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the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 22

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

Verses 1-41

The Woes of the Wicked Balaam

Selections from Numbers 22:1-41


One of the things which sadden the soul is the way that not only professing Christians, but real believing Christians sin against the Lord.

One moment Peter was saying, "Thou are the Christ, the Son of the Living God"; and, the next moment he was saying, "Be it far from Thee, Lord." First, Christ could say to Peter, "Blessed art thou, Simon"; shortly after He could only say, "Get thee behind Me, Satan."

It is a shame that Balaam, a Prophet, should have sold himself out to Balak for gold! It is a greater shame that Balaam should, afterward, have given counsel to Balak against Israel, advising him of how he might ensnare God's people.

Sadder yet is the fact that the Holy Spirit was led to reach back to Balaam as an example of many more, who, in a more enlightened day, follow in the way of Balaam, holding his doctrine, and running after his error.

Thus, as we study the career of Balaam, a Prophet of old; and, as we behold his perfidy and folly, let us not fail to examine ourselves to see if any of his evil ways are settling upon us.

1. There is the danger of serving for reward. It was Balak's gold, and Balak's proffer of honor that enticed Balaam. To the minister of today God has said, "Feed the flock of God * * not for filthy lucre."

Is the common fling against the preacher no more than a joke? The story is told of the pastor who received a call, at a greatly enlarged salary. The pastor's little girl said, in response to a query, "Dad's praying for light; but ma's packing."

Are there preachers who demand gold, on the threat of deserting their post? Are there evangelists who talk money so much that it is altogether too plain that their main objective is gold?

Again, do some preach, or do Christian work to obtain human honor and glory? Do they seek the plaudits of men? Do they delight in standing on the street corners, where they may be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi?

2. There is the danger of encouraging world-mixing. Balaam taught Israel how to sin. He did it subtly. He prophesied good concerning Israel, and then sought their undoing by instructing Balak to entangle Israel into God-forbidden matrimonial alliances between the sons and daughters of Israel and of Moab.

Alas, alas, that there are many today who have turned the church building over to a place of play and frolic! Some young people are being led into sinful alliances by supposedly Christian leaders. World-mixing is not only condoned by the pulpit, it is even encouraged.

The message on "separation," and scriptural "sanctification,", is side-stepped. The world has become the paramour of the church, instead of its hater and persecutor.

Let us face the issues of this study with prayerful thought. Shall we love the world? Shall we walk with the world? Shall we mix and mingle with the world? Or, shall we come out from among them and be separate?

I. THE FEAR OF MOAB (Numbers 22:1-3 )

The Children of Israel had entered Canaan. Jericho's walls had fallen down flat. Now the people of God were encamped in the plains of Moab. Balak, king of the Moabites, had seen all that Israel had done to the Amorites.

We need not marvel that Balak's heart was filled with fear. Balak even said, "Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us."

1. When God's children fight the good fight of faith, the sons of the wicked one become afraid. Some one has said, "The devil fears when he sees, the weakness saint upon his knees."

The devil knows that one shall chase a thousand, and two shall put ten thousand to flight. This is a reality when that one, or those two, are empowered of the Spirit.

Think you that, in the days following the resurrection, the Scribes and Pharisees did not tremble before the prayers and testimonies of the Spirit-filled and Spirit-taught disciples?

Think you that Satan's hordes did not quail before the onward march of Paul, a man full of the Holy Ghost and of power?

Satan may laugh at the church, when the church has succumbed to his strategy, and been weakened by world-affiliations; but Satan still fears a spiritual saint, with a true gospel message. He knows that the weapons of our warfare are "mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds."

2. When God's children fight the good fight of faith, the enemy will take counsel together against them. Satan may fear, but he does not run. He sees impending danger, and he knows the power of God, and the power of Spirit-led saints; but, Satan is not quick to give up the fight.

If he dare not meet us in the open, he will carry on a hit-and-run warfare. He will fight from ambush; he will resort to strategy; he will employ treachery. Satan will even raise a white flag in all seeming sincerity, while he studies out some new method of despoiling saints.

The devil is a strategist. He does not hesitate to put on sheep's clothing, while he seeks, by subtility, to subdue.

II. MOAB'S APPEAL TO BALAAM (Numbers 22:5-6 )

Here is something passing strange: Moab sends to one of God's Prophets to secure aid against God's people. Moab sought help against Israel from one of Israel's spiritual allies. He sent for Balaam. What have we here?

1. Satan seeks to divide God's forces. In unity there is always power. In division there is always the basis of failure. What have we today? Christianity is composed of groups of believers, all loving and worshiping the same Lord, and yet weakened by a multiplication of schisms.

