The exposition from the pulpits of the history of Balaam stops with an equivocally greedy prophet who went with the Moab King Balak to curse the people of Israel, who were on their way to the land of Canaan. But is that all there is to this episode?
Let us get a bit of the flavour of the New Testament on this:
14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. Revelations 2:14
So John in his Revelations says that the Church at Pergamos holds on to a doctrine of enticing people to indulge in activities which would alienate them from their God and thereby remove the protection which God gives his people.
Let us advert to Numbers 22 to see if Balaam advised Balak to entice the Israelites and ensnare them through making them eat food offered to the idols and wiving from the pagans and thereby alienate the Israelites from God?
There is nothing in the Book of Numbers, in fact Balak was so displeased with Balaam that the parting words were:
11 Therefore now flee thou to thy place: I thought to promote thee unto great honour; but, lo, the LORD hath kept thee back from honour.
Yet, Balaam doesn’t depart till he foretells the future of the Amalekites, Midianites, and their associates! The contents of Balaam’s foretelling were more a curse than a foretelling. I have to presume that Balak was not around, had he been around Balaam would hardly have been spared, such were his prophecy on those Moabites and their ilk.
The Chapter ends with the curses predicted by Balaam on the Moabites and in the very next chapter we could read the Israelites wiving from the Moabites and eating the food offered to the idols of Baal in a place called Peor, ending in a plague killing 24,000 Israelites.
Did the vision of John, instead of juxtaposing these events, import and attribute the wanton behaviour of some Israelites to the advice by Balaam and make it the causative factor, resulting in the undoing of the Israelites at Peor?
To ascertain facts, it is too late in the day. Either we could believe that it was revealed to John that it was Balaam who advised Balak of this snare and saved his own life, or that John believed that it was Balaam’s idea which made Balak resort to this enticement ploy!
But do we have any clues within the text in Numbers that Balaam could have done this?
I believe that there are enough situations within the Numbers to show that Balaam must have advised Balak to try this ruse of enticing the Israelites and probably saved his life after cursing the Moabites, Amalekites and their ilk..
I believe that Balaam, though had the ears of God of Abraham and Isaac, it was NOT through enchantments that he was able to establish the link twice, but because of the compassion of God, as is evidenced by his third communion with God wherein he ABANDONED his enchantments and lifted up his eyes to the wilderness and called upon God and God answered Balaam.
Let us leave all this and look at it this way!
Did Balaam really have the ears of God? Maybe not.
God, who neither sleeps nor slumbers, wanted to demoralise the Moabites through the very person on whom they reposed their faith – Balaam. Moabites believed that if Balaam were to curse the Israelites, Israelites would be enfeebled! God leads them on through the very Balaam on whom these Moabites trusted and makes him not only bless the Israelites but makes Balaam predict unsavoury future events about the Moabites and their cohorts!
It is like the dream narrated by a soldier to another from the Midianite camp when God made Gideon overhear the interpretation – the result was Gideon gets emboldened and the Midianite soldiers get disheartened. It is that demoralisation which God did here to the Moabites too.
God’s plan was probably to give the Israelites a victory over the Moabites through demoralising them by the very person on whom they believed – Balaam.
God’s ways are inscrutable. God spoke to Balaam just to lead the Moabites to give up fighting and grant a victory to the Israelites without a war.
But in the meanwhile being drawn by the fleshly lusts, the Israelites went and wived from the Moabites and started serving the very Baal who couldn’t save the Moabites from the fear of those very Israelites, who were led by the God thru Moses!
This is an example of God standing by His own peoples when they themselves do not know the machinations of their enemies and are unaware of the impending curse, which though may not work, yet may embolden the enemies to fight valiantly. God removed the backbone of the Moabites to fight the Israelites much before the fear of the Israelites, licking them up as an ox licks grass, could become a reality !
Getting back to the advice, Balaam was perverse and the Angel of the Lord says “because thy ways are perverse!”
God is merciful and allows Balaam to go with the messengers of Balak, as Balaam is partially after the reward that the king Balak would give, probably harbouring in the recesses of his mind that in case the word of the Lord coincided with the intent of Balak, Balaam could benefit!
But the Angel of the Lord is not expected to be merciful. The Angel has some duties and he has to perform it and the Angel knows, or at least thinks that Balaam is PERVERSE and that’s why we see the conflict between God’s allowance and the Rules of God. Angel is the executor, he is guided by the intent of Balaam and not by the enchantments and supplications of Balaam, he knows and he takes action.
I am amazed at the way God protects His people! He allows Balaam to persist with his greedy ways, yet turns the intended curse to a blessing; God has an Angel who shakes up a double minded perverse Balaam, by making the ass talk to Balaam in his presence! During all this the Moab King Balak is exhausting his energy and getting demoralised! The enemies of God’s people have no chance when God Himself gets into the situation and provides protection unknown even to the beneficiaries themselves.
One more important event takes place: there are three places where Balaam is taken to, by Balak the King of Moab, first to Arnon and Baalaam resorts to his enchantments to establish his link with God, God in His infinite Mercy responds, though Balaam believes that God responded because of his enchantments. The next place where Balak takes Balaam is to the top of Mount Pisgah – does it ring a bell? It should because, it was from the summit of Nebo of the Mount Pisgah that Moses was shown the whole land that the Israelites were to inherit as per the covenant of God with Abraham and Isaac- it is in one of those fields in Mount Pisgah, from the fields of Zophim, that Balak shows the Israelites spread out in the plains abutting Moab.
Balaam again resorts to enchantments to establish communion with God. Balaam still believed that his enchantments were the reason for finding favour of establishing that link with God – God still obliges, all because God is interested in His covenant to protect the up till then the law compliant Israelites, even though the Israelites themselves were not aware of the protection that God was providing. To bring in a contemporary image without demeaning the protection of God but to understand how despite our ignorance our protection may be at play, Virus protection against malware when being connected to the internet would be apt. The beneficiary himself would not be aware of the protection, but the Anti Virus is silently doing its job in the background. God’s protection is without any time gaps, SEAMLESS, whether in nanoseconds or eons.
Finally, Balak takes Balaam to the third place Peor and importunes Balaam to curse his enemies – the Israelites. Balaam realises that his enchantments are NOT WORKING and totally abandons his enchantments and looks over the wilderness and GOD DEIGNS to talk to Balaam.
Why did Balaam, only in the third instance understand that his enchantments are to no avail?
Herein lies the mystery. Man’s efforts cannot cross the second barrier.
Recall that the magicians and the Chaldeans of the Pharaoh’s court were NOT ABLE TO REPLICATE THE THIRD PLAGUE? It fails after the second.
The third is the Holy Spirit at play. Balaam realised his limitations and realised that it was NOT his enchantments which made God speak to Balaam, but that it was God’s relentless protection to the Israelites which deigned to respond to Balaam – after all Balaam is also God’s creation. The point is that Balaam abandoning his enchantments before taking his parable for uttering God’s revelation, is the second testimony after the magicians of Pharaoh stating that God cannot be accessed through human effort or human knowledge or through rituals and enchantments. It is in this context that Balaam says: THERE IS NO ENCHANTMENT AGAINST JACOB NEITHER IS THERE ANY DIVINATION AGAINST ISRAEL! A statement made by a person given to enchantment and the practice of black arts.
I wish the preachers in the Pulpits get beyond the apparent and get into the whole narration and provide interpretations for edification and not skirting issues like: When Balaam was a pagan given to enchantments, why did God listen to Balaam every time?