Was Balaam a son of a b…? A supposal.

Balaam son of Beor first comes to our attention via Chapter 22 of the book of Numbers in the Old Testament. One of the last mentions of Balaam comes in 2 Peter 2:15, where he is given as an example of those false teachers and prophets who loved the wages of wickedness rather than the truth.

But there is a problem. In the Old Testament, Balaam is called the son of Beor. In 2 Peter he is called Balaam son of Bosor. Now your translation of the Bible might read ‘Beor’ in 2 Peter 2:15, but really very few ancient Greek texts have Beor. The vast majority of ancient texts read ‘Bosor’, and even the United Bible Society’s critical text favours ‘Bosor’ in Peter’s second letter over ‘Beor’.

Some people think this use of Bosor is a sign that the Bible writers made mistakes of fact, and conclude that the Bible is not 100% reliable here, or anywhere. I don’t think that is what is happening here.

My supposal is this. What if Balaam was not the son of someone called Beor. What if Balaam designations as the son of ‘x’ is in fact like the Old Testament practice of calling some people ‘sons of Belial’, meaning ‘perverted ones’ (e.g., Judges 19:22), or ‘sons of the prophets’ meaning students of the prophets (e.g., 2 Kings 6:1).

The Hebrew verb that is related to the word ‘Beor’ is Baar. This verb has the meaning of ‘causing harm or injury; to consume’. Balaam, you might recall, was called by the king of Moab to curse Israel. Balaam was known as the hit man: ‘for I know [said the king] that he whom you bless is blessed and he whom you curse is cursed’. Balaam was called in to do harm. In fact, you might say, he was the son of harm (beor) — it was what he did. Interestingly, the name ‘Balaam’ is thought to mean ‘destroyer of the people’, which might lend a little weight to my supposal.

So what about 2 Peter 2:15? Well, Bosor might have been his dad’s name — who knows. But it might be — just a supposal — that Bosor is related to the Hebrew word ‘basar’, which means ‘flesh’. The wicked one who was simply after what he could get here and now. So in Peter’s text, the feature of Balaam’s character is his fleshly attitudes. Peter mentioned ‘carousing’ and ‘adultery’ and beguiling unstable souls before introducing Balaam as an example of these sorts of prophets. Again, you might recall that Balaam was the one who advised sending some pretty Moabite women into the Israelite camp to entice the unstable men there (Numbers 31:16).

So, was Balaam the son of Beor (e.g., the natural child of a father called Beor)? Was he the natural son of Bosor? Was he, perhaps, simply being described according to the more pertinent aspect of his way of life that suited the purpose of particular texts — as one who harmed (beor) or as a fleshly man (bosor)?

I’m beginning to like the idea that his designation as ‘son of b….’ was a description of his work and character rather than an indication of his paternity. What do you think?

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The Psalms are not about me, two. Who is a hero?

A little while back I suggested that Psalm 3 was about the Lord’s anointed, who was King David, and that it is ultimately about the Lord Jesus Christ. I said that Psalm 3 is not about us, but is a comfort to us because of the one to whom the Psalm points.

Many years ago I heard a chorus that was meant for Christians to sing in worship. It went something like this:

I can run through a troop, leap over a wall (hallelujah, hallelujah) [x 2]

There is now no condemnation, Jesus is the rock of my salvation,

I can run through a troop, leap over a wall (hallelujah, hallelujah).

Many of the words of this chorus come from Psalm 18:29, which is from a Psalm by King David, who was celebrating the way God had saved him from all his enemies, and from Saul.

The implication of this chorus (but not of the Psalm) is that because Jesus has saved a Christian, the Christian somehow is able to run through a mob of soldiers, leap over city walls and bend a bow of bronze. In fact, the song (whether intentionally or not) is saying that the Christian becomes some sort of hero, or as the Bible referred to them, a mighty man.

This inference is just not correct. The song is the song of one mighty man, David, and about King David’s greater son, Jesus Christ.

Another verse of this chorus particularly indicates this. Somewhere it said something like ‘by my God I can bend a bow of bronze’ (compare Ps 18:34).

Bronze-bow-bending was indicative of mighty men, and extraordinary mighty men at that.

For example, in the Indian poem, The Ramayana (ca. 900 BC), Rama is a prince who wants to marry Sita, the daughter of a famous King, Janaka. In order to choose from among the many suitors, the father of the intended bride required the suitors to prove themselves worthy. They were to do this by bending the bronze bow of Shiva. (The bending of a bow was necessary in order to place a bow-string on it, and then to be able to draw the string back to shoot arrows). None of the suitors had succeeded until Rama came along. Rama “proudly strung the bow Of RUDRA which the kings had tried in vain. Drew the cord with force resistless till the weapon snapped in twain!” Rama was a bona fide mighty man. He was the only one of the suitors who could bend that bow of bronze.

Again, the story of Odysseus (ca. 900 BC) refers to the bow that he left at home while going off to besiege the city of Troy. While he was away, the local men at home thought that one them should marry Odysseus’ wife and claim his property too. Penelope said that she was waiting for her husband to return, but after twenty years it seemed that he was not coming back. Yet Penelope still stalled for time. She said that she would marry the man who could bend Odysseus’ bow. They all tried and failed; all except one. That one was Odysseus himself who had just returned in disguise.  “Odysseus, when he had taken it up and examined it all over, strung it as easily as a skilled bard strings a new peg of his lyre.” He then used that bow to slaughter all those men who had been harassing his wife for twenty years. Odysseus was a bona fide mighty man. He was the only one who could bend that bow of bronze.

So, when David (ca. 900 BC) refers to his bending of a bow of bronze, he was referring to himself as a mighty man, the Christ, the Lord’s anointed. It was something that he did.

And David is a ‘type’ or ‘picture’ of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is that great prince who stood up for his people (c/f Daniel 12:1) and defeated sin, death and Satan by his death on the cross and by his resurrection. Jesus Christ is the Mighty One, who alone could (metaphorically) bend-the-bow that was to be the means of our salvation. None other could do it. By his life and death and rising again, he has defeated his enemies and won his bride, the church of Christ.