Copyright (C) 1997 by William Mistele. All rights reserved. Balaam, The Gentile Prophet Moses lead his people to encamp on the plains of Moab on the side of the Jordan by Jericho. But Balak, king of the Maobites, was not happy. Balak saw how the march of the Israelites resulted in victory after victory against whatever people or nations stood in their way. Shaken by fear, Balak sought to insure the survival of his people by gaining the assistance of Balaam, the son of Beor. Balaam's reputation as a prophet was already well-established. It was known to a number of kings that Balaam's powers were such that he could speak with God and gain God's counsel and assistance. And by virtue of this ability and Balaam's magical powers of profound trance, whatever nation Balaam blessed would be blessed and whatever nation he cursed would be cursed. And so elders and princes of Moab and of Midian came and offered treasures to Balaam speaking Balak's words by saying, "Curse for me the people of Israel that I may have a chance to defeat them and drive them from my land." And when Balaam heard these words, he told the elders and princes to wait one night while he spoke with God. That night Balaam spoke to God on behalf of Balek asking God to curse the Israelites. But God told Balaam not to curse the Israelites for they were blessed. And these words Balaam passed onto the messengers from Balak. When Balak received word of what had occurred, he thought to himself, "I shall increase the reward and make Balaam an offer he can not refuse." Then Balak sent princes of higher rank to beseech Balaam for his assistance against Israel saying Balak would give Balaam great honor and do whatever Balaam asked of him. Again Balaam spoke with God during the night. But God impressed upon Balaam the glorious destiny of Israel and showed him visions of what was to be. In the morning, Balaam said to the princes that even if Balak were to offer him a palace full of gold and silver this was one time he could not alter "the word of the Lord my God." When Balak received the bad news a second time, he thought: "I shall go myself and speak with Balaam. It is not only my will which is at issue here. It is the way of life of an entire people and our right to worship as we choose. And it is not just my own kingdom but the survival of his own people as well, the Midianites which Balaam must consider. Our life is tied to the land. Surely, the will of God will yield if Balaam himself argues on our behalf, for our cause is just and Balaam's power as a prophet is greater than any other prophet on earth." In the book of Numbers, it is said that Balaam risked his life to confer further with Balak. God had sent an angel to slay Balaam but Balaam was saved by the ass upon which he rode which perceived an angel with a sword standing in the center of the road. But after this encounter, God said Balaam could meet with Balak as long as the words Balaam spoke to the king concerning Israel were the words God gave him. Twice more Balak beseeched Balaam to speak on his behalf to God. Balak took Balaam up upon the hills, first a place of Baal and then the top of Peor. Each time seven altars were built and sacrifices made of rams and bullocks. And twice more God spoke to Balaam but the result was always the same. Balaam was unable to alter or influence God's will.. And Balaam, even in the immediate presence of King Balak, was forced to bless Israel, for this was the will of God. But Balaam liked the king. He liked associating with royalty. Regardless of God's blessing upon Israel, Balaam was sympathetic with the king's cause--a great deal was at stake. And the king was treating Balaam not just as a hireling prophet but as a member of the royal family. Balaam never felt so needed, so wanted by anyone before in his life. Balaam, who knew well the intricacies of fate which hold sway over the destiny of nations, told the king that what can not be done by speaking with God might be accomplish through another means. Balaam explained that God's tie to the Israelites depends on the Israelis abiding by God's laws and morality. Balaam said, "If we can undo those moral bonds, then God will turn against this people whom he now defends. "Let us see, therefore, if we can not temper and tame the Israelites fierce passion for war by the more gentle arts of love and the enticements of sensuality. Let us see if these Israeli warriors will not soften their hearts if the women of Moab go out to them and offer their bodies and their affection as a token gesture of peace. The limitation inherent in any faith and faith's greatest vulnerability is the need to be loved and accepted. Their faith will weaken and then God will no longer be bound to guard this people, Israel. But God forestalled the fulfillment of Balaam's plans and bid Moses one last command before the life of Moses was to end. God commanded Moses to see that the Midianites were destroyed completely. And this Moses did. And so it was that the kings of Moab and Midian and Balaam himself fell to Israelite swords. And the man Jews refer to as a gentile prophet came to an ignominious end. The Jews never forgave Balaam the role he played in striving against Israel. The Jews continued telling Balaam's story for many centuries. And after them the Christians, even during the time of Rome, were prone to refer to Balaam as a bad example, as an illustration of how not to do it, and as a testimony that prophecy is best left in the hands of God. But who was Balaam really? How had he acquired such powers of enchantment that, almost casually, he could speak to God and receive detailed and exact instructions and assistance? And why did Balaam err so badly in an area in