Numbers 23-24

Thursday Evening Bible Study

April 8, 2010


Do people see Jesus? Is the gospel preached? Does it speak to the broken hearted? Does it build up the church? Milk – Meat – Manna Preach for a decision

The nation of Israel has finally landed on the doorstep of the Promised Land.

It could have taken them two weeks to travel from Sinai to the Plains of Moab, but instead it took them forty years.  The book of Numbers is the history of that forty year journey.

Recently we saw them make their way from Kadesh, around the land of Edom, and then conquer the two Amorite kings Sihon and Og.

They have now settled temporarily on the Plains of Moab, getting ready to cross the Jordan River. (Play “Plains of Moab”)

While they are catching their breath, there are some events happening up in the hills of Moab.

The Moabite king Balak has hired a prophet named Balaam to bring a curse on these people.  His hope is that if they are cursed, then he might be able to take them on in battle.  He doesn’t realize that God has already told Israel to keep their hands off the Moabites.

Balaam is from a town far away on the River Euphrates.  He has been warned in several ways by God to be careful not to say anything that God doesn’t want him to say.

Some see him as a false prophet – we will see that he definitely is a guy with some serious issues.

Others see him as a good prophet gone bad.  Pay attention to the things he’s going to say – the prophecies are real.  God is going to speak through him.

They have made some preliminary sacrifices, part of the process of “divination”.  The chapter ended with:

(Nu 22:41 NKJV) —41 So it was, the next day, that Balak took Balaam and brought him up to the high places of Baal, that from there he might observe the extent of the people.

The idea is to give Balak a glimpse of the Israelites from a hill overlooking the plain, perhaps a glimpse will help him deliver the “curse”.
We are not sure of the actual location of “Baal”, this first “curse”.

23:1-12  The First “Curse”

:1 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build seven altars for me here, and prepare for me here seven bulls and 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.

:2 And Balak did just as Balaam had spoken, and Balak and Balaam offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

:3 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stand by your burnt offering, and I will go; perhaps the Lord will come to meet me, and whatever He shows me I will tell you.” So he went to a desolate height.

:3 desolate height[email protected] – bareness; bare place, height; i.e. an outlook-point

Balaam goes to a place where he can look out over the Israelites.

:4 And God met Balaam, and he said to Him, “I have prepared the seven altars, and I have offered on each altar a bull and a ram.”

:5 Then the LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, “Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.”

You aren’t told here exactly what that word was, just that God put it in Balaam’s mouth.  You’ll hear the word in a minute.

:6 So he returned to him, and there he was, standing by his burnt offering, he and all the princes of Moab.

:7 And he took up his oracle and said:

:7 oraclemashal – proverb, parable, memorable saying, poem

:7 “Balak the king of Moab has brought me from Aram, From the mountains of the east. ‘Come, curse Jacob for me, And come, denounce Israel!’

:7 Aram – the nation or people of Aram, Syria (see map of Pethor)

:8 “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?

:8 How shall I curse… A curse doesn't have to come true.

A true 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.  It’s pronouncing what God has decreed upon a person.

Balak is just aching for Balaam to throw curses on God’s people, and it’s not working!

(Pr 26:2 NKJV) Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow, So a curse without cause shall not alight.

:9 For from the top of the rocks I see him, And from the hills I behold 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.  I wonder what would happen if they changed vantage points?

:9 There! A people dwelling alone, Not reckoning itself among the nations.

:9 a people dwelling alone

(Nu 23:9 NASB95) “As I see him from the top of the rocks, And I look at him from the hills; Behold, a people who dwells apart, And will not be reckoned among the nations.

In some ways, this is the very definition of holiness – being set apart for God’s use.

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, were these 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?  Actually there are people watching you, like your kids…

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 God’s ways, there won’t be any curses on them.
I think that Balaam is aware of this, and that’s why he’ll eventually counsel the Moabites to entice the Israelites into sexual sin.
Holiness isn’t 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 was a spanking father.  I spanked my sons when it was appropriate. But I also didn’t spank them all the time.  I didn’t spank them when they were being good, only when they were rebelliously being bad, or when they endanger themselves or each other.

God doesn’t discipline us for being good.  That doesn’t mean we won’t experience difficulties, but that we won’t experience the extra difficulties that come from being bad.

