Book of Numbers Chapter Twenty-Four Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Balaam At Peor
Verses 1-4: "When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times to seek omens but he set his face toward the wilderness. 2 And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God came upon him. 3 He took up his discourse and said, 'The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, and the oracle of the man whose eye is opened; 4 The oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty,
falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered." Balaam was thought by the leaders of Moab and Midian to be some kind of prophet. Actually he was more like an astrologer who looked for signs and omens and then sold information to characters like Balak the Moabite king, who had hired the man and was standing nearby. Note that Balaam was the son of his father, Beor, whereas we saw in Numbers 23:28 that the hilltop overlooking Israel where they now stood had a similar name—Peor—a place, not a person. That's significant because Numbers 31:16 reveals that when Balaam was forbidden by the Lord to curse Israel as Balak had paid him to do, Balaam, at the hill of Peor, suggested sending Midianite and Moabite women to the camp of Israel to give themselves to the men and bring their idols into that nation. Most amazing of all is that "the Spirit of God came upon" this false prophet, Balaam, as seen here in Verse 2. God speaks to humankind any way He wants. In Numbers 22:21-33, the Lord spoke to Balaam through a donkey, and here in this chapter, God spoke through this donkey of a man to the coalition leaders of Moab and Midian. And Balaam was as surprised as we are that God spoke to him.
"How fair are your tents, O Jacob,
your dwellings, O Israel! 6 Like valleys that stretch out,
like gardens beside the river,
like aloes planted by the Lord,
like cedars beside the waters. 7 Water will flow from his buckets,
and his seed will be by many waters,
and his king shall be higher than Agag,
and his kingdom shall be exalted. 8 God brings him out of Egypt,
he is for him like the horns of the wild ox.
He will devour the nations who are his adversaries,
and will crush their bones in pieces,
and shatter them with his arrows. 9 He couches, he lies down as a lion,
and as a lion, who dares rouse him?
Blessed is everyone who blesses you,
and cursed is everyone who curses you.'" The people of Israel have suffered at the hands of others for literally thousands of years. Those who would extend that suffering into the present and future should take careful note of these verses as to how God views that nation. They are, from His perspective, like beautiful valleys, lovely gardens, tasty fruit, majestic trees and refreshing waters. The Lord is Israel's Rescuer, who delivered them from slavery and empowers the nation in battle. Most of all, note Verse 9: If you bless Israel, you will be blessed, but if you attempt to curse them in some manner, the curse will fall on you. Individuals, tribes and nations all over the world should consider these verses before contemplating anything that might harm the people and nation of Israel. Agag, by the way, was a royal name taken by more than one king of the Amalekites.
In Verses 10-11, King Balak, the leader of Moab and head of a coalition of nations that included Midian, became angry enough to kill Balaam, the "prophet" he had hired for the purpose of placing a curse on the nation Israel: "Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, 'I called you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have persisted in blessing them these three times! 11 Therefore, flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but behold, the Lord has held you back from honor.'" Balak essentially said to Balaam: "Go home...get out of here...I accept it that the Lord is the Author of the words you have spoken, but my patience has worn very thin... Go, before it's too late...I do NOT honor you..." etc. Balaam was still in trouble, but he had become puffed up with pride and was not ready to go because the Lord had spoken—to him!
Verses 12-14: "Balaam said to Balak, 'Did I not tell your messengers whom you had sent to me, saying, 13 'Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything contrary to the command of the Lord, either good or bad, of my own accord. What the Lord speaks, that I will speak'? 14 And now, behold, I am going to my people; come, and I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the days to come.'" Instead of the omens and signs he typically was paid to interpret, Balaam had actually heard from the Lord—multiple times! He was confident. The money was his, Balak had not asked for a refund, and it seemed possible that the Lord who spoke to him might also keep him safe. And so he incredibly once more blamed the Lord for his disobedience to the command of Balak, his earthly king. "All right, all right," he would go home, but he had more to say to the elders of Moab and Midian who were at Peor with him.
Balaam was not a man of truth—he was an opportunist. God had spoken to him and he would use words to get himself out of the mess he was in. Verses 15-16: "He took up his discourse and said, 'The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
and the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, 16 The oracle of him who hears the words of God,
and knows the knowledge of the Most High,
who sees the vision of the Almighty,
falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered.'" Balaam's confidence had returned with a vengeance, which was dangerous because he had what might be called "delusions of grandeur." He was appropriating to himself the words that really came from the Lord, a really bad decision. If the Lord speaks through us, they are not our words—they are His, and we reasonably give Him the credit for what is said.
Amazingly, the Lord spoke once more through Balaam in Verses
17-22: "I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near;
a star shall come forth from Jacob,
a scepter shall rise from Israel,
and shall crush through the forehead of Moab,
and tear down all the sons of Sheth. 18 Edom shall be a possession,
Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession,
while Israel performs valiantly. 19 One from Jacob shall have dominion, and will destroy the remnant from the city.' 20 And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said, 'Amalek was the first of the nations,
but his end shall be destruction.' 21 And he looked at the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said, 'Your dwelling place is enduring,
and your nest is set in the cliff. 22 Nevertheless Kain will be consumed;
how long will Asshur keep you captive?'" A sampling of towns, cities, tribes and nations is listed in these verses and they were to belong to or be dominated by Israel, with the implication that the whole region would be theirs. The Kenites were mentioned in Genesis 15:19—the descendants of Abraham would take their land. Kain was a prominant local city-state, which would soon belong to the Israeli tribe of Judah. Kittim was another name for the Island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean, though also used for other Greek islands as well. Asshur was the chief "god" of the Assyrians and also was the name of one of their key cities. Most notable here are the references to the Messiah, the Christ, who would come out of Israel. As to the "star" here in Verse 17—in Revelation 22:16, Jesus Christ is revealed as "the bright and morning star" who would appear in the future from that moment. Psalm 45:6 is quoted in Hebrews 1:8-9, noting that the "scepter" of power is forever in the hand of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Our destiny is to be His, not merely part of some worldly group. We are in God's everlasting Kingdom through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord's prophecy through this strange Balaam concludes in Verses 23-24: "Then he took up his discourse and said, 'Alas, who can live except God has ordained it? 24 But ships shall come from the coast of Kittim,
and they shall afflict Asshur and will afflict Eber;
so they also will come to destruction.'" As Balaam finished reciting God's words to the leaders of Moab and Midian, here's a question from Verse 23: Have you wondered why you are alive? You may wish you weren't, or like Balaam, think you're some kind of gift to the world. You live, as stated in Verse 23, because God ordains it. There is purpose for you, which is to be "born again," to be "born of the Spirit," to "believe," to have "everlasting life" as Jesus later revealed and encouraged in John Chapter 3. That is why you live. The opportunity is yours through faith in the Lord.
Verse 25: "Then Balaam arose and departed and returned to his place, and Balak also went his way." A stunned Balak watched as Balaam strode away, and then he left also. The reason King Balak didn't have the man killed immediately is not clear in this chapter, but as seen in Numbers 31:16, Balaam prolonged his life by giving the king bad advice as they stood on the hilltop called Peor. The result of Balaam's advice to Balak will begin to unfold in Numbers Chapter 25.
Lord, we long for You. We confess our sin of thinking we are something, when it is You who is our Savior and King. Forgive us, Lord, for our recklessness. We place our trust in You. We are Yours. In Jesus Name. Amen.