THE PENTATEUCH PART IV: NUMBERS
Lesson 10: Chapters 22-25
The Prophecies of Balaam and Israel's Covenant Ordeal at Baal-Peor
You are the Master of our destinies, Lord. Into Your hands we place all that we are and all that You call us to be. Help us to clearly hear Your voice as You guide us on our journey to salvation, and let us not be led astray by false prophets or by our own false pride. Give us the discernment to distinguish between what is truth and what is Satan's subtle lie. Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us, Lord, in our study of Israel's preparation for the conquest of Canaan and the king of Moab's plan to prevent Your holy warriors from fulfilling the destiny You planned for them. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ + +
... for a long time
you lived in the desert. I then brought you into the country of the Amorites,
who used to live on the further side of the Jordan; they made war on you and I
put them at your mercy; after which, you took possession of their country,
since I destroyed them before you. Next, Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, rose to make war on Israel, and sent for Balaam son of Beor to come and curse you. But I
would not listen to Balaam; instead, he had to bless you, and I saved you from
Numbers Chapters 22-36 and the entire book of Deuteronomy take place on the Plains of Moab, on the east side of the Jordan River across from the Canaanite city of Jericho. Numbers Chapters 22-24 comprise a single narrative relating King Balak of Moab's attempt to curse Israel in the name of the Israelites' own deity through the efforts of a well known Aramean prophet named Balaam (bil'am in Hebrew). The etymology of the name Balaam is unknown, but the first century AD Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, wrote that his name meant "unstable" (Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues, 159)-perhaps more as a comment on the diviner's character.
Balaam was not an Israelite, but he was in communication with Yahweh (Num 22:8, 19) and called Yahweh "my God" (Num 22:18), but throughout the narrative the reader is never really sure where Balaam's loyalties lie. The prophet Micah wrote that the story of Balaam is a bookend to the liberation from Egypt (Mic 6:3-5) and St. John Chrysostom wrote that both Balaam and Joseph Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest who orchestrated Jesus' crucifixion (Jn 11:49-53), were imperfect men and inadvertent prophets who were used by God to fulfill His plan for man's eternal salvation (Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 21.16). The story of Balaam (chapters 22-24) and the test of the new Israelite generation at Baal-Peor on the Plains of Moab (chapter 25) are the defining events of the Israelites' final months in the desert wilderness.
It was King Balak's plan to have Balaam curse the Israelites. However, as Balaam warned the king, he was only able to speak the words Yahweh put into his mouth. Consequently, instead of cursing the Israelites, the seer gave Israel three separate oracles of blessings. Finally, in frustration Balak dismissed Balaam from his service. After his dismissal God gave Balaam a final prophecy for Israel's future, the future of the region, and the future of salvation history:
I. Balaam's Three Oracles Commissioned by King Balak of Moab
Blessing #1: Israel's numbers of people (Num 23:7-10).
Blessing #2: God is with Israel (Num 23:18-24).
Blessing #3: Israel will possess a fertile land and become a kingdom (Num 24:3-7).
II. Balaam's Final Prophecy (Num 24:15-24):
Notice the different ways that references are made to God in the narrative. In the Hebrew translation of the Balaam narrative, in Chapters 22-24 there are fifty-one occasions where references are made to the God of Israel using five different names/titles:
(God Most High)
Chart inspired from a list in Ashley, Numbers, page 433
There are two key terms to be aware of concerning Balaam's gifts. The Hebrew word nahash refers to the art of divination. It is the word that Joseph used in his excuse to his brothers as to why the cup that was stolen was important to him in Genesis 44:5, 15. At that time Joseph was presenting himself as a pagan Egyptian with the gift of divination. The Hebrew word kesem/qecem is a synonym of nahash and is also used for the act of divination of a magician/sorcerer (i.e., 1 Sam 28:8). Both terms are applied to Balaam, but he is never called a navi, the Hebrew word for "prophet" (in the Pentateuch see Gen 20:7; Ex 7:1; Num 11:29; 12:6; Dt 13:1, 3, 5; 18:15, 18, 20 twice, 22 twice; 34:10 and Ex 15:20 "prophetess" naviah). The difference between a prophet of God and a diviner/sorcerer is that the divine/sorcerer used his prophetic gifts apart from Yahweh to determine the future, while the true prophet only spoke the words of God. However, in this narrative Balaam is presented fourteen times as a Gentile diviner who can only speak the words God puts in his mouth (Num 22:8, 18, 19, 20, 35, 38; 23:3, 5, 12, 15, 16, 17, 26; 24:13).
Numbers 22:1-6 King Balak of Moab Sends an Appeal to the
1 The Israelites then set out and pitched their camp in the plains of Moab, beyond the Jordan opposite Jericho [beyond the Jordan of Jericho]. 2 Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, 3 and Moab was terrified of the people, because there were so many of them. 4 Moab was afraid of the Israelites; he said to the elders of Midian, 'This horde will soon have cropped everything round us as closely as an ox crops grass in the countryside.' 5 Now Balak son of Zippor was king of Moab at the time. He sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, at Pethor on the River, in the territory of the Amawites, saying, 'Look, a people coming from Egypt has overrun the whole countryside; they have halted at my very door. 6 I beg you come and curse this people for me, for they are stronger than I am. We may then be able to defeat them and drive them out of the country. For this I know: anyone you bless is blessed, anyone you curse is cursed.' [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, page 411).
The Israelites have arrived in the final encampment after defeating the Amorites and taking their territory along the Jordan River Valley from the Arnon River in the south to the Jabbok River in the north (Num 21:21-24). The phrase in Hebrew, "beyond the Jordan of Jericho" in verse 1, means the Israelite camp was situated at a point on the east side of the Jordan River directly across from the city of Jericho on the west bank. They were encamped in the territory they had conquered from the Amorites, the same territory of King Sihon of the Amorites had claimed after defeating the army of Moab (Num 21:25-26)-territory that Moab apparently now wished to reclaim.
Balak knew some of the history of the foreign people encamped upon the Plains of Moab across from Jericho. He knew that they had come out of Egypt forty years earlier.
Question: Why was Balak afraid of the Israelites and
why didn't he attempt to drive them out by force?
Answer: He was afraid because there were so many Israelites, and he feared they would consume all the region's resources. It was not lost on Balak that his people lost a war with the Amorites and the newly arrived Israelites had conquered the army of his former enemy. Balak realized that his army was not strong enough to win a military victory over the Israelites.
Numbers 22:5 Now Balak son of Zippor was king of Moab at the time. References to King Balak occur in Numbers 22-24, Joshua 24:9, Judges 11:25 and Micah 6:5, and his name, not uncommon among Hebrew names, means "crusher/breaker" (Levine, Numbers vol. II, page 144). Balak was the king of Moab (21:26) who was the son of a man named Zippor, the masculine rendering of Zipporah, the name of Moses' Midianite wife (Ex 2:21; 18:2). This may suggest an alliance between the Moabite royal family and one or more of the tribes of Midian. It is an interpretation that is supported by Balak consulting elders of Midian in verse 4 and sending out a delegation comprised of Moabite and Midianite emissaries to enlist Balaam's support in verse 7. The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, claimed that Balak "had from his ancestors a friendship and league with the Midianites" (The Antiquities of the Jews, 4.6.2 ). Midianites will make another appearance in 25:6-9. According to archaeological surveys of this area, the region of the Transjordan south of the Jabbok was just beginning to be settled in the mid 1300s BC; therefore, the Moabite state was evidently newly formed when the Israelites appeared on the scene.
He sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, at Pethor on the River, in the territory of the Amawites... In Numbers 23:7 Balaam is identified as an Aramean.
