Numbers 23

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Read Numbers 23

Balaam’s First Message

23 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” Balak did as Balaam said, and the two of them offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I go aside. Perhaps the Lord will come to meet with me. Whatever he reveals to me I will tell you.” Then he went off to a barren height.

God met with him, and Balaam said, “I have prepared seven altars, and on each altar I have offered a bull and a ram.”

The Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”

So he went back to him and found him standing beside his offering, with all the Moabite officials. Then Balaam spoke his message:

“Balak brought me from Aram,
    the king of Moab from the eastern mountains.
‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me;
    come, denounce Israel.’
How can I curse
    those whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce
    those whom the Lord has not denounced?
From the rocky peaks I see them,
    from the heights I view them.
I see a people who live apart
    and do not consider themselves one of the nations.
10 Who can count the dust of Jacob
    or number even a fourth of Israel?
Let me die the death of the righteous,
    and may my final end be like theirs!”

11 Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!”

12 He answered, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”

Balaam’s Second Message

13 Then Balak said to him, “Come with me to another place where you can see them; you will not see them all but only the outskirts of their camp. And from there, curse them for me.” 14 So he took him to the field of Zophim on the top of Pisgah, and there he built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

15 Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I meet with him over there.”

16 The Lord met with Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”

17 So he went to him and found him standing beside his offering, with the Moabite officials. Balak asked him, “What did the Lord say?”

18 Then he spoke his message:

“Arise, Balak, and listen;
    hear me, son of Zippor.
19 God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill?
20 I have received a command to bless;
    he has blessed, and I cannot change it.

21 “No misfortune is seen in Jacob,
    no misery observed in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them;
    the shout of the King is among them.
22 God brought them out of Egypt;
    they have the strength of a wild ox.
23 There is no divination against Jacob,
    no evil omens against Israel.
It will now be said of Jacob
    and of Israel, ‘See what God has done!’
24 The people rise like a lioness;
    they rouse themselves like a lion
that does not rest till it devours its prey
    and drinks the blood of its victims.”

25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!”

26 Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?”

Balaam’s Third Message

27 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Come, let me take you to another place.Perhaps it will please God to let you curse them for me from there.” 28 And Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, overlooking the wasteland.

29 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 30 Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

Go Deeper

God’s people are moving through the wilderness heading towards the Promised Land. As we saw through the census in Numbers 1, the Israelites are a large group of people. The natives of the land they were passing through were understandably intimidated by them. The Israelites have come across the Moabites, and in the previous chapter it says, “Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites” (22:3). The Moabites are led by a man named Balak, and Balak decides that they are going to conquer God’s people because they are a threat. 

During this time, it was a pagan practice to find a diviner to curse the people before going into battle, just to make sure that the “gods” were in favor of them. Divination was similar to fortune-telling, and God prohibited the practice of it in Israel (Deuteronomy 18:10-13). So the Moabites’ goal was to curse Israel, then conquer them. Balak hires a diviner named Balaam to do just that. Balak sends men to hire Balaam, however the Lord appears to Balaam and tells him, “You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed” (22:12). Balak sends more messengers to increase the offer, and Balaam entertains this by going with them. As he was riding his donkey, the angel of the Lord appeared to him and spoke to him through the donkey. Balaam repents, and meets with Balak, the King of Moab.  

Balaam tells Balak to build him seven altars, then sacrifices seven bulls and seven rams. Both the pagans and the Israelites regarded seven as a complete number. Balaam faithfully speaks the message that God gives him and instead blesses Israel in the form of an oracle. An oracle is a special revelation from God. The first oracle wasn’t super specific, but it did reveal that the Lord backed Israel over Moab. He is unable to curse someone that God has not cursed. Balak responds saying, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!” (v. 11). Balaam replies stating, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?” (v. 12). God’s presence is still with His people, and in the absence of Moses, He speaks to them through Balaam 

In the second oracle, Balaam speaks another blessing over Israel. He says, “There is no magic curse against Jacob and no divination against Israel” (v. 23). Balaam references different Abrahamic promises in this blessing. This story shows us that God can use anyone at any time to do anything. God used a pagan divination expert as an instrument of blessing on His people. God was working on behalf of the Israelites despite their failure and lack of faithfulness. Although it may seem like it, Balaam is not the hero of the story. Balaam eventually received his reward from Balak by instructing the Moabites on how to entice the Israelites to sin. The plan to curse and conquer Israel didn’t work, so the Balaam led them to compromise. We will read more about that in Numbers 25, and the consequences of their corruption. 


  1. What stands out to you about this chapter? What questions do you have? 

  2. What does God using a pagan diviner and a talking donkey to pronounce blessing upon Israel teach you about His character?

  3. What is the problem with making anyone other than God the hero of the story?

Keep Digging

Check out this article from to learn more about Balaam! 

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4 thoughts on “Numbers 23”

  1. The Balaam-Balak narrative is such an interesting one that makes you want to read ahead to know the rest of the story. I’ve been drawn to the character of Balaam and how God used him to deliver a timely message to a pagan king. He’s an unlikely candidate because his occupation is that both of a diviner (sorcerer) and a prophet, BUT God can and will use whatever means he chooses to accomplish his purposes. That should enlighten us with hope that he uses the flawed, feeble, and fallen to carry his word to this world. Maybe these are the very ones who humble themselves, are emptied of pride, know they have nothing to give in and of themselves, to create space for God to freely move in and through them, making him the hero of their story.

  2. Our purpose in life is to love God, to proclaim the Gospel and to agape love people that we encounter. As we wander through this wilderness of life and encounter people we should not judge them. ( I am pointing to myself) God can use unbelievers to show us what and how we need to live as He did with Balaam/Balak. Our God delivers on His promises no matter what. God is faithful and just. “God spoke through a donkey in the previous story and now He was speaking through a bigger one.” – David Guzik
    Love is the answer to all questions. God’s love. Our action of love to the world is to show them who God is by His love effervescing out of us. This is a test of your/my life, are we becoming more loving? Or are we just doing “church” that the world perceives is good so that we ask God to serve us, lift us high and to make us glorified in our “christian” walk?

    God thank You for Your Word showing me the way more clearly every time I read it. Thank You for (Phil 1:6-11) being sure of this, that He who began ha good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about all the people I encounter to hold you kin my in heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, sand so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 to be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God in Jesus name amen

  3. Genesis 12 explains the beginning of this blessed nation-Israel, by their “father of many nations.”

    12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

    2 “I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
    I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
    3 I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
    and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

  4. Diane Frances Rogers

    Changing locations will not change God’s will. We must face the source of our problem. The need is for us to change our hearts. Recruiting others to agree with our prideful ways is offensive to God. He is the way, the truth and the Life. Read, read, read your bible. (Reminding myself.) I am so thankful for BRP and the wisdom being shared here.

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