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(MT versing)
The Prophecy From Peor Balaam's Third Prophecy
The Four Oracles of Balaam
Balaam's Third Prophecy
Balaam's Prophecies
24:10-14 24:10-14 24:10-14 24:10-11 24:10-19
Balaam's Final Prophecies
Balaam's Fourth Prophecy 24:14-19

24:20 24:20
24:21-22 24:21-22 24:21-22
24:25 24:25 24:25 24:25 24:25

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


1When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times to seek omens but he set his face toward the wilderness. 2And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God came upon him. 3He took up his discourse and said,
  "The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
  And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened;
4The oracle of him who hears the words of God,
  Who sees the vision of the Almighty,
  Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered,
5How fair are your tents, O Jacob,
  Your dwellings, O Israel!
6Like valleys that stretch out,
  Like gardens beside the river,
  Like aloes planted by the Lord,
  Like cedars beside the waters.
7Water 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.
8God 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 in pieces,
  And shatter them with his arrows.
9He couches, he lies down as a lion,
  And as a lion, who dares rouse him?
  Blessed is everyone who blesses you,
  And cursed is everyone who curses you."

NKJV  "sorcery"
REB, Peshitta  "divination"

The MT has a NOUN (BDB 638), meaning

  1. divination, cf. Num. 23:23b
  2. enchantment, Num. 23:23a

The VERB (BDB 638) means "observing signs" in Gen. 30:27 and probably 1 Kgs. 20:33. See SPECIAL TOPIC: MAGIC and The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, pp. 524-528.

It is difficult to know if Balaam is a true prophet or diviner. The text gives hints in both directions!

▣ "but he set his face toward the wilderness" This is an idiom meaning "he looked at the camp of Israel" (cf. Num. 23:28; 24:2).

24:2 "the Spirit of God came upon him" This phrase is often associated with ecstatic actions or trances in the OT (cf. Num. 11:26; 1 Sam. 10:6; 1 Kgs. 22:10-22). See SPECIAL TOPIC: SPIRIT IN THE BIBLE.

In the OT the "Spirit" is an impersonal influence that facilitates YHWH's will in the world. The full personality of the Spirit is not clearly revealed until the NT (i.e., progressive revelation).

Please see the following Special Topics.


24:3 "discourse. . .oracle" The first word (BDB 669) occurs several times in this literary unit (i.e., chapters 22-24, cf. Num. 23:7, 18; 24:3, 15, 20, 21, 23). See full note at Num. 23:7.

The second term, "oracle" (BDB 610), refers to a divine revelation through a prophet in a trance or ecstatic state (cf. Num. 24:3,15).

▣ "eye is opened" This refers to spiritual insight. Balaam can now see, like his donkey!

24:3-4,15-16 Notice how Balaam characterizes himself.

  1. the man whose eye is opened, Num. 24:3c, 15c (LXX, "who truly sees," JPSOA, "whose eye is true")
  2. the man who hears the words of God, Num. 24:4a, 15b
  3. the man who sees the vision of the Almighty, Num. 24:4b
  4. the man falling down, yet having his eyes opened, Num. 24:4c, 16d (the LXX, "has fallen asleep," which would denote a dream)
  5. the man who knows the knowledge of the Most High, Num. 24:16c

This is OT imagery for receiving and communicating God's message.

Notice the imagery.

  1. Num. 24:1, literally, "it was good in the eyes of the YHWH"
  2. Num. 24:2, Balaam saw all of Israel
  3. Num. 24:3-4,15-16, Balaam claims to truly see the truth now!
  4. Balaam looks at the different ethnic groups, Num. 24:17, 20, 21

24:4 "the Almighty" This is the Hebrew word, Shaddai, which is the patriarchal name for God (i.e., El Shaddai, cf. Gen. 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; Exod. 6:3). Modern etymological study has shown that it may refer to a woman's (Arabic root) breast, thus meaning "the all sufficient One." See SPECIAL TOPIC: EL SHADDAI.

24:6 Notice the agricultural parallelism. The word translated "valleys" (BDB 636 I) can mean "palm tree" (BDB 636 II).

One wonders if this was meant to be an allusion to (1) the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2-3 or possibly (2) an eschatological reference (cf. Isa. 58:11). For sure the description in Num. 24:6-7 describes the Promised Land "flowing with milk and honey" (cf. Exod. 3:8, 17; 13:5; 33:3).

