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(bay' luhm) HEBREW: BILAM
possibly "devourer"

Balaam, son of Beor, a non-Israelite prophet whose home was Pethor, near the Euphrates River in northern Mesopotamia, is one of the most curious figures in the entire Bible. His fame was such that, when King Balak of Moab was confronted with the arrival of the Israelites en route to the Promised Land, he sent an embassy to Balaam asking the seer to curse the invaders so that the Moabites could defeat them.

Balaam apparently did not know the nation that Balak wanted him to curse, the Moabite ruler having described them only as "a people... come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the earth" (Num. 22:5). Though Balak's emissaries offered him rich fees, he summarily dismissed them after God had forbade him to curse this people. But at night God commanded Balaam to "rise, go with them; but only what I bid you, that shall you do" (Num. 22:20). Yet God did not specify what he would ask Balaam to do, and it may be imagined that Balaam departed in the hope of cursing Balak's unknown enemies. The narrative seems to assume this, since without explanation it states that God was angry at Balaam for going.

As a further warning to Balaam, the Lord sent an angel with a drawn sword to block his way. But only Balaam's donkey could see the divine messenger - perhaps a symbol of how little this seer could really see of the situation he was about to encounter - and refused to proceed. When the frustrated Balaam beat the animal, Yahweh allowed the donkey to speak in protest and finally let Balaam see and talk to the angel, who sent him on, warning him to speak only "the word which I bid you" (Num. 22:35).

When the delegation accompanying Balaam arrived in Moab, Balak was hopeful of getting help from the renowned seer. But Balaam warned the king that he had no power in himself: "The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak" (Num. 22:38). Nonetheless, elaborate rites were performed. At three different locations seven altars were built and seven bulls and seven rams were sacrificed. But each time, when all was ritually ready for the powerful curse from God on Balak's enemies, the Lord put in Balaam's mouth a resounding blessing on Israel. When Balak exploded in anger at Balaam, the prophet added oracles that foretold Israel's eventual triumph over its enemies, including Moab, and then returned home.

The text proceeds to describe a period during which the Israelites worshiped Baal and intermarried with Moabites and Midianites and tells of a miraculous plague that killed thousands of the apostates. Only several chapters later does the text again mention Balaam, abruptly reporting that he was killed by Israel in a battle with Midian.

Balaam is mentioned by the prophet Micah (Mic. 6:5), and by the apostle Peter (2 Pet. 2:15, 16). His history is found in Numbers 22-24; 25:1-3; 31:16.

{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}

Ba"laam (?), n.

A paragraph describing something wonderful, used to fill out a newspaper column; -- an allusion to the miracle of Balaam's ass speaking.

Numb. xxii. 30. [Cant]

Balaam basket or box Print., the receptacle for rejected articles.

Blackw. Mag.


© Webster 1913.

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