Numbers 22





1  And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab

on this side Jordan by Jericho.  2 And Balak the son of Zippor-  The name

Balak is connected with a word “to make waste,” and Zippor is a small bird.

Balak was, as is presently explained, the king of Moab at this time, but not the king

 From whom Sihon had wrested so much of his territory (ch. 21:26). He seems to be

mentioned by name on a papyrus in the British Museum (see Brugseh, ‘Geogr. Inschr.,

’ 2, page 32). The later Jews made him out to have been a Midianite, but this is nothing

but the merest conjecture - “saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.”


3  And Moab was sore afraid of the people,” -  While the Israelites had

moved along their eastern and north-eastern border, the Moabites supplied

them with provisions (Deuteronomy 2:28-29), desiring, no doubt, to be rid

of them, but not disdaining to make some profit by their presence. But

after the sudden defeat and overthrow of their own Amorite conquerors,

their terror and uneasiness forced them to take some action, although they

dared not commence open hostilities - “because they were many:

and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.”


4 And Moab said unto the elders of Midian,” -  The Midianites were

descended from Abraham and Keturah (Genesis 25:2, 4), and were thus

more nearly of kin to Israel than to Moab. They lived a semi-nomadic life

on the steppes to the east of Moab and Ammon (Ibid. 36:35), supporting

themselves partly by grazing, and partly by the caravan trade (Ibid. 37:28).

Their institutions were no doubt patriarchal, like those of the modern Bedouin,

and the “elders” were the sheiks of their tribes - “Now shall this company

lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of

the field.” -  The strong, scythe-like sweep of the ox’s tongue was a simile

admirable in itself, and most suitable to pastoral Moab and Midian. “And Balak

the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time.”


5 “He sent messengers therefore” -  It appears from v. 7 that Balak acted for

Midian as well as for Moab; as the Midianites were but a weak people, they may

have placed themselves more or less under the protection of Balak - “unto Balaam

the son of Beor” – μ[;l]Bi (Bileam: our common form is from the Septuagint and

New Testament, Balaa>m Balaam - Balaam) is derived either from [l"B;, to destroy

or devour, and μ[;, the people; or simply from [l"B;, with the terminal syllable μA;,

the destroyer.” The former derivation receives some support from Revelation 2:14-15,

where Nicolaitans are thought by many to be only a Greek form of” Balaamites

 Niko>laov Nikolaosconquering peoples - from nika>w nikaoconquer –

 and lao>v laos - people). Beor (rW[B]) has a similar signification, from r[;B;,

to burn, or consume. Both names have probable reference to the supposed effect of

their maledictions, for successful cursing was an hereditary profession in many lands,

as it still is in some. Beor appears in II Peter 2:15 as Bosor, which is called a

Chaldeeism, but the origin of the change is really unknown. A Bela son of

Beer” is named in Genesis 36:32 as reigning in Edom, but the coincidence is of no

importance: kings and magicians have always loved to give themselves names of fear,

and their vocabulary was not extensive - “to Pethor, which is by the river of the

land of the children of his people,” -  Rather, “which is on the river,” i.e., the

great river Euphrates, “in the land of the children of his people,” i.e., in his native

land. The situation of Pethor (Septuagint, Faqoura > - PhathouraPethor -  is

unknown -“to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt:” –

Forty years had passed since their fathers had left Egypt. Yet Balak’s words expressed

a great truth, for this people was no wandering desert tribe, but for all intents the same

great organized nation which had spoiled Egypt, and left Pharaoh’s host dead behind

them - “behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me:” 

yliMumi. Septuagint, ejco>meno>v mou - echomenos mouopposite me. This would

hardly have been said when Israel was encamped thirty miles north of Arnon, opposite

to Jericho. The two embassies to Balaam must have occupied some time, and in the

mean while Israel would have gone further on his way. We may naturally conclude

that the first message was sent immediately after the defeat of Sihon, at a time when

Israel was encamped very near the border of Moab.