Question: What ancestor of the Israelites was an
Aramean from Haran/Nahor? What other Arameans were ancestors of the
Israelites? See Gen 11:31; 24:2-4, 10, 67; 29:1-6, 15-30; Dt 26:5.
Answer: Abraham was an Aramean as were his kinsmen who continued to live in Haran. His son and his grandson both married Aramean women from Haran.
In Numbers 23:7 Balaam mentions the region of Kedem/Qadem as his homeland.
Question: In Numbers 23:7, what does Balaam say was
the region of his homeland and how does that relate to Abraham's family? See
Answer: Balaam claimed the region of Kedem/Qadem as his homeland. Haran was a city located on a tributary of the Euphrates in Mesopotamia. The city was the home of Abraham's family before he left for Canaan. When Jacob reached Haran (Gen 29:1-4), the Biblical text reads: Jacob reached the land of Kedem [Land of the Easterners].
Numbers 22:5 records that Balaam's father and kinsmen were from Pethor, identified with Pitru on the Sajur River, also tributary of the Euphrates River ("the River") about 12 miles (20 km) south of Carchemish and just a few miles west of Haran.(1) Egyptian records and the annals of Assyrian King Shalmaneser III indicate that Pitru was an Aramean city and that the territory controlled by Aram extended from Damascus to slightly north of the middle of the Euphrates River.
If Pitru is the same city as Pethor, and if Balak's emissaries went there to enlist Balaam's support, then the journey of Balak's emissaries from Moab to Balaam's home town was a distance of about 400 miles (640 km), a journey that would have taken a minimum of 20 days. That Balaam was an Aramean from the same vicinity as Abraham may explain his knowledge of Abraham's God, having heard the stories of Abraham's devotion to Yahweh and his defeat of the kings of Mesopotamia (Gen 12 and 14). If Balaam was living in Pethor, it took two round trips to get him to Moab, a delay of about three months.
But, perhaps they didn't travel that far. There is a problem with the phrase in the territory of the Amawites. In Hebrew this phrase is rendered "in the territory of the benei 'ammo" [the "sons of Ammo"]. Balaam's father was from Pethor, but he may have been living in the Transjordan (see Num 24:14). The city of Ammon (Rabbath Ammon) was in the Transjordan nation of the Amorites, northwest of Moab. Today it is known as Amman, the capital of the nation of Jordan. Northwest of Ammon, near Sukkoth (Gen 33:17) in the Jabbok Valley, is tel Deir 'Alla where plaster inscriptions from an ancient stela with the name "Balaam" were discovered near the ruins of a pagan temple. The inscriptions identified the same Balaam as in the Biblical narrative and recounted much of the same story.(2) Since Balaam rode a donkey to Moab, an animal that is not suitable for traveling long distances, it is possible that the Aramean prophet was already living in the Transjordan. When Balaam told King Balak he was returning to his own kinsmen after the failure of his mission (Num 24:14, 25), he did not return to Mesopotamia but remained in Transjordan and according to Numbers 31:7 died in Midianite territory on the east side of the Jordan River.
Numbers 22:7-14 Balaam Gives His Answer
7 The elders of Moab and the elders of Midian set out, taking the fee for the divination [kesem] with them. They found Balaam and gave him Balak's message. 8 He said to them, 'Stay the night here, and I will answer as Yahweh directs me.' So the chiefs of Moab stayed with Balaam. 9 God came to Balaam and said, 'Who are these men staying with you?' 10 Balaam said to God, 'Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent me this message, 11 "Look, a people coming from Egypt has overrun the whole countryside. Come now and curse them for me; I may then be able to defeat them and drive them out."' 12 God said to Balaam, 'You are not to go with them. You are not to curse the people, for they are blessed.' 13 In the morning Balaam got up and said to the chiefs sent by Balak, 'Go back to your country, for Yahweh will not let me go with you.' 14 So the chiefs of Moab got up, went back to Balak and said, 'Balaam refuses to come with us.'
Question: What do the prophetic gifts of this
non-Israelite Gentile and his special communication with Yahweh reveal?
Answer: Balaam's prophetic gifts show that God did not limit His interaction with the family of Adam to the descendants of Jacob/Israel. God called all peoples of the earth to know and serve Him, just as He also called and blessed the Kenizzite Gentile, Caleb.
Question: What instructions did Yahweh give Balaam?
See Num 22:12.
Answer: He was not to accept the Moabite King's invitation. He could not curse the Israelites because they were blessed by God.
Numbers 22:15-21 King Balak's Second Appeal to Balaam
15 And again Balak sent chiefs, more numerous and more renowned than the first. 16 They came to Balaam and said, 'A message from Balak son of Zippor, "Now do not refuse to come to me. 17 I will load you with honors and do whatever you say. I beg you come and curse this people for me." 18 In reply, Balaam said to Balak's envoys, 'Even if Balak gave me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go against the order of Yahweh my God in anything, great or small. 19 Now please stay the night here yourselves, and I will learn what else Yahweh has to tell me.' 20 God came to Balaam during the night and said to him, 'Have not these men come to summon you? Get up, go with them, but do only what I tell you to do.' 21 Balaam got up and saddled his donkey and set out with the chiefs of Moab.
After Balaam's refusal Balak upped the ante in a second attempt to convince the prophet to be his agent against Israel.
Question: What did Balak offer in the first appeal as
opposed to what he offered in the second?
Answer: The first time Balak offered wealth, but in the second appeal he offered power.
Question: How did Balaam refer to Yahweh?
Answer: He referred to Yahweh as "my God."
God came to Balaam in a dream that night.(3)
Question: What was the divine revelation?
Answer: This time God told Balaam to accompany Balak's emissaries back to Moab.
The possible reason for the reversal will be discussed in the next section.
Numbers 22:21 Balaam got up and saddled his donkey and set out with the chiefs of Moab. We already know from the message that Balak sent through his envoys in 22:6 that Balaam had the reputation as an accomplished diviner, but that his mount was a donkey is also an indication of his status and wealth.(4) The next section records a humorous exchange between Balaam, his jenny (female donkey) and a divine messenger.
Numbers 22:22-34 Balaam's Donkey and the Angel of God
22 His going kindled Yahweh's anger, and the angel of Yahweh took his stand on the road to bar his way. He was riding his donkey and his two servants were with him. 23 Now the donkey saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, and she turned off the road into the open country. Balaam then struck the donkey to turn her back onto the road. 24 The angel of Yahweh then went and stood on a narrow path among the vineyards, with a wall to the right and a wall to the left. 25 The donkey saw the angel of Yahweh and scraped against the wall, scraping Balaam's foot against it, so he struck her again. 26 The angel of Yahweh then moved and stood in a place so narrow that there was no room to pass either to right or left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of Yahweh, she lay down under Balaam. Balaam flew into a rage and struck the donkey with his stick. 28 Yahweh then gave the donkey the power to talk, and she said to Balaam, 'What harm have I done to you, for you to strike me three times like this?' 29 Balaam answered the donkey, 'Because you have been making a fool of me! If I had been carrying a sword, I should have killed you by now.' 30 The donkey said to Balaam, 'Am I not your donkey, and have I not been your mount all your life? Have I ever behaved like this with you before?' 'No,' he replied. 31 Yahweh then opened Balaam's eyes and he saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed his head and threw himself on his face. 32 And the angel of Yahweh said to him, 'Why did you strike your donkey three times like that? I myself had come to bar your way; while I am here your road is blocked. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside because of me three times. You are lucky she did turn aside, or I should have killed you by now, though I would have spared her.' 34 Balaam said to the angel of Yahweh, 'I have sinned. I did not know you were standing in the road to stop me. But if what I am doing displeases you, I will go home again.' 35 The angel of Yahweh said to Balaam, 'Go with these men, but say only what I tell you to say.' So Balaam went on with the chiefs sent by Balak.
