The four oracles of Balaam (Num 23:4-24:25)

“Then God met Balaam. Balaam said to him, ‘I have arranged the seven altars. I have presented a bull and a ram on each altar.’ Yahweh put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, ‘Return to Balak. This is what you must say.’ So he returned to Balak, who was standing beside his burnt offering with all the officials of Moab.”

The oracles are like divine sayings or predictions. God met Balaam. Balaam said that he had arranged the seven altars, and have presented a bull and a ram on each altar. Yahweh told him to return to Balak. Then Balaam returned to Balak with his burnt offering and all the officials of Moab.

“Then Balaam uttered his oracle.

‘Balak has brought me from Aram, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains.

Come, curse Jacob for me.

Come, denounce Israel!

How can I curse whom God has not cursed?

How can I denounce those whom Yahweh has not denounced?

For from the top of the crags I see him,

From the hills I behold him.

Here is a people living alone,

And not reckoning itself among the nations!

Who can count the dust of Jacob?

Or number the dust clouds of Israel?

Let me die the death of the upright,

Let my end be like his!’”

Then Balaam uttered his 1st oracle, saying that Balak had brought him from Aram to curse Jacob and denounce Israel. How could he curse what God has not cursed? How can he denounce whom Yahweh has not denounced? From the top of the rugged cliffs he saw them. Who can count the dust of Jacob? Who can number the dust clouds of Israel? Balaam wanted to die upright.

“Then 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.’ He answered, ‘Must I not take care to say what Yahweh puts in my mouth?’

Balak was not happy with Balaam. He brought him to curse his enemies. Now Balaam has done nothing but bless them. Balaam answered that he could only say the words that Yahweh puts into his mouth.

“So Balak said to him, ‘Come with me to another place from which you may see them. You shall see only part of them. You shall not see them all. Then curse them for me from there.’ So he took him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah. He built seven altars. He offered a bull and a ram on each altar. Balaam said to Balak. ‘Stand here beside your burnt offerings, while I meet Yahweh over there.’ Yahweh met Balaam. He put a word in his mouth and said, ‘Return to Balak. This is what you shall say.’ When he came to him, he was standing beside his burnt offerings with the officials of Moab.”

Balak wanted Balaam to get a better view of the Israelites. He brought him to the top of the mountain ridge of Pisgah that over looked the plains of Zophim. Once again he built seven altars, and presented up seven bulls and rams, one on each altar. Then Balaam told Balak to stand beside his burnt offerings, while he went to meet Yahweh to find out what he would say. Then he returned to Balak who was standing beside his burnt offerings with the Moab officials.

“Then Balaam uttered his oracle, saying;

‘Rise, Balak, and hear;

Listen to me, O son of Zippor;

God is not a human being, that he should lie;

God is not a mortal, that he should change his mind;

Has he promised, and will he not do it?

Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

See, I received a command to bless;

He has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.

He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob;

Nor has he seen trouble in Israel.

Yahweh, their God is with them,

Acclaimed as a king among them;

God, who brings them out of Egypt,

God is like the horns of a wild ox for them.

Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob;

No divination against Israel;

Now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,

‘See what God has done!’

Look, a people rising up like a lioness,

Rousing itself like a lion!

It does not lie down until it has eaten the prey and drunk the blood of the slain.’”

Then Balaam uttered his 2nd oracle, saying that Balak should listen since God is not a human being. He doesn’t lie or change his mind. What he has promised, he will do. What he has spoken, he will fulfill. Balaam has a command to bless the Israelites that he cannot revoke. Yahweh, their God is with them as a king is among them. He brought them out of Egypt like the horns of a wild ox. There is no divination against Israel. The sons of Jacob and Israel are like a people rising up like a lioness, and rousing itself like a lion. They will not lie down until they have eaten the prey and drunk the blood of the slain.

“Then Balak said to Balaam, ‘Do not curse them at all, and do not bless them at all.’ But Balaam answered Balak, ‘Did I not tell you, whatever Yahweh says, that is what I must do?’ So Balak said to Balaam, ‘Come now, I will take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God that you may curse them for me from there.’ So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, which overlooks the wasteland. Balaam said to Balak, ‘Build me seven altars here. Prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.’ So Balak did as Balaam had said. He offered a bull and a ram on each altar.”

Balak was not happy with Balaam and said, don’t curse or bless them. However, Balaam answered that he was only following what Yahweh asked him to do. Balak was still not convinced, so he brought then to another place where he thought things would be different so that there he could curse the Israelites. They went to the top of Mount Peor, which overlooks the desert, where they built seven altars with seven bulls and rams with an offering on each altar.

“Now Balaam saw that it pleased Yahweh to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. Balaam looked up and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. Then the Spirit of God came upon him.”

This time Balaam did not go to seek omens, because he knew that Yahweh was happy with Israel. Instead he looked at the Israelite camp and the Spirit of God came upon him. Here is an explicit example of a non-Israelite receiving the Holy Spirit of God, much like Cornelius in the New Testament Acts of the Apostles.

