A Man Who Resisted God’s Will
BALAAM was a diviner whose reputation for pronouncing effectual curses and blessings had spread far beyond the borders of his native land. His home was Pethor, a town situated in the upper Euphrates valley near the Sajur River. Not far from there lay Haran, where God-fearing men such as Abraham, Lot and Jacob once had lived. This fact may explain why the diviner Balaam knew about the true God, even referring to him as “Jehovah my God.”—Num. 22:18.
But how did Balaam come to be a resister of God’s will? When the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, Moabite King Balak and his people were struck with fright at seeing the vast multitude, perhaps numbering about 3,000,000. The representatives of the Moabite nation took counsel with the elders of Midian and decided that Israel was a threat to their welfare. (Num. 22:1-4) They were fully aware of what Jehovah God had done for Israel in delivering the nation from Egypt and also knew about his granting them a smashing victory over the powerful Amorite kingdoms east of the Jordan River. Hence, they had no hope of defeating the Israelites in battle. But they reasoned: ‘What if the Israelites could be cursed? Might that not serve to weaken them, making it possible to drive them away?’ Therefore, King Balak, with a view to gaining the mastery over Israel, was moved to seek Balaam’s services.
THE FIRST DELEGATION
Soon a delegation of Moabite and Midianite elders or princes was on the way to Pethor. The message to Balaam was: “Look! A people has come out of Egypt. Look! They have covered the earth as far as one can see, and they are dwelling right in front of me. And now do come, please; do curse this people for me, for they are mightier than I am. Perhaps I may be able to strike them and I may drive them out of the land; for I well know that the one whom you bless is a blessed one and the one whom you curse is cursed.”—Num. 22:5-7.
Balaam then asked the delegation to stay overnight and promised to relate to them the word of Jehovah the next day. What was the divine revelation to Balaam? “You must not go with them. You must not curse the people, for they are blessed.” (Num. 22:8, 12) In view of this, Balaam told the men: “Go to your country, because Jehovah has refused to let me go with you.” (Num. 22:13) From these words, the delegation could infer that Balaam really wanted to go but just was not allowed to do so. When reporting what had happened, they said to Balak: “Balaam has refused to come with us.”—Num. 22:14.
A MORE DISTINGUISHED DELEGATION SENT
Hence, it appears that Balak concluded that the offer made to Balaam and the delegation itself were not impressive enough. The Moabite king apparently reasoned that Balaam had his price, and he was determined to have the diviner on the scene so that a more potent curse could be pronounced. Therefore, the king sent a larger and more honorable delegation, assuring Balaam that he would be honored greatly for execrating Israel.—Num. 22:15-17.
BALAAM WANTS THE REWARD
What would Balaam do now? “If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold,” said he, “I should not be able to pass beyond the order of Jehovah my God, so as to do something small or great.” (Num. 22:18) Balaam knew full well that any attempt to curse Israel was against Jehovah’s will. Yet, he did not send the men away but apparently toyed with the idea that Jehovah might allow him to leave with the messengers. So he told them: “Now you men also stay here, please, tonight that I may know what further Jehovah will speak with me.” (Num. 22:19) Though saying that no price could get him to curse Israel, Balaam really wanted the reward. His thinking evidently was: ‘If only I had divine permission to go, I would not hesitate to leave for Moab immediately.’
Subsequent events reveal that this was indeed how Balaam felt. That very night he got what he was seeking—God’s allowance to accompany the delegation. But this included the divine stipulation: “Only the word that I shall speak to you is what you may speak.” (Num. 22:20) Balaam did not delay. In the morning he saddled his she-ass and was on his way to Moab with the princes whom Balak had sent. Now that he had permission to go, Balaam was determined to curse Israel and thereby to get the promised reward. There was nothing to stop him. Or, was there?
Jehovah God was not pleased about Balaam’s going with the men, bent on cursing Israel despite being under command not to do so. Balaam was in for quite a surprise. His she-ass began to behave in a most unusual way. Why? An angel of Jehovah had stationed himself in the path. Balaam was forcefully shown that resisting God’s will would mean death for him. Again he was reminded that the only thing that he was authorized to do was to speak what Jehovah wanted him to say.—Num. 22:22-35.
