Numbers 23:1
Then Balaam said to Balak, "Build for me seven altars here, and prepare for me seven bulls and seven rams."
The Sacrifice of Balak and BalaamW. Jones.Numbers 23:1-4

Numbers 22:39-23:12


1. The sacrifices. Balak and Balaam, however different their thoughts in other respects, were agreed as to the necessity of the sacrifices, if the desired curse were to be put in the prophet's mouth. And so there was abundance of sacrificing. Balak first makes spontaneous offerings, and then such as were specified by Balaam. They felt that God was not to be approached in an irregular way or with empty hands. As Balak thought of Balaam, so he thought of God. The prophet was to be bought with riches and honours, and God was to be bought with sacrifices of slain beasts. Here then is this common element in the practice of two men so different in other respects. It is in Aram and Moab alike. The tradition of Abel's accepted offering has come down far and wide, so that both men are found feeling that such sacrifices were in some way acceptable to God. But the faith and spirit of Abel could not be transmitted along with the knowledge of his outward act. These men did not understand that these sacrifices were worthless in themselves. God is a Spirit, and cannot eat the flesh of bulls and drink the blood of goats. Shedding of blood was for the remission of sins, and these men neither felt sin, confessed it, nor desired the removal of it.

2. The sight of the people to be cursed. The king took the prophet into the high places of Baal, that he might see the utmost part of the people. Very likely Balak himself had not seldom stood there, and gone down again each time more alarmed than ever. Balaam must now see these dreadful people, to satisfy himself that it was neither a trifling nor a needless work he had been called to do; to see how close at hand they were, and to be impressed with the necessity of making the curse potent, speedy, and sure. Added to which, Balak probably believed that, for the curse to operate, Balaam's eyes must rest on the people. Lane in his 'Modern Egyptians' tells us how dreaded is the evil eye. Here then Balaam looked on these people in something of their wide extent. What an opportunity for better thoughts if the spirit that brings them had been in his heart! How he might have said, "Have I been called then to blast this mighty host, who have now lain so long in such close neighbourhood to Balak, yet harmed him not?"

3. The prophet has his own special preparations. While Balak attends to the sacrifices, Balaam retires to his secret enchantments (Numbers 24:1) in some high, solitary place. God did choose that his servants should go into such places to meet with him alone, but how differently Balaam looks here from Moses going up into Sinai, or Elijah when he went his day's journey into the wilderness, or Ezekiel when he heard the Lord say, "Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk to thee" (Ezekiel 3:22); above all, from Jesus, in those solitary, refreshing, blessed hours of which we have some hints in the Gospels! How far this retirement was sincere, how far it was meant to deceive Balak, and how far it was mere habit, we cannot tell. The conscience that is welt-nigh dead to practical righteousness, to justice, compassion, and truth, may yet be in an everlasting fidget with superstitious fear.


1. To Balaam. The whole of what happened may not have been unexpected. The meeting with God he certainly would be prepared for. He had met with God only too often of late, and not at all to his peace of mind and the furtherance of his wishes. We may conclude that God allowed him to go through with his enchantments, else he would hardly have gone to repeat them a second time (cf. Numbers 23:15 and Numbers 24:1). And perhaps the very fact that there was no interruption to his enchantments may have lifted his mind in hope that God was at last going to be propitious. If so it was but higher exaltation in order to deeper abasement. God meets with him, puts a word in his mouth, and commands him thus to speak with Balak. Are we to understand that by having the word put into his mouth, Balaam there and then had all the prophecy clearly before his mind, so that he could consider every word he had presently to utter? Possibly so. And it is possible also that as he went back to Balak he considered how he could trim this prophecy, as previously he had trimmed the commands of God. And now comes something for which, with all his assertions of only being able to speak the word God put in his mouth, Balaam was probably quite unprepared. He gets no chance of exerting his skill to trim and soften down unacceptable words. God assumes per-feet control of those rebellious, lying lips. God, who opened the mouth of an ass and made it utter human speech, now opens the mouth of one whose heart was ready to deceive and curse, and makes that mouth to utter truth and blessing.

2. To Balak. The words of the prophecy must have been utterly unexpected by him. He had counted with all confidence on getting what he wanted. Not a shadow of doubt had crossed his mind as to Balaam's power to curse and his own power to buy that power. Hardly a more impressive instance could be found of a man given over to strong delusion, to believe a lie. Counting on the curse as both attainable and efficacious, he now finds to his amazement, horror, and perplexity that Balaam cannot even speak the words of cursing; for doubtless when the Lord took possession of Balaam's mouth he took possession also of eyes, expression, tone, gesture, so that there would be no incongruity between the words and the way in which they were uttered.