Question: What is the significance of the mention of
Balaam in the company of only two servants making the journey?
Answer: This is another signpost where the number three points to something significant that is about to happen in God's plan for man's salvation.
We have seen this significant marker using the number three before: for example when Abraham was visited by three "men" in Genesis 18:2 and when Abraham took three persons (his son Isaac and two servants) on the journey to Mt. Moriah (Gen 22:3. We will see this "sign" again many other times, including the New Testament, for example in the Gospels when Jesus took three Apostles with Him to ascend the Mt. of Transfiguration (Mt 17:1; Mk 9:2; Lk 9:28).
In this humorous episode, did you notice the repetition of the number three in three actions by Balaam and three actions by the angel?
Question: What are those events within the episode
and list the verses?
Answer: Balaam struck his donkey three times (verses 28 and 32) and the angel blocked Balaam path three times (verses 23, 24, 26, and 33).
Question: Why do you think God reversed His earlier
instructions by telling Balaam in a dream to go to Moab?
Answer: The text does not provide any information as to why God reversed his instructions in the dream, allowing Balaam to go to Moab, or why God became angry with Balaam for going. One reason is obvious-without going and giving God's blessings and prophetic vision for Israel we would not have the oracles that point to the significant events that will take place in the future of God's people.
The Rabbis, however, see in this an example of human responsibility and the doctrine of free will. Balaam was tested by having to choose between God's command and his personal desires. Since God knew Balaam had in his heart the desire to accept the tempting offer of riches and fame, God allowed him to face the ultimate challenge by coming face to face with his temptations and the opportunity to chose to be obedient to God or to be unfaithful and abandon the will of Yahweh in his life (JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 189).
Question: If the Jewish Rabbis' interpretation is
correct, why might God send the angel to confront Balaam on the journey?
Answer: God's anger expressed by the angel was a warning to Balaam to remain faithful. God does not set out to entrap us-He gives us every opportunity and encouragement to make the righteous choice.
St. Ambrose, taking this same point of view, wrote that God was angry with Balaam because he tried to deceive God: What offense does Balaam commit, except that he said one thing and plotted another? For God seeks out a pure vessel, one not corrupted by impurity and squalor. Balaam was tested, therefore, but he was not found acceptable ... (Ambrose, Letter 28 .6).
St. Peter also wrote of Balaam's deficiencies, comparing him to men who are more concerned with material rewards than with offending God: They have left the right path and wandered off to follow the path of Balaam son of Bosor (a variation of Beor in Greek),who set his heart on a dishonest reward, but soon had his fault pointed out to him: a dumb beast of burden, speaking with a human voice, put a stop to the madness of the prophet (2 Pt 2:15).
The exchange between Balaam and the donkey gives us some insight into Balaam's character. It is difficult to know what is most surprising-the donkey given the power of human speech or Balaam's seemingly calm reaction to the talking donkey.
Question: The donkey had faithfully served Balaam
"all his life" (verse 30), and yet what did Balaam say he would have done to
her had he the means to fulfill his intent? What does this tell us about
Answer: He said if he had a sword he would have killed her. Balaam is ungrateful for his beast's long years of service.
It is also interesting that the angel chastised Balaam for the way he treated the donkey. According the blessings God first gave mankind in Genesis 1:28, we have dominion over creation but only as caretakers. We do not have the right to abuse what God has created. Chastising Balaam for his treatment of the donkey, the angel told Balaam that he was under a death sentence from which his donkey saved him. The angel also added that had he killed Balaam that the donkey would have been spared!
Question: Why was Balaam under a death judgment and
why did Balaam confess that he had sinned in verse 34? What was his sin? What
were God's instructions to Balaam when He gave him permission to make the
journey? Also see 2 Pt 2:15 and Jude 11.
Answer: According to Balaam's instructions when he was given permission to make the journey, God told the prophet in verse 21 that he was only to do what God told him to do. Since God can read the human heart, it must be that Balaam was already contriving in his proud heart how he could get the riches and honors that Balak was offering him by weakening Balak's enemy even if he could not voice a public curse against the Israelites.
St. Jude compared Balaam with Cain (Gen 4) and Korah (Num 16-17): Alas for them, because they have followed Cain; they have thrown themselves into the same delusion as Balaam for a reward; they have been ruined by the same rebellion as Korah-and share the same fate (Jude 11). It was the sin of pride and their opposition to the will of God that was the downfall of both Cain and Korah. Only God can read a human heart and Balaam's heart had been read and was judged not entire pure. However, with the divine messenger's warning and his confession of sin, Balaam had the opportunity to repent and to resubmit himself to God's plan.
Numbers 22:36-42 Balak Meets With Balaam
36 Balak learned that Balaam was coming and went out to meet him, in the direction of Ar in Moab, at the Arnon frontier on the country's furthest boundary. 37 Balak said to Balaam, 'Did I not send messengers to summon you? Why did you not come to me? Did you think, perhaps, I could confer no honors on you?' 38 Balaam said to Balak, 'I have come to you after all. I suppose you know I cannot say anything on my own? The words God puts into my mouth are what I shall say.' 39 Balaam set out with Balak. They came to Kiriath-Huzoth. 40 Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and offered portions to Balaam and the chiefs who were with him. Next morning Balak took Balaam and brought him to Bamoth-Baal, from where he could see the edge of the camp.
Numbers 22:36 Balak learned that Balaam was coming and went out to meet him, in the direction of Ar in Moab, at the Arnon frontier on the country's furthest boundary. The literal translation is "a town in Moab", but the reference is to Ar, a fortified town dominating the gorge of the Arnon River (see Num 21:15, 28). The Arnon was the boundary between Moab and the lands that the Israelites had conquered from the Amorites.
King Balak expressed his irritation that Balaam didn't come when he was first summoned. It probably didn't sooth Balak's irritation, but Balaam reminded the king that he had certain limitations.
Question: What were those limitations?
Answer: He can only say the words that Yahweh gives him.
Numbers 22:39 Balaam set out with Balak. They came to Kiriath-Huzoth.
Kiriath-Huzoth literally means "the town of markets"; it was a town north of the Arnon. They traveled north, skirting the edge of the plateau overlooking the plain. They were a distance north of the Moabite border and were traveling in the territory the Israelites took from the Amorites. The site of Kiriath-Huzoth has not been identified.
Numbers 22:40 Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and offered portions to Balaam and the chiefs who were with him. Next morning Balak took Balaam and brought him to Bamoth-Baal, from where he could see the edge of the camp.
They built an altar and offered a peace offering (communion sacrifice) and a whole burnt offering. It was apparently important that the sacrifices were offered on altars within the territory Balak wished to reclaim from the Israelites. Some of the sacrifices were peace offerings that were eaten in a sacred meal, sealing the terms of the agreement between Balaam and Balak's delegation. The sheep may have been a whole burnt offering sanctifying the seer and the future oracle. The next morning they traveled along the plateau until they came to a point overlooking the plain occupied by the Israelite camp where there was a shrine to the storm god Baal. The place-name Bamoth (see 21:19) is attested in several Biblical passages (Is 15:2; 16:12; Jer 48:35) and in compound place-names such as Bamoth-Arnon (Num 21:28) and Bamoth-Baal here and in Joshua 13:17. It is a topographical name signifying a "high-place" that never appears outside of Moabite territory.
