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Numbers 23

Balaam’s First Oracle (23:1–12)

Balaam’s Second Oracle (23:13–30)

13–17 Balak thought that a change of location might help Balaam pronounce a curse; but in this second oracle, Balaam went even further in blessing Israel than he had the first time.

18–20 In this oracle God (through Balaam) gives the reasons why Israel is unique: it is because God has made a covenant with Israel which cannot be broken. God is not like men (or other gods); He doesn’t lie, He doesn’t change his mind;81 His words, His promises, are always fulfilled (verse 19).

21 No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel. At first these words seem untrue: Israel had had all kinds of “misfortune” and “misery” for forty years in the desert and for four hundred years in Egypt before that! But in spite of the Israelites’ sins and difficulties, God’s covenant with them remained firm; their standing with God had not changed, and the present generation of Israelites was now about to see the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises (see Exodus 19:5–6 and comment).

Because of His covenant relationship with the Israelites, God was with them; He was their King.82 This reaffirmed another of God’s original covenant promises to Abraham and his descendants: namely, that He would be their God and they would be His people (Genesis 17:7–8; Exodus 6:7).

22–24 Because God was with them, no sorcery or divination would work against the Israelites (verse 23); Israel was protected.83 only that, Israel was actively being empowered by God. The Israelites were rising up like lions to devour their prey. Such words were surely not very comforting to Balak.

25–26 Balak told Balaam, in effect: “If you can’t curse Israel, stop talking!” But Balaam said he couldn’t simply stop talking; he had to do whatever the Lord said.

27–30 Balak then decided to try a third location for Balaam’s pronouncements; he still hoped that a change of place might produce a change of words!

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