1Then the sons of Israel journeyed, and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan [opposite] Jericho.
1Then the sons of Israel journeyed, and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan [opposite] Jericho.
After the Israelites have conquered the whole area of the Amorites, they move to the plains of Moab to prepare for the conquest of Canaan. From here, after the death of Moses, they will, under the leadership of Joshua, cross the Jordan to enter the land of Canaan.
2Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. 3So Moab was in great fear because of the people, for they were numerous; and Moab was in dread of the sons of Israel. 4Moab said to the elders of Midian, “Now this horde will lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” And Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time. 5So he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, at Pethor, which is near the River, [in] the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying, “Behold, a people came out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land, and they are living opposite me. 6Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” 7So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the [fees for] divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam and repeated Balak’s words to him.
Before the people enter Canaan, God shows in the dialogue between Balak and Balaam something of which Israel is unaware at that moment. It is an attack on God’s people in a form we have not seen before. We are made partakers of it, just like of God’s conversation with Satan about Job (Job 1:6-126Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.7The LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.”8The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”9Then Satan answered the LORD, “Does Job fear God for nothing?10Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.11But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.”12Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD.). And as in the case of Job, Satan’s attack on God’s people is used by God to bless His people.
If we allow the events of the next three chapters to be deeply engraved upon us, we will conclude with Paul shouting: “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?” (Rom 8:33-34a33Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies;34who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.).
Moab is also one of Israel’s inveterate enemies. The hallmark of Moab is his pride (Isa 16:66We have heard of the pride of Moab, an excessive pride;
[Even] of his arrogance, pride, and fury;
His idle boasts are false.
; Jer 48:2929“We have heard of the pride of Moab—he [is] very proud—
Of his haughtiness, his pride, his arrogance and his self-exaltation.
). The pride will always try to dominate God’s people. This nation is a great danger to the people of God. Conversely, Balak sees in God’s people an enormous danger to his own existence. He feels threatened in his honor. Yet there is no reason for that fear, because God has forbidden His people to drive Moab out of his territory (Deu 2:99Then the LORD said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab, nor provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land as a possession, because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot as a possession.’). But wicked people always see dangers where they are not, because they have a bad conscience.
Warned by the defeat of Sihon and Og he doesn’t see any good in a military confrontation. He understands that such a confrontation means a certain defeat for him. He also knows that the people owe their victories to their God, as all the peoples around Israel know (Jos 2:1010For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.). He seeks salvation in a completely different direction. He seeks the weakness of the people and finds it in the unfaithfulness of the people against their God.
What he wants to try and do, is to drive a wedge between God and His people. He does so at an extremely tactical moment, at the end of the wilderness journey, when all the unfaithfulness of the people has become public. But then Balak shows that he does not understand anything of the God of Israel. He sees the God of Israel as a national idol, just as every nation has its god or gods. For example, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, sees the God of Israel like that (2Chr 32:10-1910“Thus says Sennacherib king of Assyria, ‘On what are you trusting that you are remaining in Jerusalem under siege?11Is not Hezekiah misleading you to give yourselves over to die by hunger and by thirst, saying, “The LORD our God will deliver us from the hand of the king of Assyria”?12Has not the same Hezekiah taken away His high places and His altars, and said to Judah and Jerusalem, “You shall worship before one altar, and on it you shall burn incense”?13Do you not know what I and my fathers have done to all the peoples of the lands? Were the gods of the nations of the lands able at all to deliver their land from my hand?14Who [was there] among all the gods of those nations which my fathers utterly destroyed who could deliver his people out of my hand, that your God should be able to deliver you from my hand?15Now therefore, do not let Hezekiah deceive you or mislead you like this, and do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people from my hand or from the hand of my fathers. How much less will your God deliver you from my hand?’”16His servants spoke further against the LORD God and against His servant Hezekiah.17He also wrote letters to insult the LORD God of Israel, and to speak against Him, saying, “As the gods of the nations of the lands have not delivered their people from my hand, so the God of Hezekiah will not deliver His people from my hand.”18They called this out with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, so that they might take the city.19They spoke of the God of Jerusalem as of the gods of the peoples of the earth, the work of men’s hands.).
Balak sends messengers to Balaam, because he sees a prophet of the LORD in Balaam. But Balaam is not a prophet of the LORD. A true prophet of the LORD speaks to the people about their unfaithfulness. He also points to the blessings which are connected to conversion. Neither of these aspects we see with Balaam. Balak and Balaam together form a devilish span that we recognize in the devilish span of the future: the beast and the false prophet (Rev 13:1,11-121And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns [were] ten diadems, and on his heads [were] blasphemous names.11Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon.12He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed.), who, under Satan’s guidance, turn against Christ and His people.
