Balak was a pagan king who took preventative measures (in his own mind) by trying to harm the children of Israel. God had done some amazing things in the lives of the children of Israel. His Name became famous among the pagan nations of the Near East. Egypt, the world powerhouse of the time was brought to its knees by the power of God. They never made a recovery. The pagan nations of the Near East were afraid of the Lord because of His power and might. They also hated the Jewish people because they were sided with the eternal enemy of God, since they were pagans and idol worshipers and God had promised to bring mankind’s Rescuer through the Jewish nation. The people of Moab were terrified because they assumed that the children of Israel would attack them. They stirred up their king, Balak, to take preventative measures. Balak counseled with his holy men and they decided to reach out to the prophet of God named Balaam. Balak was ready to use divination to manipulate the situation. Divination is a pagan practice that is prevalent today. Divination involves astrology, magic, horoscopes, the zodiac etc. The basic idea is to manipulate events and people using super natural powers. God is in control of all things so, through magic, you attempt to take God’s place. In this case, Balak wanted Balaam to manipulate God into cursing the children of Israel for him. Balaam was a prophet who was very interested in making a profit. Greed is very dangerous because once we give ourselves over to greed, we will do illogical things without considering the consequences. Balaam knew that what they were doing was wrong but, he was controlled by the thought of the money that he was going to receive. Numbers 23-24 gives us 3 attempts by Balaam to curse the children of Israel. Let’s take a look at them one by one. By the way, in Numbers 25, Balak is actually successful because he follows the advice of Balaam. I will come back to this event at the end of the article.
I. Attempt number 1
This attempt is laid out for us in Numbers 23, verses 1-12.
1 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build seven altars for me here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me here.”
2 Balak did just as Balaam had spoken, and Balak and Balaam offered up a bull and a ram on each altar.
3 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stand beside your burnt offering, and I will go; perhaps the LORD will come to meet me, and whatever He shows me I will tell you.” So he went to a bare hill.
Balaam set everything up in order to please God. He offers sacrifices. Balaam is trying to make this entire deal look legit. Balaam knows that he is attempting to manipulate God to cause harm on His people. Have you ever been in a situation like this? Have you ever tried to cover up what you knew was wrong by cloaking it in a resemblance of something righteous? I know that I have and it’s aweful how wicked my sinful heart is.
4 Now God met Balaam, and he said to Him, “I have set up the seven altars, and I have offered up a bull and a ram on each altar.
5 Then the LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Return to Balak, and you shall speak thus.”
6 So he returned to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, he and all the leaders of Moab.
God is not mocked. He knows what is going on. He meets with Balaam and puts a word in his mouth to speak over Israel in the presence of Balak.
7 He took up his discourse and said, “From Aram Balak has brought me, Moab’s king from the mountains of the East, ‘Come curse Jacob for me, And come, denounce Israel!’
8 “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how can I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced?
9 “As I see him from the top of the rocks, And I look at him from the hills; Behold, a people who dwells apart, And will not be reckoned among the nations.
10 “Who can count the dust of Jacob, Or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, And let my end be like his!”
Balaam opens his mouth and Balak believes that he is about to curse the children of Israel. God turns the curse into a blessing.
11 Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have actually blessed them!”
12 He replied, “Must I not be careful to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?”
Of course this infuriates Balak because he has just paid for one thing and the exact opposite happens. What a mighty God we serve! God never sleeps nor slumbers. He cannot be manipulated. God does not just hear our words and see our actions. He also knows the motives of our hearts.
II. Attempt number 2
Balak has an idea after the first attempt. He feels that if they move to a new location, things will be different. Numbers 23:13-26 is where we discover the second attempt at manipulating God and cursing the children of Israel.
13 Then Balak said to him, “Please come with me to another place from where you may see them, although you will only see the extreme end of them and will not see all of them; and curse them for me from there.”
14 So he took him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar
15 And he said to Balak, “Stand here beside your burnt offering while I myself meet the LORD over there.”
Balak and Balaam go through the same song and dance. They offer the sacrifices on the altars that they build. They say the right words and go through the right rituals. Will God be tricked this time?
16 Then the LORD met Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.”
17 He came to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the leaders of Moab with him. And Balak said to him, “What has the LORD spoken?”
The Lord is not mocked. He knows what these two men are up to doing. God meets with Balaam once again and puts a word in his mouth to speak over Israel in the presence of Balak.
