Numbers 22-24

Sunday Evening Bible Study

March 15, 1998


The Israelites are finally on the move toward the Promised Land. Theyíve been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, but have now begun to move northward, along the east side of the Jordan, conquering the Amorite kings Sihon and Og.

Numbers 22

:1 Camping in Moab

:2-6 Moab's fear of Israel

:2 had done to the Amorites

They had seen how they had conquered the great kings Sihon and Og (Num.21)

:3 Moab was sore afraid

Think of Moab's situation: Here you are, safe and comfortable in your own home, when suddenly a huge swarm of TWO MILLION people come marching toward your little country. And these two million people were so rough and tough that they just got wiping out the last guy who beat up your little country. Lots of reason to be afraid, right?

But look at what God had already told Israel:

DEU 2:9 "Then the \Lord\ said to me, 'Do not harass Moab, nor provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land as a possession, because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot as a possession.

If Moab was tuned in to God, it would have found out that even if Israel wanted to wipe out Moab, God wasn't going to let them. They really had nothing to fear at all.

:4 the elders of Midian

There was more than Moabites involved.

Midian was to the south of Moab, but there were Midianites living in Moab at this time.

:4 Balak the son of Zippor

He's the king of the Moabites. He's the one driving this whole thing.

:5 Balaam the son of Beor

Apparently Balaam was a man with a reputation. He was a spiritual heavyweight in the pagan world.

Balaam is not exactly the kind of hero you want to pattern your life after.

There are two lessons we get from other parts of the Scripture about Balaam, things that are not clearly in our story here.

1. He was materialistic.

In talking about false prophets, Peter writes:

(2 Pet 2:15 KJV) Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;

Apparently, a motive behind all that was going on with Balaam, was his love for wealth. He was willing to do whatever he could get away with, just for the almighty buck.

(1 Tim 6:9-10 KJV) But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. {10} For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.


Be careful about making choices solely upon financial reasons.

You open yourself up for Balaam's trap. You start compromising yourself a step at a time, all for money.

2. He was an immoral scuzz-ball

When we read chapters 23-24 and see the prophecies that came out of Balaam's mouth, he can look like kind of a great guy. But don't let the outside fool you.

But we have to play detective to figure it all out.

After he gives his prophecies concerning Israelís prosperity, the next thing we see is the nation of Israel committing sexual sins with young girls of Moab, and Godís judgement coming on Israel.

When we next see these young gals, Moses says,

(Num 31:16 KJV) Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.

Balaam saw he couldnít bring a direct curse on Israel, he came up with a plan to make them stumble, but having the young Moabite gals entice the young men into sexual sin, and bringing Godís wrath on them.

(Rev 2:14 KJV) But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.

:5 Pethor, which is by the river

Probably near the Euphrates (often referred to as "the River")

In 1933, a great city called Mari was discovered in the Euphrates valley. A vast number of cuneiform tablets tell of the existence of a complex cult of prophets and seers, just like Balaam. One of the things these prophets did for a living was pronounce curses on people.

:6 curse this people for me

Here's this king of Moab who has been checking out these Israelites and hearing all the incredible stories of their God, Yahweh. He realizes that he's up against more than swords and shields. He has to call in some spiritual power.

But if God is on your side, you don't need to worry yourself about curses.

ISA 54:17 "No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the \Lord\, And their vindication is from Me," declares the \Lord\.

Since God was on Israel's side, He didn't pay much attention to what Balak and Balaam were trying to do.

DEU 23:5 "Nevertheless, the \Lord\ your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but the \Lord\ your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the \Lord\ your God loves you.

:7-14 Balak's first delegation to Balaam

:7 rewards of divination

They were going to pay Balaam to put a curse on Israel.

Apparently the fees must have caught Balaam's eye, since he didn't seem to want to drop the whole thing but pursue it. Remember heís a "material guy".

:8 as the LORD may speak to me

Interestingly, Balaam uses God's covenant name, Yahweh, here. This is a name generally reserved for those who have a relationship with God.


