Then God came to Ba′laam by night and said to him: “If these men have come to summon you, go along with them. But you may speak only the words that I tell you to say.” – Numbers 22:20
Why did Jehovah send Balaam away to curse the Israelites ? The account in Numbers 22:20 seems to indicate that Jehovah was the one to Balaam away to curse the Israelites only to get angry with his prophet later . Balak king of Moab sent messengers to the prophet Balaam in the land now Iraq. The messengers brought payments to the prophet to hire him to curse Israel. Balaam wanted the rewards, but he had some relations with Jehovah the God of Israel and he wanted Jehovah’s permission to go curse Israel. However, Jehovah told the prophet: “You must not go with them. You must not curse the people, for they are blessed.” So Balaam refused to return with the older men from Moab and Midian. Balak sent more men to Balaam with an entreaty to the prophet to come curse Israel and gain great honor and riches. This time Jehovah said to Balaam: “Get up, go with them. But only the word that I shall speak to you is what you may speak.” Yet immediately after this the record states: “And the anger of God began to blaze because he was going.” Jehovah’s angel blocked the way and the ass on which Balaam rode halted and finally spoke miraculously, and then Balaam saw the angel also. Frightened and ready to turn back, Balaam said: “Let me go my way back.” But Jehovah’s angel said: “Go with the men, and nothing but the word that I shall speak to you is what you may speak.” So Balaam continued on, and when he joined Balak he blessed Israel instead of cursing it.—Num. 22:12, 20, 22, 34, 35, NW.
Balaam was asked to come to curse Israel, so first Jehovah told him not to go because Israel was blessed. But Balaam wanted to go curse the people to get the reward, and he raised the question again. This time Jehovah said he could go, but with the limitation that he speak only what Jehovah told him to. But if Balaam did not curse the people he would get no reward, and when he set out on the journey it was with the reward in mind, with the thought that he might evade the divine restriction in some way and curse Israel and gain honor and riches. Jehovah could discern this and his anger blazed when Balaam went in this spirit of greed and shiftiness. Jehovah shocked Balaam to his senses by making the ass speak and disclosing his angel to Balaam, an angel with a drawn sword ready to execute the prophet if he tampered with the message, if he tried to alter it to please Balak and get the reward. This demonstration knocked from Balaam’s mind his intent to curse Israel and fear sobered him to pronounce the blessing. The curse he had in mind was changed to a blessing; thus Jehovah “changed the malediction into a blessing.”—Deut. 23:5, NW.
Proof that Balaam went with the reward in mind, hence with a curse in mind since that was the only way he could collect the reward, is shown by Peter’s words concerning covetous ones: “They have turned aside and followed the path of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the reward of wrongdoing, but got a reproof for his own violation of what was right. A voiceless beast of burden, making utterance with the voice of a man, hindered the prophet’s mad course.” This proves that getting the reward by wrongly cursing Israel was in his mind and was dislodged only by the miraculous speaking of the ass and the threat of the angel. Again showing Balaam still had the reward for erroneously cursing Israel in mind, Jude said similar greedy ones “have rushed into the erroneous course of Balaam for reward.”—2 Pet. 2:15, 16; Jude 11, NW.
But even after all this exhortation and demonstration from Jehovah, Balaam’s perversity and his determination to do injury to Israel in accord with Balak’s wish persisted. After his intended cursing was turned into a blessing, he advised Balak how Israel could be stumbled and felled and bring upon themselves a curse from Jehovah. Before he left he apparently told Balak to seduce them with the daughters of Moab and Midian and involve them in Baal worship. The next event recorded after Balaam’s departure is Israel’s immorality with these women and its practice of Baal worship, which brought upon Israel Jehovah’s wrath and resulted in the death of thousands of guilty ones. (Num. 25:1-9) Showing that Balaam was behind it, Moses said when some Midianite women were preserved alive: “Look! they are the ones who, by Balaam’s word, served to induce the sons of Israel to commit unfaithfulness toward Jehovah over the affair of Peor, so that the scourge came upon the assembly of Jehovah.” When the Israelites took these women captive “they killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword.” Further proof that Balaam put Balak up to causing Israel to stumble are these words addressed to “the angel of the congregation in Pergamum”: “You have there those holding fast the teaching of Balaam, who went to teaching Balak to put a stumblingblock before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication.”—Num. 31:16, 8; Rev. 2:12, 14, NW.
From the foregoing it is apparent that when Jehovah told Balaam he could go to bless Israel the prophet went with the intention of cursing Israel, and for that reason Jehovah’s anger blazed against him.
Praise ye Jehovah. Blessed is the man that feareth Jehovah, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. Wealth and riches are in his house; and his righteousness endureth for ever. He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in Jehovah. The wicked shall see it, and be grieved; he shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away: the desire of the wicked shall perish.—Ps. 112:1, 3, 7, 10, AS.