What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
This whole passage is quite ironic.
The name Balak means "devastator," a very evil name. However, his father's name, Zippor means "sparrow," which are among the flightiest of birds. A person cannot creep close to a sparrow, as they fly at the slightest movement. So, here is mighty Balak, the Devastator, the son of Zippor, the Sparrow, and "Moab was exceedingly afraid"! The Devastator was afraid, acting like a sparrow!
The Moabites were so afraid that they were "sick with dread." Hebrew is a rather colorful language. This means that they were so terrified that they were throwing up. Their fear was visceral; it made their guts wrench. What makes this so ironic is that they had nothing to fear: God had told Israel not to harm the Moabites but pass them by (Deuteronomy 2:8-9). If Moab had left well enough alone, if they had not let their fear get the best of them, then nothing like the following story would have happened. Many people died because of Moab's fear and the resultant actions. In reacting to their fear, they really made a mess of things.
Another irony is what is said in verse 4 concerning a possible economic problem. Moab says that Israel would come through and "lick up" all of their goods, that is, eat all their wealth. At the time, their wealth was mostly on the hoof or in their grain storehouses. They thought Israel would come in, take all their livestock and grain, and leave Moab destitute. Again they had nothing to fear because God was still giving them manna six days a week and double on Friday. Israel was not going to invade, devastate their land, kill their people, and take all their wealth. Thus, the second element they feared was also bogus. They had made it all up in their own heads; their fears were figments of their imagination.
They were functioning by human nature, and it was only natural for them to think that, if two or three million people came in, they would eat up everything and take over the territory, but that is the irony of all this. Nothing like that would have happened, especially if they did not move to make Israel their enemy.
All of this could have been avoided with a little bit of communication between Balak (the Devastator) and Moses. If he had come to Moses instead of Balaam, everything would have worked out differently. Instead, Balak makes some sort of alliance with the Midianites, who, as the book of Judges details, became a thorn in Israel's side. Thus, here is the beginning of an alliance against Israel that lasted for many years.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)
The Moabites did not have much of an army to field against Israel, which is why they did not try to block its way by force of arms. Until recently, they had themselves been subject to the Amorites and had suddenly been freed by Israel's conquering of Sihon and Og of Bashan. However, they were not at all grateful and decided that they would have to stop Israel themselves.
However, Israel was under a command from God to leave Moab alone. The Moabites ended up acting upon what was essentially a figment of their imaginations. They really cannot be blamed; they were merely acting according to human nature. Nevertheless, the whole story of Balak and Balaam was all very unnecessary.
Balaam means "devourer," and some linguists add "of the people." The longer definition is probably correct. It is also interesting that it is a very negative, destructive name (like Balak's, "devastator"). Devastator and Devourer were joining forces to block Israel's passage into Canaan. Balaam's father's name, Beor, which means "burning," also fits into this. This story contains several names that are negative and destructive.
Balaam lived at Pethor. "Pethor" has made some historians wonder, but they think they know where it is. It is located 400 miles north of Moab on the banks of the Euphrates River, twelve miles south of Carchemish. Carchemish was the location of the early seventh-century BC battle Pharaoh Necho was hastening toward to aid the Assyrians against the Babylonians, when he was confronted by King Josiah of Judah. Josiah was, at the time, allied to Babylon. He took his army and met Necho at Megiddo—the famous place of battles, Armageddon. Judah was defeated there, as Necho had a much stronger army. A stray arrow happened to hit Josiah, and he was taken from the battlefield, mortally wounded.
However, the engagement at Megiddo stalled Necho long enough for the Babylonians to defeat the Assyrians, probably near Haran where Abraham had lived for a while—where Terah, Abraham's father, died. The defeat forced the Assyrians to retreat. A couple of years later, Nebuchadnezzar faced the Assyrians and Egyptians again at Carchemish. This colossal battle changed the direction of the Middle East at that time, because, by defeating Assyria again, Nebuchadnezzar gained control of the entire region.
Balaam lived just a stone's throw away from this place of future fame. This is important to know because of the connection between Abraham and Balaam. They were from the same general area near Haran, which was less than fifty miles away. It was generally known that where Balaam lived, Pethor, was famous for its baru, "priest-diviners" (which some have tried to connect them with the Magi, but the evidence is scanty). They were sorcerers, magicians, diviners, soothsayers, and such.
