Numbers 23

Listen to Numbers 23

Balaam's First Oracle

1 And Balaam said to Balak, 1"Build for me here seven altars, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams."
2 Balak did as Balaam had said. And Balak and Balaam 2offered on each altar a bull and a ram.
3 And Balaam said to Balak, 3"Stand beside your burnt offering, and I will go. Perhaps the LORD will come 4to meet me, and whatever he shows me I will tell you." And he went to a bare height,
4 5and God met Balaam. And Balaam said to him, "I have arranged the seven altars and I have offered on each altar a bull and a ram.
5 And the LORD 6put a word in Balaam's mouth and said, "Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak."
6 And he returned to him, and behold, he and all the princes of Moab were standing beside his burnt offering.
7 And Balaam 7took up his discourse and said, "From 8Aram Balak has brought me, the king of Moab 9from the eastern mountains: 'Come, 10curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!'
8 How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced?
9 For from the top of the crags 11I see him, from the hills I behold him; behold, 12a people dwelling alone, and 13not counting itself among the nations!
10 14Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part[a] of Israel? Let me die 15the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!"
11 And Balak said to Balaam, "What have you done to me? 16I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them."
12 And he answered and said, 17"Must I not take care to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?"

Balaam's Second Oracle

13 And Balak said to him, "Please come with me to another place, from which you may see them. You shall see only a fraction of them and shall not see them all. Then curse them for me from there."
14 And he took him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, 18and built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar
15 Balaam said to Balak, 19"Stand here beside your burnt offering, while I meet the LORD over there."
16 And the LORD met Balaam and 20put a word in his mouth and said, "Return to Balak, and thus shall you speak."
17 And he came to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him. And Balak said to him, "What has the LORD spoken?"
18 And Balaam took up his discourse and said, "Rise, Balak, and hear; give ear to me, O son of Zippor:
19 21God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
20 Behold, I received a command to bless: 22he has blessed, and 23I cannot revoke it.
21 24He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob, nor has he seen trouble in Israel. The LORD their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them.
22 25God brings them out of Egypt and is for them like 26the horns of the wild ox.
23 For there is no enchantment against Jacob, no 27divination against Israel; now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel, 28'What has God wrought!'
24 Behold, a people! 29As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself; 30it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey and drunk the blood of the slain."
25 And Balak said to Balaam, "Do not curse them at all, and do not bless them at all."
26 But Balaam answered Balak, "Did I not tell you, 31'All that the LORD says, that I must do'?"
27 And Balak said to Balaam, 32"Come now, I will take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God that you may curse them for me from there."
28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of 33Peor, which overlooks 34the desert.[b]
29 And Balaam said to Balak, 35"Build for me here seven altars and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams."
30 36And Balak did as Balaam had said, and 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 ) .

Cross References 36

  • 1. ver. 29
  • 2. ver. 14, 30
  • 3. ver. 15
  • 4. [Numbers 24:1]
  • 5. ver. 16
  • 6. ver. 12, 16; Numbers 22:38; Deuteronomy 18:18; Isaiah 51:16; Isaiah 59:21; Jeremiah 1:9
  • 7. ver. 18; Numbers 24:3, 15, 20, 21, 23; Job 27:1; Job 29:1; Psalms 49:4; Psalms 78:2; Isaiah 14:4; Micah 2:4; [Numbers 21:27]
  • 8. [Numbers 22:5]
  • 9. [Genesis 29:1]
  • 10. Numbers 22:6
  • 11. [Numbers 24:17]
  • 12. Deuteronomy 32:28
  • 13. Exodus 33:16; [Ezra 9:2; Esther 3:8; Ephesians 2:14]
  • 14. See Genesis 13:16
  • 15. Psalms 37:37; Psalms 116:15; Revelation 14:13
  • 16. Numbers 22:11; Numbers 24:10; Deuteronomy 23:5; Nehemiah 13:2
  • 17. See ver. 5
  • 18. ver. 1, 2
  • 19. ver. 3
  • 20. ver. 5, 12
  • 21. 1 Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; Romans 11:29; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18; James 1:17
  • 22. Numbers 22:12; Genesis 12:2; Genesis 22:17
  • 23. Numbers 22:18
  • 24. [Jeremiah 50:20]
  • 25. Numbers 24:8
  • 26. Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-12; Psalms 22:21; Psalms 92:10
  • 27. Numbers 22:7
  • 28. Psalms 44:1
  • 29. Genesis 49:9
  • 30. Genesis 49:27
  • 31. See Numbers 22:18
  • 32. ver. 13
  • 33. Numbers 25:18; Numbers 31:16; Joshua 22:17; Psalms 106:28, 29; Hosea 9:10; [Numbers 25:3, 5]
  • 34. See Numbers 21:20
  • 35. ver. 1
  • 36. ver. 2

Footnotes 2

Chapter Summary


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

The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.