Scripture makes it perfectly clear that Balaam is a false prophet, a servant of Satan, who pretends to be a prophet of the God of Israel. That is why Balak wants to hire him. When Balaam pronounces blessing on God’s people, it says nothing about Balaam and everything about God. God forces Balaam to bless his people.
His name appears in eight Bible books and always in a negative sense (Numbers 22-24 [many times]; Num 31:8,168They killed the kings of Midian along with the [rest of] their slain: Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the five kings of Midian; they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword.16Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD.; Deu 23:3-53No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of their [descendants], even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the LORD,4because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.5Nevertheless, the LORD your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the LORD your God loves you.; Jos 13:2222The sons of Israel also killed Balaam the son of Beor, the diviner, with the sword among [the rest of] their slain.; 24:9-109Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel, and he sent and summoned Balaam the son of Beor to curse you.10But I was not willing to listen to Balaam. So he had to bless you, and I delivered you from his hand.; Neh 13:1-21On that day they read aloud from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and there was found written in it that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God,2because they did not meet the sons of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them. However, our God turned the curse into a blessing.; Mic 6:55“My people, remember now
What Balak king of Moab counseled
And what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
[And] from Shittim to Gilgal,
So that you might know the righteous acts of the LORD.”
; 2Pet 2:15-1615forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the [son] of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;16but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, [for] a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.; Jude 1:1111Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.; Rev 2:1414But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit [acts of] immorality.). At the end of Israel’s history, the prophet Micah cites once more what Balak and Balaam want to do here, to use their example to remind Israel of the right of God (Mic 6:5a5“My people, remember now
What Balak king of Moab counseled
And what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
[And] from Shittim to Gilgal,
So that you might know the righteous acts of the LORD.”
The three quotations of Balaam in the New Testament are significant. We read about “the way of Balaam” (2Pet 2:1515forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the [son] of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;), about “the error of Balaam” (Jude 1:1111Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.) and about “the teaching of Balaam” (Rev 2:1414But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit [acts of] immorality.). From these quotations and their context, we see that his history teaches us as a church important lessons.
Will Satan, after his failures to kill the people in battle, this time succeed in his efforts to destroy the people? The attempts of the enemy make it clear that God maintains His relationship with His people against the enemy and does not allow His people to be cursed. Balak thinks only of God as a holy God. He knows nothing of the grace of God. As an enemy of God, God does not give him the right to set Him up against His people. The unfaithfulness of the people is always only a matter between God and His people.
Balak is not only looking for support from Balaam. He has also consulted with the elders of Midian. But his hope is mainly in Balaam.
8He said to them, “Spend the night here, and I will bring word back to you as the LORD may speak to me.” And the leaders of Moab stayed with Balaam. 9Then God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” 10Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent [word] to me, 11‘Behold, there is a people who came out of Egypt and they cover the surface of the land; now come, curse them for me; perhaps I may be able to fight against them and drive them out.’” 12God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” 13So Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak’s leaders, “Go back to your land, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” 14The leaders of Moab arose and went to Balak and said, “Balaam refused to come with us.”
God opens the conversation with Balaam. It does not seem to scare him, as he is used to dealing with the spirit world, where until now he has only had to deal with evil spirits. He doesn’t know better but this is a divining spirit. Thus God captures the sly prophet in his own net (1Cor 3:1919For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “[He is] the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”;).
God never asks questions that He Himself does not know the answer to, but to force man to think about what is in his heart. In this case, it must confront Balaam to the fact that they have come to ask him to curse God’s people. Balaam explains to God what it is all about. From what he says, it appears that he has no idea that it is the people of the God with Whom he speaks.
God ends the matter by ordering Balaam not to go along to curse the people because they are blessed. The fact that Balaam tries again later shows that he is led by greed and not by what God says. God has spoken to other ungodly people, such as Abimelech and Laban, with the command not to offend His elect (Gen 20:33But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married.”; 31:2424God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night and said to him, “Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad.”).
In his answer to the messengers of Balak, Balaam only speaks about the LORD’s refusal to let him go with them. It echoes the disappointment of a man who has no fellowship with God. He wants to go, but unfortunately he is not allowed. He does not say a word about them being a blessed people. Neither do the messengers give a true and fair account of what Balaam said. They refer only to the refusal by Balaam.
15Then Balak again sent leaders, more numerous and more distinguished than the former. 16They came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor, ‘Let nothing, I beg you, hinder you from coming to me; 17for I will indeed honor you richly, and I will do whatever you say to me. Please come then, curse this people for me.’” 18Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the LORD my God. 19Now please, you also stay here tonight, and I will find out what else the LORD will speak to me.”
