In this article, we will explore the story of Balaam in the Bible and what we can learn as Christians. So, grab your Bible, and let’s dig in…
We can read many stories in the Bible’s first five books featuring many interesting people. There are stories about many prominent persons in the Bible, like Noah, Abram, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. There are also some interesting stories about people who were not as prominent.
One such person whom you may wonder about is Balaam.
Balaam was a diviner who lived before Israel entered the promised land. He was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to put a curse on Israel.
However, Balaam could only speak what God permitted, and he pronounced a blessing over Israel instead.
Balaam pronounced curses over people for a living as a diviner and was rather good at it. He was so impressive that the king of Moab sent his messengers almost 400 miles far to summon Balaam.
And even though Balaam did as God told him and did not curse Israel, he is called a bad person, even in the New Testament. We need to look at his story closely to understand what he did wrong.
Who Was Balaam In The Bible?
Balaam’s name in Hebrew means “to swallow up people,” but his name is usually translated as “Devourer” or “Destroyer.” (source)
בִּלְעָם Bilʻâm, bil-awm’; probably from H1077 and H5971; not (of the) people, i.e. foreigner; Bilam, a Mesopotamian prophet; also a place in Palestine:—Balaam, Bileam.
בַּל bal, bal; from H1086; properly, a failure; by implication nothing; usually (adverb) not at all; also lest:—lest, neither, no, none (that…), not (any), nothing.
עַם ʻam, am; from H6004; a people (as a congregated unit); specifically, a tribe (as those of Israel); hence (collectively) troops or attendants; figuratively, a flock:—folk, men, nation, people.
Although he is sometimes called a prophet, Balaam was a diviner from a family of diviners. He made a living out of cursing people, which is why we read his story in the Bible.
We read Balaam’s story in Numbers 22-24. The Moabite king, Balak, got scared when the Israelites set up camp close to Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho.
Israel had just defeated the Canaanite king, Arad, and King Sihon of Og. Balak saw how big the Israelite camp was and knew he had to weaken them to prevent him from suffering the same fate.
Balak sent messengers to Balaam to bring him to Moab to curse Israel. When the messengers arrived, Balaam enquired from God, who told him he could not return with them.
Balak sent a second group of delegates, and after Balaam enquired from God, he got permission to go, provided that he only did what God told him to do.
Balaam And The Donkey
We find the story of Balaam and the donkey In Numbers 22:21-35. After God permitted Balaam to go with Balak’s delegation, Balaam packed his donkey and set off with King Balak’s delegation to Moab.
God was very angry with Balaam, and he sent an angel to block Balaam’s progress.
With a drawn sword, the angel stood in the road, facing Balaam and his donkey. When the donkey saw the angel, it swerved off the road into the field.
Balaam got angry and beat the donkey to get it back on track. The angel blocked the road a second time, causing the donkey to press up against a wall, crushing Balaam’s foot. Again, Balaam beat the donkey.
The angel moved further down the road to a very narrow place where the donkey could not move away or turn around. The donkey saw the angel in the road with the drawn sword and lay down with Balaam on its back. Balaam was furious, and he beat the donkey again.
Numbers 22:28 says:
“Then the LORD 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 was furious and threatened to kill the donkey, but when the donkey asked if Balaam knew him to behave this way, Balaam said no. God made Balaam see the angel, causing Balaam to fall on his face.
The angel told Balaam that he would have been killed if not for the donkey turning away every time. In Numbers 22:34, we read:
“Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, ‘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.” The angel told Balaam he could go but warned him again to speak only what God told him to.
Balaam And Balak
In Numbers 22 from verse 36, we read how Balak came to meet Balaam. Balak told Balaam that he wanted him to curse the Israelites, but Balaam again said:
“But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.” -Numbers 22:38
Balak took Balaam to the height of Bamoth Baal, where he could see the outskirts of Israel’s camp. Balaam requested that Balak build him seven altars, with a bull and a ram, to sacrifice on each altar. After that, Balaam went aside to meet with God.
