Balak’s fear of Israel, He sends for Balaam. (Verse 1-14.)
Balaam goes to Balak. (Verse 15-21.)
The opposition to Balaam by the way. (Verse 22-35.)
Balaam and Balak meet. (Verse 36-41.)
This Chapter tell the story of the false prophet Balaam who was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the nation of Israel. Though Balaam in the end uttered the words that God told him to, this false prophet only blessed Israel because he was afraid of God. Balaam was a “soothsayer” (ie. fortune teller – see Josh. 13:22) who was covetous and would gladly corrupt the truth for a price. Balaam is a picture or type of the modern preacher who is willing to tone down the truth and tell God’s people what they want to hear, instead of what God wants them to be told, in order to protect his pay cheque. Though Balaam could not curse the children of Israel as Balak wished him to, Balaam did devise a plan to get God to curse his own people. Balaam counselled Balak to corrupt the Jews by encouraging his people to intermarry with the Jews and get them into idolatry which would bring God’s wrath upon them (25:1-3) – it worked!
[2 Pet 2:15]
How does Revelation 2:14 describe this?
1 And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.
2 And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
3 And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.
4 And Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field. And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time.
5 He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me:
6 Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land: for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.
7 And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came unto Balaam, and spake unto him the words of Balak.
“rewards of divination” – the elders of Moab would richly reward this pagan witch doctor named Balaam if he would do a little fortune telling for their king – ie. preaching for money or for “filthy lucre” as the NT calls it. God’s man preaches the truth because God has called him to do it, NOT in order to collect a pay cheque!
8 And he said unto them, Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the LORD shall speak unto me: and the princes of Moab abode with Balaam.
9 And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?
10 And Balaam said unto God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me, saying,
11 Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which covereth the face of the earth: come now, curse me them; peradventure I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out.
12 And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.
13 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes of Balak, Get you into your land: for the LORD refuseth to give me leave to go with you.
14 And the princes of Moab rose up, and they went unto Balak, and said, Balaam refuseth to come with us.
15 And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.
16 And they came to Balaam, and said to him, Thus saith Balak the son of Zippor, Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from coming unto me:
17 For I will promote thee unto very great honour, and I will do whatsoever thou sayest unto me: come therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people.
18 And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more.
“Lord my God” – Balaam was not a believer; he was a pagan soothsayer who used enchantments and divinations (23:23; 24:1) – things God cursed; and yet Balaam claimed that the Lord was his God and in 24:2 the Holy Spirit came upon this man; in 24:4 he even sees and hears God in a vision. Thus we find that God will even use an unsaved man when it suits his purpose and just because someone claims to be a believer and has visions is no guarantee of the genuineness of their salvation.
What did Jesus say about such people in Matthew 7:21?
19 Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will say unto me more.
20 And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do.
21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.
note God’s exact command and Baalam’s disobedience
22 And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.
23 And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.
24 But the angel of the LORD stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side.
25 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall: and he smote her again.
26 And the angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.
27 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.
28 And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?
29 And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.
30 And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? And he said, Nay.
31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.
[Gen 21:19, 2nd Kings 6:17, Luke 24:16]
32 And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me:
33 And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive.
34 And Balaam said unto the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.
35 And the angel of the LORD said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.
36 And when Balak heard that Balaam was come, he went out to meet him unto a city of Moab, which is in the border of Arnon, which is in the utmost coast.
37 And Balak said unto Balaam, Did I not earnestly send unto thee to call thee? wherefore camest thou not unto me? am I not able indeed to promote thee to honour?
38 And Balaam said unto Balak, Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say any thing? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak.
39 And Balaam went with Balak, and they came unto Kirjathhuzoth.
40 And Balak offered oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes that were with him.
41 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into the high places of Baal, that thence he might see the utmost part of the people.
Commentary by Matthew Henry, 1710.