which he was so professionally competent? Let us consider a few highlights from this secular prophet's life. Balaam had none of the advantages of the man who would become his main adversary in life, Moses. Balaam was not raised in the house of the pharaoh or a king. He was not initiated into any secret priesthood nor given any magical training as was Moses in Egypt. Balaam's life, in fact, did not fit the model of a hero's quest. In his professional life he had to start at the bottom. Poor and destitute in the beginning, Balaam did what he could to make ends meet. Quite by accident one day when he chanced to sit down next to a soldier under a palm tree on a road, the soldier mentioned to Balaam fate no doubt would take his life when he went into battle the next day. Balaam looked at the man and said, "Not so. You will live another nineteen years. Your life will prosper. You shall have vineyards and trees of dates, figs, and olives to tend. In the end, when you die, you will depart in peace." The soldier was about to laugh in scorn at Balaam, but he stopped himself when he looked into Balaam's eyes. He saw a kind man who meant well and spoke what was on his heart. But he also saw a dark abyss as if he were looking into the depths of the sky at night, but in this sky there were no stars that shined. The soldier, if he had been articulate enough to express it, would have said, "If you attempt to say the wrong thing in the presence of Balaam, your words have a way of dying before they leave your lips." Word of Balaam's prophecies concerning the future lead other soldiers to seek his blessings before they went into battle. Balaam blessed armor and weapons. He had the uncanny knack of being able to tell in advance who would come back alive and who would not from a battle about to begin. And the soldiers did not hold it against him that he was honest and told them when their chances were dim. They imagined Balaam to be a kind of holy man or free lance priest and they made offerings to him to pray for them when it was their time to cross over to the other side. All of this may sound very suspicious and even outrageous to take money for blessings. But generals have been engaging in this sort of thing for ages commanding and bribing priests to bless them though rarely if ever did they have someone like Balaam to assist them. After about four years of odd jobs involving divination, prophecizing the weather, blessing crops, occasionally healing someone suffering from mental illness, Balaam acquired enough financial support through various retainers that he was finally free to do what he wanted to do most. He was able to devote nearly his entire time simply to meditating on the beauty and the wonder of creation. But what drove Balaam's mind and heart? How had Balaam's perception developed over the years so that in the end he was free to speak with God Himself? Balaam, like only a very few others, came into the world with a sixth sense already fully developed: he could sense the inner life hidden within all things and, not only that, his curiosity was equally developed. Balaam prophesied the future of a new born child to a princess of Midian who was called Mirah. He told her that everywhere her child turned his face, he would find wealth and happiness, but later, according to decree of fate, his life would suddenly be cut off. She thanked him accepting his words and honoring his vision. And then, as she held his hand and gazed into his eyes, she asked him a question no one else in his entire life would ever ask again--no one else would ever presume such intimacy: "Balaam, from whence do your powers arise? What winds of spirit brush the waters of your heart with lips of inspiration or bid your soul drink such wine of vision that even the veils of the future are rent in two when you look upon their dark tapestry?" Balaam replied, "As long as I can remember, I had been asking myself these questions: What spirit, what hand, what mind, what soul envisioned and gave birth to the wonders of the universe? The tree from the seed--what soul is so passionate to have envisioned and engendered this process? The mountains from the sand--what mind has the endurance to withstand such silence and to exercise such power of command? The clouds from the sky-from whose breath do the winds arise? The sun, moon, and stars--what Joy is so great that celestial light leaves but a trace of its glorious face? And of mankind--all that drives and motivates, all dreams and visions, all desires and needs--what spirit could have created such a being? "And so to the tree, the mountain, the clouds, the sun, moon, and stars--I opened myself to them and became one with them until I could feel the very pulse and throb of the heartbeat that gave birth to their existence. And since becoming a man, I have made it my custom to pause four times a day to contemplate the divine majesty of God from which the four elements arise. "At dawn, I meditate upon the sky and winds from which wisdom and the enlightened mind arise. At noon, I consider how from fire and the sun arise the power of will that shapes and guides all destinies. In the evening, I embrace the spirit within water--nurturing and flowing, yielding and receiving, in water is hidden the secret of love that embraces the world. And late at night I reflect on matter, its shape, weight, and form and then with my mind I become the stone, the ruby, gold, silver, the hills, the desert, the mountains. "But in all my contemplations upon all that the five senses reveal, I have searched for the source to which all of nature and life testifies. And this source is named God who chooses to reveal Himself as the first light appearing from