desert] - led them into the Promised Land.  As Laetsch remarks (The Minor Prophets, p. 278), “When Balaam’s vicious advice to Balak to seduce Israel to idolatry and immorality (Num. 31: 16) proved successful (Num. 25: 1-18), the Lord punished them severely (Num. 25: 4-9), but did not reject them.  From Shittim, the place of their shame and God’s forgiving grace, He led them through Jordan (Josh. 3: 1-17) to Gilgal, where even during the days of physical weakness of their fighting men (Josh. 5: 2-8), the Lord protected them by striking their enemies with panic-like fear (Josh. 2: 9-11, 14; 5: 2).”



If the people had sinned at Shittim, the curse was rolled away at Gilgal, when the rite of circumcision (the symbol of separation to God) was renewed (Josh. 5: 3-9).  Shittim and Gilgal were, therefore, appropriately associated in the people’s minds.



If this passage of Micah does, in fact, represent a discussion between Balak and Balaam, it is extremely significant in view of the events which followed.  On the assumption that the [Page 68] verses refer to what took place between the king and the prophet (and they do not seem otherwise to cohere), it would appear that the revelation of God’s purposes of blessing for Israel - which had aroused the anger of the king - finally struck fear into his heart.  Balaam’s parables had patently shown the power of Jehovah and, by inference, His unquestionable superiority to Baal.  The king’s religion was ineffective and his deity powerless.  Here was a greater God, whom, by his efforts to secure a curse upon His people of Israel, he must obviously have offended.  How could he avert His displeasure?  How could he propitiate Jehovah?



These were questions which he presumably flung at Balaam as soon as the prophet’s discourse concluded.  By what means could he pacify Jehovah?  What ought he to bring to Him as an offering if he was to come before Him and bow low in the presence of the Most High God?  Quite naturally, his thoughts ran immediately to the sacrifices of bullocks and rams presented to Him already on the altars on the mountain-tops.  He was prepared to bring burnt offerings of yearling calves if that would suffice.  If that was not enough, perhaps Jehovah would deign to accept the sacrifice of thousands of rams.  In the multitude of offerings, he reasoned, he might atone for his guilt.  The cost seemed to matter little, provided he could regain his peace of mind.



As though he was bargaining with man, he offered to pour out torrents of oil (cf. Job 29: 6), or even, if necessary, to make what he regarded as the supreme sacrifice of his first-born son.  This final offer tends to confirm that the words were those of a heathen, since Israel would scarcely make such an inappropriate and utterly improper proposal to Jehovah, although the valley of Hinnom was later the scene for centuries of the sacrifice of children in the fire to Moloch.  Balak was prepared to give all he possessed to secure the favour of God.  He had offered great rewards to secure his own ends and to bind Israel by enchantment.  Now he was equally prepared to yield up his best to achieve what he desired.  But, as W. Robertson Smith says, “man convinced of sin is ready to sacrifice what is dearest to him rather than give up his own [Page 69] will and give himself to God.”  He acknowledged his transgression and freely admitted the need to atone for his sin, but he was still totally unaware of God’s real requirements.  He was ready to bargain with Jehovah as though He was some venal judge, whose favour could be purchased if the price paid was sufficiently high.



A pagan ruler might well ask what God required, since the revelation had not been made to him.  Israel would never have needed to do so.  Those requirements had been clearly enunciated in Deut. 10: 12 and were well-known, and the prophet Micah virtually reiterated them in Mic. 6: 8.  There is, however, an implication in the verse that Balak had, in fact, been made aware by Balaam of what was required and could not, therefore, plead complete ignorance.  He declared that the king had been shown what was good; God required righteousness, kindness and submission to Him.



There must be the establishment in life and practice of the norm of justice.  Secondly, there must be demonstrated mercy or kindness in relation to others, a sincere compassion for one’s fellows.  Furthermore, there must be a realisation of the greatness of God that will induce a quiet, humble walk before Him, without pride or conceit.



It was not too late for Balak to make the right choice.  In the four parables of Balaam and probably in their final discussion, Jehovah had disclosed His will and purpose.  There could be no dubiety in the king’s mind.  He was, by this time, perfectly acquainted with the Divine will, and submission to God might well have saved the lives of himself and his people and might have preserved his kingdom.  If Micah’s words represent the final opportunity of repentance, Balak had certainly been shown grace and patience.



