Numbers 23

The Word Made Fresh

1Balaam said to Barak, “Build seven altars for me, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams to sacrifice. Balak did so, and they sacrificed one bull and one ram on each altar. 3Balaam said, “Stay here with the sacrifices while I go off a way to see if the LORD will come to meet with me. I will tell you anything the LORD might say to me.” He walked to a barren rise 4where God met with him. Balaam said, “I have offered a bull and a ram on seven altars.”

5The LORD gave Balaam a message to take back to Balak. 6He went back to where Balak was still tending the altars. All the leaders of Moab were with him, and 7 Balaam gave God’s message to them:

“Balak, the king of Moab, summoned me from Aram, from the eastern mountains. ‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me; denounce Israel.’ 8But how can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I condemn those whom God has not condemned? 9From the rocky peak I see him; I observe him from the mountaintops, and I see a people who have separated themselves and do not belong to any nation. 10Jacob can’t be counted. They are like a dust cloud. Who can count even a fourth of them? I would rather die the death of the righteous, and be like Jacob.”

11Balak said, “What are you doing to me? I bring you here to curse my enemies, and you bless them?”

12Balaam replied, “Shouldn’t I say only what the LORD has told me to say?”

13Balak said, “Come with me. There is another vantage point where you can see them, but only some of them, not all. Put a curse on them from there.”

14He took Balaam to a field belonging to Zophim toward the top of Mt. Pisgah. Once again he put up seven altars and sacrificed a bull and a ram on each one. 15Balaam said, “Stay here beside your altars while I go over yonder to meet with the LORD.”

16The LORD met with Balaam, gave him a word to speak, and sent him back to Balak. 17Balak was still standing beside the altars with his officials. He said, “What did the LORD tell you to say this time?”

18Balaam told him that the LORD said, “God is not a human who can tell lies. God is not a mortal who is able to change his mind. If God promised something, God will do it. God will do whatever God has said. 20So, look, I received a command to affirm Israel, and that’s what I did, and I can’t take it back. 21God has seen no ill fortune for Jacob; God has seen no trouble for Israel. Indeed, the LORD their God is with them, and they serve the LORD as their king. 22God brought them out of Egypt and protects them like the horns of a wild ox. 23There is no curse to be made against Jacob, no ill fortune for Israel. It will be said of Jacob and Israel, ‘See what God has done!’ 24They are rising up like a lioness and stirring themselves like a lion that will not rest until it has devoured the prey and licked the blood of the slaughtered.”

25Balak said, “Then say nothing, blessing or curse.”

26“Didn’t I tell you,” Balaam replied, “I must say whatever the LORD tells me to say?”

27Balak said, “Come with me to another place. Maybe God will let you curse them from there for me.” 28Balak then took Balaam to the top of Mt. Peor which overlooks the wilderness of Jeshimon. 29Balaam said to him, “Build seven altars for me here and sacrifice seven bulls and rams.” 30Balak built the altars and sacrificed a bull and a ram on each one.


1-12: Balaam is brought to a place in Moab where he can see part of the people of Israel. He has Balak build seven altars and sacrifice seven bulls and seven rams. Then he goes a distance away and receives God’s word. He comes back and blesses Israel. Balak is outdone, of course, at which Balaam says, “Must I not take care to say what the Lord puts into my mouth?”

13-26: Balaam is taken to another place where the same sequence is repeated: seven altars are built, seven bulls and seven rams are sacrificed, Balaam goes a distance away to consult God, comes back and blesses Israel. 

27-30: Balak takes Balaam to yet another place, the top of Mt. Peor, and builds seven altars and offers seven bulls and seven rams. Notice that this time it does not say that Balaam is facing Israel, but rather seems to be facing the desert from which they have come. Tomorrow we’ll see what happens.


The primary theme of the first oracle is Balaam’s inability to curse what God has not cursed. The primary theme of the second oracle is the trustworthiness of God’s promises. For now, consider that the actions of this foreigner as a commentary on the Israelites’ inclination to curse what God has not cursed (the wilderness) and their lack of trust in God.