out of the unmanifest. "One morning before the sun arose, I had finished my meditations and was having tangerines and tea for breakfast. But then the air in my room grew thick as if pregnant with some great mystery about to be born. And then, though my eyes remained open, the room ceased to exist. I looked about myself and saw that I was in an immense space clear and yet also solid and glittering with different colors like an opal. Time and space dissolved. I could see the future and the past and any place on earth which I desired to gaze upon. "I remained in this trance for hours not moving or blinking my eyes. And then I entered a space in which there was only nothingness--no world, no stars or sky, no thing the five senses could perceive or the mind analyze. And there, as an abyss appearing in front of me, empty, dark, without beginning or end, and yet containing all of time and space, all of life, all destinies within it, God appeared to me and spoke as clearly to me as you speak to me now." The princess took her hand off Balaam's arm and said, "Balaam, your words frighten me. I am shaken. Your words are like acid dissolving my contentment. Your words are like a thief stealing from me my peace of mind. How can I ever seek happiness knowing such mystery hovers at the edges of all experience waiting to be discovered? "How can you survive entering a temple made not from stone which has no doors or windows, no altar, no images of God? Does the body know how to let go of its form and become more thin than wind, more pure than light? And how can your return to the land of the living after having such a vision in which all things dissolve?" Balaam replied, "By becoming strong. It is not so difficult as you may think. It is not impossible, though I must say it has taken me decades to accomplish. I have trained my mind to enter the heart of the mountain and put on its robes of silence and stillness. I have entered into minerals, gems, and stones. I have learned from iron its fierce patience and rugged endurance. I can see through the eyes of the lion and the hawk surrenders its will to mine when I gaze into its eyes. My concentration is like a diamond both sharp and yet empty enough to let light shine through it. My soul is like a prism in reverse--I gather the colors of the spectrum and blend them until they are transformed into white light--that is, into the source, the creative will from which they arise. "Do not be afraid of my words. God does not come to me uninvited and neither will He seek you out unless you call out to Him." As Mirah looked into Balaam's eyes and listened to his reply, she saw not a night sky where no stars shine. Rather, she saw in his eyes a longing for love which he knew not how to satisfy. She said, "Balaam, what you are saying is that hidden within sensuality and all that the senses experience is a secret path leading into the Divine Presence. All wonder and beauty, all that men desire, all that the diverse creatures of nature need, all of this speaks of the ecstasy from which the world has been formed. And yet I do not see this love shining from within your heart. Balaam, would you not also be a sacred chalice, an oasis here on earth, from which others may drink, be healed, and fulfill their path of life?" And Balaam replied, "Though I have a knack for wisdom and prophecy, a skill which few can match, love has not touched my life. I hear the birds sing. I see the trees blossom in spring. I taste the fruit the seasons produce and the beauty of the earth speaks to me continuously. But all that I have accomplished, all my searching, has been done in solitude. I no longer know how to find a mate. I can not even imagine what it would be like for another to be there and to share what is within my heart." Mirah remember Balaam's word and she left no longer afraid of the Divine Presence. Yet unlike Balaam, Mirah knew instinctively that the desire for love is greater than any quest for wisdom. But she did learn from Balaam that the five senses both conceal and reveal the Divine Presence--that in taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound a trace of His love may be found. And so when Mirah loved another she loved with all her heart. It was as if in loving another she could rend the veils of the world and look into the love hidden in God's heart. But of this faith and experience she never spoke a word to anyone until one day she had a son. And to him only did she convey the words Balaam had spoken and what those words had awoken within her heart. In another society, in another time, perhaps it would have occurred to Balaam that Mirah was a woman he could have loved. But Balaam had neither social standing nor the wealth and power necessary to court a woman such as Mirah. Still, this one conversation with Mirah was the closest thing to genuine intimacy, of sharing from heart to heart, Balaam would ever experience with a woman or with anyone. Mirah had listened to Balaam's every word and followed his every thought. But in the end she understood that he was beyond the reach of her love. And Balaam thought to himself that he was neither a tour guide nor a priest. Who he was and what was most important in his heart he would never be able to share with another. He had crossed beyond the boundaries of the world where even explorers are afraid to go and the treasures of spirit he had found were not the sort which brought happiness and joy to others' hearts. Still, there were several times when Balaam saw young lovers who loved each other like two people completely hypnotized and possessed by each other's spirits. And, since Balaam specialized in enchantments, he contemplated this passion and love as to what