Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Numbers 23:27–24:14

Numbers 23:27–24:14: Balak and Balaam—Balaam’s Third Oracle


Balaam has now uttered two oracles to Balak, both of which were in the Israelites’ favour, rather than the Moabites’, so you’d think that Balak would give up, cut his losses, and send Balaam home. Unfortunately (for Balak), this is not the case.
Then Balak said to Balaam, “Come, let me take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God to let you curse them for me from there.” (verse 23:27)
I find this pretty mule-headed. God gives Balak a message that the Israelites are His people, and He won’t abandon them, then He gives another message in which He says that He is not a man, that He should change his mind. But Balak still tries again, thinking that maybe a change of scenery would somehow change God’s mind.

As before, they build seven altars, and sacrifice a bull and a ram on each one. But then, in verse 24:1, it says that this time Balaam “did not resort to sorcery as at other times,” but simply turned his face toward the desert, where the Israelites were, at which time the Spirit came upon him, and he uttered his third oracle. It never specified, in previous passages, what type of sorcery Balaam was using, but apparently he was resorting to his normal, pagan practices, whereas this time the Spirit of the LORD simply came to him.

When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him and he uttered his oracle:
  “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor,
  the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly,

the oracle of one who hears the words of God,
  who sees a vision from the Almighty,
  who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:

“How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob,
  your dwelling places, O Israel!

“Like valleys they spread out,
  like gardens beside a river,
  like aloes planted by the LORD,
  like cedars beside the waters.

Water will flow from their buckets;
  their seed will have abundant water.
  “Their king will be greater than Agag;
  their kingdom will be exalted.

“God brought them out of Egypt;
  they have the strength of a wild ox.
  They devour hostile nations
  and break their bones in pieces;
  with their arrows they pierce them.

Like a lion they crouch and lie down,
  like a lioness—who dares to rouse them?
  “May those who bless you be blessed
  and those who curse you be cursed!”

(verses 24:2–9)

As you can see, these oracles just keep getting worse and worse for Balak. Not only is Israel being blessed, instead of being cursed, but now God is declaring a curse on anyone who attempts to curse them! So Balak gets angry with Balaam, and tells him to go home. He says that he would have rewarded Balaam, but that the LORD has prevented him from being rewarded. To which Balaam answers that he had warned Balak, right from the beginning, that he could do nothing other than what God let him do. The passage ends with a rather ominous—for Balak—sentence:
“Now I am going back to my people, but come, let me warn you of what this people will do to your people in days to come.” (verse 24:14)
In the next passage, we’ll see what that is.


There’s not much to say about this passage, that I didn’t say about previous passages. I notice that the oracles are not just getting more and more in favour of Israel, but also that Balaam seems to be worshipping the LORD more and more each time. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that he is becoming a true follower of God. Revelation 2:14 indicates that there were other dealings between Balaam and Balak, aside from what is recorded here, in which Balaam taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin, with food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality.

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