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Archaeology confirms the existence of Balaam

Balaam confronted by Angel of God by Gustav Jager (1808-1871): Wikipedia

Angel of God confronts Balaam as he was on his journey to curse Israel by Gustav Jager (1808-1871): Wikipedia

Despite the best efforts by secularists to discredit the Bible, archaeology continues to confirm that it is in fact an accurate record of historical events that took place in ancient Israel.

Perhaps the most curious involves an archaeological dig that took place in 1967, when Dutch archaeologists discovered an ancient text on a wall in the Jordanian town Deir Alla confirming the existence of a seer called Balaam.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Balaam, a pagan seer, was hired by King Balak of Moab to curse Israel as the nation sat on the other side of the Jordan river preparing to make its first unsuccessful attempt to enter the Promised Land under Moses (Numbers 22 – 24).

However, when Balaam went to curse Israel, he instead blessed them saying he could only deliver the message he was given.

Though unwilling to curse Israel, Balaam eventually gave the Moabite king the necessary information to defeat Israel. He told Balak to send women to entice the Israeli men into sexual sin. They probably did it in connection with a pagan fertility feast where sex played a major role. After the Israeli men joined in, God judged Israel (Numbers 25:1-2).

The text written on wall plaster in Deir Alla was broken into 119 pieces. Though it is largely intact, there are a few missing pieces. But the text, destroyed in 800 BC, is very clear that it was about Balaam son of Beor, the exact name mentioned in the Bible (Numbers 24:3).

In fact, Balaam son of Beor is mentioned three times in the first four lines and is called a seer of the gods.  This text was not written by Jews but by Canaanites who independently confirmed Balaam’s existence.

Now the Biblical incident involving Balaam took place about 500 years earlier, around 1400 BC and the inscription supports the idea that Balaam lived much earlier. He obviously had a folk hero status which indicates why Balak was willing to pay Balaam money to curse Israel.

The Dutch archaeologists who found the text noted that bottom of the 50 lines of text were quite worn indicating that the inscription was very old before it was destroyed probably during an earthquake that hit the area during the reign of King Uzziah (Amos 1:1).

As well, the text refers to the Book of Balaam, indicating that the inscription was taken from a much older document that we no longer have.

The text written in Aramaic starts with:

“Warnings from the Book of Balaam the son of Beor. He was a seer of the gods.”

In fact, the phrase “Book of Balaam” was written in red ink for emphasis. The text goes on to mention several of Balaam’s curses suggesting he had a reputation for cursing people which confirms why the Moabite king hired Balaam.

But one of the curses has caught people’s attention because it was against the ‘shadday-gods’ leading some to speculate that this was in fact a reference to Jehovah, because Balaam used this same word twice when he described God’s blessing of Israel (Numbers 24: 4, 16).

The oracle of him who hears the words of God,
Who sees the vision of the Almighty [Shaddey, Shaddai],
Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered, (Numbers 24:4 NASV)

Aside from the story, Balaam is referred to three times in the New Testament. Peter, who refers to Balaam as a prophet (not a false prophet), condemns him for going after money (2 Peter 2:15-16) as does Jude (Jude 11). And in the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John refers to Balaam as having enticed people to engage in sexual sin and eating meat sacrificed to idols (Revelation 2:14).

But as we read the account in Numbers, we are told as Balaam stood to curse Israel that the “Spirit of the Lord” fell upon Balaam and he blessed Israel (Numbers 24:2). This would suggest that his three prophetic words of blessing were divinely inspired.

But one of the things Balaam said has puzzled Biblical scholars because it seems like he was predicting Christ’s coming:

“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near;
A star shall come forth from Jacob,
A scepter shall rise from Israel,
And shall crush through the forehead of Moab,
And [t]tear down all the sons of Sheth.
“Edom shall be a possession,
Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession,
While Israel performs valiantly.
19 “One from Jacob shall have dominion,
And will destroy the remnant from the city.”
(Numbers 24: 17-19 NASV)

Some have wondered if this is a reference to Christ, but nowhere in the New Testament do any of the writers tie this passage to a prophetic foretelling of Christ’s coming, as they did with other Old Testament verses.

Others have suggested it was actually a reference to King David (and perhaps indirectly Messianic), because King David subjugated the Edomites (2 Samuel 8:14) which is referenced in Balaam’s prophecy .

But the mention Israel possessing Edom is very similar to another word giving by the Prophet Amos that talks about the restoration of the Tabernacle of David and the prophet adds this line “That they may possess the remnant of Edom” (Amos 9: 11-12).

Amos is connecting the gentiles entering the Kingdom of God with the restoration of David’s tabernacle.

The early church believed this prophecy involving the Tabernacle of David and the gentiles was actually fulfilled when the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his family who were gentiles similar to what happened to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost.

At this point, the early church was made up of Jews, some of whom believed that gentiles needed to become Jews (get circumcised) before becoming Christians. The Apostles called a council in Jerusalem to discuss the gentile’s role in the early church and James quoted this passage in Amos to explain why they should accept gentiles into the Church as equals (Acts 15:13-21).


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