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In Numbers 22-24, we find the account of an evil king and an evil sorcerer who team up to try and defeat the nation of Israel through dark magic. This is one of those particularly difficult stories in the Bible because a lot of critical information is left out. If you just read these three chapters, you’ll come away with a very wrong impression of the sorcerer, Balaam. At first glance, he seems like an innocent bystander who reveres Yahweh and does nothing wrong. We only learn about Balaam’s true motivations through comments that are made later on in the Old and New Testaments. In this post, we’ll piece all the fragments together and see what we can learn.
Our story begins in the middle of Israel’s wilderness exile period. Because she refused to enter the Promised Land when Yahweh first took her to its lush borders, He has cursed her to wander in the wilderness for forty years. As she wanders, her attitude remains caustic, ungrateful, and extremely irreverent. When He hits His limit with her incessant whining, Yahweh gives the people a reminder of how terrifying His wrath can be through various plagues. His most recent spanking came in the form of a plague of poisonous snakes (see The Fate of the Bronze Snake).
Yahweh will later reflect on this wilderness period as the beginning of a very long and miserable relationship with a faithless bride. It’s important to keep in mind that when God miraculously brought the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, they brought with them many Egyptian idols that they have continued to worship all this time. The people of this chosen nation have never truly dedicated themselves to Yahweh. They’ve talked about it, and they’ve even agreed to the Covenant that God made with them at Mt. Sinai. But while they occasionally promise to stay faithful to Yahweh with their lips, they continue to worship other gods in their hearts.
According to the Covenant which Yahweh made with His people during this wilderness journey, obedience would be blessed and rebellion would be cursed. Today, Christians are erroneously taught that Yahweh has always treated Israel as a favored child who He blesses unconditionally. This is not true. Yahweh spends most of the Old Testament thrashing Israel through various means. He often complains about what a great source of grief she is to Him because she refuses to show any true concern for pleasing Him.
As we open up our bibles to Numbers 22, we find a huge mob of idolatrous rebels wandering through a desert under the leadership of a tired Moses and an irritated Yahweh. While the Israelites are never short on reasons to complain, lately their problems have taken on a different form. This time it isn’t a lack of water or an envy of Moses’ special anointing that is getting the people riled up. Now they’re starting to bump up against the borders of other nations who are refusing to let them enter their territory. First it was the king of Edom who refused to let them pass through his land, even after Moses promised that they would mind their own business and pay for any water they drank. After exchanging a few messages back and forth, the terrifying Edomite army had driven the Israelites away by force (see Num. 20:14). Next, the Canaanite king of Arad had launched an unprovoked attack the moment he heard that the Israelites were traveling his way. Happily, Yahweh had come to the rescue and enabled the Israelites to completely destroy Arad’s territory. Next they came to the Amorite territory, where they sent a polite request to King Sihon asking him to let them pass through without trouble. Sihon turned out to be as hostile as the king of Edom. He mustered his entire army and came out to drive Israel away by force. Once again, Yahweh came to His people’s defense and the Israelites took over the Amorite territory. Now things were starting to look up. The Israelites were living in cities instead of tents, and enjoying their spoils of war. Other nations were starting to respect them as a formidable military power. Another glorious victory over the king of Bashan boosted their confidence even more as they traveled on to the plains of Moab and spread out along the Jordan River.
BALAK, KING OF MOAB
A very conservative estimate of Israel’s population at this time puts her at about two million people. Now imagine yourself standing in the sandals of one King Balak—the ruler of the next territory in Israel’s warpath. Are you scared? Terrified is more like it. The Israelite army appears to be unstoppable. There can be only one reason for this: their God is abnormally strong.
We don’t find any atheists in the Bible. No one questioned the existence of gods and every nation considered itself to be guided and protected by certain deities. When nations fought each other, people believed that their gods were fighting as well, and whoever came out on top obviously had the most supernatural muscle.
