Feb. 21 Reading: Numbers 23-25 Commentary
“So he [Balaam] answered and said, ‘Must I not take heed to speak what the Lord has put in my mouth?'” (Num. 23:12)
“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.” (Num. 24:17)
Numbers 23 – Balaam’s First and Second Prophecies
God can’t be stopped, even by an evil prophet. That’s what we learn in the story of Balaam. Hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to put a curse on the Israelites (Num. 22), Balaam can do no such thing. Balaam is only allowed to speak the words God puts in his mouth.
Balak is not deterred by Balaam’s insistence that his words will be from God. He builds seven altars and sacrifices seven bulls and seven rams as part of their pagan ritual. Balaam told Balak to stand by the offerings while he went to “a desolate height” to see what God would tell him to say.
Indeed, God gave Balaam the words to say. He returned to the sacrifice location and offered this first prophecy to Balak:
“How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced? For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him; There! A people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations.” (vv. 8-9)
Balak is furious because Balaam has blessed Israel (v. 11). And once again Balaam tells Balak that he can only speak what God tells him to speak saying: “Must I not take heed to speak what the Lord has put in my mouth?” (v. 12).
Balaam’s Second Prophecy
Balak wants to try again. So he takes Balaam to the top of Mount Pisgah and builds seven more altars for sacrifices of bulls and rams. He remained at the altars while Balaam seeks out the Lord (v. 15).
When Balaam returned, his second prophecy against Israel is the same as the first:
“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? Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.” (vv. 19-20).
Nothing has changed. This pagan prophet can only speak what God puts in his mouth (v. 26).
Numbers 24 – Even More Prophecies from Balaam
Balak is still not done. He takes Balaam to yet another location, the top of Mount Peor. Seven altars are again built with seven rams and bulls offered upon them (vv. 27-29).
At this point, Balaam realized it “pleased the Lord to bless Israel, [so] he did not go as other times, to seek to use sorcery” (v. 1). Instead, as he faced Israel’s camp, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he said:
“The utterance of the man whose eyes are opened, the utterance of him who hears the words of God…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 consume the nations, his enemies; He shall break their bones and pierce them with his arrows…Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you.” (vv. 3-9)
Balak is infuriated that Balaam has blessed Israel now three times. He tries to manipulate Balaam by threatening to take away the honor and riches he had originally promised (v. 10).
Balaam’s Fourth Prophecy
Unsolicited and without any further sacrifices, Balaam offers his fourth prophecy:
“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.” (vv. 16-17).
This one is particularly interesting. Not only does it again bless the people, but it contains a vision of the future. Balaam saw a vision of the coming Messiah (Jesus) in the “Star” and the “Scepter” imagery. Not only did he see it, but he saw the outcome. The Messiah would have victory over his foes (Moab, sons of tumult)(see Ps. 2; Rev. 19:11-21).
This fourth prophecy also includes several shorter oracles against other nations. They include Amalek (v. 20), the Kenites (v. 21-22) and unknown nations (vv. 23-24) that would rise up against one another.
Now finished prophesying, Balaam and Balak part ways.
This interesting encounter shows us that God can use anyone for his purposes, even if that person is not a believer and set on doing wrong. The world may think they can stop God’s agenda. But no one can thwart his will. His plans will unfold exactly as he desires.
Numbers 25 – Sexual Immorality and Idolatry in Moab
It’s not the best timing to commit major sins while on the doorstep of the Promised Land. But that is what happens in Numbers 25. Israel is enticed by the woman of Moab into sexual sin and worship of their pagan god Baal (vv. 1-3).
God orders all he offenders to be hanged (v. 4). Moses complies, telling all the judges to kill the men joined to Baal. And a plague begins among the people (v. 9).
One particularly action of two people is noted in the incident. A man named Zimri and a Midianite woman named Cozbi (vv. 14-15) engage in some blatant, perhaps public display of sin. The text does not say what it was or where it happened, although based on the wording of verse 6, it may have occurred near the tabernacle.
We read that Phineas, son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron saw what happened. He was so zealous for the Lord that he took a javelin and killed them both in a tent (v. 8). When that happened the plague stopped, but not before 24,000 people had died (v. 9).
God praised Phineas for his actions:
“Phinehas…has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal…Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace; and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.” (vv. 10-13)
God rewards those who act on what is right. He blesses those who follow his commands.
Questions to Consider:
The ungodly prophet Balaam was hired by the King of Moab to put a curse on Israel. But God actually used Balaam’s own words to bless the Israelites instead. Have you ever seen God take something a person meant for evil and turn it into something good? Has God ever used you in a way you did not see coming?
When was the last time you took a bold step for the Lord against something you knew was wrong?
What other points would you want to know about in our Numbers 23-25 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.