Enduring Word Bible Commentary Numbers Chapter 24 (2023)

A. The third oracle – a prophetic word through Balaam.

1. (23:27-24:2) Preparation for the prophecy.

Then Balak said to Balaam, “Please come, I will take you to another place; perhaps it will please God that you may curse them for me from there.” So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, that overlooks the wasteland. Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build for me here seven altars, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.” And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on every altar.

Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times, to seek to use sorcery, but he set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam raised his eyes, and saw Israel encamped according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him.

a. I will take you to another place; perhaps it will please God that you may curse them for me from there: Even after two unsuccessful attempts to cause Balaam to curse Israel, Balak was still willing to try again. This shows both his desperation and his thought that it was just a matter of persuading a reluctant deity to get what he wanted. Balak thought that maybe another place would give him the results he wanted.

i. To the top of Peor: “The locale is also known as Baal Peor, at which the familiar northwestern Semitic deity Baal was worshiped, probably as a result of some perceived theophany of Baal in earlier antiquity (Numbers 25:3; Deuteronomy 4:3; Psalm 106:28; Hosea 9:10).” (Cole)

b. Build for me here seven altars, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams: At the suggestion of Balaam, Balak offered another seven bulls and seven rams. By now, he had offered 21 bulls and 21 rams, plus Balaam’s pay. This third time, they selected another place to make the prophecy again.

c. When Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel: If Balak had not yet learned that God was for Israel and not against them, Balaam seems to had, at this point, been convinced of this truth.

d. He did not go as at other times, to seek to use sorcery: Because he was finally convinced God wanted to bless Israel and not curse them, Balaam did not use sorcery in the following oracle. Perhaps this means that in the first two oracles Balaam followed traditional customs of discerning the will of the gods through examining the entrails of the sacrificed animals. He stopped the false and artificial methods of the pagans, and just heard the voice of the LORD.

i. It may be that Balaam did use these pagan methods for the first two oracles, and God – in great mercy and willingness to meet sinful and superstitious humanity – still spoke His word to and through Balaam. This was God speaking despite such methods, not because of them.

ii. The third and following oracles would come from a man who met a true revelation from God. “As Saul had his experience on the road to Damascus, so Balaam had his experience on the road to Moab.” (Allen)

2. (3-9) Balaam’s third oracle – Israel blessed with beauty and strength.

Then he took up his oracle and said:

“The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor,
The utterance of the man whose eyes are opened,
The utterance of him who hears the words of God,
Who sees the vision of the Almighty,
Who falls down, with eyes wide open:

“How lovely are your tents, O Jacob!
Your dwellings, O Israel!
Like valleys that stretch out,
Like gardens by the riverside,
Like aloes planted by the LORD,
Like cedars beside the waters.
He shall pour water from his buckets,
And his seed shall be in many waters.

“His king shall be higher than Agag,
And his kingdom shall be exalted.

“God brings him out of Egypt;
He has strength like a wild ox;
He shall consume the nations, his enemies;
He shall break their bones
And pierce them with his arrows.
He bows down, he lies down as a lion;
And as a lion, who shall rouse him?

(Video) Bible Commentary by David Guzik at Enduring Word

“Blessed is he who blesses you,
And cursed is he who curses you.”

a. The utterance of him who hears the words of God: This oracle was different. Balaam did not receive this word in the circumstances of pagan superstitions. Balaam spoke as the man whose eyes are opened and who sees the vision of the Almighty.

i. The man whose eyes are opened: “At first the eyes of Balaam were shut, and so closely too that he could not see the angel who withstood him, till God opened his eyes; nor could he see the gracious intentions of God towards Israel, till the eyes of his understanding were opened by the power of the Divine Spirit.” (Clarke)

ii. “Many scholars interpret Balaam’s words as indicating that he entered into some kind of trance or ecstatic state as the Spirit of God came upon him, as with Saul in 1 Samuel 10:6-13, but the precise nature of this activity remains unclear.” (Cole)

b. How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! This beautiful prophecy speaks of Israel’s blessed abundance, strength, and the dominance over neighbor nations God would give to Israel. Under God’s blessing, Israel has abundance of water, stretching out all over the land bringing fruitfulness (his seed shall be in many waters). Under God’s blessing, Israel has strength like a wild ox and the superiority of a lion.

i. “Balaam compares Israel’s future settlements in Canaan to strong trees growing by life-giving streams of water, Like valleys that stretch afar.” (Wenham)

ii. His seed shall be in many waters: “By an elegant and chaste metaphor all this is applied to the procreation of a numerous posterity.” (Clarke)

c. His king shall be higher than Agag: Either Agag was a common name among Amalekite kings, or this was a predictive prophecy of something to happen hundreds of years later (1 Samuel 15:32-33).

i. “It is probably thought by the Jewish and other interpreters, that Agag was the common name of the Amalekitish kings, as Abimelech was of the Philistines, and Pharaoh of the Egyptians, and Caesar of the Romans.” (Poole)

d. Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you: Most of all, this prophecy speaks of the abiding blessing of God on Israel, and directly rebukes Balak for trying to curse Israel (cursed is he who curses you). This is a deliberate echo of the blessing God gave to Abraham and his covenant descendants in Genesis 12:1-3.

i. Through the first three prophecies, it has gotten worse for Balak.

