Balaam’s first prophecy

Chapter 23

Balaam’s first prophecy – Numbers 23:1-12

v1 Balaam said to Balak, ‘Build 7 *altars here. Then bring to me 7 *bulls and 7 male sheep.’

v2 Balak did this. Balaam and Balak *sacrificed a *bull and a male sheep on each *altar.

v3 Then Balaam said to Balak, ‘Stay here by your *offerings. I will go somewhere to be alone. Then perhaps the *LORD will come to meet me. If he does meet me, I will tell you. I will tell you everything that he says.’

Then Balaam left Balak. Balaam went to the top of a hill. v4 And God met him.

Balaam said, ‘I have built 7 *altars. I have *sacrificed a *bull and a male sheep on each *altar.’

v5 The *LORD told Balaam what to say. Then the *LORD said, ‘Go back to Balak. Give this message to him.’

v6 So Balaam went back to Balak. Still Balak was standing by his *sacrifices. All the *Moabite leaders were with him.

v7 Balaam spoke a *prophecy. He said:

‘King Balak of Moab brought me from Aram.

He brought me from those east hills.

He said, “Come and *curse the *Israelites on my behalf.

Say that bad things will happen to them!”

v8 But God has not *cursed them,

so I cannot *curse them.

The *LORD has not said that bad things will happen to them.

So I cannot say that bad things will happen to them.

v9 I look down from this mountain

and I can see them.

From these hills I can watch the *Israelites.

They are a nation that lives alone.

They know that they are special.

They are different from other nations.

v10 Nobody can count the *Israelites. There are too many to count!

It would be too difficult to count even a quarter of them!

I wish that I could die like one of God’s people.

Let me die in *peace, like these people.’

v11 Balak said to Balaam, ‘You have done a bad thing to me! I brought you here to *curse my enemies. Instead, you have *blessed them!’

v12 Balaam answered, ‘The *LORD tells me what to say. So I can say only what he tells me to say.’

Verses 1-2 Balaam and Balak built 7 *altars. They *sacrificed *bulls and male sheep on them. This ceremony is like the type of *worship that the Book of Genesis records. It is a very ancient type of ceremony. Balaam’s home was in the east. This was the region where the *Israelites’ *ancestors lived. Possibly, Balaam was a *descendant of Laban, Abraham’s relative (Genesis 24:24-27). This *offering was the type that we would expect him to offer.

This ceremony was a strange mixture of true *worship and pagan ideas. (‘Pagan’ means the *worship of *idols.) Balak had chosen the sacred place of his god, Baal. But already he knew that his gods were too weak against the *LORD’s power. Also, some parts of the ceremony looked like *worship of *idols, for example, the special number, 7. But Balaam had made the ceremony like one that the *Israelites’ *ancestors offered. He had offered *clean animals so that God would accept them. People usually *sacrificed pigs in pagan *worship, that is, the *worship of *idols. Pigs were *unclean. So really, Balaam was offering this *sacrifice to the *LORD, whether Balak realised this or not.

Verses 3-6 Balaam wanted to be alone so that God could speak to him. And God spoke to him. God gave a message to Balaam for Balak and his officials.

Verses 7-10 Balaam spoke the message that God had given to him. It was a poem in the style of *Hebrew poetry. In *Hebrew poetry, there are pairs of lines. The first line and the second line of each pair are similar. Sometimes, the second line completes the first line. Or the second line may emphasise the subject of the first line. Or it may say the same thing but in a different way.

It is important to remember that Balaam was speaking *prophecy. The words that he spoke were not his own words. They were God’s words.

First, Balaam said that it was not his own idea to *curse *Israel. Balak had brought him from his home to the country called Moab. Then Balaam said that he was not able to *curse *Israel. This was because God had not *cursed *Israel.

The word ‘alone’ (verse 9) does not mean that the *Israelites were lonely. It means that *Israel was not like the other nations. This was because *Israel belonged to God. The *Israelites were God’s special people. He had chosen them to know him. He spoke to them. He guided and protected them.

‘Nobody can count the *Israelites’ (verse 10). This reminds us of God’s promise to Abraham and to his grandson Jacob. God had promised them that they would have very many *descendants (Genesis 15:5; 22:17; 28:14).

People who obey God will die in *peace. Balaam knew this. He wished that his death would be like such people.

Verses 11-12 Balak was angry. Balaam had not done what Balak wanted him to do. Balaam had not *cursed Balak’s enemies. Instead, Balaam had spoken about the *blessings that *Israel had. But Balaam insisted that he had to speak those words. He could say only what God told him to say.