It is believed that Balaam was from a long line of celebrated diviners, and that he and his family had made their living for several generations cursing or blessing people. It was their family trade. They passed it down, giving their sons names that went along with it, names like "Burning" and "Devourer." Their family reputation had traveled throughout the entire region. If anyone wanted someone cursed, they would send for a baru from Balaam's family, since they were the best in the world at cursing people. These baru—regardless of the requester's religion or political stripe—would, for a price, perform their auguries, say their incantations, make their sacrifices to some particular god, and then curse the other party in the name of that god.
This is what King Balak of Moab was doing, sending for the most renowned curser in the known world—Balaam—to come and curse Israel. Balak had heard about all the things that God had done for Israel, so he needed the very best to go up against the God who could part the Red Sea and rain manna from heaven every day for 38 years. This God could bring ten plagues upon the people of Egypt and could find water in the desert for 2.5 or 3 million people. King Balak, needing the very best, was willing to give up just about all his wealth to Balaam, who he felt could do the job of cursing Israel.
What have we learned about Balaam?
He was internationally renowned and may have been considered the best soothsayer in the known world. This sets him up on a pedestal. He was accustomed to doing things like this. He was also likely a pricey individual to contract with.
He was probably from a family of soothsayers who specialized in blessings and cursings. He was very well read and knowledgeable in all the methods of cursing and blessing, as well as all the world's gods and goddesses. He probably kept an ear to the ground for any unusual things happening and had reports of such sent to him. He probably knew all about what was going on with Israel: it was one of those "international news stories" that made the rounds.
He was probably a baru, a priest-diviner of Mesopotamia who worked enchantments, auguries, sorceries, and any kind of divining necessary. The baru did not consider themselves devotees of any one god but of every god. They would work for or against any god for a price.
He probably knew of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or at least had heard things about them from local stories or legend, as they were important people in their own right. Abraham, a direct descendant of Shem, had given up a great deal to follow God's calling, and had come through the area where Balaam and his family lived. Abraham was not a person who could pass through a place without leaving an impression, for he was an important and wealthy person, a man of conviction. Also, once Abraham arrived in Canaan, he and his descendants had sent back to the area of Haran for wives: Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah were all from the environs of Haran. Thus, the Israelites had ties with the area, even genetic ties.
It would not be out of the realm of possibility, therefore, that Balaam had a fair amount of information about Israel's beginnings, and perhaps even known of some of their beliefs. He may have had an interest in them from a local history standpoint. He certainly knew about Israel, about Israel's God, and what He had done miraculously for Israel for forty years.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)
Balak, of course, is furious with Balaam for thrice predicting such a rosy future for Israel. The soothsayer reminds him that he warned him from the start that he "could not go beyond the word of the LORD, to do either good or bad of [his] own will; but what the LORD says, that [he] must speak" (Numbers 24:13). It is difficult to decide which of these two characters is more ludicrous: Balaam, for thinking that God would give in and let him curse Israel—or at least put in a good word for Moab; or Balak, for listening to and putting up with Balaam!
As if trying to mollify his employer, Balaam adds, "Come, I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the latter days" (verse 14), but his words are hardly comforting to the Moabite king.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Prophecies of Balaam (Part Two)
In this oracle, the time setting jumps forward to the end time and the return of Jesus Christ as King of kings. His words certainly touch on His first coming, but the thrust of the passage is on His royal power to defeat and rule the enemies of Israel. It shows Edom and Moab (and later, Amalek; verse 20) taking the brunt His wrath at His return (Isaiah 15-16; 34:5-7; Jeremiah 48:1-47; 49:7-22; Lamentations 4:21-22; Ezekiel 25:8-14; 35:1-15; Obadiah 1:15-21; etc.). These peoples are singled out because of their open hostility toward Israel and represent all nations who oppose God.
The opening words of Numbers 24:17 emphasize the long-range nature of this final prophecy. The coming of the Messiah is "not now" and "not near"; indeed, it would be 1,400 years until His coming as the Son of Man and another 2,000 years or more until His return as King. The symbols of "a Star" and "a Scepter" are both ancient and widespread figures for monarchs, and some scholars feel that at least the star symbol may represent Deity (many ancient monarchs were considered gods or the gods' offspring). In Jesus Christ's case, this would be true.
"While Israel does valiantly" (verse 18) may have a physical-spiritual fulfillment much like Daniel 11:32: "The people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits." It can also be linked to Zechariah 12:8: "In that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the one who is feeble among them in that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the Angel of the LORD before them" (see also Zechariah 9:13; 10:5). Certainly, in the context of judgment on Edom, Obadiah 1:18 is relevant: "The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame; but the house of Esau shall be stubble; they shall kindle them and devour them, and no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau" (see also Amos 9:11-12).