Balak again sends messengers to Balaam. He now appeals not only to the greed of Balaam, but also to his ambition. A distinguished envoy with a lot of money is something else than an insignificant messenger with a lot of money. He also gives the promise that Balaam only has to ask what he wants, and Balak will comply. People of the world give everything to obtain the favor of a medium. They are empowered by the possession of the medium to assure themselves of the future, without realizing that this will bring them into the power of the medium.
Balaam speaks of “the LORD my God”. Bad people can use very pious language. But God knows the heart of man. Balaam uses these words as a formula. There is no question of a relationship. The One Whom he calls “the LORD my God” is for him nothing more than a divine spirit, to whom he has submitted himself, and to whom he cannot escape.
The fact that he is not aware of God’s authority and that he owes Him full obedience is once again evident from his further actions. God clearly has said that he should not go with them. So why should he try again? He believes he is dealing with a spirit that is easily willing to adapt.
20God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise up [and] go with them; but only the word which I speak to you shall you do.”
God speaks again to Balaam. God knows his heart and instructs him to go with the men. God often gives assignments that fit the desires of people. Thus he gives Israel a king like Saul. He is going to use Balaam to give a great testimony about His people.
21So Balaam arose in the morning, and saddled his donkey and went with the leaders of Moab. 22But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him. 23When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off from the way and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the way. 24Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path of the vineyards, [with] a wall on this side and a wall on that side. 25When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pressed herself to the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall, so he struck her again. 26The angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn to the right hand or the left. 27When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick. 28And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.” 30The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.” 31Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground. 32The angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me. 33But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live.” 34Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the way against me. Now then, if it is displeasing to you, I will turn back.” 35But the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but you shall speak only the word which I tell you.” So Balaam went along with the leaders of Balak.
Balaam meets God as his adversary. Balaam goes because God has said it, and because he goes, God is angry. That seems to be a contradiction. Balaam knows it is against the will of God, but he goes, driven by love for money.
In the history with the donkey God shows that Balaam is even more stupid than a donkey. Blinded as he is by the greed of money, he does not know what danger he is in. The donkey has an eye for that. Animals often have more eye for their Owner than humans (Isa 1:33“An ox knows its owner,
And a donkey its master’s manger,
[But] Israel does not know,
My people do not understand.”
). An animal sees more here than someone created in God’s image. What foolishness to persevere on an evil way on which the sword of the LORD is stretched out against the evil one. The donkey saves him from that folly (2Pet 2:15-1615forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the [son] of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;16but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, [for] a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.).
Balaam doesn’t seem to notice the unusualness of the donkey’s speaking. He talks to her. It has been suggested that perhaps through his contacts with the demons he is used to talking to animals. Perhaps his anger also makes him so excited that the strangeness of it doesn’t strike him.
That the LORD let the donkey speak shows how exceptional this event with Balaam is. What is at stake is much indeed. It is about blessing or cursing for the people of God and all related promises. God can use everything and give a voice to give a testimony of His omnipotence and thereby warn (Lk 19:4040But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”; Hab 2:1111“Surely the stone will cry out from the wall,
And the rafter will answer it from the framework.
). He can also, if this fits into the execution of His plan, intervene in a law established by Himself (2Kgs 6:66Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” And when he showed him the place, he cut off a stick and threw [it] in there, and made the iron float.; 20:1111Isaiah the prophet cried to the LORD, and He brought the shadow on the stairway back ten steps by which it had gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.; Jos 10:1313So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies.
Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go [down] for about a whole day.).
Unbelief speaks mockingly of three “saving animals”: the speaking serpent (Gen 3:11Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”), the speaking donkey (here) and the fish in which Jonah was (Jona 1:1717And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.; 2:1,101Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish,10Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.). Yet it is true that those who do not believe that this really happened cannot be saved, for such a person makes God a liar. The events in which animals are used by God for a special purpose above their nature have to do with the Fall (the serpent), the connection between God and His people with the associated promises (the donkey) and the Lord Jesus (the fish). All three are quoted in the New Testament (2Cor 11:33But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity [of devotion] to Christ.; 2Pet 2:1616but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, [for] a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.; Mt 12:4040for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.).
Instead of wondering why the donkey, who has never let him down, does so, he whips her off. He even wants to kill her, a folly that is prevented because he has no sword with him. What would he have gained from that? He would only have lost by it. So many people in their folly do things that do not profit them, but only make them lose.
Also by the cruel treatment of his faithful riding animal Balaam proves that he is an unrighteous person. The righteous person knows what his cattle need (Pro 12:10a10A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal,
But [even] the compassion of the wicked is cruel.
). By the way, there is a sword in the neighborhood, that of the Angel of the LORD. But for that Balaam is blind. In addition, it is not directed against the donkey, but against him.