What is the devil doing? He is turning Heaven and earth upside down to break through the prayer of Christ, "That they may be one." He is turning the tide of the battle away from himself, by setting the guns of the saints against one another.

Satan has even enrolled himself as a teacher of theology, with the sole purpose of muddling the minds of saints with false conceptions of truth. Under the guise of a defender of the faith, he seeks to disrupt the faith.

2. Satan even dares to enlist professed saints in his army of rebellion. The devil is not satisfied to divide the camps of saints into battalions warring, one against the other; he goes farther. He seeks to place unbelievers in the camp of believers. He seeks to garb men who deny every vestige of the faith, with garments of the faith.

Of old it may have sufficed Satan's strategy, to have secured one of God's servants, in the person of Balaam, as an ally. Now, Satan goes further. He not merely entices the true servant by means of proffered money, and honor, to join his forces; but he places into the citadel of saints, under the guise of evangelical garbs, men who deny Christ altogether.

How solemn are God's words of warning: "There are certain men crept in unawares, * * ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ"!

Men such as these are hidden rocks, spots in our feasts, who run greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.


1. The faith group of Balak's envoys. The envoys which Balak sent to entice Balaam came to him with flattery, and with rewards of divination. Balaam knew their objective, for they said, "Come * * curse me this people." Balaam knew who the people were. He knew how God had led them through the wilderness, and how they had taken Jericho. He knew that they were people of the God whom he served as a Prophet.

He knew, and yet he entertained their enemies. He said to Balak's envoys: "Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the Lord shall speak unto me."

This sounds very well. However, that night the Lord said unto Balaam, "What men are these with thee?" Balaam responded truly. Then God said, "Thou shalt not curse Israel, for they are blessed.

It seems refreshing that Balaam told Balak's envoys that God refused to give him leave to go. We fear, however, that the men detected in Balaam's voice a sense of sorrow and disappointment that he could not go.

2. The second group of Balak's envoys. Balak was not to be refused. He evidently felt that Balaam had closed the matter, for he sent again princes, more, and more honorable. Balak also enlarged his gifts, and his promises of honor. He said, "I will promote thee to every great honour, and I will do whatsoever thou sayest unto me."

The second time Balaam said, "Tarry ye also here this night." Beloved, we believe there is a vital truth here for us. Why should Balaam again house Balak's men? Why should he again seek to know God's mind? God is not a man to change His command, and to repent Himself of what He has said.

We need today young people who will not entertain evil. We need men and women of decisiveness of purpose. Why should we be moved by every wind that blows? Why should we so much as give ear to those who are seeking to malign God's children?

IV. GOD'S PERMISSIVE WILL (Numbers 22:20 )

1. God gave permission to Balaam to go with Balak's envoys. God said, "If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them."

We do not take it that God wanted Balaam to go. We are sure that He did not want him to go. Why then did He say, "Rise up, and go"?

Do you remember why God gave Saul to Israel as king? He even told Samuel to anoint Saul king over Israel. However, Saul was not God's choice. God yielded to Israel's cry, in order to show her the folly of her own way.

God does not force obedience; He commands it. Men sin when they are drawn away of their own lust, and enticed.

Balaam, in going to Balak to curse Israel, sought his own honor and riches, he saw no further than that. God saw far beyond that He saw Balaam lying dead on Balak's battlefield, where, with Balak's soldiers, he had been fighting Israel.

2. God showed Balaam that His words would be circumscribed. He said, "But yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do." Balaam, why go to curse Israel, if Israel cannot be cursed? Why think to fight against God?

There can be but one reason why Balaam went to Balak, he was lured by Balak's gold and glory.

He went for "reward." He sold out for filthy lucre. He sought to enrich himself, even if need be, by the destruction of God's people.

"The love of money is the root of all evil." Balaam coveted gold, and Balaam pierced himself through with many sorrows.

The world is strewn with the wreckage of many who have fallen into this snare of the devil; and yet, many press their way on in the same path. Many still look for their own gain, from their own quarter. They have become servants of men. They seek great things for themselves. They seek the honor which men proffer.

Young people, let us pay the price of isolation; and, if need be, of mortification and of death.

V. THE ANGEL IN THE WAY (Numbers 22:22 )

We now come to that part of our lesson which will show Balaam's true character. We also will see God's method of dealing with a gain- and gold-loving Prophet.

1. Balaam's true character discovered. We read that in the morning Balaam saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. We also read that God's anger was kindled because he went.

You say, "But did not God tell him to go?" Yes, but only after He had first told him not to go. Permission was given, because God saw that Balaam was intent on going. Balaam's character is revealed as that of a selfish and self-centered man.

