Balaam part 1

by John Thomas Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)


Balaam (Fast Facts)
• Stories about Balaam occur in Numbers 22-24.
• He is the son of Beor and a prophet in Pethor near the Euphrates River.
• Scholars are not sure of the meaning of his name.
• Some think it might mean either “glutton” or “foreigner.”
• Others see a compound of “Bel” and “Am.” Both are names of deities.
• It could mean “lord.”
• The king of Moab, Balak, sends messengers to Balaam asking him to pronounce a curse upon the Israelites as they are moving toward settling in the Promised Land.
• The messengers take money to pay Balaam a divination fee.
• Balaam invites them to spend the night; he intends to consult with the Lord and will give them his answer in the morning.
• God comes to Balaam and asks about the men with him.
• Balaam tells God about the request from Balak, the king of Moab.
• God tells Balaam not to go back with them. He tells Balaam not to curse the Israelites “because they are blessed.”
• The following day, Balaam tells the messengers to go home and that the Lord has refused to let him accompany them.
• Balak sends more important messengers in an attempt to change Balaam’s mind.
• Balaam says, “Even if Balak gives me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything…beyond the command of the Lord my God.”
• Nonetheless, he invites them to spend the night while he again talks to the Lord.
• God tells him he can go that night, but he must only do what God instructs.
• The following day Balaam saddles his donkey and goes with the officials.
• God, however, is upset with his decision.
• On the way, Balaam’s donkey sees an angel of the Lord standing in the road with its sword drawn.
• The donkey turns off the road, and Balaam beats it to get it back on the road.
• Then the angel appears in a narrow passageway.
• In order to avoid the angel, the donkey presses close to one side, crushing Balaam’s foot.
• Balaam again beats the donkey.
• The angel appears again, wholly blocking their path.
• The donkey lies down.
• Balaam beats it again.
• Then the Lord opens the donkey’s mouth, and it speaks to Balaam, “Why have you beat me three times?”
• Balaam answers the donkey, saying he has made a fool of him, and threatens to kill him.
• The donkey asks Balaam if he has ever done this before.
• Balaam says “no,” and sees the angel standing before them at that moment.
• The angel tells Balaam that the donkey has saved his life.
• Balaam offers to return home, but the angel repeats the words of the Lord.
• “Go with these men, but speak only what you are told.”
• When he arrives, Balaam asks Balak to build seven altars. They sacrifice a bull and a ram on each altar.
• Then Balaam goes off to await a message from the Lord.
• The Lord meets with him and gives him a message for Balak: “How can I curse those whom God has not cursed?”
• Balak is very angry.
• They go to another spot where they can see the Israelites camped.
• Balak again asks him to curse them, and they build more altars and make more sacrifices.
• Balaam goes aside to await word from the Lord.
• The Lord tells him, “There can be no divination against Jacob, no evil omens.”
• Everything is repeated a third time.
• Balaam received the spirit of the Lord and pronounced a blessing upon Jacob.
• Then Balak’s anger burns against Balaam; he tells him to go home and refuses to pay him.
• Balaam speaks more prophecies, prophesying that the Israelites will defeat the Canaanite nations.

Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet described in chapters 22–24 of the Book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), as a mystic who is pestered by Balak, king of Moab, to place a curse on the people of Israel, who are camped menacingly on the plains of Moab. Balaam states that he will utter only what God, Yahweh, inspires, but he is willing to accompany the Moabite messengers to Balak. He is met en route by an angel of Yahweh, who is recognized only by Balaam’s donkey, which refuses to continue. Then Balaam’s eyes are opened, and the angel permits him to go to Balak but commands him not to curse but to bless Israel. Despite pressure from Balak, Balaam remains faithful to Yahweh and blesses the people of Israel. In later literature (specifically, the Second Letter of Peter 2:15), however, Balaam is held up as an example of one who apostatized for the sake of material gain.

Balaam with angel and donkey, copperplate engraving.

Book of Numbers, Hebrew
The book is the sacred history of the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness following the departure from Sinai and before their occupation of Canaan, the Promised Land. It describes their sufferings and their numerous complaints against God. The people are depicted as faithless and rebellious, and God as one who provides for and sustains his people.
These accounts continue the story of God’s promise that the Israelites will inhabit the land of Canaan. The story, begun in Genesis and continued in Exodus and Leviticus, does not reach its conclusion until Israel successfully occupies the Promised Land. As the books now stand, the promise is fulfilled in the Book of Joshua. Many scholars have thus maintained that the first six books of the Old Testament form a literary unit, of which Numbers is an integral part. At one time, Numbers may have contained an account of the occupation of Canaan that was dropped when the Tetrateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers) was joined to other historical books of the Old Testament.

Occultism, various theories and practices involving a belief in and knowledge or use of supernatural forces or beings. Such beliefs and practices—principally magical or divinatory—have occurred in all human societies throughout recorded history, with considerable variations both in their nature and in the attitude of societies toward them. In the West, occultism has acquired intellectually and morally *pejorative overtones that do not obtain in other societies where the practices and beliefs concerned do not run counter to the prevailing worldview.

*Pejorative. A pejorative or slur is a word or grammatical form expressing a negative or a disrespectful connotation, a low opinion, or a lack of respect toward someone or something. It is also used to express criticism, hostility, or disregard. Sometimes, a term is regarded as pejorative in some social or ethnic groups but not in others, or may be originally pejorative but later adopt a non-pejorative sense in some or all contexts.

Occult practices center on the presumed ability of the practitioner to manipulate natural laws for his own or his client’s benefit; such practices tend to be regarded as evil only when they also involve the breaking of ethical laws. Some anthropologists have argued that it is not possible to make a clear-cut distinction between magic—a principal component of occultism—and religion, and this may well be true of the religious systems of some nonliterate societies. However, the argument does not hold for any significant religions, which regard both natural and moral law as immutable.
Those aspects of occultism that appear to be familiar to all human societies—Divination, magic, witchcraft, and alchemy—are treated in depth below. Features that are unique to Western cultures, and the history of their development, are treated only briefly.
The Western tradition of occultism, as popularly conceived, is of an ancient “secret philosophy” underlying all occult practices. This personal philosophy derives ultimately from Hellenistic magic and pseudoscience on the one hand and from Jewish mysticism. The principal Hellenistic source is the Corpus Hermeticum, the texts associated with Hermes Trismegistos, which are concerned with astrology, other occult sciences, and spiritual regeneration.

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