Some have asked about Balaam and whether he was a false prophet or a true prophet of God.
The account of Balaam is primarily covered in the book of Numbers in chapters 22, 23 and 24.
Plus there are a number of references to Balaam throughout the remaining portions of the Bible.
We begin this brief summary of Balaam’s activities by quoting Numbers 22:1-7:
Num. 22:1: And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.
Num. 22:2: And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
Num. 22:3: And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.
Num. 22:4: 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.
Num. 22:5: 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:
Num. 22:6: 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.
Num. 22:7: 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.
Essentially, Balaam was a diviner who had spiritual powers. In the last portion of verse 6 above, it notes that whoever was cursed by Balaam was actually cursed. Balaam was a false prophet who was filled with much greed. Yet, God eventually allowed Balaam to travel with a company of elders from Moab and Midian to meet with Balak—although not without incident, as one will become aware upon reading all of chapter 22.
Two more verses in chapter 22 help to summarize the desire of Balak to reward Balaam, who was inwardly covetous of those rewards, although he accurately quoted to the nobles of Balak what God had told him:
Num. 22:17: 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.
Num. 22:18: 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.
Although Balaam was the chief religious diviner of his time, God would not allow him to curse His people, Israel. Many have become confused that this false prophet actually had some type of open channel with God. Actually, Balaam had contact with the god of the world—Satan (II Cor.4:4). This was the means by which he could bless or curse people. Again, he was of the highest order of the priests of divination.
Even with all the persuasion of Balak in Numbers chapter 23, Balak kept hoping that God would let him curse Israel even though God would cause Balaam to go into a trance and utter great blessings upon Israel as God caused him to pronounce—even against his will. In this case, it becomes apparent that God was exercising a sense of humor in his restraining Balaam form cursing Israel as Balaam had inwardly hoped to do. Yet, no matter how high Balak led him upon the mountain in order to view the multitudes of Israel, and no matter how many alters or sacrifices were offered, God would only pronounce blessings upon Israel through him against his will. In desperation, Balak declared to Balaam with Balaam’s frustrated reply following:
Num. 24:10: And Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he smote his hands together: and Balak said unto Balaam, I called thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them these three times.
Num. 24:11: 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.
Num. 24:12: And Balaam said unto Balak, Spake I not also to thy messengers which thou sentest unto me, saying,
Num. 24:13: If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the commandment of the LORD, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; but what the LORD saith, that will I speak?
Responses of this nature have led some to believe that Balaam feared God and sought to obey Him. Truthfully, Balaam knew that he could not violate God’s will, even though he sincerely sought to do so because of his covetousness for the rewards offered by Balak. We find that his covetousness became a byword for many centuries after this event (II Peter 2:15 and Jude 11). The incidents such as his mule evading the angel with a sword served to teach Balaam that God did not allow such violations. He feared God because he knew that God would not compromise or allow any of his usual tricks or ploys. Again, all the prophecies and blessings that he had uttered in behalf of Israel were done without his voluntary control.
Even though he was sent back to his home, Balaam continued to devise a plan to cause Israel to sin and thus to be cursed by their own actions, rather than by his directly invoking a curse, as he had hoped to do as the high priest of diviners. Of course, this was done in order to benefit from that reward he so greatly desired. The following verses summarize his final scheme:
Num. 25:1: And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.
Num. 25:2: And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.
Num. 25:3: And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.
Therefore God order reprisals against the Midianites for their carrying out the plan to cause Israel to sin and become cursed of God as shown here:
Num. 25:16: And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Num. 25:17: Vex the Midianites, and smite them:
Num. 25:18: For they vex you with their wiles, wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a prince of Midian, their sister, which was slain in the day of the plague for Peor’s sake.
When the reprisals were carried out against the Midianites, Balaam was among them and was killed in retribution for his schemes with the intent of causing Israel to become cursed by their taking his bait—the young Midianite and Moabite women.
Num. 31:7: And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.
Num. 31:8: And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.
Finally, Balaam’s schemes had become infamous across time as his deeds were mentioned in
Revelation 2:14: “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.”
Such were the deeds and the legacy left behind by the false prophet Balaam.