... and when the
king had entertained him in a magnificent manner, he desired him to go to one
of the mountains to take a view of the state of the camp of the Hebrews. Balak
himself also came to the mountain, and brought the prophet along with him, with
royal attendance. This mountain lay over their heads, and was distant sixty
furlongs from the camp. [..]. Thus did Balaam speak by inspiration, as not being
in his own power, but moved to say what he did by divine spirit.
Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 4.6.4, 5 [112, 115]
Numbers 23:1-10 Balaam's First Attempt to Curse Israel
1 Balaam said to Balak, 'Build me seven altars here and prepare me seven bulls and seven rams.' 2 Balak did as Balaam said and offered a burnt offering of one bull and one ram on each altar. 3 Balaam then said to Balak, 'Stand beside your burnt offerings while I go away. Perhaps Yahweh will come and meet me. If he does, I shall tell you whatever he reveals to me.' 4 And he withdrew to a bare hill. God came to meet Balaam, who said to him, 'I have prepared the seven altars and offered a burnt offering of one bull and one ram on each altar.' 5 Yahweh then put a prophecy into his mouth and said to him, 'Go back to Balak, and that is what you must say to him.' 6 So Balaam went back to him, and found him still standing beside his burnt offering, with all the chiefs of Moab. 7 He then declaimed his poem as follows:
Balak has brought
me from Aram, the king of Moab from the hills of Kedem:
'Come and curse Jacob for me, come and denounce Israel!'
8 How shall I curse someone whom God [El] has not cursed,
how denounce someone God [YHWH] has not denounced?
9 Yes, from the top of the crags I see him,
from the hills I descry him: a people that dwells on its own,
not to be reckoned among other nations! 10 Who can number the cloud of Israel?
May I die the death of the just, and may my future be like theirs!
[..] = the literal Hebrew translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 415-16).
Balaam instructed the Moabites to build seven altars and to offer two sacrifices on each altar. Seven was a number of significance for all the various peoples of Canaan and the Transjordan. Notice the first use of the word "el" in the oracles; it is the Hebrew word for God (singular), and it is also the name of the principal god of the Canaanites and Transjordan peoples. One wonders how the Moabite king and his delegation interpreted the mention of "El" within the oracle messages. The designation "El" will be used in the oracles four times in Chapter 23 and four times in Chapter 24 (see the chart on page one of this lesson and in handout #1).
In the earlier sacrifices and the sacred meal shared with the Moabite delegation, Balaam clearly accepted the contract to curse the Israelites-but he warned them it was a contract he may not be able to fulfill. The second series of sacrifices were meant to bless the oracle he was prepared to give. Since he was not an Israelite, he was not part of the Sinai covenant law and was not restricted from building other altars.
Question: What was the law concerning the practice of
witchcraft/sorcery for members of the Sinai Covenant? See Ex 22:17; Lev 20:6,
27, Dt 18:10-12.
Answer: Seeking to determine the will of God was permitted, but sorcery, seeking to predict the future apart from the will of God, was forbidden and punishable by death.
Keshafim (sorcery) was a practice that was forbidden under the Law of the Sinai Covenant. Sorcery (keshafim) was not only banned (Dt 18:10) but punishable by death (Ex 22:17; Lev 20:6, 27). In Numbers 23:23 and 24:1 Balaam's craft is called nahash and in 22:7 and 23:23 it is called kesem, the term used for witchcraft/sorcery, magicians, necromancers and others who use who use their gift of clairvoyance/divination apart from God to read the future (1 Sam 28:8; Zech 10:2; Ez 13:9; 21:34). Balaam heard the voice of Yahweh, but he also practiced divination through observing omens (Num 24:1).
Question: Why didn't Balaam curse the Israelites?
Answer: As Balaam told Balak in 22:38, Yahweh used him as an instrument for conveying God's divine will and he could not speak on his own contrary to God's will.
In Balaam's first attempt, God put words of praise in his mouth. The content of the first oracle:
The third part of the oracle can be seen as God's second warning to Balaam.
Numbers 23:11-15 Balak's Response to the First Oracle
11 Balak said to Balaam, 'What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, and you have heaped blessings on them!' 12 Balaam replied, 'Am I to depart from what Yahweh puts into my mouth?' 13 Balak then said, 'Please come somewhere else. From here you can see only the fringe of them, you cannot see them all. Curse them for me over there.' 14 He led him to the Lookouts' Field [Sedeh-zophim] on the top of Pisgah. There he built seven altars and offered a burnt offering of one bull and one ram on each altar. 15 Balaam said to Balak, 'Stand here beside your burnt offerings while I wait over there.' [..] = the literal Hebrew translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 416).
Sedeh-zophim in verse 14 is literally translated "mountain of the watchmen". It was probably a lookout post for the seers/astronomers who were "watchers of the skies" to observe omens like the movement of celestial bodies or the flight of birds.
Question: What was the Moabite king's reaction to the
first oracle and what is Balaam's defense?
Answer: Balak was shocked that Balaam had not only failed to curse the Israelites but that he blessed them! Balaam reminded the king that he can only speak the words that Yahweh gives him.
Balak wasn't about to give up and concluded that perhaps the problem wasn't with the renown seer but with the site chose for the oracle. Perhaps a better vantage point could produce better results. The building of altars and offering of sacrifices was repeated to enhance the second attempt to curse the Israelites.
Numbers 23:16-24 Balaam's Second Oracle
16 God came to meet Balaam; he put a prophecy into his mouth and said to him, 'Go back to Balak, and that is what you must say to him.' 17So Balaam went to him and found him still sanding beside his burnt offering and all the chiefs of Moab with him. 'What did Yahweh say?' Balak said to him. 18 Balaam then declaimed this poem, as follows:
Stand up, Balak,
and listen, give ear to me, son of Zippor.
19 God [El] is no human being that he should lie,
no child of Adam to change his mind.
Is it his to say and not to do, is it his to speak and not to fulfill?
20 The charge laid on me is to bless, I shall bless, and I cannot reverse it.
21 I have perceived no guilt in Jacob, have seen no perversity in Israel.
Yahweh his God [Elohim] is with him, and a royal acclamation to greet him.
22 God [El] has brought him out of Egypt, is like the wild ox's horns to him.
23 There is no omen [nahash] whatever against Jacob,
no augury [kesem] at all against Israel. Well may people say of Jacob, of Israel,
'What has God [El] achieved [pa'al = planned]?'24 for here is a people like a lioness rising, poised like a lion to spring; nor will he lie down
till he has devoured his prey and drunk the blood of his slain.
[..] = the literal Hebrew translation (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 416-17).
The content of the second oracle:
Notice in verse 17 that Balak uses Yahweh's divine name. He now acknowledges that it is Israel's God and Israel's God alone who determines the fate of His people. Balak changed the site of the second round of sacrifices and the location of Balaam's oracle hoping that he could favorably influence Israel's God.
Question: What was God's response to Balak's
maneuverings? See Num 23:18-19.
Answer: God answered that he is not like human beings. God is faithful and keeps His promises, unlike human kings like Balak who lie and change their minds according to the circumstances.
Numbers 23:22 God [El] has brought him [them] out of Egypt, is like the wild ox's horns to him. The Hebrew Masoretic text reads "brought them out of Egypt, as does the surviving text of this passage from the Dead Sea Scrolls (The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, page 129), but the Septuagint reads "him" (Septuagint with Apocrypha, page 209). It is a reference to bringing Jacob/Israel out of Egypt, recalling Israel's liberation from slavery and the formation of the covenant. Watch for a second reference in 24:8.
