The king of the country called Moab requests Balaam’s help – Numbers 22:1-14
v1 The *Israelites travelled to the plains of the country called Moab. They camped there by the Jordan river, opposite the city called Jericho.
v2 Balak, Zippor’s son, was the king of Moab. He heard about what the *Israelites had done to the *Amorites. v3 Also, he heard that there were very many *Israelites. He and his people became very afraid.
v4 The *Moabites spoke to the leaders of the *Midianites. The *Moabites said, ‘The *Israelites will destroy everything round us. They are like a *bull that eats the grass in a field!’
So King Balak of Moab (Zippor’s son) v5 sent a message to Balaam, Beor’s son. Balaam lived among his relatives in Pethor town, near the Euphrates river. In his message, Balak said:
‘A very large group of people has come out of the country called Egypt. These people are spreading everywhere. They are living near my territory. v6 I will not be able to defeat them. They are too powerful. Come and put a *curse on them. Then perhaps I will be able to defeat them. And perhaps I will be able to make them leave. When you, Balaam, *bless people, they will succeed. But when you *curse them, they will fail. I know that you have this power.’
v7 The *Moabites’ leaders and the *Midianites’ leaders left. These officials took money to pay Balaam for the *curse. They reached Balaam’s house. They gave Balak’s message to Balaam.
v8 ‘Stay here during the night,’ said Balaam. ‘Tomorrow I will tell you what the *LORD has said to me.’ So the officials from Moab stayed with Balaam.
v9 Then God came to Balaam. God asked, ‘Who are these men in your house?’
v10 Balaam replied to God, ‘King Balak of Moab, Zippor’s son) sent them with this message: v11 “A very large group of people has come out of the country called Egypt. They are spreading everywhere. Come and put a *curse on them for me. Then perhaps I will be able to fight them. And perhaps I will be able to make them leave.” ’
v12 God said to Balaam, ‘Do not go with King Balak’s officials. I have *blessed the people who came out of Egypt. So you must not put a *curse on them.’
v13 The next morning, Balaam told Balak’s officials, ‘Go back to your own country. The *LORD has refused to let me go with you.’
v14 So the officials from Moab went back to Balak. They said, ‘Balaam has refused to come with us.’
Chapters 22-24 record the story of Balaam and the *prophecies he spoke about *Israel. Balaam was not an *Israelite. In fact, he was *Israel’s enemy. But he was a genuine *prophet of God.
However, Balaam loved money. His desire for money caused him to *sin (Jude 11; 2 Peter 2:15). In the end, he became a wicked man who used magic (Joshua 13:22).
This story is very important. It describes events with lots of details. It emphasises that Balaam spoke God’s words only. By means of Balaam, God said that he had *blessed *Israel. This meant that God would continue to protect the *Israelites. Also, God repeated the promises that he had made to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). God had promised to give to Abraham his own land and many *descendants. God promised that he would be with Abraham, too. The *Israelites were Abraham’s *descendants. So those promises were for their benefit.
Verses 1-7 Balak, the king of the country called Moab, was afraid of the *Israelites. He knew that his army could not defeat them in a battle. So he spoke about this to the *Midianites. The *Midianites lived in *tribes. They lived in the Sinai *desert and in the *deserts east of the Jordan river. The *Moabites and the *Midianites joined together to ask for help against the *Israelites. They knew that they could not defeat the *Israelites in a physical battle. So they decided that they would use evil *spiritual powers to defeat the *Israelites.
They sent officials to Balaam. Clearly, Balak believed that Balaam could *curse people. The word *curse in this part of the Bible means the same as a *prophecy. But it is about bad things rather than good things. Balak did not realise that Balaam was a *prophet of God. Balak thought that Balaam did magic. And he wanted a stronger magic than his own gods could provide.
The officials took money to pay Balaam. Also, they took a message from Balak. They gave it to Balaam. In the message, Balak referred to the *Israelites as ‘a very large group of people’. And he mentioned that they had come out of the country called Egypt (verse 5). He did not mention that God had rescued them from the *Egyptians. Perhaps he did not know this. But he knew that they were powerful. And he believed that he needed to use *spiritual means against them, rather than physical means.
Verses 8-14 Balaam decided to ask the *LORD what he should do. So he told the officials to wait until the next morning. He needed to pray so that he would know God’s answer. This shows that Balaam had the character of a genuine *prophet.
During the night, God spoke to Balaam. God told Balaam that he should not go with the officials. God told Balaam that he should not *curse the *Israelites. God had *blessed the *Israelites. God would not allow Balaam to say anything that would hurt his people, the *Israelites.
