Numbers 23

Balaam’s First Message

1 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.”
2 Balak did as Balaam said, and the two of them offered a bull and a ram on each altar.
3 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I go aside. Perhaps the LORD will come to meet with me. Whatever he reveals to me I will tell you.” Then he went off to a barren height.
4 God met with him, and Balaam said, “I have prepared seven altars, and on each altar I have offered a bull and a ram.”
5 The LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”
6 So he went back to him and found him standing beside his offering, with all the Moabite officials.
7 Then Balaam spoke his message: “Balak brought me from Aram, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains. ‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me; come, denounce Israel.’
8 How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the LORD has not denounced?
9 From the rocky peaks I see them, from the heights I view them. I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations.
10 Who can count the dust of Jacob or number even a fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my final end be like theirs!”
11 Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!”
12 He answered, “Must I not speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?”

Balaam’s Second Message

13 Then Balak said to him, “Come with me to another place where you can see them; you will not see them all but only the outskirts of their camp. And from there, curse them for me.”
14 So he took him to the field of Zophim on the top of Pisgah, and there he built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.
15 Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I meet with him over there.”
16 The LORD met with Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”
17 So he went to him and found him standing beside his offering, with the Moabite officials. Balak asked him, “What did the LORD say?”
18 Then he spoke his message: “Arise, Balak, and listen; hear me, son of Zippor.
19 God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?
20 I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it.
21 “No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed[a] in Israel. The LORD their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them.
22 God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox.
23 There is no divination against[b] Jacob, no evil omens against[c] Israel. It will now be said of Jacob and of Israel, ‘See what God has done!’
24 The people rise like a lioness; they rouse themselves like a lion that does not rest till it devours its prey and drinks the blood of its victims.”
25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!”
26 Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the LORD says?”

Balaam’s Third Message

27 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Come, let me take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God to let you curse them for me from there.”
28 And Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, overlooking the wasteland.
29 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.”
30 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 54

  • 1. S Numbers 22:40
  • 2. ver 14,30
  • 3. ver 15
  • 4. ver 16
  • 5. S Exodus 4:12; Isaiah 59:21; Deuteronomy 18:18; Jeremiah 1:9
  • 6. S Exodus 4:15
  • 7. S Numbers 22:20
  • 8. ver 17
  • 9. Numbers 22:5; Joshua 24:9
  • 10. ver 18; Numbers 24:3,21; 2 Samuel 23:1
  • 11. 2 Kings 5:1
  • 12. S Genesis 24:10
  • 13. S Numbers 22:6; Nehemiah 13:2; Deuteronomy 23:4
  • 14. Numbers 22:12
  • 15. ver 20; Isaiah 43:13
  • 16. Numbers 22:41
  • 17. S Exodus 33:16; S Deuteronomy 32:8; Deuteronomy 33:28
  • 18. S Genesis 13:16
  • 19. Psalms 16:3; Psalms 116:15; Isaiah 57:1
  • 20. Psalms 37:37
  • 21. S Numbers 22:6
  • 22. Numbers 24:10; Joshua 24:10; Nehemiah 13:2
  • 23. S Numbers 22:18,20; Numbers 22:20,38
  • 24. ver 27
  • 25. Numbers 22:41
  • 26. S Numbers 22:6
  • 27. S Numbers 21:20; Numbers 27:12
  • 28. S ver 2
  • 29. S Exodus 4:15; S Numbers 22:38
  • 30. ver 6
  • 31. S ver 7
  • 32. Numbers 22:2
  • 33. Job 9:32; Isaiah 55:9; Hosea 11:9
  • 34. S Numbers 11:23
  • 35. 1 Samuel 15:29; Job 12:13; Job 36:5; Psalms 33:11; Psalms 89:34; Psalms 102:27; Psalms 110:4; Jeremiah 4:28; Jeremiah 7:16; Malachi 3:6; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18; Hebrews 7:21; James 1:17
  • 36. 2 Samuel 7:25; Psalms 119:38
  • 37. ver 5,16; Numbers 24:1
  • 38. Genesis 22:17; Numbers 22:12
  • 39. S ver 8; S Job 9:12; Isaiah 43:13
  • 40. Psalms 32:2,5; Psalms 85:2; Romans 4:7-8
  • 41. Isaiah 33:24; Isaiah 40:2; Jeremiah 50:20
  • 42. S Genesis 26:3; Exodus 29:45,46; Deuteronomy 4:7; Psalms 34:17-18; Psalms 145:18; Zechariah 2:10
  • 43. Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 33:5; Psalms 89:15-18; Isaiah 44:2
  • 44. Numbers 24:8; Joshua 2:10; Joshua 9:9
  • 45. Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9; Psalms 22:21; Psalms 29:6; Psalms 92:10; Isaiah 34:7
  • 46. ver 3; S Genesis 30:27; Numbers 24:1; Joshua 13:22
  • 47. Numbers 24:9; Ezekiel 19:2; Nahum 2:11
  • 48. S Genesis 49:9
  • 49. Isaiah 49:26
  • 50. S Numbers 22:18,20
  • 51. ver 13
  • 52. Numbers 24:10
  • 53. Numbers 25:3,18; Numbers 31:16; Deuteronomy 3:29; Deuteronomy 4:3; Joshua 22:17; Psalms 106:28; Hosea 9:10
  • 54. S ver 2

Footnotes 3

  • [a]. Or "He has not looked on Jacob’s offenses" / "or on the wrongs found"
  • [b]. Or "in"
  • [c]. Or "in"

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

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