(bay' luhuhm) A non-Israelite prophet whom Balak, king of Moab, urged to curse the invading Israelites for a fee.
Old Testament Balaam was one of many prophets of eastern religions who worshiped all the gods of the land. Many of these false teachers had great power and influence. When they pronounced a blessing or a curse, it was considered as true prophecy. When Moses led his people across the wilderness, God commanded him not to attack Edom or Moab (Deuteronomy 2:4-9). He did not. When Edom attacked, “Israel turned away from him” (Numbers 20:21). As the great nation journeyed north on the east side of Jordan, King Balak of Moab faced the invasion of Israel. Balak sought a strategy other than battle to stop Moses. He decided to use a prophet to curse Israel. Balaam was chosen. Balak sent his messengers with fees to secure Balaam's services. Balaam asked God's permission to curse Israel. Permission was refused, but Balaam journeyed to confer further with Balak. On this journey, Balaam's donkey talked with him as he traveled a narrow trail (Numbers 22:21-30;
2 Peter 2:16). Here Balaam clearly understood that an angel's drawn sword enforced his obedience to speak only God's message to Balak. Later in four vivid messages Balaam insisted that God would bless Israel (Numbers 23-24). God used Balaam to preach truth. He even spoke of a future star and scepter (Numbers 24:17) a prophecy ultimately fulfilled in the coming of Jesus as the Messiah. Balak's actions brought God's anger upon Moab (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). In a battle against the Midianites, Balaam died (Numbers 31:8;
Joshua 13:22). Balaam could not curse Israel, but he taught the Moabites to bring the men of Israel into Baal worship with its immorality. For this God would punish Israel. What Balaam could not accomplish with a curse he did so through seductive means.
New Testament Peter warned against false teachers and described their destruction. He referred to the fallen angels, the watery destruction of the unbelievers in Noah's time, and the fiery judgment on lawless Sodom and Gomorrah in Lot's day. Peter described his generation of false leaders as those with eyes full of adultery, who never stop sinning by seducing the unstable. He further said that they bore a curse as experts in greed. Peter wrote that they left the straight way and followed the way of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15). In
Revelation 2:14, the church at Pergamos was complimented for faithfulness under persecution, but also warned that some followed after Balaam in offering meat to idols and in immorality. Balaam was a money hungry false prophet who had a close encounter with the God of Israel, but not close enough. God is sovereign and did not allow Balaam to curse His people. As God wills, He changes curses into blessings.