1. A clear statement of how these two men come to be standing together. Balak brings Balaam all this long way in order to curse Jacob and defy Israel. The object of all these messages and these smoking sacrifices is stated in naked and brief simplicity. There is no reference to motives, inducements, difficulties. The simple historical fact is given without any note or comment; the request of Balaam mentioned, in order that it may be clearly contrasted with the reason why it is refused.

2. Balaam is forced into a humiliating confession. What he had so long concealed, as dangerous to his reputation, he must now publish from the high places of Baal. And notice that he confines himself to saying that the required curse and defiance are impracticable. No more is put into his mouth than he is able truthfully to say. Glorious as this prophecy is, one might imagine it being made more glorious still by the mingling with it of a penitent, candid confession of wrong-doing. He might have said, "Balak hath brought me," &c., and surely God would not have sealed his lips if it had been in his heart to add, "I bitterly repent that I came." He might have said, "How can I curse whom God hath not cursed? and indeed I discovered this long ago, but pride and policy kept the discovery confined within my own breast." And so we see how, while God kept Bahrain from uttering falsehood, and forced him to utter sufficient truth, yet Balaam the man remained the same. He says no more than he is obliged to say, but it is quite enough; with his own lips he publishes his incapacity to the world.

3. The very place of speaking becomes subservient to the purpose of God. We may presume that Balak well knew he was taking Balaam to the most favourable view-point. It was thought to be the best place for cursing, and from what Balaam now sees and says it would seem to be a very fit place for blessing.

4. And now, as Balaam looks from the top of the rocks and from the hills, what does he see? He may have been struck even already, and at that distance, and before he began the prophecy, with the outward peculiarities of Israel. Some peculiarities of Israel could only be known by a close and detailed inspection; others, e.g., the arrangement of the camp around the tabernacle, were best known by a sort of bird's-eye view. An intimate knowledge of London is only to be gained by going from street to street and building to building, but one thus gaining a very intimate knowledge of London would yet be without such an impression of it as is to be got from the top of St. Paul's. As Balaam looks down from the tops of the rocks he sees enough for the present purposes of God. He sees enough to indicate the separation and the vast numerical force of Israel. It was not needful here to speak of more. The immediate purpose of the prophecy was served if it deterred Balak from further folly. A great deal more might have been said of Israel, and was said afterwards. In one sense this was an introductory prophecy, followed up by fuller revelations in later ones; in another sense it stands by itself. The others would not have been spoken if the first had proved sufficient. Passing over the concluding wish of Balaam, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" which demands to be considered by itself, we note -

5. The state of suspense in which the prophecy leaves Balak as to his own position. It would have been so easy to introduce a reassuring word - one which, if it did not actually take away Balak's alarm, would at all events have been fitted to do so. But the king's request had something so peremptory and dictatorial about it that God's answer is confined to a refusal. He might have explained that Israel was now busy with its own internal affairs, and would soon, according to his purpose, cross Jordan, and that in the mean time, if Balak would show himself friendly, there was nothing in Israel to make it his foe. But Balak had so acted that the great thing to be done was to impress him with a deep sense of the strength and security of Israel. If we prefer unreasonable and arrogant requests, we must expect to receive answers which, if we were uneasy before, will leave us more uneasy still. God must go on speaking and acting so as to shake the ground under all selfishness. - Y.

Balak and Balaam offered on every altar.
I. OBJECTIVELY THIS SACRIFICE WAS AS PERFECT AS THE OFFERERS COULD MAKE IT. Clearly they aimed at presenting a perfect offering. This is exhibited —

1. In the number of offerings. Seven was regarded as a sacred and perfect number.

2. In the victims offered. The most valuable that were used for sacrifices.

3. In the kind of offerings. They were burnt-offerings, which were presented without any reserve, being entirely consumed in honour of the Divine Being.

II. SUBJECTIVELY THIS SACRIFICE WAS VERY IMPERFECT, AND EVEN SINFUL. In the sentiments and motives of the offerers there was much that was erroneous and evil.

1. The sacrifice was offered with an admixture of faith and superstition.

2. The sacrifice was offered under the impression that the offering was meritorious on the part of the offerers, and placed God under an obligation to them.

