About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Chapter 23

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ch. 23:1-12     ch. 23:13-26

Balaam's First Oracle  (ch. 23:1 - 12)


Notice in verse 1 that Balaam wants seven altars built for seven offerings to God.  As I noted before, all cultures back in these days had some kind of sacrificial offering systems that they would make to their god, or to their gods.  Balaam would have been used to doing this, even though he was not a Jew. 


One thing we need to note here is that God is using a non-Jew for his own purpose, something that He does from time to time.  God will use non-Jews, or non-Christians to help support Israel today as they begin to head back towards the will of God and as prophetic history unfolds.


In verses 2 and 3 Balaam tells Balak that he will go off to the side somewhere to be alone with the hope of hearing from God.  The way Balaam expresses this is that he is not one hundred percent sure that God would speak to him.  He would make himself available if God so chose to speak to him.  This is a good stance for Christians to take as well.  We don't demand that God speak to us, and we don't presume that He will. 


In verse 4 Balaam told God that he had built seven altars, in the verse God put words in Balaam's mouth to speak.  Balaam, a non-Jew was acting as a prophet to another non-Jew at this point, all for the blessing of God to be on Israel.  Again, we cannot discount the fact that from time to time, God may use a non-believer, that is, in our New Testament understanding, to accomplish his purpose.


Verses 6 through 10 are the prophetic words that God gave Balaam to speak to Balak.


Note in verse 7 that Balaam refers to Israel as Jacob.  The past is still familiar with these men.  Jacob was Abraham's son whose name God changed to Israel, and, from time to time, Israel is called Jacob throughout the Bible.


In verse 8 Balaam speaks words that Balak did not want to hear.  Balaam said that he could not curse or denounce someone that God has not cursed and denounced.  Balaam is doing well at this point.  He seems to understand a Biblical principle here.  We stand on the side of God, no matter who or what is attempting us to do otherwise.  We must always stand on the side of our Lord and Biblical truth, even if it causes divisions among those we love.


The Abrahamic Covenant is all about God blessing Israel.  I'm not sure if Balaam understood or even knew about the Abrahamic Covenant, but he was acting in conjunction with it.


Verse 9 is important.  Balaam states that he sees a people who don't consider themselves a part of the other nations in the world.  How true this is.  Israel was set apart to be an example for the other nations. 


I see the words of Balaam being carefully constructed here.  Note that he does not call Israel a nation, but a people.  In one since of the word they were a nation, or so later in history than now though.  This is also true with the Christian church.   More than a church, we are a people, who are set aside from the nations of the world to be an example.  I really like the way Balaam put that here.            


In verse 10 Balaam asks, "who can count the dust of Jacob"?  This is in direct reference to the Abrahamic Covenant where God says that He will increase Israel's numbers.  As the sand of the sea, the stars in the sky, the dust on the earth, Israel will be a great nation with many people.  Once again, we see the Abrahamic Covenant confirmed, as we do all the way through the Old Testament.


Balaam ends by saying, "let me die the death of the righteous".  At this point he is identifying himself with the righteous, with the righteous men of Israel.  He was willing to die for the righteous cause that he was participating in.  He could not deny the Lord God of Israel.


Balak is upset, as seen in verse 11.  He wanted a curse and he got a blessing.  In verse 12 Balaam simply says that he can do nothing but speak what God has told him.  It's as simple as that.


Balaam's Second Oracle (ch. 23:13 - 26)


In verses 13 to 15 Balak takes Balaam to a place where he can actually see part of Israel.  At this point the number of Israel was too great to see all at once.  Balak was hoping that such large numbers would shake some sense into Balaam and cause him to curse Israel.   So once again, Balaam built seven altars and offered bulls and went a distance away to hear from God. 


From verses 16 to the end of this section Balaam utters the oracle that God gave him to speak.  Once again, we should note that Balaam is not a Jew.  He has an ancient Babylonian background.  He worshipped multiple gods, and here the only true God is using him as a prophet.  We often hear sermons preached on Balaam's donkey talking, but Balaam himself speaking the word of the Lord is just as much of a miracle, or something to seriously consider.  God can, and will, use anyone or anything at times to get across his point of view.


In verses 18 and 19 we note that God, through Balaam speaks directly to Balak.  This is not a general word from the Lord to the masses.  It is specifically for Balak.  God tells Balak to arise.   He said that God is not a man that he should lie.  I think the Lord is saying this because He has already spoken to Balak and Balak has paid no attention to the Lord God.   The God of Israel is not a man, and he does not lie.  This tells us a bit of how God views man, and that is, man lies.  He does not tell the truth.  This is how God views us. 


