Balaam had altars built to the Canaanite gods. Even though God had spoken to Balaam, Balaam still had Balak build seven altars for the various Canaanite gods: “Then Balaam said to Balak, ‘Build seven altars for me here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me here.’ 2 Balak did just as Balaam had spoken, and Balak and Balaam offered up a bull and a ram on each altar. 3 Then Balaam said to Balak, ‘Stand beside 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 bare hill. 4 Now God met with Balaam, and he said to Him, ‘I have set up the seven altars, and I have offered up a bull and a ram on each altar.”’ (Nu. 23:1-4). He hoped that he could still earn his sorcerer’s fee.
Balaam and his seven altars1
God used Balaam to bless Israel. To demonstrate His sovereignty, God used the idol worshiper Balaam to give a prophecy and bless His people: “5 Then the Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, ‘Return to Balak, and this is what you shall speak.’ 6 So he returned to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, he and all the leaders of Moab. 7 And he took up his discourse and said, ‘From Aram Balak has brought me, Moab’s king from the mountains of the East, saying, ‘Come, declare Jacob cursed for me, and come, curse Israel!’ 8 How am I to put a curse on him upon whom God has not put a curse? And how am I to curse him whom the Lord has not cursed? 9 For I see him from the top of the rocks, and I look at him from the hills; behold, a people that lives in isolation, and does not consider itself to be among the nations.” (Nu. 23:5-9). Satan is no match for God’s power. Nothing happens unless God allows it. God can control even the most evil men as part of His sovereign plan for good (Ro. 8:28).
God can speak to you through sinful people. The Apostle James warned against the “error of Balaam.” (Jude 1:11). Balaam’s seven sins included: (1) sorcery (Nu. 22:6-7); (2) deceit (Nu. 22:8-14); (3) pride (Nu. 22:15-19); (4) covetousness (2 Pet. 2:15); (5) disobedience (Nu. 22:22); (6) spiritual blindness (Nu. 22:23-38); and (7) idolatry. Balaam instructed Balak three times to build seven altars in order to sacrifice animals to curse Israel (Nu. 23:1-4, 14: 29-30). But there was only one altar for burnt offerings under God’s Law (Ex. 27:1-8). Balaam believed that there were many gods or ways to reach God, and he would try them all (1 Cor. 8:4-5). This was idolatry. Today, it is called relativism. Jesus was sacrificed at only one altar called the cross (Heb. 13:10). He is the only way to get to heaven (Jo. 14:6). But, despite Balaam’s idolatry, God used him for His purposes. God even made a donkey talk. We don’t want to follow the errors of non-believers like Balaam (Jude 1:11). Yet, provided you test every spirit (1 Jo. 4:1), are you willing to listen for God’s Word from a non-believer?
A prophet can only speak God’s word. Three times, Balaam failed in his attempts to curse Israel. Each time, Balak became angry with Balaam (Nu. 12:11, 25; 24:10-11). Each time, Balaam responded that he could only speak God’s word: “Must I not be careful to speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?” (Nu. 23:12). “Did I not tell you, saying, ‘All that the LORD speaks, that I must do’?” (Nu. 23:26). “Did I not tell your messengers whom you had sent to me saying, ‘Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything contrary to the command of the Lord, either good or bad, of my own accord. What the Lord speaks, that I will speak?” (Nu. 24:12-13). Three times, Balaam vowed to speak only what God told him (Nu. 22:18, 20-21, 35-38). God also invites us to make vows of devotion to Him, but only if we keep them (Lev. 27; Nu. 30; Matt. 5:34). Like Isaiah, you must also purify your tongue (Is. 6:5-7). God almost killed Balaam when he tried to break his vow and curse Israel (Nu. 22:22, 33). Are you willing to make a vow to only speak God’s Word? (Ro. 1:16).
Balaam blesses Israel2
(1) The first prophecy: The seed of the Messiah will be innumerable. Nu. 23:10(a).
Through the Messiah, God fulfilled His promise to Abraham. Through Balaam, God promised to bless Israel by making it as numerous as the dust of the earth: “10 Who has counted the dust of Jacob, or the number of the fourth part of Israel? May I die the death of the upright, and may my end be like his!’’ (Nu. 22:10a). God previously promised Abraham: “I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth . ..” or the stars in the sky (Gen. 13:16; 15:5). He also promised that “all the nations of the earth” would be blessed through Abraham’s seed (Gen. 22:18). Through Jesus, God fulfilled His promise that Abraham’s descendants would become “as the stars of the sky in multitude – innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.” (Heb. 11:12). Do you know what to do to be called children of Abraham? (Gal. 3:29).