1. Was Balaam a believer?

No. (Though many have argued both ways over the ages. Some feel he was an unbeliever that God allowed to speak the truth about His people, some feel he was a believer who backslid because of greed and immorality)

I think that there must have been some kind of acquaintance with the True God, but that was the extent of it.

If you look carefully through the story, you'll see that Balaam refers to God as Yahweh far more often than God refers to Himself when dealing with Balaam. Usually the verses that talk about God dealing with Balaam use "God" (Elohim) rather than "LORD" (Yahweh).

The New Testament seems to pretty clearly rank Balaam with false prophets, not believers. (2Pet.2:15; Jude 1:11; Rev. 2:14)

The Old Testament doesn't even call him a "prophet", but a "soothsayer", or, "diviner", an occupation forbidden to believers. (Josh. 13:22; Lev. 19:26)

2. If he was an unbeliever, why would Balaam refer to God as Yahweh rather than Elohim?

Because it was pretty well understood by everyone that Yahweh was the name of Israel's God.

It makes good business sense as a "diviner" to say you're on a first name basis with the client's target's God.

3. Contrary to popular opinion, God does not limit His conversations to believers.

There were other instances where God spoke to an unbeliever:

To Abimelech (Gen.20:6-7); To Pharaoh (Gen.41:25); To Nebuchadnezzar (Dan.4:1-18)

:9 God came unto Balaam

Elohim now, and throughout the passage

:12 Thou shalt not go with them

Does this sound simple enough to you? Read my lips.

:12 thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed

God's feelings were plain about Israel.

:15-20 Balak's second delegation to Balaam

:15 princes, more, and more honourable than they.

Did Balaam give the first group the impression that they weren't important enough?

Maybe if they raised the stakes a bit, then he would listen?

Since we know that Balaam was greedy (2Pet.2:15), perhaps the first group didnít offer enough financial advantages.

:17 I will promote thee unto very great honour

NAS - I will indeed honor you richly

Now youíre talking!

:18 If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold

Is Balaam really saying "no", or is he just dropping a big hint?

:18 I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more

Sounds like a believer.

Could it be like the tomatoes in the backyard? Jesus said you'd know a tree by its fruits. Our tomatoes looked good until you actually picked them and turned them over and find theyíre rotten on the underside.

If Balaam couldn't do anything contrary to God's command, then why does he bother to ask God when God has already said "NO!"

:21-30 Donkey talk

:22 God's anger was kindled because he went

Why was God angry? I thought God had just told Balaam to go! Can't God make up His mind?

Because of the way he was going.

Understanding the Hebrew in verse 22.

BUT: the phrase "because he went" is a participle, and could (or should) be translated "in the way he was going".

In other words, there was something in the manner in which he was going.

The more Balaam rode on with Balak's delegation, the more he thought about the riches and honor he had been promised.

Finally, God became concerned that Balaam wasn't going to keep God's condition, that he speak only what God told him to speak.

Look at how the angel describes it later in verse 32:

"Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was perverse (contrary, reckless) to me."

:22 the angel of the LORD

This is a theological phrase that identifies a specific person in the Old Testament (not New). It is not "an angel of the Lord", but "THE angel of the Lord".

This is a specific personage found in several places (52 times in OT):

He appeared to Hagar (Gen.16:7); Abraham (Gen.22:11); Moses (Ex. 3:2-4); Gideon (Jud.6:11); Samson's parents (Jud.13:3)

What or who is this person?

It is God appearing in a visible form, a theophany, a "pre-incarnate" appearance of Jesus Christ.

:23 the donkey saw the angel of the LORD

Isn't it interesting that Balaam, this big spiritual man of the year is riding along, he doesn't see the angel, but his donkey does?

There's something fitting here. Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor!


Be careful about spiritual pride.

Often when a young believer first receives the gift of tongues, they want to brag about it to every one they know, and will look down their noses at anyone who doesn't have the gift. Many churches have been split over this issue.

Yet Paul seems to indicate in 1Cor.12 that tongues is not exactly the most important of gifts, he puts it last in his listing of gifts.

A sign of real spiritual maturity is humility, not pride.

