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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 22

 

 

Verses 1-41


Balaam

The Israelites now enter upon the last stage of their journey to Canaan. They are within sight of the land of promise, being encamped at the northern end of the Dead Sea, near the mouth of the Jordan. Up to this point they have surmounted every obstacle and conquered the tribes on the east side of the river. But now, at the end of the journey, a graver danger faces them. Balak, king of Moab, finding that he cannot prevail against them with carnal weapons, has recourse to magical arts, hoping in this way to destroy them. He sends to the Euphrates for the famous magician Balaam to come and 'curse Israel.' As the sequel shows it is all in vain. Not even the powers of darkness can stop the victorious march of Jehovah's people. The whole incident is designed to show that Israel by the grace of God is proof, not only against the sword of the enemy, but also against the evil powers of the unseen world. There is no enchantment against Israel. God is for them, and nothing can be against them. They are able to wrestle, not only against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness in high places.

1. The district in which the Israelites are encamped is called the plains of Moab, as it formed part of the territory of the Moabites before their conquest by the Amorites (Numbers 21:26). On this side Jordan] The Hebrew is 'beyond Jordan.' So RV: see on Numbers 21:13.

4. Elders of Midian] The home of the Midianites is usually supposed to have been within the Sinaitic peninsula towards the S. or SE.: see Exodus 2:15; Exodus 3:1. Here they are found to the E. of the Jordan, associated with the Moabites in their attempt to bar the progress of the Israelites: cp. Genesis 36:35; Numbers 25:6. Their conquest is described in Numbers 31.

5. RV 'sent.. to Pethor, which is by the River, to the land of the children,' etc. The 'River' is the Euphrates. The ancient Chaldeans and Babylonians, like the modern Arabs, had a firm belief in the existence and influenee of demons. They also believed that certain persons had the power of controlling these demons by means of magic spells and incantations, and these magicians or soothsayers were frequently employed to discover secrets, to foretell the future, to bless an undertaking, or bring ruin upon an enemy. Balaam's fame as a man of this sort had travelled far beyond the limits of his own land, as is shown by the embassy of the king of Moab: see on Exodus 7:11.

7. Rewards of divination] the presents made to Balaam to secure his offices. In 2 Peter 2:15; Balaam is said to have loved 'the wages of unrighteousness.'

8-21. Balaam, being warned by God in a dream, refuses to go; whereupon Balak sends a more pressing invitation with promise of a larger reward. Balaam hesitates, but at length yields, having received permission to go, but to speak only as God directs him.

8. Balaam has been blamed for hesitating here. This, however, is unjust. On the occasion of the first message from Balak he was honestly in doubt whether he ought to go or not, and it is to his credit that he would do nothing till he had learned what the mind of God was. It was otherwise, however, on the secoijd occasion (Numbers 22:19), when he dallied with the tempting offer, in the hope that God would change His purpose, and allow him to go and do as Balak wished. If the words the Lord, i.e. Jehovah, in this v. were really used by Balaam, and are not due to the historian, then it would appear that Balaam knew the God of Israel and worshipped Him. This is by no means impossible. Balaam lived in the land from which Abraham went out (see Genesis 11:28-31; Genesis 24:4-10), and he was no doubt aware of the history of Abraham's descendants, more especially if he was connected with the Midianites (see Numbers 31:8). It need occasion no surprise that God made use of this semi-heathen soothsayer to declare His will. It is but an illustration of the truth that the Spirit of God is not bound: cp. Amos 9:7. Throughout the whole incident Balaam appears as the somewhat unwilling medium whereby God chooses to confirm His unchangeable purpose towards Israel. He stands midway between the true prophet of Jehovah and the heathen magician or soothsayer.

12. They are blessed] see Genesis 22:17-18; Numbers 6:27.

18. This is said in good faith. But Balaam is moved by the tempting offer of Balak; and, while He does not mean to disobey God, he is not without hopes of inducing God to change His mind. He does not yet know that Jehovah's 'kindness shall not depart nor His covenant of peace be removed.'

20. Balaam is allowed to go, but only on condition that he will speak the word that God gives him.

22-41. On the way Balaam receives a warning not to go beyond the word of the Lord.

22. God's anger was kindled because he went] This seems to contradict what is said in Numbers 22:20, that God gave him permission to go. But that permission was conditional. He might go, but he must speak only what is given him to say. Balaam gladly seizes the opportunity of going, for he is hankering after the reward. For the present he ignores the condition. In his heart he hopes to evade it and satisfy Balak. But God, who is the discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, sees the double-mindedness of Balaam, and gives him to know that there must be no trifling. Unless he really means to be obedient he must stay at home. On the 'angel of the Lord' see on Exodus 3:2.

31. Opened the eyes of Balaam] Up to this point Balaam has been like a blind man. He has been determined to have his own way. But now he sees it is useless trying to deceive God or fight against Him. Like Saul he finds it is 'hard to kick against the pricks': cp. Acts 9:4-6. The refusal of his erstwhile docile ass to carry him further is the God-employed means of bringing the obstinate prophet to his senses. How this was done it is vain to speculate. Some explain away the incident of the vision and the ass speaking e.g. as a dream which Balaam had before starting, or a vivid impression made upon him by the liveliness of his own thoughts; but evidently the writer of the narrative believed in the reality of both. In this he simply occupies the standpoint of his age.

34. Balaam is now convinced that it is useless hoping to satisfy Balak, and wishes simply to have nothing more to do with the matter. But this is not the will of God. Balaam must go as His messenger and bless His people.

40. Offered oxen] most probably in sacrifice. It was usual to offer sacrifice at the beginning of any momentous undertaking, or on the arrival of an important visitor: see Genesis 31:54; 1 Kings 19:21; 1 Samuel 16:5.

41. Baal] 'Owner' or 'lord'; the name of a deity, usually identical with the sun, and worshipped by a number of early Semitic tribes, including the Phœnicians. The place of worship was commonly the top of a hill. There was a sanctuary of Baal in this neighbourhood on Mt. Peor: see Numbers 25:3. The utmost part] Balak showed Abraham the whole extent of the Israelites, probably to justify his alarm at their presence, and exhibit the instant necessity of cursing this formidable army.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Numbers 22:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/numbers-22.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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