... like the wild ox's horns to him. The imagery linking God's redemption of Israel from Egypt and the power of the wild ox's horns will be repeated in 24:8. The reference is to Israel's divinely endowed power. The wild ox was a symbol of power in the ancient Near East. The gods of the Canaanites and Transjordan peoples were often depicted with horns or horned crowns, and in a bas-relief at the Canaanite city of Ugarit, the god Baal is depicted with ox horns.
Numbers 23:23 There is no omen [nahash] whatever against Jacob, no augury [kesem] at all against Israel. Well may people say of Jacob, of Israel, 'What has God [El] achieved [planned]?' The translation in the Hebrew Tanakh is not expressed as a question but rather as a statement: "Jacob is told as once, yea Israel, what God has planned" (JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 200). There can be no looking for omens like the flight of birds or the condition of the internal organs of sacrifice animals, nor can divination through magic have a place in Israel. The Israelites have no need for such devices for determining the will of God because Israel has what God reveals through His prophets and His High Priest in the use of the urim and thummin (Ex 28:30; 1 Sam 14:41; also see Dt 18:8-15).
Numbers 23:24 ... for here is a people like a lioness rising, poised like a lion to spring; nor will he lie down till he has devoured his prey and drunk the blood of his slain. It is the lionesses who hunt for the pride. Like the lioness, Israel is poised to spring upon Canaan and will not stop until God gives them victory and the land is theirs.(5)
Question: Of what does the lion imagery remind you
from the prophecy that Jacob/Israel made on his deathbed? What are the
implications of that prophecy? See Gen 49:8-12.
Answer: In Jacob's prophecy, Judah is compared to a lion ready to attack his prey. The prophecy also points to kingship for the tribe of Judah.
Numbers 23:25-30: Balak's Response to the Second Oracle
25 Balak said to Balaam, 'Very well! Do not curse them. But at least do not bless them!' 26 Balaam retorted to Balak, 'Did I not tell you? Whatever Yahweh says, I must do.' 27 Balak then said to Balaam, 'Come with me now and I shall take you somewhere else. From there perhaps it will please God to curse them for me.' 28 So Balak led Balaam to the summit of Peor, overlooking the wastelands. 29 Balaam then said to Balak, 'Build me seven altars here and prepare me seven bulls and seven rams.' 30 Balak did as Balaam said and offered a burnt offering of one bull and one ram on each altar.
After the second failure to curse Israel and God's direct message to him, Balak was not prepare to give up his plan to curse the Israelites. Again he changed the location of the sacrifice hoping the win Yahweh's favor.
The scepter shall
not pass from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until
tribute be brought him [until Shiloh* comes] and the peoples render him
Genesis 49:10; emphasis added
[..] = literal translation; *according to John 9:7 the Hebrew word "Shiloh", in Greek "Siloam", means "the one who is sent", rendering the translation: nor the ruler's staff from between his feet until the One who has been sent comes and the peoples render him obedience.
But Yahweh your
God refused to listen to Balaam, and Yahweh your God turned the curse on you
into a blessing, because Yahweh your God loved you.
Numbers 24:1 Balaam's Third Commissioned Oracle
1 Balaam then saw that it pleased Yahweh to bless Israel. He did not go as before to seek omens but turned towards the desert. 2 Raising his eyes Balaam saw Israel settled tribe by tribe; the spirit of God came on him 3 and he declaimed his poem, as follows.
The prophecy of
Balaam son of Beor, the prophecy of the man with far-seeing eyes,
4 the prophecy of one who hears the words of God.
He sees what Shaddai makes him see, receives the divine answer,
and his eyes are opened.
5 How fair your tents are, Jacob, how fair your dwellings, Israel,
6 like valleys that stretch afar, like gardens by the banks of a river,
like aloes planted by Yahweh, like cedars beside the waters!
7 A hero arises from their stock, he reigns over countless peoples.
His king is greater than Agag, and his kingdom held in honor.
8 God has brought him out of Egypt, is like the wild ox's horns to him.
He devours the corpses of his enemies, breaking their bones,
piercing them with his arrows.
9 He had crouched, he has lain down, like a lion, like a lioness;
who dare rouse him?
Blessed be those who bless you, and accursed be those who curse you!
This time Balaam did not offer additional altar sacrifices; instead he turned toward the orderly encamped tribes of Israel.
Question: What did God's prophetic vision reveal to
Answer: Balaam saw beyond the present orderly encampment to the conquest of Canaan and the Israelite tribes settled on their own fertile lands-a new Eden, as suggested in verse 6.
Numbers 24:7-9 A hero arises from their stock, he reigns over countless peoples. His king is greater than Agag, and his kingdom held in honor. 8 God has brought him out of Egypt, is like the wild ox's horns to him. He devours the corpses of his enemies, breaking their bones, piercing them with his arrows. 9 He had crouched, he has lain down, like a lion, like a lioness; who dare rouse him? Blessed be those who bless you, and accursed be those who curse you!
"Agag" is a reference to the Amalekites. The literal translation of verse 7 is: Their boughs drip with moisture, their roots have abundant water (JSP Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 204). The imagery suggests Israel's prosperity under an Israelite hero who brings blessings to Israel like a man carrying water from abundant springs that overflow to bring life giving moisture to the boughs of trees above and the roots below.
Verse 8a is a repeat from the oracle in 23:22. The Dead Seas Scroll document from Numbers with this verse reads "who brings him out of Egypt" (The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, page 129), the Jewish Masoretic text reads "them", and the Septuagint reads "him" (Septuagint, page 209).
Question: What Israelite hero might be the man the
oracle refers to who came out of Egypt and who is connected to the vision of
the Israelites settling the land of Canaan in verses 2-6? See Ex 17:8-16; Dt 31:7-8.
Answer: The Israelite hero that is prophesied in verses 7-9, who God has "brought out of Egypt" (verse 8), seems to fit the description of Moses' successor Joshua; he is the man who will lead the conquest of Canaan, settling the various tribes on their ancestral lands and serving God his great king. He also defeated the Amalekites in Exodus 17:8-16.
However, other parts of the prophecy do not fit Joshua. He did not serve a human king. Israel was a theocracy at this time and did not have a human king ruling over the confederation of tribes. In addition, Israel was not a "kingdom held in honor" by the other nations of the region at the time of Joshua. Scholars have also suggested Saul, Israel's first king (defeated King Agag of the Amalekites in 1 Sam 15:9-33) and David, Israel's second king who was one of King Saul's most successful military commanders and an acknowledged hero of Israel.
The Fathers of the Church saw in this prophecy a reference to the future Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who bore the same name as the hero Joshua and who was also "brought out of Egypt" (Mt 2:19-21). They wrote that in this part of the oracles that Balaam began uttered blessings that proclaimed the Christ (Tertullian, Against Marcion 4.28.8), seeing the flight of Mary and Joseph taking baby Jesus into Egypt (Mt 2:13-15) from whence He was to return one day be acclaimed King of Kings (Eusebius, Proof of the Gospel 8.3) and foreseeing the mystery of Jesus' Passion and Resurrection (Ambrose, On His Brother Satyrus 2.43). In the Gospel of Matthew 2:14, St. Matthew will make a reference to Hosea 11:1 as prophecy that was fulfilled when Joseph took Mary and baby Jesus into Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod: This was to fulfill what the Lord has spoken through the prophet: I called my son out of Egypt (Mt 2:15). In Matthew's quote and in Hosea 11:1 the word "son" is singular. Since the reference in Numbers 24:8 is also in the singular, the Fathers of the Church saw this passage as referring to the Christ.