3. The sacrifice was offered as a means to induce God to change His mind.

4. The sacrifice was offered with a view of obtaining permission and power to curse the people of God.Learn:

1. That the true value of sacrifice is to be looked for not in the quantity or quality of the offering, but in the spirit of the offerer.

2. Trusting in Christ Jesus for acceptance, let us present ourselves to God. "God must be worshipped with our best. A man's best is himself; and to sacrifice this is the true sacrifice."

3. He who has truly given himself to God will keep back nothing from Him.

(W. Jones.)

Aram, Balaam, Balak, Jacob, Moses, Zippor
Aram, Bamoth-baal, Egypt, Moab, Peor, Pisgah
Altars, Balaam, Balak, Build, Bullocks, Bulls, Male, Oxen, Prepare, Provide, Rams, Ready, Seven, Sheep
1. Balak's sacrifices

Dictionary of Bible Themes
Numbers 23:1-4

     4615   bull

An Unfulfilled Desire
'... Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!'--NUM. xxiii. 10. '... Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.'--NUM. xiii. 8. Ponder these two pictures. Take the first scene. A prophet, who knows God and His will, is standing on the mountain top, and as he looks down over the valley beneath him, with its acacia-trees and swift river, there spread the tents of Israel. He sees them, and knows that they are 'a people whom the Lord hath blessed.' Brought there
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

Philo of Alexandria, the Rabbis, and the Gospels - the Final Development of Hellenism in Its Relation to Rabbinism and the Gospel According to St. John.
It is strange how little we know of the personal history of the greatest of uninspired Jewish writers of old, though he occupied so prominent a position in his time. [173] Philo was born in Alexandria, about the year 20 before Christ. He was a descendant of Aaron, and belonged to one of the wealthiest and most influential families among the Jewish merchant-princes of Egypt. His brother was the political head of that community in Alexandria, and he himself on one occasion represented his co-religionists,
Alfred Edersheim—The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

Balaam's Wish Num 23:10

John Newton—Olney Hymns

The Night of Miracles on the Lake of Gennesaret
THE last question of the Baptist, spoken in public, had been: Art Thou the Coming One, or look we for another?' It had, in part, been answered, as the murmur had passed through the ranks: This One is truly the Prophet, the Coming One!' So, then, they had no longer to wait, nor to look for another! And this Prophet' was Israel's long expected Messiah. What this would imply to the people, in the intensity and longing of the great hope which, for centuries, nay, far beyond the time of Ezra, had swayed
Alfred Edersheim—The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah

The Nature of Spiritual Hunger
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness Matthew 5:6 We are now come to the fourth step of blessedness: Blessed are they that hunger'. The words fall into two parts: a duty implied; a promise annexed. A duty implied: Blessed are they that hunger'. Spiritual hunger is a blessed hunger. What is meant by hunger? Hunger is put for desire (Isaiah 26:9). Spiritual hunger is the rational appetite whereby the soul pants after that which it apprehends most suitable and proportional
Thomas Watson—The Beatitudes: An Exposition of Matthew 5:1-12

Memoir of John Bunyan
THE FIRST PERIOD. THIS GREAT MAN DESCENDED FROM IGNOBLE PARENTS--BORN IN POVERTY--HIS EDUCATION AND EVIL HABITS--FOLLOWS HIS FATHER'S BUSINESS AS A BRAZIER--ENLISTS FOR A SOLDIER--RETURNS FROM THE WARS AND OBTAINS AN AMIABLE, RELIGIOUS WIFE--HER DOWER. 'We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.'--2 Cor 4:7 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.'--Isaiah 55:8. 'Though ye have lien among the
John Bunyan—The Works of John Bunyan Volumes 1-3

How those are to be Admonished who Abstain not from the Sins which they Bewail, and those Who, Abstaining from Them, Bewail them Not.
(Admonition 31.) Differently to be admonished are those who lament their transgressions, and yet forsake them not, and those who forsake them, and yet lament them not. For those who lament their transgressions and yet forsake them not are to be admonished to learn to consider anxiously that they cleanse themselves in vain by their weeping, if they wickedly defile themselves in their living, seeing that the end for which they wash themselves in tears is that, when clean, they may return to filth.
Leo the Great—Writings of Leo the Great

