Numbers 23

1 And Balaam said to Balac, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven calves, and seven rams.
2 And Balac did as Balaam told him; and he offered up a calf and a ram on altar.
3 And Balaam said to Balac, Stand by thy sacrifice, and I will go and see if God will appear to me and meet me, and the word which he shall shew me, I will report to thee. And Balac stood by his sacrifice.
4 And Balaam went to enquire of God; and he went straight forward, and God appeared to Balaam; and Balaam said to him, I have prepared the seven altars, and have offered a calf and a ram on altar.
5 And God put a word into the mouth of Balaam, and said, thou shalt return to Balac, and thus shalt thou speak.
6 And he returned to him, and moreover he stood over his whole-burnt-offerings, and all the princes of Moab with him; and the Spirit of God came upon him.
7 And he took up his parable, and said, Balac king of Moab sent for me out of Mesopotamia, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and Come, call for a curse for me upon Israel.
8 How can I curse whom the Lord curses not? or how can I devote whom God devotes not?
9 For from the top of the mountains I shall see him, and from the hills I shall observe him: behold, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.
10 Who has exactly calculated the seed of Jacob, and who shall number the families of Israel? let my soul die with the souls of the righteous, and let my seed be as their seed.
11 And Balac said to Balaam, What hast thou done to me? I called thee to curse my enemies, and behold thou hast greatly blessed .
12 And Balaam said to Balac, Whatsoever the Lord shall put into my mouth, shall I not take heed to speak this?
13 And Balac said to him, Come yet with me to another place where thou shalt not see the people, but only thou shalt see a part of them, and shalt not see them all; and curse me them from thence.
14 And he took him to a high place of the field to the top of the quarried , and he built there seven altars, and offered a calf and a ram on altar.
15 And Balaam said to Balac, Stand by thy sacrifice, and I will go to enquire of God.
16 And God met Balaam, and put a word into his mouth, and said, return to Balac, and thus shalt thou speak.
17 And he returned to him: and he also was standing by his whole-burnt-sacrifice, and all the princes of Moab with him; and Balac said to him, What has the Lord spoken?
18 And he took up his parable, and said, rise up, Balac, and hear; hearken as a witness, thou son of Sepphor.
19 God is not as man to waver, nor as the son of man to be threatened; shall he say and not perform? shall he speak and not keep ?
20 Behold, I have received to bless: I will bless, and not turn back.
21 There shall not be trouble in Jacob, neither shall sorrow be seen in Israel: the Lord his God with him, the glories of rulers in him.
22 It was God who brought him out of Egypt; he has as it were the glory of a unicorn.
23 For there is no divination in Jacob, nor enchantment in Israel; in season it shall be told to Jacob and Israel what God shall perform.
24 Behold, the people shall rise up as a lion's whelp, and shall exalt himself as a lion; he shall not lie down till he have eaten the prey, and he shall drink the blood of the slain.
25 And Balac said to Balaam, Neither curse the people at all for me, nor bless them at all.
26 And Balaam answered and said to Balac, Spoke I not to thee, saying, Whatsoever thing God shall speak to me, that will I do?
27 And Balac said to Balaam, Come I will remove thee to another place, if it shall please God, and curse me them from thence.
28 And Balac took Balaam to the top of Phogor, which extends to the wilderness.
29 And Balaam said to Balac, build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven calves, and seven rams.
30 And Balac did as Balaam told him, and offered a calf and a ram on 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 5

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 Brenton translation of the Septuagint is in the public domain.