King Balak is a very smart fool. He’s a fool because he worships demonic idols, but he’s smart because he recognizes that trying to beat Israel with brawn isn’t going to work. If he’s going to best the Israelite army, he first needs to find some way to weaken their God. Whoever this Yahweh Fellow is, there must be a way to cripple His power. A super potent dark magic curse ought to do the trick. But to be effective, the curse needs to be delivered by a real pro—someone with a lot of supernatural clout. Not just any faker will do. Balak needs a professional sorcerer—someone who will be willing to cook up a really potent curse that will zap Yahweh powerless at least long enough for Moab to take care of Israel. Of course such a powerful diviner won’t work for free, but Balak is willing to pay. With all of Israel spread out across the nearby river, the whole nation of Moab is in danger.
BALAAM, MASTER OF THE OCCULT
Now when it comes to locating a really powerful spell caster, only one name comes to Balak’s mind: Balaam, son of Beor. There’s a man with serious connections and a very impressive reputation for success. Balak wastes no time in sending men out to locate Balaam and bring him the following message:
“Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth and are threatening me. Please come and curse these people for me because they are too powerful for me. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.” (Num. 22:5-6)
When Balaam receives the message and the money that Balak sent along with it, he is happy to oblige. He’s got a magical routine all worked out, and he tells the king’s messengers to spend the night while he does his sorcerer thing. Sure enough, when Balaam tries to contact Yahweh, Yahweh shows up and acts like He doesn’t know what’s going on. So Balaam explains the request he’s received.
But God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.”
The next morning Balaam got up and said to Balak’s officials, “Go back to your own country, for Yahweh has refused to let me go with you.” (Num. 22:12-13)
Notice how Balaam uses Yahweh’s personal Name (written as “the LORD” in most translations), demonstrating that he knows Who he is talking to. At this point, Balaam is sounding pretty reverent, yet we will later learn that Balaam was evil at heart, and that he really did want to curse Israel. After all, it’s not every day that Balaam gets hired by a king. He is aware of Israel’s conquests and he knows that Balak is desperate. The money is as good as in his pocket, but if he plays hard to get, he’ll be able to charge a higher price.
When Balak’s men return with the bad news, the king is quite annoyed. The first batch of messengers was a group of respected Moabite princes. Obviously Balaam wasn’t impressed enough, so Balak steps up his efforts.
Then Balak sent other princes, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. They came to Balaam and said: “This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me.”
But Balaam answered Balak’s servants, “Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I couldn’t disobey the command of Yahweh my God no matter whether the request was important or not. Now, why don’t you stay here tonight, as the others did, and I’ll find out what else Yahweh may have to tell me.”
That night God came to Balaam and said, “If these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.” (Num. 22:15-20)
Things are going just the way Balaam wants. Balak is practically groveling and offering to do anything the sorcerer wants. How nice.
Don’t be fooled by the reverent language Balaam uses. He has no sincere respect for Yahweh, he’s just putting on his “I’m a slave to the spirits” act to flaunt how aligned he is with the supernatural realm. He doesn’t care what Yahweh wants. To him, Yahweh is just another spirit who he can manipulate for his own monetary gain.
The next morning, the whole group sets out on the long journey back to King Balak. Balaam is riding on a donkey, feeling like the man, with two of his servants accompanying him.
“But God was incensed that Balaam was going, and the Angel of Yahweh took His stand on the path to oppose him. Balaam was riding his donkey, and his two servants were with him.” (Num. 22:22)
This “Angel of Yahweh” is Yahweh Himself. But wait a minute. Didn’t Yahweh just tell Balaam to go with the princes? So what is He so mad about? Whenever we run across an inconsistency like this, we need to remember that God responds to soul attitude. When He gets mad, it’s always because someone’s soul is being rebellious. At first glance, it looks like Balaam is obediently following orders. But later comments reveal that there was more going on than meets the eye.
When they see the mega-sorcerer packing up his stuff for the journey, all the Moabite princes assume that Balaam’s decided to curse Israel after all. It turns out this is what Balaam expects as well. He’s in the divination game for two reasons: prestige and profit. In 2 Peter, we finally get a picture of the kind of character Balaam had. In warning Christians of the dangers of false prophets and teachers, Peter says:
But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish. They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. (2 Pet. 2:12-15)
In Jude 1:11, we read:
“Woe to these ungodly people! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.”