1PE 5:5-6 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for \God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble\. 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,

Be careful about comparing and puffing yourself up over your own spiritual experiences against another person. You may find yourself humiliated by a donkey.

:28 the LORD opened the mouth of the ass

And you think you aren't qualified to speak for the Lord?

Be careful when you don't get too puffed up when God uses you.

It's not that big of a deal.

God used a donkey here, He can still use donkeys.

:29 Then Balaam said to the donkey

Some people find it amazing that a donkey is talking.

I find it more amazing that Balaam answered back and didn't seem the least bit bothered with the fact that his donkey was talking to him! (maybe he used to watch "Mr. Ed")

:31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam,

That's the way it is with the spirit realm. Under normal circumstances we don't have the eyes required to see spiritual beings.

Wonderful things happen when God opens people's eyes.

Elisha's servant was able to relax a little with the Syrian army surrounding them when his eyes were opened.

2KI 6:17 Then Elisha prayed and said, "O \Lord,\ I pray, open his eyes that he may see." And the \Lord\ opened the servant's eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

:31 he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face

If this had been an ordinary angel, he would have refused worship (Rev. 22:8-9). But it wasnít an ordinary angel, it was Jesus.

:33 surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive.

The Angel was going to kill Balaam, yet let his donkey live.

Itís a pretty sad state of things when your donkey has more favor with God than you do.


Donít be quick to criticize the things that slow you down.

Sometimes things happen to delay us, hold us up, etc.

But rather than get mad at the "donkey" that slowed me down, perhaps we ought to consider that God was sparing my life.

:35 Go with the men: but ...

I thought God was mad for him going! Now He says its okay to go?

Obviously the problem wasn't in Balaam's going, it was in how he was going and what he was planning to do.

Now that God has Balaam's attention, now that Balaam understands how serious God is about Balaam saying the right things, God gives him permission.

:36-41 Meeting Balak

:40 Balak offered oxen and sheep,

The divination rituals begin. Often, divination involved the examining of an animals internal organs to tell the future.

:41 into the high places of Baal,

They went up to higher ground to get a glimpse of the invading people. The higher ground also happened to be a worship place of one of the local gods.

Numbers 23

:1-10 First Curse

:1 seven altars ... seven oxen ... seven rams ...

This isn't any kind of sacrifice prescribed by God, this is just part of Balaam's pagan practice. He's trying to get in touch with the Israelite's god.

:7 From Aram

The land of Syria today.

:8 How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed?

A curse doesn't have to come true.

As we've seen in previous studies, a curse is not some kind of magical incantation where the sorcerer has some kind of power to control things, and what he says has to necessarily come to pass. Itís pronouncing what God has decreed upon a person.

Here's old Balak just aching for Balaam to throw curses on God's people, and it's not working!

PRO 26:2 Like a sparrow in {its} flitting, like a swallow in {its} flying, So a curse without cause does not alight.

:9 For from the top of the rocks I see him ...

Take note of this, this plays a part in what happens in the next two chapters.

Balaam is simply noting that from his vantage point, these things are true.

So, what if they change vantage points?

:9 the people shall dwell alone

NAS Ė "a people who dwells apart"

This is the definition of "Holiness", being set apart.

Balaam is noting that this nation was not like the other nations. They were a people who acted differently than other peoples in the world.

Yet, from what we've read about Israel, was this a bunch of perfect people?

No! Yet they at least were in the process of being set apart for God's purposes.

If someone were to stand up on a hill overlooking your house, and be able to watch all that you do during the day, what would they say about you?

Are you trying to allow God to conform you into His likeness? Are you in the process?


Safety in holiness.

Because these people are trying to follow Godís ways, there canít be any curses on them.

I think that Balaam is aware of this, and thatís why heíll eventually counsel the Moabites to entice the Israelites into sexual sin.

Sometimes itís not always the "fun" thing to do.

Sometimes it means going to watch a "G" rated movie instead of an "R".

Sometimes it means simply turning off the TV.

But when we are trying to live lives pleasing to the Lord, we certainly don't have to worry about His discipline.