The choice was his and the record declares that Balak also went his way.”  He rejected the revealed will of God and, as the subsequent events clearly show, hardened his heart against Him.  He chose his own way.  Baal was his god and he would have none of Jehovah.  In consequence of the path he took and the events which followed, the Moabite was permanently excluded from the presence of Jehovah – even to [Page 70] their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of Jehovah for ever” (Deut. 23: 3-6; Neh. 13: 1, 2).  The blessing he had rejected was for ever denied to his people.



In some respects, Balaam’s was an even greater tragedy.  From the outset he had known God’s mind.  When the emissaries of Balak first called upon him, God had forbidden him to go with them or to embark on the course to which they solicited him.  At their second visit, he was fully aware that his proper action was to dismiss them and to refuse to participate in their master’s designs.  Three times en route to Moab, he had been warned by the behaviour of his ass, but had still pursued his purpose.  Four times the Eternal spoke through his lips, transmuting his curses into blessings (see Josh. 24: 9, 10; Deut. 23: 5).  Then had probably come the final opportunity in the incident quoted by Micah.  There had been at least nine - and, in all probability ten - plain indications of God’s will for him.  The Divine requirements, which he so lucidly set before Balak, confronted him as well.  The issues were perfectly clear.  Yet despite all that he knew, the prophet chose his own way. Balaam ... returned to his own place.”  After all the revelations he had made and after all the knowledge imparted to him, he rejected the will of God and returned to his own country.



The story is not without its salutary and challenging lesson for [all] others.  How frequently we fly in the face of God, deliberately ignoring His revealed will and choosing our own way!  The words of Jephthah to the Ammonites, who sought to fight Israel, are still apt.  Are you any better than Balak, the son of Zippor, king of Moab?” (Jud. 11: 25).



Micah’s statement of the Divine purpose for man might profitably be studied by God’s people today.  He does not call for mighty exploits or marvellous victories, for outstanding achievements or praiseworthy deeds.  His requirements are within the scope of all who belong to Him and are, moreover, due to Him from them.



The believer is to practise justice in daily life.  As a follower of Christ, he is to demonstrate the righteousness, or right [Page 71] living, which was evidenced so fully in the Master’s life.  His thoughts, words and actions will be in accord with the Divine will, he will be just and fair in his relations to others, and nothing that is wrong will mar his witness for Christ.



The one, who adopts Micah’s standard for life, will reveal the love and compassion of Christ for his fellow-men (cf. Matt. 5: 7).  Our Lord never tolerated evil, but He showed infinite mercy to those around Him.  The tenderness and sympathy of the Saviour should still be seen in His people.



To walk humbly with God is perhaps the most difficult thing for human beings.  There is always the tendency to pride in achievement, possessions or name, an unjustified conceit which may blind the individual to true values.  The disciple of Christ will follow the footsteps of that perfect Exemplar, who never exalted Himself, but constantly sought to glorify the One who had sent Him into the world.



Micah still has a message for the present day.



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The Final Attempt



THE closing verse of Num. 24 implies that Balaam returned directly to his own home near the Euphrates after his breach with Balak.  Gosman, however, suggests that he engaged in a typical piece of duplicity and, having to pass the camp of Israel on his homeward journey, he disclosed to them what had happened but, meeting with an unfavourable reception, he “returned secretly and, by the aid of a Midianitish chief, who was probably camping on the skirts of the Moabite territory, to Balak in order still to secure from him the ‘reward of iniquity’.”  The suggestion is not entirely unlikely.  Certainly it seems doubtful that he returned immediately to his own home: otherwise, it would be difficult to explain how and when his subsequent intrigues took place.



Inflamed with hostility against Jehovah and Israel, he doubtless sought a means of avenging himself for the loss of his expected reward and even perhaps of recovering his standing with the king.  It is clear from later Scriptures that his malice and cunning did, in fact, frame a plot which was only too successful.  Num. 31: 16 plainly indicates that the sin and consequent plague described in Num. 25 were due to his advice, and this is explicitly confirmed by Rev. 2 : 14.



