Balaam’s great sin was that of covetousness – “he loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11). The name “Balaam” means “the destruction of the people,” or “devourer of the people.” He had a wicked heart. Numbers 22 shows that his heart was set upon the rewards of Balak, while outwardly he wished to keep right with God. He wanted to please himself and yet not displease God.
When Balak sent for Balaam to come and curse Israel, God had plainly stated, “Thou shalt not go with them: thou shall not curse the people: for they are blessed” (Num 22:12). Nothing could be clearer, but Balaam wanted to go and was displeased because God had forbidden him. This is very clear from the second appeal to him from Balak. Balaam enquires of God again (Num 22:19) despite the clear statement from God on the first occasion. His heart was covetous, but he wanted to give the opposite appearance.
Such hypocrisy should be foreign to the believer. On this second occasion, God said, “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” (Num 22:20). It is clear, however, that he did not wait for them to come, but was eager to carry out his own desire. Thus, God’s anger was kindled against him. God would now use Balaam to pronounce blessing upon Israel. It was not because Balaam’s desire or intent had changed, but because God would compel him to prophesy of Israel’s blessing. Thus, God overrules the intents and purposes of men in order to display His sovereignty and to declare His own purposes.
The parables of Balaam belong to Israel, and they primarily speak of future blessing and glorious triumph for Israel in the end times. There are four parables, with the fourth being divided into four parts. It is important to notice that the three places from which blessing is pronounced by God, through Balaam, are each nearer to the camp of Israel, giving him a more expansive view of that camp. The word “utmost” in Numbers 22:41 has the idea of “extremity.”
It seems that, first of all, Balak takes Balaam to the high places of Baal where only a part of the whole camp could be seen. In the high places of Baal, all the power of Satan is concentrated in the worship of Baal and so the people of God, the Israelites, seem but few and thus so easily dealt with.
The way of approach to God is by the one altar with its sacrifice which speaks of the perfect and infinite value of the one sacrifice of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The seven altars (Num 23:1) with their sacrifices are characteristic of idolatry, and from these altars Balaam went out alone. He did not go out to meet the Lord, although he anticipated the possibility of the Lord intercepting him – “peradventure the Lord will come to meet me” (Num 23:3). He really went out to seek enchantments. It is interesting that from the Hebrew word translated “enchantments,” comes the word for “serpent.” Thus, Balaam’s intention was, if possible, to harness the power of Satan against Israel in order to rob them of the land that God had promised.
The Israelites had traversed the wilderness and their journeying was now drawing to a close. Could Satan, by any means, prevent them from entering the land? He had tried, through Pharaoh, to keep them in Egypt, but had failed. He would try now through Balak and Balaam to keep them out of Canaan. The question was, could he succeed? Israel had come out of Egypt and had sung the song of triumph. Now they were at the border of the promised land. Could Satan make use of their past failure to keep them out of the land or would God, Whose grace had brought them thus far, be faithful to His Word and bring them righteously into the land? This was the question.
Satan could not challenge the veracity of the Word of God nor could he challenge the potency of the power of God. He would, however, challenge the righteousness of God in dispossessing the nations of the land in judgment because of their sin, and then giving that land to Israel, whose whole course for 40 years had proved that they were a sinful people. Is not Israel’s entire history one of almost unparalleled provocation of God? However, the grace of God would triumph over all their failure and sin in order to bring them into the land. God takes up His people’s cause, and reiterates His promise and His blessing in proportion as Satan would interpose to set it aside. Every plea that Satan could put forward to hinder that blessing only brings out more of the love and grace of God and His determination to bless. God looks at Israel, not as they are in themselves, but through the riches of His own grace. This is but an illustration of the certainty of Israel’s future blessing, when ultimately, she will be brought into the full enjoyment of her promised inheritance in the land (Isa 60:21; Eze 36:24; 37:21; 39:28).
We notice that although Balaam went out to seek enchantments, it was God Who met him – Elohim the mighty God, the triune God. Thus, Israel is looked at from the viewpoint of God’s eternal purpose, according to which He has chosen Jacob and has made him Israel, bearing royal dignities in the perfection of the new creation. The righteous basis of this is the one sacrifice of His Son, typified by the brazen altar in the tabernacle court in the midst of the camp. God has blessed this people and they cannot be cursed. God has regally dignified this people and they cannot be defiled or abhorred.
We have seen that Balaam’s intention to harness the power of Satan in order to curse Jacob and defy Israel was thwarted when God (Elohim) intercepted him (Num 23:4). The Lord pronounced blessing upon Israel through Balaam, for God is looking upon Israel from the viewpoint of His eternal counsel. From such a place, how can he curse? In God’s eternal counsel, Israel is the object of the love and blessing of God. These parables will show that Israel was invincible.
To be continued