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.”  This was the

language of flattery intended to secure the prophet’s services. No doubt, however,

Balak, like other heathens, had a profound though capricious belief in the real effect

Of curses and anathemas pronounced by men who had private intercourse and

influence with the unseen powers. That error, like most superstitions, was

the perversion of a truth; there are both benedictions and censures which,

uttered by human lips, carry with them the sanction and enforcement of

Heaven. The error of antiquity lay in ignorance or forgetfulness that, as

water cannot rise higher than its source, so neither blessing nor cursing can

possibly take any effect beyond the will and purpose of the Father of our

souls. Balaam knew this, but it was perhaps his misfortune to have been

trained from childhood to maintain his position and his wealth by trading

upon the superstitions of his neighbors.  (Thus the great sin – CY – 2011)


7  And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the

rewards of divination”-  μymis;q], soothsayings.” Septuagint, ta< mantei~a

ta manteiarewards of divination -  Here the soothsayer’s wages, which Peter

aptly calls the wages of unrighteousness. The ease with which, among ignorant

and superstitious people, a prophet might become a hired soothsayer is apparent

even from the case of Samuel (I Samuel 9:6-8).  That it should be thought proper

to resort to the man of God for information about some lost property, and much

more that it should be thought necessary to pay him a fee for the exercise of his

supernatural powers, shows, not indeed that Samuel was a soothsayer, for he was

a man of rare integrity and independence, but, that Samuel was but little distinguished

from a soothsayer in the popular estimation. If Samuel had learnt to care more for

money than for righteousness, he might very easily have become just what

Balaam became - “in their hand; and they came unto Balaam, and spake

unto him the words of Balak.”


8  And he said unto them, Lodge here this night,” - It was therefore in the night,

in a dream or in a vision (Genesis 20:3; ch.12:6; Job 4:15-16), that Balaam expected

to receive some communication from God. If he had received none he would no doubt

have felt himself free to go - “and I will bring you word again, as the LORD shall

speak unto me: and the princes of Moab abode with Balaam.”


9  And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?

10 And Balaam said unto God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath

sent unto me, saying,  11 Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which

covereth the face of the earth: come now, curse me them; peradventure I

shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out.  12 And God said unto

Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for

they are blessed.  13And Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the

princes of Balak, Get you into your land: for the LORD refuseth to give me

leave to go with you.  14 And the princes of Moab rose up, and they went

unto Balak, and said, Balaam refuseth to come with us.”


15 “And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honorable than

they.”  Balak rightly judged that Balaam was not really unwilling to come, and that

it was only needful to ply him with more flattery and larger promises. The heathens

united a firm belief in the powers of the seer with a very shrewd appreciation of the

motives and character of the seer.


16 “And they came to Balaam, and said to him, Thus saith Balak the

son of Zippor, Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from coming

unto me:  17  For I will promote thee unto very great honor, and I will do

whatsoever thou sayest unto me: come therefore, I pray thee, curse

me this people.  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.” - Balaam’s faith

was paramount within its own sphere of operation. It did not control his wishes; it

did not secure the heart obedience which God loves; but it did secure, and that

absolutely, outward obedience to every positive command of God, however irksome;

and Balaam never made any secret of this.


19 “Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may

know what the LORD will say unto me more.  20 And God came unto

Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up,

and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt

thou do.  21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and

went with the princes of Moab.”


22 “And God’s anger was kindled because he went:” - or, “that he

was going.” aWh ËlewOhAyKi. Septuagint, o[ti ejporeu>qh aujto>v hoti

eporeuthae autos – because he went.  There can be no question that the

ordinary translation is right, and that God was angry with Balaam for going at

all on such an errand. It is true that God had given him permission to go, but

that very permission was a judicial act whereby God punished the covetous and

disobedient longings of Balaam in allowing him to have his own way. God’s

anger is kindled by sin, and it was not less truly sin which prompted Balaam to go

because he had succeeded in obtaining formal leave to go - “and the angel of

the LORD stood in the way” -  The same angel of the covenant apparently

of whom Moses had spoken to the Edomites (see on ch.20:16) - “for an

adversary against him.” - wOl ˆf;c;l]. Septuagint, diabalei~n aujto>n

diabalein autonadversary against him.  Not so much because Balaam was

rushing upon his own destruction as because he was going to fight with curses,

if possible, against the Israel of God (II Kings 6:17; Psalm 34:7).  “Now he

was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.”


