Balaam

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Men in the Old Testament, Obedience

  • Stories about Balaam occur in Numbers 22-24.
  • He is the son of Beor and a prophet in Pethor near the Euphrates River.
  • Scholars aren’t certain of the meaning of his name.
  • Some think it might mean either “glutton” or “foreigner.”
  • Others see a compound of “Bel” and “Am.” Both are names of deities.
  • It could mean “lord.”
  • The king of Moab, Balak, sends messengers to Balaam asking him to pronounce a curse upon the Israelites as they are moving toward settling in the Promised Land.
  • The messengers take money to pay Balaam a divination fee.
  • Balaam invites them to spend the night; he intends to consult with the Lord and will give them his answer in the morning.
  • God comes to Balaam and asks about the men with him.
  • Balaam tells God about the request from Balak, the king of Moab.
  • God tells Balaam not to go back with them. He tells Balaam not to curse the Israelites “because they are blessed.”
  • The next morning Balaam tells the messengers to go home and that the Lord has refused to let him accompany them.
  • Balak sends more important messengers in an attempt to change Balaam’s mind.
  • Balaam says, “Even if Balak gives me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything…beyond the command of the Lord my God.”
  • Nonetheless, he invites them to spend the night while he again talks to the Lord.
  • That night God tells him he can go, but he must only do what God instructs.
  • The next morning Balaam saddles his donkey and goes with the officials.
  • God, however, is upset with his decision.
  • On the way, Balaam’s donkey sees an angel of the Lord standing in the road with its sword drawn.
  • The donkey turns off the road, and Balaam beats it to get it back on.
  • Then the angel appears in a narrow passageway.
  • In order to avoid the angel, the donkey presses close to one side, crushing Balaam’s foot.
  • Balaam again beats the donkey.
  • The angel appears again completely blocking their path.
  • The donkey simply lies down.
  • Balaam beats it again.
  • Then the Lord opens the donkey’s mouth, and it speaks to Balaam, “Why have you beat me three times?”
  • Balaam answers the donkey, saying he’s made a fool of him and threatens to kill him.
  • The donkey asks Balaam if he has ever done this before.
  • Balaam says “no,” and at that moment sees the angel standing before them.
  • The angel tells Balaam that the donkey has saved his life.
  • Balaam offers to return home, but the angel repeats the words of the Lord.
  • “Go with these men, but speak only what you are told.”
  • When he arrives, Balaam asks Balak to build seven altars. They sacrifice a bull and a ram on each altar.
  • Then Balaam goes off to await a message from the Lord.
  • The Lord meets with him and gives him a message for Balak: “How can I curse those whom God has not cursed?”
  • Balak is very angry.
  • They go to another spot where they can see the Israelites camped.
  • Balak again asks him to curse them, and they build more altars and make more sacrifices.
  • Balaam goes aside to await word from the Lord.
  • The Lord tells him, “There can be no divination against Jacob, no evil omens.”
  • Everything is repeated a third time.
  • Balaam received the spirit of the Lord and pronounces a blessing upon Jacob.
  • Then Balak’s anger burns against Balaam; he tells him to go home and refuses to pay him.
  • Balaam speaks more oracles, essentially prophesying that the Canaanite nations will be defeated by the Israelites.
  • Balaam returns home and is killed in a battle between the Israelites and the Midianites.
  • Over time Balaam becomes a symbol for those who entice others to sin.
  • This is based on him setting up the altars and sacrificing upon them in the hopes of persuading the Lord to give him a favorable answer that would be pleasing to Balak.

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