Using Pagans for Prophecy – Numbers 23-24

Posted: May 15, 2008 in Numbers

Numbers 23

1 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build seven altars for me here, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.” 2 And Balak did just as Balaam had spoken, and Balak and Balaam offered a bull and a ram on each altar. 3 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stand by your burnt offering, and I will go; perhaps the Lord will come to meet me, and whatever He shows me I will tell you.” So he went to a desolate height.

A. Question: had God commanded Balaam to build an altar? No. Did he do it according to God’s revealed law to Moses? No. Likely these were pagan sacrifices performed to Baal done in the high places. Several commentaries argue that these sacrifices were given to the One True God, but Balak was the one offering them & he obviously didn’t care about the One True God…he was just looking to talk to “any” god that would curse Israel.

B. Balaam is committed to only speak the word the Lord gives him…undoubtedly his encounter with the Angel of the Lord made an impression! [] Which makes his lack of conversion all the more amazing!

a. Some people have truly seen the work of the Lord in their lives; yet they refuse to repent & surrender their lives to Him. Underscores the fact that (1) God shows mercy to the just and unjust, and (2) God’s provision isn’t an indication of salvation; new life is…

4 And God met Balaam, and he said to Him, “I have prepared the seven altars, and I have offered on each altar a bull and a ram.” 5 Then the Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, “Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.”

A. Interesting that God actually met Balaam and spoke to him at a PAGAN altar… Not only that, God treats Balaam no different than any other prophet by “putting a word in his mouth”…

B. Our God is merciful! He doesn’t cast judgment on us when He has the right to… Our God is gracious! He actually blesses us in spite of us… [] Please don’t ever take that for granted…

6 So he returned to him, and there he was, standing by his burnt offering, he and all the princes of Moab. [pretty public event!] 7 And he took up his oracle and said: “Balak the king of Moab has brought me from Aram, From the mountains of the east. ‘Come, curse Jacob for me, And come, denounce Israel!’ 8 “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?

A. How indeed? If God has not cursed Israel, what possible good would mere words do? Even if Balaam had decided to depart from the oracle of God, Balaam’s words have no power in & of themselves. The only One who has power when He speaks is God Almighty! If someone is to be blessed, it’s b/c GOD has blessed them…(and vice-versa).

9 For from the top of the rocks I see him, And from the hills I behold him; There! A people dwelling alone, Not reckoning itself among the nations. 10 “Who can count the dust of Jacob, Or number one-fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, And let my end be like his!”

A. The innumerable size indicates blessing…part of the covenant God made with Abraham. Genesis 15:5-6 (5) Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” (6) And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. [] (David got in trouble for not trusting God on this point – 2 Sam 24)

B. What’s the difference between Balaam & Abraham? Balaam wanted to die the death of the righteous, but wasn’t willing to believe God to obtain it. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness…

a. There’s a ton of self-centered “Christians” out there who have nothing to do with Christ. It just doesn’t work that way…

C. Interestingly enough, when Balaam was looking down upon the camp, what shape did he see? The cross…(Numbers 2)

11 Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and look, you have blessed them bountifully!” 12 So he answered and said, “Must I not take heed to speak what the Lord has put in my mouth?”

A. Balak ain’t happy. J Understandably so – he just paid a lot of money to get a curse out of Balaam.

B. Balaam’s still speaking the word of the Lord. And notice he actually recognizes that this is coming from the LORD…

a. This has got to be one of the most tragic aspects of Balaam. He KNEW this was all coming from the Lord Almighty – he completely recognized this fact. Yet in the end, he ignored God entirely.

13 Then Balak said to him, “Please come with me to another place from which you may see them; you shall see only the outer part of them, and shall not see them all; curse them for me from there.”

A. Funny! Since Balaam prophesied regarding their number, Balak says, “Now that you can’t see all of them, surely NOW you can curse them.” Thinks a different location is going to make things better – perhaps Balak thinks Balaam is going to contact a different god. (Too bad there aren’t any! J )

14 So he brought him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar. 15 And he said to Balak, “Stand here by your burnt offering while I meet the Lord over there.” 16 Then the Lord met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, “Go back to Balak, and thus you shall speak.”

A. Take 2…this is the exact same procedure: another 7 altars, another 7 sacrifices. God met Balaam & gave the word…

17 So he came to him, and there he was, standing by his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab were with him. And Balak said to him, “What has the Lord spoken?”