:10 “Who can count the dust of Jacob, Or number one-fourth of Israel?

There were a lot of Israelites.  We think close to two million of them.

:10 Let me die the death of the righteous, And let my end be like his!”

This is not much of a “curse”.  Balaam wants to grow up to be like an Israelite…

:11 Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and look, you have blessed them bountifully!”

Balak is not a “satisfied” customer.  He might complain to the Better Prophets Bureau.

:12 So he answered and said, “Must I not take heed to speak what the LORD has put in my mouth?”

Balaam promised that he would only say what God told him to say.

23:13-26 The Second “Curse”

:13 Then Balak said to him, “Please come with me to another place from which you may see them; you shall see only the outer part of them, and shall not see them all; curse them for me from there.”

Maybe if they just change locations and look at the Israelites from another perspective.

:14 So he brought him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

:14 ZophimTsophiym – “watchers”

:14 PisgahPicgah – “cleft”

We know where this place is.  See map.

Play “View from Pisgah” video clip

This is the same view that Moses will get when he gets a peek at the Promised Land before his death.

:15 And he said to Balak, “Stand here by your burnt offering while I meet the Lord over there.”

:16 Then the Lord met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, “Go back to Balak, and thus you shall speak.”

:17 So he came to him, and there he was, standing by his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab were with him. And Balak said to him, “What has the Lord spoken?”

:18 Then he took up his oracle and said: “Rise up, Balak, and hear! Listen to me, son of Zippor!

:19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

:19 repent

There are two different senses that the word “repent” can carry.

1. It can carry a sense of “regret”, to be sorry.

God is “sorry” at times.  Like prior to Noah’s flood when men were incredibly, continuously wicked:
(Ge 6:6 NKJV) And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
(Ge 6:6 KJV) And it repented the LORD that he had made man …

2. It can carry the idea of turning around, of changing your mind.

This is what we are supposed to do concerning our sins.  We are to turn around, to “repent”.
God does not repent.
He never needs to turn around.
He is always going in the right direction.

Here – God is not going to change His mind about blessing these people.


God never changes

This is a huge principle when it comes to understanding God.
God’s ideas about sin don’t change.
Our society is constantly changing, mostly getting deeper and deeper into sin.
Yet what God has considered wrong in the past is still wrong.
God’s ideas about salvation don’t change.
Salvation has always been about faith, about trusting in God.

(Jn 3:14–16 NKJV) —14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

In both the Old and New testament, it has always been about faith in God.

God’s ideas about you don’t change.
(Je 31:3 NKJV) —3 The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.
(Ro 8:32 NKJV) —32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

:20 Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.

:21 “He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, Nor has He seen wickedness 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 LORD his God is with him, And the shout of a King is among them.

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

:22 God brings them out of Egypt; He has strength like a wild ox.

Wild – He cannot be tamed

:23 “For there is no sorcery against Jacob, Nor any divination against Israel. It now must be said of Jacob And of Israel, ‘Oh, what God has done!’

:24 Look, a people rises like a lioness, And lifts itself up like a lion; It shall not lie down until it devours the prey, And drinks the blood of the slain.”

The nation of Israel is like a wild lion that is going to conquer everything in its path.

You don’t want to be taking on the Israelites at this time.

:25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all!”

Balak just wishes that Balaam would keep his mouth shut.

“If you don’t have anything bad to say, then don’t say anything at all!”

:26 So Balaam answered and said to Balak, “Did I not tell you, saying, ‘All that the Lord speaks, that I must do’?”

23:27-30 Change Location

:27 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.”

:28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, that overlooks the wasteland.

:29 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build for me here seven altars, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.”

:30 And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on every altar.

:28 Peor – Just like the place called “Baal” (22:41), I’m not sure we know where this place is.  The point is that Balak and Balaam keep changing spots from hill top to hill top to get differing viewpoints over the people sprawled out in the plains of Moab.

Show “Balaam’s View of Israel” map video.

24:1-9 The Third “Curse”

:1 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.

:1 sorcerynachash – to practice divination, observe signs, practice fortunetelling, take as an omen

By the way, “sorcery” or diviniation was prohibited by God:

(Le 19:26 NKJV) —26 ‘You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor shall you practice divination or soothsaying.