Both of these passages refer to Balaam as a man who was eager to do evil for monetary gain. In Joshua 24:10, Yahweh is reflecting back on Balaam’s actions when He says:
“But I was not willing to listen to Balaam… I delivered you from his hand.” (Josh. 24:10)
In Numbers 22-24, we don’t find Balaam saying anything wrong, but later on Yahweh makes it clear that it was very much Balaam’s intention to curse Israel. When he saddled up that donkey, he wasn’t thinking, “Gee, I wonder what Yahweh will do.” His attitude was more like, “Can’t wait to curse those Israelites and rake in a hefty profit.” Based on comments Yahweh makes later on, Balaam did not view Yahweh as any kind of threat. He was used to having encounters with supernatural beings and casting effective spells, so he had no reason to think he couldn’t bring trouble down on the Israelite army.
The journey back to Balak starts off alright, but then Balaam’s donkey starts acting weird. It turns out she can see angry Yahweh standing in the road and she’s scared.
When the donkey saw the Angel of Yahweh standing in the road with a drawn sword in His hand, she turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat her to get her back on the road.
Then the Angel of Yahweh stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the Angel of Yahweh, she pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.
Then the Angel of Yahweh moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the Angel of Yahweh, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her with his staff. (Num. 22:23-27)
This passage reminds us that God interacts with everything He makes, not just humans. In the Bible we find several incidents of animals responding to God’s directives, such as the large fish who Yahweh commanded to swallow and spit up Jonah. Here the donkey’s actions make perfect sense to us because we see what she sees. But Balaam doesn’t see Yahweh—he just senses people snickering as his donkey goes wandering off into a field, or lies on the ground beneath him. We can picture the renowned sorcerer’s flushed face as the irony of the situation becomes painfully clear. Here Balaam has been hired to help defeat a mighty God, yet he can’t even keep a simple donkey in line.
Then Yahweh opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”
Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”
The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
“No,” he said. (Num. 22:28-30)
How self-absorbed does a man have to be to not find it shocking that his donkey is suddenly talking to him in a human voice? All Balaam cares about right now is how foolish he is looking to others. This man’s ego is enormous.
We have to enjoy the picture of a famous sorcerer standing in the road getting lectured by his donkey. Now at last God opens Balaam’s eyes and he sees Yahweh for himself.
Then Yahweh opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the Angel of Yahweh standing in the road with His sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown. The Angel of Yahweh asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before Me. The donkey saw Me and turned away from Me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.”
Balaam said to the Angel of Yahweh, “I have sinned. I did not realize You were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if You are displeased, I will go back.” (Num. 22:31-34)
Notice how Balaam admits to sinning. Clearly there’s a lot of information being left out of this account. Even though Yahweh told Balaam to go with the Moabite princes, Balaam understands why Yahweh is mad at him.
The Angel of Yahweh said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.
When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?”
“Well, I have come to you now,” Balaam replied. “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.” (Num. 22:35-38)
The encounter with Yahweh has really put a damper on things for Balaam. He can already sense that things aren’t going to work out in his favor. He tries to warn Balak that he won’t be able to say whatever he wants, but Balak doesn’t take him seriously. He figures Balaam is just flaunting his spiritual connections.
LET THE CURSING BEGIN
Now when it comes to buttering up the gods, animal sacrifices are always a good way to start. When Balaam arrives, Balak wastes no time in slaughtering some cattle and sheep, then he gives his guest of honor a tasty share of the barbecued meat. The next morning, Balak leads the mighty sorcerer up to a hill that he’s already picked out. The hill is one of the designated places where the people come to worship their god Baal. This makes sense—might as well be standing in a sacred spot to help get those supernatural powers flowing. From the hill, they can see the outskirts of the Israelite camp. We can imagine Balak rubbing his hands together with glee as he waits for Balaam to get started. First off, the sorcerer orders that seven altars be built, with one bull and one ram sacrificed on each. Well, that’s hours of work, but Balak has undoubtedly brought some assistants with him and soon the sacrifices are all complete.
Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I go aside. Perhaps Yahweh will come to meet with me. Whatever He reveals to me I will tell you.” Then he went off to a barren height.
God met with him, and Balaam said, “I have prepared seven altars, and on each altar I have offered a bull and a ram.” (Num. 23:3-4)
This wandering off to a barren hilltop is part of Balaam’s show. He is standing there looking around for supernatural signs when God suddenly shows up. Notice how Balaam lists off all the work he’s gone to in order to butter God up. The fact that Balaam thinks he needs to inform Yahweh of his activities, and expects Yahweh to be impressed by them further demonstrates that Balaam obviously views Yahweh as a rather limited Being who he might still be able to manipulate if he roasts enough large animals. It’s time for Yahweh to show how easily He can override mortal flesh.
Yahweh put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”
So Balaam went back to Balak and found him standing beside his offering, with all the Moabite officials. Then Balaam spoke his message: “Balak brought me from Aram, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains. ‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me; come, denounce Israel.’ How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom Yahweh has not denounced? From the rocky peaks I see them, from the heights I view them. I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob or number even a fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my final end be like theirs!” (Num. 23:5-10)
We know this reverent speech isn’t coming from Balaam—this is God forcing His words to come out of the sorcerer’s mouth, and Balak is none too happy about it.
Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!”
But Balaam replied, “I will speak only the message that Yahweh puts in my mouth.” (Num. 23:11-12)
In Bible times, blessings and curses were considered to be far more than just words. They were believed to have very real supernatural power. Of course some blessings and curses do have power—if God is the One backing them up. But pagans like Balak didn’t believe that Yahweh was the only god around. He believed that a sorcerer like Balaam could attach supernatural power to anything, and that now he has just created a spiritual shield of protection around the hated Israelites. Thanks for nothing, Balaam.
Balaam isn’t loving this moment, either. He came out here to show off his sorcerer powers and walk home with bulging pockets. Now he looks like a moron who is blessing a people who are just as much his enemies as they are Balak’s.
Then Balak said to him, “Come with me to another place where you can see them; you will not see them all but only the outskirts of their camp. And from there, curse them for me.” (Num. 23:13)
Balak figures that maybe if they change hills, they’ll get better results. Balaam agrees and the two of them trek up another hill and build seven more altars. Then they sacrifice seven more bulls and seven more rams. What a lot of work.
Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I meet with Him over there.”
Yahweh met with Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.” (Num. 23:15-16)
Balaam has no desire to stand around blessing the Israelite army that is one river away from invading Moab. Balaam would love nothing better than to call down all kinds of curses and get the glory for crippling the Israelites’ powerful God. But once again, he hears blessings coming out of his mouth.
“Arise, Balak, and listen; hear me, son of Zippor. God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill? I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot change it.” (Num. 23:19-24)
God starts this second round of blessing with a lecture aimed right at Balak. “Hello, you fool, I just said I was going to bless Israel. Do you really think I’m going to change My mind or that I didn’t mean what I said?” Notice how Balaam is forced to admit his inability to control God. Now the second blessing continues:
“No misfortune is in His plan for Jacob; no trouble is in store for Israel. For Yahweh their God is with them; He has been proclaimed their King. God brought them out of Egypt; for them He is as strong as a wild ox. No curse can touch Jacob; no magic has any power against Israel. For now it will be said of Jacob, ‘What wonders God has done for Israel!’ These people rise up like a lioness, like a majestic lion rousing itself. They refuse to rest until they have feasted on prey, drinking the blood of the slaughtered!” (Num. 23:18-24)
Here we need to stop and remember what is really happening behind the scenes between Yahweh and Israel. Their relationship is not nearly as wonderful as this speech makes it sound. The Israelites are an idolatrous, irreverent people, and Yahweh was angrily killing them off just two chapters ago. But when He speaks to these ignorant pagans, God doesn’t hang out all the dirty laundry. Balak and Balaam are trying to use dark magic to cripple Him, and He is making it very clear that their plans will never work. He is not just another demonic power like their god Baal. He is the Almighty King, and He is heaping verbal blessings on Israel to show just how independent and unrestrainable He is.