23  And the ass saw the angel of the LORD” -  This was clearly part

of the miracle, the sh>meion saemeionsign; miracle -  which was to exhibit

in such a striking manner the stupidity and blindness of the most brilliant and

gifted intellect when clouded by greed and selfishness. It is nothing to the point

that the lower animals have a quicker perception of some natural phenomena than

men, for this was not a natural phenomenon; it is nothing to the point that the

lower animals are credited by some with possessing “the second sight,” for

all that belongs to the fantastic and legendary. If the ass saw the angel, it

was because the Lord opened her eyes then, as he did her mouth

afterwards -  “standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand:

and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and

Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.  24 But the angel of the

LORD stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a

wall on that side.”


25  And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she thrust herself

unto the wall,” -  Apparently in order to pass the angel beyond the reach of his

sword; when this was clearly impossible she fell down - “and crushed Balaam’s

foot against the wall: and he smote her again.  26 And the angel of the LORD

went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to

the right hand or to the left.  27  And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD,

she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote

the ass with a staff.”


28  And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass,” - On the face of it this expression

would seem decisive that an audible human voice proceeded from the ass’s mouth, as

Peter beyond doubt believed:  uJpozu>gion ajfwnon ejn ajnqrw>pou fwnh~|

fqegxa>menonhupozugion aphonon en anthrotou phonae phthegxamenon

 the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad -. In v. 31 Balaam’s eyes are

said to have been opened so that he saw the angel; but to have the eyes open so

that the (ordinarily) invisible became visible, and the (otherwise) inaudible became

audible, was precisely the condition of which Balaam speaks (ch. 24:3-4) as that

of trance.  That domestic animals, and especially such as have been long in the service

of man, feel surprise, indignation, and grief in the presence of injustice and ill-treatment

is abundantly certain. In many well-authenticated cases they have done things in order

 to express these feelings which seemed as much beyond their “irrational” nature as if

they had spoken. We constantly say of a dog or a horse that he can do everything but

speak, and why should it seem incredible that God, who has given the dumb beast so

close an approximation to human feeling and reason, should for once have given it

human voice? With respect to Balaam’s companions, their presence need

not cause any difficulty. The princes of Midian and Moab had probably

gone on to announce the coming of Balaam; his servants would naturally

follow him at some little distance, unless he summoned them to his side -  “and she

said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me

these three times?”


29  And Balaam said unto the ass,” - That Balaam should answer

the ass without expressing any astonishment is certainly more marvelous

than that the ass should speak to him. Consider:


  • That Balaam was a prophet. He was accustomed to hear Divine voices

speaking to him when no man was near. He had a large and unquestioning

faith, and a peculiar familiarity with the unseen.


  • Balaam was a sorcerer. It was part of his profession to show signs and

wonders such as even now in those countries confound the most

experienced and skeptical beholders. It is likely that he had often made

dumb animals speak in order to bewilder others. He must indeed have been

conscious to some extent of imposture, but he would not draw any sharp

line in his own mind between the marvels which really happened to him and

the marvels he displayed to others. Both as prophet and as sorcerer, he

must have lived, more than any other even of that age, in an atmosphere of

the supernatural. If, therefore, this portent was really given, it was certainly

given to the very man of all that ever lived to whom it was most suitable.

Just as one cannot imagine the miracle of the coin in the mouth of the fish

(Matthew 17:27) happening to any one of less simple and childlike faith than

Peter, so one could not think of the ass as speaking to any one in the Bible

but the wizard prophet, for whom — both on his good and on his bad side —

the boundary lines between the natural and supernatural were almost



  • Balaam was at this moment intensely angry., and nothing blunts the edge

of natural surprise so much as rage. Things which afterwards, when calmly

recollected, cause the utmost astonishment, notoriously produce no effect

at the moment upon a mind which is thoroughly exasperated


“Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand,

for now would I kill thee.”


30  And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou

hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to

do so unto thee? And he said, Nay.”


31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel

of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand:”

 As on other occasions, the angel was not perceptible to ordinary sight, but only

to eyes in some way quickened and purged by the Divine operation. This explains

the fact that Balaam’s companions would appear to have seen nothing (Acts 9:7) -

and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.”


