The people of Israel set out and camped in the plains of Moab. (Numbers 22:1)
This made the King of Moab extremely nervous. A vast army was camped on the borders of his territory. But he had nothing to worry about, because God had specifically said to Moses: “Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle…” (Deut. 2:9).
It’s not surprising to find Balak, the king of Moab, in a state of panic. Israel had just defeated two great kings, Sihon and Og (see Num. 21), so it was obvious that the blessing of God was on these people. But suppose that were to change… What if God changed sides? What if, instead of blessing them, their God was to curse them? How could God be turned against his people?
That’s when Balak sent for Balaam, who lived in a remote backwater four hundred miles away. Balaam was not part of the community of Israel, but he had come to know the living God. When Balaam talks about the LORD (22:8), ‘Lord’ is printed in all capital letters (the Hebrew word is ‘Yahweh’), the special name by which God had made himself known to his people.
We don’t know how Balaam came to know the Lord, but he lived near Haran where Abraham grew up. It’s possible that Balaam’s ancestors had learned about the living God from Abraham, and had passed it onto their children. Now, 600 years later, Balaam also knew the living God.
If that’s true, Balaam would have known that God had promised Abraham to bless these people: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse…” (Gen. 12:3).
What do you think it would take for God to go against his promise?