NEXT morning after the feast king Balak of Moab sent his entertainers back to their homes. But he continued onward to the west with Balaam, Balaam's two servants and the Moabite officers and servants. The caravan journeyed on to a mountain overlooking the site where the hosts of Israel were camped. (Numbers 22:39-41.)
Balak Is Jealous
"There you see all those powerful people who have swept up from the south to swallow up our nations," Balak said to Balaam. "Camped there as they are, they appear peaceful. When they move, however, they seem to sweep up and devour everything in their path like locusts. They must be stopped. Otherwise every nation including mine, could fall before them." Balak knew that what he said was not true. God had forbade Israel to attack Moab. (Deuteronomy 2:5, 9, 19.) Balak was jealous of Israel. Balaam knew of this strange nation that had come out of Egypt, and he knew that the God of the Israelites was the only true God — the One he was afraid of. He realized that he had run into a very serious situation. If he were to ask God to curse Israel, he would be asking God to crush the nation the Creator had chosen for a very definite reason. Balaam didn't completely understand why God was with Israel, but before he went any further for Balak, he decided to try to get in touch with God. "Have your men build seven altars on this mountain," Balaam told Balak. "Have them bring seven oxen and seven rams to sacrifice as burnt offerings." King Balak was willing to do whatever Balaam asked. The altars were quickly set up and the sacrifices were made. While ceremonies were in progress, Balaam slipped away to a higher part of the mountain, hoping that he could get in touch with God. Because God was using Balaam for a purpose — and not because of the sacrifices Balaam had asked Balak to make — God spoke to Balaam from the rocks of the highest part of the mountain, instructing him just what to say to Balak when he returned. When Balaam finally arrived back at the site of the seven altars, Balak and the high officers of Moab stood by the sacrifices and anxiously awaited what he would have to say. They hoped that he would at last utter a curse on Israel. Balaam hesitated a little before saying anything, because he suddenly realized that what he was about to speak would startle the Moabites. (Numbers 23:1-6.)
"As all of you before me are aware," Balaam began, "I was summoned all the way from my home in Aram in the mountains of the East by king Balak. The king's wish has been that I call down the wrath of God on Israel, the nation that has recently come up out of Egypt to destroy the Amorites. If God's wrath would suddenly come on Israel for sin, then how much more would it fall on the nation of Moab? God is the God of Israel. It would be impossible for me to bring a curse by God on a nation that He has already blessed. It would be most foolish, in fact, for any one or any nation to try to go against any nation that God is not against and is protecting. "Even now we are able to look out and see these people God has chosen for some great purpose. Israel shall always stand out above other nations, and it shall be one whose numbers can be compared to the numbers of specks of dust in the ground. I trust that when I die, my death shall be as honorable as that of those people we see below who have been chosen for some high purpose!" (Verses 7-10.) Balak was surprised and irritated by the unexpected speech from Balaam. He had hoped for a curse, but Balaam's words, which God required him to speak, amounted to a magnificent blessing rather than a curse. Balak strode up to Balaam, planted his fists on his hips, and frowningly regarded the prophet. "Why have you spoken these good things about Israel instead of what I expected?" the king angrily asked. "I didn't bring you here for this sort of thing. How could you do the opposite of what I have counted on your doing — especially when you consider the rich rewards that could be yours?" (Verse 11.)
