The Strangest Character in the Scripture

Bible Book: Numbers  22 : 1-25
Subject: Evil Influence

The strangest character in the Scripture is someone who appears in the Bible more than Mary, the mother of Jesus. In fact, we find him mentioned more than any of the apostles. You can discover more about this enigmatic figure in the following passages recorded in Numbers 31:15-20; Deuteronomy 23:4-5; Joshua 24:9-10; Nehemiah 13:2; Micah 6:5; 2 Peter 2:15-16; Jude 1:11; Revelation 2:14; and in our text, found in Numbers 22:1-25:18 and 31:8. We might call him a mysterious messenger from Mesopotamia. Let’s dig in to this intriguing, inspired, and informative biblical biography of Balaam the son of Beor.

I. Balaam’s Relationship with the Lord (Numbers 22:1-8)

Balaam said, “The Lord shall speak to me.” Balaam acknowledges Jehovah, the God of Israel. They are at least on speaking terms.

Dr. J. Sidlow Baxter (1903-1999) characterizes Balaam in the following way, “He is a walking paradox, a true prophet and a false both in one. He is a true prophet in that he knows the true God, has real communications with Him, and transmits real messages from Him; yet he is a false prophet in that he also resorts to magical arts and prostitutes his prophetic gift for base gain. How shall we explain such an unhallowed blend? A commentator aptly says: ‘This is undeniably one of the instances in which the more trained and educated intelligence of modern days has a distinct advantage over the simpler faith of the first ages. The compromise in Balaam between true religion and superstitious imposture, between an actual divine inspiration and the practice of heathen sorceries, between devotion to God and devotion to money, was an unintelligible puzzle to men of old. But to those who have grasped the character of a Louis XI, or an Oliver Cromwell (and shall we add, a[n Adolf] Hitler?), or have gauged the mixture of highest and lowest in some of the religious movements of modern history, the wonder is not that such an one should have been, but that such an one should have been so simply yet so skillfully depicted.’”[1]

II. Balaam’s Rebellion against the Lord (Numbers 22:9-21)

We read in Numbers 22:9-12, and 20, “Then God came to Balaam and said, ‘Who are these men with you?’ So Balaam said to God, ‘Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, ‘Look, a people has come out of Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come now, curse them for me; perhaps I shall be able to overpower them and drive them out.’ And God said to Balaam, ‘You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.’ . . . And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, ‘If the men come to call you, rise and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you—that you shall do.’”

It seems from these verses that everything is okay, but we know from the verses that follow that the Lord was angry with Balaam. Let me assure you God is never angry with anyone without a cause.

The following passages help us to “read between the lines” of our passage. We read about the Israelites in Psalm 106:13-15, “They soon forgot His works; / They did not wait for His counsel, / But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, / And tested God in the desert. And He gave them their request, / But sent leanness into their soul.”

Dr. Luke recounts in Acts 13:16-22, “Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it. Now for a time of about forty years He put up with their ways in the wilderness. And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment. ‘After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’”

In Romans 1:18-32 we read, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

III. Balaam’s Rebuke by the Lord (Numbers 22:22-33)

Let me assure you the donkey was not like “Mr. Ed, The Talking Horse” the star of a television show that aired on CBS from 1961 to 1964. Although this donkey did not have a television show, he actually spoke. Needless to day, the prophet was speechless. He was without excuse.

IV. Balaam’s Repentance before the Lord (Numbers 22:34-35)

We read in Numbers 22:34-35, “And Balaam said to the Angel of the LORD, ‘I have sinned, for I did not know You stood in the way against me. Now therefore, if it displeases You, I will turn back.’ Then the Angel of the LORD said to Balaam, ‘Go with the men, but only the word that I speak to you, that you shall speak.’ So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.”

Every time someone says, “I have sinned,” it does not mean they have genuinely repented. A good Bible concordance will allow you to trace this phrase through the Bible. Beside Balaam, we read in the Bible that others said, “I have sinned”. For example, the Pharaoh of Egypt said, “I have sinned” (Exodus 9:27); Achan said, “I have sinned” (Joshua 7:20); Saul, King of Israel, said, “I have sinned” (1 Samuel 15:24, 30); Judas said, “I have sinned” (Matthew 27:4). These are examples of a false repentance. On the other had David, King of Israel, said, “I have sinned” (2 Samuel 12:13 and 24:10). David genuinely repented. Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:18, 21) illustrates genuine repentance.