18 Then he took up his discourse and said, “Arise, O Balak, and hear; Give ear to me, O son of Zippor!
19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good
20 “Behold, I have received a command to bless; When He has blessed, then I cannot revoke it.
21 “He has not observed misfortune in Jacob; Nor has He seen trouble in Israel; The LORD his God is with him, And the shout of a king is among them
22 “God brings them out of Egypt, He is for them like the horns of the wild ox.
23 “For there is no omen against Jacob, Nor is there any divination against Israel; At the proper time it shall be said to Jacob And to Israel, what God has done!
24 “Behold, a people rises like a lioness, And as a lion it lifts itself; It will not lie down until it devours the prey, And drinks the blood of the slain.”
God turns the curse into another blessing. God reminds these two men who He is, that He cannot be manipulated like mere men can be manipulated. He will not be bribed (like Balaam).
25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Do not curse them at all nor bless them at all!”
26 But Balaam replied to Balak, “Did I not tell you, ‘Whatever the LORD speaks, that I must do ‘?”
It seems like at this point, these two guys would just give up. But, again, we see Balaam is motivated by greed. He wants that divination fee that Balak is ready to offer.
III. Attempt number 3
The final failed attempt takes place in Numbers 23:27 through the end of chapter 24. I am not going to post all of the verses here for the sake of space.
27 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Please come, I will take you to another place; perhaps it will be agreeable with God that you curse them for me from there.”
28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor which overlooks the wasteland.
29 Balaam said to Balak, “Build seven altars for me here and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me here.”
30 Balak did just as Balaam had said, and offered up a bull and a ram on each altar.
Balak still believes that the location matters. Somehow, he feels that they can manipulate God if they will just find the right spot. They go through the ceremony once again of building altars and making sacrifices.
1 When Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times to seek omens but he set his face toward the wilderness.
2 And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God came upon him.
3 He took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened;
4 The oracle of him who hears the words of God, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered,
5 How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!
6 “Like valleys that stretch out, Like gardens beside the river, Like aloes planted by the LORD, Like cedars beside the waters.
7 “Water will flow from his buckets, And his seed will be by many waters, And his king shall be higher than Agag, And his kingdom shall be exalted.
8 “God brings him out of Egypt, He is for him like the horns of the wild ox. He will devour the nations who are his adversaries, And will crush their bones in pieces, And shatter them with his arrows.
9 “He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him? Blessed is everyone who blesses you, And cursed is everyone who curses you.” (Numbers 24)
For the third time in a row, God turns the curses that Balaam wants to speak over Israel into blessings. What these two men meant for evil, God used for good.
10 Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have persisted in blessing them these three times!
11 “Therefore, flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but behold, the LORD has held you back from honor.”
Balaam knows that he cannot curse the children of Israel but, he still wants that divination fee. Instead of ending it here. Balaam schemes up a way to bring God’s wrath on the children of Israel. Attempt number 4 finally works. This attempt is different and it reveals the lengths that people will go to when controlled by greed.
IV. Attempt number 4
The curse that Balak wanted to fall on the children of Israel is found in Numbers 25.
1 While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab.
2 For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.
3 So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel.
The children of Israel brought the wrath of God upon themselves because they played the harlot with the beautiful Moabite women. In other words, the men gave themselves over to sexual immorality and brought the wrath of God down upon themselves. 24,000 people died in one day due to the sexual sin of Israel. Balaam could not curse them. But, they figured out a way to get the children of Israel to curse themselves. Phinehas ends the carnage by taking a stand against sexual immorality.
So, we see that witchcraft, greed, and sexual immorality all end in the death of 24,000 people. These are terrible sins. All three ended with the loss of life on a large scale. What does that say about us today when much of our modern society is saturated/mesmerized by these same sins? Our enemy is ruthless and persistent. That is why we must be on guard at all times and stimulate one another to godliness, love, and good deeds. Do you mess with any form of witchcraft (horoscopes, palm reading, astrology, tarot cards, etc.)? Are you in danger of being controlled by the love of money (greed)? Are you in any way trying to manipulate God by going through the ritualistic motions, knowing the evil intent of your heart (motives)? What about sexual immorality, do you leave room for it in your life? Sexual immorality can be physical or mental. Looking at pornography is considered sexual immorality? Reading novels about sexual fantasies is also sexual immorality. Does any this have the smallest foothold in your life? If so, deal with it before it’s too late. The consequences are mind blowing. God is ready and willing to forgive you.
May the Lord help us learn from the mistakes of Balak and Balaam.