Concerning this prophecy, Bishop Eusebius wrote in the fourth century AD: The oracle in the previously quoted prophecy, in saying that the Lord would come into Egypt, foretold the journey of our Lord Jesus Christ when he went into Egypt with his parents. Here we have the prophecy of his return from Egypt in its natural order, when he came back with his parents into the land of Israel, in the words "God led him out of Egypt." For our Lord and Savior Jesus, the Christ of God, was the only one of the seed of Israel and of the Jewish race who has rule over many nations, so that it is indisputable that he is the fulfillment of the prophecy which says, literally, that a man will come from the Jewish race and rule over many nations" (Eusebius, Proof of the Gospels 8.3).
Numbers 24:10-11 Balak's Response to the Third
10 Balak flew into a rage with Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to Balaam, 'I brought you to curse my enemies, and you have insisted on blessing them three times over! 11 So now go home as fast as your legs can carry you. I promised to load you with honors. Yahweh himself has deprived you of them.'
In a rage, a frustrated Balak dismissed Balaam from his service.
Question: Who did Balak blame for Balaam's loss of
profit from the venture?
Answer: Balak pointed out that Balaam's God, Yahweh, as deprived him of the wealth and honors Balak had promised.
The last oracle is separate from those commissioned by Balak. Special Messianic importance has been attached to this oracle like the previous oracles.
Balaam's Final Prophecy (Num 24:15-24):
Numbers 24:12-25 Balaam's Response to His Dismissal and
His Final Oracle
12 Balaam retorted to Balak, 'Did I not tell the messengers you sent me, 13 "Even if Balak gave me his house full of gold and silver I could not go against Yahweh's order and do anything of my own accord, whether for good or ill; whatever Yahweh says is what I shall say"? 14 Now that I am going back to my own folk, let me warn you what this people will do to your people, in days to come.' 15 He then declaimed his poem, as follows:
The prophecy of
Balaam son of Beor, the prophecy of the man with far-seeing eyes,
16 the prophecy of one who hears the words of God,
of one who knows the knowledge of the Most High [Elyon].
He sees what Shaddai makes him see,
receives the divine answer, and his eyes are opened.
17 I see him-but not in the present. I perceive him-but not close at hand:
a star is emerging from Jacob, a scepter is rising from Israel,
to strike [crush] the brow the of Moab, the skulls of all the children of Seth
18 Edom too will be a conquered land, Seir too will be a conquered land,
19 when Israel exerts his strength, when Jacob tramples on his enemies
and destroys the last survivors of Ar.
20 Balaam then looked at Amalek and declaimed his poem, as follows:
Amalek, the earliest of nations! But his posterity will perish forever.
21 He then looked at the Kenites and declaimed his poem, as follows:
Your dwelling was firm, Kane, your nest perched high in the rock.
22 But the nest belongs to Beor; how long will you be Asshur's captive?
23 He then declaimed his poem, as follows:
The Sea-people are gathering in the north, the vessels from the coasts of Kittim.
They will bear down on Asshur, bear down on Eber; he too will perish forever.
24 Balaam then got up, left and went home, and Balak too went his way.
Balaam was unable to curse Israel, but now in an ironic twist, Balak's hired seer curses Moab in a prophetic oracle that also prophesies Israel's victories. In this passage, Balaam uses two names for Yahweh from Genesis: Elyon, "God Most High: (see Gen 14:18, 19, 20, 22; also frequently used in the Psalms) and Shaddai, which most scholars translate as "Almighty" (Gen 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; 49:25; also see Ex 6:3).
Numbers 24:17-19 I see him-but not in the present. I perceive him-but not close at hand: a star is emerging from Jacob, a scepter is rising from Israel, to strike [crush] the brow of Moab, the skulls of all the children of Seth. 18 Edom too will be a conquered land, Seir too will be a conquered land, 19 when Israel exerts his strength, when Jacob tramples on his enemies and destroys the last survivors of Ar.
The ancient peoples of the Near East studied the heavens for omens of future events. A new star or a comet signified the birth of a god or a deified king, and a falling star or an eclipse was an omen that pointed to the death of a king (Is 14:12). The word "scepter" is shevet in Hebrew, a word that also means "comet" or "meteor" (JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 208). According to this prophecy, in the distant future a king will arise from Israel who will conquer Moab and the nations of "the children of Seth" (those who are not from the line of the "promised seed" of Noah's son Shem) as well as the nation of Edom-Seir and the last survivors of the Moabite city of Ar. These are among the people over whom Abraham was promised his descendants were to have dominance in Genesis 15:18-21. The description of the future victory as crushing the head of Moab and the skulls of the children of Seth is language from the curse of the serpent in Genesis 3:15.
Question: What connection does Balaam's prophecy have
to Jacob's prophecy for Judah in Genesis 49:10-12 and who is the future king of
Israel who will conquer these peoples? See 2 Sam 8:1-14; 1 Kng 11:15-16; Zec 9:9-14; Mt 21:1-9; 26:27-28; Jn 6:54-56; 19:1, 34.
Answer: The prophecy is similar to the prophecy in Genesis 49 of a king of Israel coming from the tribe of Judah. King David was from the tribe of Judah.
King David of Judah fulfills some of the prophecy here and in Genesis 49:10-12 but not all. David did not ride into Jerusalem on the foal of a she-donkey, nor were his robes covered in the "blood of the grape", etc. David's son Solomon partially fulfilled the prophecy in Genesis 49:10-12 by riding into Jerusalem on his father's mule on his coronation day, but it was Jesus who fulfilled this prophecy and the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 by riding into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey on Palm/Passion Sunday in 30 AD. It was Jesus whose robes were to be washed in the blood of His Passion, which yielded the gift of His Precious Blood through the transformation of the "blood of the grape" into the gift of the Eucharistic cup.
There is also a significant Messianic fulfillment of this passage in the reference to the "star" that comes from Jacob (Num 24:17) and the star that signified the birth of Jesus, the heir to the Davidic kingdom (Mt 22). The emblem of a star was not associated with King David until centuries after the destruction of the second Temple-a triangle is the Greek symbol for the letter "D", delta. The "star of David" is one Greek delta imposed upside-down over another delta. The Fathers of the Church saw Balaam's prophecy as the star that appeared in the heavens on the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
When the Wise Men (Magi) approached King Herod to help them find the newborn king, a worried Herod (who was an Idumean and not a Jew) consulted the Jewish scribes and teachers and told them to search for the prophecies in Scripture concerning the coming of the Messiah (Mt 2:1-7). The Fathers of the Church believed that Balaam's prophecy of the star and a future king was surely one of the prophecies pointed out to Herod along with the prophecy that the Messiah was to be born from the tribe of Judah in Bethlehem, the city of his ancestor King David (Gen 49:10; Mic 5:1-3; CCC 528).
Question: Compare Balaam's prophecy in Numbers 24:17-19 as it was fulfilled in King David and as it was fulfilled in Jesus of
in Numbers 24:17-19
partially fulfilled in David and completely fulfilled in Jesus
|I see him-not in the present. I perceive him-not close at hand = an important birth in the future||David changed the history of Israel.||Jesus changed the history of mankind.|
|A star is emerging from Jacob, a scepter is rising from Israel* ... = a king of Israel||David was a descendant of Jacob from the tribe of Judah who became king of Israel.||Jesus was a descendant of Jacob and David from the tribe of Judah whose birth was announced by a star. He is the King of Kings.|
|... to strike the brow of Moab, the skulls of all the children of Seth. Edom too will be conquered land, Seir too will be a conquered land, when Israel exerts his strength, when Jacob tramples on his enemies and destroys the last survivors of Ar.||David conquered all the nations who were enemies living on the borders of Israel.||Jesus' enemy, King Herod, was an Idumean (Edom). Jesus' dominion is over all earthly kingdoms and all of them will answer to Him in the Last Judgment.|
|Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.|
*see Gen 49:10
Numbers 24:17b-19 to strike [crush] the brow of Moab, the skulls of all the children of Seth. 18 Edom too will be a conquered land, Seir too will be a conquered land,
19 when Israel exerts his strength, when Jacob tramples on his enemies
Question: In the first part of this final oracle,
Balaam spoke of Israel's glorious future, but he ironically cursed what nations
and why? See Gen 36:1, 9. What connection do you see in the language of the
curses and Genesis 3:15?
