Numbers 23


‘Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” Balak did as Balaam said, and the two of them offered a bull and a ram on each altar. 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. God met with him, and Balaam said, “I have prepared seven altars, and on each altar I have offered a bull and a ram.” The LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.” So he went back to him and found him standing beside his offering, with all the Moabite officials. 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!” 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!” He answered, “Must I not speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?” Numbers 23:1-12

Balaam’s First Message

The first two messages come from the top of Pisgah.

After the encounter with the talking donkey and being told time and time again that he wasn’t to go to Moab, Numbers 22:21-41, Balaam now has seven altars made and he offers sacrifices on them. He is told that he could only bless Israel, not curse them.

Because Israel believed in the One true God, they would live among the nations who worshipped false gods and so, Israel would live apart because of their faith in God.

Notice Balaam prophesied that Jacob, that is Israel, would be like dust, in other words, they would grow into a mighty people just as God promised Abraham, Genesis 12:1-3 / Genesis 13:16 / Genesis 28:14.

Israel were a righteous nation, that is, a nation who lived right with God and because of this they didn’t deserve to be cursed. After hearing all of this, Balak realised that because Israel couldn’t be cursed, they would end up against him. Balaam then tells Balak that he could only speak what God put in his mouth.

Balaam’s Second Message

‘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.” 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. Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I meet with him over there.” The LORD met with Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.” So he went to him and found him standing beside his offering, with the Moabite officials. Balak asked him, “What did the LORD say?” 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 fulfil? I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it. “No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed 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 Jacob, no evil omens against 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.” Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!” Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the LORD says?” Numbers 23:13-26

Here again, seven altars are built and offerings were made but in a different location. The difference here, with this prophecy, is that God speaks directly to Balak. God tells him that He is not human, He is not a liar and He doesn’t change His mind.

In other words, He isn’t a false god, a god made after the imagination of men, like Chemosh, He can’t lie like Baraka wanted Him to, and He won’t change His mind as Barak wanted Him to.

God reminds Balak that He was with Israel and history has shown this to be true. Because of this, Israel were as strong and confident as a wild ox.

Notice the KJV uses the word, ‘unicorn’, Numbers 23:22 / Numbers 24:8, the word used in Hebrew is the word, ‘r’em’ which is used nine times in the Old Testament. The idea behind the word is either of one horn or a mighty horn. Some commentators suggest it refers to a rhinoceros, others suggest a wild ox or a strong goat.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following concerning divination.

‘More strictly ‘augury’ and ‘soothsayer’s token’, or the omen that was superstitiously observed. ‘Soothsayer’ is the term applied to Balaam in Joshua 13:22.’

God tells him that Israel only existed as a nation because of Him, not because of any man. Notice God says Israel would rise up like a lioness and like a lion, eat until the prey was consumed, Jeremiah 49:19.

In other words, there wasn’t any nation which existed that would be able to stand against them. If Balak chose to go against Israel, the nation of Moab would be eaten for breakfast.

We can almost hear the frustration coming from Balak’s words, he knows that Balaam can’t curse Israel and so he asks Balaam to say nothing at all. And so, once again Balaam reminds Balak that He can only say what the Lord puts into his mouth.

Balaam’s Third Message

‘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.” And Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, overlooking the wasteland. Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” Balak did as Balaam had said and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.’ Numbers 23:27-30

Once again, Balak takes Balaam to a different location, the first two messages came from the top of Pisgah, but the stage is now changed to the top of Peor.

Notice again there are another seven altars are made and seven sacrifices are made. It’s certainly coming across that Balak is becoming more and more desperate to do something about these Israelites.

In the next chapter, we read that Balak goes on to seek some kind of divine help in defeating the threat of Israel.

Go To Numbers 24