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Meaning and etymology of the name Balaam

Balaam Balaam

The Midianite Balaam of Pethor, son of Beor, is a prophet who is hired by Balak the king of Moab in order to curse Israel (Numbers 22:5). Balaam initially finds the endeavor not a good idea (Numbers 22:18) but he goes anyway and ends up starring in one of the most curious scenes in the Bible: that of the talking donkey (Numbers 22:21-35).

When he finally gets there, Balaam ends up blessing Israel in every possible way, predicting even the coming of the Messiah (Numbers 24:17). Still, Israel engages Midian is a bloody genocide, kills the five kings and Balaam as well (Numbers 31:8).

Later in the Bible Balaam became something of a byword. Peter speaks of "the way of Balaam, who loved the wages of unrighteousness" (2 Peter 2:15). John the Revelator speaks of "the teaching of Balaam," which involved putting a stumbling block before Israel (Revelation 2:14).

The meaning of the name Balaam is multifarious. One suggestion is a combination of the Hebrew words bal (bal), not, plus am ('im), people. Hence, 'not of the people,' or a foreigner. This interpretation is now no longer considered founded on possible etymology (says HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament ) but there is no law against being reminded of these words.

Another possibility is a combination of the words Bel, the name Bel, or baal, the name Baal, and am, which may be the name of a god Am (says BDB Theological Dictionary), or a Baal-specification (such as Baal-peor), or simply the word am ('am), kinsman (on the father's side), or am ('am), people, as used in names like Amram and Rehoboam, or am ('im), the preposition 'with,' such as found in the name Immanuel (With Us Is God).

Most commentators nowadays prefer a combination of the word am ('am), people, and the verb bala (bala'), swallow up or down (people their food, Isaiah 28:4, snakes their prey, Exodus 7:12, the earth rebels Numbers 16:30). This verb is often used to mean ruin and destruction (Lam 2:2). In Psalm 55:10 this verb is used to mean confuse, much like the verb balal (balal), confuse, mix, as used in Genesis 11:7.

Thus the name Balaam means Destroyer Of People (NOBS Study Bible Name List), Destruction Of The People (Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names), or Confuser Of The People (Jones). Jones also adds Swallowing Up The People.

Closely similar names are Bileam and Ibleam.

Other names that contain the word 'am are Amalek, Amasa, Ammi, Ammiel, Ammihud, Ammihur, Amminadab, Ammishaddai, Ammizabad, Ammon, Amram, Ben-ammi, Gomorrah, Immanuel, Ithream, Jashobeam, Jeroboam, Lo-Ammi, Rehoboam and Ummah.



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