If you have ever scanned through Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Asia in Rev 2-3, you may have come across these confusing words spoken to the Church in Pergamum in Rev 2:14:
“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.“
Who are these characters Balaam and Balak? These historical figures did not exist at the time of Revelation’s writing, but actually lived around 1500 years prior. Let’s take a look at their story in Numbers.
Who were Balak and Balaam?
In Numbers 22, we see that Balak is the son of Zippor, the king of the gentile nation of Moab.
At this point, the Israelites had fled slavery in Egypt and moved through many territories in their journey through the desert to reach the Promised Land, defeating the foreign gentiles that lived in these territories along the way. In this chapter, they had just camped in the plains of Moab after defeating King Sihon of the Amorites and King Og of Bashan in Numbers 21.
Balak and the Moabites, understandably terrified of these Hebrews, take action. As any responsible king would do, Balak sends messengers to a sorcerer, Balaam, to place a curse on these threatening people of Israel. Interestingly, although Balaam is a gentile sorcerer, he speaks with the God of Israel.
Balaam’s Talking Donkey
God comes to Balaam to tell him not to place a curse on the Israelites, and so at first, Balaam dismisses Balak’s request. However, Balak persists, and God allows Balaam to go with them but instructs Balaam to only do what He tells him.
When Balaam is on his way to Moab, an angel with a sword blocks the road. Balaam’s trusty steed, a donkey, can see the angel and continuously moves off the road. However, Balaam cannot see this holy roadblock and beats his donkey three times in confusion and frustration. Finally, the Lord opens the donkey’s mouth to rebuke her owner! After that, God opens Balaam’s eyes to see the angel, who reminds Balaam once again to go with Balak’s men but only do what God says.
Balaam’s Failed Curses
When Balaam and Balak meet, Balaam utters five oracles from God. However, each time, instead of cursing the Israelites, he blesses them instead. The oracles praise Israel and its people, prophesize a heroic ruler, and foretell the destruction of Israel’s enemies. With each blessing, Balak’s frustration grows. Despite his anger, Balaam reminds him that he can only do what the Lord instructs. Eventually, the two men part ways, each continuing on their path but marked by this encounter – Balak with his plans thwarted and Balaam as a messenger of divine will.
The Enticing Moabite Women
Initially, it seems Balaam kept his word to God and did the right thing. The Israelites seemed set up for success in their next campaign against Moab. However, events took a turn for the worse.
In Numbers 25, we see Israeli men engaging in relations with the Moabite women, who also enticed them into worshipping and sacrificing to their Moabite gods, breaking the First Commandment: “Do not worship other gods before me.” This betrayal was planned, a calculated attempt to undermine the Israelites not through warfare but through seduction and sin, distancing them from God’s protection and favor.
Balaam’s Plot against Israel
After reconciling with God, the Israelites were told to take vengeance on the Midianites. Surprisingly, in Num 31:8, we find Balaam killed alongside Midianite kings. It emerges that Balaam, despite initially blessing the Israelites, proposed the strategy of using the women to seduce the Israelite men away from God, as mentioned in Rev 2:14.
This narrative urges us to read the Bible in its entirety to understand context and character motivations fully. The warning about Balaam in the letter to Pergamum is a reminder to remain discerning, aware of deception and compromise, and committed to God’s truth.
FAQs: Who is Balak in the Bible?
Who was Balak in the Bible?
Balak was a Moabite king who sought to curse the Israelites as they approached his land during their Exodus journey.
What is Balaam known for?
Balaam is known for his role as a prophet who, despite being asked by Balak to curse the Israelites, blessed them following God’s instructions.
What lesson can we learn from Balaam’s story?
Balaam’s story teaches the importance of obedience to God’s will and the futility of opposing divine decrees.
Did Balaam eventually curse the Israelites?
No, despite Balak’s requests, Balaam blessed the Israelites multiple times, as God turned his intended curses into blessings.
How does the story of Balak and Balaam impact modern faith?
The story serves as a powerful reminder of divine protection, the significance of faithfulness, and the consequences of attempting to oppose God’s plans.