The reaction of the donkey is not only wonderful by her speaking, but also in what she says (verse 3030The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.”). She speaks with more understanding than Balaam. In her words, in the form of questions, there are wise lessons for Balaam and every human being in their relationship to God. First, it recognizes Balaam’s ownership of her when she says: “Am I not your donkey?”. Secondly, she can say that she has always been there for him in faithful service: “On which you have ridden all your life to this day?” Thirdly, we see that this exceptional action is not the result of her unwillingness, “have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?”, with which she indirectly says that the unwillingness is with him.
The questions of the donkey have no prophetic content. They are not questions that come from God and have a special meaning. She also says nothing about the Angel of the LORD. It is simply the questions that every animal that is abused would ask if it had the opportunity to do so. They do not go outside the realm of an animal’s feelings, but remain within the realm of animal soul life. The only answer Balaam can and have to give to the questions asked is: “No!” But there is no question of any reaction in his conscience.
There is a practical application to be made. If we are on the road and there will be a delay that prevents us from continuing our journey, how do we react? The Lord wants such an obstacle to lead us to consider our motives for undertaking this journey, whether short or long. It doesn’t have to be wrong, but He wants us to enter His thoughts and become aware that everything can only be His honor if He goes with us. This applies even more so to the life path we follow during our life journey, the choices we make, for example, which education, which profession, which man or woman we should choose. From which motive do we choose the way we go?
Just as the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey (verse 2828And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”), so He opens the eyes of Balaam (verse 3131Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground.). That brings him on his knees. The LORD speaks to him in a questioning manner about his conduct against his donkey. Then He makes it clear to Balaam that He and Balaam are diametrically opposed to each other. Balaam is not in the way of the LORD, but in a way of which the LORD says: “Because your way was contrary to me.” That means that this way was leading to destruction. The Angel emphasizes that Balaam mistreated his donkey three times to force her to go the way he wants her to go, but that the donkey saved him three times for destruction, by turning away from the Angel.
After the LORD has declared to Balaam the lesson with the donkey, Balaam pronounces: “I have sinned”. But it is in the same way as the Pharaoh, Saul, and Jude do (Exo 9:2727Then Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “I have sinned this time; the LORD is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones.; 10:1616Then Pharaoh hurriedly called for Moses and Aaron, and he said, “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you.; 1Sam 15:2424Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned; I have indeed transgressed the command of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice.; 26:2121Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will not harm you again because my life was precious in your sight this day. Behold, I have played the fool and have committed a serious error.”; Mt 27:44saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See [to that] yourself!”). There is no real repentance. God does not relieve him of his duty, but obliges him to continue, saying that he will only speak what He says to him. It will be to God’s greater honor if He not only prevents Balaam from cursing the people, but also makes Balaam an instrument by whom He blesses His people.
36When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, which is on the Arnon border, at the extreme end of the border. 37Then Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not urgently send to you to call you? Why did you not come to me? Am I really unable to honor you?” 38So Balaam said to Balak, “Behold, I have come now to you! Am I able to speak anything at all? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I shall speak.” 39And Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. 40Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent [some] to Balaam and the leaders who were with him. 41Then it came about in the morning that Balak took Balaam and brought him up to the high places of Baal, and he saw from there a portion of the people.
During the first contact Balak has with Balaam, he can only blame him for not having come sooner. His expectations are high. Balaam tempered these expectations by pointing out that he could only speak what God puts him in his mouth. He knows himself a prisoner of Him.
Balak takes Balaam to the high places of Baal. This is the first mention of Baal in the Bible. From this place the first attempt to curse will take place. It is a place entirely dedicated to the worship of Satan who hides here behind the name ‘Baal’.
Baal (means: lord) main head god of the Canaanites, while Astarte is the main female head god. This form of idolatry is given a permanent place in Israel in the time of the judges (see the book of Judges). In the first days of Samuel’s performance, this idol is removed from the land. But he comes back. During the reign of the wicked Ahab over the ten tribe realm, his even more wicked wife Jezebel makes the Baal service the official religion in Israel.
From the place that Balak has chosen, Balaam cannot see the whole people, but only a portion of them. It must give Balaam the impression that he is dealing with only a small people, it must lead him to depreciation of the people. But listen to what statement God brings Balaam when he is impressed by what he sees: “Let me die the death of the upright, And let my end be like his!” (Num 23:1010“Who can count the dust of Jacob,
Or number the fourth part of Israel?
Let me die the death of the upright,
And let my end be like his!”).
Each subsequent attempt always takes place from a different location, apparently closer and closer to the people. It is Balak’s intention that Balaam sees what will give him a negative impression of that people, so that he gets ‘material’ in his hands, with which he can curse the people.