BIBLE STUDY SERIES #386, 387 and 388

18 April, 1999

BLOCKED PASSAGES - PART VIII - BALAAM

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our regular sequence of on-going Bible Studies, starting a number of years ago with The Call by The Almighty God to Abram in Genesis 12 has followed his progeny down to the Tribes of Israel who are presently on the border of the Promised Land.

On our last study in the sequence, we were observing how Israel had marched past the land presently occupied by Moab, and had attacked and taken the land held by Sihon king of the Amorites, whom Israel has just defeated. This ground, so recently held by the Amorites, had actually been, many years before, a part of ancient Moab. The Amorites had in former times pushed out the Moabitish population and wrested the north half of Moab from them.

We had seen that in previous chapters the Amorite foe has directly attacked Israel and has been repulsed. Now a new method is attempted. Balak, the son of Zippor, who was king of the Moabites saw what Israel had done to his neighbours, and his own subject people, Moab, were afraid of Israel. Having seen the capability of Israel's fighting men in open war, Balak decided to seek out some other method or stratagem, which might work to defeat this threatening people who were now on his borders, and to that end, he had sent for the assistance of a notable prophet of that day, Balaam.

Although, on the last study, we had read to verse 35 of Numbers 22, and had taken under consideration some comments from The New Bible Commentary, there are some other sources which can add something further to our appreciation of this passage of Scripture. Indeed, Keil and Delitzsch devote some 45 pages to the whole subject of Balaam and his actions in connection with the call by Balak to curse Israel, and such a quantity of detailed discussion is difficult to compress into the limited few minutes which we have at our disposal. However, we ought to make use of this valuable reference as far as our time will permit, at least in regard to certain points which have not yet been covered. Let us continue to review some salient facts of Scripture to which we will later make reference.

Keil and Delitzsch begin their comments with a general discussion about the type of person Balaam might have been, and the nature and fame of his reputation. They explain: "The rapid defeat of the two mighty kings of the Amorites filled the Moabites with such alarm at the irresistible might of Israel, that Balak their king with the princes of Midian, sought to bring the powers of the heathen magic to bear against the nation of God; and to this end he sent messengers with presents to Balaam, the celebrated soothsayer, in Mesopotamia, who had the reputation of being able both to bless and curse with great success, to entreat him to come, and so to weaken the Israelites with his magical curses, that he might be able to smite them, and drive them out of his land... . At first Balaam declined this invitation, in consequence of divine instruction... ; but when a second and still more imposing embassy of Moabite princes appeared before him, God gave him permission to go with them... . At this point, we might review some verses, and then give momentary consideration to what the Companion Bible supplies at this point. At verses 9 to 14, we read:

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.
13. And 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.

Here, the Companion Bible makes a careful notation for verse 13, stating "Note what he (Balaam) suppressed." He omitted the words which God had spoken: "for they are blessed." Again, in the next verse, that same reference says "note what they suppressed." What the princes of Balak had omitted were the words which indicated "the LORD refuseth to give me leave to go with you." The next passage contains another point to consider.

15. And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.
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 honour, 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.
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.

Here, The Companion Bible perceptively notes that verse 20 contained the condition "If the men come to call thee...", but the next morning, as we have seen, Balaam simply saddled up to go with these men, not waiting to see if they would come back again to ask him to go with them. This was the cause giving rise to God's anger in the next verse, and in the one which followed:

22. And God's anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.
23. And the ass saw the angel of the LORD 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.

The Angel of the LORD has a sword drawn in his hand in the same manner as seen in I Chronicles 21:16, for Balaam was on his way to have Israel killed with the sword, as The Companion Bible notes.

