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Numbers 23-25 Listen
1 And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams.
2 And Balak did as Balaam had spoken; and Balak and Balaam offered on every altar a bullock and a ram.
3 And Balaam said unto Balak, Stand by thy burnt offering, and I will go: peradventure the LORD will come to meet me: and whatsoever he sheweth me I will tell thee. And he went to an high place.
4 And God met Balaam: and he said unto him, I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered upon every altar a bullock and a ram.
5 And the LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, Return unto Balak, and thus thou shalt speak.
6 And he returned unto him, and, lo, he stood by his burnt sacrifice, he, and all the princes of Moab.
7 And he took up his parable, 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.
8 How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the LORD hath not defied?
9 For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.
10 Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!
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.
12 And he answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak that which the LORD hath put in my mouth?
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.
14 And he brought him into the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.
15 And he said unto Balak, Stand here by thy burnt offering, while I meet the LORD yonder.
16 And the LORD met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, Go again unto Balak, and say thus.
17 And when he came to him, behold, he stood by his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him. And Balak said unto him, What hath the LORD spoken?
18 And he took up his parable, and said, Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor:
19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
20 Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.
21 He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.
22 God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.
23 Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!
24 Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, 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.
25 And Balak said unto Balaam, Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all.
26 But Balaam answered and said unto Balak, Told not I thee, saying, All that the LORD speaketh, that I must do?
27 And Balak said unto Balaam, Come, I pray thee, I will bring thee unto another place; peradventure it will please God that thou mayest curse me them from thence.
28 And Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor, that looketh toward Jeshimon.
29 And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams.
30 And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.
We first saw Balaam in Numbers 22 (see notes). Make no mistake about it, Balaam was a pagan Midianite prophet. Yet, the passage indisputably identifies "the LORD" (Jehovah) as the one who had put the words into Balaams mouth (Numbers 23:5, 12, 16, 17, 26; Numbers 24:2,13,16 - see below). Here's the rub: Balak (the Moabite king) had called for Balaam to come curse Israel. God told Balaam it was okay to go (Numbers 22:20). Balak gives Balaam the tour around the encampment of Israel. For some reason he apparently thought that different views of Israel's encampment might do the trick. At two locations, Balaam directs Balak to sacrifice on seven altars prepared specifically for the tour. At each altar God gives a word to Balaam (verses 4 and 16) in favor of Israel. God just won't let Balaam place a curse on Israel. Balaam declares in Numbers 23:8, "How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the LORD hath not defied?" Things really backfire on Balak when Balaam declares in Numbers 23:20, "Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it." The next verse is key to the final outcome (as we'll see in Numbers 25, see below); verse 21 says, "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them." Let's face it; Israel's righteous before God (as a nation); they can't be cursed. Finally, Balaam (for some unknown reason) has Balak build seven more altars for seven sacrifices a third time as they overlook Israel. Perhaps Balaam is hoping that this additional reverend act might somehow do...something...anything.
1 And when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness.
2 And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes; and the spirit of God came upon him.
3 And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said:
4 He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open:
5 How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!
6 As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river’s side, as the trees of lign aloes which the LORD hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters.
7 He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.
8 God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.
9 He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee.
10 And Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he smote his hands together: and Balak said unto Balaam, I called thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them these three times.
11 Therefore now flee thou to thy place: I thought to promote thee unto great honour; but, lo, the LORD hath kept thee back from honour.
12 And Balaam said unto Balak, Spake I not also to thy messengers which thou sentest unto me, saying,
13 If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the commandment of the LORD, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; but what the LORD saith, that will I speak?
14 And now, behold, I go unto my people: come therefore, and I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days.
15 And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said:
16 He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open:
17 I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.
18 And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly.
19 Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city.
20 And when he looked on Amalek, he took up his parable, and said, Amalek was the first of the nations; but his latter end shall be that he perish for ever.
21 And he looked on the Kenites, and took up his parable, and said, Strong is thy dwellingplace, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock.
22 Nevertheless the Kenite shall be wasted, until Asshur shall carry thee away captive.
23 And he took up his parable, and said, Alas, who shall live when God doeth this!
24 And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim, and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and he also shall perish for ever.
25 And Balaam rose up, and went and returned to his place: and Balak also went his way.
Balaam forgets his mission altogether in this chapter as he begins blessing (not cursing) Israel. Verse 7 is curious; there's the mention of Agag, king over the Amalekites during the reign of Saul in I Samuel 15 (see notes). Wow, here's a prophecy with substance.
Balak immediately notices that things are going backwards here. Balaam falls into a prophetic state where he just begins to rattle off the blessings which shall fall upon Israel, much to Balak's dismay. Balaam's words of blessing on Israel become intolerable in verse 9 when he says, "Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee." Whoa! That sounds very much like God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 (see notes).
Finally, Balak has had all he can take in Numbers 24:10, "And Balaks anger was kindled against Balaam, and he smote his hands together: and Balak said unto Balaam, I called thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them these three times." Here's the case where a man (Balak) hires a contractor (Balaam) to do a job (curse Israel), but he can't satisfactorily do the job. Balak fires him without pay right there on the spot.
