Numbers Chapter 23: Three times Balaam attempts to Curse Israel, Three times he Blesses

Mar 1st, 2010 | By | Category: Numbers, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Numbers Chapter 23: Three times Balaam attempts to Curse Israel, Three times he Blesses

Num. 23:1 And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams.

Num. 23:2 And Balak did as Balaam had spoken; and Balak and Balaam offered on every altar a bullock and a ram.

Num. 23:3 And Balaam said unto Balak, Stand by thy burnt offering, and I will go: peradventure the LORD will come to meet me: and whatsoever he showeth me I will tell thee. And he went to an high place.

After the offering of seven oxen and seven rams on seven altars, Balaam separated himself, going to a high place. The practice of offering a bullock and a ram had existed for some time.

The sacrifice started as just a ram, then became a bullock and a ram. Under Moses’ jurisdiction, much detailed information was furnished as to what animals to offer and under what circumstance.

Num. 23:4 And God met Balaam: and he said unto him, I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered upon every altar a bullock and a ram.

Num. 23:5 And the LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, Return unto Balak, and thus thou shalt speak.

Num. 23:6 And he returned unto him, and, lo, he stood by his burnt sacrifice, he, and all the princes of Moab.

Being a prophet, Balaam acted as an intermediary and a priest and returned to King Balak, the civil authority. He went and stood by the burnt sacrifice (or offering), which was particularly the ram of the seventh altar. Now he would speak the words God put in his mouth.

Num. 23:7 And he took up his parable, and said, Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel.

Aram was in Mesopotamia, a very large area between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. In fact, “Mesopotamia” means “land between the two rivers.” Thus Balaam came from the general area of Abraham, but the exact location cannot be pinpointed.

Num. 23:8 How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the LORD hath not defied?

Num. 23:9 For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.

Part of the prophecy was that Israel would be a peculiar people; that is, they would retain their identity and not become assimilated into the cultures and religions of other nations wherein they would be scattered in the future. If anything, their national characteristics and integrity have eroded more in the last 50 years than in the previous thousands of years.

Num. 23:10 Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!

Num. 23:11 And Balak said unto Balaam, What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether.

Num. 23:12 And he answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak that which the LORD hath put in my mouth?

The prophecy continued, saying that Israel would be favored to become like the “dust of Jacob.” Then Balaam added the thought “I wish that my own personal destiny were like that of the Israelites, whom I am supposed to curse.” In other words, “May my end be blessed like Israel’s end.” (Of course Balaam’s end will be otherwise.)

Comment: Even the fourth part of Israel was too numerous to count. In their encampment around the Tabernacle, the nation was divided into four parts, and each part was immense.

Comment: Instead of “the fourth part,” a Revised Standard footnote suggests “the dust clouds.” “Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number the dust clouds of Israel?”

Reply: Genesis 22:17 says that the Israelites will be like the sand of the sea. Both texts indicate a great number through hyperbole.

Num. 23:13 And Balak said unto him, Come, I pray thee, with me unto another place, from whence thou mayest see them: thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all: and curse me them from thence.

Num. 23:14 And he brought him into the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.

Num. 23:15 And he said unto Balak, Stand here by thy burnt offering, while I meet the LORD yonder.

Balak was trying to think of some ingenious way to manipulate Balaam into pronouncing a curse against Israel that would be favorable to himself. He reasoned that taking Balaam to the previous vantage point where all the Israelites could be seen was perhaps too condemnatory, that maybe God did not answer the prayer because they would all be destroyed. Now Balak indicated that he would be satisfied if just a significant portion of the Israelites were decimated.

Therefore, Balak took Balaam to another location from which not quite as many of the Israelite host could be seen.

Num. 23:16 And the LORD met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, Go again unto Balak, and say thus.

Num. 23:17 And when he came to him, behold, he stood by his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him. And Balak said unto him, What hath the LORD spoken?

