In Balaam we have a fitting yet tragic illustration of our Lord’s teaching about the light in us being darkness. Balaam had a head full of light but a heart that was dark—and great was the darkness! This man of Mesopotamia, counted a prophet, yet followed the unholy practice of Eastern soothsayers.
Balak the king, greatly alarmed because of the Israelites swarming the Plains of Moab, sent for Balaam to pronounce a curse upon the people of God so that he would have nothing more to fear. Balaam refused and declared that all who blessed Israel would be blessed. Balak sent for Balaam again and again, tempting him with bribes but Balaam remained firm. In a further approach of Balak, Balaam was more cautious in his refusal. Instead of saying with Daniel, “Thy gifts be to thyself and give thy rewards to another,” Balaam caught the bait held out and proved that he loved the wages of unrighteousness.
Balak’s messengers were not immediately dismissed. Balaam asked for time to consult God as to what he should do. The line of duty, however, was perfectly clear. There was no need to pray. God allowed Balaam to go, but he did not carry divine approval with him. Sometimes God punishes us by allowing us to have our own way. Thus Balaam started to Balak but did not reach him. Suddenly the ass he was riding stopped and could not be induced to proceed. God’s angel was before him although Balaam could not see him standing in the way with his drawn sword. Then the ass, the most stupid of all beasts, was made to speak and reprove one of the wisest of men. Awestruck at what had happened and trembling with fear, Balaam confessed, “I have sinned.” Balaam must have known that his whole conduct was displeasing to God and that he had been wilfully blind.
Back Balaam went and with a great parade built seven altars and offered bullocks and rams on every altar. But God was not pleased with such offerings. Yet God employed Balaam for His own purposes, for He put into his mouth some of the most blessed and glorious words spoken concerning His people Israel. With his heart turned towards the eternal world Balaam wanted to die the death of a righteous man, but his end was far from righteous. He died in a general massacre and we have no record of his repentance. He died in his sins.
Clearly evident are the lessons to be learned from this renowned man who was self-willed (Num. 22:5-22); saved from death by a beast (Num. 22:33); double-minded in that he was eloquent in prophecy but presumptuous in seeking to alter the divine plan (Num. 23; 24); a failure in his mission (Num. 24:10); an evil counselor (Num. 31:16); overcome by the besetting sin of avarice (2 Pet. 2:13):
The clearest knowledge without grace is worthless.
The presence of any sin is ruinous, especially covetousness.
The most pious wishes are sometimes vain. The road to hell can be paved with good resolutions.