It seems, therefore, that the prophet returned to Balak, at some time after leaving him, with the foul proposal that the Israelites should be inveigled into participation in the religious festivals of Moab by the invitation of Moabite women.  These sacred occasions were attended by licentious rites, for Baal, [Page 74] as Keil points out, “was a Moabitish Priapus, in honour of whom virgins and women prostituted themselves.”  If the Israelites could be tempted to attend the festival, even as observers, the shady acacia and the palm groves would form a pleasant retreat, in which they could probably be seduced to relax and to forget their separation to Jehovah.  If that occurred, Balaam was convinced, from his knowledge of the character and ways of Jehovah, that God’s wrath would be aroused and that His anger would break out against His [redeemed] people.  What it had been impossible to achieve by sorcery and divination, might now be achieved by seduction.



He evidently convinced the king, and the wiles of the Moabitish women were employed to trap the people of God.  Apparently the plan succeeded without difficulty.  The Israelites took part in the sacrifices to the heathen gods and in the lascivious pleasures associated with the idolatrous worship.  The Scriptures specifically state that the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.  And they called the people to the sacrifices of their gods: and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.  And Israel joined himself to Baal-peor” (Num. 25: 1-3).  It is evident from the same passage that the Midianites joined their neighbours in the attempt to accomplish the downfall of God’s people (Num. 25: 6).



The Israelites had proved the power of Jehovah and had experienced His deliverance, but immediately temptation came, they succumbed to it.  Not only did they commit adultery with the Moabites, but willingly responded to the invita tion to the pagan festival, to feast upon food, of which part had been presented to the false gods.  Their sin was complete, for they thus paid their homage to the idols and acknowledged the existence of Baal, as they adopted his worship at Baal-peor.



It seems incredible that the vile plan should so easily have succeeded, but human nature has not changed very much since that day.  In the midst of a permissive society, the Christian today is also confronted with a similar temptation and may, equally well, harbour thoughts and visions which [Page 75] are as unclean as the actions of the Israelites.  Moreover, the tendency to compromise, whether in business, social life, or religion, is as prevalent today as ever it was.  God’s people may as readily bring dishonour on His name today as His people did centuries ago.



The outcome was inevitable.  God cannot tolerate sin.  His anger was aroused, and a plague of an undescribed character broke out among the people.  One writer considers that the plague was a venereal disease - a fitting punishment for their sinful promiscuity - but this is pure speculation since no indication whatever is given of the character of the plague.



The climax came when, apparently at the height of the plague, when Moses and the people were weeping before the tabernacle.  An Israelite blatantly brought a Moabite princess into the camp in full view of everyone. At the sight, Aaron’s grandson, Phinehas, took a javelin and pursued the guilty pair into their tent and killed them (Num. 25: 6-8; Psa. 106: 28-30).  With this judicial act, the plague stopped, but not before a total of 24,000 had already died (Num. 25: 9).  The apostle Paul refers to the number who died in one day as 23,000 in 1 Cor. 10: 3.  Ellicott suggests that the difference in numbers is explicable by 1,000 being put to death by the judges.*


[* Hear Pastor Royce Powell’s comment on this “difference in numbers” by listening to his sermon entitled: “The Doctrine of Balaam.”]



The subsequent record indicates that every man who had been involved was destroyed (Deut. 4: 3).  A holy God dealt drastically and effectively with the sin of His people and thereby cleansed the nation from its impurity.  He cannot countenance sin in the lives of His own, and it is a lesson [the implications of] which still needs to be understood.



Balaam doubtless had concluded that Jehovah would wipe out a people who had sinned in such a fashion, or, if He showed mercy at all, would unquestionably revoke His promises to them.  But the purposes of God are immutable.  His pledges depend upon His own faithfulness and not upon the loyalty or integrity of those whom He has designed to bless.  The sin had been judged and put away, and His unalterable intentions for Israel were to be put into effect.



