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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 23

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-30




Chapter 22:41 tells us that Balak brought Balaam to the high places of Baal in order to prophecy against Israel. Here he observed only "a portion of the people" (NASB), for Balak wanted to give Balaam the impression that Israel was not a large nation so he might more safely curse them.

Balaam exposed his idolatrous character immediately by asking Balak to build seven altars, offering on each one a bull and a ram. God allowed only one altar of burnt offering (Exodus 27:1; Hebrews 13:10), for the altar speaks of Christ, the only way of approach to God. But Balaam believed in "many gods and many lords" (1 Corinthians 8:4-5).

Leaving Balak standing by the altars, Balaam went to a desolate hill, where he said the Lord might meet him (v.3). He did not go to meet the Lord, but rather with the hope of contacting an evil spirit (see chapter 24:1). But God met Balaam, not allowing an evil spirit to do so. Then god gave him the message he was commanded to speak (v.5). How striking a prophecy it was!

He speaks of Balak's bringing him from a distance to curse Jacob and denounce Israel (v.7). This is the first time that the people are named by either Balak or Balaam, but it was God who was making them to face the issue of Israel's being His own people. So Balaam was forced to say, "How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?" If this is true of Israel, it is certainly true also of those who today are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. God will not allow them to be cursed.

"For," Balaam says, "from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him." He had no low viewpoint of Israel, but the viewpoint of a high elevation, just as God sees believers "in Christ," above an earthly level. More than this, "a people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations" (v.9). Israel was separated from all Gentile nations, teaching the truth of sanctification, as today the Church of God is sanctified from all the surrounding world, set apart for God.

"Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number one-fourth of Israel?" (v.10). Balaam could only see a part of the people, which would account for his reference to "one-fourth." At that time one-fourth would be perhaps 700,000, but God speaks prophetically of Israel in the Millennium, when they will possess a far grater extent of property than they have ever done (Genesis 15:18), and with a much greater population. As to the dust of Jacob, in Genesis 28:14 God told Jacob that his descendants would be "as the dust of the earth," for Israel is an earthly people, in contrast to the Church, which is heavenly.

Then Balaam utters a sentiment most striking, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end by like his!" How appealing this would be to countless numbers of people who have no intention of living the life of the righteous! Israel is typically the righteous nation, though this cannot be said of all the individuals who compose the nation, for one is counted righteous only by faith in the living God (Genesis 15:6).

Balak became most indignant at hearing this prophecy of Balaam, telling him he had enlisted him to curse his enemies and that rather Balaam had altogether blessed them. Balaam could only answer that he had to speak what the Lord had directed.




Balak was still hopeful that Balaam might be allowed to curse Israel, for Balak had no conception of the faithful, unchangeable nature of the living God. He asked Balaam then to come to another place from which he would see, not only "a portion of the people" (ch.22:41), but all of them, as is seen in the translation of the Numerical Bible -- "Balak said unto him, Come, I pray thee, with me to another place whence thou mayest see them; (thou seest but the extremity of them, and dost not see them all;) and curse them for me thence." At first Balak had evidently thought that if Balaam saw only a small number, he would think of them as being insignificant, and therefore curse them. Now he has to change his mind, thinking that, if a small number could be blessed, perhaps Balaam would decide that a large number was not so likely worthy of blessing. Balak did not know that God blessed Israel, not because they were worthy of blessing, but because they were His people, chosen by sovereign grace, and redeemed from sin and bondage by the Passover and the passage of the Red Sea.

At the top of Pisgah they again had seven altars built, offering a bull and a ram on each altar, then Balaam told Balak he would go "meet over there" (v.15). He hoped he would meet a familiar spirit, not the Lord. But "the Lord met Balaam" (v.16), for God was working, and no evil spirit could interfere. God gave Balaam another message.

Going back to the seven altars, Balaam directly addressed Balak, calling upon him to hear and listen. For Balak had no proper conception of who God is. Balaam told him therefore, "God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man the He should repent." This was a lesson both Balak and Balaam needed. Because they could change their minds to suit their preferences, they thought God was such a one as they were. Men are generally like this, though all creation bears witness to God's stable, unchanging character. When God has spoken, will He not act on what He says? Let both Balaam and Balak take this to heart.

Balaam said he had received a command to bless, for God had blessed Israel and Balaam could not reverse it, much as he desired to do so (v.20). In the first prophecy Balaam had said, "God has not cursed" (v.8), but now he positively says, "He has blessed." More than this, "He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel" (v.21). In spite of the fact that He had chastened Israel severely for their disobedience and rebellion (ch.14:34-45), yet He says to Israel's enemies that He had not seen iniquity in Israel. Why is this? Because God saw them as sheltered by the blood of sacrifice, reminding us that God sees believers today as redeemed by the blood of Christ, and therefore "in Christ." As such, their guilt is totally taken away. They are justified, freed from every charge of guilt and counted righteous in the eyes of God. The first prophecy regards Israel as sanctified, now the second adds to this that they are justified.

Therefore, "the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a King is among them." the Lord was their support and comfort, and though their King (the Lord Jesus) was not yet manifested, His shout of triumph was a wonderful strength among them. For He had brought them out of Egypt, His strength being likened to that of the aurochs (or wild ox). Man cannot resist such strength, though this is only an illustration, for of course God's strength is infinitely greater than anything could illustrate.

Then Balaam had to fully admit there is no sorcery of divination that can stand against Israel (v.23). If this is true concerning Israel, is there any reason for Christians to be fearful of what satanic power can accomplish against them? No! Satan cannot have his way with them. His power is broken. He may seek to deceive them and cause them to wander from the path of faith, but he is not their master, but a defeated enemy. We ought to regard him as this and resist his deceptive advances.

But it will be said of Israel, "What has God done?" It is God's work that stands out in its wonderful perfection, just as is true in the salvation of souls today. More then this, however, in verse 24 we see Israel taking the offensive, rising up like a lioness and like a lion. the lioness usually does the hunting, killing the prey for the lion to devour as well as herself. This could well strike fear into the heart of Balak. The day is coming too when all believers will be united with Christ in His coming to judge the world (Revelation 19:11-14), and they will not rest until the judgment of evil is fully accomplished, just as the lion will not lie down until it has devoured the prey. Only then will Israel be at rest from all its enemies.

Balak, deeply frustrated, told Balaam neither to curse or bless Israel. For Balaam's prophecy spoke of positive blessing for Israel, and Balak decided it would be better to say nothing. Balaam could only answer that he must speak as the Lord commanded, which was true, for he was only a tool in the hand of God.

However, in spite of the plain words of God that He means absolutely what He says, Balak hoped that if they went to another location, God may change His mind! There, on the top of Peor, Balaam asks again for seven altars with a bull and a ram offered on each. Balaam himself had not yet learned there is only one God.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Numbers 23". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/numbers-23.html. 1897-1910.
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