was its final end and in what way it spoke of the mystery of God. And when Balaam had exhausted his meditations he turned to God and asked this question, "Why has love not found me when no secret of nature or spirit is hidden from my eyes? What do women require? Wealth, honor, or power? What do I yet lack that a woman's devotion has not entered my life?" And God replied, "Let the love you would give and receive from another first flow as a river from yourself. I am the source of such a river." Balaam then asked God, "Would you have me love You as I wish a woman to love me that the circle might be complete--with devotion as deep as the sea and as pure as falling snow? How may I find this love of which you speak?" God replied, "Balaam, others I have had to inspire so they would seek me. I have sent angels to wrestle with their demons. I have set bushes on fire with flames which do not burn to capture their attention. I have divided entire seas that others may see signs and believe. But you have sought and found me on your own initiative. Now, if you would taste my mystery and feel my essence flow through your veins, Love me as the sky loves the stars Love without barriers or boundaries Offering light a shrine in which to shine Love me as eternity loves time The hours, the days, the seasons, the ages, the eons I am in every moment, every breath, every heartbeat, every caress Love me as the earth loves life The mountains, the trees, the lakes, the seas They nourish and provide They offer all beings a place to abide Love me as fire loves air As a lover inhaling Savors the fragrance of the Beloved The other's heart the fuel, the spark An all-consuming fire greater even than desire Love me as the lightningbolt strikes In the darkness of the night Be my voice Unite the heaven and the earth Speak with a tongue of power Which can ignite in others The desire to taste, to partake, to celebrate The beauty and wonder of the universe And the mystery of My Presence on earth. Balaam replied, How can two love each other Except they each have their own wells from which to drink? If your love touched me for even an instant There would be nothing left Neither dust nor breath If I tasted your bliss I would cease to exist No man on earth can endure nor offer the love you seek. From this moment on Balaam no longer sought to penetrate further into the Divine majesty or the mystery of God. And though Balaam felt the need for love like any other man, he was wary of taking a lover. He felt the magic hidden in love was more than he could bear. Balaam knew God was waiting for him and that God's heart is present wherever loved is shared And Balaam's desire for knowledge had never sought this end. Balaam knew that if he ever fell in love with a woman he would see reflected in her eyes as through a mirror the mystery of God, a beauty too terrifying to bear. Such are the professional hazards, the odd little anxieties and quirks, which are prone to lurk in the hearts of magicians and prophets. Now though Balaam could talk up a storm with soldiers and merchants too, because he preferred a hermit's existence, the years passed in quiet serenity. Occasionally, a king would seek him out to insure a military victory or safeguard the boundaries of a kingdom. But these were minor concerns really. They were no more than a casual diversion. In his own mind, Balaam did not see himself as altering anyone's destiny. It was just the nature of meditation--of seeing the world as it is. After a while you become sensitive enough to see into another person's heart and read how another's life turns upon the wheel of fate. It was the same with nations. If you can sense the mountains, the rivers, the forests, the crops, the people and kings minds and hearts of the princes, then it is not so difficult to step into the future, open your eyes, and look about at what is to transpire. The future is not so opaque that you can not sense the currents, the wind direction, and the fires of desire which determine fate. Altering a national destiny, for Balaam, was like looking at a garden and seeing what kind of seeds are present and the way they are planted. You need only pull a few weeds in the right places and then water and fertilize what you desire. Changing the future, when you know the influences which are active, is as simple as a prince at court, on his own initiative, whispering the right words at the right time into the right ears. But Balaam never changed on his own initiative what was growing by itself. He merely accentuated one outcome over another in accordance with the will of kings who sought to protect or bless their own kingdoms and do in their enemies. It was four years since Balaam had spoken with any king when Balak sent princes to him because Moses had lead the Israelites into Moab. Balaam, unlike Moses, was a solitary practitioner. He sought no more than to have his questions concerning life answered and to live out his days in peace. And so Balaam had not sought nor spoken to God during this time for he had no more questions of his own he wished answered. Moses, on the other hand, did not seek God's blessing occasionally at the request of another or to satisfy his own curiosity or to penetrate to the depths of his sense of wonder. Moses had joined himself to the line of those who would seek God's blessing upon an entire people not for one lifetime but for all ages of the world. Moses was not as shy as Balaam. If you had asked Moses directly he would have answered, "Yes, there are times when I awake at night and think that for a few moments I have seen through God's eyes and felt in my heart His dream for the world. And after such a vision my heart cries out from its