Balaam Speaks Dishonestly
"Don't I have to say what God told me to say?" Balaam asked. "What else could I do?" (Verse 12.) Balaam intended these words to soften the blow of God's prophecy and encourage Balak to keep trying to bribe Balaam with bigger sums of money. Balak was discouraged by this answer, but, as Balaam hoped, he didn't intend to give up. He reasoned that Balaam had been so awed by the vast spread of Israelites that he feared to utter a curse on them. The Moabite king quickly decided to take Balaam to another mountain from where only a part of Israel could be viewed. Balak was well aware of how the camping Israelites appeared from all directions, what with his spies having carefully watched them ever since they had come out of the south. Regardless of God's instructions that Balaam should speak only good things concerning Israel, the prophet went with Balak to a flat section of a high ridge known as Mt. Pisgah. (Verses 13-14.) "There you again see those intruders," Balak said to Balaam. "Why not implore your powerful God to punish them?" "I still must obey what God tells me to do," Balaam answered. "To approach Him again, we must once more build seven altars and offer a ram and a bullock on each altar. Then I'll seek another meeting with God to inquire if He will allow me to curse Israel." At a command from Balak, seven altars were set up on Mt. Pisgah, and a bullock and a ram were sacrificed on each of the altars. Meanwhile, Balaam again went into a remote section of the mountain to try to contact God. Once more he was successful, but only because God purposed to contact him. Even though Balaam was still greedy for Balak's reward, God was very patiently waiting to see if Balaam would finally repent and quit serving himself and the devil. Though he was afraid of God he did not repent. "Tell Balak what I am about to tell you," God said to Balaam, and Balaam, out of dread of punishment, memorized what God had to say. For the second time Balaam returned from a mountain visit with God to report to king Balak. "I have been in touch with God," Balaam called to Balak, "and He has told me more things to tell you." "What has God spoken?" Balak calmly asked, though anxiously hoping that either God or Balaam had undergone a change of mind. (Verses 15-17.)
More Inspired Prophecy
"He has said that you, Balak, should listen to Him," Balaam replied. "He has said that you should learn that He does not lie, as does a mortal man, and that He will surely carry out any purpose or promise He had made. God has blessed Israel, and I have been instructed to carry on according to that blessing. It would be impossible for me to change God's blessing into a curse. "You should know that God has not regarded the shortcomings of Jacob, the forefather of Israel, as something so evil that all of Jacob's descendants should be cursed into oblivion. God brought Israel out of Egypt, and gave that nation the strength of the giant wild bull. No prayer, no art, no craft nor enchantment from outsiders can affect Israel. In time to come people will marvel at how this nation was kept alive under God's protection. In fact, Israel shall become known as a strong young lion that doesn't rest until he has eaten well of his prey, and that prey will be nations that can be compared to gazelles, deer and other animals much weaker than the lion." (Verses 18-24.) Balak stared in shock at the prophet. Balaam was wearing the king's patience to an end. If he hadn't been so desperate for help against Israel, he would have ordered the prophet out of his presence. "If you won't curse the Israelites now," Balak muttered wearily, "then at least you can refrain from pronouncing a blessing on them!" "Didn't I tell you," Balaam replied, "that I would have to speak whatever God would tell me to say?" Balaam should have flatly refused to help Balak, but he didn't. He still hoped he could please Balak, without being punished by God. If Balaam hadn't been afraid of God's great power, he never would have spoken or acted in such a manner. But he still had a desire for the reward that Balak was willing to give him, if he could only influence God to change His mind. Balak refused to give up what he had set out to do through the prophet. Immediately he suggested that they go to Mt. Peor, which was a high point of the Abarim range. From there all of the camp of Israel could be seen. Balak hoped that there was a chance that Balaam might break down and pronounce a curse on Israel if he could be convinced that such a large and powerful nation might well move eastward and destroy Balaam's home town. Later, when the Moabite caravan and those with it viewed the Israelites from Mt. Peor, Balak was dismayed to hear Balaam ask for the third time that seven altars should be built for sacrificing animals. Balaam was fearfully aware that invisible angels were listening to all his words and watching everything he did. But he again thought he could influence God to let him curse Israel so he could obtain Balak's reward. Balak gave orders to carry out Balaam's wish. The Moabite king didn't want to do it, but he was still interested in getting Balaam to curse Israel. (Verses 25-30.) In spite of his hopes to earn favor and fortune from the Moabite king, Balaam realized it would be useless to continue hoping God might curse Israel for Balak. His recent contacts with God made it quite clear that it was impossible to tempt God to change His mind. For this reason, Balaam did not even go to seek another vision as he had previously done. As the prophet looked down from Mt. Peor on the Israelites camped in their orderly manner on the plains of Moab, he was suddenly required by God to speak another clear and vivid prophecy to Balak and those about him. Moabites, Midianites and even Balaam's two servants gathered around in curiosity as the prophet's voice rang out from the mountain top to tell them marvelous things they hadn't expected to hear. "I, Balaam, the son of Beor, have been given understanding by God in matters I am about to relate," Balaam declared. He then went on, to the growing discomfort of most of his audience, to speak of Israel and what would happen to that nation.