24:7 The LXX, Peshitta, and Targums have a different Hebrew exemplar,

"a person will come forth from his offspring,
and he shall rule over many nations,
and reign of him shall be beyond God
and his reign shall be increased"

▣ "his king. . .his kingdom" Although YHWH is said to be king in Num. 23:21, here it seems to refer to a future human king (notice vv. 8-9; cf. Gen. 17:5, 16; 35:11; Ps. 89:18; both Saul and David defeated Agag or Amalekites).

It is possible that all of the VERBS in Num. 24:7 are JUSSIVE (one, for sure).

▣ "Agag" This (BDB 8) name might be a royal title, like "Hadad," "Pharaoh."

24:8 "the horns of the wild ox" This imagery was used of YHWH in Num. 23:22. Here, it is transferred to Israel but her power is their God's power!

NASB, NKJV, NATIONS, JPSOA, REB, LXX, Peshitta  "the nations"
NJB  "corpses"

The MT has "nations" (BDB 156) but JB and NJB see a related root "corpses" (BDB 156), which fits the imagery of the next four poetic lines.

▣ "crush their bones" This is imagery for destruction, using the eating habits of lions (cf. Isa. 38:13; Dan. 6:24).

24:9 This is another description of Israel (Num. 23:24).

The concluding two lines of this verse reflect Gen. 12:3; 27:29. See SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT PROMISES TO THE PATRIARCHS.

10Then 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! 11Therefore, flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but behold, the Lord has held you back from honor." 12Balaam said to Balak, "Did I not tell your messengers whom you had sent to me, saying, 13'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'? 14And now, behold, I am going to my people; come, and I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the days to come."

24:10 "struck his hands together" This was a cultural idiom of disgust. See full note online at Lamentations 2:15 and Ezekiel 6:11.

24:11 "I said I would honor you greatly" This is another intensified form (i.e., INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and IMPERFECT VERB of the same root, BDB 457, KB 455). Balak is really angry!

The term "honor" (i.e., kabod; see SPECIAL TOPIC: GLORY IN THE OT) refers to the promised large payment from Balak to Balaam. Balaam went home empty handed but did not disobey YHWH's mandate to speak only His word (i.e., bless Israel, cf. Num. 24:13).

24:12-13 This repeats Balaam's response to Balak's messenger from Num. 22:17-18. Balaam asserts several times that he can speak only what YHWH says to him (cf. Num. 22:38; 23:3, 12; 24:13).

24:14 This verse is in response to Balak's command in v. 11 (i.e., "flee," BDB 137, KB 156, Qal IMPERATIVE).

Balaam responds with two commands of his own about Israel and the future.

  1. come ‒ BDB 229, KB 246, Qal IMPERATIVE
  2. I will advise you ‒ BDB 419, KB 421, Qal IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense
NASB, NRSV, NJB, JPSOA, REB  "in the days to come"
NKJV, Peshitta  "in the latter days"
TEV  "in the future"
LXX  "at the end of days"

The MT has BDB 31 CONSTRUCT BDB 398, which could denote

  1. the final days of a people's existence
    1. Amaleck ‒ Num. 24:20
    2. Israel ‒ Deut. 32:20,29
    3. the wicked of Israel ‒ Ps. 73:17
    4. Israel ‒ Jer. 12:4
  2. the final or future days of history
    1. Num. 24:14
    2. Deut. 4:30
    3. Deut. 31:29
    4. note Isaiah 2 and Micah 4-5

This could imply Israel's near term (i.e., united monarchy, divided monarchy, exile) or far term (eschatology). Balaam sees a future but not an immediate one.

15He took up his discourse and said,
 "The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
 And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened,
16The oracle 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.
17I see him, but not now;
 I behold him, but not near;
 A star shall come forth from Jacob,
 A scepter shall rise from Israel,
 And shall crush through the forehead of Moab,
 And tear down all the sons of Sheth.
18Edom shall be a possession,
 Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession,
 While Israel performs valiantly.
19One from Jacob shall have dominion,
 And will destroy the remnant from the city."

24:15-24 This describes the future of several nations.