At this point, we might take up some more of those observations made by Keil and Delitzsch. "When Balak, therefore, came to meet him, on his arrival at the border of his kingdom, to give him a grand reception, Balaam explained to him, that he could only speak the word which Jehovah would put into his mouth." Keil and Delitzsch here outline those four different utterances which Balaam spoke, but we are getting slightly ahead of our story here. Keil and Delitzsch then proceed to give a fairly lengthy discourse on various views concerning the actual status of Balaam as a seer or prophet, noting that opinions have historically differed on the matter. Some ancient authorities whom they cite regarded him as a wizard and a false prophet, devoted to the worship of idols, but compelled to give blessings upon Israel. Others have supposed him to have been a genuine and true prophet, who simply fell through covetousness and ambition. Keil and Delitzsch then proceed to indicate that they disagree with both views. After examining certain meanings attributed to his name, and that of his father, Beor, (to burn, eat off, destroy) they conclude that Balaam probably belonged to a family in which the magical art was hereditary, and that he "was a heathen conjurer or soothsayer." He is never called a prophet or seer, but a soothsayer, a title which is never used in connection with the true prophets. Soothsaying was forbidden to the Israelites, as an abomination and sin. Balaam resorts to auguries, just like a heathen soothsayer for the purpose of obtaining revelations. On the other hand, Balaam was not without a certain measure of the true knowledge of God, so that, without being really a prophet, he was able to give utterance to true prophecies from Jehovah. He not only knew Jehovah, but he confessed Jehovah even in the presence of Balak. As these commentators point out, he would not go with the messengers of Balak until given permission by God. "If he had been altogether destitute of the fear of God, he would have complied at once with Balak's request." Further, they note that, while at the outset it is only Elohim who makes known his will ... "yet not only does the angel of Jehovah meet him by the way ... but Jehovah also puts words into his mouth, which he announces to the king of the Moabites ... so that all his prophecies are actually uttered from a mind moved and governed by the Spirit of God, and that not from any physical constraint exerted upon him by God, but in such a manner that he enters into them with all his heart and soul, and heartily desires to die the death of these righteous, i.e. of the people of Israel ... and when he finds that it pleases Jehovah to bless Israel, he leaves off resorting any longer to auguries, ... and eventually declares to the enraged monarch, that he cannot transgress the command of Jehovah, even if the king should give him his house full of silver and gold. This double-sidedness and ambiguity of the religious and prophetic character of Balaam may be explained on the supposition that, being endowed with a predisposition to divination and prophecy, he practiced soothsaying and divination as a trade; and for the purpose of bringing this art to the greatest possible perfection, brought not only the traditions of the different nations, but all the phenomena of his own times, within the range of his observations." Keil and Delitzsch then indicate that he doubtless had news of what had happened in The Exodus, since traders would have carried it to even distant lands along the Euphrates.

We shall pick up the further insights on the next study.

25 April, 1999

BLOCKED PASSAGES - PART IX - BALAAM

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our regular sequence of on-going Bible Studies, starting a number of years ago with The Call by The Almighty God to Abram in Genesis 12 has followed his progeny down to the Tribes of Israel who are presently on the border of the Promised Land.

On our last study in the sequence, we were observing how Israel had marched past the land presently occupied by Moab, and had attacked and taken the land held by Sihon king of the Amorites, whom Israel has just defeated. Balak, the son of Zippor, who was king of the neighbouring Moabites saw what Israel had done to his Amorite neighbours, and his own subject people, Moab, were afraid of Israel. Balak decided to seek out the assistance of a notable prophet of that day, Balaam.

Although, on the last two studies, we have read and reviewed verses from Numbers 22, and had taken under consideration some comments from The New Bible Commentary and The Companion Bible, another source which can add further to our appreciation of this passage of Scripture is found in Keil and Delitzsch, who devote some 45 pages to the whole subject of Balaam and his actions in connection with the call by Balak to curse Israel. We had samples of some of this material on the last programme, and we will use some of it today also as far as our time will permit, at least in regard to certain points which have not yet been covered. Let us continue to review some salient facts of the account in Numbers 22.

Balak, king of Moab, you may remember, had sent twice to obtain the services of the notable soothsayer, Balaam, and he had, on receiving the second delegation, accompanied those messengers who had brought the invitation to him on the road back to Moab. Probably it was those Midianitish traders, who moved from one country to another carrying their trade goods who had also brought news of famous people and events wherever they moved, and doubtless it was thus that Balak had learned of the prestigious name of Balaam in the arts of blessing and cursing effectively; a service he now sought to employ against Israel. Keil and Delitzsch digress to tell us that those Midianites are to be distinguished from those people who were dwellers in Sinai, of whom we have previously learned. They also tell us of the possible meaning of the name Pethor, that town in Mesopotamia, which was the home of Balaam, pointing out that "there can be no doubt that Pethor may have been a noted seat of Babylonian magi, since these wise men were accustomed to congregate in particular localities." "Balak desired Balaam to come and curse the people of Israel, who had come out of Egypt, and were so numerous that they covered the eye of the earth ... i.e. the whole face of the land, and sat down (were encamped) opposite to him; that he might then perhaps be able to smite them and drive them out of the land."