V. Balaam’s Revelation from the Lord (Numbers 22:36-24:25)

We read the four prophecies of Balaam in these verses. Amazingly, God spoke through Balaam.

Dr. Harry Rimmer (1890-1952) completed a series of meetings in the South and a man with a very unkempt appearance approached him and thanked him for the message he shared. He assured Dr. Rimmer that he received much assistance in his ministry. This startled Dr. Rimmer, who plainly asked if he was a preacher. He affirmed that he was in fact a mountain preacher. Dr. Rimmer felt he displayed too much surprise and began to apologize to the man. Interrupting him, the fellow servant replied, “Why that’s all right. I don’t blame you for being a bit set back. I know I don’t look like much. But, brother Rimmer, I learned a long time ago that God can strike a mighty straight blow with a pretty crooked stick!” I understand, Dr. Rimmer later remarked, “It’s not the stick that counts, it’s the Hand that holds it and wields it that is important!”

VI. Balaam’s Request of the Lord (Numbers 23:10)

Balaam asks, “Let my end be like his” [as Abraham in Genesis 12:3]. While his request sounds very pious, God knew his heart was willfully deceitful and desperately wicked.

Recently, I read about a pastor named Henry White. In the middle of the night Rev. White received an urgent call to visit a dying man who needed to be certain of heaven. When the minister arrived, he observed the obvious signs of death upon this 40 something year old man. Rev. White carefully shared the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He noticed the man’s eyes began to sparkle as he continued, which he took as an indication of a favorable response. Kneeling down beside him, the pastor prayed for the conversion of this dying man. After his prayer, the pastor noted the man’s cold dead fingers wrapped around his watch chain. Rev. White learned this man was a notorious burglar, who could not resist the impulse to pick his pocket. Regrettably, his trivial pursuit caused him to miss the priceless treasure of eternal life.

Rev. Frederick W. Robertson preached a sermon on Numbers 23:10 titled “Selfishness, As Shown in Balaam’s Character”.[2]

VII. Balaam’s Restraint under the Lord (Numbers 23:11-24:24)

God told Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, “Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, / From your family / And from your father’s house, / To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; / I will bless you / And make your name great; / And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, / And I will curse him who curses you; / And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Interestingly, God prevents Balaam from cursing His people. Ironically, after he sought to pronounce a curse on Israel, he gave a stunning prediction about the Messiah (Numbers 24:17-19). Someone observes this was “The greatest prophecy given by Balaam before he handed his soul over to greed.”

Jesus warns in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

Here Jesus warns prophetic utterance does not guarantee acceptance with the Himself.

Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872) sent the words “What hath God wrought!” in the first public telegram in America. Of course, he cited those words from Numbers 23:23b.

From the Memoirs of the Rev. George Whitefield [1714-1770] we find in volume 2 a message titled “What God Has Wrought!” Rev. Whitefield shares, "The words of our text, which were spoken by, as far as I can judge, one of the vilest men upon the earth: you doubtless know his name, Balaam, who, though florid in his expressions, and high in his profession of intercourse with God, and puts on a fine face of religion, was but a rotten hearted hypocrite, for he divined for many, made a trade of religion; and so loved the wages of unrighteousness, as to have wished to curse even those whom God had blessed. I need not inform you, that this was the end for which Balak sent for him; and no wonder he was willing to go, when he knew he was to be well paid for his journey. Achilles, the Grecian hero, is said to be capable of being wounded only in the heel, but bad priests, ministers, and people, have a great deal more dangerous part to be wounded in, that is the palm of the hand; if you can keep that secure from being wounded with gold, never fear: the devil cannot have his end. Balak promised him great preferment, if he would but come and curse the people of God. A prophet, or soothsayer, is one that pretends to have intercourse with God of the devil, and Balak did not care by which of them it was, so that he could but get the Israelites cursed. Balaam catches at the golden bait, pretends to ask counsel of God; and what seems strange, God bids him go and yet sends an angel to meet him in the way, who stands ready to slay him for going."[3]

VIII. Balaam’s Religion without the Lord (Numbers 24:25-25:18)

This son of Beor actually promoted the worship of Baal of Peor (Numbers 31:16). Baal worship is a syncretistic religion similar to New Age religion. When you attempt to mix the worship of the true and living God with the worship of a god like Baal, your worship is adulterated. Let me clarify my point. If you decide to add a little dirt to a cool refreshing glass of lemonade, it will become an unacceptable concoction. Similarly, Solomon refers to “flies in the ointment”. In Ecclesiastes 10:1 we read, “Dead flies putrefy the perfumer’s ointment, / And cause it to give off a foul odor; / So does a little folly to one respected for wisdom and honor.”