God met with him and told him what to say, so upon his return to Balak, he told Balak what God told him.
In Numbers 23:8-10, we read Balaam’s response:
“How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced? From the rocky peaks, I see them; from the heights, I view them. I see 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?”
Balak was furious but took Balaam to a second hill. After the same sacrifices and Balaam meeting with God again, he brought a blessing over Israel instead of the curse Balak demanded.
Still, Balak insisted on trying once more, at a third height and a third set of sacrifices, but God did not allow Balaam to curse Israel.
After the third failed attempt, Balak sent Balaam home. But, before he left, Balaam gave four more prophecies. The first refers to a star that will come out of Jacob and crush Moab (Numbers 24:17).
In the other three prophecies, Balaam prophecies about the demise of Amalek, the Kenites, as well as Ashur and Eber. After this, Balaam went back to his home.
This was not the end of Balaam and Balak!
In Revelation 2:14, we read that Balaam.
“But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.”
According to Joshua 13:22, Balaam was eventually killed by the Israelites in battle, along with several Canaanite kings.
The children of Israel also killed with the sword Balaam the son of Beor, the soothsayer, among those who were killed by them.
WHAT IS A SOOTHSAYER?
In the Bible, a soothsayer or diviner is someone who claims to predict the future or access hidden knowledge through supernatural means. Divination, the practice of seeking such knowledge, was common in ancient Near Eastern cultures but is consistently condemned in the Bible.
The Israelites were instructed to trust God and His prophets for guidance rather than seeking counsel from forbidden sources. Both the Old and New Testaments contain examples and warnings against divination, reinforcing the importance of relying on God’s authority.
Lessons We Learn From Balaam’s Story
Even though Balaam was not a God-fearing and righteous man, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from his life and his story in the Bible. Here are some key lessons we can learn.
- God Sees What Is In Your Heart – Even though Balaam obeyed God and did not speak a curse over Israel, blessing them instead, God knew that his heart was wicked. He did it out of fear for himself. Not out of realizing what he was doing was wrong.
When we face the Almighty Creator, we must remember that what is in our hearts matters more to God than our obedience or sacrifices. The Pharisees and Sadducees are prime examples of this.
- God Can Use Others’ Evil Plans To Benefit His Kingdom – Just like God turned what Balak wanted to be a curse over Israel into a blessing, He can use what is meant to harm us to benefit His kingdom, as Joseph told his brothers in Genesis 50:20:
“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.“
- Money Can’t Buy You Everything – Balak thought he could reward Balaam handsomely enough to curse Israel, but his plan backfired.
Today, many believe money can ensure their security or happiness, and health, but all these things are ultimately found in Christ Jesus.
- Do Not Entice Someone To Sin – When Balaam taught Balak to lure the Israelites to sin, it didn’t just kill many Israelites but ultimately led to the deaths of Balak and Balaam in battle too.
Jeremiah also warned against this in Jeremiah 23:1. People who lead others down the wrong path will ultimately answer to God for those they misled.
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the Lord.
Balaam was a diviner hired to curse Israel by Balak, the king of Moab. However, God prevented Balaam from condemning Israel, and he blessed them instead.
Later he taught Balak to entice Israel into sin, which led to the death of thousands of Israelites but ultimately ended when the Israelites killed Balak and Balaam in battle.
I hope you have enjoyed this study on Balaam in the Bible and that you learned some things that have stirred your faith!
Melissa is a passionate minister, speaker and an ongoing learner of the Bible. She has been involved in church and vocational ministry for over 18 years. And is the founder of Think About Such Things. She has the heart to equip the saints by helping them get into the Word of God and fall more in love with Jesus. She also enjoys family, cooking, and reading.
She has spoken in churches in California, Oregon, Texas, and Mexico and has been featured in Guidepost Magazine and All Recipes Magazine. Read More…