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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 23

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-4

NUMBERS - TWENTY-THREE

Verses l-4:

Among pagans, it was customary to offer sacrifices to their gods, in an attempt to secure their favorable consideration. To Balak and Balaam, Jehovah was but another God among many. Since Israel worshipped Jehovah, and since they had won impressive victories over Sihon and Og, they reasoned that their God Jehovah must be very powerful. So, they sought to gain His approval for their plans, by offering sacrifices to Him. Ps 115:4-9.

The worship of Balak and Balaam was after the pattern of this world. And although God met and talked with Balaam, He refused to alter His plans as the result of their sacrifices. People today attempt to worship God after the pattern of this world. God does not accept this type of worship, Pr 16:25.

"Seven" appears to figure prominently in the worship of Jehovah. Balaam attempted to capitalize on this, and ordered seven altars to be built.

"High place," literally, a "bald place." Likely a bare hill-top from which Balaam could both view Israel’s camp, and attempt to communicate with Israel’s God.

Verses 5-10

verses 5-10:

Jehovah did communicate with Balaam, and ordered him to carry the message to Balak. Balaam returned to the altars where Balak and his court waited. The message he heard was not what he wanted to hear.

Balaam "took up his parable," following the antithetic poetry of his day.

"Aram," or Aram-Naharim, the land of Mesopotamia, Ge 29:1; De 23:4. This may account in part for the extensive knowledge Balaam had of the nation of Israel, and his reference to the nation as "Jacob."

"The people shall dwell alone," i.e., a people that is separated, from the world’s other nations. They were not "reckoned" or numbered among the nations, but were a separate people holy to Jehovah.

"Fourth part," possibly an allusion to the four huge groups into which Israel’s camp was divided. To the eye of the pagan, unregenerate world, even one of these groups constituted an innumerable host.

Balaam expressed a wish that when he should come to the time of his death, he might have a hope and reward as rich as that of Israel the people of God.

Balaam’s vision was not that of the literal host of Israel, but of the spiritual and future blessings which God would bestow upon His people.

Verses 11-13

Verses 11-13:

The message Balaam gave was not what Balak expected - or wanted. He had asked for a curse upon Israel; instead, he got a blessing. This illustrates how God cares for His own and protects from evil men and their designs.

"Come. . .to another place." Balak was a superstitious idolator. He viewed things from a pagan viewpoint, and reasoned that his purpose may have failed because of the locality. He thought that the curse might become effective if he could view Israel from a different vantage point. Balak’s move brought him nearer to Israel’s camp.

Verses 14-24

Verses 14-24:

"Zophim," from tsophim, "watchers," a field near the peak of Mount Pisgah. Its exact location is not known.

"Pisgah," a mountain on the northeast shore of the Dead Sea, see Nu 21:20.

"While I meet the Lord yonder." The words "the Lord" are not in the original text. It appears Balaam was following the usual pattern of divination to determine the future, or to please those who hired him.

Once more Jehovah met with Balaam, not in the manner of His own true prophets, such as Moses and Aaron; but as an adversary, to oppose and overrule his purposes. God mandated that Balaam should take the reply to Balak which He Himself would dictate.

Balaam returned to the altars where Balak and his princes waited. The king demanded to know what Jehovah had said.

Balaam first reminded Balak of the character of Jehovah. He was no capricious deity or fickle man to change his mind at the whim of another. He is true and faithful, and will do exactly as He has said: This meant that Jehovah would not alter His purpose with Israel.

"Commandment" (verse 20) is in italics, meaning that it is not in the ancient text. This means that God had not given Balaam instructions, but an inner revelation which he was powerless to change or to conceal.

Verse 21 does not mean that God closed His eyes to the murmuring, complaining, unbelief, and idolatry of Israel, Rather, it means that Israel’s sin was that of a rebellious child; it affected their fellowship, but not their relationship with Jehovah, see Ps 37:23, 24; 89:27-37.

The "shout" is that of a triumphant people acclaiming their victorious king, see 1Sa 4:5, 6.

"Unicorn," reem, "buffalo, wild ox, roaring animal" This term denotes the now-extinct auroch, a powerful, untamable wild ox that stood about six feet at the shoulder. It was at one time plentiful in Palestine.

"Enchantment," nachash, "whisper," or muttering as of a spiritist medium. The Law expressly forbade this practice in Israel, Le 19:26.

"Divination," qesem, "the soothsayer’s art," also translated "witchcraft," 1Sa 15:21.

"According to the time," or "in an appropriate season."

The meaning: God does not rely upon incantations or witchcraft to accomplish His purpose. He will bring about His will by His own power, in His own good time.

The rising of a lion from its hiding place was a favorite expression among the ancients, to denote majesty and irresistible power.

Balaam’s "parable" clearly portrays the faithfulness and power of God, revealed in His dealings with Israel.

Verses 25-26

Verses 25, 26:

When Balak protested to Balaam that he should not bless Israel, Balaam reminded him that he could do only what he was permitted to do.

It is significant that in the entire affair, Balaam never advanced beyond the pagan point of view. It was his job as a professional soothsayer to know the facts about those with whom he dealt. But he was evidently lacking in true spiritual understanding. Yet he knew enough to admit that he was powerless to go beyond the limits Jehovah prescribed for him.

Verses 27-30

Verses 27-30:

Though Balak was exasperated with Balaam’s efforts, he resolved to try again a third time, to have him curse Israel. He was persistent in his evil.

"Peon" meaning "opening," a high peak near the town of Baal-Peor, the site of Israel’s camp, De 3:29. Scripture indicates it was opposite Jericho on the heights of Arboth Moab. The site commanded a bird’s-eye view of Israel’s encampment.

"Jeshimon," see Nu 21:20.

Once more Balak prepared seven altars, and the sacrificial animals for them, as Balaam instructed on the two previous occasions.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Numbers 23". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/numbers-23.html. 1985.
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