I received the following question:

Numbers 24:1. “Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times, to seek to use sorcery, but he set his face toward the wilderness.”

Were Balaam’s first oracles his own and not prophecy? Numbers 16:34-35. Balaam’s first oracle are his own words because v.10 of ch23 doesn’t come true in comparison to Numbers 31:8.

Balaam’s first oracles were definitely not his own. In Numbers 23:5, we read, “Then the LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, ‘Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.’” The same thing happens in verse 16. The difference seems to be that Balaam tries to convince God to change His mind and curse Israel the first two times by putting on a huge show with seven altars, seven bulls, and seven rams. It seems that Balaam had picked up that the LORD likes the number seven, and he was trying to impress Him with this great show. However, the LORD was not impressed. He had given Balaam the opportunity to repeat His words faithfully in Numbers 22:12, but in verse 13 he had changed the message to something that better suited him. In Numbers 22:20, the LORD gave him a word to obey, but he disobeyed the word in verse 21 and did what he liked. Now, the LORD does not trust Balaam with His words. Instead, He puts them in Balaam’s mouth like a CD in a CD player, and Balaam has no choice but to repeat them exactly as he was given them.

The third time, however, Balaam seems to realize the uselessness of trying to change the LORD’s mind. So instead, he just looks off towards the wilderness and waits for the LORD to give him the word of prophecy. This the LORD does, and of course it again is the same message. So no, the first two times are just as much the word of the LORD as this third time. The change is that Balaam this time just waits for the word which the LORD gives him, rather than putting on a great show and then marching off impressively to meet the LORD as if he was in charge of the situation. The LORD has made a fool of him twice and proven that he is not at all in charge of what is going on, and so Balaam just gives up and decides to take whatever the LORD sends him. The LORD then sends him His message, without all the pomp and circumstance that Balaam put on the first two times.

It is true that Balaam does not appear to die the death of the righteous. As you point out, in Numbers 31:8, we learn that Balaam died his death along with the wicked. However, I think you are making a mistake in taking this as a prophecy. Balaam says, “LET me die the death of the righteous, And LET my end be like his.” (Emphasis mine.) Balaam is speaking this as a wish, rather than a prophecy. It is like he is saying, “May I die like a righteous man, like Israel will, and may I end like the righteous end, like Israel will.” Or, “It would be good for me to die (in hope of the kingdom) like Israel will die, and it would be good for me if my end (in the kingdom of God) would be like Israel’s end.” He is not saying for sure that that is how it is going to be. If it was for sure, he would not have to be wishing it. Yet he knows it would be good for him to come to such an end.

So Balaam did not make a prophecy that did not come true. His words were an expression of truth, but no guarantee that this truth would actually apply to him. Apparently, it did not, although perhaps we cannot say with 100% certainty that Balaam will not be in the kingdom. It could be that he might come to a good end, after all, if God does see fit to give him a place there.

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