Balaam’s second *prophecy – Numbers 23:13-24

v13 Then Balak said to Balaam, ‘Come with me. We will go to another place where you can see only some of the *Israelites. But you will not be able to see all of them. *Curse the *Israelites on my behalf from that place.’

v14 Balak took Balaam to a field called Zophim. The field was on the top of Pisgah mountain. Balak built 7 *altars there. He *sacrificed a *bull and a male sheep on each *altar.

v15 Balaam said to Balak, ‘Stay here by your *offerings. I will meet the *LORD over there.’

v16 The *LORD met Balaam. He told Balaam what to say. Then the *LORD said, ‘Go back to Balak. Give this message to him.’

v17 So Balaam went back to Balak. Still, Balak was standing by his *sacrifices. All the leaders of the *Moabites were with him.

Balak asked, ‘What did the *LORD say?’

v18 Then Balaam spoke this *prophecy:

‘Listen carefully, Balak.

Hear what I have to say, son of Zippor.

v19 God is not a man! He does not tell lies.

He is not like people. He does not make a decision, then change that decision.

Always God does whatever he says.

Always God does what he has promised.

v20 God ordered me to *bless these people.

God has *blessed them, so I cannot change this.

v21 Bad things will not happen to *Israel.

The *Israelites will not be unhappy.

The *LORD their God is with them.

They are pleased that he is their king.

v22 God brought them out of the country called Egypt.

They are strong, like a wild ox (a strong animal, like a large cow).

v23 The *Israelites do not use magic.

Magic has no power over them.

People say, “Look at the *Israelites!

See what God has done on their behalf!”

v24 The *Israelites are ready to attack, like an angry lion.

They are like a lion that rises up. That lion does not rest until it has eaten its *prey.

It does not stop until it has drunk the blood of its *prey.’

Verses 13-17 Balaam had not been able to *curse the *Israelites. But Balak wanted Balaam to try again. So they went to another place where the *Moabites *worshipped their gods.

They prepared themselves in the same way as before. Balak was a pagan. A pagan is someone who *worships false gods. Pagans believed that their gods lied. They believed that their gods were cruel and not honest. They did not realise that the *LORD God is the only real God. And he is good completely.

And again, God gave to Balaam another *prophecy. The first *prophecy had emphasised that the *Israelites were special people. God had chosen them to belong to him in a special way. This second *prophecy emphasised that the *Israelites defeated all their enemies. This was because God was on their side.

Verses 18-19 Balak had wanted to make God change his decision about the *Israelites. But God is not like people. And he is not like the false gods whom Balak believed in. When God promises to do something, he does it. His promises are true always.

Verses 20-21 God had ordered Balaam to *bless the *Israelites. Balak could not make God change his decision. Nobody could do this. Nobody can control God!

Verse 22 Then, Balaam reminded Balak that God had rescued the *Israelites. God had used his strength on their behalf. Egypt was a very powerful nation. The *Israelites had been *slaves there. But God had led them out of Egypt. He had helped them to defeat their enemies. He was like a king who led a very strong army.

The ‘wild ox’ (verse 22) refers to a particular type of large, wild cow. This type of cow was very dangerous.

Verse 23 *Israel would not be like the other nations, who used magic. The *Israelites received help, protection and instructions from God only. God’s perfect plan for the *Israelites would happen at the proper time.

Verse 24 The *Israelites were frightening their enemies. They were strong, like fierce lions. They had the power to destroy their enemies completely. And nobody could stop them.

Balak takes Balaam to Peor Mountain – Numbers 23:25-30

v25 Balak said to Balaam, ‘You refuse to *curse the *Israelites. But do not *bless them! It would be better to say nothing whatever.’

v26 Balaam answered, ‘I must obey the *LORD. I must do whatever he tells me to do. I said this to you before.’

v27 Balak said to Balaam, ‘Come with me. I will take you to another place. Perhaps God will let you *curse the *Israelites there.’

v28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor mountain. From there, they could see the *desert.

v29 Balaam said, ‘Build 7 *altars here. Then bring to me 7 *bulls and 7 male sheep.’

v30 Balak obeyed Balaam’s instructions. Then Balak *sacrificed a *bull and a male sheep on each *altar.

Verses 25-26 Balaam had said that the *Israelites would destroy their enemies completely. He had compared them to lions that eat all of their *prey. This was why Balak was afraid. It was the reason why he had asked Balaam to *curse the *Israelites. But Balaam had refused.

So Balak was angry with Balaam. He did not want Balaam to say these things about the *Israelites. As Balaam would not *curse them, certainly Balak did not want him to *bless them!

But again, Balaam emphasised that he had to obey God.

Verses 27-30 Balak was desperate. His army would not be able to defeat the *Israelites because God was protecting them. Balak had hoped that Balaam would *curse the *Israelites. But in fact, God was using Balaam to *bless them. Unless God opposed the *Israelites, Balak’s situation would be hopeless.

Balak took Balaam to another high place. He did the same ceremony. He built 7 *altars and he *sacrificed 7 *bulls and 7 male sheep. Still Balak hoped that he could persuade God to change his decision about the *Israelites. He hoped that, this time, Balaam would be able to *curse them on his (Balak’s) behalf.