Balm’s First Message
23 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 2 Balak did as Balaam said, and the two of them offered a bull and a ram on each altar.
3 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I go aside. Perhaps the Lord will come to meet with me. Whatever he reveals to me I will tell you.” Then he went off to a barren height.
4 God met with him, and Balaam said, “I have prepared seven altars, and on each altar I have offered a bull and a ram.”
5 The Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”
6 So he went back to him and found him standing beside his offering, with all the Moabite officials.
The use of seven altars and the offering of a bull and a ram on each was part of Balaam’s pagan ritual. After which God gave him a true message to speak. The expression ’the Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth’ is the same language used by true prophets. God used this pagan to bless His people. We might be surprised that God spoke to and through someone as obviously wicked as Balaam. But this shows us that spiritual giftedness does not equal spiritual maturity or holiness of life. After all God spoke through a donkey in the previous chapter. When Balaam returned, Balak and all the princes of Moab were ready. They were ready to learn what their money bought them.
7 Then Balaam spoke his message:
“Balak brought me from Aram,
the king of Moab from the eastern mountains.
‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me;
come, denounce Israel.’
How can I curse
those whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce
those whom the Lord has not denounced?
From the rocky peaks I see them,
from the heights I view them.
I see a people who live apart
and do not consider themselves one of the nations.
Who can count the dust of Jacob
or number even a fourth of Israel?
Let me die the death of the righteous,
and may my final end be like theirs!”
The first word (oracle or proverb; in this case, prophetic speeches) set the pace for those that would follow. There were seven in all. In this first message Balaam described the purpose for which he was called, to curse Israel. God knew exactly what Balak wanted. He wanted a spiritual curse on Israel so that they could be defeated in battle. However, Balaam was unable to curse Israel, God would not allow it. Therefore Balak’s money was wasted.
From Bamoth Baal (or Baal) he saw Israel from a distance and saw that they were a people distinct from all other nations, set apart. Who can count the dust of Jacob suggests an attempt at ascertaining Israel’s numbers by divination. The numbers were vast and he had no idea as to the amount. Through Balaam God promised to bless Israel by making them a singular nation and blessing them with great size. May my final end be like theirs! is a reference to Balaam’s destiny. He ended this prophesy with this longing.
11 Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!”
12 He answered, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”
The response of Balak was great frustration. The king of Moab was understandably disturbed. He paid good money for a particular outcome, and the opposite happened. He had brought Balaam to curse Israel but Balaam had blessed them abundantly.
Must I not take heed to speak what the LORD has put in my mouth?We remember from the last chapter that Balaam knew the Lord God. At the start Balaam told Balak that whatever God revealed to him he would bring back to Balak. We see Balaam’s response to Balak’s frustration. Wanting to please his employer he attempts to explain the message he returned with with a reminder that he could only say what God told him to.
Balaam’s Second Message
13 Then Balak said to him, “Come with me to another place where you can see them; you will not see them all but only the outskirts of their camp. And from there, curse them for me.” 14 So he took him to the field of Zophim on the top of Pisgah, and there he built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.
15 Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I meet with him over there.”
16 The Lord met with Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”
17 So he went to him and found him standing beside his offering, with the Moabite officials. Balak asked him, “What did the Lord say?”
Here we find Balak foolishly thinking that going to another place would change God’s mind and allow a curse to be placed on His people. He took him to Zophim on the top of Pisgah and again built seven altars and offered a bull and ram on each. The Lord met with Balaam and put a word in his mouth and sent him back to Balak with His word. Again Balaam’s words came directly from the only living God.
18 Then he spoke his message:
“Arise, Balak, and listen;
hear me, son of Zippor.
God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?
I have received a command to bless;
he has blessed, and I cannot change it.
“No misfortune is seen in Jacob,
no misery observed[a] in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them;
the shout of the King is among them.
God brought them out of Egypt;
they have the strength of a wild ox.
There is no divination against[b] Jacob,
no evil omens against[c] Israel.
It will now be said of Jacob
and of Israel, ‘See what God has done!’
The people rise like a lioness;
they rouse themselves like a lion
that does not rest till it devours its prey
and drinks the blood of its victims.”
The second prophecy was directed to Balak who was an unwilling listener. Balaam told Balak of the wondrous truth about the God of Israel: He is unable to change and He cannot lie. In this message, God rebuked Balak, and taught him about the Divine nature, that He is not a man, that He does not lie or change His mind, that He always performs His word, and that He has all strength. God also taught Balak about the people of God, Israel. He taught them that they were blessed, that they were walking in purity, that God was with Israel, had brought them out of Egypt, had protected them against all sorcery and divination, and that He would see them through to victory. Because God had blessed Israel Balaam was powerless to change the blessing to a curse. There was simply no means of sorcery or divination that Balaam could use to destroy their blessing. We in Christ can be encouraged by these words today. God cannot lie not can he renege on His promises for His people.
The phrase wild ox (Numbers 23:22 and 24:8) is translated “unicorn” in the KJV. The Hebrew word here (reem) occurs nine times in the Old Testament. The idea behind the Hebrew word is either of one horn or a mighty horn. Some think it refers to a rhinoceros, others to a wild ox, or a strong goat. It is not out of the question that a unicorn may be in mind.
25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!” 26 Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?”
Balaam’s Third Message
27 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Come, let me take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God to let you curse them for me from there.” 28 And Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, overlooking the wasteland.
Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all. Balak is basically saying ”be quiet, I will pay you. Just don’t bless them! ” But continued to think all that was needed to get Israel cursed was a better location.
29 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 30 Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.
They moved to the top of Peor, overlooking the wasteland. Balaam again instructed that seven altars be built and seven bulls and rams be prepared for sacrifice. Balak followed the instructions hoping for a different outcome. Which we will find in the next chapter.
- Numbers 23:21 Or He has not looked on Jacob’s offenses / or on the wrongs found
- Numbers 23:23 Or in
- Numbers 23:23 Or in