32  And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Wherefore hast thou

smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I went out to withstand

thee, because thy way is perverse before me:”  Perverse - fr;y;, an

uncommon word, which seems to mean “leading headlong,” i.e. to destruction.


34  And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless

she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her

alive.” – Compare the case of the ass of the disobedient prophet in I Kings 13:24.

It is plainly a righteous thing with God that obedience and faithfulness should

be respected, and in some sense rewarded, even in an ass.


34  And Balaam said unto the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I

knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now therefore,

if it displease thee, I will get me back again.  35  And the angel of the

LORD said unto Balaam, Go with the men:” -  It may be asked to what

purpose the angel appeared, if Balaam was to proceed just the same. The answer

is that the angel was not a warning, but a destroying, angel, a visible embodiment of

the anger of God which burnt against Balaam for his perversity. The angel

would have slain Balaam, as the lion slew the disobedient prophet mentioned above,

but that God in His mercy permitted the fidelity and wisdom of the ass to save her

master from the immediate consequences of his folly. If Balaam had had a mind

capable of instruction, he would indeed have gone on as he was bidden, but in a

very different spirit and with very different designs - “but only the word

that I shall  speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak.  So Balaam went with

the princes of Balak.


36 “And when Balak heard that Balaam was come, he went out to meet

him unto a city of Moab,” - or, “unto Ir-Moab” (ba;wOm ry[iAla,),

probably the same as the Ar mentioned in ch. 21:15 as the boundary town of Moab

at that time - “which is in the border of Arnon, which is in the utmost coast.

37 And Balak said unto Balaam, Did I not earnestly send unto thee to

call thee? wherefore camest thou not unto me? am I not able indeed to

promote thee to honor?  38  And Balaam said unto Balak, Lo, I am

come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say any thing? the word

that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak.  39  And Balaam went

with Balak, and they came unto Kirjathhuzoth.”  City of streets.” Identified

by some with the ruins of Shihan, not far from the supposed site of Ai.


40  And Balak offered oxen and sheep,” - Probably these sacrifices were

offered not to Chemosh, but to the Lord, in whose name Balaam always

spoke. Indeed the known fact that Balaam was a prophet of the Lord was

no doubt one of Balak’s chief reasons for wishing to obtain his services.

Balak shared the common opinion of antiquity, that the various national

deities were enabled by circumstances past human understanding to do

sometimes more, sometimes less, for their special votaries. He perceived

that the God of Israel was likely, as things stood, to carry all before Him;

but He thought that he might by judicious management be won over, at

least to some extent, to desert the cause of Israel and to favor that of

Moab. To this end he “retained” at great cost the services of Balaam, the

prophet of the Lord, and to this end he was willing to offer any number of

sacrifices - “and sent” - i.e., portions of the sacrificial meats - “to Balaam,

and to the princes that were with him.”


41  And it came to pass on the morrow, that Balak took Balaam, and

brought him up into the high places of Baal,” - The high places of Baal,

or Bamoth-Baal.” Perhaps the Bamoth mentioned in ch. 21:19-20. This is,

however, by no means certain, because high places were no doubt numerous,

and that Bamoth would seem to have been too far from the present camp of Israel.

In any case they crossed the Arnon, and ran some risk by adventuring

themselves on hostile territory - “that thence he might see the utmost part of

the people.”  According to the quasi-sacramental character attributed to the

cursing of a seer, it was held necessary that the subject of the curse should be in

view. Balak desired to attain this object with as little risk as possible, and

therefore he took Balaam first of all to these heights, whence a distant and

partial view of Israel might be had.




The Way of Balaam (vs. 1-41)


In this section we have some of the profoundest and most subtle, as well as

some of the most practical, moral and religious teachings of the Old

Testament. In order to draw them out fully we may consider:



REGARD TO GOD AND MAN. Consider under this head:


Ø      That Balaam had a true knowledge of the most high God. He was

not in any sense a heathen as far as his intellectual perception of Divine

things went. And it was not merely Elohim, the God of nature and

creation, whom he knew and revered, but distinctly Jehovah, the God

of Israel and of grace. Speculatively he knew as much of God as

Abraham or Job.


Ø      That Balaam had an unquestioning faith in the one true God.

