Easton's Bible Dictionary
lord of the people; foreigner or glutton, as interpreted
by others, The son of Beor, was a man of some rank among the Midianites ( Numbers
31:8 ; Compare 16). He resided at Pethor ( Deuteronomy 23:4 ), in Mesopotamia
( Numbers 23:7 ). It is evident that though dwelling among idolaters he had some
knowledge of the true God; and was held in such reputation that it was supposed
that he whom he blessed was blessed, and he whom he cursed was cursed. When the
Israelites were encamped on the plains of Moab, on the east of Jordan, by Jericho,
Balak sent for Balaam "from Aram, out of the mountains of the east," to curse
them; but by the remarkable interposition of God he was utterly unable to fulfil
Balak's wish, however desirous he was to do so. The apostle Peter refers ( 2 Peter
2:15 , 2:16 ) to this as an historical event. In Micah 6:5 reference also is made
to the relations between Balaam and Balak. Though Balaam could not curse Israel,
yet he suggested a mode by which the divine displeasure might be caused to descend
upon them ( Numbers 25 ). In a battle between Israel and the Midianites (q.v.)
Balaam was slain while fighting on the side of Balak ( Numbers 31:8 ).
The "doctrine of Balaam" is spoken of in Revelation 2:14 , in allusion to the
fact that it was through the teaching of Balaam that Balak learned the way by
which the Israelites might be led into sin. (See NICOLAITANES.) Balaam was constrained
to utter prophecies regarding the future of Israel of wonderful magnificence and
beauty of expression ( Numbers 24:5 - 9 , 24:17 ).
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
the ancient of the people; the destruction of the people
Smith's Bible Dictionary
(B.C. 1451), The son of beor, a man endowed with the
gift of prophecy. ( Numbers 22:5 ) He is mentioned in conjunction with the five
kings of Midian, apparently as a person of the same rank. ( Numbers 31:8 ) cf.
Numbers 31:16 . He seems to have lived at Pethor, ( Deuteronomy 23:4 ; Numbers
22:5 ) on the river Euphrates, in Mesopotamia. Such was his reputation that when
the Israelites were encamped in the plains of Moab, Balak, the king of Moab, sent
for Balaam to curse them. Balaam at first was prohibited by God from going. He
was again sent for by the king and again refused, but was at length allowed to
go. He yielded to the temptations of riches and honor which Balak set before him;
but Gods anger was kindled at this manifestation of determined self-will, and
the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him. See ( 2 Peter
2:16 ) Balaam predicted a magnificent career for the people whom he was called
to curse, but he nevertheless suggested to the Moabites the expedient of seducing
them to commit fornication. The effect of this is recorded in ( Numbers 25:1 )
... A battle was afterwards fought against the Midianites, in which Balaam sided
with them, and was slain by the sword of the people whom he had endeavored to
curse. ( Numbers 31:8 )
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
ba'-lam, bil'am, ("devourer"):
The son of Beor, from a city in Mesopotamia called Pethor, a man possessing the
gift of prophecy, whose remarkable history may be found in Numbers 22:2 - 24:25
; compare Numbers 31:8 , 16 ; Deuteronomy 23:4 ; Joshua 13:22 ; 24:9 ; Nehemiah
13:2 ; Micah 6:5 ; 2 Peter 2:15 ; Jude 1:11 ; Revelation 2:14.
When the children of Israel pitched their tents in the plains of Moab, the Moabites
entered into some sort of an alliance with the Midianites. At the instigation
of Balak, at that time king of the Moabites, the elders of the two nations were
sent to Balaam to induce him, by means of a bribe, to pronounce a curse on the
advancing hosts of the Israelites. But, in compliance with God's command Balaam,
refused to go with the elders. Quite different was the result of a second request
enhanced by the higher rank of the messengers and by the more alluring promises
on the part of Balak. Not only did God permit Balaam to go with the men, but he
actually commanded him to do so, cautioning him, however, to act according to
further instructions. While on his way to Balak, this injunction was strongly
impressed on the mind of Balaam by the strange behavior of his ass and by his
encounter with the Angel of the Lord.
Accompanied by Balak who had gone out to meet the prophet, Balaam came to Kiriath-huzoth.
On the next morning he was brought up "into the high places of Baal" commanding
a partial view of the camp of the Israelites. But instead of a curse he pronounced
a blessing. From there he was taken to the top of Peor, yet this change of places
and external views did not alter the tendency of Balaam's parables; in fact, his
spirit even soared to greater heights and from his lips fell glowing words of
praise and admiration, of benediction and glorious prophecy. This, of course,
fully convinced Balak that all further endeavors to persuade the seer to comply
with his wishes would be in vain, and the two parted.
Nothing else is said of Balaam, until we reach Numbers 31. Here in 31:8 we are
told of his violent death at the hands of the Israelites, and in 31:16 we learn
of his shameful counsel which brought disgrace and disaster into the ranks of
the chosen people.