A. Note even Balak acknowledges it’s the LORD this time…like Balaam, he leaves virtually unchanged by this.

18 Then he took up his oracle and said: “Rise up, Balak, and hear! Listen to me, son of Zippor! 19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

A. Foundational truth about God’s character! God doesn’t lie. It’s not merely that He refrains from it; it’s that lying profoundly violates His very character and person. He CANNOT lie. Lying is something men do in our sin…God is perfectly holy & never sins – thus He never lies.

B. ‘What about the times the Bible says God repented?’ KJV sometimes uses the word “repent” to describe God’s change of course/action, or His regret. NKJV often translates is “relent”…better thought. God cannot turn from sin to righteousness (our version of repenting); He does not change His will (He knows everything); but He can/does change His action according to His will. Thus when we intercede in prayer, God does change His actions – but it’s always His will to have done so. (Abraham/Sodom – Gen 18)

C. The takeaway? God is FAITHFUL…God granted blessing to the Hebrews & thus God’s blessing was going to stay on the Hebrews.

a. God will ALWAYS be faithful to His word. Romans 3:4 (4) Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: “That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.” []

20 Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.

A. What was Balak asking God to lie about? His blessing upon Israel… Again, b/c God blessed, Balaam had no power to do anything about it.

21 “He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, Nor has He seen wickedness in Israel. The Lord his God is with him, And the shout of a King is among them. 22 God brings them out of Egypt; He has strength like a wild ox.

A. Incredible to think that God “has not observed iniquity in Jacob”…Israel had messed up lots of times! …. Speaks of His grace…[] As far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12)…

B. God is with Israel. God guards/protects Israel – the very fact God is among them speaks of His protection over them. He brought them out of Egypt in a famously miraculous way… []

a. What’s the “wild ox”? KJV = “unicorn” – possibly a reference to a rhinoceros, possibly to a now-extinct cow called the Aurochs. The point is God’s strength…rhino fits pretty well!

23 “For there is no sorcery against Jacob, Nor any divination against Israel. It now must be said of Jacob And of Israel, ‘Oh, what God has done!’ 24 Look, a people rises like a lioness, And lifts itself up like a lion; It shall not lie down until it devours the prey, And drinks the blood of the slain.”

A. Basically says, “Stop trying to curse them…it’s useless”

B. Not only will God not curse them, He’s going to give them the victory over their enemies…like a lion, Israel is going to conquer the land God gives them, simply because God is the one giving it to them. They do it in HIS strength…

25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all!” 26 So Balaam answered and said to Balak, “Did I not tell you, saying, ‘All that the Lord speaks, that I must do’?”

A. “I’m going to pay you just to be quiet!” J Gotta love that!

27 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Please come, I will take you to another place; perhaps it will please God that you may curse them for me from there.” 28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, that overlooks the wasteland. 29 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build for me here seven altars, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.” 30 And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on every altar.

A. So Balak’s still not learning…he’s going to try it again. Walks through the same routine in yet one more location. Peor was known as a location for Baal worship – still trying to perform pagan rituals.

B. Ever try to outrun God? Balak thought each mountain would be a better place with a different result – he never wanted to accept what God was plainly telling him…

Numbers 24 (NKJV)
1 Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times, to seek to use sorcery, but he set his face toward the wilderness.

A. What’s the difference here? Balaam finally realized his pagan sorcery was no good at manipulating the word of God. He simply prepared himself to receive the word as it was given to him.

2 And Balaam raised his eyes, and saw Israel encamped according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him. 3 Then he took up his oracle and said: “The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor, The utterance of the man whose eyes are opened, 4 The utterance of him who hears the words of God, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Who falls down, with eyes wide open:

A. He’s a pagan, but his eyes are wide open now…he’s received the word of the Lord; spoken the word of the Lord; had his eyes opened to the will of God – and his response? Still to try to curse God’s people.

B. Prophecy/experience doesn’t save anyone! Matthew 7:21-23 (21) “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (22) Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ (23) And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ [] In the end, Balaam sought lawlessness…

5 “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwellings, O Israel! 6 Like valleys that stretch out, Like gardens by the riverside, Like aloes planted by the Lord, Like cedars beside the waters. 7 He shall pour water from his buckets, And his seed shall be in many waters. “His king shall be higher than Agag, And his kingdom shall be exalted.