First of all, however, the instruments employed by Balaam [Page 76] and Balak had to be punished.  God, therefore, commanded Moses to smite the Midianites (a term which may have been intended to include the Moabites, although the Midianites were presumably the guiltier instruments), because they vex you with their wiles, wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor” (Num. 25: 16-18; 31: 2).  The destruction was complete.  Twelve thousand armed warriors of Israel slew every male of the Midianites, burnt their cities and castles, and looted their possessions (Num. 31: 3-12).  Because, at the instigation of Balaam, the Midianitish women had played the leading part in the seduction of Israel, every female who was not a virgin was slain, as well as every male child (vv. 15-18).



Five kings of Midian were slain on the battlefield, but another body also lay with them, for Balaam, the son of Beor, had also been slain with the sword (Num. 31: 8; Josh. 13: 22).  Unrepentant to the last, the prophet had faced the battle in the company of the enemies of God’s people.  The instigator of the crime which had led to this wholesale destruction, it was only meet that he should also find his end there.  The expression used of his death tends to imply that, in his case - unlike that of the five rulers of Midian - there was a separate, judicial execution, although no specific details are given.  His sin was known to Jehovah, and possibly to Moses and the people in addition, and the arch-conspirator may well have been slain in full view of all the people.  Even if this was not the case, and even if he perished in the same way as his confederates, his death was undoubtedly at the hand of Jehovah (no matter what hand struck the blow) and no doubt was left of his fate, for his body was clearly identified among the Midianites.



He was a man who had known the will of God and who had received warnings from God. The words of the Almighty had been in his mouth and the Spirit of God had spoken by him. Yet he deliberately chose his own way and perished with the rulers of Midian.  So much light had been given to him, but he despised the privileges he had had.  It is a warning to many [regenerate believers] today to whom spiritual light has been afforded, but who only [Page 77] too often chose their own way and do despite to the Spirit of grace.



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The Later Counterpart



THE story of Balaam remains on record that others may understand the ways of God and the folly of pursuing a similar course* to that of the prophet.  Its significance may be deduced from the fact that three New Testament writers refer to it as an outstanding illustration of a particular nature.


[* That is, a “course” whereby efforts are now being made – (by apostates who were once instructed in the deep truths of God, but have since wandered off the right path) - and are now actively seeking to prevent Christians from obtaining an inheritance the coming millennial kingdom of Messiah upon this earth by a denial that such a future blessing, for those “accounted worthy” to be with Messiah during “that Day,” does not exist!   See, Luke 22: 28-30; Rev. 20: 4-6. cf. Col. 3: 23-25; 1 Pet. 2: 1-8; Rev. 3: 19-22, R.V.]



The apostle Peter, in his second epistle used the Old Testament character as an illustration of the false teachers of his (and of a later) day.  In 2 Pet. 2: 3 he declared that, in covetousness, with well-turned words, these teachers would make merchandise of those whom they taught.  William Kelly (The Epistles of Peter, p. 128) writes, “those who are false in doctrine are bold enough to set conscience at defiance, and cleave to their position and emoluments when they abandon the truth which they had solemnly pledged themselves to preach and teach.*  It is not therefore the Lord and the truth only which they betray; but they sacrifice plain honesty of principle for a place and a living which they value.  This depravity is seriously exposed in the apostle’s words.”  In their greed, they exploited believers for reward, but judgment will one day fall upon them.


[* Listen to A. L. Chitwood’s sermon on “False Teachers”; and read more on this important, but much neglected subject. from writings by various authors under the title: “Acts of Apostates” on this website:]



Peter then proceeded to give examples of divine retribution in the past - the fallen angels, the deluge, Sodom and Gomorrah, and then Balaam.






Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray.  They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Boser (Beor), who [Page 80] loved the wages of unrighteousness; but was rebuked for his transgression: the dumb beast of burden, speaking with a human voice, restrained the madness of the prophet (2 Pet. 2: 15-16).



The apostle, it should be noted, confirmed the accuracy of the Old Testament account of the miracle of the ass speaking with a human voice.  Whatever explanation may be offered of this extraordinary event, its actual happening cannot be questioned if the reliability of the Bible is accepted.  Since it was physically impossible for the ass to speak, the occurrence must be deemed a miracle.



