OT Lesson 16 Study Notes: Numbers 22-24; 31:1-16

Who is Balaam?

All of a sudden a non-Israelite prophet appears. Who is he? Based on Numbers 23:7, Word Biblical Commentary: Numbers, page 263) suggests that he is a Syrian. Is he really a prophet? If no, why not? If yes, in what sense of the word? (Archaeologists have discovered an inscription mentioning Balaam in a probable temple complex in Transjordan. The inscription comes from the 8th or 7th century BC—Ashley, The Book of Numbers 437.)

New Testament writers took Balaam as a negative object lesson. Peter, speaking of those who left the church because of lust, refers to Balaam “preferring the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2: 15-16); Jude compares Balaam’s transgression to Cain’s (Jude 1:11); and the Lord, speaking to John on the Isle of Patmos, speaks of the doctrine of Balaam, who taught “the children of Israel to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication” (Rev. 2: 14). However, it is not clear from the text we have why they would do so (but as we will see, there is at least one hint).

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