Numbers 23

1 Balaam said to Balak, “Build here seven altars for me, and prepare here seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 2 Balak did as Balaam had spoken; and Balak and Balaam offered on every altar a bull and a ram. 3 Balaam said to Balak, “Stand by your burnt offering, and I will go. Perhaps the LORD will come to meet me. Whatever he shows me I will tell you.” He went to a bare height. 4 God met Balaam, and he said to him, “I have prepared the seven altars, and I have offered up a bull and a ram on every altar.” 5 The LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, “Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.” 6 He returned to him, and behold, he was standing by his burnt offering, he, and all the princes of Moab. 7 He took up his parable, and said, “From Aram has Balak brought me, the king of Moab from the mountains of the East. Come, curse Jacob for me. Come, defy Israel. 8 How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? How shall I defy whom the LORD has not defied? 9 For from the top of the rocks I see him. From the hills I see him. Behold, it is a people that dwells alone, and shall not be listed amongst the nations. 10 Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous! Let my last end be like his!” 11 Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have blessed them altogether.” 12 He answered and said, “Must I not take heed to speak that which the LORD puts in my mouth?” 13 Balak said to him, “Please come with me to another place, where you may see them. You shall see just part of them, and shall not see them all. Curse them from there for me.” 14 He took him into the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars, and offered up a bull and a ram on every altar. 15 He said to Balak, “Stand here by your burnt offering, while I meet over there.” 16 The LORD met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, “Return to Balak, and say this.” 17 He came to him, and behold, he was standing by his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him. Balak said to him, “What has the LORD spoken?” 18 He took up his parable, and said, “Rise up, Balak, and hear! Listen to me, you son of Zippor. 19 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor the son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it good? 20 Behold, I have received a command to bless. He has blessed, and I can’t reverse it. 21 He has not seen iniquity in Jacob. Neither has he seen perverseness in Israel. The LORD his God is with him. The shout of a king is amongst them. 22 God brings them out of Egypt. He has as it were the strength of the wild ox. 23 Surely there is no enchantment with Jacob; neither is there any divination with Israel. Now it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, ‘What has God done!’ 24 Behold, the people rises up as a lioness. As a lion he lifts himself up. He shall not lie down until he eats of the prey, and drinks the blood of the slain.” 25 Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all.” 26 But Balaam answered Balak, “Didn’t I tell you, saying, ‘All that the LORD speaks, that I must do?’” 27 Balak said to Balaam, “Come now, I will take you to another place; perhaps it will please God that you may curse them for me from there.” 28 Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, that looks down on the desert. 29 Balaam said to Balak, “Build seven altars for me here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me here.” 30 Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered up a bull and a ram on every altar.

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Questions about today’s reading? See if Matthew Henry can help.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, 1706

Verses 1–10

With the camps of Israel full in view, Balaam ordered seven altars to be built, and a bullock and a ram to be offered on each. Oh the sottishness of superstition, to imagine that God will be at man’s beck! The curse is turned into a blessing, by the overruling power of God, in love to Israel. God designed to serve his own glory by Balaam, and therefore met him. If God put a word into the mouth of Balaam, who would have defied God and Israel, surely he will not be wanting to those who desire to glorify God, and to edify his people; it shall be given what they should speak. He who opened the mouth of the ass, caused the mouth of this wicked man to speak words as contrary to the desire of his heart, as those of the ass were to the powers of the brute. The miracle was as great in the one case as in the other. Balaam pronounces Israel safe. He owns he could do no more than God suffered him to do. He pronounces them happy in their distinction from the rest of the nations. Happy in their numbers, which made them both honourable and formidable. Happy in their last end. Death is the end of all men; even the righteous must die, and it is good for us to think of this with regard to ourselves, as Balaam does here, speaking of his own death. He pronounces the righteous truly blessed, not only while they live, but when they die; which makes their death even more desirable than life itself. But there are many who desire to die the death of the righteous, but do not endeavour to live the life of the righteous; gladly would they have an end like theirs, but not a way like theirs. They would be saints in heaven, but not saints on earth. This saying of Balaam’s is only a wish, not a prayer; it is a vain wish, being only a wish for the end, without any care for the means. Many seek to quiet their consciences with the promise of future amendment, or take up with some false hope, while they neglect the only way of salvation, by which a sinner can be righteous before God.

Verses 11–30

Balak was angry with Balaam. Thus a confession of God’s overruling power is extorted from a wicked prophet, to the confusion of a wicked prince. A second time the curse is turned into a blessing; and this blessing is both larger and stronger than the former. Men change their minds, and break their words; but God never changes his mind, and therefore never recalls his promise. And when in Scripture he is said to repent, it does not mean any change of his mind; but only a change of his way. There was sin in Jacob, and God saw it; but there was not such as might provoke him to give them up to ruin. If the Lord sees that we trust in his mercy, and accept of his salvation; that we indulge no secret lust, and continue not in rebellion, but endeavour to serve and glorify him; we may be sure that he looks upon us as accepted in Christ, that our sins are all pardoned. Oh the wonders of providence and grace, the wonders of redeeming love, of pardoning mercy, of the new-creating Spirit! Balak had no hope of ruining Israel, and Balaam showed that he had more reason to fear being ruined by them. Since Balaam cannot say what he would have him, Balak wished him to say nothing. But though there are many devices in man’s heart, God’s counsels shall stand. Yet they resolve to make another attempt, though they had no promise on which to build their hopes. Let us, who have a promise that the vision at the end shall speak and not lie, continue earnest in prayer, Lu 18:1.

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