According to Num. xxii.-xxiv., Balak was king of Moab when the Israelites emerged from their wanderings in the wilderness to the conquest of the East Jordanic land. Alarmed by the victories and numbers of the invaders, he summoned the prophet Balaam, who lived on the banks of the Euphrates, to curse them, believing, like most of the ancients, in the potency of a curse to work evil upon those against whom it was pronounced. In his zeal Balak offered rich sacrifices in order to place the Deity under obligations to grant his heart's desire; but he met with disappointment, for the prophet, acting under the directions of
Balaam prophesied that his fellow-countryman Balak would one day be king. Balak was the son, not of a king, but of an unimportant prince, and was for some time a vassal of Sihon, king of the Amorites. When Sihon died, Balak became his successor, and, seeing the prophecy of Balaam fulfilled, he sent for the latter. Balak was himself a skilful sorcerer and knew that a great calamity was to befall Israel, but did not know how he could be instrumental in bringing it about, so he desired the assistance of Balaam. His fear of Israel was chiefly due to the fact that the Israelites were at peace with Ammon, while Moab, his own kingdom, suffered from their arrogance, though God had forbidden them to wage actual war against it. Balak knew human nature well, and, aware of Balaam's greed, promised him wealth and honor in return for his assistance. But, after the latter came, Balak showed himself a niggard.
"The pious," says the Midrash, "promise little, but do much; Abraham invited the angels to a bite of bread and entertained them royally. The godless promise much and do little, as is shown by the example of Balak" (Num. R. xx. 2, 3, 17; Tan., ed.Buber, Balak, 3-9, 15). His hatred of Israel was so great that he even gave his own daughter to seduce the Israelitish noblemen. She was the woman slain by Phinehas (Num. xxv. 15). Here "Zur" is only another name for "Balak" (Num. R. l.c. 7, 24; Sanh. 82a).
The narrative is drawn from the two old prophetic sources designated (J and E) of the Pentateuch. These in turn may have as their basis some historical incident. In any case the story is a very ancient testimony to the early opposition between the Moabites and the Israelites. The aim of the story is to show that the Hebrews were from the first especial objects of