God was faithful to the Jews. The Jews left Israel with only 70 men (Gen. 46:8). Yet, after almost 400 years, they had grown to 603,000 fighting men (Nu. 1:46). Although they were not yet innumerable, what does this tell you about God’s faithfulness?
God will never leave you nor forsake you. Neither Balaam nor Balak could curse Israel because God would not allow it: “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! … How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced?” (Nu. 23:7-8). God previously promised Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.” (Gen. 12:3). Although the Jews had done nothing to deserve God’s promise, He would keep His Word. Even if you disappoint God, He will never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5).
(2) The second prophecy: The Messiah will die a righteous death. Nu. 23:10(b).
You should long to be part of Christ’s righteousness. Balaam longed to die the death of the righteous one. Yet, he had no desire to live the life of the righteous: “May I die the death of the upright, and may my end be like his!’’ (Nu. 23:10b). Who does this reference? It could not be a man, because no man is righteous before God (Ecc. 7:30; Ps. 143:2; Rom 3:23). It was instead “Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 Jo. 2:1). Jesus was righteous because He was without sin (1 Pet. 2:22. Heb. 4:15). He also humbled Himself to die on the cross so that you would have eternal life (Phil. 2:5-8; Jo. 3:16). You are to be an imitator of Christ. (Eph. 5:1.) Have you made your life a living sacrifice for Him? (Rom. 12:1.) Or, is your longing to be righteous a mere desire?
Balak’s failed to attempt to prevent Israel’s blessing. Balak tried to prevent Balaam’s blessing: “11 Then Balak said to Balaam, ‘What have you done to me? I took you to put a curse on my enemies, but behold, you have actually blessed them!’ 12 He replied, ‘Must I not be careful to speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?’ 13 Then Balak said to him, ‘Please come with me to another place from where you may see them, although you will only see the extreme end of them and will not see all of them; and put a curse on them for me from there.’ 14 So he took him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and he built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar. 15 Then he said to Balak, ‘Stand here beside your burnt offering while I myself meet the Lord over there.’ 16 Then the Lord met Balaam and put a word in his mouth, and said, ‘Return to Balak, and this is what you shall speak.’ 17 So he came to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the leaders of Moab with him. And Balak said to him, ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ 18 Then he took up his discourse and said, ‘Arise, Balak, and hear; listen to me, son of Zippor! 19 God is not a man, that He would lie, nor a son of man, that He would change His mind; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? 20 Behold, I have received a command to bless; When He has blessed, I cannot revoke it.” (Nu. 23:11-20). God again is sovereign over evil.
(3) The third prophecy. The sin of God’s people will be forgiven. Nu. 23:21a.
God’s promise of grace through His son cannot be revoked: Even though the Jews had repeatedly disobeyed God and were repeatedly punished for their actions, Balaam saw ahead into the future when God would see their sins no more: ““21 He has not looked at misfortune in Jacob; nor has He seen trouble in Israel; . . .” (Nu. 23:21a). He has not observed ‘iniquity’ (NKJV)/ ‘misfortune’ (NASB) in Jacob, nor has He seen ‘wickedness’ (NKJV)/ ‘trouble’ (NASB) in Israel.” (Nu. 23:21). If you confess your sins and accept Jesus as your Lord and savior, He is faithful to forgive your sins (Eph. 1:7; 1 Jo. 1:9). God further promises: “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Heb. 10:17). Like the Jews, there is nothing you have done to earn God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-9). What should that motivate you to do with your life out of gratitude? (Ro. 12:1).
God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts. God rebuked Balak and taught him that He does not lie or change His mind like a human: “Rise up, Balak, and hear! Listen to me, son of Zippor! God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and He will not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make good?” (Nu. 23:19). His ways and thoughts are not like ours (Is. 55:8-9). After all of Israel’s acts of disobedience, His grace toward Israel made no sense to Balak who wanted them cursed. We are also expected to forgive, even when it makes no sense. God will not forgive you if you do not forgive others (Matt. 6:15).
(4) The fourth prophecy. The Messiah will rapture and protect His people. Nu. 23:21(b)-23.
