Numbers 23

1 Balaam said to Balak, "Build me seven altars here and prepare for me seven bulls and seven rams."
2 Balak did as Balaam had said. Then Balak and Balaam offered a bull and a ram on each altar.
3 Balaam said to Balak, "Stay by your entirely burned offering. I will go and perhaps the LORD will grant me an appearance and speak. Whatever he shows me, I will tell you." Then he went off to a high outlook.
4 God granted Balaam an appearance. Balaam said to him, "I have arranged seven altars and I have sacrificed a bull and a ram on each altar."
5 The LORD gave Balaam something to say, and said to him, "Return to Balak and say this."
6 Balaam returned to him, while he and all the officials of Moab were standing next to his entirely burned offering.
7 Then he raised his voice and made his address: "From Aram Balak led me, the king of Moab, from the eastern mountains. Come, curse Jacob for me; come, denounce Israel.
8 How can I curse whom God hasn't cursed? How can I denounce whom God hasn't denounced?
9 From the top of the rocks I see him; from the hills I gaze on him. Here is a people living alone; it doesn't consider itself among the nations.
10 Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number a fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of those who do right, and let my end be like his."
11 Then Balak said to Balaam, "What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemy. But now you've blessed him."
12 He answered and said, "Don't I have to take care to speak whatever the LORD gives me to say?"

Balaam’s second blessing of the Israelites

13 Then Balak said to Balaam, "Come with me, please, to another place where you'll see them. You'll see only part of them. You won't see all of them. Then curse them for me from there."
14 He took him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah. He built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.
15 Then Balaam said to Balak, "Stand here by your entirely burned offering, while I seek an appearance over there."
16 The LORD granted Balaam an appearance and gave him a message. He said, "Return to Balak and say this."
17 Balaam approached Balak, who was standing by his entirely burned offering with the officials of Moab. Balak said to him, "What did the LORD say?"
18 Then Balaam raised his voice and made his address: "Arise, Balak, and listen; hear me out, Zippor's son.
19 God isn't a man that he would lie, or a human being that he would change his mind. Has he ever spoken and not done it, or promised and not fulfilled it?
20 I received a blessing, and he blessed. I can't take it back.
21 He hasn't envisioned misfortune for Jacob, nor has he seen trouble for Israel. The LORD his God is with him, proclaimed as his king.
22 God, who brought them out of Egypt, is like a magnificent wild bull for him.
23 There is no omen against Jacob, no divination against Israel. Instantly it is told to Jacob, and to Israel, what God performs.
24 A people now rises like a lioness, like a lion it stands up. It doesn't lie down until it eats the prey and drinks the blood of the slain."
25 Then Balak said to Balaam, "Don't curse them or bless them."
26 But Balaam answered and said to Balak, "Didn't I say to you, ‘I'll do whatever the LORD tells me to'?"

Balaam’s third blessing of the Israelites

27 Balak said to Balaam, "Please come and I'll take you to another place. Perhaps God will prefer it, so that you could curse him for me from there."
28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, which overlooks Jeshimon.
29 Balaam said to Balak, "Build me seven altars here and prepare for me seven bulls and seven rams."
30 Balak did just as Balaam said. He offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

Numbers 23 Commentary

Chapter 23

Balak's sacrifice, Balaam pronounces a blessing instead of a curse. (1-10) Balak's disappointment, and second sacrifice, Balaam again blesses Israel. (11-30)

Verses 1-10 With the camps of Israel full in view, Balaam ordered seven altars to be built, and a bullock and a ram to be offered on each. Oh the sottishness of superstition, to imagine that God will be at man's beck! The curse is turned into a blessing, by the overruling power of God, in love to Israel. God designed to serve his own glory by Balaam, and therefore met him. If God put a word into the mouth of Balaam, who would have defied God and Israel, surely he will not be wanting to those who desire to glorify God, and to edify his people; it shall be given what they should speak. He who opened the mouth of the ass, caused the mouth of this wicked man to speak words as contrary to the desire of his heart, as those of the ass were to the powers of the brute. The miracle was as great in the one case as in the other. Balaam pronounces Israel safe. He owns he could do no more than God suffered him to do. He pronounces them happy in their distinction from the rest of the nations. Happy in their numbers, which made them both honourable and formidable. Happy in their last end. Death is the end of all men; even the righteous must die, and it is good for us to think of this with regard to ourselves, as Balaam does here, speaking of his own death. He pronounces the righteous truly blessed, not only while they live, but when they die; which makes their death even more desirable than life itself. But there are many who desire to die the death of the righteous, but do not endeavour to live the life of the righteous; gladly would they have an end like theirs, but not a way like theirs. They would be saints in heaven, but not saints on earth. This saying of Balaam's is only a wish, not a prayer; it is a vain wish, being only a wish for the end, without any care for the means. Many seek to quiet their consciences with the promise of future amendment, or take up with some false hope, while they neglect the only way of salvation, by which a sinner can be righteous before God.

Verses 11-30 Balak was angry with Balaam. Thus a confession of God's overruling power is extorted from a wicked prophet, to the confusion of a wicked prince. A second time the curse is turned into a blessing; and this blessing is both larger and stronger than the former. Men change their minds, and break their words; but God never changes his mind, and therefore never recalls his promise. And when in Scripture he is said to repent, it does not mean any change of his mind; but only a change of his way. There was sin in Jacob, and God saw it; but there was not such as might provoke him to give them up to ruin. If the Lord sees that we trust in his mercy, and accept of his salvation; that we indulge no secret lust, and continue not in rebellion, but endeavour to serve and glorify him; we may be sure that he looks upon us as accepted in Christ, that our sins are all pardoned. Oh the wonders of providence and grace, the wonders of redeeming love, of pardoning mercy, of the new-creating Spirit! Balak had no hope of ruining Israel, and Balaam showed that he had more reason to fear being ruined by them. Since Balaam cannot say what he would have him, Balak wished him to say nothing. But though there are many devices in man's heart, God's counsels shall stand. Yet they resolve to make another attempt, though they had no promise on which to build their hopes. Let us, who have a promise that the vision at the end shall speak and not lie, continue earnest in prayer, ( Luke 18:1 ) .

Footnotes 1

Chapter Summary

INTRODUCTION TO EXODUS 23

This chapter gives an account of the sacrifices offered by Balak and Balaam, and how God met Balsam, and put a word into his mouth, which he delivered in the presence of the king of Moab and his princes, Nu 23:1-7, the substance of which are, the separate state and condition of Israel from other nations, their number, and the happiness of the righteous at death, Nu 23:8-10, which made Balak uneasy, since instead of cursing he blessed Israel, and therefore he had him to another place to take a view of the people, Nu 23:11-13 where having offered sacrifices, another word was put into the mouth of Balaam, and which he also delivered before the king and his nobles, Nu 23:14-18, in which were expressed the unchangeableness of God, the irreversibleness of the blessing of Israel, the strength, safety, happiness, and glory of that people, Nu 23:19-24 which made Balak more uneasy still; but willing to try him a third time, he carried him to another place, and there built altars, and offered sacrifices, the consequence of which is related in the next chapter, Nu 23:25-30.

Numbers 23 Commentaries