But Balaam did not tell Balak’s officials the whole truth about what God had said. He should have said that God was *blessing the *Israelites. Instead, he pretended that God had not allowed him to go with the officials. Probably, he thought he could persuade God to let him go later. Then still he could receive a payment. Already, he was showing his desire for money.
Also, Balaam knew that he could not *curse the *Israelites. He could not *curse them because God was on their side.
So Balaam refused to do what Balak had asked. And he sent the officials back to Balak.
Balak sends even more important officials to Balaam – Numbers 22:15-21
v15 Then Balak sent another, larger group of officials to Balaam. These officials were even more important than the officials who had gone to Balaam first.
v16 The officials went to Balaam. They gave to him a message from Balak, Zippor’s son. In it, Balak said, ‘Come to me! Do not allow anything to prevent you! v17 I will pay you very well. I will do whatever you say. Come and *curse these people on my behalf.’
v18 Balaam answered, ‘I cannot refuse to obey the *LORD my God about anything, big or small. I cannot refuse to obey God, even if Balak gave to me a palace full of silver and gold! v19 The other officials stayed here overnight. You can stay here tonight, too. Then I will discover if the *LORD has something else to say about this.’
v20 That night, God came to Balaam. God said, ‘I will let you go to the country called Moab with Balak’s officials. But you must do only what I tell you.’
v21 So the next morning Balaam put a saddle on his *donkey. Then he left with the *Moabite officials.
Verses 15-21 Balaam had not told the first group of officials why he refused to *curse the *Israelites. Probably, Balak thought that Balaam wanted more money as his payment. So Balak sent a larger, more important group of officials. They brought the same message with them. Already God had spoken to Balaam about Balak’s request (verse 12). Already God had given clear instructions to Balaam. But still Balaam told the officials to stay overnight. Balaam would find out what God would say about this matter. Perhaps Balaam thought that God would say something else.
And God did say something else. He allowed Balaam to go with Balak’s officials. But still Balaam had to obey God’s instructions. It seems that God had changed his decision. But, in fact, he had decided to use Balaam in his plan to *bless the *Israelites.
Balaam’s *donkey and the *angel – Numbers 22:22-35
v22 Balaam was riding on his *donkey. His two servants were with him. God was very angry because Balaam was going to the country called Moab. So one of the *LORD’s *angels stood in the road to oppose him. v23 The *angel was holding a sword. And the *angel was ready to use the sword. When Balaam’s *donkey saw the *LORD’s *angel, it left the road. It went into the fields. Balaam struck the *donkey to make it return to the road.
v24 Then the *LORD’s *angel stood on a narrow part of the road, between two *vineyards. There was a wall of stones on each side. v25 When the *donkey saw the *LORD’s *angel, it moved closer to the wall. It crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. (‘To crush’ means to press something very hard. This causes damage.) So Balaam struck the *donkey again.
v26 The *LORD’s *angel moved again. The *angel stood in a very narrow place. There was no room to pass on either side. v27 When the *donkey saw the *LORD’s *angel again, the *donkey laid down under Balaam. Balaam became very angry. He struck the *donkey with his stick.
v28 Then the *LORD caused the *donkey to speak. The *donkey said to Balaam, ‘I have not done anything bad to you. But you have struck me three times!’
v29 Balaam replied to the *donkey, ‘You have made me seem foolish! If I had a sword, I would kill you at once!’
v30 The *donkey said to Balaam, ‘I am your own *donkey. You have ridden me many times. I have never done anything like this to you before.’
‘I know this,’ answered Balaam.
v31 Then, the *LORD allowed Balaam to see the *LORD’s *angel. Still, the *angel was standing in the road and the *angel was holding his sword. Balaam bent his head down. Then he fell down and he laid his face on the ground.
v32 The *LORD’s *angel said, ‘You struck your *donkey three times. That was wrong. I was standing in the road to oppose you. You should not go to the country called Moab. v33 The *donkey saw me. If the *donkey had not turned away on these three occasions, then I would have killed you! But I would have allowed the *donkey to live.’
v34 Balaam answered, ‘I have *sinned. I did not realise that you were trying to stop me. If you do not want me to go, then I will return to my home immediately.’
v35 But the *LORD’s *angel said, ‘Go with the officials. But you must say only what the *LORD tells you to say!’
So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.