Israel's Future Unfolded
"How fine is the array of colorful tents and tabernacles of Israel on the plain below!" Balaam exclaimed. "They are spread out as watercourses from the mountains, as gardens by a river, as sandal trees and cedars of Lebanon growing naturally in rows beside the streams. "Israel shall have plenty of prosperity. His descendants shall be uncountable. His king shall have more power than any other king, and the kingdom of Israel shall become the strongest one in the world. God brought this nation out of Egypt and gave it the strength of the giant wild bull. This people will swallow up its enemies after breaking their bones and piercing them with deadly weapons! "Israel is like a great lion that people fear to bother. Those who bless Israel shall be blessed. Those who curse Israel shall be cursed!" (Numbers 24:1 -9.) This was exactly the opposite of what the king of Moab hoped to hear. He felt that Balaam had betrayed him, and he violently struck his hands together, an action in those times that indicated great anger. "I offered you handsome rewards to come here to curse my enemies!" Balak shouted as he strode up to Balaam. "Instead, you blessed them! Now take your servants and get out of here without the reward God has prevented you from receiving!" (Verses 10-11.) "Perhaps you have forgotten," Balaam calmly reminded the king, "that when your messengers first came to me I told them that a whole house full of gold from you would not cause me to do anything in this matter but what God allows me to do. Didn't I say then that I had to say exactly what God requires me to say?" (Verses 12-13.) Then God ordered Balaam to utter another astonishing prophecy: "Now, before I leave, I should tell you what God says Israel will do to your people in the future. An Israelite king will come into power who will strike your nation with such force that it will be smashed at once. Those Moabites who remain alive will be taken as servants of Israel!" The king of Moab sensed that Balaam spoke the truth, and his haughty expression quickly turned to one of uneasiness. "When — when is this supposed to happen?" Balak asked, forcing a tone of command into his voice. "You will not live to see that day," Balaam answered. "But it will happen as surely as the sun is in the sky. As for Edom and Seir, those countries shall also fall to Israel. Even the powerful Amalekites shall go down before Israel, and shall disappear forever as a nation. The Kenites shall also be taken captive, though they live in the rocky strongholds of the mountains. "The climax will bring frightening changes in many parts of the world. Nations from across the seas will attack and be attacked. There will be great trouble in time to come. Israel, the nation God has chosen for carrying on His purpose in the world, will end the most glorious nation!" There were only low murmurs from the Moabites and Midianites as Balaam and his two servants mounted their animals and rode away on the trail that led down Mt. Peor. (Verses 14-25.) Balak was sobered by what Balaam had said, but, lest those about him should notice his fear, he shrugged his shoulders and man aged a smirk of derision that would have faded quickly if he could have foreseen his nation being overcome by a future Israelite king by the name of David. (II Samuel 8:1-2.) Most of the prophecies made by Balaam were for Old Testament times. Some are yet to come true in these latter days because God always does what He promises to do! Balak returned to the city from which he ruled Moab, but Balaam never got back to his home town. He continued to lust after the reward he tad missed. He began to devise a plan he thought might get him a part of it. So he stopped in the land of Midian. Knowing that the Midianites as well as the Moabites wished to see Israel destroyed, Balaam sold to their leaders an evil scheme. His plan was to promote sin between Israelite men and the pagan women of Midian and Moab. He reasoned that this sin would bring down God's curse on all Israel. The Israelites continued to stay on the verdant plain that was partly shaded by many acacia trees. It was a pleasant, fruitful area in which to camp and the Israelites were in the midst of plenty. But an exceedingly