:1 he did not go as at other times – 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 And Balaam raised his eyes, and saw Israel encamped according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him.

:2  the Spirit of God came upon him

If Balaam was really just a pagan unbeliever, would the Spirit do this?

Did God’s Spirit ever come on other unbelievers? Possibly:

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 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 two previous times Balaam went away from Balak and then God spoke to him.

This time it changes.  Balak isn’t sent away, instead the Spirit falls on Balaam and he just starts speaking.

:3 the man whose eyes are opened

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

(Ps 119:18 NKJV) —18 Open my eyes, that I may see Wondrous things from Your law.
God’s Word is full of wonderful things if our eyes (and heart) would just open up.

When Elisha was going to be arrested by the Syrians, he wasn’t worried when the Syrian army surrounded the hill that he lived on.  But Elisha’s servant was worried.

(2 Ki 6:17 NKJV) And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

:4 The utterance of him who hears the words of God, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Who falls down, with eyes wide open:

:4 eyes wide open

:5 “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwellings, O Israel!

:6 Like valleys that stretch out, Like gardens by the riverside, Like aloes planted by the LORD, Like cedars beside the waters.

:6 aloes – see picture

:6 cedars – see picture

Some suggest Balaam is painting a picture like the Garden of Eden.  Israel has good stuff in its future.

:7 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.

:7 pour water – in a desert land like Moab, this is a beautiful picture.

:7 his seed – it might be a reference to fertile fields, lots of wheat and barley growing in the field.  It also could be a reference to seed in the sense of offspring, of large families, of a large nation.

:7 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)
But today, there are Jews, but there are no Amalekites.

:8 “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.

If the Moabites are smart, they will stay away from causing trouble with Israel.

:9 ‘He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him?’ “Blessed is he who blesses you, And cursed is he who curses you.”

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

(Ge 12:3 NKJV) —3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

24:10-25 One Last “Curse”

:10 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!

:11 Now therefore, flee to your place. I said I would greatly honor you, but in fact, the LORD has kept you back from honor.”

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

Balak is only paying for curses, not blessings.

:12 So Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not also speak to your messengers whom you sent to me, saying,

:13 ‘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’?

:14 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.”

Before Balaam goes home, he’s going to let Balak know a little more about the future.  He’s going to tell Balak what the Israelites are going to do to the Moabites.

:15 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;

:16 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:

:17 “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near;

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

:17 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.

:17  a Star shall come 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:

(Pr 15:1 NKJV) —1 A soft 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 Scepter shall rise out of Israel,

Israel as yet did not have an earthly king.  Yet the idea of a king in Israel was not unheard of.  As Jacob prophesied over his twelve sons, he said:

(Ge 49:10 NKJV) —10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.
This would be partially fulfilled with David, but completely fulfilled with Jesus.

:17  destroy all the sons of tumult

The Hebrew for “tumult” is “sheth”, 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 “And Edom shall be a possession; Seir also, his enemies, shall be a possession, While Israel does valiantly.

: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:

(2 Sa 8:14 NKJV) —14 He also put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom he put garrisons, and all the Edomites became David’s servants. And the Lord preserved 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)

:19 Out of Jacob One shall have dominion, And destroy the remains of the city.”

:20 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.”

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

:21 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;

:21 Kenites – 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.

:21 Rock – makes me think of the cities like Petra, carved out of the rock

:22 Nevertheless Kain shall be burned. How long until Asshur carries you away captive?”

:22 Kain – the root word for “Kenite”

:22 Asshur

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.

:23 Then he took up his oracle and said: “Alas! Who shall live when God does this?

:24 But ships shall come from the coasts of Cyprus, And they shall afflict Asshur and afflict Eber, And so shall Amalek, until he perishes.”

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

:24 Cyprus – the Hebrew is Chittim, another name for the island kingdom of Cyprus.

The Chittim or “Kittim” refers prophetically not just to Cyprus, but prophetically to western Mediterranean navies, particularly Rome (Jer.2:10; Eze.27:6; Dan.11:30)

This is speaking of the time when the Roman empire will end up conquering the world, including the land of the ancient Assyrians, as well as Israel (“Eber” or “Hebrew”)

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

:25 Balaam rose and departed – 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 God’s wrath (Num.31:16).


Don’t 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!
(1 Pe 4:12–13 NKJV) —12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.