Reprinted with permission from Who’s Who in the Hebrew Bible (The Jewish Publication Society).
Balaam, son of Beor, was a seer from Aram, internationally famous for the effectiveness of his blessings and curses. Balak, king of Moab, afraid of the invading Israelites who vastly outnumbered Moab, asked Balaam to come and curse the people of Israel. God told Balaam, in a vision, that he should not go with Balak’s emissaries; but after further urging from the messengers, God allowed him to go.
Balaam mounted his female donkey and left with the messengers. An angel, sent by the Lord, stood on the road with a drawn sword. The donkey saw the angel and swerved aside, refusing to continue, even when Balaam hit her with his stick. The donkey, granted by God the power to speak, complained to Balaam against his ill treatment.
Balaam’s eyes were then opened, and he saw the angel, who told him that he could proceed with the men, but he was allowed to say only what the angel told him to say.
Balak, the king of Moab, came out to meet Balaam and reproached him for his reluctance to come. Balaam answered that he could utter only the words that God put in his mouth.
The next day, Balak went up with Balaam to a high mountain from where they could see the camp of the people of Israel. Balaam ordered that seven altars be built, and a bull and a ram were sacrificed on each of them.
Then came the moment when Balak expected Balaam to curse Israel. To his great surprise, Balaam uttered blessings for Israel, instead of curses. The same thing happened two more times: once on the top of Pisgah and the other on the peak of Peor.
Balak, angry and disappointed, told Balaam to flee back to his own land. Balaam’s last words to Balak were a prophecy that Israel would one day triumph over Moab.
Balaam, instead of returning to his country, stayed in the region and joined the Midianites. He suggested that the way to defeat Israel was to encourage the Israelites to be immoral and promiscuous. He was killed in a battle in which the Israelites defeated the Midianites.