The Lord has told Balaam he may go on and see King Balak of Moab but that he will only be able to say the words the Lord puts in his mouth. Today the prophet and the king meet up at Moab's border.
"When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory." (Numbers 22:36) I expect it wasn't common for kings to go running out to meet persons they summoned. It would have been far more impressive and dignified if King Balak had waited at his own home or palace, perhaps in a throne room, until Balaam arrived and then had Balaam escorted into his presence by high officials. But Balak is so impatient to get on with the cursing and driving away of Israel that he can't wait any longer. As soon as he hears Balak is on the way he gets to the border to meet him in order to prevent any further delays. This is how much Balak despises Israel even though the Israelites bear him no ill will. The Israelites are merely camping nearby, minding their own business, as they continue their march toward the promised land. The only people they've fought on the way there are people who have attacked them without cause.
The first words out of Balak's mouth are words of rebuke that the prophet didn't get there sooner. Balak is offended that Balaam didn't rush right over the first time he was summoned and that he didn't get there faster when he did finally agree to come. "Balak said to Balaam, 'Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn't you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?'" (Numbers 22:37) I feel like he's saying, "Who do you think you are to deny the request of a great king? Did you think I couldn't reward you enough for your services? Did you doubt whether I could load you down with riches and honor? Are you not interested in such things? I know you are and that's why I'm insulted that you behaved as if I couldn't pay whatever price you might name."
Balaam doesn't provide an explanation for his refusal of the first summons and the delay that occurred while answering the second summons (the delay caused by his wrong attitude and the Lord having to deal with him in the roadway). His manner is rather casual and dismissive, considering he's dealing with a king, but perhaps that's because he knows that unless the Lord allows it he won't be able to say anything against Israel. "'Well, I have come to you now,' Balaam replied. 'But I can't say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.'" (Numbers 22:38) Balaam says, "Never mind why I didn't get here sooner. Let's let bygones be bygones. Besides, I'm not sure it would have mattered if I'd gotten here sooner and I'm not sure it matters that I'm here now. I may not be able to do what you want me to do. I'd like to curse Israel for you and be highly rewarded for my services, but unless the Lord allows it I cannot say anything against Israel."
It's clear Balaam wants to do what the king is asking him to do, for he tells him, "I can't say whatever I please." Does Balaam have anything against Israel personally? I doubt it. It's just that he desires fortune and fame more than he desires to do what's right. To him this is all a financial transaction and it wouldn't matter which group of people Balak wanted him to curse. If some other king offered him more than Balak is offering him, and if that king wanted him to curse Balak, then Balaam would probably curse Balak. I don't know what kind of man the prophet was in years past but at one time he must have been very close to the Lord. He must have cared very much about walking in the Lord's will and saying and doing what the Lord told him to say and do. But the love of money has taken up residence in his heart, leaving little room for the Lord. A desire to be known and honored by his fellow man has become more important to him than being known and honored by the Lord.
King Balak knows a greedy man when he sees one. He's not concerned by Balaam's statement that he can only say what the Lord tells him to say. Balak believes if the price is right Balaam will say anything. Speaking no more of business right now, Balak treats Balaam to a feast. These two men and the various officials with them party hardy during the night to celebrate what Balak thinks is going to happen on the following day. "Then Balaam went with Balak to Kiriath Huzoth. Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep, and gave some to Balaam and the officials who were with him. The next morning Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal, and from there he could see the outskirts of the Israelite camp." (Numbers 22:39-41)
Balaam, prophet of God, is eating and drinking at a pagan party. Balak takes him to what is known as a "high place" in the Bible---a place where an altar has been built in honor of a god. King Balak doesn't serve the God of Israel and this high place wasn't built in honor of God. It was built in honor of a false deity. Balak sacrifices cattle and sheep to one of his gods and Balaam doesn't refuse to attend this idolatrous ceremony or to eat food that was offered to idols.
No wonder King Balak thinks he has the prophet in his pocket! No wonder the king isn't concerned that Balaam might not say what he wants him to say against Israel. It's clear to him that the prophet has sold out, so I'm not at all surprised that Balak completely ignores what Balaam says about having to obey the Lord. Balaam has lost his ability to be an effective witness for the Lord. His testimony about the Lord means nothing to Balak. This is what happens when a believer lives like an unbeliever. This is why we have to be so careful where we go and what we do and what we say. If we look and talk and behave like unbelievers, our testimony loses its power. We can't lead anyone to the Lord if we're living like we don't know Him ourselves.