· In the first oracle, Balaam failed to curse Israel.

· In the second oracle, Balaam blessed Israel.

· In the third oracle, he cursed Balak.

The money used to hire Balaam, to build 21 altars, and to sacrifice 21 bulls and 21 rams was not well spent.

3. (10-13) Balak’s frustration with Balaam.

Then Balak’s anger was aroused against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, and look, you have bountifully blessed them these three times! Now therefore, flee to your place. I said I would greatly honor you, but in fact, the LORD has kept you back from honor.”

So Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not also speak to your messengers whom you sent to me, saying, ‘If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the LORD, to do good or bad of my own will. What the LORD says, that I must speak’?

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a. I called you to curse my enemies…you have bountifully blessed them these three times! Through the first three prophecies, it has gotten worse for Balak.

· In the first oracle, Balaam failed to curse Israel.

· In the second oracle, Balaam blessed Israel.

· In the third oracle, Balaam cursed Balak and blessed Israel again.

b. I would greatly honor you, but in fact, the LORD has kept you back from honor: The money used to hire Balaam, to build 21 altars, and to sacrifice 21 bulls and 21 rams was not well spent. Knowing this, Balak said that he would not pay Balaam. There is a sense in which it was true that the LORD had kept Balaam back from honor. What Balaam’s corrupt heart most wanted (a lot of pay for being a prophet) he would not receive, and it was the LORD’s doing.

c. What the LORD says, that I must speak: Balaam tried his best to excuse himself, and to blame God. But he knew that he would not receive the reward he hoped for because he failed to please his employer.

i. Perhaps at that moment Balaam saw the greater wisdom of God in telling him not to go, because now it seemed the whole trip was a big waste.

B. The last four oracles – prophetic words through Balaam.

1. (14) Introduction.

And now, indeed, I am going to my people. Come, I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the latter days.”

a. And now, indeed, I am going to my people: It seemed like Balaam was finished. He had failed to curse Israel, and was now denied his reward from Balak. Balaam was ready to head home when God compelled him to give Balak more than he wanted or ever asked for. Balaam saved his best – or, from Balak’s perspective, his worst – for last.

b. Come, I will advise you: There was no preparation needed for this prophecy. Since Balak was not going to pay Balaam, Balaam would answer with a free prophecy, one that would show just how blessed and victorious (what this people will do to your people) Israel would be both now and in the latter days.

i. “Balaam’s final speeches are explicitly said to concern the distant future: in the latter days (14). Though this phrase may simply mean ‘in future’ (e.g. Jeremiah 23:20), it can also mean ‘the final days’, whatever the period that constitutes the particular prophet’s time horizon.” (Wenham)

2. (15-19) Balaam’s fourth oracle – a Star and a Scepter out of Israel.

So he took up his oracle and said:

“The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor,
And the utterance of the man whose eyes are opened;
The utterance of him who hears the words of God,
And has the knowledge of the Most High,
Who sees the vision of the Almighty,
Who falls down, with eyes wide open:

“I see Him, but not now;
I behold Him, but not near;
A Star shall come out of Jacob;
A Scepter shall rise out of Israel,
And batter the brow of Moab,
And destroy all the sons of tumult.

“And Edom shall be a possession;
Seir also, his enemies, shall be a possession,
While Israel does valiantly.
Out of Jacob One shall have dominion,
And destroy the remains of the city.”

a. The utterance of him who hears the words of God: This repeat of Numbers 24:3-4 emphasizes that in this fourth prophecy, as in the third prophecy, Balaam spoke with no connection to pagan superstitions. Balaam spoke as the man whose eyes are opened and who sees the vision of the Almighty.

i. The last four oracles of Balaam are curses – the kind of oracles that Balak wanted Balaam to deliver against Israel. Instead, they are spoken against Israel’s enemies.