Balak said to Balaam, “If you won’t curse them, then at least don’t bless them!”
Balaam answered, “Didn’t I tell you that I must do whatever Yahweh says?” (Num. 23:25-26)
Things are starting to get testy between these two men, yet Balak still refuses to give up. He leads Balaam to the top of Mount Peor and Balaam agrees to try again. Another seven altars are built, but this time we’re told that Balaam gives up on trying to look for special omens. There’s no fancy mumbo-jumbo this time. Instead, Balaam just looks down at Israel’s massive camp and immediately Yahweh seizes control of him yet again. Bummer.
“This is the message of Balaam son of Beor, the message of the man whose eyes see clearly, the message of one who hears the words of God, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who bows down with eyes wide open:” (Num. 24:3-4)
Bowing down was a sign of respect in this culture. Next comes a gushing description of Israel living in a lush land under a great and mighty king. Then the oracle finishes with:
“God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox. They devour hostile nations and break their bones in pieces; with their arrows they pierce them. Like a lion they crouch and lie down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse them? May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!” (Num. 24:8-9)
Notice how Yahweh pats Himself on the back for bringing Israel out of Egypt and building them into a strong nation. He then amplifies Balak’s fear of Israel by describing her as a crouching lioness, a wild ox, and a bone crushing, nation devouring beast.
The last two lines of this speech will sound quite familiar to Christians who are used to hearing that “God made a Covenant with Israel that says He will bless those who bless her and curse those who curse her.” Yet here we must be careful not to go astray in our thinking. First of all, God never made any such Covenant with the nation of Israel. Those famous words were part of a Covenant He made specifically with Abraham—a reverent individual who was about to leave everything he knew to follow a God he had just met. Centuries later, when God brought Israel out of Egypt and established her as His nation, He established a very different Covenant with her—one which emphasized that all blessings had to be earned through obedience. God never promises Israel that He will bless everyone who blesses her and oppose all her enemies. When He says these things through the mouth of Balaam, He is hammering a specific point into the brains of two stubborn pagans: “If you two don’t stop trying to attack Me, I’m going to take you apart.”
Remember that Balak and Balaam are trying to attack Yahweh directly. He is their target, not the human beings they see camping beside a river. If Balak thought he could beat Israel’s army sword to sword, he would have driven them out a long time ago. It’s a supernatural war that he is trying to wage now, and Yahweh is retaliating using supernatural threats. By threatening to curse anyone who curses Israel, He’s warning Balak and Balaam that they had better start revering Him, and stop treating Him like just another limited god.
Again we need to remember how lousy Yahweh’s actual relationship with Israel is. Later on in Deuteronomy 29, Moses will review Yahweh’s Covenant with the Israelites and give them this stern warning:
“Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from Yahweh our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.
When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, ‘I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,’ they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. Yahweh will never be willing to forgive them; His wrath and zeal will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will fall on them, and Yahweh will blot out their names from under heaven. Yahweh will single them out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the Covenant written in this Book of the Law.
Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which Yahweh has afflicted it. The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, which Yahweh overthrew in fierce anger. All the nations will ask: ‘Why has Yahweh done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?’
And the answer will be: ‘It is because this people abandoned the Covenant of Yahweh, the God of their ancestors, the Covenant He made with them when He brought them out of Egypt. They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods He had not given them. Therefore Yahweh’s anger burned against this land, so that He brought on it all the curses written in this book. In furious anger and in great wrath Yahweh uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.’” (Deut. 29:18-28)
Does this sound like the words of a God who loves Israel with blind devotion and is determined to bless her every move? Not hardly. God never spoke about Israel the way our Bible scholars claim today. There is an enormous deception in the Church on this issue which results in Christians thinking that God actually wants them to fawn over people who reject the Divinity of Jesus and blatantly defy Yahweh, simply because of their genetic material. This is pure rot. God detests rebellion, and He has many harsh things to say towards people who claim to follow Him while they schmooze His enemies.