Now, there are a number of interesting problems connected with this remarkable
story. We shall try to solve at least some of the more important ones.
|(1) Was Balaam a prophet of Jehovah? For an answer we must
look to Numbers 22 - 24. Nowhere is he called a prophet. He is introduced as the
son of Beor and as a man reputed to be of great personal power (compare Numbers
22:6). The cause of this is to be found in the fact that he had intercourse of
some kind with God (compare Numbers 22:9 , 20 ; 22:22 - 35 ; 23:4 ; 23:16). Furthermore,
it is interesting to note how Balaam was enabled to deliver his parables.
First it is said: "And Yahweh put a word in Balaam's mouth" (Numbers 23:5; compare
Numbers 23:16), a procedure seemingly rather mechanical, while nothing of the
kind is mentioned in Numbers 24. Instead we meet with the remarkable sentence:
"And when Balaam saw that it pleased Yahweh to bless Israel, he went not, as at
the other times, to meet with enchantments .... "(Numbers 24:1), and then: "the
Spirit of God came upon him" (24:2b). All this is very noteworthy and highly instructive,
especially if we compare with it 24:3 the Revised Version, margin and Numbers
24:4: "The man whose eye is opened saith; he saith, who heareth the words of God,
who seeth the vision of the Almighty," etc. The inference is plain enough: Balaam
knew the Lord, the Yahweh of the Israelites, but his knowledge was dimmed and
corrupted by heathen conceptions. He knew enough of God to obey Him, yet for a
long time he hoped to win Him over to his own selfish plan (compare 23:4). Through
liberal sacrifices he expected to influence God's actions. Bearing this in mind,
we see the import of Numbers 24:1. After fruitless efforts to cajole God into
an attitude favorable to his hidden purpose, he for a time became a prophet of
the Lord, yielding to the ennobling influences of His spirit. Here was a chance
for his better nature to assert itself permanently and to triumph over the dark
forces of paganism. Did he improve this opportunity? He did not (compare Numbers
31:8 , 16).
(2) Is the Balaam of Numbers 22 - 24 identical with the person of the same name
mentioned in Numbers 31? Quite a number of scholars deny it, or, to be more accurate,
there are according to their theory two accounts of Balaam: the one in Numbers
22 - 24 being favorable to his character, and the other in Numbers 31 being quite
the reverse. It is claimed the two accounts could only be made to agree by modifying
or eliminating Numbers 24:25. Now, we believe that Numbers 31:16 actually does
modify the report of Balaam's return contained in Numbers 24:25. The children
of Israel slew Balaam with the sword (Numbers 31:8). Why? Because of his counsel
of Numbers 31:16. We maintain that the author of Numbers 24:25 had this fact in
mind when he wrote Numbers 25:1: "And .... the people began to play the harlot,"
etc. Thus, he closely connects the report of Balaam's return with the narrative
contained in Numbers 9:5. Therefore, we regard Numbers 31:8,16 as supplementary
to Numbers 22 - 24. But here is another question:
(3) Is the narrative in Numbers 22 - 24 the result of combining different traditions?
In a general way, we may answer this question in the affirmative, and only in
a general way we can distinguish between two main sources of tradition. But we
maintain that they are not contradictory to each other, but supplementary.
(4) What about the talking of the ass and the marvelous prophecies of Balaam?
We would suggest the following explanation. By influencing the soul of Balaam,
God caused him to interpret correctly the inarticulate sounds of the animal. God's
acting on the soul and through it on the intellect and on the hearts of men--this
truth must be also applied to Balaam's wonderful prophetic words. They are called
meshaliym or sayings of a prophet, a diviner.
In the first of these "parables" (Numbers 23:7 - 10) he briefly states his reasons
for pronouncing a blessing; in the second parable (Numbers 23:18 - 24) he again
emphasizes the fact that he cannot do otherwise than bless the Israelites, and
then he proceeds to pronounce the blessing at some greater length. In the 3rd
(Numbers 24:3 - 9) he describes the glorious state of the people, its development
and irresistible power. In the last four parables (Numbers 24:15 - 24) he partly
reveals the future of Israel and other nations: they are all to be destroyed,
Israel's fate being included in the allusion to Eber. Now, at last, Balaam is
back again in his own sphere denouncing others and predicting awful disasters.
(On the "star out of Jacob," Numbers 24:17, see ASTRONOMY, ii, 9; STAR OF THE
3. Balaam's Character:
This may furnish us a clue to his character. It, indeed, remains "instructively
composite." A soothsayer who might have become a prophet of the Lord; a man who
loved the wages of unrighteousness, and yet a man who in one supreme moment of
his life surrendered himself to God's holy Spirit; a person cumbered with superstition,
covetousness and even wickedness, and yet capable of performing the highest service
in the kingdom of God: such is the character of Balaam, the remarkable Old Testament
type and, in a sense, the prototype of Judas Iscariot.
4. Balaam as a Type:
In 2 Peter 2:15 Balaam's example is used as a means to illustrate the pernicious
influence of insincere Christian teachers. The author might have alluded to Balaam
in the passage immediately preceding 2 Peter 2:15 because of his abominable counsel.
This is done in Revelation 2:14. Here, of course, Balaam is the type of a teacher
of the church who attempts to advance the cause of God by advocating an unholy
alliance with the ungodly and worldly, and so conforming the life of the church
to the spirit of the flesh.
Butler's Sermons, "Balaam"; ICC, "Numbers."
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