depths, `Let me do thy will oh Lord.' Consequently, as you might imagine, the outcome was inevitable when these two prophets crossed swords. Though Balaam's powers of concentration were as great as any man for millennia, Moses, unlike Balaam, had entered into the abyss of God's heart. Moses had held nothing back--he had sailed upon that sea which has no shores. Though Moses still relied on dreams and entering into the wilderness to speak with God, the heart of Moses would inspire a people down through the millennia. Balaam, his visions, his prophecies, and his work on earth, would be nearly forgotten. And so it was that after consulting with Balak and then leaving the king unsatisfied, Balaam returned into Midian. It was then that one of the five kings of Midian, Reba, sent word to Balaam that he sought his counsel. When Balaam met with the king, Reba said, "Balaam, son of Beor, I have been disturbed by dreams of war and I fear my time on earth approaches its end. I will not seek of you as king Balak has to change the fate of my nation. The hand of God upon the helm of history is beyond my power to comprehend and I do not seek to alter the course which He does chart. "Since you prophesied to my mother, Mirah, the course of my life I have accepted my fate. My life has been lived according to your words. All that I have gazed upon has prospered. All that I have sought to do has been accomplished. I have been neither kind nor cruel, neither wise nor a fool. I have been busy, industrious, running a kingdom and satisfying myself with the fruits of my labor. "But now the scythe is laid to the wheat and my life is soon to be cut off. I regret nothing. Yet still, from time to time, at winter and summer solstice, I thought on the words you spoke to my mother about God. Balaam your wisdom is a well and through its waters flow God's will. And as my mother once did, I too would ask of you that you grant me a cup to drink of this water of life. "I pay well Balaam. I have two sons and if you fulfill my request this day I shall give you a third of my kingdom granting you equal inheritance and honor with my other children. Through you I would speak to God so that once and for all I might hear the words He would share with me. My whole life the world around me has captivated my attention. "But now I gaze within. I renounce sin. I renounce terror, darkness, and fear of the abyss. I renounce all philosophies, all doctrines, all religion, all priests, all magicians, all that would keep me from Him. Balaam, unloose the full power of your will, open the gates of heaven, and bid God answer this question: where may I find Him within my heart?" Balaam, responding to the king's request, entered into a trance with his eyes open though gazing into an unfathomable distance. Then purely though force of concentration and power of will he found his way once again into the Divine Presence. And God spoke to Reba as Balaam relayed each word as God spoke it. God said, "Reba, gaze upon Balaam who vexes my spirit and seeks to undo the work of my angels and prophets. Learn from his errors. He has not sought Me in love but as one who would master the notes and resonances within My Voice as a musician seeks to master the strings of a harp so he may play whatever songs he wishes. "Yet I force no one to seek me nor would I bind anyone against their will to My love. Balaam has used Me to gain wealth and prosperity for others and himself. And yet, even if I were to reveal My love in the form of a man so I obtained millions of followers, they shall seek to know My heart with less passion than has Balaam. "I am within you as the strength of fire--as a lover seeks out of passion to discover the secret desires and thoughts of the beloved's heart. I am within you as the salty tears of water--as the heart that will never be satisfied until it is one with another. I am within you as breath--in every inhalation and exhalation filling your emptiness and joining you to all life on earth. "And I am within your body--you will hear My Voice speak when you have learned to listen with the patience of the tree that silently sends its roots down into the earth and with the stillness of the mountain that gives not even ages of time a second thought. To enter My Presence is to embrace all ages of the world and all that I have created. This is why the eyes of my prophets see through the ages and their hearts dream dreams which, like seeds from the Tree of Life, shall reach fruition in the fullness of time. "If you would abide in Me, then nurture those in need and establish justice upon the earth. King Reba, it is good to hold in remembrance the words I have spoken. It is a blessing to keep my ordinances and commands. Yet it is better still, beyond all reckoning, to recreate the world through the power of a heart that loves. I am within every heart as both a seed and a boundless sea of love and light, power and might. My wisdom is as vast as eternity and yet everyone can find me--create within yourself the heart that loves and you will never depart from My Presence." Upon hearing these words which God had spoken through the mouth of Balaam, King Reba finally understood why the heart of his mother had been troubled all these years and why also she was more beautiful than any woman he had ever beheld. A spark from the Divine Presence illuminated her heart and now the king wondered if such fire would also burn within his own. And so ends the legend and the story of the Balaam--the gentile prophet whose will and wisdom was so great he found his own way into God's presence. But then he turned back unwilling to allow a greater love and a greater will to flow through him using his life as its conduit.