God tests Israel and confronts a false prophet. Let’s read Numbers 22:7-20 together.
The messengers he sent were some of the top leaders of Moab and Midian. They went to Balaam with money in hand and urgently explained to him what Balak wanted.
“Stay here overnight,” Balaam said, “and I’ll tell you in the morning whatever the Lord directs me to say.” So they did.
That night God came to Balaam and asked him, “Who are these men?”
“They have come from King Balak of Moab,” he replied. “The king says that a vast horde of people from Egypt has arrived at his border, and he wants me to go at once and curse them, in the hope that he can battle them successfully.”
“Don’t do it!” God told him. “You are not to curse them, for I have blessed them!”
The next morning Balaam told the men, “Go on home! The Lord won’t let me do it.”
So King Balak’s ambassadors returned without him and reported his refusal. Balak tried again. This time he sent a larger number of even more distinguished ambassadors than the former group. They came to Balaam with this message:
“King Balak pleads with you to come. He promises you great honors plus any payment you ask. Name your own figure! Only come and curse these people for us.”
But Balaam replied, “If he were to give me a palace filled with silver and gold, I could do nothing contrary to the command of the Lord my God. However, stay here tonight so that I can find out whether the Lord will add anything to what he said before.”
That night God told Balaam, “You may get up and go with these men, but be sure to say only what I tell you to.”
The elders of Moab approached Balaam with the fee for divination, which was no doubt customary. And this provides us with a clue to Balaam’s motives and character.
The elders repeated the proposal to Balaam, and he asked them to wait until he heard from God.
The Lord indeed appeared to Balaam and asked him what all this was about. Balaam repeated Balak’s request that he curse Israel without so much as offering an opinion on whether he felt such a curse was the right thing to do.
But God responded by telling Balaam these people were blessed. With this, Balaam returned to the awaiting leaders and sent them away, saying the Lord would not permit such a request.
But Balak refused to yield to Balaam’s first response. He sent other princes to talk with Balaam. These were more numerous and more distinguished than the first.
These leaders again asked Balaam if he would curse Israel for them. Balaam responded that no amount of money could turn God’s hand if God had no intention of cursing them.
The princes probably came armed with sufficient bribe money, and Balaam, we must conclude, was not immune to the temptation (Jude 11). But he again asked them to remain while he made a request to God on their behalf. God responded by allowing Balaam to go with the men, but he could only do what God told him.
This last instruction provides a clue to interpreting the entire narrative and yields insight into the nature of Balaam’s disobedience. He was only to say and do what God told him – and no more.
In my next blog post, we will discuss Balaam, the donkey, and the Angel starting with Numbers 22:21. Have a wonderfully blessed day!
Holman Old Testament Commentary