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Balaam and Balak
Chapters 22 through 24 detail the concern which Balak the king of Moab had when he observed the millions of Israelites moving toward his land. Balak hired Balaam the prophet to proclaim a curse against the Israelites, but when Balak's messenger came to Balaam, they had great difficulty in persuading him to return with them. Finally, at the promise of a substantial reward, he "saddled his ass and went with the princes of Moab." As Balaarn and his servants rode along, an angel of the Lord appeared in the road before them. The angel was visible only to the ass, not to the rest of the company. Frightened, the animal skittishly headed off the road into a field. Balaam managed to get his ass back on the road, but the angel appeared again. This time, they were riding along a narrow path between the walls of two vineyards. When the ass saw the angel, she pushed up against one of the walls and crushed Balaam's foot, and he struck her a second time.
The third appearance of the angel was at another narrow place in the road. This time there was no place to go but forward. The ass was not about to get any closer to the angel, so she simply lay down in the path, with Balaam still on her back. By now, Balaam was furious. He struck her a third time with his staff. Then, the ass struck back, not with a stick, but with words. Calmly, as if speaking were the most natural thing in the world for an ass to do, she asked, "what have I done, that you have struck me these three times?" Balaam seems so angered by the actions of the ass - or perhaps he is so used to the supernatural because of his occultic divinations - that he does not even question the fact that she is talking: "If I had a sword, I would have killed you." After further conversation, the Lord enabled Balaam to see the angel and the mystery began to unravel. Balaam fell on his face before the angel and declared he would go no further if God did not desire it. He was told to continue his mission, but to speak only that which the Lord directed him to speak. Under this condition, Balaam went to meet Balak.
The events of the next few days must have been as frustrating to Balak as the behavior of the ass had been to Balaam. Early the next morning, Balak led Balaam to a mountain from which he could see the Israelite camp. At Balaam's instruction, he had seven altars built and offered seven bulls and seven rams (Numbers 23:4). Then, after a brief visit with the Lord, Balaam returned to Balak's side to pronounce the curse - but it wasn't a curse. Instead, he cried out:
How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom God has not denounced? (Numbers 23:81)
Balak was upset, but figured that Balaam might do better with a change of scenery. He led him to the top of Mount Pisgah, built the altars, offered the sacrifices, and waited. But again, when Balaam spoke, he spoke a blessing instead of curse:
20 "Behold, I have received a command to bless; When He has blessed, then I cannot revoke it. 21 "He has not observed misfortune in Jacob; Nor has He seen trouble in Israel; The LORD his God is with him, And the shout of a king is among them. 22 "God brings them out of Egypt, He is for them like the horns of the wild ox. 23 "For there is no omen against Jacob, Nor is there any divination against Israel; At the proper time it shall be said to Jacob And to Israel, what God has done. (Numbers 23:20-231)
Now Balak was furious. "If you can't say something bad," he demanded, "don't say anything at all." (v25) But Balaam was his last hope. He would give him one more try. Another mountain, more altars, more sacrifices. As Balaam looked out over the encampment of. Israel from the top of Mount Peor, he began once more to speak:
5 How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel! 6 "Like valleys that stretch out, Like gardens beside the river, Like aloes planted by the LORD, Like cedars beside the waters. 7 "Water shall flow from his buckets, And his seed shall be by many waters, And his king shall be higher than Agag, And his kingdom shall be exalted. 8 "God brings him out of Egypt, He is for him like the horns of the wild ox. He shall devour the nations who are his adversaries, And shall crush their bones in pieces, And shatter them with his arrows. 9 "He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him? Blessed is everyone who blesses you, And cursed is everyone who curses you." (Numbers 24:5-91)
At this the infuriated Balak struck his hands together in anger. The experiment had been a complete washout. For his failure to do his assigned task, Balaam was effectively fired without pay but he reminded Balak that he had come on the condition that he could only speak the word of the Lord as it came to him, for he had no choice in the matter. But he did have a thing or two more to say about Israel. And he took up his discourse and said:
17 "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, And a scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth. 18 "And Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also shall be a possession, While Israel performs valiantly. 19 "One from Jacob shall have dominion, And shall destroy the remnant from the city." (Numbers 24:17-19).
This final part of the blessing which Balaam prophesied upon the Israelites was a promise of the coming Messiah: "There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel."
"Then Balaam rose and went back to place; and Balak also went his way" (v25) Balak's evil plan was brought to nought, for no power from men or Satan could stop Israel while their God was with them. This event provided one more evidence that God's plan will not be thwarted. He will speak even through an ungodly pagan prophet because He is sovereign. He will bless whom He will bless and will curse whom He will curse. The next few weeks Israel would spend in physical and spiritual preparation - then the conquest of Canaan would begin.
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