Keil and Delitzsch continue, saying that "Balak believed, in common with the whole of the ancient world, in the real power and operation of the curses, anathemas, and incantation pronounced by priests, soothsayers and goetae." (That is to say, black magic - a word derived from the Greek goes, 'a sorcerer'.) "And there was a truth at the foundation of this belief, however it may have been perverted by heathenism into phantasy and superstition." Here, they note that the Old and New Testaments both speak of witchcraft, and condemn it as a real power of evil and of the kingdom of darkness. They add "Even in the narrative itself, the power of Balaam to bless and to curse is admitted; and, in addition to this, it is frequently celebrated as a great favour displayed towards Israel, that the Lord did not hearken to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing." They cite Deuteronomy 23:5, Joshua 24:10, Micah 6:3 and Nehemiah 13:2 in support. Pointing out that when the elders of Moab and Midian came to him with wages of divination in their hand, he did not send them away, but told them to spend the night at his house, that he might bring them word what Jehovah would say to him. They continue by pointing out that "if Balaam had been a true prophet and a faithful servant of Jehovah, he would at once have sent the messengers away and refused their request, as he must then have known that God would not curse His chosen people. But Balaam loved the wages of unrighteousness. This corruption of his heart obscured his mind, so that he turned to God not as a mere form, but with the intention and in the hope of obtaining the consent of God to his undertaking. And God came to him in the night, and made known His will. Whether it was through the medium of a dream or of a vision, is not recorded, as this was of no moment in relation to the subject in hand." The commentators then state that God's question, "Who are these men with thee?" not only served to introduce the conversation ... but was intended to awaken the slumbering conscience of Balaam, to lead him to reflect upon the proposal which the men had made, and to break the force of his sinful inclination. God then expressly forbade him to go with the messengers to curse the Israelites, as the people was blessed; and Balaam was compelled to send back the messengers without attaining their object, because Jehovah had refused him permission to go with them.

Considering verses 15-21, we then read that "The answer with which Balaam had sent the Moabitish messengers away, encouraged Balak to cherish the hope of gaining over the celebrated soothsayer to his purpose notwithstanding, and to send an embassy "of princes more numerous and more honourable than those," and to make the attempt to overcome his former resistance by more splendid promises... . As a heathen, he thought of the God of Israel as nothing more than a national god who might be persuaded by splendid honours and rich rewards.

There then follows an interesting comment which outlines the tensions involved in Balaam's mind. He knew that "in the work to which Balak summoned him he could do nothing at all except through Jehovah. This knowledge he had acquired by virtue of his natural gifts as seer, and his previous experience. But this clear knowledge of Jehovah was completely obscured again by the love for the wages which ruled in his heart. Because he loved Balak, the enemy of Israel, for the sake of the wages, whereas Jehovah loved Israel for His own name's sake; Balaam was opposed to Jehovah in his inmost nature and will, though he knew himself to be in unison with Him by virtue of his natural gift. Consequently he fell into the same blindness of contradiction to which Balak was in bondage. And in this blindness he hoped to be able to turn Jehovah round to oppose Israel, and favour the wishes of his own and Balak's heart. He therefore told the messengers to wait again, that he might ask Jehovah a second time."

God had more than one reason to allow Balaam to go with the messengers on this second occasion. He told Balaam that he was forbidden to curse as it was His own intention to put blessings instead of curses into the prophet's mouth - and the blessings of the celebrated prophet might serve as means of encouraging Israel and discouraging their foes, even though He did not actually stand in need of them ... but primarily and principally for the sake of Balaam himself, viz. to manifest to this soothsayer, who had so little susceptibility for higher influences, both His own omnipotence and true deity, and also the divine election of Israel, in a manner so powerful as to compel him to decide either for or against the God of Israel and His salvation. God would also glorify His own name among the heathen and in Israel, through the medium of this far-famed soothsayer.