God will raise the righteous through the rapture. Balaam again continued to give a prophecy about Jesus: “21b . . . the Lord his God is with him, and the joyful shout of a king is among them. 22 God brings them out of Egypt, He is for them like the horns of the wild ox.” (Nu. 23:21-22; 24:8). The word shout in Hebrew is “teruah”, which can also be translated as a “trumpet blast.” The rapture is when God will bring us out of this world, our Egypt. It will also be preceded by the blowing of a trumpet (Matt. 24:31; 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16-17). The Hebrew word “ox” or “re’em” is translated as “unicorn” in the old KJV. Because the word for “horns” is plural while re’em is singular, this was not a unicorn. Yet, it was still a unique animal. Horns symbolize power in the Bible (Ps. 18:2; 89:17; Lk. 1:69; Lam 2:3; 1 Kin. 1:50; 2:28). God was referring to a unique power that only He has to save us. Are you living each day ready for Christ’s return? Or, will you be like one of the five virgins who were not ready with their oil and were passed over by Christ the bridegroom? (Matt. 25:1-13).
God will protect you. God used Balaam to promise that no magic curse could undo His blessing: “ 23 For there is no magic curse against Jacob, nor is there any divination against Israel; at the proper time it shall be said to Jacob and to Israel, what God has done! (Nu 23:23). During the rapture, “will death have any sting” for the righteous in Christ? (1 Cor. 15:55). Are you living your life being ready for His return?
(5) The fifth prophecy. The Messiah will then judge the nations. Nu. 23:24-30; 24:1-9.
The Messiah will one day judge the nations. The first and last verses of this prophecy tell us that God will judge the nations. ““24 Behold, a people rises like a lioness, and like a lion it raises itself; it will not lie down until it devours the prey, and drinks the blood of those slain.”’ .” (Nu. 23:24). “He will devour the nations who are his adversaries, and will crush their bones in pieces and shatter them with his arrows.” (Nu. 24:8(b-d). The lion is a symbol of strength. The tribe of Judah was called a “lion’s whelp.” (Gen. 49:9). God later revealed that Jesus was: “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.” (Rev. 5:5). With power, Christ will bring judgment upon the nations who stand against the Jews (Is. 11:4). When Jesus comes to judge, the Bible warns: “And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.” (Rev. 9:6). If God will judge enemies, you do not need to avenge any wrongs against you (Ro. 12:19). Knowing that your unsaved family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors face unspeakable judgment here on earth if they don’t accept the Messiah as Lord and Savior, that should motivate you to warn them (Matt. 28:18-20). Are you warning others what will happen if they refuse to accept Him?
God’s people will be protected during the time of judgment. When the Messiah judges the nations, His people will be protected: “Like valleys that stretch out, like gardens beside the river, like aloes planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters. Water will flow from his buckets, and his seed will be by many waters . . ” (Nu. 24:6-7(b); Is. 11:1-10; 58:11). While the enemies of God endure unspeakable judgment, God’s people will enjoy the living water in Heaven (Jo. 7:37-38; Ps. 1:3). They also will not need to struggle (Phil. 4:7). Jesus will then reign for a thousand years as our leader in a time of peace (Rev. 20:6). Does your hope lie in the world to come or this world?
Balak and Balaam again try in vain to prevent God’s prophecies. Balak and Balaam again tried in vain to stop God’s blessings and prophecies: “25 Then Balak said to Balaam, ‘Do not curse them at all nor bless them at all!’ 26 But Balaam replied to Balak, ‘Did I not tell you, ‘Whatever the Lord speaks, I must do’?; 27 Then Balak said to Balaam, ‘Please come, I will take you to another place; perhaps it will be agreeable with God that you curse them for me from there.’ 28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, which overlooks the desert. 29 And Balaam said to Balak, ‘Build seven altars for me here and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me here.’ 30 Balak did just as Balaam had said, and offered up a bull and a ram on each altar.” (Nu. 23:25-30). Because God is sovereign, their efforts again failed.
(6) The sixth prophecy. The Messiah will reign supreme. Nu. 24:1-17(a).
Jesus will be exalted. God then again used Balaam to give a prophecy about Jesus; “When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times to seek omens, rather he turned his attention toward the wilderness. 2 And Balaam raised his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God came upon him. 3 Then he took up his discourse and said, ‘The declaration of Balaam the son of Beor, and the declaration of the man whose eye is opened; 4 The declaration of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered, 5 How pleasant are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel! 6 Like valleys that stretch out, like gardens beside a river, like aloes planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters. 7 Water will flow from his buckets, and his seed will be by many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.” (Nu. 24:7). Agag was a wicked Amalekite king whom Saul would later defeat at God’s direction (1 Sam. 15:33). Amalek was Esau’s grandson (Gen. 36:12; 1 Chr. 1:36). God hated Esau’s descendants (Mal. 1:2-3), including Agag, because they were symbolic of a life of the flesh and Satan’s evil reign on Earth. In contrast, the Messiah’s reign will be higher and more exalted than any reign of the devil here on Earth (Rev. 20:6). Are you saving up your treasures for your eternity under the Messiah’s reign? (Matt. 6:19-20). Or, are your treasures all here on Earth?
Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess Christ as Lord. As Balaam began to see the end of history, the Messiah became clear to him. ““ 8 God brings him out of Egypt, He is for him like the horns of the wild ox. He will devour the nations who are his adversaries, and will crush their bones, and smash them with his arrows. 9 He crouches, he lies down like a lion, and like a lioness, who dares to rouse him? Blessed is everyone who blesses you, and cursed is everyone who curses you.’ 10 Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, ‘I called you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have persisted in blessing them these three times! 11 So flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but behold, the Lord has held you back from honor.’ 12 And Balaam said to Balak, ‘Did I not in fact tell your messengers whom you had sent to me, saying, 13 ‘If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything contrary to the command of the Lord, either good or bad, of my own accord. What the Lord speaks, I will speak’? 14 So now, behold, I am going to my people; come, and I will advise you of what this people will do to your people in the days to come.’ 15 Then he took up his discourse and said, ‘The declaration of Balaam the son of Beor, and the declaration of the man whose eye is opened, 16 the declaration of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered: 17 I see him, but not now; I look at him, but not near; a star shall appear from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel, . ..” (Nu. 24:8-17a).I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near.” (Nu. 24:17(a)). One day, everyone will profess Jesus as Lord. (Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10). Yet, for many it will be too late.
The Messiah shall be revealed by the star of Bethlehem. Balaam saw that the Messiah would be revealed by a new star in the sky: “ a star shall appear from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel.” (Nu. 24:17(b)). A scepter was a symbol of a king (Ps. 45:6; Amos 1:5, 8). Many of the rabbis understood that this referenced the Messiah. Upon Jesus’ birth, the wise men, possibly rabbis living in Babylon, saw a new star in the east (Matt. 2:1-2). During the feast of Sukkot, they would have lived outside in structures where they would have seen the stars. Without Balaam’s prophecy, the wise men would not have had any reason to travel to Bethlehem. Traveling by the light of a star would also have been difficult and imprecise without modern instruments. The wise men then turned to another prophecy about the Messiah’s birth to go to Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2-4).
(7) The seventh prophecy. The Messiah will crush God’s enemies. Nu. 24:17(b)-25.
The Messiah shall crush Satan’s head. In the end times, the Messiah “shall crush through the forehead of Moab, and tear down the sons of Sheth,” their descendants: “ 17b . . . and shall smash the forehead of Moab, and overcome all the sons of Sheth. 18 And Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, while Israel performs valiantly. 19 One from Jacob shall rule, and will eliminate the survivors from the city.’ 20 And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said, ‘Amalek was the first of the nations, but his end shall be destruction.’ 21 And he looked at the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said, ‘Your dwelling place is enduring, and your nest is set in the cliff. 22 Nevertheless Kain will suffer devastation; how long will Asshur keep you captive?’ 23 Then he took up his discourse and said, ‘Oh, who can live unless God has ordained it? 24 But ships shall come from the coast of Kittim, and they shall oppress Asshur and oppress Eber; so they also will come to destruction.’ 25 Then Balaam arose, and he departed and returned to his place, and Balak also went on his way.” (Nu. 24:17b-25).. They represented the flesh because they were concealed out of Lot’s incest with one of his daughters (Gen. 19:30-38). The Messiah will later bring destruction to the nations of the flesh who fought with Israel, the children of the promise (Nu. 24:18-24). The people of Kenite, later called the Romans, for example would be “consumed,” presumably by fire. God previously foretold that the seed of Eve would crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20). The second Adam, Jesus, would bring final judgment upon Satan (Ro. 5:12-19; Heb. 2:14-16; 1 Cor. 15:20-28). During the second and final judgment, Satan and his demons will be “consumed” in a lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).
The enemies of God will also face a second judgment. Those who do not have faith in Jesus will be judged by Christ at the great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15). If anyone’s name is not found in the book of life, they also face eternal punishment (Rev. 20:15). God does not desire that any perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Knowing this terrible fate awaits the unsaved around you, are you warning others to accept Jesus? (Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:18-20).