Balaam - Pagan Seer and Magician

Profile of Balaam, Who Put Greed Above God

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Zavada, Jack. "Balaam - Pagan Seer and Magician." ThoughtCo, Feb. 12, 2017, thoughtco.com/balaam-pagan-seer-and-magician-701179. Zavada, Jack. (2017, February 12). Balaam - Pagan Seer and Magician. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/balaam-pagan-seer-and-magician-701179 Zavada, Jack. "Balaam - Pagan Seer and Magician." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/balaam-pagan-seer-and-magician-701179 (accessed September 20, 2017).
Balaam Blesses Israel
Illustration of Balaam blessing the Israelites. Peter Dennis / Getty Images

Balaam was a pagan seer hired by the evil King Balak to put a curse on the Israelites as they were entering Moab.

His name means "devourer," "swallower up," or "glutton."  He was famous among the Midianite tribes, probably for his ability to predict the future.

In the ancient Middle East, people pitted the power of their local or national gods against their enemies' gods.  When the Hebrews were moving toward the Promised Land, the kings in the area thought Balaam could invoke the powers of their gods Chemosh and Baal against the Hebrews' God, Jehovah.

Bible scholars point out the stark difference between the pagans and Jews:  Magicians like Balaam were thought to appease their gods to gain control over them, while the Jews' prophets had no power of their own except as God worked through them.

Balaam knew he should not get involved in any dealings against Jehovah, yet he was tempted by the bribes offered him.  In one of the strangest episodes in the Bible, Balaam was questioned by his donkey, then by the angel of the Lord.

When Balaam finally reached King Balak, the seer could speak only the words God put in his mouth.  Instead of cursing the Israelites, Balaam blessed them.  One of his prophecies even predicted the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ:

A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17, NIV)

Later, Moabite women seduced the Israelites into idolatry and sexual immorality, through the advice of Balaam.

  God sent a plague that killed 24,000 of those wicked Israelites.  Just before Moses' death, God commanded the Jews to take vengeance on the Midianites.  They killed Balaam with a sword.

"The way of Balaam," greedily seeking riches over God, was used as a warning against false teachers in 2 Peter 2:15-16.

  Ungodly people were also rebuked for "Balaam's error" in Jude 11.

Finally, Jesus himself reprimanded people in the church at Pergamum who held to "the teaching of Balaam," corrupting others into idolatry and immorality. (Revelation 2:14)

Balaam's Accomplishment

Balaam acted as a mouthpiece for God, blessing Israel instead of cursing them.

Balaam's Weaknesses

Balaam had encountered Jehovah but chose false gods instead.  He rejected the true God and worshiped wealth and fame.

Life Lessons

False teachers are plentiful in Christianity today.  The gospel is not a get-rich-quick scheme but God's plan for salvation from sin.  Beware of Balaam's mistake of worshiping anything else but God.

Hometown:

Pethor, in Mesopotamia, on the Euphrates River.

References to Balaam in the Bible

Numbers 22:2 - 24:25, 31:8; Joshua 13:22; Micah 6:5; 2 Peter 2:15-16; Jude  11; Revelation 2:14.

Occupation

Soothsayer, magician.

Family Tree:

Father - Beor

Key Verses

Numbers 22:28
Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” (NIV)

Numbers 24:12
Balaam answered Balak, “Did I not tell the messengers you sent me, ‘Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the LORD—and I must say only what the LORD says’?

(NIV)

(Sources: Easton's Bible Dictionary, M.G. Easton; Smith's Bible Dictionary, William Smith; The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, general editor; The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F. Unger.)