Num. 23:18 And he took up his parable, and said, Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor:

Num. 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

Balak was being rebuked (1) for reasoning that God could be persuaded through human strategy and (2) for not realizing that the Israelites could not be cursed no matter what strategy was used.

Num. 23:20 Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed: and I cannot reverse it.

Num. 23:21 He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel; the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.

Num. 23:22 God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.

“He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.” How could such a statement be made when the Israelites had murmured repeatedly about wanting to return to Egypt? The statement is true if we consider that the faultfinders kept perishing in a weeding-out process, and that another weeding out would yet take place, so that only the younger generation would enter the land (Joshua and Caleb being the exceptions). God, through Balaam, was speaking of the Israelites then living; He would not curse them because He had purposed to bring them into the Land of Promise. Furthermore, no one from the outside should interfere in the Lord’s business.

The “LORD … is with him [Jacob], and the shout of a king [the Messiah] is among them [the Israelites].” Earth’s future King would come from the progeny of this people. Therefore, to destroy them would defeat God’s very purpose of raising up Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Comment: The translators did not realize this was a prophecy of Jesus, for they did not capitalize the word “king.”

Reply: The translators did not realize that sometimes God prophesies outside of the normal field, and sometimes He prophesies through a woman instead of a man. The exceptions should be noted, and Balaam is a notable exception.

Israel has the “strength of an unicorn.” The “unicorn” is probably the wild ox or the rhinoceros, the latter being likened to a Sherman tank. A very temperamental animal, a rhino can easily knock over a Jeep™ on a safari.

Num. 23:23 Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!

Comment: Twice now (Num. 22:27 and 23:23) the word “divination” has been used. “The elders of Moab and … of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand.” They must have expected Balaam to use some kind of divination along with the curse.

Reply: For that reason, some do not want to admit that Balaam was a true prophet of the Lord. They call him a sorcerer.

Num. 23:24 Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.

Verse 24 will be fulfilled after Jacob’s Trouble. In what way will Israel “eat of the prey”? There are two ways to subdue an enemy: (1) to expunge him through judgment and death or (2) to convert him. Either way the enemy ceases to be an enemy. In Jacob’s Trouble, God will save the tents of Judah first (Zech. 12:7), and Judah is likened to a lion (Gen. 49:9,10). In the Kingdom, the Word of the Lord, the commandment of obedience, will go forth from the city of Jerusalem, and any nations who disobey, such as Egypt, will receive no rain (Zech. 14:17,18).

The New Covenant will be made with the nation of Israel (Jer. 31:31).

Num. 23:25 And Balak said unto Balaam, Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all.

In other words, in disgust, Balak said to Balaam, “Shut up!” (verse 25). “Do not bless them or curse them. Just forget the matter.”

Num. 23:26 But Balaam answered and said unto Balak, Told not I thee, saying, All that the LORD speaketh, that I must do?

Num. 23:27 And Balak said unto Balaam, Come, I pray thee, I will bring thee unto another place; peradventure it will please God that thou mayest curse me them from thence.

Num. 23:28 And Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor, that looketh toward Jeshimon.

Balak took Balaam to another mount or high promontory, from which he wanted Balaam to view the nation of Israel in the valley below and pronounce a curse. Perhaps Balak thought superstitiously that the previous choices of location had a bearing on the failure of Balaam to utter a curse. Whatever the reasoning, Balak made a last desperate attempt.

Num. 23:29 And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams.

Num. 23:30 And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.

“Balak did as Balaam had said.” For the third time, Balaam instructed Balak to build seven altars and to prepare seven bullocks and seven rams, and Balak did. Imagine the time and effort required to build seven altars and prepare the animals! The number “seven” usually signifies sacred completeness.

Comment: King Balak had a lot of gall to keep persisting in this matter, for it was apparent what God wanted.

Reply: The Pharaoh of Egypt at the time of the Exodus reacted similarly.

Ultimately both Balak and Balaam were frustrated, but Balaam’s career ended in destruction.

He is a good illustration of the saying “The love of money is the root of all [that is, much] evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).

(1996–1997 Study)

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