(Heb 12:5-10 NLT) And have you entirely forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you, his children? He said, "My child, don't ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don't be discouraged when he corrects you. {6} For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes those he accepts as his children." {7} As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Whoever heard of a child who was never disciplined? {8} If God doesn't discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children after all. {9} Since we respect our earthly fathers who disciplined us, should we not all the more cheerfully submit to the discipline of our heavenly Father and live forever? {10} For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God's discipline is always right and good for us because it means we will share in his holiness.

I am a spanking father. I spank my sons when it is appropriate. But I also don't spank them all the time. I don't spank them when they're being good, only when they're rebelliously being bad, or when they endanger themselves or each other.

:10 Who can count the dust of Jacob

In other words, there were a lot of Israelites, like the dust of the ground.

:10 let my last end be like his!

In other words, Balaam would like to trade places with the Israelites, since they were favorites of God.

:11-12 Balak's response

:11 What hast thou done unto me?

And I'm paying you good money for this too!

:13-26 Second Curse Attempt

:13 Please come with me to another place...

Maybe it's the location (see note on verse 9). Maybe if we just change locations ...

:19 God is not a man ... nor a son of man, that He should repent ...

Here's an important principle in Scripture we find about God:

God never changes.

We see the principle in the New Testament:

HEB 13:8 Jesus Christ {is} the same yesterday and today, {yes} and forever.

:21 neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel:

At least not yet.

Here's another clue that leads to Balaam's counseling the Moabites to stir up immorality among Israel.

:21 the shout of a king

God is like a king in their midst, organizing and leading them militarily to victory.

:24 he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey,

Guess who Balaam's talking about? The Moabites being eaten up by the Israelites!

No thank you!

:25 Neither curse them at all ...

Hey Balaam, will you stop already? Will you just keep your mouth shut?

:27-30 Let's try a third time

:27 to another place

Okay, let's try one more vantage point.

Perhaps if we just look at this problem from another angle.

Numbers 24

:1-9 "Curse" Number Three

:1 he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments

Was Balaam getting a clue about how God felt about these people?

Was he realizing that there was something powerful and real about God?

Previously he had resorted to his old pagan practices to start up these words from God.

But now he seems to realize that the rituals weren't all that big of a deal after all. Instead it really just depends upon whether God wants to talk or not.

:2 the Spirit of God came upon him

Interesting thought if he really was a pagan unbeliever.

Did God's Spirit ever come on other unbelievers?


Every time that King Saul sent messengers to capture David in 1Sam.19:20-24, the Spirit of God came on them and they prophesied. Even when Saul himself went, the Spirit came upon him.

:3 he took up his parable,

Here there seems to not be a gap in time from when God gives Balaam a word to when he speaks it. Balak hadn't even been sent away as at other times. It just seems that the Holy Spirit came upon Balaam, and he started prophesying.

:3 the man whose eyes are open

Again, that's what itís all about.

We need to have our spiritual eyes opened to the things around us.

PSA 119:18 Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Thy law.

God's Word is full of wonderful things if our eyes (and heart) would just open up.

:7 his king shall be higher than Agag

Agag was the name of the king of the Amalekites, as Pharaoh was for Egyptians.

It appears that the Amalekites may have been one of the first nations to have a king (see Num.24:20)

Israel had previously had a run in with them in the wilderness. (Exo. 17:8-16)

Saul and Samuel would later have a run in with them. (1Sam.15)

The Jews would have one final run in with a descendant of Agag, Haman. (Esther)

:8 he shall eat up the nations his enemies

Like maybe ... Moab?

:9 Blessed is he that blesseth thee...

The word that Balaam is giving is consistent with what God had already promised to Israel's forefather, Abraham:

GEN 12:3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. "#

:10-25 One last try

:11 lo, the LORD hath kept thee back from honour

This Yahweh youíve been talking about has kept you from your paycheck Balaam!

:14 I will advertise thee

NAS - I will advise you

:17 I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh

Meaning that Balaam, as a prophet, is looking into the future.