On our next study, we may use some further insights from this Commentary, as it goes into some curious insights in regard to such matters as the talking donkey. However, for today we may find some food for thought and meditation in the manner by which The Great God of all the earth has so planned that His name is given glorious prominence even through the medium of those who hate Him, even though there are some who wish that he would "bend a little" to allow them to gain their sinful desires while yet holding a connection to Himself.

Do keep in mind, that, as we of the British-Israel-World Federation constantly attest, the main body of the descendants of these same Israelites over whom Balak was disturbed are now found among the generally Anglo-Celto-Saxon and kindred peoples of the world today. As we proceed to discover the actual prophetic words of Balaam it will verify something of that connection which may surprise some listeners.

2 May, 1999

BLOCKED PASSAGES - PART X - BALAAM'S ASS

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our regular sequence of on-going Bible Studies, starting a number of years ago with The Call by The Almighty God to Abram in Genesis 12 has followed his progeny down to the Tribes of Israel who are presently on the border of the Promised Land.

Israel had marched past the land presently occupied by Moab, and had attacked and taken the land held by Sihon king of the Amorites, whom Israel has just defeated. Balak, the son of Zippor, who was king of the neighbouring Moabites saw what Israel had done to his Amorite neighbours, and his own subject people, Moab, were afraid of Israel. Balak decided to seek out the assistance of a notable prophet of that day, Balaam.

Although, on the previous studies, we have read and reviewed verses from Numbers 22, and have taken under consideration the comments from several standard commentaries, I would like to add a few comments from Keil and Delitzsch concerning the talking donkey described in the account in that chapter.

You might remember that Balaam's Ass was three times made aware of the presence of an angel blocking its path and three times it had balked, first by turning aside from the path into a field, then again by pressing to the wall at a narrow spot and finally by falling down to the ground, at which points Balaam began to beat it.

Here, the Scripture records the strange account wherein the LORD gave voice to the poor animal, so that it uttered words which Balaam understood. At the beast's question "What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?", Balaam, with unthinking anger replied "Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee." at which the Ass replied "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." At this point in the account, Balaam becomes aware of the angel having his sword in his hand, and the conversation shifts to a direct interchange of words between Balaam and this heavenly messenger.

Here, we pick up the words of Keil and Delitzsch. "These words of the irrational beast, the truth of which Balaam was obliged to admit, made an impression upon him, and awakened him out of his blindness, so that God could now open his eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord. In this miraculous occurrence, which scoffers at the Bible constantly bring forward as a weapon of attack upon the truth of the word of God, the circumstance that the ass perceived the appearance of the angel of the Lord sooner than Balaam did, does not present the slightest difficulty... . The rock of offence in this narrative is to be found in the rational words of an irrational and speechless ass. It is true, that in the actual meaning of the words there is nothing beyond the sensations and feelings to which animals constantly give utterance in gestures and inarticulate sounds, when subjected to cruel treatment. But in this instance the feelings were expressed in the rational words of human language, which an animal does not possess; and hence the question arises, Are we to understand this miracle as being a purely internal fact of an ecstatic nature, or a fact that actually came under the cognizance of the senses?"

Here, as well as mentioning the reference in 2 Pet. ii. 16, "The dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, forbade the madness of the prophet," the commentators refer to certain views of others, which present argument from silence denying any possible ecstatic state of the prophet and therefore asserting that the voice must have been an audible one.

Keil and Delitzsch however, express their own view that "All that is contained in the two scriptural testimonies is, that the ass spoke in a way that was perceptible to Balaam, and that this speaking was effected by Jehovah as something altogether extraordinary. But whether Balaam heard the words of the animal with the outward, i.e. the bodily ear, or with an inward spiritual ear, is not decided by them. On the other hand, neither the fact that Balaam expressed no astonishment at the ass speaking, nor the circumstance that Balaam's companions - viz. his two servants (ver. 22) and the Moabitish messengers, who were also present, according to ver. 35 - did not see the angel or hear the ass speaking, leads with certainty to the conclusion, that the whole affair must have been a purely internal one, which Balaam alone experienced in a state of ecstasy, since argumenta e silentio confessedly prove but very little."

