Numbers 24

The Word Made Fresh

1Balaam saw that it pleased God to bless the Israelites, so he did not go off in private to look for instructions as he had the other times. Instead, he simply turned to face the desert. 2He saw how Israel was camped in tribal groups. Then the spirit of God overtook him 4and he spoke the word he had received. “This is the pronouncement of Balaam son of Beor; the man whose vision is clear; 4the pronouncement of the man who hears the word of God and sees what the Almighty sees; who falls to the ground face down, but whose eyes are not closed:           

5“How impressive are your tents, O Jacob, and the arrangement of your camps, O Israel! 6They are like groves of palm trees stretching into the distance; they are like gardens planted beside a stream; they are like aloes the LORD has planted; like cedars growing beside the lakes. 7His buckets are filled with water and the seed he plants will be well watered. His king will be more magnificent than Agag, and his realm will be mighty.

8“God, who brought him up from Egypt, is defeating the nations that oppose him like a ravaging wild ox, breaking their bones with its horns. Israel strikes with his arrows. 9He crouches like a lion, and springs like a lioness. Does anyone dare to rouse him?

“Everyone who blesses him is blessed. Everyone who curses him is cursed.”

10Balak was furious. He smacked his hand with his fist and said to Balaam, 11“Now get away from me! Go home! I said I would reward you greatly, but the LORD has seen to it that you get nothing!”  

12Balaam answered, “I told the people you sent for me 13that even if you gave me a house full of silver and gold, I would not speak a word beyond what the LORD tells me to say; that I would not announce my own wishes, but would say only what the LORD tells me. 14I’m going home now, but before I leave let me tell you what those people will do to you and your people in the days ahead.”

15Then he began to speak his pronouncement:

“The pronouncement of Balaam son of Beor; one whose eye sees clearly, 16one whose ear clearly hears the voice of God and receives wisdom from the Most High One; one who receives visions from the Almighty, then falls face down with eyes wide open:

17“I see him, but not in the present. I watch him, but still afar.

A star will come out of Jacob. A scepter will rise out of Israel to crush the highlands of Moab and the fields of the children of Sheth.

18They will conquer Edom. They will conquer their enemy in Seir, and Israel will grow ever stronger.

19Then a leader will arise in Jacob and destroy the survivors of Seir.”

20Then Balaam saw the Amalekites and spoke this pronouncement:

“Amalek was a leader of nations but will be ruined in the end.”

21Then he saw the Kenites and spoke this pronouncement:

“Your habitat is safe, established in the rocky promontories, 22but even you Kenites will cease to be when Ashur hauls you into captivity.”

23Then he spoke this pronouncement:

“Too bad! Who can survive God’s actions? 24Ships will arrive from the ports of Kittim and will overwhelm Ashur and Eber, and they will be done away with.”

25Then Balaam got on his donkey and off he went back to his home.

Commentary

1-9: This time Balaam does not go a distance away but seems to enter into a prophetic trance. He faces not the plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho where Israel is now camped (22:1), but rather turns toward the wilderness from which they have emerged. He “sees” Israel “camping tribe by tribe,” which seems to refer to the organization of the tribes when they were at Sinai. In this third oracle he refers to himself as “the man whose eye is open (or “clear”), which may be a reference to a trance-like state. It could read “…whose eye is closed,” depending on whether you pronounce the Hebrew word “shatam” or “satam.” He looks to the wilderness and “sees the vision of the Almighty,” indicating that he now can see what God envisioned for Israel when they were at Sinai. At the end of verse 4 it seems that he is so overcome he falls down. In the oracle he pictures Israel becoming a powerful nation settled in a fertile land.

10-14: King Balak has had enough. He sends Balaam home and refuses to pay him. Balaam responds by giving a “free” reading about the fate of Moab and Edom and others.

15-25: This fourth oracle looks forward as the previous one has looked back. It sees Israel eventually defeating Moab (In 2 Samuel 8, King David defeats the Moabites), Edom and other kingdoms that in the future will be enemies of Israel – Amalekites, Kenites. There is also a reference to the Assyrians (Ashur) in verses 22 and 24. So, the first two oracles demonstrate how Israel should relate to God (don’t curse what God has not cursed, trust in God), and the last two oracles gather everything up in a sweeping vision that goes from the past (the camp at Mt. Sinai) to the future (the defeat of Moab and Israel’s other enemies).

Takeaway

When we walk down the path God has called us to follow, there is no earthly power that can deny us.