The first part of Numbers 24:19 is a clear reference to Jacob's prophecy in Genesis 49:10: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, . . . until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people." The second half of the verse is better in the New International Version: "[He will] destroy the survivors of the city." To which city this verse refers is not known. Some postulate Petra as the chief city of the Edomites, while others take it generally as any city of Edom. The latter view is preferable, as the thrust of the passage is that this great Ruler will possess and rule over everyone—no one will escape His judgment.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Prophecies of Balaam (Part Two)
Deuteronomy 30 contains the premier discussion of the restoration of Israel in the Scriptures. While there may be passing intimations of Israel's restoration earlier, it is in this passage that God first introduces most of the significant themes that accompany later treatments of that restoration. The historical setting is Moab, probably about sixty days before the children of Israel crossed the Jordan River, entering the Land of Promise after almost four decades of wandering. Moses died shortly after he delivered this message from God, and after thirty days of mourning, the people obeyed Joshua's command “to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess.” See Deuteronomy 34 and Joshua 1.
It is vital to remember, however, that Moses' message is not merely historical but prophetic; the great leader here introduces the concept of a future restoration of Israel. Note well: He clarifies that his audience is “you and your children.” He understands that he is addressing not only those standing before Him that day on the east side of the Jordan River, but all the descendants of the children of Israel as well. This prophecy pertains to today's descendants of Israel.
In verse 1, Moses establishes the timeframe of the prophecy: When Israelites come to consider the things that have happened to them, “the blessing and the curse which I have set before you.” In the time of Jacob's Trouble (Jeremiah 30:5-7), the folk of Israel will reflect, he says, upon both—that is, both the blessings and the curses. Importantly, it will not be just the agony involved in the afflictions that Israelites will consider in their distress during the Tribulation, but they will contemplate the blessings as well. Israelites will reflect upon the blessings of liberty, prosperity, and peace they enjoyed for decades in the lands of their exile (Northern Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, etc.), generation after generation, comparing those blessings against the curses of disease, deprivation, slavery, death, and scattering they are experiencing wholesale in the land of their enemies, where they are held captive.
This prophecy explains why God has determined to prosper Israel in this time of her seemingly boundless decadence, blessing her today despite her high indebtedness, her deindustrialization, and the unprecedented prevalence of her peoples' failing health. It appears to us an unseasonal prosperity, irreconcilable with the depth of America's current depravity.
Does God reward sin? Why is Israel experiencing this prosperity now? One reason is undoubtedly that, during the Tribulation, God wants to ensure that the blessings enjoyed by this last generation of Israelites stand out in their minds from the curses they experience in the Tribulation—and stand out in all the starker relief, as day differs from night, light from dark. This is an application of what psychologists call “Treatment Learning.”
God will use both—blessings and curses—to send Israelites a powerful message. At the end of Isaiah 10:22, God makes an essential point in this regard: “The destruction decreed shall overflow with righteousness.” The destruction God has proclaimed for Israel will be like an overwhelming flood, uniquely vast and deep. Overpowering. Unescapable. Unstoppable.
But for all that, it will be in righteousness. It will be just. Isaiah means that God will fulfill all righteousness, the blessings and the curses of Deuteronomy 28. In fact, this is another way of saying He is faithful to the terms of the covenant—all aspects of the covenant, positive and negative. In Jeremiah 16:18 (New English Translation), God says He will punish Israel “in full” for her sins. But afterward, the blessings He will offer repentant Israel will be beyond belief.
In Matthew 3:15, Jesus tells John the Baptist that it is proper for him, John, to baptize Him in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” At least in part, this phrase means that Christ does not take half measures, but fully loves and obeys God. He takes action to meet God's standards of justice while, at the same time, acting in mercy. He does everything right, punishing in justice, healing in mercy. In the context of His end-time dealings with Israel, God makes this principle explicit in Jeremiah 31:10: “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.”
God's scattering and then His gathering of Israel is yet another application of, respectively, His severity and His goodness. Interestingly, Paul enunciates the concept of God's goodness and severity in the same passage where he writes of God's restoring Israel, Romans 11:19-27.
Israel's Restoration and the Zeitgeist of Zeal
The nations listed in Psalm 83:5-8 comprise a fairly complete rundown of the ancient enemies of Israel, and Edom, the descendants of Esau, is given primacy of place. After Edom come the usual suspects: the Ishmaelites, Moab, the Hagarites, Gebal, Ammon, Amalek, Philistia, and Tyre; and Assyria joins them, specifically helping the children of Lot.
