Balaam -- By: Henry M. Whitney

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 063:249 (Jan 1906)
Article: Balaam
Author: Henry M. Whitney


Balaam1

Henry M. Whitney

To the thoughtful reader no part of the Bible is more suggestive than the story of Balaam, the seer. Like a meteor, he comes from regions comparatively unknown; he passes before our eyes in a career at once strange, brief, and brilliant; and then he is gone. But he leaves upon our minds an impression that remains.

The Israelites had finished their forty years of wandering in the wilderness and had appeared upon the plains of Moab. The comparatively civilized Moabites and the wandering tribes of Midian were equally alarmed, fearing lest this multitude should “lick up all” that was about them “as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” Apparently without waiting to learn whether the spirit of the Israelites was friendly, they sent across the whole breadth of the Arabian desert to get the great seer Balaam to come and curse the newcomers before the issue of a battle should be risked.

1. In this we find already a suggestive fact: it is that both Balak and the Midianite sheiks recognized a higher power working among human affairs and had hope of getting its help.

Balaam lived far away, beyond the Euphrates, among the mountains, and yet twice the long journey was taken, by the most honorable ambassadors, with the utmost speed, with the

most lavish promises,—for what? For money? for arms? for troops? for a leader famous for his skill in war? Not at all. For a man to come and offer prayer! “I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.” It is true that Balak’s belief had in it much of superstition and error; it still was, after its fashion, a belief in the power of prayer.

Such has at least tended to be the universal feeling of mankind. It was evidently a custom of that day for kings and nations, before entering upon war, to devote their enemies to destruction. The Romans had public officers whose business it was to do this work. The battle that sealed the fate of idolatry in Hawaii was preceded by the sacrifice of two human beings to an idol of reputed power. Balak waited for the prayer of Balaam before risking the issues of battle.

It was only one manifestation of that religious belief or sentiment which in modern times finds expression in fast-days and public thanksgivings, and has often bowed a whole nation in united prayer. If God is only on the side of the heavier battalions, it is a discovery recently made and still greatly doubted. If philosophy is to take away our belief in a God who cares for men and is moved by what they say, it will rob us of one of the few possessions common to a...

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