Fragrant Spices from the Mountains of Myrrh. "Thou Art all Fair, My Love; There is no Spot in Thee. " --Song of Solomon iv. 7.
FRAGRANT SPICES FROM THE MOUNTAINS OF MYRRH. HOW marvellous are these words! "Thou art all fair, My love; there is no spot in thee." The glorious Bridegroom is charmed with His spouse, and sings soft canticles of admiration. When the bride extols her Lord there is no wonder, for He deserves it well, and in Him there is room for praise without possibility of flattery. But does He who is wiser than Solomon condescend to praise this sunburnt Shulamite? Tis even so, for these are His own words, and were
Charles Hadden Spurgeon—Till He Come

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners Or, a Brief Relation of the Exceeding Mercy of God in Christ, to his Poor Servant, John Bunyan
In this my relation of the merciful working of God upon my soul, it will not be amiss, if in the first place, I do in a few words give you a hint of my pedigree, and manner of bringing up; that thereby the goodness and bounty of God towards me, may be the more advanced and magnified before the sons of men. 2. For my descent then, it was, as is well known by many, of a low and inconsiderable generation; my father's house being of that rank that is meanest, and most despised of all the families in
John Bunyan—Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

Christ a Complete Saviour:
OR, THE INTERCESSION OF CHRIST, AND WHO ARE PRIVILEGED IN IT. BY JOHN BUNYAN Advertisement by the Editor. However strange it may appear, it is a solemn fact, that the heart of man, unless prepared by a sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, rejects Christ as a complete Saviour. The pride of human nature will not suffer it to fall, as helpless and utterly undone, into the arms of Divine mercy. Man prefers a partial Saviour; one who had done so much, that, with the sinner's aid, the work might be
John Bunyan—The Works of John Bunyan Volumes 1-3

Of the Decrees of God.
Eph. i. 11.--"Who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."--Job xxiii. 13. "He is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth." Having spoken something before of God, in his nature and being and properties, we come, in the next place, to consider his glorious majesty, as he stands in some nearer relation to his creatures, the work of his hands. For we must conceive the first rise of all things in the world to be in this self-being, the first conception
Hugh Binning—The Works of the Rev. Hugh Binning

The Heavenly Footman; Or, a Description of the Man that Gets to Heaven:
TOGETHER WITH THE WAY HE RUNS IN, THE MARKS HE GOES BY; ALSO, SOME DIRECTIONS HOW TO RUN SO AS TO OBTAIN. 'And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain: escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.'--Genesis 19:17. London: Printed for John Marshall, at the Bible in Gracechurch Street, 1698. ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR. About forty years ago a gentleman, in whose company I had commenced my
John Bunyan—The Works of John Bunyan Volumes 1-3

The Desire of the Righteous Granted;
OR, A DISCOURSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS MAN'S DESIRES. ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR As the tree is known by its fruit, so is the state of a man's heart known by his desires. The desires of the righteous are the touchstone or standard of Christian sincerity--the evidence of the new birth--the spiritual barometer of faith and grace--and the springs of obedience. Christ and him crucified is the ground of all our hopes--the foundation upon which all our desires after God and holiness are built--and the root
John Bunyan—The Works of John Bunyan Volumes 1-3

Thirdly, for Thy Actions.
1. Do no evil, though thou mightest; for God will not suffer the least sin, without bitter repentance, to escape unpunished. Leave not undone any good that thou canst. But do nothing without a calling, nor anything in thy calling, till thou hast first taken counsel at God's word (1 Sam. xxx. 8) of its lawfulness, and pray for his blessings upon thy endeavour; and then do it in the name of God, with cheerfulness of heart, committing the success to him, in whose power it is to bless with his grace
Lewis Bayly—The Practice of Piety

The Unchangeableness of God
The next attribute is God's unchangeableness. I am Jehovah, I change not.' Mal 3:3. I. God is unchangeable in his nature. II. In his decree. I. Unchangeable in his nature. 1. There is no eclipse of his brightness. 2. No period put to his being. [1] No eclipse of his brightness. His essence shines with a fixed lustre. With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.' James 1:17. Thou art the same.' Psa 102:27. All created things are full of vicissitudes. Princes and emperors are subject to
Thomas Watson—A Body of Divinity

Like the last part of Exodus, and the whole of Leviticus, the first part of Numbers, i.-x. 28--so called,[1] rather inappropriately, from the census in i., iii., (iv.), xxvi.--is unmistakably priestly in its interests and language. Beginning with a census of the men of war (i.) and the order of the camp (ii.), it devotes specific attention to the Levites, their numbers and duties (iii., iv.). Then follow laws for the exclusion of the unclean, v. 1-4, for determining the manner and amount of restitution
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament

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