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lord of the people; foreigner or glutton, as interpreted by others, the son of Beor, was a man of some rank among the Midianites (Num. 31:8; comp. 16). He resided at Pethor (Deut. 23:4), in Mesopotamia (Num. 23:7). It is evident that though dwelling among idolaters he had some knowledge of the true God; and was held in such reputation that it was supposed that he whom he blessed was blessed, and he whom he cursed was cursed. When the Israelites were encamped on the plains of Moab, on the east of Jordan, by Jericho, Balak sent for Balaam "from Aram, out of the mountains of the east," to curse them; but by the remarkable interposition of God he was utterly unable to fulfil Balak's wish, however desirous he was to do so. The apostle Peter refers (2 Pet. 2:15, 16) to this as an historical event. In Micah 6:5 reference also is made to the relations between Balaam and Balak. Though Balaam could not curse Israel, yet he suggested a mode by which the divine displeasure might be caused to descend upon them (Num. 25). In a battle between Israel and the Midianites (q.v.) Balaam was slain while fighting on the side of Balak (Num. 31:8). The "doctrine of Balaam" is spoken of in Rev. 2:14, in allusion to the fact that it was through the teaching of Balaam that Balak learned the way by which the Israelites might be led into sin. (See NICOLAITANES.) Balaam was constrained to utter prophecies regarding the future of Israel of wonderful magnificence and beauty of expression (Num. 24:5-9, 17).
a non-Israelite prophet described in the Old Testament (Num. 22-24) as a diviner who is importuned by Balak, the king of Moab, to place a malediction on the people of Israel, who are camped ominously on the plains of Moab. Balaam states that he will utter only what his 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 ass, 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 apostasized for the sake of material gain.