Descendants of Esau actually appear three times on this list, as Amalek (see Genesis 36:12) and Gebal (here, a region of Idumea, often confused with the Phoenician city of Gebal or Byblos) are tribes that became distinguished from the bulk of the Edomites. Evidently, these tribes struck out on their own and eventually established their own identities. Amalek, in particular, was a thorn in Israel's side.
Bible history, from about Genesis 16 on, records that all of these nations rose up against Israel and Judah perpetually. Only very rarely did they ally with Israel for any length of time, and when they did, it was usually because they faced an even stronger, more dreaded enemy. It seems that Israel had peace from them only when they were conquered and put under tribute.
The only major nations missing from this list of Israel's persistent enemies are Egypt and Babylon. There may be several reasons for their omission. First, the context speaks of a particular historical "confederacy" against Israel, and Egypt and Babylon may not have been part of it. Second, as major powers in the region, Egypt and Babylon were generally unconcerned about Israel, or at least did not posses the visceral hatred of God's people that these other nations did. Third, the peoples that are mentioned were either ethnically related to Israel or lived in close proximity to her, while Egypt and Babylon are not related to Israel and inhabited distant realms.
Finally, as a prophecy of the last days, Psalm 83 may not consider Egypt and Babylon to represent the physical peoples that they did anciently. In fact, a physical Babylon does not seem to exist in the end time; the ancient city lies in ruins for tourists in Iraq to behold. If Egypt, a modern Arab nation, is contemplated in the prophecy, it may be included under the Hagarites, as Hagar, mother of Ishmael, was an Egyptian (Genesis 16:1). In addition, Ishmael's wife was also Egyptian (Genesis 21:21), making the Ishmaelites three-quarters Egyptian.
Nevertheless, all of these different peoples—Edom, Ishmael, Amalek, Moab, Ammon, Philistia, Tyre, and Assyria—are among the major players in the Middle East today. These are peoples from whom the Jihadists and the Islamic fundamentalists hail, making up what is known as the "Arab" or "Muslim world." Today, these people inhabit the nations of Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, etc., and the pseudo-nation of Palestine.
Psalm 83 lists a group of peoples—a confederacy—whose main enemy is Israel. Today, there exists a worldwide jihad against the West, particularly aimed at the "Great Satan," the United States, and the despised Jews, the State of Israel. The physical descendants of ancient Israel—the English-speaking peoples, the democracies of Northwest Europe, and the Jewish Diaspora—are the standard-bearers of Western civilization. The same players are still in the game!
Who has initiated the conflict over these last several years? For the most part, Islamist or fundamentalist Arabs have been the aggressors. The terrorists have mainly come from Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, North Africa, Iraq, etc.—that is, Arab nations. The philosophical or religious underpinnings for these attacks have their source in the virulent and violent anti-Western teachings of Wahhabism (spread from Saudi Arabia), militant pan-Arab socialism (cultivated by despots in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, etc.), and anti-Semitism (practiced hypocritically by a majority of Arabs, who are themselves Semitic peoples, descendants of Abraham).
Where have most of the attacks taken place? Although many of them have occurred in the Middle East, they have been predominantly against Western interests. Terror organizations have targeted Western people, planes, helicopters, ships, homes, shops, hotels, and embassies—anything Western seems to be fair game to them.
For example, the bombing in Beirut against a U.S. military installation in 1983 killed hundreds of Marines in their barracks, and jihadists attacked the U.S. mainland on September 11, 2001. The State of Israel, of course, has endured a heavy share of the militant Islamic violence since its founding in 1948. More recently, Britain, Australia, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, and other predominantly Israelite nations have also suffered terrorist atrocities. This in no way discounts the terrorism that has also struck non-Israelite but Western nations like Spain and Italy.
Putting Psalm 83 together with what we know about these nations' ancestries and with what we see on the evening news, these prophecies are coming to pass before our eyes!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
All About Edom (Part Two)
Libyans and Ethiopians, all the way down into Africa, do not escape, but somehow Moab, Edom, and the people of Ammon do.
Where were these ancient nations located? They are all part of the modern nation of Jordan. Edom occupied the southern part, Moab the northern part, and Ammon was in the central part. Today, Jordan's capital city is named Ammon—clearly showing the site's history. The Jordanians are the descendants of Lot's incestuous relationship with his two daughters after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. To this insignificant nation at the time of the end—somehow or another, by whatever means—God gives favor, and they escape the domination of the Beast power coming out of the north.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 2)
Find more Bible verses about Moab:
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