Quoting Augustine they present the view with regard to Balaam, "he was so carried away by his cupidity, that he was not terrified by this marvellous miracle, and replied just as if he had been speaking to a man, when God, although He did not change the nature of the ass into that of a rational being, made it give utterance to whatever He pleased, for the purpose of restraining his madness."

Keil and Delitzsch continue: "But with regard to the Moabitish messengers, it is very doubtful whether they were eye-witnesses and auditors of the affair. It is quite possible that they had gone some distance in advance, or were some distance behind, when Balaam had the vision. On the other hand, there was no necessity to mention particularly that they saw the appearance of the angel, and heard the speaking of the animal, as this circumstance was not of the least importance in connection with the main purpose of the narrative. And still less can it be said that 'the ass's speaking, if transferred to the sphere of outward reality, would obviously break through the eternal boundary-line which has been drawn in Gen. i. between the human and the animal world.' The only thing that would have broken through this boundary, would have been for the words of the ass to have surpassed the feelings and sensations of an animal; that is to say, for the ass to have given utterance to truths that were essentially human, and only comprehensible by human reason. Now that was not the case. All that the ass said was quite within the sphere of the psychical life of an animal."

Keil and Delitzsch then explain thus: "The true explanation lies between the notion that the whole occurrence was purely internal, and consisted exclusively in ecstasy brought by God upon Balaam, and the grossly realistic reduction of the whole affair into the sphere of the senses and the outward material world. The angel who met the soothsayer in the road, as he was riding upon his ass, and who was seen at once by the ass, though he was not seen by Balaam till Jehovah had opened his eyes, did really appear upon the road, in the outward world of the senses. But the form in which he appeared was not a grossly sensuous or material form, like the bodily frame of an ordinary visible being; for in that case Balaam would inevitably have seen him, when his beast became alarmed and restive again and again and refused to go forward, since it is not stated anywhere that God has smitten him with blindness, like the men of Sodom (Gen. xix. 11), or the people in 2 Kings vi. 18. It rather resembled the appearance of a spirit, which cannot be seen by everyone who has healthy bodily eyes, but only by those who have their senses awakened for visions from the spirit-world. Thus, for example, the men who went to Damascus with Paul, saw no one, when the Lord appeared to him in a miraculous light from heaven, and spoke to him, although they also heard the voice (Acts ix. 7). Balaam wanted the spiritual sense to discern the angel of the Lord, because his spirit's eye was blinded by his thirst for wealth and honour. This blindness increased to such an extent, with the inward excitement caused by the repeated insubordination of his beast, that he lost all self control. As the ass had never been so restive before, if he had only been calm and thoughtful himself, he would have looked about to discover the cause of this remarkable change, and would then, no doubt, have discovered the presence of the angel. But as he lost all his thoughtfulness, God was obliged to open the mouth of the dumb and irrational animal, to show a seer by profession his own blindness."

Here, quoting Calvin, they state "He might have reproved him by the words of the angel; but because the rebuke would not have been sufficiently severe without some deep humiliation, He made the beast his teacher." "The ass's speaking was produced by the omnipotence of God' but it is impossible to decide whether the modulation was miraculously communicated to the animal's voice, so that it actually gave utterance to the human words which fell upon Balaam's ears ... or whether the cries of the animal were formed into rational discourse in Balaam's soul, by the direct operation of God, so that he alone heard and understood the speech of the animal, whereas the servants who were present heard nothing more than unintelligible cries. In either case Balaam received a deeply humiliating admonition from the mouth of the irrational beast, and that not only to put him to shame, but also to call him to his senses, and render him capable of hearing the voice of God. The seer, who prided himself upon having eyes for divine revelations, was so blind, that he could not discern the appearance of the angel, which even the irrational beast had been able to see. By this he was taught, that even a beast is more capable of discerning things from the higher world, than a man blinded by sinful desires. It was not till after this humiliation that God opened his eyes, so that he saw the angel of the Lord with a drawn sword standing in his road, and fell upon his face before this fearful sight.

We shall continue with these studies next week.

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