Under the Old Covenant, Yahweh promised to protect Israel only if she obeyed Him. Of course Israel doesn’t obey Him, and as a result, God ends up blessing her enemies and giving them victory over her. All throughout the Book of Judges, we read about God raising up various people groups to stomp all over the Israelites as a direct response to her willful rebellion against Him. So the next time some Bible “expert” or some zealous Jew tries to tell you that Yahweh has promised to “bless all those who bless Israel and curse all those who curse her,” you’ll know that you’re talking to someone who really doesn’t know their Scriptures very well. Both the Christian Bible and the Torah contain reams of evidence that Yahweh has never, and would never, promise to bless defiant rebels. Such ideas completely oppose God’s whole Self-exalting Character. God demands reverence from us, and He promises that if we don’t give it to Him now, He will force it out of us in eternity. God also expresses disgust with Israel’s ongoing obsession with the occult, which begins during her slavery in Egypt and never stops, even after God destroys the whole nation, exiles the people, and levels His own Temple.
Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times! Now leave at once and go home! I said I would reward you handsomely, but Yahweh has kept you from being rewarded.” (Num. 24:10)
Back on our third hilltop, Balak is furious at Balaam’s treachery. How typical of people to blame each other for the things that God does rather than give Him the glory He deserves. Notice how Balak tells Balaam to blame Yahweh for the fact that he isn’t getting paid for his services. These two crooks really deserve each other.
Although he doesn’t respect Yahweh, Balaam blames Him for the fact that he couldn’t come up with any curses. He then throws in a little prophecy, free of charge.
“I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future. A star will rise from Jacob; a scepter will emerge from Israel. It will crush the heads of Moab’s people, cracking the skulls of the people of Sheth. Edom will be taken over, and Seir, its enemy, will be conquered, while Israel marches on in triumph. A ruler will rise in Jacob who will destroy the survivors of Ir.” (Num. 24:17-19)
The rising scepter prophecy refers to future kings that Israel will have who will stomp all over her neighbors. Remember that Balak is king of Moab, so this prophecy is quite alarming. Edom was that haughty nation that drove Israel off with swords a couple of chapters back. Yahweh now prophesies through Balaam’s mouth that the Edomites will one day be conquered by Israel’s kings. In the future, Israel’s kings make many military campaigns—some successful, some not. Moab and Edom do experience their share of defeat, and both nations end up on God’s permanent bad side. Speaking to His people later on, Yahweh will look back on the days of Israel getting bullied about by the nations she passed through and say:
“No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of Yahweh; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of Yahweh, because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. Nevertheless, Yahweh your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but Yahweh your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because Yahweh your God loves you. You shall never seek their peace or their prosperity all your days.” (Deut. 23:3-6)
It’s a serious offense to try and assault Yahweh with your weenie little idol gods and think you can chase Him away. Because King Balak tried to cripple Israel’s God with his sorcerer-for-hire, Moab and Israel ended up having a lot of hostility between them…but not right away.
When Balaam finishes delivering his grim prophecies, our two pagans part company, and we think that we’ve seen the last of them until we start reading the next chapter. In Numbers 25, we read a shocking account of Israelite men sneaking off to have sex with Baal worshiping Moabite women. The next thing you know, Yahweh’s chosen people are bowing down to Baal of Peor—the very god who Balak was trying to give a boost of power through some magic curses. Is Yahweh ticked by this treachery? Oh yes. Get ready for another outpouring of wrath (see Phinehas: Zealous for God to be Honored). Later on, this sordid intermixing of Israelites and the sexy Moabite women will be credited to that devious sorcerer, Balaam. Speaking of the Moabite women later on, Moses will say:
“They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to Yahweh in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck Yahweh’s people.” (Num. 31:16)
It seems that shady Balaam found another way to drag Israel down. What a snake. But of course, we shouldn’t expect much better from a man who makes a profit off of cursing people he doesn’t even know. The real question we need to ask of ancient Israel and of the Church today is: why are God’s people always so willing to worship somebody else?
So what kind of Christian are you? If some sorcerer or witch tried to cast an evil spell on you and God came to your defense, would His efforts be appreciated? Or would He only find you bowing down to some other god? We need to be a people that are worth defending—not little twerps who camp out along a river ignoring the feelings of a God who has done so much for them.