The story of Balaam was one of my childhood favorites. Who doesn’t like a guy with a talking donkey? It makes me laugh every time. A grown man’s donkey starts talking (never happened before or after) and he gets in an argument with the animal. How funny! Over the years this story has taken on even greater meaning to me.
The narrative of Balaam spans over three chapters, yet we know very little about the man. Nevertheless, the LORD will use him to reach back to the past and predict a future of cosmic proportions.
The story plot: Balak, king of the Moabites, heard about the Israelites defeating King Og and the Amorites. He is fearful because of the sheer size of the people of Israel. His plan was to bring a well-known prophet (not of Yahweh) to pronounce a curse on God’s people. You have heard of chemical warfare; this was prophetic warfare. In this war, Balaam ends up a double agent in a spiritual battle. Every time he tried to curse Israel he ended up blessing them. Finally, Balaam pronounces a curse of Moab! This is just one of the many bizarre themes in this narrative.
Let’s begin with the repeating stories of Balak and Pharaoh. John Sailhamer makes the connection from Exodus 1.
- Pharaoh and Balak were both kings of large and powerful nations.
- Pharaoh and Balak were threatened by the size of Israel (Ex. 1:9; Num. 22:5).
- Pharaoh and Balak tried to stop Israel from entering the Promised Land (Ex. 1:10; Num. 22:6).
- Pharaoh and Balak made three attempts to counteract Yahweh’s blessing on His people (Ex. 1:11-22; Num. 23-24).
Let us take a closer look into the three attempts and how they also parallel:
- Pharaoh put taskmasters over the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor (Ex. 1:11-14). The more they oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread. Balak’s first attempt to curse Israel through Balaam had the same outcome (Num. 22:8-10).
- Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all male children born (Ex. 1:15-21). It ended with the midwives telling Pharaoh, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before a midwife can get to them.” (Ex. 1:19). A similar description is seen in Balak’s second attempt. Balaam says, “God brought them out of Egypt;/ He is like the horns of a wild ox… A people rise up like a lioness;/ They rouse themselves like a lion.” (Num. 23:22, 24).
- Pharaoh ordered every Hebrew son born to be thrown into the Nile (Ex. 1:22). Balak’s third attempt ends in a reversal of Pharaoh’s decree. Water will flow from his buckets,/ and his seed will be by abundant water. (Num. 24:7) The author uses irony to show a reversal of Pharaoh’s evil command. Where Pharaoh used water to destroy Israel, Yahweh will bless the seed with buckets of flowing wate
There is more – much more. Look at the use of the word seed (זרע) in describing Israel (24:7). Do you remember the first time this word appears in Scripture? That’s right, Genesis 1. My blog on Make Leviticus Great Again (Part 3) gives a better understanding of the word and its usage.
What Pharaoh and Balak were trying to do violated the principle set up in Genesis 1. In creating man and woman, God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth.” (Gen. 1:28) Even after the Fall, the Creator wants to bless humanity. A Seed would rise up and restore the blessing. Pay close attention to the prophecy:
Genesis 3:15, I will put hostility between you and the woman,/ and between your seed and her seed./ He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel. (emphasis mine)
We are being primed for a climactic ending. God’s original plan for humanity was to bless, not curse. Yet, the people of the earth failed over and over again. Finally, Yahweh chose the family of Abraham to bring the promised Seed (Gen. 12:1-3) to bless all the nations of the earth. Pharaoh and Balak represent seed of the snake trying to destroy the Seed of woman bringing back the blessings of Eden. Do you see this?
It gets better when we look deeper into the oracles of Balaam!
Balaam’s 2nd oracle: God brought them (plural) out of Egypt;/ He is like the horns of a wild ox for them. (Num. 23:22)
Balaam’s 3rd oracle: God brought him (singular) out of Egypt;/ He is like the horns of a wild ox for them. (Num. 24:8)
These are almost identical but with one very important difference. The first speaks of Israel (23:24) and the second of a great king and his kingdom (24:7). A future king! And, he leaves another clue about this coming king:
Numbers 24:9, He crouches, he lies down like a lion/ or a lioness – who dares to rouse him?
Have you figured it out? Let’s look back to the prophecy of Judah.
Genesis 49:9, He crouches; he lies down like a lion/ or a lioness – who dares to rouse him?
Is your mind blown? This is the same prophecy verbatim of the coming King of Judah – the Lion of Judah – the Messiah (Rev. 5:5)! You can learn more about Judah here.
But that’s not all! I’m starting to sound like an infomercial, but trust me, it’s bigger. In Balaam’s final oracle, we find these words:
Numbers 24:17c, He will smash the forehead of Moab/ and strike down all the Shethites. (emphasis mine)
What does that make you think about? Go back up and read Genesis 3:15 again. You may be thinking, “Ok, this is about Moab, not the snake.” Look again, the sentence before tells us who will smash the head of Moab.
Numbers 24:17b, A star will come from Jacob,/ and a scepter will arise from Israel.
NOW do you see it? Some believe this has a double meaning – David, the future king of Israel (II Sam. 8:2 – defeated Moabites making them lie on the ground) and the Messiah (Matt. 2:2 – the star that rose at His birth; Rev. 22:16 – the bright morning star).
The One coming is also a scepter that would rise up from Israel – a king! A scepter is a symbol of authority. This too could be applied to David and the Messiah. But, I want to look at the Hebrew word for star (כוכב) one more time. It is a word that shows the imagery of a king (Isa. 14:12; Ezk. 32:7).
Let’s summarize: Balaam was given oracles, from Yahweh, of a star and a scepter that would rise up from the seed of Israel. This Seed would be a greater king of an exalted kingdom. He would be as fierce as a lion and crush the head of the one who would curse the people He wants to bless.
Spiritual warfare between the seed of woman and the snake continues today. The God of Israel would not allow Balak, or Pharaoh, to curse His people. And neither will the Father allow His children to be cursed and destroyed by the enemy. The Seed of the woman has come and protects and cares for God’s people.
Romans 8:31-39, …If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything! Who can bring accusation against God’s elect?… Who is the one who condemns?… Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Who can separate us from the love of Christ?… No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
*All Scripture quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible
*Blog resources: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer; Faithlife Study Bible (Logos)