The emphasis in Peter’s letter was on the material gain derived by false prophets and teachers from their wrong-doing, and his implication was that their unsound teaching did not spring from conviction, but from cupidity.  He selected the case of Balaam as a pertinent example of such practices in Old Testament days and declared that the Mesopotamian seer loved the wages of unrighteousness.*


[* That is, by choosing to please the people and by withholding responsibility truths for ‘material gain,’ false teachers are today unwilling to disclose to regenerate believers the possibility of them loosing their “Crown,” and their “inheritance” in the “age” yet to come!  


Like Saul, the first king of Israel and the Lord’s anointed as “prince over His inheritance” (1 Sam. 10: 1), these modern-day false teachers (apostates) withhold information “concerning the matter of the kingdom,” (1 Sam. 10: 16).  They chose to live their lives in “stubbornness,” disobedience and rejection of “the word of the Lord!”  The “fear of the people” (1 Sam. 15: 23, 24), “the wages of unrighteousness” - and without any apparent “fear of the Lord” - they continue to wander toward their ultimate downfall and the loss of their “crown” in the “age” to come.  See 2 Sam. 1: 7-10. cf. 2 Tim. 2: 5; 1 Cor. 9: 25; 2 Tim. 4: 8; Jas. 1: 12; Rev. 3: 11; 1 Tim. 4: 16!]



No more solemn or apposite warning could be drawn from the Book of God,” says Kelly (ibid, p. 141), None of one who more deceived himself and others; none that so combined the most glowing and grand anticipations for Israel from Jehovah with the subtlest efforts to ensnare into evil which would compromise and endanger them.  Yet had he crafty care for his own interest while pretending to be quite above it.  Whatever his words, he loved the wages of unrighteousness.”  He ignored the direct revelation of the Divine will, but then had the warning through the mouth of the ass.  Yet he still chose the path of unrighteousness in order to secure his reward.  How much more guilty are false teachers since the Son of God came and gave us understanding to know Him that is true.”



Peter described the prophet’s course as madness,” a term not used elsewhere in the New Testament, although the verb derived from the same root is used in 2 Cor. 11: 23.



Our Lord’s younger brother, Judas, also used the Old Testament story as an illustration in his short letter.  Like [Page 81] Peter, he emphasised the covetousness of the prophet and his eagerness to secure the reward offered by the Moabites, and he employed the story to describe the character of those who had crept in secretly and were doing despite to the grace of God and were denying the Lordship of Christ.






Woe to them! For they walk in the way of Cain; and run greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perish in the rebellion of Korah (Jude 11).



The R.S.V. renders the second clause of Jude 11 somewhat more forcefully as abandon themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error.”



C. I. Scofield writes, “Balaam is the typical hireling prophet, seeking only to make a market of his gift.  This is ‘the way of Balaam’ (2 Pet. 2: 15) and characterises false teachers.  The ‘error of Balaam’ (Jude 11) was that he could see only the natural morality - a holy God, he reasoned, must curse such a people as Israel.”



Jude’s word indicates the violence of the prophet’s desire: like him, those who follow the same course run greedily after his error for reward.  As Thos. Manton says (An Exposition of the Epistle of Jude, p. 271), men sin with full bent of heart, and are carried out violently against all restraints of conscience; as Balaam notwithstanding the checks and disappointments which he met with in the way. ... yet was still hurried on by the violent impulsions of his own lust and greedy desire of reward. ... The motions of lust are rapid and violent; we are in earnest when we do the devil’s work.”



In the Apocalyptic message to the church at Ephesus, our Lord said, But this you have, that you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev. 2: 6).  Little is known of the Nicolaitans.  It has been suggested by some commentators that the word is merely a symbolic name, derived from nikao (conquer) and laos (people), and that it is indicative of the distinction later drawn between clerisy and laity, but this is clearly not tenable.  It would have meant nothing to the Ephesians in the first century.  In the [Page 82] subsequent message to Pergamum, the Nicolaitans are specifically linked with Balaam.






I have a few things against you.  You have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat food sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication.  So have you also those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2: 14, 15).



