Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Balaam’s Third Oracle: The Abrahamic Promise Repeated (Numbers 24:1-14)

The foolish Balak does the same thing he did during Balaam’s second oracle (23:13-14, 27-28). Yet this oracle is notably different. The text says he did not go to look for omens (v. 1); he does not resort to sorcery. It is because he saw “that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel.” And this time, “the Spirit of God came upon him,” and here presents the penultimate oracle:

“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered: How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel! Like palm groves that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the LORD has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters. Water shall flow from his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters; his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brings him out of Egypt and is for him like the horns of the wild ox; he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces and pierce them through with his arrows. He crouched, he lay down like a lion and like a lioness; who will rouse him up? Blessed are those who bless you and cursed are those who curse you.”

vv. 3-9

This oracle is quite messianic, especially verse eight. It has striking similarities to Psalm 2:9, the first messianic psalm, “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” As Jesus also says in John’s vision, “The one who conquers and who keeps My works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I Myself have received authority from My Father” (Revelation 2:26-27). Most immediately, this oracle refers to Israel, whom Balaam is admiring because of the splendour of their sheer size. Yet this oracle also looks to Christ, who would come out of temporary exile in Egypt (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:13-15).

Balaam can only speak what Yahweh speaks. Therefore, He repeats Yahweh’s blessing to Abraham their father, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Once again, this immediately refers to Israel, who were as numerous as the dust of the earth (Numbers 23:10; Genesis 13:16). Yet this blessing also points to Christ, just as St. Paul interprets, “And the Scriptures, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ …Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:8, 16).

Since those who bless God’s people are blessed and those who curse them are cursed, Balak should take this as a stringent warning. Instead, he becomes angrier and lashes out at Balaam in his words, who then gives his final oracle, which is most messianic.

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