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The First Sacrifice and Prophetic Utterance.
v. 1. And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams, namely, one animal of either group for each altar. Balaam here presumed upon a show of authority which he did not possess, and he dedicated his sacrifices to Jehovah, although they were offered on a place consecrated to the loathsome idol of the heathen. His idea apparently was to gain the favor of the Lord by the rich offering and cause Him to permit the cursing of Israel. Balak here shows great cunning in leading Balaam where he could see only a small part of the people, lest the sight of the entire host would intimidate the soothsayer and keep him from uttering his curses.
v. 2. And Balak did as Balaam had spoken; and Balak and Balaam offered on every altar a bullock and a ram. It was a pompous pretense at piety, and all the more abominable in the sight of the Lord since it combined heathenism with the worship of the true God.
v. 3. And Balaam said unto Balak, Stand by thy burnt offering, and I will go, the king was to remain at the altar, while Balaam went forth to seek good auguries, or omens, in some signs or portents of nature, for in that way many of the heathen diviners pretended to tell the future; peradventure the Lord will come to meet me; and whatsoever He showeth me I will tell thee. And he went to an high place, to an empty, solitary peak of the hill, from where he would have an unobstructed view in every direction, for he hoped to receive or discover in the phenomena of nature a Revelation from Jehovah.
v. 4. And God met Balaam, in some form or manifestation which is not described in detail; and he (Balaam) said unto Him, I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered upon every altar a bullock and a ram. It is significant that the Lord ignored this statement completely; He wanted nothing of such sacrifices.
v. 5. And the Lord put a word in Balaam's mouth and said, Return unto Balak, and thus thou shalt speak, giving him the words which he was to utter.
v. 6. And he (Balaam) returned unto him (Balak), and, lo, he stood by his burnt sacrifice, he and all the princes of Moab, anxious to hear the curse upon Israel which Balaam was hired to utter.
v. 7. And he took up his parable, his prophetic utterance, spoken in a state of ecstasy, and said, Balak, the king of Moab, hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the East, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel, namely, by means of maledictions.
v. 8. How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed? Or how shall I defy whom the Lord hath not defied? How could Balaam be expected to pronounce the doom of wrath upon those that were the blessed of the Lord, or maledictions upon the head of those whom the Lord had chosen for His own?
v. 9. For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him, namely, Israel personified, as the congregation of Jehovah. Lo, the people shall dwell alone, not in absolute seclusion, but as a people consecrated to the Lord, and shall not be reckoned among the nations, shall have nothing in common with their idolatrous beliefs and practices. It is significant that Israel maintained its independence only as long as this held true.
v. 10. Who can count the dust of Jacob, Genesis 13:15, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Even the fourth part of the nation, in allusion to the four divisions of the camp, was beyond ordinary computation. Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his! Since God was present with His people and sanctified them with the righteousness which He desires, therefore it was a privilege to belong to this people and to share also in the final blessing which the Lord held out before them. He desired the full, perfect, and indestructible salvation which the Lord had promised to those who would be faithful to Him till the end. The same statements apply to the congregation of the New Testament; for all those who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior in true faith and remain faithful to Him until He calls them home, will rejoice at the coming of the end, for that means eternal salvation.
v. 11. And Balak said unto Balaam, What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether; Balaam had laid upon them the full blessing of Jehovah.
v. 12. And he answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak that which the Lord hath put in my mouth? His excuse was that he was constrained to speak as he did, indicating that he would rather not have made his statements as he did.
v. 13. And Balak said unto him, Come, I pray thee, with me unto another place, from whence thou mayest see them; thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all; and curse me them from thence. So Balak blamed the failure on the conditions and on the locality, and was willing to make another attempt. Thus the enemies of the Lord try time and again to overthrow His will, but they can do nothing to thwart His counsel.
The Second Sacrifice and Prophetic Utterance.
v. 14. And he brought him into the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, to a high plateau of the mountain range which overlooks the Plains of Moab, and built seven altars, as before, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.
v. 15. And he said unto Balak, Stand here by thy burnt offering, maintaining the position of the devout worshiper praying for the fulfillment of his desire, while I meet the Lord yonder, for the purpose of receiving omens concerning the success of their venture, the same mixture of proper religious rites with the ceremonies of heathenism as before.
v. 16. And the Lord met Balaam, as after the first sacrifice, and put a word in his mouth and said, Go again unto Balak and say thus; the exact form of the prophetic utterance was prescribed to him.
v. 17. And when he came to him (Balak), behold, he stood by his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him. And Balak said unto him, What hath the Lord spoken?
v. 18. And he took up his parable and said, Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor. The king was to lift up heart and mind to the elevated plane which agreed with the message that was about to be delivered to him.
v. 19. God is not a man that He should lie, neither the son of man that He should repent, a statement which reproved the thought of Balak that God might take back His word concerning the blessing upon Israel. Hath He said, and shall He not do it? Or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?
v. 20. Behold, I have received commandment to bless, and He hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it. The unchangeability of the divine counsels is a necessary consequence of the divine faithfulness, as an expression of the essence of the Lord. The blessing which He had put into the mouth of Balaam after the first sacrifice could not be canceled, and the soothsayer was not in a position to cancel it, much as he personally might be inclined to do so.
v. 21. He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel, no trouble or affliction. Since the Lord found no criminal wickedness, no moral and spiritual rottenness of a kind that would be followed by a curse, this being true of the people in their covenant relation to God, therefore His blessing was still with them. The Lord, his God, is with him, and the shout of a king is among them; they are full of happiness and rejoicing because Jehovah is living in their midst as king, Exodus 15:18; Deuteronomy 33:5.
v. 22. God brought them out of Egypt, that occasion being the chief instance when He proved Himself their King, and this mighty work was still going on; he (Israel) hath, as it were, the strength of an unicorn, of the wild ox, which was considered the embodiment of fierceness and indomitable strength.
v. 23. Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel; the Israelites were not obliged to resort to any questionable methods of witchcraft, because they had the immediate Revelation of the true God in their midst, who personally led the host and equipped the army with power. According to this time it shall be said of Jacob and Israel, What hath God wrought! that is, whenever it was needed, at the right time, God took care to reveal to His people His counsel and will in His Word.
v. 24. Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, like a lioness setting out to seek food, and lift up himself as a young lion; he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey and drink the blood of the slain. In short, Israel, with the true God on his side, was invincible, for the blessing of Jehovah rested upon him. The words of blessing given Judah, Genesis 49:9, were hereby transferred to the whole people.
v. 25. And Balak said unto Balaam, Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all; since Balaam would apparently not curse the people, as Balak sees with indignation, therefore he also should not bless them, that is, he should discontinue his prophetic utterances entirely.
v. 26. But Balaam answered and said unto Balak, Told not I thee, saying, All that the Lord speaketh, that I must do? He was still under the influence of the terror of the Lord and must set aside all personal preferences.
v. 27. And Balak said unto Balaam, Come, I pray thee, I will bring thee unto another place; he still believed that the location and the conditions had something to do with the soothsayer's power; peradventure it will please God that thou mayest curse me them from thence.
v. 28. And Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor, a peak in the mountain range which ran parallel to the Jordan and the Dead Sea, that looketh toward Jeshimon, with an unobstructed view over the entire country, also the wilderness.
v. 29. And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams.
v. 30. And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar, still with the idea that his object could be gained, which was, of course, rank foolishness. As the Lord held His sheltering hand over the people of the covenant at that time, so He now lives and reigns in the midst of His congregation, the people of the New Testament. In and with Him the Church is invincible and will conquer all her enemies.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Numbers 23". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29