Did You Ever Wonder Where Balaam Came From?

As you may know, a bunch of us have been reading through the Bible in 90 days; we started on February 1st. I read in Numbers about Balaam yesterday and today and it got me thinking about who he was. What is his back story? Where did he come from? I don’t think he was one of the Israelites who came out of Egypt, but he was a prophet of God (though not a very good one). Was he related to Abraham in any way? There’s nothing in the text that would indicate that.

But if he was not an Israelite, that means that God had people besides the Israelites that were his. Who else did God call as prophets? Who else did he call to be his own that were outside of the people of Israel? Of course he called those of us who are saved, and he called others through the Israelites, but what about those Old Testament saints whose stories we haven’t heard?

Another example is King Melchizedek that we met back in Genesis. We know nothing of him besides that short passage in Genesis (and then in Psalm 110 and Hebrews). At least with him there’s an explanation as to why we know very little about him.

But with Balaam, do we know anything else about him besides what we read in Numbers 22-24? Is he the typical, or maybe atypical, example of a disobedient or self-serving prophet of God? We see in Numbers 31 that he was killed along with the Midianites, so maybe he was in tight with God’s enemies by that time. We know from Numbers 22-24 that he was at least known by the Moabites as a man who was very effective at blessing and cursing (he was a prophet of God). It seems that maybe Balaam had blessed kingdoms and cursed enemies before. It also seems evident that he really wanted to do what Balak, king of the Moabites, asked of him; the payoff would probably have been huge and Balaam was evidently a greedy man.

It also seems evident from Numbers 31 that he was partially, if not directly, responsible for the Moabite (or Midianite?) women causing the men of Israel to engage in some very immoral behavior, including idolatry.

Numbers 25:1-3 (NET) When Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to commit sexual immorality with the daughters of Moab. These women invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods; then the people ate and bowed down to their gods. When Israel joined themselves to Baal-peor, the anger of the Lord flared up against Israel.

Numbers 31:14-16 (NET) [After the defeat of the Midianites] Moses was furious with the officers of the army, the commanders over thousands and commanders over hundreds, who had come from service in the war. Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live? Look, these people through the counsel of Balaam caused the Israelites to act treacherously against the Lord in the matter of Peor—which resulted in the plague among the community of the Lord!” (emphasis mine)

So perhaps, since God would not allow Balaam to curse Israel in Numbers 22-24, Balaam accepted King Balak’s money and told him that if he could get the men of Israel to sin greatly against God, that God himself would curse Israel for him.

Well, one more thing we know from Numbers chapter 31 is that it did not end well for Balaam.

Numbers 31:7-8 (NET) They fought against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses, and they killed every male. They killed the kings of Midian in addition to those slain—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba—five Midianite kings. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. (emphasis mine)

There’s so much about the history of the world that we don’t know, but from stories like this, it’s obvious that Israel was not the only chosen people of God. Even though Balaam is not a shining example of a man of God, he was nonetheless a prophet of God. What other examples of non-Israelites are there in the Old Testament that were called by God?


2 thoughts on “Did You Ever Wonder Where Balaam Came From?

    • Yes, you’re right. Exodus 3:1 says “Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian…” I’m assuming that means he was a priest of God and not some false god. It seems logical, and consistent with Moses’ writings, that the text would say if he was a priest of a god that wasn’t the true God.

      So, can we conclude from this that God had followers that were not related to Israel? I really see no reason why not, though I have received some feedback that God only had ONE people, his chosen people, the Israelites. But there’s really nothing in the Bible that says that, is there?

      I discovered one more thing about Balaam as I read through Deuteronomy. This is Deuteronomy 32:3-4:
      “An Ammonite or Moabite may not enter the assembly of the Lord; to the tenth generation none of their descendants shall ever do so, for they did not meet you with food and water on the way as you came from Egypt, and furthermore, they hired Balaam son of Beor of Pethor in Aram Naharaim to curse you.”

      So, Balaam was “of Pethor in Aram” (or maybe he was the son of “Beor of Pethor” and was from Aram). I guess someone could argue that Balaam was a descendant of Abraham that was living in Aram at that time, but the text in no way demands that.

      Good catch about Jethro, lillbjorne. Thanks!


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