unpleasant matter soon began to develop. Some of the men of Israel were attracted to some of the Moabite, Ammonite, and Midianite women. This situation swiftly grew into a mountainous problem. More and more Israelite men married these pagan women, something forbidden by God. Israel was not to intermarry with outsiders — especially those who were heathen. Besides, due to Balaam's teaching, many Moabite women and Israelite men were taking the physical privileges of married persons, although unmarried. This meant they were breaking the seventh and tenth commandments. (Revelation 2:14.) What was more, the Moabite women were leading their Israelite husbands and lovers into Sabbath-breaking and worshiping pagan gods. (Numbers 25:1-6.) These gods included Astarte or Ishtar, a deity giving her name to "Easter" eggs. This idolatry was later brought into so-called Christian churches, by the modern successors of Balaam, and came to be known as Easter. One sin led to another then just as it does today. God's fierce anger was aroused when He noticed these things continuing and growing. He was angry because so many Israelite men were mixing with Moabite and Midianite women. The men were allowing themselves to be drawn by these foreign women into taking part in worshiping pagan gods and into mixed marriages. Today, the same sins are being repeated. "Seek out and punish by death the individuals who have committed these sins before it spreads further," God told Moses. "If you don't, I will curse the whole nation of Israel!" (Numbers 25:1-4.) Balaam's wicked project was beginning to pay off for Midian and Moab. "This is the kind of sin that can destroy a whole nation if allowed to continue. Tell the heads of the twelve tribes to seize the lesser tribal leaders and the better-known men who have so heedlessly gone against My warnings not to mingle with strange nations," God told Moses. "The leading tribal chiefs must themselves stone the law-breakers and have them hung on poles for a whole day to show what can happen to those who follow evil leaders and ignore My rules! This matter, however, isn't going to end with merely a warning. I am going to bring a plague on all the other offenders," said the Eternal to Moses, "and unless this taking of foreign women stops at once, the plague will spread to all of Israel!" (Verses 4-5.) Instantly Moses acted. The order was carried out, and within only a few hours the corpses were hanging on poles erected close to the center of the Israelite camps. These gruesome reminders and Moses' stern rebuke shocked the people. There was much loud wailing and moaning, a habit acquired from the Egyptians. Most of the Israelites truly regretted what had happened, and from them there were genuine groans and weeping of shame and repentance. (Verse 6.)
Last Wilderness Plague
At the same time an amazingly dreadful thing began to happen to thousands of Israelite men who were guilty of being involved with Moabite and Midianite women and their pagan sacrifices. In all the camps offenders were abruptly overcome by terrible pains in their chests. They thudded to the ground as though they had been stoned with invisible stones. It was as though angels had stoned the offenders that the tribal chiefs of Israel had failed to stone. The victims were able to gasp only a few tormented breaths before dying. When news of this reached the mourners near the tabernacle, the groaning and shrieking reached higher peaks, and there was growing sorrow and shame in the homes of the men who were stricken, because everyone knew they died for their shameful conduct. Some of these men were sons of respectable parents and tribal leaders. Others were fathers whose wives and children had no idea — until their sudden deaths — that foreign women had drawn these men into trouble. All this heartache and grief came because Balak was jealous of Israel and because Balaam lusted so much after the wages promised by Balak that he taught the pagans how to lead rebellious Israelite men into sin. (II Peter 2:16; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14.) Even in the face of these abrupt and terrible developments there were those who were so scornful of God that they refused to put aside the women of these pagan nations.
