Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes of Balak, Get you into your land: for the LORD refuseth to give me leave to go with you.
The famous English hymnist William Cowper once wrote, "God moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform." Nowhere in the pages of Scripture is this more evident than in the story of Balak, the king of Moab, and Balaam, the false prophet of Pethor in Mesopotamia.
With the conquest of the Amorites the people of Israel neared their goal, the promised land. They descended into the valley of Jordan, opposite Jericho, on the plains of Moab. Such a bold move by Israel aroused the Moabites. Seeing that Israel was too strong for him in the field, Moabite king Balak made a confederacy with the sheiks of Midian. But even the combined strength of Moab and Midian was of doubtful value in the face of mighty Israel. It was evident to Balak that supernatural help must be sought.
The prophet Balaam, son of Beor, was one of those who still retained some knowledge of the true God. It is obvious, however, that he practiced the more questionable arts of divination as well and in fact believed that Jehovah was simply one of many gods. He found it quite to his advantage to believe in all the gods of oriental society. The emissaries from Balak came to Balaam with a strange request. There was a people come out of Egypt who covered the face of the earth. They were a threat to the very existence of Moab, or so the Moabite king believed. If Balaam would curse the intruders, the emissaries were empowered to give him the rewards of divination.
Balaam consulted the God of Heaven as to the advisability of cursing the people who had come out of Egypt. The answer of Jehovah left no room for variant interpretations. "Thou shalt not go with them: thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed" (Numbers 22:12). Balaam rose up in the morning and reported to the princes of Balak that Jehovah had directly forbidden him to curse their enemy Israel.
When the princes returned to Balak with this unexpected news, the Moabite king was undaunted. He sent to Balaam more numerous and more honorable envoys. The king promised the prophet that he would promote him to very great honor and give him any desire of his heart. The greed of Balaam was too much for his loyalty to the God of Heaven, and consequently he wavered in his stand against cursing Israel. Instead of resting confidently on the clear word of the Lord, Balaam hedged on that clarity in order to feed his lustful desire for fame and honor. Thus God gave him his desire and delivered him to the destruction that he courted. Despite the evident will of God to the contrary, Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab (Numbers 22:21).
This Old Testament account features the miraculous happening of a dumb animal speaking to his master in order that the plan of God might be fulfilled. But an even more mysterious way in which God moved to perform His wonders was that He chose a false prophet, one who thought more of himself than he did of God, to advance one of the greatest prophecies of the Old Testament. It was Balaam the son of Beor who brought the message of Christ in the book of Numbers. His messianic prophecy was, "I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth" (Numbers 24:17).
No greater prophecy concerning the messianic kingdom can be found anywhere in Scripture and, in the mysterious plan of God, this prophecy came from the lips of a self-seeking prophet. We may never fully be able to understand the methods or motives of God, but we are not required to understand them, simply to trust them.
Praise to the Lord
Who o'er all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under
His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen
All that is needful hath been
Granted in what He ordaineth?