Balaam was an interesting Old Testament character. He was some type of diviner, perhaps soothsayer or sorcerer, whom King Balak of Moab hired to curse Israel before an upcoming battle.
During the several prophecies that Balaam delivered, there was one that many believe referred to the star that showed up announcing Christ’s birth.
Now obviously Balaam had a reputation as a seer, for Balak to be willing to purchase his services. And Balaam’s international fame was confirmed by Dutch archaeologists who found a text written about Balaam on a plastered wall dated to around 1200 BC in the ancient town of Deir Alla located in Jordan.
The text was actually written by the Canaanites and spoke Balaam, son of Beor three times in the first four lines, exactly as the Bible describes him (Numbers 22:5).
In this inscription, Balaam is referred to as a seer of the gods indicating he was well known and revered among the gentiles. The text also provides several of Balaam’s curses that suggests this was his specialty and apparently, these curses were taken from a book written by Balaam as the ancient inscription reads:
“Warnings from the Book of Balaam the son of Beor. He was a seer of the gods.”
There is one interesting detail about Balaam that helps us understand what happened when he was hired to curse Israel. The Bible says he was from Pethor, which is just a few miles away from Haran.
This is significant because we know that members of Abraham’s family had settled down in Haran (Genesis 27:43; 29:4-5) and when Isaac was searching for a wife for Jacob, he sent his servants to Haran to see if they could find one among relatives (Genesis 29:4-5). And from this we know that Laban, Jacob’s uncle, still believed in Jehovah, but by this time the family’s faith was mixed as they were also worshipping idols (Genesis 31:14-35).
But not only were the descendants of Abraham embracing idol worship, the influence was also going the other way as some of these gentiles, including Balaam, now had a knowledge of Jehovah.
When Balak sent servants to purchase Balaam’s cursing services, we see that God spoke to Balaam telling him not to curse Israel. In Numbers 22:8-10, God’s actual name, Jehovah, is used three times including once when God told Balaam not curse Israel. So Balaam not only knew who Jehovah was, but Balaam was also talking with Jehovah and because of this initially turned down Balak’s offer.
But when Balak increased the reward, Balaam caved and on his journey to curse Israel, he was confronted by an angel of the Lord who threatened Balaam’s life if he cursed Israel.
When Balaam offered to return home, the angel told him to continue on but warned Balaam that he could only speak the words that the angel provided:
35 The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials. (Numbers 22:35)
Through this process we are told that Jehovah put the words in Balaam’s mouth to bless Israel (Numbers 23:5). So at this point Balaam was functioning as a prophet of God.
Included in these prophecies was one that many believed spoke of Jesus the coming Jewish Messiah.
“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17 ESV)
In this word, Balaam was speaking of a future king and specifically likens Him to a star. And since there is no other prophecy that speaks of a star, some suggest if it was this prophecy that drew the magi to Jerusalem seeking Israel’s newborn king.
“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2 ESV)
Though some refer to them as wise men or kings, in fact, the Greek word is magos, translated magi, refers to astrologers found in the courts of Persian kings.
Wikipedia describes the magi class this way:
Magi (/ˈmeɪdʒaɪ/; singular magus/ˈmeɪɡəs/; from Latinmagus) were priests in Zoroastrianism and the earlier religions of the western Iranians. The earliest known use of the word magi is in the trilingual inscription written by Darius the Great, known as the Behistun Inscription. Old Persian texts, predating the Hellenistic period, refer to a magus as a Zurvanic, and presumably Zoroastrian, priest.
These magi had seen a star in the east telling of the arrival of a Jewish king. But where did they get the idea of a star heralding a Jewish king from? Did they pick it up from the Biblical texts?
Or did they pick it up from other sources, as archaeology shows us that Balaam was writing books and others were writing about him as well?
The fact, the magi knew of Micah 5: 2 & 4, that prophesied Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, it was probably the former, but it may have just been one of their sources:
“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]” (Matthew 2:5-6 NIV)
READ: Is there any evidence to prove the existence of the prophet, Balaam: Christian Answers AND The Biblical prophets: Archaeological evidence: Watch Jerusalem AND Deir Alla Inscription: Wikipedia