A Rebel Prince
Such a one was Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Simeon. Even at the height of the time of mourning and repentance, Zimri came into the tabernacle area with a Midianite princess named Cozbi. The couple brazenly passed through the mourning Israelites and on to a private tent in the camp of Simeon. Zimri was plainly recognized by many, including Moses, who assumed that officers would quickly go to Zimri and find out from him the identity of the strange woman. Because of Zimri's high rank, however, officers who should have detained him allowed him and his Midianite princess to go their way without bothering them. (Numbers 25:6.) Phinehas, one of Aaron's grandsons, took particular notice of where Zimri and Cozbi went and noticed the officers' hesitancy in punishing them. Acting according to God's special order that offenders in this matter should be slain, Phinehas seized a spear that had been put down by an Israelite soldier, and followed the couple to the tent they had entered. Phinehas jerked the tent flap open, then hurled the spear with such force that it pierced the bodies of both Zimri and Cozbi. From that moment on no one else died of the mysterious lungcrushing plague that had come on Israel. Till that time, however, twenty-four thousand Israelite men lost their lives — twenty-three thousand in one day — including about a thousand who were stoned as examples to warn Israel of the heavy penalty of mixing with foreign nations. (Verses 7-9, 14-15.) God had this shameful and tragic episode recorded to teach us that we should not lust after dishonest money and should not marry or follow the practices of evil women, and that we should worship only God. (I Corinthians 10:6-11.) "Phinehas, by his loyal action, has proved that there are those who stand for justice," God told Moses. "Because of his zeal to punish offenders and atone for the sins of his people, others will now fear to disobey. Therefore, My wrath against Israel has been stopped. Furthermore, I extend to this man an agreement of peace. I assure him that I shall spare him from any Midianites who would try to avenge the Midianite princess, and that those after him shall remain in the priesthood forever!" (Numbers 25:10-13.) The next few days were ones of misery, shame and sorrow in Israel. At the same time, though most people weren't aware of it to the full extent, they had reason to rejoice and be thankful because of God's anger having been turned from them. This didn't mean that God was satisfied with the way matters turned out. He was well aware that the Midianites and Moabites — especially the Midianites — had plotted to use their women to wrongly influence men of Israel. He planned to punish Midian, but not until He had accomplished some other things. (Verses 16-18.) One of those things was the taking of a census. It had been over thirty-eight years since the people had been numbered. During that time there had been changes in the tribes. Now that Israel was obviously about to take over Canaan, it was necessary to know the number of people in every tribe so that the leaders would know the size of the army and so the land could be divided in a manner that would be fair to all. (Numbers 26:52-54.) Only the males from twenty years of age and up were numbered. The men of the tribe of Levi were counted separately and in a different way because they were not in the army and they had no inheritance as did the men of the other tribes. (Numbers 1:47-49; Numbers 2:33.) At the time of this second census, not one man remained to enter the Promised Land who was numbered in the first numbering, except Caleb and Joshua, who were faithful to God. (Numbers 14:29-30; Deuteronomy 1:34-35.) However, Moses, Eleazar and Ithamar (Aaron's sons) and some other Levites who were alive at the time of the-first census remained alive because the Levites were not condemned to die in the wilderness with the over 600,000 soldiers who complained when God told them to go in and occupy the Promised Land. The Levites had remained faithful to God even when all the rest of Israel worshipped the golden calf. (Exodus 32:25-29.) Because of their faithfulness, the Levites were given special blessings. (Deuteronomy 33:8-11.) This miracle of destroying the older generation of murmurers was one of the many great wonders and miracles by which God proved His power to Israel while they wandered forty years in the wilderness. (Acts 7:35-36.) But God had been faithful to the other half of His promise and had saved alive those who had been under twenty years of age when Israel murmured against Him. (Numbers 14:31; Numbers 26:11.) The Promised Land was now in sight as God finished wiping out the older generation of condemned rebels, leaving a new generation of men who were under sixty years old. When the figures of the second census had been totalled, they showed that some of the tribes had increased and some had decreased. Not including the Levites, who had increased by only a thousand, there were 1,820 less men (over twenty years of age) than the first census showed. If Israel had been obedient in the past, the census would have shown an increase of thousands and thousands in all the tribes. Besides, they would have been dwelling safely and in good health in Canaan.
