Reference: Numbers 24:1-9, Numbers 31.
Heart of the Story: Balaam, the most renown curser in the ancient near east, insisted on disobeying God and tried to harm the Israelites.
Back Story: When the Moabites saw Moses and the children of Israel approaching their country, they were afraid the “horde’ was going to destroy the land, i.e., cut trees for firewood, consume pasture lands needed for their own livestock. The Moabites wanted to turn the Israelites away. The canny King Balak didn’t have the military might to stop the Israelites from crossing Moab. He decided to use guile to change the outcome of the conflict.
Story Line: King Balak sent for the most renowned seer/diviner/curser in the known world—Balaam. King Balak planned for Balaam to curse the Israelites. In ancient times people believed that cursing a person or people could influence their outcome.
Balaam lived about 400 miles north of Moab near the Euphrates River. When Moab envoys first approached him, Balaam refused to accompany them to Moab because God told Balaam not to curse the Israelites. Then, the Moabites sent a more distinguished delegation to Balaam and offered him even more money. God allowed Balaam to go with the Moabites; however, God warned Balaam that he could only speak the words God gave him.
Most Sunday school children know what happened next: Balaam was riding a donkey toward Moab when suddenly the normally reliable donkey stopped in the middle of the path. The donkey refused to move forward despite Balaam hitting it with a stick. When the donkey started to talk, Balaam’s eyes were opened. He saw an angel blocking the donkey’s pathway. Alarmed, Balaam offered to return to his home in Pethor. The angel directed Balaam to go to Moab; but to speak only the words God gave to him.
Once in Moab, Balaam gave five separate oracles or parables directed at the Israelites. Much to King Balak’s disappointment, the parables didn’t curse the Israelites. In fact, Balaam’s oracles blessed the Israelites!
Outcome of Balaam: If we leave the story of Balaam at this point, we could conclude that Balaam wasn’t such a bad guy. After all, he followed God’s direction and didn’t curse the Israelites, But, there is more to the story of Balaam. The Bible recorded that after giving a fifth oracle, Balaam returned home. We assume he went back to Pethor; but, Balaam didn’t stay there. The Israelites killed Balaam along with the five Midian kings in a battle east northeast of the Dead Sea (Numbers 31). The Israelites were justified in killing Balaam. He was responsible for advising the Moabites and Midianites to use women to seduce Israelite men to sexual immorality and idol worship. This advice led to the slaughter of over 24,000 Israelites.
Reflection: Balaam was greedy; he wanted Moabite money. What happens when current day Christians get greedy and put wealth before God?
Copyright May 2, 2017; Carolyn A. Roth