To Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people - Dr. Kennicott justly remarks, that "the description now given of Balaam's residence, instead of being particular, agrees with any place in any country where there is a river; for he lived by Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people. But was Pethor then near the Nile in Egypt? Or in Canaan, near Jordan? Or in Mesopotamia, near the Euphrates, and belonging to the Ammonites? This last was in fact the case; and therefore it is well that twelve Hebrew MSS. (with two of De Rossi's) confirm the Samaritan text here in reading, instead of עמו ammo, his people, עמון Ammon, with the Syriac and Vulgate versions." Houbigant properly contends for this reading; and necessity urges the propriety of adopting it. It should therefore stand thus: by the river of the land of the children of Ammon; and thus it agrees with Deuteronomy 23:4.
Balaam the son of Beor was from the first a worshipper in some sort of the true God; and had learned some elements of pure and true religion in his home in the far East, the cradle of the ancestors of Israel. But though prophesying, doubtless even before the ambassadors of Balak came to him, in the name of the true God, yet prophecy was still to him as before a mere business, not a religion. The summons of Balak proved to be a crisis in his career: and he failed under the trial. When the gold and honors of Balak seemed to be finally lost, he became reckless and desperate; and, as if in defiance, counseled the evil stratagem by which he hoped to compass indirectly that ruin of God‘s people which he had been withheld from working otherwise. He thus, like Judas and Ahithophel, set in motion a train of events which involved his own destruction.
The name Balaam signifies “destroyer,” or “glutton,” and is in part identical with “Bela, son of Beor,” the first king of Edom Genesis 36:32. The name “Beor” (“to burn up”) is that of the father, or possibly ancestor, of the prophet.
Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people - Rather, Pethor which was land. Pethor (Pitru, Assyrian) was on the river Sagura (modern: Sajur) near its junction with the Euphrates.
“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him.” DA 59.1
The wise men from the East were philosophers. They belonged to a large and influential class that included men of noble birth, and comprised much of the wealth and learning of their nation. Among these were many who imposed on the credulity of the people. Others were upright men who studied the indications of Providence in nature, and who were honored for their integrity and wisdom. Of this character were the wise men who came to Jesus. DA 59.2
The light of God is ever shining amid the darkness of heathenism. As these magi studied the starry heavens, and sought to fathom the mystery hidden in their bright paths, they beheld the glory of the Creator. Seeking clearer knowledge, they turned to the Hebrew Scriptures. In their own land were treasured prophetic writings that predicted the coming of a divine teacher. Balaam belonged to the magicians, though at one time a prophet of God; by the Holy Spirit he had foretold the prosperity of Israel and the appearing of the Messiah; and his prophecies had been handed down by tradition from century to century. But in the Old Testament the Saviour's advent was more clearly revealed. The magi learned with joy that His coming was near, and that the whole world was to be filled with a knowledge of the glory of the Lord. DA 59.3Read in context »
Returning to the Jordan from the conquest of Bashan, the Israelites, in preparation for the immediate invasion of Canaan, encamped beside the river, above its entrance into the Dead Sea, and just opposite the plain of Jericho. They were upon the very borders of Moab, and the Moabites were filled with terror at the close proximity of the invaders. PP 438.1
The people of Moab had not been molested by Israel, yet they had watched with troubled forebodings all that had taken place in the surrounding countries. The Amorites, before whom they had been forced to retreat, had been conquered by the Hebrews, and the territory which the Amorites had wrested from Moab was now in the possession of Israel. The hosts of Bashan had yielded before the mysterious power enshrouded in the cloudy pillar, and the giant strongholds were occupied by the Hebrews. The Moabites dared not risk an attack upon them; an appeal to arms was hopeless in face of the supernatural agencies that wrought in their behalf. But they determined, as Pharaoh had done, to enlist the power of sorcery to counteract the work of God. They would bring a curse upon Israel. PP 438.2
The people of Moab were closely connected with the Midianites, both by the ties of nationality and religion. And Balak, the king of Moab, aroused the fears of the kindred people, and secured their co-operation in his designs against Israel by the message, “Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field.” Balaam, an inhabitant of Mesopotamia, was reported to possess supernatural powers, and his fame had reached to the land of Moab. It was determined to call him to their aid. Accordingly, messengers of “the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian,” were sent to secure his divinations and enchantments against Israel. PP 438.3Read in context »
The Israelites moved forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab, on this side of Jordan, by Jericho. Balak, the king of the Moabites, saw that the Israelites were a powerful people, and as they learned that they had destroyed the Amorites, and had taken possession of their land, they were exceedingly terrified. All Moab was in trouble. “And Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field. He sent messengers, therefore, unto Balaam, the son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt. Behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me. Come now, therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me; peradventure, I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land; for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.” 4aSG 43.1
Balaam had been a prophet of God, and a good man. But he apostatized, and gave himself up to covetousness, so that he loved the wages of unrighteousness. At the time Balak sent messengers for him, he was double-minded, pursuing a course to gain and retain the favor and honor of the enemies of the Lord, for the sake of rewards he received from them. At the same time he was professing to be a prophet of God. Idolatrous nations believed that curses might be uttered which would affect individuals, and even whole nations. As the messengers related their message to Balaam, he very well knew what answer to give them. But he asked them to tarry that night, and he would bring them word as the Lord should speak unto him. The presents in the hands of the men excited his covetous disposition. God came to Balaam in the night, through one of his angels, and inquired for him, What men are these with thee? And Balaam said unto God, Balak, the “son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me saying, Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which covereth the face of the earth. Come, now, curse me them, peradventure I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out. And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them. Thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.” The angel tells Balaam that the children of Israel are conducted under the banner of the God of Heaven, and no curse from man could retard their progress. In the morning he arose, and reluctantly told the men to return to Balak, for the Lord would not suffer him to go with them. Then Balak sent other princes, more of them in number, and more honorable, or occupying a more exalted position than the former messengers; and this time Balak's call was more urgent. “Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee [from] coming unto me, for I will promote thee unto very great honor, and I will do whatsoever thou sayest unto me. Come, therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people. And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more.” 4aSG 43.2Read in context »