:17 there shall come a Star out of Jacob,

Hebrew poetry deals not with paring similar sounds in side by side lines, but similar thoughts, a rhyming of thoughts. Sometimes the thoughts are in contrast, such as:

PRO 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.

Sometimes the thoughts are parallel, one giving fuller explanation to another, such as here.

The star is parallel to the scepter in the next line, hence the star must refer to royalty in some way.

It's interesting to note that archaeological evidence from the ancient city of Mari (a city very near and very similar to Balaam's home town) where certain prophetic texts call various kings "stars".

:17 a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel,

Israel as yet had had no king. Yet the idea of a king coming was not unheard of. As Jacob prophesied over his twelve sons, he said:

GEN 49:10 "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him {shall be} the obedience of the peoples.

This would be partially fulfilled with David, but completely fulfilled with Jesus.

:17 destroy all the children of Sheth.

"Sheth" is the same name as Adam's third son, Seth.

If this is the case, it would mean all mankind. Some see this as the case.

"Sheth" could be translated "tumult"

Some think that this could refer to the Moabites, that they were a people in a turmoil, upset with the Israelite invasion.

Some see this as all the unbelieving people, the heathen.

:18 Edom shall be a possession

The Edomites would be conquered by Israel.

This is also consistent with previous prophecies (Gen.25:23; 27:29)

Eventually, it was David who conquered the Edomites:

2SA 8:14 And he put garrisons in Edom. In all Edom he put garrisons, and all the Edomites became servants to David. And the \Lord\ helped David wherever he went.

:18 Seir

Seir is another name for Edom.

Properly, it is the name of the hill country where Esau settled, becoming the land of Edom. (Gen.36:8)

:20 Amalek

The Amalekites, who apparently were living among the Moabites and Midianites, would also eventually be wiped out.

The last Amalekite mentioned seems to be Haman in the book of Esther. (Est. 3:1)

Haman was the moral enemy of the Jews. He tried to have the Jews wiped out, but instead he was wiped out.

:21 the Kenite

The Kenites were identical to or part of the Midianite peoples.

Moses' in-laws were called Midianites and at the same time Kenites (Num.10:29; Jdg.1:16)

Their territories were primarily in the desert areas of the Arabian Peninsula and Sinai.

:22 until Asshur shall carry thee away captive.

The Assyrian empire would eventually rise to world dominance through the conquests of Tiglath-Pileser III and Shalmaneser V from 745-722 b.c., about seven hundred years later.

The Kenites would be taken into captivity as most of the world was at that time.

:24 ships shall come from the coast of Chittim,

Chittim is another name for the island kingdom of Cyprus.

BKC: Many scholars think that Kittim refers not only to Cyprus specifically but also to all western Mediterranean maritime powers generally, particularly Rome (Jer.2:10; Eze.27:6; Dan.11:30). This remarkable prophecy found fulfillment in the overthrow of Asshur, which represented Mesopotamia and Persia, and Eber, which was the original name for the Hebrews, or Israelites. Later Rome did indeed incorporate the vestiges of the Assyrian Empire as well as Israel within its universal domination.

:24 Eber

One of the descendants of Shem (Gen.10:21,24). From him we get the term "Hebrew", another name for Israelites.

:25 Balaam arose and departed and returned to his place ...

It looks like it's all over between Balaam and Balak.

But wait! There's more!

Apparently, Balaam never made it home, or at least he came back after awhile.

It was his idea to tell the Moabites to send their young gals to seduce the Israelites, and bring Godís wrath (Num.31:16).


Donít let down your guard.

Or, It's not over until it's over (Yogi Berra, I think)

If you had been watching all this from the sidelines, or from your seat in the movie theater, you might have thought that the potential problem Israel might have had with Balaam was over.

Movies like to set you up this way: The bad guy is dead (so you think), you heave a sigh of relief, then the bad guy gets up again and starts doing bad things.

From time to time we're going to experience victories in the Lord.

It's great to Praise the Lord!

But then we're caught off guard when the next trial hits because we get to thinking that the time for trials is over. It's never over until we see Jesus!

1PE 4:12-13 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.