Answer: Ironically Balaam cursed the Moabites who hired him to curse Israel. He also cursed Edom together with the other descendants of Esau occupying the land of Seir (Gen 36:1, 9); all are to be conquered by the Israelites in the future. The Edomites refused the Israelites passage through their territory, and the king of Moab conspired to thwart God's plan for Israel's conquest of Canaan. The language is reminiscent of the curse of the serpent and his "seed" who stand in opposition to the "seed of the Woman", the promised Redeemer-Messiah who will be victorious over = will "crush the head of the serpent" and his offspring in Genesis 3:15.
God's judgment will be especially harsh on the Moabites and Ammonites but less sever on Edom. No Moabite or Ammonite will be admitted to the Sanctuary of Yahweh until the tenth generation since they did not welcome the Israelites into the Transjordan (see Dt 23:4/3-9/8)
In the second part of the oracle, still standing on the heights of Peor, Balaam gave three more prophesies, the first two beginning with the formula statement "He saw ...". Standing on the Moabite plateau one can literally see into the Negeb, the homeland of the Amalekites, Assurhim and Kenites.
The first two concern the Amalekites and the Kenites. He concludes his prophecies by warning of a future invasion from across the Mediterranean Sea. There is a problem with verse 20; the Amalekites were not the earliest of nations.
Question: According to the Table of Nations in
Genesis Chapter 10, what was the first nation?
Answer: The Mesopotamian kingdom of Nimrod in the land of Shinar, modern Iraq.
The word in Hebrew is re'shit, meaning first in rank and/or first in order. Amalek is not the first of all nations and therefore some Biblical commentators suggest this verse should be interpreted to mean "the first of the wicked" or "your father the devil"... referring to the peoples who inhabit Canaan who are in opposition to the "promised seed" that has been preserved within Israel. The Amalekites were, however, the first nation the Israelites fought and defeated on the journey to Mt. Sinai (Ex 17:8-16) when Yahweh promised Moses I shall blot out all memory of Amalek under heaven (Ex 17:14).
Numbers 24:21-22 He
then looked at the Kenites and declaimed his poem, as follows:
Your dwelling was firm, Kane, your nest perched high in the rock. 22 But the nest belongs to Beor; how long will you be Asshur's captive?
Verse 22 is from the Septuagint translation. This verse is translated differently in the Jewish Masoretic text: Yet shall Kain be consumed when Asshur takes you captive. Beor is the name of Balaam’s father but it is also the name of a father of the first Edomite king who ruled before there were kings in Israel (Gen 36:32). It is odd that a Mesopotamian had a father with an Edomite/Transjordan or that an Edomite had a father with a Mesopotamian name unless there was a Mesopotamian connection, which could explain Balaam's reputation in the region. The Kenites were a group of Canaanites mentioned in Genesis 15:19 as among those people who were to be driven out of the land of Canaan. They were nomadic tribes who attached themselves to other stronger tribes and nations including the Midianites, Amalekites, and Israelites (Judg 1:16; 4:11-17). The Hebrew word kane literally means "smith" and probably refers to Tubal-cain [kayin] who in Genesis 4:22 is the eponymous ancestor of all workers of metal, and presumably of all the Kenites. There is a play on words in the Hebrew word for nest, kinnekah, and the word for Kenites, keni.
Numbers 24:23-24 He then declaimed his poem, as follows: The Sea-people are gathering in the north, the vessels from the coasts of Kittim. They will bear down on Asshur, bear down on Eber; he too will perish forever. 24 Balaam then got up, left and went home, and Balak too went his way.
The Kittim are the peoples who live on the islands of the Mediterranean Sea or from lands across the sea. It is a term used in Scripture for Greeks (1 Mac 1:1; 8:5), Cypriots (Gen 10:4) and the later for the Romans (Dan 11:30). This prophecy apparently refers to an invasion of the Egyptian, Canaanite, Assyrian, and Syrian coasts by a fleet of the Sea People at the end of the 13th century BC.
Around 1200 BC a large migration of displaced people came eastward out of the Aegean Sea. The annals of Ramesses III records that the Egyptians were able to repulse the invaders (Ancient Near Eastern Text Relating to the Old Testament, pages 262-63). The Egyptians gave them the name "the Sea Peoples". The phenomenon of the Sea Peoples was a result of the invasion of peoples into the mainland of Greece, displacing whole populations and of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes in the Mediterranean region that drove island peoples to the sea to escape disaster at home. Of these displaced people, the best known are the Philistines who settled into five main cities on the coast of the Levant (Archaeology and the Old Testament, pages232-33). The migration of the Sea Peoples was recorded in the annals of the various kingdoms affected by the invasion. Eventually the invaders were defeated, became mercenaries for nations in the region, or were absorbed into other populations. Having given his last oracle, both Balaam and King Balak depart.
Chapter 25: Israel's Fall from Grace on the Plains of Moab
themelsves to serve Baal-Peor, and ate sacrifices made to lifeless gods. They
so provoked him by their actions that a plague broke out among them.
Then up stood Phinehas to intervene, and the plague was checked; for this he is the example of uprightness, from age to age for ever.
Chapter 25 is in a sense the conclusion of the Balaam narrative. While the Israelites were encamped at Shittim, near the shrine of Baal of Peor on the frontier between Israel and Moab on the Plains of Moab, the Moabite women seduced the Israelite men into worshipping Baal through ritual prostitution during the sacred banquet of communion sacrifices that were offered to the god Baal. Baal had replaced El as the principal deity of Canaan and the Transjordan. Shittim is called Abel-ha-Shittim in Joshua 2:1b. It was part of the Plain of Moab just to the northeast of the Dead Sea (Num 33:49).
Numbers 25:1-9 Israel at the Sanctuary of Baal-Peor
1 Israel settled at Shittim. The people gave themselves over to prostitution with Moabite women. 2 These invited them to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down before their gods. 3 With Israel thus committed to the Baal of Peor, Yahweh's anger was aroused against them. 4 Yahweh said to Moses, 'Take all the leaders of the people. Impale them facing the sun, for Yahweh, to deflect his burning anger from Israel.' 5 Moses said to the judges of Israel, 'Each of you will put to death those of his people who have committed themselves to the Baal of Peor.' 6 One of the Israelites came along, bringing the Midianite woman into his family, under the very eyes of Moses and the whole community of Israelites as they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 7 The priest Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, on seeing this, stood up, left the assembly, seized a lance, 8 followed the Israelite into the alcove, and there ran them both through, the Israelite and the woman, through the stomach. Thus the plague which had struck the Israelites was arrested. 9 In the plague twenty-four thousand of them had died.
The sexual orge at Peor in honor of the false god Baal evoked the wrath of God. Moses and the faithful of Israel were distraught and were weeping in front of the Sanctuary.
Question: What was God's first command to stop the
Answer: He told Moses to take all the Israelites leaders who encouraged the worship of Baal and to execute them.
Before anyone could act, an Israelite brazenly took a pagan woman into a ritual tent-shrine of prostitution, right by the Sanctuary. While the rest of Israel's leadership was paralyzed with shock, the young priest Phinehas, realizing that the future of the entire nation was at risk, grabbed a lance and executed the sinners. Like his grandfather Aaron, Phinehas had the courage to stand in the breech between life and death for the sake of the nation of Israel.
