Does that name, Balaam, sound familiar to you? Whoever he was, he is mentioned in eight books of the Bible – Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Nehemiah, Micah, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation. And, the way in which he and his activities are noted makes it plain that the Holy Spirit intended for us to learn some lessons from this man’s life.
Let us be clear about who this Balaam fellow was. Not Baal, (the name of the supreme male Canaanite deity), not Baalim (plural form of Baal used in KJV in Judges 2:11; translated as “the Baals” in NKJV), not Balak (the king of Moab), but Balaam, who lived in the region of the Euphrates River (Numbers 22:5). He is a main figure in the biblical record in Numbers 22-24, identified as Balaam “the soothsayer” (Joshua 13:22) and one that was associated with sorcery (Numbers 24:2).
In what setting did Balaam come on the scene in Old Testament history? In the final year of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan, they came to the east side of the Jordan River, where they conquered the Amorites and their mighty kings (Numbers 21:21-35). When Balak, the king of Moab, saw what Israel had done to the Amorites, he could see the writing on the wall. He knew that he and his people could not stand before the Israelites, so he called on Balaam to come and curse them. Here was the king’s appeal to Balaam: “Therefore please come at once, curse this people [Israel, rdc] for me, for they are too mighty for me . . . for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed” (Numbers 22:6).
Balaam said some wonderful things. He really did. When Balak’s servants offered Balaam a “diviner’s fee” (Numbers 22:7), his response was, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more” (Numbers 22:18). I love those thoughts, don’t you? When Balaam finally spoke with Moab’s king face to face, he declared, “The word that God puts in my mouth, that I must speak” (Numbers 22:38). Again, at that point, I am thinking that Balaam’s words get a “thumbs up.” Sadly, though, like others who have followed in his steps, Balaam’s later actions indicate that his heart was not right with God. Let us all be reminded: saying the right things is not enough, and saying good things does not prove that we are in or will remain in the right relationship with the Lord.
In the affairs of Baalam, we see that Jehovah has the whole world in His hands and at His disposal. As Peter put it, God used a “dumb donkey” to rebuke Balaam for his iniquity (2 Peter 2:16; cf. Numbers 22:22-31). In this instance, it was a donkey that the Creator used for His purposes. He used water to destroy the world in Noah’s day, He used locusts and frogs as part of His onslaught of plagues in Egypt, He used a fish to discipline Jonah, He used worms to strike prideful Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12), and, of course, He has used humans. All praise is due to the Almighty, whose “glory is above the earth and heaven” (Psalm 148:13). When matters look bleak, let us not forget Who really is in control!
Consider this irony: Balaam blessed God’s people, yet he was a curse to them. Much to the chagrin of Moab’s king, Balaam refused to pronounce a direct curse on the Israelites. In fact, God Himself said that Balaam “continued to bless” Israel (Joshua 24:10). In the end, Balaam took action that influenced the Israelites to sin. Israel committed harlotry and worshipped idols with the people of Balak (Numbers 25:1-3). What was Balaam’s role in such sinful conduct? According to Revelation 2:14, he “taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” God wants us to be the kind of people that are a blessing to others in both word and deed (1 John 3:18).
The history of Balaam’s life reminds us that it is possible to do things behind the scenes – either evil or good, which have a huge influence on how things take place out in the open. When we read the biblical record in Numbers 25 of how the Israelites sinned (idolatry and fornication), Balaam’s name is not mentioned in the context. Rest assured, though, that he was working behind the scenes. You and I do not have to be “out in front” in order to be an influence on others or the work of God. Maybe we are more of a behind-the-scenes type of servant. We need those, too. Let us make sure, though, that whether we are in private or in public, our influence is for good.
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). What does that truth have to do with Balaam? The king of Moab finally offered enough money to Balaam that he gave in to the temptation. “For the right price,” as we say, Balaam sold his soul, giving advice to Balak about how he could “get” the Israelites. For Balaam, it was all about “profit” (Jude 11). In 2 Peter 2:15, we read that Balaam “loved the wages of unrighteousness.” Many good people have gone astray because of their unsatiated love of money. Are we listening?
One final thought. If we read only a few of the Bible verses about Balaam, we might think that this guy was devoted to pleasing God. When we read the Bible’s complete message about him, however, we see him in a different light. Regardless of the topic, in order to get an accurate picture, we must read all that the Bible says about that particular subject.
— Roger D. Campbell