Balaam’s First Prophecy – the Conclusion
Last time we looked at the first two verses in Balaam’s prophecy. Here’s the whole thing again.
And he took up his oracle and said:
“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?
For from the top of the rocks I see him,
And from the hills I behold him;
There! A people dwelling alone,
Not reckoning itself among the nations.
“Who can count the dust of Jacob,
Or number one-fourth of Israel?
Let me die the death of the righteous,
And let my end be like his!” (NKJV)
King Balak has paid Balaam to curse Israel so he could attack and destroy them. Balaam opens his mouth to speak and what comes out is what the LORD God of heaven intends to be communicated.
I cannot express to you how deeply grateful to God I am for our english translations of His Holy Word. However, I wish we all knew Hebrew as well or even better than we know english. I sincerely believe our encounter with the Bible would be substantially richer with a knowledge of the original language. But we live in exciting times! We have easy access to Hebrew-Chaldee lexicons (source language dictionaries). I do believe the more we use them (correctly) the better our chances we will understand the almighty’s message to us and the richer our encounter with His precious Word.
Let’s take a peek at verse nine. Remember that King Balak had taken Balaam up on the high places of the false god Baal. This is where Balak makes his first request for Balaam to curse Israel. Included in Balaam’s word from the LORD, is their location, “the top of the rocks”. The word for rock used here is the Hebrew word צוּר (tsur).
In the OT rock (Heb. sela‘; ṣûr) symbolizes the security and defence of a steep and inaccessible refuge (cf. Is. 32:2; 33:16). Similarly, it is used of an immovable foundation (cf. Ps. 40:2): to remove ‘the rock’ is equivalent to shaking the world (cf. Jb. 18:4).
(Ellis, E. E. “Rock.” Ed. D. R. W. Wood et al. New Bible dictionary 1996 : 1021–1022. Print.)
It would seem Balak felt pretty safe from Israel at the top of the rocks of His (false) god Baal. What a good place from which to curse Israel!
Next Balaam says, “I see him [Israel]…”. Of course he sees them! They are up on the high places of Baal looking down on this huge nomadic nation stretched out for miles, why say “I see him”? I think what follows sheds some light. Balaam is saying I notice or perceive some things about the nation Israel. Then he describes his observations. They are a unique “dwelling alone” people. This nation is not like the surrounding nations. They do not interact with the other nations, there is no trade between them, not cultural exchanges. They see themselves as somehow set apart from the other people groups.
According to Balaam, in what way is Israel different? He tells us the answer in verse ten. He says, “who can count the dust of Israel?”
Ok, what? Dust of Jacob? With this phrase Balaam is telling his audience that the nation is descended from one person, a man named Jacob. He paints the picture of a walking man leaving a trail of dust behind him. With this figure of speech Balaam declares that the posterity of a single man is incalculable. This nation is so large that it is almost impossible to count even just a fourth of them!
When we read about the life of Jacob we discover that God renamed him Israel. We see in the first part of verse ten the man named Jacob mentioned. The second part of the verse refers to the nation, his descendants, called Israel.
He goes on to proclaim, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!” Here he makes it clear that the nation is righteous. Balaam envies their position of righteousness. They are now, and destined to be, righteous. To die the death of a righteous man implies living the life of a righteous man.
King Balak was expecting Balaam to curse Israel, but instead he declares that they are different than all the nations surrounding them. He declares that they are a blessed nation from the time they were born of Jacob until the end of their days. All Balaam did was repeat what the LORD God told him to say. Indeed these very words of blessing upon the nation Israel are God’s words.
So how is this prophecy a blessing on the nation of Israel? God refuses to curse them. God says they are a growing, prosperous nation that He considers righteous before Him.