Inheritance Law Explained
Right after the census was taken, five sisters brought a problem to Moses and Eleazar. They explained that because their father was dead and because they had no brothers, their father's inheritance and name would be lost if they were not permitted to inherit in the place of sons. (Numbers 27:1-5.) This was due to the fact that property that was passed on to following generations could be claimed only by those registered in the census. Those didn't include women. Moses and Eleazar realized that there could be many such cases among the millions of Israelites. They felt that the matter was important enough to bring to God, especially at this time when Canaan was obviously about to be divided up as an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. When Moses brought the cause before God, the Creator told him that the five daughters had done well in speaking out, and that His law concerning this situation should be made known to the people. "Let it be recorded," God informed Moses, "that if a man dies who has no sons, his property shall pass on to his daughters. If he has no daughters, what he owns shall go to his brothers. If he has no brothers, his estate shall go to his father's brothers. If his father has no brothers, his property shall go to those who are of the closest relationship." (Verses 6-11.) Shortly after this new law was established, God told Moses that he should climb to the top of one of the nearby Abarim mountains so that he could view the land the Israelites were to possess. "After you have seen Canaan from afar, your life shall end on that mountain," God said. "You are not to enter into the Promised Land because of your disobedient attitude in getting water out of the rock at Kadesh." (Verses 12-14.) This decree was no surprise to Moses, since God had refused his request to enter Canaan just after conquering Gilead and Bashan. (Deuteronomy 3:4, 10, 23-27.) Although Moses had expected this, it shocked him to learn that he would die so soon. He realized that God meant what He said, and that it would be futile to beg to have his life spared. What mattered most was how Moses would be replaced. When Moses finally spoke, that was foremost in his mind.
Joshua to Take Moses' Place
"Your will be done," Moses said. "But before I come to the end of my days, I should like to know that you have set a man in my place so that your people will not be as sheep without a shepherd." (Numbers 27:16-17.) By this request Moses didn't mean that he felt that God couldn't get along without him or someone to take his place. But Moses understood that God had always worked to a great extent through human beings. It was only natural that he would want to know through whom God would next lead Israel, and to have that man established in office. "Joshua shall succeed you," God told Moses. "Call the congregation together to witness the transferring of some of your honor on Joshua before Eleazar the priest. From the time that Joshua takes your place, he must consult Eleazar, who will come to me in the tabernacle. I have spoken to you directly, but this is the way in which Joshua shall receive instruction on how to lead Israel." (Verses 18-21.) Later, before Eleazar and a huge crowd of Israelites, Moses put his hands on Joshua's head and lifted his voice to God. "As a chosen servant of You, the God of Israel," Moses prayed, "I am willing to give up the power and honor of my office whenever I am taken from this life. I pray that even greater power and honor will go to Joshua, the man You have chosen to follow me. Thank You for giving me this wonderful opportunity to be of service. Now I ask your very special blessing on this man, that he would be inspired with the strength and character and wisdom to rightly lead your people. By your authority I now charge him with the responsibility of the office that has been mine." (Numbers 27:22-23; Deuteronomy 3:21-22, 28; Deuteronomy 31:14-15, 23.) Although Moses' office had in a sense been transferred to Joshua, full authority was not to go to Joshua as long as Moses lived. Moses was busy for some time afterward receiving instruction from God having to do with offerings, holy days and civil laws. All these things were recorded and passed on to the people to preserve for us today. (Numbers 28, 29, 30.) It was during these trying times that the first four books of the Bible were completed by Moses.