Balaam now enters the bonus round. He becomes a prophesying machine, but not in favor of Balak - against him in favor of Israel. He falls into a trance and begins to give more prophecy concerning the demise of all these heathen occupants of the region. Who is going to fall before Israel? Here's the list: Moabites, Edomites, Amalekites, and Kenites. Verse 22 is a little curious; though a few hundred years in the future, Balaam also prophesies their demise and deportation to Assyria (Asshur), a process which would not begin for another six centuries (II Kings 15:27-31, see notes). Now it may seem that everything has worked out marvelously for Israel with regard to Balak's service contract with Balaam, but not so; we'll see in Numbers 25 (see below).
1 And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.
2 And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.
3 And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.
4 And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.
5 And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.
6 And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
7 And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;
8 And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.
9 And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.
10 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
11 Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.
12 Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace:
13 And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.
14 Now the name of the Israelite that was slain, even that was slain with the Midianitish woman, was Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of a chief house among the Simeonites.
15 And the name of the Midianitish woman that was slain was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur; he was head over a people, and of a chief house in Midian.
16 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
17 Vex the Midianites, and smite them:
18 For they vex you with their wiles, wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a prince of Midian, their sister, which was slain in the day of the plague for Peor’s sake.
This is a strange chapter; it seems a little disjointed at first - no relationship to chapters 22-24. However, it turns out that chapter 25 has everything to do with chapters 22-24. We won't see it until we get to Numbers 31:16 (see notes), but according to that verse, the events of chapter 25 are instigated by Balaam himself as a device to corrupt Israel so that God himself will curse them. See...I told you that Balaam was a pagan prophet! I told you that Numbers 23:21 (see above) was key. What if Israel wasn't righteous before God; then could they be cursed? In this chapter, Balaam has devised a strategy designed to bring down the wrath of God upon Israel.
Numbers 25 gets ugly. The men of Israel head for Las Vegas (so to speak) just outside their motels (temporary quarters) in Shittim (the actual Hebrew word is pronounced Shit-teem' - accent on second syllable). These Hebrew men indulge in sexual relations with the heathen women there and take in a few shows while they are at it (actually they bowed down to their gods, the gods of Baal - IDOLATRY!). Isn't it amazing what a seductive woman can get some men to do? At this point, God tells Moses to have these idol worshippers slain and their heads hung up in the sun for all the rest of Israel to see (verses 3-4). It would appear that the subsequent decree issued to the judges of Israel doesn't get completed before this dreadful situation intensifies.
The situation intensifies to the point where there is no shame; one man actually brings the promiscuous gal back to the camp of Israel. Well...Aaron's grandson (Phinehas) takes some pretty drastic measures at this point. He takes his javelin and kills the Hebrew man (Zimri, son of Salu, a leader among the Simeonites) and the woman. We are told that she was the daughter of an influential Midianite leader; her name is given as Cozbi. And that was after God had told Moses to behead the Hebrew idolaters and display their heads. This is followed by a plague that kills 23,000 more. I Corinthians 10:8 (see notes) makes mention of this occasion. While not specifically stated that there had been 1,000 heads hung in the sun prior to the plague, based upon Paul's number of 24,000, we assume that to be the case. God really doesn't like idolatry, does he?
A covenant was established that day regarding Eleazar's son, Phinehas. Because of his actions, which may have seemed compulsive at the time, he and his descendants were awarded the priesthood from that time forward in verses 10-13. Note the promise of verse 13, "And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood;" Furthermore, this action of Phinehas became noteworthy in Israel's history. Hundreds of years later he is mentioned along with this incident in Psalms 106:30-31 (see notes), "Then stood up Phinehas, and executed judgment: and so the plague was stayed. And that was counted unto him for righteousness unto all generations for evermore." Despite this prophecy, there was a period of time where the priesthood was not controlled by a descendant of Phinehas. Eli, during the period of the Judges, was not his descendant. However, we see in I Samuel 2:27-36 (see notes) that the priesthood through his lineage will be cut off. This transfer would take place later under Solomon's authority as a fulfillment of this prophecy in I Kings 2:27,35 (see notes).
Where Balaam was not able to prophesy against Israel, he was able to go back to the Moabites and plot Israel's corruption by using their women as prostitutes to lure Israel's men into idolatry. What a plan! So, just in case you started liking Balaam as he was giving his pro-Israel prophecies, don't get too excited. He just turned out to be another evil man who seemed to have had a short period of favor with God. In the end, he was just an evil man. And the Midianites? They incur some judgment from God as well because these women were not ordinary prostitutes; as a matter of fact, we see in verse 15 that the slain woman (Cozbi) was the daughter of an influential Midianite leader (Zur). Yes, this was an orchestrated plan designed by Balaam for the destruction of the Israelites by the Moabites and Midianites...and it almost seemed to work.
God’s command that Israel take vengeance on the Midianites for their part in the apostasy of Baalpeor is realized in the continuation of this account in Numbers 31 (see notes). That's where we find the completion of these events that have centered around Balaam in chapters 22-25. Chapters 26 through 30 are not related to these events.
Incidentally, I'm certain that Satan creates circumstances around Believers conducive to sin today. While he can't steal a Believer's salvation, he can place people and things around that Believer that may serve to steal his joy and soften his resolve to serve God first and foremost in his life. I'm reminded of I Peter 5:8 (see notes), "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:" Also, Ephesians 6:11-12 (see notes), "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."