In verse 19 God says that He is not the son of man that He should change His mind.  We should note the term "son of man".  It simply means that God is not a man. He has not been born from a mother and father.   God also says that He does not change His mind.  The idea that God changes His mind at times arises a few times as you study the Bible.  Just a few chapters ago, God told Balaam not to go to see Balak, then, it appears that He changed His mind and said that it was okay for Balaam to go and see Balak.  Did God change His mind?  Well, in light of these direct words from God, it looks like He didn't change His mind, even though it appears He did on the surface. 


The same question comes up a few times with Moses and when he appears to change God's mind.  I use the word "appear", because I don't think Moses ever changed God's mind.  In all these events, we do not have the whole and complete story.  There is more to these events than what is recorded.  I'm sure there was more to the event of God telling Balaam not to go, and then telling him to go.  He might well have wanted Balaam to wait a while before he left, and that is why He told him not to go, at least don't go right away. 


These words are directly from God's mouth.  He says that He does not change His mind, so good hermeneutics tells us that we should interpret the rest of the Bible with these words in mind.  God does not change His mind, and we should be glad of that. 


When thinking of God changing His mind, the idea of changing one's mind implies being part of time.  At one point in time you think one thing,  and then at a later point you change your thinking.   Changing your mind is linked to time.  God lives in the eternal now.  I don't believe that God lives in time as we know it, so this may be one reason why He doesn't, or even can't, change His mind.   


In the rest of verse 19 God asks through Balaam, "does God speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill"?  The answer is apparent.  When God speaks He will act, and what He has promised, He will fulfill.  This is important for us to know.  We learn lots about God in these oracles spoken by Balaam.  God always does what He says He will do.  I think of the Abrahamic Covenant when I hear these words.  Some people say that God changed His mind concerning the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, but that can't be so according to what God says here.   All those promises have been, or will be fulfilled.  You can count on that. 


In verse 20 Balaam told Balak that God told him to bless Israel, and He can do nothing different.  He also said that God has already blessed Israel.  God has blessed Israel in many ways.  He's chosen them.  He helped them along every step of the way.   Israel was, is, and ever will be a blessed people.   This is important to know as we reach the end of this age with the r re-gathering of the Jews to Israel and Jerusalem.  And one thing to note, Israel's unfaithfulness to their God will not change this.  If that were so, God would have forsaken Israel before ever getting to Canaan. 


In verse 21 Balaam tells Balak that no misfortune or misery is among Israel.  Now, Israel has had misfortune and misery in the past, and that was due to their own rebellion, but at the moment they were blessed and on their way to the promised land. 


Balaam also says that "the King" is among them.  I believe the King refers to pre-incarnate Jesus.  I'm sure that Balaam did not understand this.  He might not well have understood half of what he was saying.  He was simply repeating what God spoke to him, and that is all he was told to do.  I dare say that much of the prophetic words that the prophets of Israel spoke were not understood by them either. 


In verse 22 Balaam reminds Balak that it was God who brought them out of Egypt, and now they have the strength of a mighty ox.  Israel is strong in numbers, and that is what scared Balak.   Even though they complained a lot for the last forty years in the desert, they would have gained strength and endurance through it all. 


In verse 23 Balaam says that there is no sorcery against Israel.  No one can curse Israel.  Balaam can't curse Israel.  The only one who can curse Israel is God Himself, and He is not choosing to curse them at this time.  He is leading then into the promised land, and even if God does curse Israel at times, it is because of Israel's rebellion, not that God really wants to curse them.  Even in cursing Israel, God will be true to His word.  He told Israel that if they don't obey Him, cursing will be the consequence. 


Verse 23 says that people will "see what God has done" in Israel.  When Israel is blessed of God because they obey Him, everyone can see God's hand on them.  I'd say the same can be true with God's people today, whether that be the Jews or the church.  Obey God and His hand of blessing will be on you.  We just need to understand what blessing is all about.  It's not always about humanistic style prosperity.


In verse 24 Balaam says that Israel rises like lions and lionesses. They will devour their prey and drink their blood.  I believe these words are telling Balak what will happen in the near future as Israel enters the land of Canaan.  Those who count themselves in the camp of Israel's enemies had better keep their eyes open.  Balak at the moment is seeing himself as an enemy of Israel. 


I also tend to think that this has prophetic association with Israel at the end of this age, because similar words are used in the prophets, showing Israel, with the help of her Messiah being like a devouring lion at the end of this age.  Jesus Himself is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah in the New Testament.


After hearing this, in verse 25 Balak tells Balaam not to bless or curse Israel.  He sees no hope in his attempt to get Balaam to curse Israel.  He's even afraid now what might happen to him if Balaam even attempts to curse Israel.  So he simply tells Balaam to do nothing.  He thinks that is the best that can be done at the moment.


In verse 26 Balaam answers Balak by telling him that he had already told him that he could do nothing other than what the Lord wanted him to do and say.  Simply put, Balaam says, "I told you so.  What did you expect me to do?"

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