Deuteronomy 23:5 NASB

5 But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. 6 You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.

The above text seems to allude that Balaam had actually cursed the Israelites and God had turned the curse into a blessing.In all of Balaam's pronouncements he actually acknowledges that he will only speak what God told him.

Numbers 22:12 NASB

12 God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed 18 Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the [g]command of the Lord my God

Numbers 23:12 NASB

11 Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have actually blessed them!” 12 He replied, “Must I not be careful to speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”

Numbers 24:10 NASB

10 Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam, and he struck his [k]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! 11 Therefore, [l]flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but behold, the Lord has held you back from honor.” 12 Balaam 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 [m]command of the Lord, either good or bad, of my own [n]accord. What the Lord speaks, that I will speak’?

Throughout his discourse Balaam did have the intention to curse but not once did he curse Israel but continued to bless him at every hill they visited.

So how does the author of the Deuteronomy say God turned the curse which was never uttered into blessing

How can one understand the above text?

  • 1
    It was Balak who cursed. Balaam could only say what he was told, Divinely, to say. And he blessed. Balak's curse (by Divine intervention) became Balaam's blessing. I don't see the need for a question, really.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 20, 2019 at 7:45
  • @NigelJ,but texts says God did not listen to Balaam as if there was a pronouncement Aug 20, 2019 at 7:53
  • Balaam never did curse Israel, but he was not closed to the idea of doing it, because he desired a bit of wealth that would come his way if he pleased Balak. Aug 20, 2019 at 9:39

2 Answers 2


The answer here lies with the principle of scriptural harmony as well as word choice in translation.

There is a detailed description of the account in Numbers 22 – 24. In that narrative, it is very clear that Balaam did not curse Israel, he only blessed Israel on three separate occasions. He stated on several occasions that whatever God tells him, that alone is what he must speak. Balak also understands this as he states in Numbers 22:6:

6 Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land: for I wot (know) that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.

So, as your question posits, Deuteronomy 23:5 “appears” to be out of phase with the account in Numbers. However, remember the principal of scriptural harmony and translation word choices, we must not jump to conclusions and read-in to the text something that is not actually there.

Most versions have chosen to use language similar to the version (NASB) you quoted where the word choices might lead you to think that Balaam actually uttered a curse and then the Lord changed that spoken curse in to a blessing. This is not the only way to read the verse. The verse could be interpreted to mean that God understood what Balaam was going to do but then took action to circumvent Balaam’s plan before he uttered a word.

Young’s Literal Translation speaks to this understanding.

Deuteronomy 23:5 (YLT)

5 and Jehovah thy God hath not been willing to hearken unto Balaam, and Jehovah thy God doth turn for thee the reviling to a blessing, because Jehovah thy God hath loved thee;

Here we get the sense that God was not willing to even “give ear” (Hebrew ‘sama’) to Balaam’s words and took action to turn Balaam’s plan from cursing to blessing.

In addition, 2 Peter 2:15 references Balaam’s real issue of wanting to be paid for his divination. Compare 2 Peter 2:15 with Numbers 22:15 and Numbers 24:1:

2 Peter 2:15 (KJV)

15 Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet.

Numbers 22:15 (KJV):

7 And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came unto Balaam, and spake unto him the words of Balak.

Numbers 24:1 (KJV)

24 And when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness.

So the bible gives clear evidence that Balaam’s motivation for issuing a curse was greed and that the elders of Moab/Midian came WITH the payment in their hand the first time they talked to him. He left with the men of Moab/Midian motivated by greed and sought enchantments the first two times he attempted to curse Israel. However, God changed Balaam’s plan from using enchantments to using the Word of God.


Let's see the context, Deuteronomy 23:

3 No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. 4For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you.

That's the intention: to pronounce a curse. But was it realized in real life?

5 However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse

i.e., turned the intended curse. I agree that the language is a bit sloppy here because of the word "turned" but the context is clear: it was an intended curse, not an actual one.

into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you.

There is a parallel account in Nehemiah 13:

1On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God, 2because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.)

If you take the verse out of its context, the curse seems to have been actualized. But with the context, the curse was not actualized in real life. I agree that The language could have been more clear by explicitly adding the adjective "intended".

Did Balaam actually curse the Israelites as alluded in Deuteronomy 23;5?

No, he didn't, at least not in Deuteronomy 23:5.

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