“He uttered his oracle, saying:

‘The oracle of Balaam son of Beor;

The oracle of the man whose eye is clear;

The oracle of one who hears the words of God;

The oracle of one who sees the vision of the Almighty;

The oracle of one who falls down, but with eyes uncovered;

How fair are your tents, O Jacob;

How fair are your encampments, O Israel!

Like palm groves that stretch far away;

Like gardens beside a river;

Like aloes that Yahweh has planted;

Like cedar trees beside the waters.

Water shall flow from his buckets;

His seed shall have abundant water;

His king shall be higher than Agag;

His kingdom shall be exalted.

God, who brings him out of Egypt,

God is like the horns of a wild ox for him;

He shall devour the nations that are his foes

He shall break their bones.

He shall strike with his arrows.

He crouched;

He lay down like a lion, and like a lioness;

Who will rouse him up?

Blessed is everyone who blesses you,

Cursed is everyone who curses you.’”

Balaam uttered his 3rd oracle, saying that this was the oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of a man whose eye was clear. He hears the words of God and sees the vision of the Almighty (El Shaddai). This is all encompassing vision. He may fall down but his eyes are clear. He sees the tents and camps of the sons of Jacob and Israel. Yahweh has planted palm groves, gardens, aloes, and cedar trees beside the waters. They will have abundant water for their seeds. Their kingdom will be exalted. Their God brought them out of Egypt like the horns of a wild ox. They will devour nations and foes, breaking their bones. They are like crouched lions. Blessed is everyone who blesses them. Cursed is everyone who curses them.

“Then Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam. He struck his hands together. Balak said to Balaam, ‘I summoned you to curse my enemies. But instead you have blessed them these three times. Now be off with you! Go home! I said `I will reward you richly.’ But Yahweh has denied you any reward.’ Balaam said to Balak, ‘Did I not tell your messengers whom you sent to me, `If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of Yahweh, to do either good or bad of my own will. What Yahweh says, that is what I will say? So now, behold, I am going to my people. Let me advise you what this people will do to your people in the days to come.’”

Then Balak was really angry with Balaam. He said that he summoned him to curse my enemies. Instead you blessed them three times. Now get out of here and go home! Balak was going to reward Balaam, but not now. However, Balaam said that he told the messengers that he could not go against the word of Yahweh. Finally he wants to give some advice to Balak about what was going to happen to him and his people in the days to come.

“So he uttered his oracle, saying:

‘The oracle of Balaam son of Beor;

The oracle of the man whose eye is clear;

The oracle of one who hears the words of God;

The oracle of one knows the knowledge of the Most High;

The oracle of one who sees the vision of the Almighty;

The oracle of own who falls down, but with his eyes uncovered;

I see him, but not now;

I behold him, but not near;

A star shall come out of Jacob;

A scepter shall rise out of Israel;

It shall crush the borderlands of Moab;

and the territory of all the sons of Shethites;

Edom will become a possession;

Seir, a possession of his enemies;

While Israel does valiantly;

One out of Jacob shall rule and destroy the survivors of Ir.’”

So Balaam uttered his 4th oracle. This is a lot like the 3rd one. He talks about himself, the son of Beor, whose eye is clear, and hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High. He sees the vision of the Almighty (Shaddai). He falls down but with his eyes uncovered. A star shall come out of Jacob. A scepter shall rise out of Israel. They will crush the borderlands of Moab, and the territory of all the sons of Shethites. Edom and Seir will become a possession. Jacob will rule and destroy Ir. It is not clear where Ir is.

“Then he looked on Amalek, and uttered his oracle, saying,

‘First among the nations was Amalek;

But its end is to perish forever.’

Then he looked on the Kenite, and uttered his oracle, saying,

‘Enduring is your dwelling place;

Your nest is set in the rock;

Yet Kain is destined for burning.

How long shall Asshur take you away captive?’

Again he uttered his oracle, saying:

Alas, who shall live when God does this?

But ships shall come from Kittim

And shall afflict Asshur and Eber;

He also shall perish forever.’

Then Balaam got up and went back to his place. Balak also went his way.”

Then Balaam talked about the destruction of Amalek, the Kenites, as well as Asshur and Eber. In the end Balaam and Balak separated. What do we have here? Here are four main oracles of Balaam, from Babylon, and then a few other short oracles about the various people in the area. Yahweh is speaking through Balaam, who is not an Israelite, in very poetic language. Balaam seems to justify the taking of all these lands. In fact there are allusions to Cain (Kain) and Seth (Shethites), the children of Adam and Eve, to show the connection between Israel and the other inhabitants of this land. Asshur is from the family of Shem, Noah’s son. Most of these people can be found in Genesis, chapter 10 that tried to explain how the sons of Noah populated the Near East. All of these people will be defeated. The message of Balaam was that Israel will be blessed. The others will be cursed.

3 thoughts on “The four oracles of Balaam (Num 23:4-24:25)

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