A. The blessing of Israel…tended & cared for by the Lord like a garden.

B. It’s a beautiful thing simply to be a child of God! Everything else about our life might be helter-skelter, but we’re STILL saved… []

8 “God brings him out of Egypt; He has strength like a wild ox; He shall consume the nations, his enemies; He shall break their bones And pierce them with his arrows. 9 ‘He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him?’ “Blessed is he who blesses you, And cursed is he who curses you.”

A. Reiterates how God brought them out of Egypt…and the strength & power God would use to protect His chosen people.

B. Quotes the Abrahamic covenant… Genesis 12:3 (3) I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” []

a. Why is the earth blessed? Because of the coming Messiah!

10 Then Balak’s anger was aroused against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, and look, you have bountifully blessed them these three times! 11 Now therefore, flee to your place. I said I would greatly honor you, but in fact, the Lord has kept you back from honor.”

A. WHO kept Balaam from honor? The Lord! Spoken in sarcasm from a pagan, but undoubtedly true. God used Balaam for His word, but God wasn’t endorsing what Balaam had tried (and failed) to accomplish.

B. Consider what God did through all this: (1) protected His people, (2) blessed His people, (3) spoke His word, (4) used a pagan to do it, and (5) did it in such holiness where the wicked didn’t prosper from it… J

a. God doesn’t merely accomplish His will; He takes care of every detail along the way, too!

12 So Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not also speak to your messengers whom you sent to me, saying, 13 ‘If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord, to do good or bad of my own will. What the Lord says, that I must speak’?

A. Balaam’s trying to justify himself in the eyes of his employer, but again – what he says is true: The word of God cannot be sold! []

B. Don’t be unaware…there are still false teachers trying to do the same thing! 2 Peter 2:14-15 (14) having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. (15) They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; []

14 And now, indeed, I am going to my people. Come, I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the latter days.” 15 So he took up his oracle and said: “The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor, And the utterance of the man whose eyes are opened; 16 The utterance of him who hears the words of God, And has the knowledge of the Most High, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Who falls down, with eyes wide open:

A. 2nd to last oracle… Gives a few freebies before he leaves…this one being of the latter days. Before, Balaam had blessed the work of God in Israel’s past; this is going to specifically deal with the future – messianic promises…

17 “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, And batter the brow of Moab, And destroy all the sons of tumult. 18 “And Edom shall be a possession; Seir also, his enemies, shall be a possession, While Israel does valiantly. 19 Out of Jacob One shall have dominion, And destroy the remains of the city.”

A. Jesus is the bright morning star (Rev 22:16). He is the scepter (has it) as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:10). Seems that Balaam not only sees Jesus, but he sees the Lord Jesus at His 2nd coming!

B. Note all the nations that are included here. Moab (Balaam’s own nation) & Edom included. Keep in mind that Israel was not permitted to attack these lands in the conquest b/c they were distant relatives. Yet Balaam pronounces them defeated – when does this take place? History shows some temporary conquests during the Kingdom years…probably a ref to the millennium…

20 Then he looked on Amalek, and he took up his oracle and said: “Amalek was first among the nations, But shall be last until he perishes.” 21 Then he looked on the Kenites, and he took up his oracle and said: “Firm is your dwelling place, And your nest is set in the rock; 22 Nevertheless Kain shall be burned. How long until Asshur carries you away captive?” 23 Then he took up his oracle and said: “Alas! Who shall live when God does this? 24 But ships shall come from the coasts of Cyprus, And they shall afflict Asshur and afflict Eber, And so shall Amalek, until he perishes.” 25 So Balaam rose and departed and returned to his place; Balak also went his way.

A. Last prophecy he gives isn’t about Israel, but about the lands/people Israel will be invading.

a. Amalek virtually destroyed by Hezekiah (1 Chr 4:41-43) Haman possibly an Amalekite – his family executed in Esther 9…

b. Kenites lived in relative peace with the Hebrews (firm dwelling place) until they were to be captured by Assyrians/Asshur along with the conquest of the Northern Kingdom. (2 King 15)

c. Assyrians/Asshur overthrown by Greeks & Romans (ref: Cyprus)

B. The grand end to all the prophecy? God’s enemies go home disappointed. J


Don’t be a Balaam! Here’s a guy that spoke more words of God than some of the minor prophets & yet he departed from God unchanged. What tragedy!

Ultimately our eyes aren’t on Balaam, but on the One Balaam spoke of – we worship the God who put the words in Balaam’s mouth! We worship the Bright Morning Star whom Balaam saw – we worship the God who never lies or repents. Praise God!


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