  1. Israel
    1. a star shall come forth from Jacob ‒ Gen. 49:10 (PROPHETIC PERFECT)
    2. a scepter shall rise from Israel ‒ Gen. 49:10 (both a. and b. are parallel, as well as Messianic)
    3. Israel shall be victorious in battle ‒ Num. 24:18c; 19a
  2. Moab ‒ shall be crushed, Num. 24:17e,f (cf. Ps. 68:21)
  3. Edom ‒ shall be possessed, Num. 24:18a,b
  4. Amalekites ‒ shall be destroyed, Num. 24:20c
  5. Kenites ‒ shall be destroyed, Num. 24:21-24

This type of prediction of future national non-existence is a theological point of YHWH's love for Israel in Mal. 1:2-5.

24:16 Notice the three different titles/names for Deity.

  1. El, Num. 24:16a; see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, A., cf. Num. 24:4
  2. "Most High" (literally Elyon), Num. 24:16b; see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, B
  3. the Almighty (lit. Shaddai); see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE ALMIGHTY (SHADDAI), cf. Num. 24:4

This is literary variety not meant to carry theological distinctions.

24:17 "Moab" See notes online at Gen. 19:30-38.

NASB, REB, LXX, Peshitta  "Sheth"
NKJV, NEB  "tumult"
NRSV  "Shethites"
TEV (footnote)  "who are proud and violent"

Since these will be a people group defeated by Israel, the descendants of the third son of Adam (i.e., Gen. 4:25) does not fit. There have been some suggestions.

  1. instead of שׁת, some translations change to שׁתא, meaning "tumult" or "devastation" (cf. Jer. 48:45; Lam. 3:47)
  2. a small tribe of this area ("Sotu") mentioned in Egyptian documents from 1900 B.C.

20And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said,
 "Amalek was the first of the nations,
 But his end shall be destruction."

24:20 "Amalek" This Arab tribe became a metaphor for evil and treachery (cf. Exod. 17:8-16; Num. 14:43-45; Deut. 25:17; and Jdgs.. 6:3,33). See full note online at Deut. 25:17.

▣ "the first of the nations" Amalek was never the most powerful tribe in its region. This may mean "the first" to attack Israel after they left Egypt (cf. Exod. 17:8-16).

21And 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.
22Nevertheless Kain will be consumed;
 How long will Asshur keep you captive?"

24:22 "Asshur" There have been several theories about to whom this name (BDB 78, KB 94) refers.

  1. the later, large empire of Mesopotamia, Assyria (cf. 2 Kings 15; Isa. 10:5)
  2. a descendant of Abraham and Keturah (BDB 78) that later became a tribe, Gen. 25:3
  3. a descendant of Ishmael, Gen. 25:18
  4. Asher (BDB 79 or BDB 81), a tribe of Israel that did not destroy all the Canaanite population in their allotted land, Jdgs. 1:31-32; 2 Sam. 2:9; Ps. 83:8

None of these seems to fit this context.

  1. Assyria (#1) is too big and later
  2. #2 and #3 are too small and obscure
  3. #4 is one of the tribes of Israel who defeats this group

23Then he took up his discourse and said,
 "Alas, who can live except God has ordained it?
24But ships shall come from the coast of Kittim,
 And they shall afflict Asshur and will afflict Eber;
 So they also will come to destruction."

24:23 "who can live except God has ordained it" In this context of national non-existence, this refers to YHWH's control of nations (cf. Deut. 32:8; Isa. 10:13d; Amos 9:7). He is in control of history because He is creator of time and space!

The LXX and Peshitta, following a different Hebrew text, have:

"and when he saw Og and took up his parable, he said,
'Alas, alas, who shall live
when God ordains these things'"

24:24 "Eber" This (BDB 720 II) may refer to

  1. a city close to Asshur
  2. imagery of the coast line of the eastern Mediterranean being invaded by "the Sea Peoples"
  3. a place name in northern Mesopotamia (i.e., "Eber-Perat" from Targum Onkelos; ABD, vol. 2, p. 260)
  4. an ancestor of the Israelites (cf. Gen. 10:21-24; 11:14-17) and, therefore, referring to Israel (i.e., LXX, Peshitta, Vulgate)

25Then Balaam arose and departed and returned to his place, and Balak also went his way.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. What does it imply that "the Spirit of God came upon him"?
  2. What is Balaam asserting in Num. 24:3-4?
  3. Explain the imagery of Num. 24:6-7.
  4. In a previous oracle the imagery of vv. 8-9 was used of YHWH, but here who does it refer to?
  5. Who is Num. 24:17 referring to?
  6. Who is Sheth in Num. 24:17?
  7. What does Num. 24:23b imply?
  8. Who is "Asshur" in Num. 24:24?

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