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Moses 45 – Baalam Comes To Moab

Returning to the Jordan from the conquest of Bashan, the Israelites, in preparation for the immediate invasion of Canaan, encamped beside the river, above its entrance into the Dead Sea, and just opposite the plain of Jericho.
They were upon the very borders of Moab, and the Moabites were filled with terror at the close proximity of the invaders. The people of Moab had not been molested by Israel, yet they had watched with troubled forebodings all that had taken place in the surrounding countries.
The Amorites, before whom they had been forced to retreat, had been conquered by the Hebrews, and the territory which the Amorites had wrested from Moab was now in the possession of Israel.
The hosts of Bashan had yielded before the mysterious power enshrouded in the cloudy pillar, and the giant strongholds were occupied by the Hebrews.
The Moabites dared not risk an attack upon them; an appeal to arms was hopeless in face of the supernatural agencies that wrought in their behalf.
But they determined, as Pharaoh had done, to enlist the power of sorcery to counteract the work of God. They would bring a curse upon Israel.
Let’s read the story from the Bible:
Numbers Exodus 22:1 Then the children of Israel moved, and camped in the plains of Moab on the side of the Jordan across from Jericho.

The plains country had formerly belonged to the Moabites. Though the Amorites had conquered it (21:26), the country retained its original title.

We are not told the month in which the children of Israel pitched their tents in the plains of Moab, but it is generally thought to have been near the end of the 40th year when they set out from the mountains of Pisgah, or Abarim (21:20; 33:48). The plain has an area of some 60 square miles. 150.4 square kilometers.
Verse 2 Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.

Would you like to know the meaning of Balak? “Ravager,” “devastator,” from the root “to lay waste,” “to ravage.” He is mentioned again in Joshua 24:9; Micah 6:5; and in Judges 11:25 without reference to Balaam.

Zippor. Meaning “little bird.” The feminine form of the name is Zipporah, the name of Moses’ wife. The masculine form does not occur again in the OT unless Zophar (Job 2:11) is a variant spelling of the same name.

Had done to the Amorites. That is, to the Amorite (see on Gen. 10:16) kings Sihon and Og, the most powerful of the Canaanite rulers at the time (Deut. 3:8).

Verse 3 And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel.

Moab was exceedingly afraid. They were not aware of God’s command to Israel not to disturb them, and were therefore in dread of being dispossessed of their territory (cf. the attitude of the Egyptians in Ex. 1:12). The fear the Moabites now felt had been foretold (Ex. 15:15).

Verse 4 So Moab said to the elders of Midian, “Now this company will lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time.

The elders of Midian. Moab and Midian were traditional enemies (Gen. 36:35), but were ready to unite against Israel. It seems
that the “elders” were also called “kings” (Num. 31:8) and “princes” (Joshua 13:21).

Among the peoples of the East men of age and experience are even today called “elders.” The Midianites were descendants of Abraham and Keturah (Gen. 25:2, 4), and were a pastoral people and itinerant traders (Gen. 37:28).

Verse 5 Then he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying: “Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me!

Can archaeology help us to pinpoint Pethor?

I had the privilege of visiting the famous ancient site Carchemish in Syria. The bible says Pethor was near the River. Which river? River in this instance is similar the Euphrates River.

Let’s ask Moses to give us some more detail concerning how far Balaam was from Canaan:

Deuteronomy 23:5 They (Moab) hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.

This indicates that Balaam was known far and wide as a great prophet. However, he had begun to use methods of divination (Numbers 22:7) and enchantments (Numbers 24:1), which were prohibited by God (Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 18:10), and thus had become a false prophet, deriving his occultic powers from evil spirits, rather than the Holy Spirit, much like modern “channelers,” “psychics,” and so-called “prophets.”

Ancient history of the Assyrians and Arameans confirm it.

I found some interesting descriptions on the Kurkh stele of Shalmanezer III in the British Museum. (853 BC)
He writes: “I crossed the Euphrates, and took the city Ana-ashurutir-aṣbat on the other side of the Euphrates on the Sagur, which the Hittites call Pitru” (Schrader, “K. B.” i. 133, lines 37-40; 173, lines 85-86).
Scolars explain that Pitru is the Pethor of the Bible.
Abraham and Balaam were from the same general area near Haran, which was less than 80 kilomoters away. It was generally known that where Balaam lived, Pethor, was famous for its baru, “priest-diviners” (which some have tried to connect them with the Magi, but the evidence is scanty). They were sorcerers, magicians, diviners, soothsayers, and such.

Did Abram leave some converts in this area where he pitched his altar and proclaimed the gospel of a coming Messiah?
Since 2000 Danish archaeologists have carried out excavations at Tell Aushariye in northern Syria. Aushariye is an ancient fortress, located strategically on an important route across the river Euphrates.
Probably it can be identified with a site known from several ancient sources. Foremost Assyrian inscriptions from the 9th cent. BC, which mention a place named Pitru, which was located exactly where Aushariye is.

One can view some of the excavations found here.

When I examined them I thought of Balaam. He might have handled some of the findings.

Verse 5 Then he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying: “Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me!

The journey from Pitru a distance of some 400 miles would require 2 weeks.

A people. An organized nation that 40 years previously had spoiled Egypt and humbled Pharaoh.

Settling next to me!

A constant threat of organized raiding parties. Such a situation naturally made the Moabites most apprehensive.

Verse 6 Therefore please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”

Curse me this people. Balak and his people were believers in the power of the sorcerer and his incantations. Magic, the black art, and devil possession are the natural accompaniments of idolatry.