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b. A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel: Speaking again by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this strange and unlikely prophet of Yahweh described One glorious (like a Star) and with the authority to rule (pictured by a Scepter).

i. Previously Balaam prophesied of the beauty, strength, and blessedness of Israel; now God used him to speak of the culmination of all Israel’s beauty, strength, and blessedness – the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Israel ultimate blessedness comes from Jesus, their Messiah.

ii. Early Jewish writers understood this as a reference to the Messiah. “The Dead Sea scrolls (c. 1st century B.C.) take the star and the sceptre as the messiahs of Aaron and Israel, i.e. the priestly and kingly messiahs. Rabbi Akiba, hailing the leader of the second Jewish revolt (A.D. 132–135) as the messiah, called him Bar-Kocheba, i.e. Son of the star.” (Wenham)

iii. Early Christian writers understood this as a reference to the Messiah. Justin Martyr (First Apology, chapter 32) and Athanasius the Great (On the Incarnation of the Word, section 33) both saw this Star as a reference to Jesus Christ.

iv. Martin Luther had a hard time seeing this as a messianic prophecy, because Balaam was such an unworthy prophet of such a glorious message. Yet, “The truth of the Scripture could never be dependent on the worthiness of the writer or the personal piety of the speaker. Else we would have gradations in inspiration and shadings in trustworthiness. I say this reverently but strongly; the words of Balaam the pagan mantic, when he was speaking under the control of the Holy Spirit of God were as sure as the words of the Savior Jesus in a red-letter edition of the NT.” (Allen)

v. “A blind man may bear a torch in his hand, whereby others may receive benefit, though himself receive none; so here.” (Trapp)

vi. “The New Testament does not cite the prophecies of Balaam explicitly, but there are probable allusions to it in Luke 1:78; Revelation 2:26–28, 22:16 and, of course, Christ’s birth was announced by a star (Matthew 2:1-10).” (Wenham)

c. And batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult: The Messiah will eventually rule over all nations that surround Israel. Here and in the following verses God spoke about the neighboring nations of Israel (Moab, Edom, Amalek, and the Kenites) and their future through Balaam. Balak, the king of the Moabites, must have been both grieved and outraged to hear his paid-for prophet speak these words against Moab, cursing them instead of Israel.

i. Israel’s deliverer – their Star and Scepter – would lead them in triumph over both Moab and Edom. “In the distant future both peoples would be conquered, captured, and eventually disappear from being distinctive ethnic groups. The phraseology of ‘crushing of the head’ is a symbol of defeating one’s enemies in Egyptian, Ugaritic, and Hebrew literature.” (Cole)

ii. “This prediction of Moab’s total defeat at the hand of a future Israelite king is an appropriate point for Balaam to end. He had been called in so that through his curse Balak, king of Moab, might defeat Israel; Balaam declares that the reverse will be the case: Moab will be destroyed by a coming king of Israel.” (Wenham)

3. (20) Balaam’s fifth oracle – the fall of Amalek.

Then he looked on Amalek, and he took up his oracle and said:

“Amalek was first among the nations,
But shall be last until he perishes.”

a. Then he looked on Amalek: Balaam then turned his attention to the Amalekites, a nomadic people often hostile to Israel.

i. Amalek was first among the nations: The first, Hebrew, the first-fruits; so called either, 1. Because they were the first of all the neighbouring nations which were embodied together in one government. Or, 2. Because they were the most powerful and eminent of them.” (Poole)

b. But shall be last until he perishes: The people of Amalek were at one time in a prestigious position, but the Star and Scepter, the Messiah prophesied by Balaam will subdue them.

4. (21-22) Balaam’s sixth oracle – the captivity of the Kenites.

Then he looked on the Kenites, and he took up his oracle and said:

“Firm is your dwelling place,
And your nest is set in the rock;
Nevertheless Kain shall be burned.
How long until Asshur carries you away captive?”

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a. He looked on the Kenites: The Kenites were another nomadic tribe often in conflict with Israel (Judges 4:11, 1 Samuel 15:6, 27:10).

i. “Why the Kenites come under attack here is not sure, except that it is possible that they became associated with the Midianites who come under the scourge of Israel (Numbers 31).” (Allen)

ii. Firm is your dwelling place: “The Kenites put their faith in the security afforded them by their geographical positioning, nestled in the rocky highlands of southern Canaan or the northeastern quadrant of the Sinai region.” (Cole)

b. Kain shall be burned: The Kenites and their important city of Kain shall be subdued under Israel. Despite the desire of Balak, Israel would be lifted above her neighbors.

5. (23-24) Balaam’s seventh oracle – the judgments of the God of Israel.

Then he took up his oracle and said:

“Alas! Who shall live when God does this?
But ships shall come from the coasts of Cyprus,
And they shall afflict Asshur and afflict Eber,
And so shall Amalek, until he perishes.”

a. Who shall live when God does this? Balaam’s seventh and final oracle begins with a reminder that this strength of Israel and the subduing of their neighbors would be the work of God. It wasn’t to Israel’s glory, but to God’s glory.

i. Of the seventh oracle, the specifics are cloudy, but the general direction is clear – Israel’s ultimate triumph through the power of their Star and Scepter, their deliverer.

b. Ships shall come from the coasts of Cyprus: Some of the affliction promised against Israel’s neighbors would come from afar, from the coasts of Cyprus and presumably elsewhere.

i. Cyprus here is literally Kittim. “The identification of Kittim in the early period of Israel’s history seems to be Cyprus. But ultimately the word was applied to Rome, as in Qumran (see, e.g., 1QM, VII, ‘From of old Thou hast announced to us the time appointed for the mighty deed of Thy hand against the Kittim’) and perhaps also (prophetically!) in Daniel (e.g., Daniel 11:30).” (Allen)

6. (25) Balaam and Balak depart.