Whatever difficulties it may create, it is obviously true that Balaam

walked very much by faith, and not by sight. The invisible God, the will

of God, the power of God, the direct concern of God with His doings,

were all realities to Balaam, strong realities. God was not a name to him,

nor a theological expression, but the daily companion of his daily life.


Ø      That Balaam had an undoubted prophetic gift from God. He was

not an ordinary servant of the true God; he held as it were a very high

official position in the service of God. He enjoyed frequent and direct

communication with him; he expected to receive supernatural intimations

of the Divine will; he professed to speak, and he did speak, words of

inspired prophecy far beyond his own origination.


Ø      That at the same time Balaam’s heart was given not to God, but

to covetousness. He loved the wages of unrighteousness. Not perhaps

in the lowest sense. He may have valued influence, power, consideration

even more than mere money; but money was necessary to all these.


Ø      That Balaam was a soothsayer. He practiced magical arts and sought

for auguries. He traded on the superstitions of the heathen, and even

sought to prostitute his prophetic powers to excite astonishment,

 obtain power, and make money. He hired himself out to curse the

enemies of those who employed him. And note that Balaam’s fall in this

respect was accountable enough; for we may naturally conclude:


o       that Balaam had an hereditary position as seer which it was his

interest to keep up at any cost;


o       that the ignorant people put strong pressure upon him to play the

soothsayer. How easily Samuel might have become the same if he

had been covetous! How constant is the temptation to abuse

spiritual powers in order at once to gratify others and to exalt

oneself! (I Samuel 9:6-8; Jeremiah 5:31)





Ø      That Balak was afraid of Israel, because he was mighty, and had

overthrown the Amorites. Yet he had no cause to fear, for Israel had not

touched him, and did not mean to. Men are afraid of the Church of

God because it is a great power in the world, albeit it is a power for

good, and not for evil.


Ø      That Balak was afraid of the God of Israel. He rightly judged that

Israel’s success was due to his God; but he wrongly thought that the

Lord was but a national deity who was victorious at present, but might

be turned aside or bought off.


Ø      That Balak put his trust in Balaam because he was a prophet of

The Lord, and might be expected to use his influence to change

the purposes of the Lord; perhaps even to counterwork those

purposes. How often do people seek the aid of religion against

God!  How often do they seek for religious support and solace

in doing what they must know is contrary to the moral law of



Ø      That Balak professed, and no doubt felt, a profound belief in

The efficacy of Balaam’s benedictions and maledictions, even

 as against the people of Balaam’s God. Here was the very

essence of superstition, to suppose that anything whatsoever can have

any spiritual efficacy contrary to, or apart from, the will of God; most

of all, that the word of God, as officially employed by His ministers,

can be made to work counter to the declared mind of God. As though

Peter could ban whom Christ hath blessed. Yet note that Balak’s

superstition was the depraving of a great truth. Balaam had no doubt

authority to censure or to bless in the name of God; and his censures

or blessings would have had validity if pronounced with a single eye to

the glory of God and the good of souls, and in clear dependence upon

the higher knowledge and necessary ratification of Heaven.


Ø      That Balak sought to obtain supernatural aid from Balaam by

means of flatteries, gifts, and promises; and thought, no doubt, to

buy over the powers of the world to come. He rightly gauged the

character of the man; he was utterly deceived as to the worth of his

alliance. How often do shrewd and worldly men make the same

 mistake!  Because they see through the selfishness and worldliness

of the human ministers of religion, they fancy they can command the

services, and employ in their own behalf the powers, of religion itself.





Ø      That Balaam was solicited to come for a purpose which he must 

have felt sure was wrong. To curse any people was an awful thing,

and only to be done with sorrow if commanded by God. To curse

Israel, of whose history Balaam was not ignorant, was on the face of it

treason towards God. When men are invited to lend their aid in

opposing or destroying others, how careful should they be to make sure

that such hostile action is a matter of duty; for we are called unto

blessing (I Peter 3:9).


Ø      That Balaam was tempted through his love of money and of good

things. A true-hearted prophet would have been ashamed to receive

gifts and promises for the use of his spiritual powers, and he would

have vehemently suspected such as offered them, even with flattery and

deference. If anything appeals to our cupidity and promises advantage in

this world, we ought all the more to turn against it, unless it is irresistibly

proved to be right. With what just scorn does the world regard the

universal propensity of religious people to exercise their gifts and throw

their influence where and as it pays the best!