2. God's adversary against Balaam. God sent an Angel to withstand Balaam in the way. The ass saw the Angel with the drawn sword, but Balaam saw him not. The ass turned aside into a field, and Balaam smote the ass.

Again the Angel of the Lord stood in a path between two walls; and, the ass, seeing the Angel, thrust herself unto the wall and crushed. Balaam's foot against the wall.

Again the Angel of the Lord went and stood in a narrow place, and when the ass saw the Angel of the Lord, he fell down under Balaam. Then was Balaam wroth, and he smote the ass. "And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass," and she spoke. Then the Lord opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way. The Angel of the Lord told Balaam, "Thy way is perverse before Me," and, "I went out to withstand thee."

How good is God to His erring saints! How faithful in His warnings! God was giving Balaam one more opportunity to retrieve his footsteps. God would not allow Balaam to go on his way, unwarned.

Was not this the case with Jonah, the run-a-way Prophet? God withstood Balaam with an Angel and his drawn sword, God withstood Jonah with the storm-at-sea. Was not this the case with Peter? Satan had desired to have Peter, but Christ prayed for Peter, and Christ turned and looked at Peter.


Balaam did not hesitate to acknowledge unto the Angel of the Lord that he had sinned by accompanying Balak's envoys, and yet Balaam desired liberty to proceed in the same way that he was going. He said, "If it displease Thee, I will get me back again."

We wonder if Balaam did not understand the words of the Angel, "Thy way is perverse before Me"? We wonder why the Angel stood with his sword drawn, if the Lord did not wish to stay Balaam against his journey?

One thing we know, when Balaam said, "Now therefore, if it displease Thee, I will get me back again," that the Angel of the Lord said unto Balaam, "Go with the men."

There is a verse of Scripture which says, "The sorrow of the world worketh death." Balaam seemed sorry, but his sorrow was not sufficient to turn him from his evil way; therefore his sorrow was unto death. Later on, Balaam was found dead in the enemy's camp.

God has said that he who "being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."

How many there are who will go to the altar and confess their sins, and yet they live on in the same old way. They are ready to confess, but not to forsake their sins. The Bible very positively says, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso * * forsaketh them shall have mercy."

God has said, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God for He will abundantly pardon."

Are there not some, who are with us today, who have seen God's Angel in the way? Let us be quick to heed the warning, and let us turn ourselves from every evil way.

VII. THE WAGES OF SIN (Numbers 31:8 ; Numbers 31:16 )

We are passing by many marvelous chapters. These chapters contain among other things Balaam's prophecies concerning Israel. We believe it would be profitable to give a special lesson on those prophecies. Just now, however, we want to consider Balaam's sad ending.

As we look into this matter, let us remember that Balaam was the one who said, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his"! It is easy to use high-sounding phraseology; however, he who would die the death of the righteous, must live the life of the righteous.

1. Let us examine Balaam's final sin. Verse sixteen tells us that Balaam, through his counsel, caused Israel to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor.

When Balaam discovered that he could not curse Israel, he privately instructed Balak to marry and intermarry his sons and daughters with the Children of Israel. The result was that Israel soon sacrificed unto the Moabitish gods, and the anger of the Lord was kindled against her.

2. Let us examine Balaam's final end. After the Lord had punished Israel for her sin, and after sacrifice of purging had been made by Israel; then the Lord spake unto Moses saying, "Avenge the Children of Israel of the Midianites."

Thus, Israel was sent to war, as the Lord commanded Moses. Let us now read verse eight. "And they slew the Icings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; * * Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword."

It must have been a gruesome sight to see a Prophet of God lying with the dead among those upon whom the Lord had avenged Himself.

As we see his corpse, let us remember that the Lord had plainly given command to him not to go to Balak. He had also sent the Angel of the Lord to warn him. He who follows with Satan, must suffer in Satan's overthrow. We know Balaam died a physical death as the result of his sin. We know that, in his death he lost all of the honor and the reward, which Balak had given him.


Balaam said; "Let me die the death of the righteous," but he died with the sinners of Balak's army, fighting against God.

We may learn a lesson from the following parable: A farmer, being short of horses, hitched a mule and an ox together to help with the hauling. After a little while the ox stopped, lay down, and refused to move. The farmer said nothing, but quietly unhitched the animal, returned it to the stable, and made the mule pull the wagon the rest of the journey. At night the ox spoke confidentially to the male. "What did the master say today?" He asked. "Nothing that I heard," replied the mule The next day exactly the same thing happened. "What did the master say this time?" asked the ox that night, "I didn't hear him say anything," replied the mule; "but he's leaning over the fence out there talking to a butcher"! C. E. World.

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Numbers 22". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/numbers-22.html.
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