So Balaam rose and departed and returned to his place; Balak also went his way.

a. So Balaam rose and departed: Undoubtedly, both were disappointed and perhaps angry, each because Israel had not been weakened spiritually and therefore made ready for defeat in battle. Balak wanted Israel defeated, and Balaam wanted Balak’s money, but each wanted Israel spiritually cursed – and God would not curse Israel.

i. “Balak had not his will, nor Balaam his wages; God fooled them both, pulling the morsel out of their mouths, that they had well-nigh devoured.” (Trapp)

ii. Meyer saw in Balaam a warning to see the difference between unction and union; between gift and grace, and between vision and realization. “Balaam saw truly, but he perished miserably…. He wished to die the death of the righteous, but was overtaken in that of the apostate. How near we may come to the gates of salvation, and yet perish miserably without!” (Meyer)

b. Balak also went his way: Balak deserves credit for understanding where the strength of Israel was. He did not seek to defeat Israel through military strategy or new weapons. He knew it was a spiritual battle, and if Israel won the spiritual battle, they would certainly win the military battle.

i. We should walk in the same awareness. If we did, we would give more time and attention to building our spiritual strength, in having a close walk with Jesus. We should not allow Balak to be more perceptive about spiritual things than we are.

© 2022 TheEnduring WordBible Commentary by David Guzik –ewm@enduringword.com

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FAQs

What is Numbers 24 about in the Bible? ›

A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth. Edom will be conquered; Seir, his enemy, will be conquered, but Israel will grow strong. A ruler will come out of Jacob and destroy the survivors of the city."

What was God's message to Balaam? ›

But God said to Balaam, "Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed." The next morning Balaam got up and said to Balak's princes, "Go back to your own country, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you."

How did Balaam know God? ›

We don't know how Balaam came to know the Lord, but he lived near Haran where Abraham grew up. It's possible that Balaam's ancestors had learned about the living God from Abraham, and had passed it onto their children. Now, 600 years later, Balaam also knew the living God.

What is the meaning of Genesis chapter 24? ›

Genesis 24 tells how Abraham sent his most-trusted servant on a journey to find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant succeeds in finding Rebekah and bringing her back to marry Isaac.

Who is Balak and Balaam in the Bible? ›

Balaam, non-Israelite prophet described in chapters 22–24 of the Book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), as a diviner who is importuned by Balak, king of Moab, to place a malediction on the people of Israel, who are camped ominously on the plains of Moab.

What is the lucky number of God? ›

According to the American publication, the Orthodox Study Bible, 777 represents the threefold perfection of the Trinity.

What does donkey symbolize in the Bible? ›

In contrast to Grecian works, donkeys were portrayed in Biblical works as symbols of service, suffering, peace and humility. They are also associated with the theme of wisdom in the Old Testament story of Balaam's ass, and are seen in a positive light through the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.

What kind of prophet was Balaam? ›

According to the primary narrative, Balaam is an honest prophet who speaks only what his god tells him to speak. At first, Balaam rejects Balak's assignment to curse Israel (22,8-13).

What does the name Balaam mean in the Bible? ›

Origin:Hebrew. Meaning:Destroyer of People.

What is the way of Balaam? ›

Now at last we are in a position to understand why Peter says the false prophets have “followed the way of Balaam.” Balaam was a man who was willing to entice the people of God to their destruction—and all for the sake of his own personal profit. This is exactly how Peter sees the false teachers.

What does Balak mean in Hebrew? ›

The name "Balak" means "devastator", "empty", or "wasting". The name apparently derives from the sparsely used Hebrew verb (balak), "waste or lay waste." There are no derivations of this verb besides this name.

Why is 24 an important number? ›

What is this? The numerology meaning of the number 24 is associated with hard work and determination. You put in the hard work on a regular basis and you will reach your end goal. If you have been hoping for good news then this number is pure gold!

Where in the Bible does it say may the Lord bless you and keep you? ›

Numbers 6:24-26 - The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

What does priesthood mean in the Bible? ›

A priest is required to act as a mediator. He is one who represents the Divine being to His subjects and in return from them to their God. He acts as an ambassador, a chosen vehicle through whom Yahweh God has chosen to serve the people and represent Him, on His behalf.

What happened in Numbers chapter 25? ›

The chapter concluded as God commanded Moses to vex the Midianites and kill them because they vexed Israel with the wiles of their fornication.

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