Verse 1-14 – The king of Moab formed a plan to get the people of Israel cursed; that is, to set God against them, who had hitherto fought for them. He had a false notion, that if he could get some prophet to pray for evil upon them, and to pronounce a blessing upon himself and his forces, that then he should be able to deal with them. None had so great a reputation as Balaam; and Balak will employ him, though he send a great way for him. It is not known whether the Lord had ever spoken to Balaam, or by him, before this; though it is probable he had, and it is certain he did afterwards. Yet we have abundant proof that he lived and died a wicked man, an enemy to God and his people. And the curse shall not come upon us if there is not a cause, even though men utter it. To prevail with Balaam, they took the wages of unrighteousness, but God laid restraint upon Balaam, forbidding him to curse Israel. Balaam was no stranger to Israel’s cause; so that he ought to have answered the messengers at once, that he would never curse a people whom God had blessed; but he takes a night’s time to consider what he should do. When we parley with temptations, we are in great danger of being overcome. Balaam was not faithful in returning God’s answer to the messengers. Those are a fair mark for Satan’s temptation, who lessen Divine restraints; as if to go against God’s law were only to go without his leave. The messengers also are not faithful in returning Balaam’s answer to Balak. Thus many are abused by the flatteries of those about them, and are prevented from seeing their own faults and follies.
Verse 15-21 – A second embassy was sent to Balaam. It were well for us, if we were as earnest and constant in prosecuting a good work, notwithstanding disappointments. Balak laid a bait, not only for Balaam’s covetousness, but for his pride and ambition. How earnestly should we beg of God daily to mortify such desires in us! Thus sinners stick at no pains, spare no cost, and care not how low they stoop, to gratify their luxury, or their malice. Shall we then be unwilling to do what is right? God forbid! Balaam’s convictions charged him to keep to the command of God; nor could any man have spoken better. But many call God theirs, who are not his, not truly because not only his. There is no judging men by their words; God knows the heart. Balaam’s corruptions at the same time inclined him to go contrary to the command. He seemed to refuse the temptation; but he expressed no abhorrence of it. He had a strong desire to accept the offer, and hoped that God might give him leave to go. He had already been told what the will of God was. It is a certain evidence of the ruling of corruption in the heart, to beg leave to sin. God gave Balaam up to his own heart’s lusts. As God sometimes denies the prayers of his people in love, so sometimes he grants the desires of the wicked in wrath.
Verse 22-35 – We must not think, that because God does not always by his providence restrain men from sin, therefore he approves of it, or that it is not hateful to him. The holy angels oppose sin, and perhaps are employed in preventing it more than we are aware. This angel was an adversary to Balaam, because Balaam counted him his adversary; those are really our best friends, and we ought so to reckon them, who stop our progress in sinful ways. Balaam has notice of God’s displeasure by the ass. It is common for those whose hearts are fully set in them to do evil, to push on violently, through the difficulties Providence lays in their way. The Lord opened the mouth of the ass. This was a great miracle wrought by the power of God. He who made man speak, could, when he pleased, make the ass to speak with man’s voice. The ass complained of Balaam’s cruelty. The righteous God does not allow the meanest or weakest to be abused; but they shall be able to speak in their own defence, or he will some way or other speak for them. Balaam at length has his eyes opened. God has many ways to bring down the hard and unhumbled heart. When our eyes are opened, we shall see the danger of sinful ways, and how much it was for our advantage to be crossed. Balaam seemed to relent; I have sinned; but it does not appear that he was sensible of this wickedness of his heart, or willing to own it. If he finds he cannot go forward, he will be content, since there is no remedy, to go back. Thus many leave their sins, only because their sins have left them. The angel declared that he should not only be unable to curse Israel, but should be forced to bless them: this would be more for the glory of God, and to his own confusion, than if he had turned back.
Verse 36-41 – Balak has now nothing to complain of, but that Balaam did not come sooner. Balaam bids Balak not depend too much upon him. He seems to speak with vexation; but is really as desirous to please Balak, as ever he had pretended to be to please God. See what need we have to pray every day, Our Father which art in heaven, lead us not into temptation. Let us be jealous over our own hearts, seeing how far men may go in the knowledge of God, and yet come short of Divine grace.