Summary of passage: Numbers 23: Balaam builds 7 altars and prepares 7 sacrifices. He speaks with the Lord who puts words in his mouth, blessing the Israelites instead of cursing them. Again, Balak brings Balaam to a different spot to curse the Israelites. God again puts words in Balaam’s mouth, saying He is with His people who will devour those who oppose them. Balak, not giving up his quest to curse the Israelites, drags Balaam to a third location in Peor and builds 7 more altars and offers 7 more sacrifices.
Numbers 24: Balaam, now at his third location, finally realizes God will not curse his people. As a result, the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him and he utters more blessings upon Israel: they will live abundantly, their king and kingdom will be exalted, and they will devour hostile nations.
Balak, angry at the three blessings instead of the three curses, sends Balaam away with no riches. Balaam reminds Balak that he told him he would only speak God’s words and then he utters a prophecy against Moab, telling Balak that Israel will crush them along with Edom and Seir. Salaam utters more oracles: Amalek will be ruined along with the Kenites, assure, and Eber.
5) First Oracle: Numbers 23:7-10: God tells Balak that He cannot curse the Israelites for He has set them apart.
Second Oracle: Numbers 23:18-24: God tells Balak that He will not change his mind, that He the Lord is with them, that He brought them out of Egypt, and that the people shall rise like a lion and devour their victims.
Third Oracle: Numbers 24:3-9: Balaam utters more blessings upon Israel: they will live abundantly, their king and kingdom will be exalted, and they will devour hostile nations.
Fourth Oracle: Numbers 24:15-19: Balaam tells Balak that Moab, Edom, and Seir will all be crushed by Israel.
Final Three Oracles: Numbers 24:20-24: Balaam says that Amalek, the Kenites, Asshur, and Eber all will come to ruin.
6a) He is taking Balaam to different places in order to physically see the Israelites and in a vain effort to find a place where God may curse His own people. Balak strikes me as a man who doesn’t give up easily.
b) Personal Question. My answer: Nothing lately but usually when I do this I don’t like the answer the first person gave me so I go to another person hoping they will give me answer–and it’s usually the answer I want to hear, not a different one. I haven’t done this in quite some time. I think I’ve learned my lesson from doing this. I ask God and my husband. That’s about it.
7) Personal Question. My answer: Balaam is a pleaser. He takes the path of less resistance and finally bows to God’s will only because he realizes he is defeated and is out for own self-preservation.
Conclusions: Surprisingly, I liked this lesson. It was fun to watch God have fun with Balaam, uttering blessings instead of curses each time. You can almost see the frustration on Balaam’s face, knowing with each utterance he was getting less and less of an earthly reward.
It was fun to watch Balak be frustrated and to see him moving Balaam from place to place as if that would make God change his mind. It is very comical, and you can almost see God from up above laughing at them! I like to think God has a sense of humor like his creation, man, does.
End Notes: Numbers 23: Oracle means prophecy. We tend to think of oracles as false prophets as the word was popularized by the Greeks who uses oracles to tell the future as indeed this is the first definition of the word in Webster’s Dictionary: “a person (as a priestess of ancient Greece) through whom a deity is believed to speak.” Another definition: “an answer or decision given by an oracle.”
Interestingly, this is a latin word meaning “to speak.” Well, the Greeks didn’t speak Latin so they themselves didn’t use the word “oracle”. As most Bibles were written down in the Middle Ages which used Latin as the language of writing, this word is not all that old. In my opinion, this is not a great translation here and prophecy would be better (which by the way is a Greek word meaning “the inspired declaration of divine will and purpose”) which fits here much better as indeed some bible translations use the word prophecy and not oracle.
Here we see God speaking through Balaam, obviously not a godly-man. But God uses all for His purposes.
Note how Balaam would like “to die the death of the righteous” but not live like the righteous. He wants the good life but not the work that goes along with the good life.
Both men are exasperated! Balak wants a curse and Balaam wants money but neither gets what they want for God is in charge here.
God educates Balak about who he is dealing with and who His people are and that Balak has no chance against them.
Wild ox here is translated different ways: unicorn, ox, rhinoceros, or goat. The Hebrew word here which occurs 9 times in the Old Testament (twice in our readings–24:8) means one horn.
Balak is frustrated, saying at least don’t bless them if you won’t curse them! Funny how God works.
Numbers 24: Three times Balak offered up rams and bulls in an effort to have the Israelites cursed. This would have been quite the expense at the time.
We see that Balaam did try to evoke sorcery (24:1) to curse the Israelites, but it didn’t work so seemingly he gave it up. Hence, Balaam and Balak are cursed by God in the third oracle.
The oracles are progressive: first, Balak does not receive a curse, next he gets a blessing instead of a curse and finally he himself is cursed. You’d think he’d learn his lesson!
The fourth oracle is a bonus per se. Balaam, realizing he won’t get paid, just keeps speaking. This is about Jesus as he is the start and the scepter and will rule over all nations. This prophecy was also fulfilled by King David (2 Samuel 8:2,14).
Without the curse, Balak realizes he cannot defeat the Israelites so wisely he does not attack like he wanted to back in Numbers 22. Instead, he returns home, defeated.
Balaam: His name possibly means devourer or glutton. He was evidently a professional magician of a nomadic clan. He obviously had a reputation of getting gods on his side. God spoke through him 7 times! Was Balaam converted to God’s side? No. Next we hear of him is Numbers 31:8 where he dies. He is condemned in 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 11, and Revelation 2:14. He is credited with suggesting the tactic of using sex to defeat the Israelites, resulting in 24,000 deaths (Numbers 25:9; 31:16).
He has been called by scholars the Judas of the Old Testament as he seems faithful at times but greed turns him to evil.
Seven books of the Bible mention Balaam. This shows how important these events were in Israelite history. God uses a pagan and a magician in a land full of pagans and magicians as a warning: He is coming and He shall win.
Summarized from Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary by J.D. Douglas and Merrill C. Tenney:
Balaam is held up as an example of pernicious influence of hypocritical teachers who attempt to lead God’s people astray. No bible character is more severely excoriated.
We see three things of God’s rule in the world through the story of Balaam:
1) God overrules man’s sinful rule and his desire to bring his own purposes to pass.
2) God’s promises prevail no matter the odds always.
3) God guards His people from threats even when they are not even aware of them (like Balak who wanted to attack them).