Too mighty for me. Balak realized he needed more than human help to cope with the apparent power of Israel.

Is cursed. Balak was planning to destroy Israel but was afraid to attempt it in his own strength. He had heard of the effectiveness of Balaam’s powers.

In ancient times blessing and cursing were both common, as by Noah (Gen. 9:25–27), Isaac (Gen. 27:27), Jacob (Gen. 49), Joshua (Joshua 6:26), and Elisha (2 Kings 2:24).

Similarly, Goliath prefaced his combat with David by calling down the curse of his good upon the lad (1 Sam. 17:43). It is folly to seek to explain all the phenomena of heathen magic by assuming it to be merely trickery.

Verse 7 So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the diviner’s fee in their hand, and they came to Balaam and spoke to him the words of Balak.

Diviner’s fee Moab and Midian were united in this scheme. The rewards of divination and intercession were looked upon as legitimate gain (see 1 Sam. 9:7, 8; 1 Kings 14:3; 2 Kings 8:8).

From ancient times one would scarcely approach an eminent person without a present in one’s hand (Gen. 43:11, 25, 26; Mal. 1:8). Don’t think bribes are a modern phenomenon.

Verse 8 And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the LORD speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam.

An apostate prophet plays with fire, in the hope of worldly gain. Balaam already knew of the Israelites and of God’s attitude toward them

The Lord. Literally, “Jehovah, or Yahweh” the sacred name for God. Many commentators find Balaam’s use of the word Jehovah most perplexing, for they regard him as a heathen soothsayer.

The facts of the case are that Balaam was originally a true prophet of God who perverted his gifts for worldly gain.

Likewise, Melchizedek and Jethro were representatives of the true God. Laban was a man who at least permitted family idols in his house, yet under certain circumstances God condescended to communicate with him (Gen. 31:19, 24, 30).

Verse 9 Then God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?”

Was this a question for information? No. God knew all about them (see Gen. 3:10, 11). It was a disciplinary question designed to arouse Balaam to the dangers of the path upon which he was about to set his feet (see 1 Kings 19:9; Isa. 39:3, 4)

Verse 10,11 So Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, 11 ‘Look, a people has come out of Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come now, curse them for me; perhaps I shall be able to overpower them and drive them out.’

This implies that the stronger partner in the coalition was Balak, king of the Moabites, and that the Midianites were the weaker participants.

Verse 12 And God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.”

Balaam knew his duty (verse 8). He was greedy for gifts, but also knew his curses could not harm Israel.

They are blessed. Can a human being reverse the blessing of God and turn it into a curse? Do not people intimidate you by placing a curse on you.

Verse 13 So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, “Go back to your land, for the LORD has refused to give me permission to go with you.”

Again Balaam uses the name Jehovah, as he did in v. 8. He neglects to inform the messengers of Balak that the children of Israel were blessed of God.

Verse 14 And the princes of Moab rose and went to Balak, and said, “Balaam refuses to come with us.”

The princes naturally misinterpreted Balaam’s motives (see on v. 13), and could not give Balak a true report. Too, the may not have been averse to placing the reason for the failure of their mission on Balaam.

Verse 15 Then Balak again sent princes, more numerous and more honorable than they.

A typical Oriental approach under such circumstances. Balak supposed that Balaam was holding out for greater respect, which might be shown by sending men of higher rank, and greater appreciation of his services, by an offer of greater rewards.

Verse 16 And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor: ‘Please let nothing hinder you from coming to me;

Let nothing. Literally, “do not hold back thyself.” The reflexive form of the verb implies that Balak understood Balaam’s reluctance to be due to a desire for greater recognition and rewards.

Verse 17 For I will certainly honor you greatly, and I will do whatever you say to me. Therefore please come, curse this people for me.’ ”

Honour you greatly. Literally, “honoring you I will honor you exceedingly” (see Dan. 2:6).

Whatsoever you say. Not as to rewards, but as to corporation in securing Balak’s objective.

Verse 18 Then Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more.

Silver and gold. A reflection of Balaam’s thoughts, now set on worldly wealth. Avarice was his besetting sin.

I could not go beyond the word of the Lord my God. Literally, “Not am I able to pass by the mouth of Jehovah my God.” Such an expression implies personal acquaintance with the God of heaven.

Balaam knew that God could control his actions, even though He could not control his thoughts.

Verse 19 Now therefore, please, you also stay here tonight, that I may know what more the LORD will say to me.”

Stay here. He dealt with them as with the first messengers.

That I may know. Balaam already knew what the Lord would say (see v. 12 and on v. 8). He was attempting to deal with God as though He were a weak man susceptible to a change of mind.

Verse 20 And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men come to call you, rise and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you—that you shall do.”

The divine messenger is again the Almighty Himself.

If the men come. That is, if they called in the morning to hear his answer.

Rise up, and go. The Lord allowed the prophet to do that which he was determined to do. Balaam was not sincerely seeking God’s will, for he already knew what it was (v. 12). He was determined on his own course, and sought an appearance of permission.

The word. Balaam knew from this statement that he would not be allowed to curse Israel, and to set out with the messengers of Balak was to receive rich presents and go under false pretenses.

Verse 21 So Balaam rose in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab.

In a number of instances in the Old Testament the saddling of an ass is connected with tragedy (2 Sam. 17:23; 1 Kings 2:40; 13:13).

After the break we read about the tragedy that struck Balaam.

Balaam used to sing: All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live. What about you and me?

Updated on 21st Mar 2022

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