Ø      That Balaam was forbidden to go, for the plain and unalterable

Reason that he could not possibly do what he was wanted to do

without flying in the face of God. If he went, he must either act

dishonorably towards Balak by taking his money for naught, or he

must act treasonably towards God by cursing His people. And this was

perfectly clear to Balaam. The moral law of God is plain enough in its

broad outlines, and if men loved righteousness more than gain

 they would have little practical difficulty.


Ø      That Balaam’s outward conduct was consistently conscientious.

He would not go without leave; he refused to go when forbidden; when

allowed to go, he repeatedly protested that he could and would say

nothing but what God told him to say. And no doubt his protestations

were sincere. He had no intention of rebelling against God; it was a

fixed principle with him that God must be obeyed.


Ø      That Balaam’s inward desire was to go if possible, because it

Promised honor and gain to himself. He obeyed God, but he

obeyed grudgingly; he obeyed God, but he gave him clearly to

understand that he wished it might be otherwise; he respected the

definite command not to go, but he paid no heed to the reason given —

because Israel was not to be cursed. The only obedience which God

really cares for is obedience from the heart (Romans 6:17; Ephesians

6:6). How many are strict in not violating the moral law (as they

understand it), but not in order to please God, not because they love

the will of God! To how many are the commandments of God formal

barriers which they do not overleap only because they dare

not! But for such these barriers are sooner or later done away, that

they may have their own way.


Ø      That Balaam did not get credit for the conscientiousness he

did possess. He said that God refused to give him leave, which was

true, although not expressed in a proper spirit, whereas the messengers

reported that he refused to come; and Balak believed that he only

wanted more pressing. So it is with men who do what is right, yet

not from the true motive; they do not get credit even for the good

that is in them; they are always tempted afresh, because they are

felt to be open to temptation; the world sees that their heart is with

it, and puts their hesitation down to mere self-interest.  There is no

safety for the man whose heart is not on the side of God.


Ø      That Balaam, when he referred the matter again to God (as if

 it were still open), was allowed to go. This is the very essence of

tempting God to cast about for ways and means to follow our

own will and compass our own ends without open disobedience.

How many treat the rule of God as a disagreeable restraint which

must indeed be respected, but may be thankfully avoided if

possible! Such men find themselves able to go with a clear

conscience into circumstances of temptation which are presently fatal

to them. If thou hast once had a clear intimation of what is right,

cleave to it with all thy heart, else shalt thou be led into a snare.


Ø      That Balaam’s going, though permitted, was controlled; and

this not in his own interest (for he should not have gone),but in

the interest of Israel.  When men will go into evil they are judicially

permitted to go, and the law of God ceases so far to constrain their

conscience; but the consequences of their inward disobedience are

overruled that they may not be disastrous to God’s own people.




Ø      That God was angry with Balaam for going, although He had

given him leave to go. For it was sin which made Balaam wish to go

 if possible; and it was his wish to go on an evil errand for gain which

obtained him leave to go. Even so if men are inwardly desirous to do

what is wrong, God will suffer them to persuade themselves that it is

not actually wrong, and they will go on with a clear conscience; but

God will be angry with them all the same. How many very religious

people find it permissible to walk in very crooked ways for the sake

of gain, and are yet resolute not to do a wrong thing! But God is

angry with them, and they have forfeited his grace already.


Ø      That the destroying angel stood in the way as an adversary to

him.  Even so destruction awaits us in every way wherein greed

leads us contrary to the will of God. God Himself is an adversary to

us (Matthew 5:25), and is ready at any moment to fall upon us and

cut us asunder. It is useless to say that we have done nothing wrong;

if our motives be corrupt, the sword of Divine justice is drawn against us.


Ø      That Balaam saw not the angel, but the ass did; and this although

Balaam was a “seer,” and prided himself on “having his eyes open,”

And on being familiar with the unseen things of God. Even so the

religious” and “spiritual” man, who has great “experiences,” and yet is

secretly led by greed and self-interest, is often much blinder than

the most carnal and unenlightened to perceive that he is rushing

upon destruction; the most stupid person has often a clearer

perception of moral facts and situations than the most gifted, if this

be blinded by sin.


