Numbers 23-24 – Balaam Blesses Israel in Seven Messages
Balaam was sought by Balak (king of Moab, see Numbers 22) to confront the Israelites. Balaam was a pagan diviner, paid for his service (Numbers 22:7), yet used by God for greater purposes. God tells Balaam one thing, but Balaam tries to do another and the story of Balaam’s Donkey is recorded for our understanding (Numbers 22:21-34). Balaam, though used by God to deliver prophesies for Israel, advised the Moabite women to seduce the Israelites (Numbers 31:15-16, 25:1-2).
It’s so interesting to see how much we can learn just by reading the Bible with sincere intents to learn how one part is played out in another, how the history impacts the prophesy, how our ancestors affect our current concerns.
In these chapters, we pick up the story of Balaam just after he meets with Balak and tells him “I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth” (Numbers 22:38). In Numbers 23 and 24 we read seven messages from Balaam.
“How can I curse those whom God has not cursed, How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced?” (23:8)
Balak’s response: “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!” (23:11). Not to mention that Balak paid Balaam handsomely for the “correct” curse.
“I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it” (23:20)
Balak is not happy with the second message, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!” (23:25). Balak continues to believe he can keep trying this ruse and get Balaam to curse the Israelites, so they move to another spot.
In Balaam’s third message, he sincerely sees Israel as God’s people because “the Spirit of God came on him” (24:2). In this message Balaam proclaims:
“May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!” (24:9)
Balak is really angry now! “He struck his hands together and said to [Balaam], ‘I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times’” (24:10). He sends Balaam away, but Balaam is not quite finished:
“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 people of Sheth” (24:17)
“Amalek was first among the nations, but their end will be utter destruction” (24:20)
Again Balaam spoke (6th message):
“yet you Kenites will be destroyed when Ashur takes you captive” (24:22)
And finally the last message:
“Alas! Who can live when God does this? Ships will come from the shores of Cyprus; they will subdue Ashur and Eber, but they too will come to ruin” (24:24)
Balaam’s messages end, Balak was not pleased, but apparently heard some advice from Balaam to infect the Israelites by enticing them with his women (see 25 and 31:15-16). We don’t hear these words in the present passage, but apparently there was more discussion than the seven messages. The Israelites were not aware of the Balak/Balaam interaction, but God was guiding and protecting them anyway. Then they entered into great sin (Numbers 25) and God has to discipline his own.
The primary learning point here is that God can and will use people to spread his message, even those who are not true believers. This is not necessarily comforting, because it means we have to be even more discerning when interacting with people who may or may not be obviously against Christians. Lord help me to keep focused on you first, to hear your voice in a world that would quickly entice me to turn from you. Thank you for this story, this history. May we all learn and put the learning to your good use!