Those who attempt to mix the worship Jehovah and Baal are making the same mistake to a much greater consequence. Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter. Tell the Lord Jesus Christ as He judges you. He plainly declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The Father clearly commands in Exodus 20:1-6, “And God spoke all these words, saying: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. ‘You shall have no other gods before Me. ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.’”

We read in Psalm 106:28, “They joined themselves also to Baal of Peor, / And ate sacrifices made to the dead.” From Numbers 25:1, we read, “Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab.”

What Balaam could not accomplish by a reprehensible evil curse upon Israel, he was able to accomplish through a recommended evil course for Israel. He did it for money. Paul the Apostle writes in 1 Timothy 6:3-10, “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

In Matthew 6:24, Jesus warns, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Like Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, Balaam was a Midianite. Jethro was a priest of Midian and Balaam was a prophet of Midian. The Midianites trace their lineage back to Abraham and his second wife named Keturah. Remember, after Sarah died, Abraham married Keturah “and she bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah” (Genesis 25:2).

The name Balaam means “devourer of the people.” Balaam was a predator in prophet’s garb.

IX. Balaam’s Repayment from the Lord (Numbers 31:8)

Dr. J. Sidlow Baxter states, “Balaam is the Judas of the Old Testament prophets.”[4] Judas was actually an apostate though Jesus called him to be an apostle.

From John 6:64-71 we read, “‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, ‘Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.’ From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’ But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?’ He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.”

Citing Deuteronomy 32:35, Paul the Apostle, writes, “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). He writes Timothy, his son in the ministry, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works” (2 Timothy 4:14).

Dr. Baxter describes Balaam and those like him, when he discloses, “I know people who are moved to tears by touching anecdotes in sermons, and who again and again are excited to a realization of their need for Christ, who nevertheless allow these periodic longings and awakening to come to nothing because they somehow cannot tear their minds from the mesmerism of earthly things. They are often going to become Christians, yet they never do. Their hell will be all the darker in the end.”[5]

Balaam will not appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ for reward in heaven, but he will appear before the Great White Throne Judgment for retribution in hell.


A portrait of Balaam is framed by four phrases, namely, “the counsel of Balaam” (Numbers 31:15-20), “the way of Balaam” (2 Peter 2:15-16), “the error of Balaam” (Jude 1:11), and “the doctrine of Balaam” (Revelation 2:14).

The following Scriptural medley comes from those passages. “And Moses said to them: “Have you kept all the women alive? Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately. But keep alive for yourselves all the young girls who have not known a man intimately. And as for you, remain outside the camp seven days; whoever has killed any person, and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. Purify every garment, everything made of leather, everything woven of goats’ hair, and everything made of wood. . . . They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. . . . Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. . . . But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.”

By now, I think you will agree that Balaam is the strangest character in the Scripture.

[1]J. Sidlow Baxter, Mark These Men: Practical Studies in striking aspects of certain Bible characters (London / Edinburgh: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, Ltd, 1949), pp. 103-104

[2]Frederick W. Robertson, Sermons, Fourth Series, People’s Edition (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd., 1905), pp. 42-50

[3]John Gillies, D. D., Memoirs of Rev. George Whitfield, Vol. 2 (Middletown: Hunt and Noyes, 1839), p. 572

[4]J. Sidlow Baxter, Mark These Men: Practical Studies in striking aspects of certain Bible characters (London / Edinburgh: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, Ltd, 1949), p. 103

[5]J. Sidlow Baxter, Mark These Men: Practical Studies in striking aspects of certain Bible characters (London / Edinburgh: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, Ltd, 1949), p. 106

By Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527
Author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice Available on and / / (251) 626-6210
© September 4, 2011 All Rights Reserved