Ø      That the ass by her fidelity and instinct of self-preservation saved

Her master. Even so are men, wise in their own eyes often indebted

to the most despised and neglected agencies for preservation from the

consequences of their blind folly.


Ø      That Balaam was enraged with the ass, and ill-treated her. Even

So foolish men are often very angry with the very circumstances or

persons which are really saving them from destruction.


Ø      That the ass was Divinely permitted to rebuke her master, and

to teach him a lesson if he would learn it; for she had been faithful,

and docile, and had never played him false ever since she had been his;

while he had been and was unfaithful, obstinate, and disloyal to

his Master in heaven. Even so do the very beasts teach us many a

lesson by their conduct; and those whom we account in some sense

worse than the beasts — the heathen, and men who have no religion

at all — will often put us to shame by the strong virtues which they

display where we perhaps fail.


Ø      That then Balaam saw and knew his danger. Even so do men

complacently walk in the road which leads to destruction, and

HAVE NOT THE LEAST IDEA OF IT,  but are angry with

any that thwart them, until some sudden influence opens their

eyes to their awful danger.


Ø      That he offered there to go back, if necessary, and acknowledged

That he had done wrong (perhaps sincerely), but was not

permitted to go back.  Even so when men have, as it were, insisted

upon taking a line which is unwise, dangerous, and wrong, it is often

impossible for them to turn back.  They are committed to it, and

God’s providence compels them to go on with it, even though it

brings awful peril to their souls; for God is a jealous God, and the

judicial consequences of our own (albeit inward and disguised)

disobedience cannot be got rid of in a moment.


Ø      That he was met by Balak with honour and ceremony and

religious rites; and no doubt all that happened by the way faded

like a dream from his mind. Even so when men walk after their

own covetousness they may receive the most solemn and (at the time)

impressive warnings, but amidst the converse of the world, and the

honor received of men, and the outward ceremonies even of religion,

these warnings have no lasting effect, and are as though

they had never happened.



There may be in a man high spiritual gifts without real goodness.  Balaam was a veritable

prophet, and had in a remarkable degree the faculty both of understanding’ the hidden

things of God and of announcing them to men.  That Balaam had a strong faith in the Lord

God is evident; on the intellectual side it was as strong as Abraham’s; he walked with

God as truly as any in the sense of being constantly conscious and mindful of God’s

presence and concern with Him. No definition of religious faith could be framed with

honesty which should exclude Balaam and include Abraham. Yet he was not saved,

he fell into deadly sins and became a castaway.  (I Corinthians 9:27)


Balaam repeatedly crossed his own inclinations, and forewent much honor and

emolument from Balak, from a conscientious motive; and yet he was all the time

on the verge of destruction, and was miserably slain at last. Even so many

men do much they do not like, and give up much they do like, because they feel

they ought to; and yet they have no reward for it either HERE or HEREAFTER!


No one could have found distinct fault with any one step in Balaam s proceedings;

each could be singly justified as permissible; yet the whole provoked the Lord to

anger, because it was secretly swayed by greed. Even so many men are careful,

and to ordinary eyes irreproachable, in their doings, because no act is by itself

without justification; yet their whole life is hateful because its governing motive is

selfishness, not love.


Balaam justly prided himself upon his intelligent and spiritual religion as compared

with the follies and mummeries of the heathen around, yet he was more blind than

his own beast to the palpable destruction on which he was running. Even

so many of those who are most enlightened, and most removed from ignorance

and superstition, are most blind to their own entire moral failure, and to the terrible

danger they are in. They, e.g., who most denounce idolatry are often utterly blind

to the fact that their whole lives are dominated by covetousness, which is

idolatry.  (Colossians 3:5)


In “the dumb ass” (II Peter 2:16) of this chapter we have an example of  God’s

choosing of “the foolish things of the world to confound the wise,” and

things which are despised” and “things which are not” (as the intelligible

voice of an ass) “to bring to naught things that are.”   (I Corinthinas 1:27-28)



"Excerpted text Copyright AGES Library, LLC. All rights reserved.

Materials are reproduced by permission."


This material can be found at:


If this exposition is helpful, please share with others.