“If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God… so stay the night, so I can discover what the Lord will say to me” Numbers 22:18-19


When Balaam was asked by Balak to curse the Israelites, his response dropped a heavy hint that he was persuadable — for the right price. That is why the rabbis suggested that the name Balaam, Bilam in Hebrew, is a contraction of belo am, meaning “without a people”, because he was a gun for hire, a sort of mystical mercenary.

Balaam was a genuine prophet, as great for the nations of the world as Moses was for the Israelites, yet there was a tragic flaw. He was born with powerful gifts, he worked hard to develop them until he reached the level of prophecy, but once he reached his objective, he stopped working and lost his way.

Instead of continuing to refine his moral character, Balaam let it be known that he was essentially a taxicab, like an unscrupulous barrister, or a retired politician available to advise corrupt foreign governments and dubious businesses. He lost control of his passions and allowed his love of money to control him. He even lost his wisdom, trying to curse a people even after God told him that his efforts would be in vain.

When we next meet Balaam, in the Book of Joshua, when he is captured and executed, he is no longer described as a prophet, but as a mere soothsayer. He had fallen from the great heights he had attained. 

Once he adopted the wrong values and succumbed to corrupt considerations, he could not maintain the achievements he had once accomplished.
All our successes rest ultimately on the ethics and principles that guide us. If they are lacking or fall away, ultimately our good fortune will as well, and for all our potential, our legacy will be as empty as Balaam’s.

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