Balaam knew about *spiritual things. He had spoken to God. And God had spoken to him. But, in this story, Balaam’s *donkey could see the *LORD’s *angel when Balaam could not! God had caused Balaam to become blind to *spiritual things.
Also, this story shows us that always God’s message is more important than his messenger. (A messenger is someone who speaks a message.) God can use even a *donkey to give his message. So when God uses a person to speak his message, that person should not be proud. It is good for us to remember this.
Verse 22 *Angels give God’s messages to people. But ‘the *LORD’s *angel’ did more than this. In the *Old Testament, when God wanted to show himself to people, sometimes an *angel appeared on his behalf (for example, Genesis 18:1 and 18:9-15; Exodus 3:2). The *LORD’s *angel came to Balaam because he was *sinning. The *LORD’s *angel came to issue God’s judgement against Balaam.
God knew that Balaam did not want to please him genuinely. He knew that Balaam was greedy for money. Probably, Balaam was hoping to persuade God to allow him to *curse the *Israelites. Then Balak would pay him well. So, although God allowed Balaam to go with Balak’s officials, Balaam’s real reason for his journey was still wrong. And God had to let Balaam know this. God wanted Balaam to realise that he would allow Balaam to *bless the *Israelites only.
God was not trying to punish his *prophet, Balaam. He wanted to persuade Balaam to do the right thing. That was God’s plan for Balaam always.
Verses 23-33 Balaam’s *donkey saw the *LORD’s *angel three times. And it refused to pass the *angel three times. Balaam became very angry and he struck the *donkey each time. Then God caused the *donkey to speak. The *donkey reminded Balaam that it had never done anything wrong before. Therefore, there had to be a good reason for its unusual behaviour.
Then God allowed Balaam to understand what was happening. Balaam saw the *angel with the sword. He was afraid, so he fell down to the ground. Then the *angel told Balaam that the *donkey had saved Balaam from death. And the *angel told Balaam that his (Balaam’s) attitudes were wrong. Balaam was behaving in a manner that made God angry.
Verses 34-35 Immediately, Balaam agreed that he had *sinned. He said that he would return to his home. But the *LORD’s *angel told Balaam to continue his journey to the country called Moab. And Balaam had to speak only the words that God gave to him.
Balak meets Balaam – Numbers 22:36-41
v36 Balak heard that Balaam was coming. So Balak went out to meet him at the town called Ir. Ir is on the northern border of the country called Moab. It is by the Arnon river.
v37 Balak said to Balaam, ‘I sent to you an urgent message to come. But you did not come the first time that I sent it. Perhaps you thought that I was not able to reward you!’
v38 Balaam answered, ‘But I have come to you now. However, I cannot say whatever I want to say. I must say only what God tells me to say.’
v39 Then Balaam and Balak went to a town called Kiriath-Huzoth. v40 Balak *sacrificed cows and sheep there. He gave some of the meat to Balaam and the officials. v41 The next morning, Balak took Balaam to Bamoth-Baal. From there, Balaam could see some of the *Israelites.
Verses 36-37 Balak was very eager to meet Balaam. He could not wait until Balaam arrived in the country called Moab. He went out to meet Balaam at the border of Moab.
However, Balaam had annoyed Balak, because he had not come sooner. Balak was a rich and important king. He thought that Balaam did not know this. Balak wanted Balaam to know that he would reward Balaam well for his help.
But really Balak did not understand about *prophecy. A genuine *prophet of God speaks only what God tells him to speak. God *blesses or *curses, not the *prophet. Even those people whom God has *cursed can *repent. Then God will free them from his *curse. Balak did not understand any of these facts.
Also, Balak thought that all *spiritual powers were the same. He thought that magic was the same as God’s power. He did not realise that magic was the devil’s power.
Verse 38 Balaam wanted to obey the *LORD’s *angel. He told Balak that he would say only God’s words. True *prophecy is God’s words that he gives to a *prophet. The *prophet’s own words have no power. But God’s words have power.
Verses 39-40 These words could mean that Balaam ate a meal with Balak and his officials. But there is another possible meaning. Perhaps Balak asked Balaam to come after Balak had made the *sacrifices. These were *sacrifices that Balak had made to *idols. So it does not mean definitely that Balaam was eating these *sacrifices.
Verse 41 The *Hebrew words ‘Bamoth-Baal’ mean ‘the high places of Baal’. Baal was a false god that the *Moabites *worshipped. They *worshipped Baal in places in the hills.
Balak took Balaam there. Balak *worshipped Baal, so to him (Balak) this was a special place. Probably, Balak thought that the *curse would work better in that place.