The sect of the Nicolaitans is alleged by Irenaeus to have been founded by Nicolas of Antioch, one of the seven deacons mentioned in Acts 6: 5.  Tertullian describes the sect as gnostics and libertines, and Clement of Alexandria refers to their unbridled and excessive lusts.  Sir Wm. Ramsay says that the Nicolaitan teachers “tried to retain in the Christian life practices that were in diametrical opposition to the essential principles of Christianity, and thus they had strayed into a syncretism of Christian and anti-Christian elements which was fatal to the growth and permanence of Christian thought.”  Ellicott describes them as “the Antinomians of the Asiatic Church,” and saysThe life and conduct were little considered, and the faith professed was everything.”



The Nicolaitan sect was said, at a later date, to have adopted a community of women and to have plunged into every kind of excess and licentiousness, professing Christianity, while practising all the filthy impurities of the heathen.  They apparently participated in idolatrous worship and were prepared to partake of food offered to idols.  Wm. Kelly seems justified in his conclusion that “The essence of Nicolaitanism seems to have been the abuse of grace to the disregard of plain morality.”



It has been suggested that the Greek word Nicolaitan represents a translation of the Hebrew name Balaam.  The reference to the doctrine (or teaching) of Balaam in the message to Pergamum provides some support for this, although verse 15 may be deemed to identify the doctrine of the Nicolaitans as a separate and distinct teaching.


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The reference is clearly to Balaam’s plot to use Midianite women to seduce the Israelites to idolatry and sexual immorality.  The doctrine (or teaching) of Balaam was, therefore, in complete conformity with the libertinism of those who taught that conversion to Christianity left the individual free to live as he pleased and that attendance at heathen festivals, engaging in pagan worship, and participation in religious prostitution were not practices for which a Christian should be condemned.  Whether the teaching of the Nicolaitans is to be identified with that of Balaam, the ultimate effect was similar.



Scofield writes, “Spiritually, Balaamism in teaching never rises above natural reasonings; in practice, it is easy world-conformity.”  A mixture of carnality and spirituality is always nauseating to God.  The indulgence of selfish desires and the practice of the sins of the flesh are not for the true believer.  Christ demands true discipleship and a purity of heart and motive.  (See The Patmos Letters, by F. A. Tatford).



Nearly three and a half millennia have elapsed since Balaam crossed the stage, but the lessons from his life remain for the instruction of those [Christians] who read so many centuries later.



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The Moabites



After their flight from Sodom, Lot and his two daughters found a shelter in the vicinity of Zoar, and here two sons were born to him as a result of incestuous intercourse with his daughters (Gen. 19: 30-38).



The Ammonites, who descended from the younger daughter’s son, Ben-Ammi, moved northeast, but the Moabites - the decendants of the elder daughter’s son, Moab - at first remained in the area in which they had originated.  According to Sir Wm. Smith, “the rich highlands, which crown the eastern side of the chasm of the Dead Sea, and extend northwards as far as the foot of the mountains of Gilead,” were initially inhabited by an ancient people, known as the Emim (Deut. 2: 10), but they were gradually pushed out by the Moabites, who thereby became the possessors of this rich 500 square miles tract.  The territory occupied was composed of three distinct areas: “(1) The enclosed corner or canton south of the Arnon was the ‘field of Moab’ (Ruth 1: 1, 2, 6, etc.).  (2) The more rolling open country north of the Arnon, opposite Jericho, and up to the hills of Gilead, was the ‘land of Moab’ (Deut. 1: 5; 32: 49, etc.).  (3) The sunk district in the tropical depths of the Jordan valley, taking its name from that of the great valley itself - the Arabah - was the Arboth-Moab, the dry region. ... theplains of Moab’ (Num. 22: 1, etc.).  Outside of the hills, which enclosed the ‘field of Moab’, or Moab proper, lay the vast pasture lands of ‘Midbar’, which is described as facing Moab on the east, (Num. 21: 11).” (W. Smith, Bible Dictionary).


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Making their journey from Egypt, the Israelites approached the boundaries of Moab from the desert on the South-east.  Their request to be allowed to travel through the country of Moab along the King’s Highway was refused, and they had consequently to make a long detour around the country (Deut. 2: 8-11).



