11 Behold [Hinei], there is a people come out of Egypt [Mitzrayim], which covereth the face of the earth [ha'aretz]: come now, curse [for] me them; peradventure [perhaps] I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out.
Balaam, like Nikolaitan, Antipas, etc., is a typical name. It is written, Bilaam in the Hebrew; from, bela am, signifying wasting of the people. A Nikolaitan is a vanquisher of the people; and a Balaam is a waster of the people; qualities uniting in the same class. It is also the name of an ancient prophet, who, in the days of Moses, resided at Pethor on the Euphrates, in Mesopotamia, among the mountains of the East. Though a believer in the true God, he practised divination for the discovery of enchantments, and was held in high esteem by the Baal-worshippers of his time; who declared their conviction, that "whom he blessed was blessed, and whom he cursed was cursed."
On a certain occasion, when the Israelites were encamped in the plains of Moab, on the east of Jordan by Jericho, Balak, the king of Moab, in concert with the Midianites, sent princes to Balaam, with the rewards of divination, to request him to come and curse them, that being devoted to destruction, he might prevail over them, and expel them from the country. But God said to him, "Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed." Upon this he refused to go, and the princes returned to Moab.
But Balak was importunate. He sent again by more princes, and of a higher rank, and with promises of great honour and riches, if he would comply with his request. But, though he loved the wages of unrighteousness, he was afraid to encounter the consequences of violating the interdict he had received. He concluded, however, to try the Lord again, and see if He would not relax in favour of his covetousness. At night he received the answer, that if the men came to call him, he might rise up and go with them; but he was to speak only the word revealed to him at the time. It seems, however, that he was so keen after the honours and rewards, that he did not wait to be called, but of his own accord rose up, and posted off with two servants.
Balaam was evidently a man of bad principles. No further account would be necessary to prove this. Yahweh had told him that the people were blessed, yet he sought to gratify a Baal-worshipper for a reward, in seeming to comply with his request. Had his heart been right, he would have accepted God's interdict as final, and have refused to consult, the Lord any more upon the subject. He would have dismissed the princes of Moab with an unqualified and emphatic denial, and have commanded them to appear no more in his presence with their bribes to sin. But no; he professed a zeal for the word of Yahweh his God, while he was anxious to please the worshippers of Baal for reward.
"If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of Yahweh my God, to do less or more;" but stay; don't go away; I will see what I can get Him to let me do. If he had been an honest and upright man, he would not have said "I cannot," but he would have declared, "I will not go beyond His word."
But he went with two servants, and therefore God's anger was kindled;
"and an angel of Yahweh stood in the way for a Satan against him,"
with a naked sword in his hand. When his eyes were opened to see the peril, he fell prostrate; and having received a severe reproof for the perverseness of his way, he was permitted to go with the princes.
28 And Yahweh opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these 3 times?
The power of speech
The theory generally entertained concerning "the old serpent" is, that "an Evil Genius under the semblance of a serpent styled the Devil, was the primary cause of man's fall, and that he used the serpent as his instrument. This theory is founded in incredulity, or unbelief of the Mosaic account.
A brute beast, they say, was incapable of reasoning the woman into the transgression of the law. They might as well say that the dumb ass upon which Balaam rode was incapable of speaking with man's voice and rebuking the madness of the prophet.
The one is as improbable as the other; yet improbable as the story of the ass, and incapable of speaking and rebuking madness, as by experience we know asses to be, the fact is attested by both Moses and Peter, and, therefore, rests upon as good evidence, and is as worthy of belief as any other fact in Scripture.
He that made the serpent and the ass-"very good" brutes of their kind, and not so irtuch inferior to man, their fellow brute, as is generally supposed-could also for any special occasion or emergency confer upon them the power of expressing their thoughts in human speech.
No reasonable being will deny the power of the Creator to do this. Whether he did so is a matter of evidence, and no evidence can be more plainly, pointedly, and intelligibly testified than that the serpent was a beast of the field, pre-eminently subtle, and capable of expressing his thoughts in man's speech rationally.
There is not a word said about any other "evil genius," devil or satan, than the serpent himself; and to bring in another in an interpretation is only to spoil the narrative, and to con- fess ignorance of its meaning, and inability to expound it as it stands.
No, the whole transaction is referable exclusively to the serpent and the woman. There was no third party behind the scenes styled "the great enemy of mankind". The greatest enemy of mankind is man, and moreto be feared than any devil or evil genius incredulity and ignorance of the word are able to invent. The serpent was an acute observer and an attentive listener; and all the inspiration he was the subject of consisted in the things he had seen and heard.