Numbers 25:10-13 Yahweh's Covenant of Peace with Phinehas
10 Yahweh then spoke and said, 11 'The priest Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron has deflected my wrath from the Israelites, he being the only one of them to have the same zeal as I have; for which reason, I did not make an end of the Israelites in my zeal. 12 For this reason I say: to him I grant my covenant of peace. 13 To him and to his descendants after him, this covenant will assure the priesthood for ever. In reward for his zeal for his God, he will have the right to perform the ritual of expiation for the Israelites.
Question: Who is Phinehas? See Ex 6:25; Num 3:32;
Josh 24:33; Judg 20:281 1Chr 6:21; 9:20; Sir 45:23/28-24/30.
Answer: A priestly grandson of Aaron, son of the High Priest Eleazar, who succeeded his father as chief of the Levitical guard and who later succeeded his father as Israel's High Priest after his father's death.
Question: Why was the covenant with Phinehas called a
"covenant of peace"?
Answer: Like his grandfather Aaron, Phinehas had the courage to stand in the breech between God's wrath and the salvation of the people. His act of courage restored peace between God and Israel.
Numbers 25:14-18 The Aftermath of Israel's Covenant Ordeal
14 The Israelites who had been killed (the one who was killed with the Midianite woman) was called Zimri son of Salu, leader of one of the Simeonite families. 15 The woman, the Midianite who was killed, was called Cozbi, daughter of Zur, chief of a clan, of a family, in Midian. 16 Yahweh then spoke to Moses and said, 17 'Harass the Midianites, strike them down, 18 for harassing you with their guile in the Peor affair and in the affair of their sister Cozbi, the daughter of a prince of Midian, the woman who was killed the day the plague came on account of the business of Peor.'
The woman who was killed was the daughter of a Midianite chieftain in alliance with the Moabites. After this disastrous event, relations with Midian were no longer friendly and eventually the Israelites went to war against the tribes of Midian. Only those Midianites related to Hobab who remained loyal to Israel were given, as Moses promised, a portion of the Promise Land to call their own. It was according to the blessing of Balaam: Blessed be those who bless you, and accursed be those who curse you! (Num 24:9b). God blessed those Gentiles who blessed Israel and punished those who cursed Israel.
God formed a covenant of peace with Phinehas that promised a perpetual priesthood that was fulfilled in Jesus Christ the everlasting High Priest of the New Covenant. It was a covenant within the covenant of Sinai, just as the covenant with Aaron and his descendants was a covenant within the Sinai Covenant. The covenant with Phinehas is the sixth Biblical covenant. The inspired writer of Sirach extolled Phinehas' heroism: Phinehas son of Eleazar is third in glory because of his zeal in the fear of the Lord, because he stood firm when the people revolted, with a staunch and courageous heart; and in this way made expiation for Israel. Hence a covenant of peace was sealed with him, making him governor of both sanctuary and people, and securing to him and his descendants the high priestly dignity for ever (Sir 45:23/28-24/20).
Questions for group discussion:
Question: Parallels can be made between Israel's enemy the King of Moab and Israel's enemy Egyptian pharaoh. How many comparisons can you
find between these two men who where enemies of God's people? See Ex 1:1-2:10
compared to Num 22-24.
|Egyptian Pharaoh||King of Moab|
|He feared Israel's numbers would allow them to take over his country (Ex 1:7, 9-10).||He feared Israel's numbers would endanger his country (Num 22:2-3).|
|He was an obstacle to the Israelites returning to the Promised Land (Ex 1:10; 5:1-2).||He was an obstacle to the Israelites entering the Promised Land (Num 22:6)|
|He instigated plans to make the Israelites suffer (Ex 1:11-22; 5:6-9).||He instigated plans to make the Israelites suffer (Num 22:5-6).|
|He attempted three times to block God's plans to give Israel the three blessings God promised to Abraham's descendants (Ex 1:10, 15, 22).||He attempted three times to block God's plans to give Israel the three blessings God promised to Abraham's descendants (Num 23:11, 25, 24:10).|
|God intervened with each of Pharaoh's three attempts to decrease the number of God's people (hard labor, the midwives killing boy babies, and throwing boy babies into the Nile), turning each attempted curse into a blessing (Ex 1:11-22).||God intervened with each of King Balak's three attempts (Num 24:10) to decrease the number of God's people (Num 23:1-12; 13-26; 23:27-24:9), turning each attempted curse into a blessing (Num 23:11-12, 25-26; 24:10-11).|
|God's answer to His people's suffering was the birth of a child that would change Israel's destiny (Ex 2:1-2).||In the final oracle, God revealed the prophecy of the birth that would change Israel's destiny (Num 24:12-25).|
|Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.|
Question: Was Balaam a saint or a sinner? See Num 22:8-24:25; 31:8-16; Dt 23:5b-6 [23:4b-5]; Josh 13:22; 24:9-10; Neh 13:2 and
Rev 2:14 and quote a significant passage.
Answer: In the beginning, Balaam was a man with a prophetic gift who profession devotion to Yahweh as his God, but in the end Balaam was a sinner who turned away from God's plan in favor of his own ambitions. In His letter to the Christians at Pergamum, Jesus called their members who strayed from the path of righteousness the "followers of Balaam": Nevertheless, I have one or two charges against you: some of you are followers of Balaam, who taught Balak to set a trap for the Israelites so that they committed adultery by eating food that had been sacrificed to idols ... (Rev 2:14).
Question: Why did Balaam tell Balak that it would be
an effective tactic to use false worship and sexual sins to separate Israel from Yahweh's blessings? When had God warned Balaam three times that he was in
danger of acting contrary to the will of God (two warnings are within Balaam's
Answer: Perhaps he was disgruntled that after all his efforts he had lost Balak's promised reward, and perhaps he was jealous of God's selection of the Israelites as His blessed people. Evidently, it was not his idea of what God's plan should have been in choosing Israel, and he therefore sought to influence the course of human history apart from the will of God. God did warn Balaam:
Question: Can you recall when a man, called by God to be His servant, strayed from his mission and fell into sin and disgrace, or who thought he/she had a better plan for the Church as opposed to God's plan? Discuss some examples of such failures and their causes. Are the temptations and sins recorded in the Bible the same sins and temptations we are subject to today?
2. In 1967 a Dutch archaeological expedition, digging at a site near the juncture of the Jabbok and Jordan rivers, uncovered hundreds of fragments of 8th century BC inscription from what must have been a commemorative pillar (stela) that mentioned Balaam son of Beor. The inscription was written in an ancient dialect of Hebrew, probably the dialect of that region of the Transjordan (Hebrew was originally a Canaanite dialect). When pieces of the excavated text were assembled, the document described the divine visions received by the soothsayer Balaam son of Beor, the same Balaam from Numbers 22-24. The descendants of the Moabites retained Balaam's memory as a great diviner but not the recognition that Yahweh was his God (Archaeology and the Old Testament, page 204; Levine, Numbers vol. II, pages 148-49, 473-74).
3. Deir 'Alla inscription I.1 records that Balaam received a message in a dream-"This is the account of Balaam, son of Beor, who was a seer of the gods. Lo, the gods came to him at night, and he saw a vision" (Archaeology and the Old Testament, page 204).
4. Donkeys were the mounts of princes and of wealthy and powerful men in the second millennium BC (see Judg 5:10; 10:4; 12:14). Later mules (the forbidden breading of horses and donkeys) became the status animal (2 Sam 18:9; 1 Kng 1:33, 38, 44); in Jesus' time donkey ownership was common.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.