The Moabites were not renowned as a warlike race, but rather as a peace-loving people.  Israel did suffer at their hands, however, on more than one occasion.  Because of the sins of Israel, God allowed their enemies to overrun them and for eighteen years they were oppressed by the Moabites in the period of the Judges (Jud. 3: 12-14).  When Saul took full possession of Israel, he found the Moabites among the neighbours he had to fight (1 Sam. 14: 47).  David later completely subdued them and laid them under tribute (2 Sam. 8: 2, 12; 1 Chron. 18: 2, 11).  On the death of Ahab, they revolted, but were routed and brutally treated by the joint forces of Judah, Israel and Edom (2 Kings 3: 5-27), although they apparently recovered and repossessed their land at a later date.



Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zephaniah all threatened the Moabites with retribution for their attitude to Israel, and the majority - if not all - of their predictions have been actually fulfilled.



It is interesting to note that Ruth, a Moabitess, became an ancestress of David and thus of our Lord Himself (Ruth 1: 22; 4: 17; Matt. 1: 5).



It is also of interest to see that women of the Moabites were among those who led Solomon’s heart away from the true God (1 Kings 11: 1), so that the seductions of Balaam’s day were reintroduced in that later day.



The Midianites, who were linked with the Moabites in the earlier seduction of Israel, were descendants of the fourth son of Abraham and Keturah (Gen. 25: 2).  They were also often associated with the Ishmaelites (Gen. 37: 25-28, 36, Jud. 8: 22-24; etc.).  W. Haskell (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 730) says, “It is probable that, from the beginning, they had intermarried with the Ishmaelites, and that in the end they were merged in the roving peoples of the northern part of the Arabian desert, [Page 87] under the general name of Arabs.”  Certainly, after their defeat by Gideon (Jud. 7: 19-25), they disappeared from view, save for isolated references in the prophets (e.g. Isa. 60: 6; Hab. 3: 7).



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The Angel of Jehovah



The following note is taken from the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, by John McClintock and James Strong (Vol. 1, p. 226).



There are many passages in which the expression, the ‘angel of God,’ ‘the angel of Jehovah,’ is certainly used for a manifestation of God Himself.  This is especially the case in the earlier books of the Old Testament, and may be seen at once by a comparison of Gen. 22: 11 with 12, and of Exod. 3: 2 with 6 and 14, where He, who is called the ‘angel of God’ in one verse, is called ‘God’ and even ‘Jehovah,’ in those that follow, and accepts the worship due to God alone. ... See also Gen. 16: 7, 13; 21: 11, 13; 48: 15, 16; Num. 22: 22, 32, 35; and compare Isa. 63: 9 with Exod. 33: 14, etc. ...



It is to be observed also that, side by side with these expressions, we read of God’s being manifested in the form of man; e.g. to Abraham at Marnre (Gen. 18: 2, 22; cf. 19: 1); to Jacob at Peniel (Gen. 32: 24, 30), to Joshua at Gilgal (Josh. 5: 13, 15), etc.  It is hardly to be doubted that both sets of passages refer to the same kind of manifestation of the Divine Presence.  This being the case, and we know that ‘no man hath seen God’ (the Father) ‘at any time’ and that ‘the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath revealed him’ (John 1: 18), the inevitable inference is that by the ‘Angel of the Lord’ in such passages is meant He who is from the beginning, the ‘Word’, i.e. the Manifester or Revealer of God.  These appearances are evidently [Page 90] fore-shadowings of the incarnation.  By these God the Son manifested Himself from time to time in that human nature which He united to the Godhead forever in the virgin’s womb. ... As He is the Son of God’, so also is He the angel’ or ‘messenger’ of the Lord.”



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C. J. ELLICOTT: Bible Commentary, Pickering & Inglis Ltd., Glasgow, 1972.



A. GROSMAN: The Book of Numbers in J. P. Lange’s Commentaries (see below).



E. W. BENGSTENBERG: Christology of the Old Testament, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, 1970.



C. F. KEIL: Commentary on the Pentateuch, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1891.



W. KELLY: Epistles of Peter, C. A. Hammond, London, 1923.



J. P. LANGE: The Book of Numbers, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, n.d.



J. MCCLINTOCK AND J. STRONG: Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1968.



A. R MCNEILE: The Book of Numbers, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1911.



T. MANTON: An Exposition of the Epistle of Jude, Banner of Truth Trust, London, 1958.



F. A. TATFORD: The Patmos Letters, Prophetic Witness Publishing House, 1969.