Did Balaam change his intention after this? It might appear that way from what he said to King Balak: “The word that God will place in my mouth is what I shall speak.” (Num. 22:38) In actuality, however, Balaam still wanted the reward and was willing to do what he could to gain it.
This may give rise to the questions: Why did the true God choose to speak through a diviner? Why did he not simply let him pronounce a curse on Israel, which curse time would have revealed to be totally ineffectual? In this regard, we must keep in mind that the Moabites and the Midianites recognized that military might alone would not succeed against Israel. As far as they were concerned, in the person of Balaam they had at their disposal the most powerful weapon against Israel, namely, the means to have an effectual curse pronounced against them. Furthermore, Balaam wanted to cooperate so that he could get the rich material reward offered. But what if this famous diviner, instead of cursing the Israelites, would be forced to bless them to the limit despite his wishes to the contrary? Would this not prove that no weapon could succeed against God’s people? So, it evidently served Jehovah’s purpose well to use Balaam to bless Israel, to the consternation of Moabite King Balak.
When Balaam arrived, the Moabite king must have been pleased indeed. Balak offered sacrifices, doubtless in appreciation to the gods of Moab for the success in getting the diviner to come. The offering provided the occasion for sacrificial feasting, in which Balaam and the princes shared by having portions sent to them.—Num. 22:40.
BALAAM FAILS TO CURSE ISRAEL
Later, Balak took Balaam to an elevated site, from which the diviner could get a good view of the encamped Israelites. At once Balaam set out to accomplish what he had been called upon to do. He requested that Balak erect seven altars and offer upon them seven bulls and seven rams. Then, Balaam withdrew alone to a bare hill, there evidently to perform rites for the purpose of ‘coming upon unlucky omens.’ But here Jehovah compelled Balaam to pronounce a blessing upon Israel. Two other attempts to curse God’s people Israel also failed miserably.—Num. 23:1–24:9.
Balak’s anger, therefore, blazed against Balaam. “It was to execrate my enemies that I called you,” he said, “and, look! you have blessed them to the limit these three times. And now run your way off to your place.” (Num. 24:10, 11) Balaam tried to excuse his failure, saying: “Was it not also to your messengers whom you sent to me that I spoke, saying, ‘If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I should not be able to pass beyond the order of Jehovah so as to do something good or bad out of my own heart. Whatever Jehovah may speak is what I shall speak’?”—Num. 24:12, 13.
Thereafter, impelled by God’s spirit, Balaam uttered prophetic pronouncements that included a message of doom for Moab. Then Balak and Balaam parted. The Bible reports that Balaam “returned to his place,” simply meaning that the diviner went his own way. But did Balaam finally learn the lesson that resisting God’s will was useless? Did he go back to Pethor? No.—Num. 24:14-25.
BALAAM RESISTS GOD’S WILL TO THE END
Balaam still wanted the reward and he sought to get it in any way possible. Since he could not curse Israel, he came up with a plan whereby the Israelites might bring God’s curse upon themselves. He instructed Balak as to how he could use Midianite and Moabite women to get Israelite males to engage in idolatry and fornication. (Num. 31:16; Rev. 2:14) The scheme had a measure of success, for thousands succumbed to the allurement of licentious sex worship. As a result, 24,000 men of Israel perished.—Num. 25:1-9.
But did Balaam’s defiant resistance to God’s will prove to be rewarding? Not in the least. When Jehovah commanded the Israelites to take vengeance upon the Midianites for their part in ensnaring the Israelites, Balaam was still in their midst and so the sword of execution caught up with him. (Num. 31:7, 8) Yes, for his headstrong action, Balaam paid with his life.
The diviner from Pethor thus stands as a warning example to all who insist on ignoring God’s will and who pursue selfish gain instead. (2 Pet. 2:15, 16; Jude 11) This should encourage us to study the Holy Scriptures, to find out what God’s will is for us and then to do it, never taking a foolish course like that of Balaam.