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Territory seized east of Jordan (21:21-22:1)
Although Israel had not attacked its brother nation Edom when the king of Edom refused a request to pass through his territory, it did not hesitate to go to war with the Amorite king Sihon who refused a similar request. The Amorites started the fighting, but Israel crushed their army, conquered their chief city Heshbon, and overran their territory (21-25). The victory was especially pleasing to Israel, because the Amorites had only recently gained this territory from the Moabites. The Amorites had written a victory song to celebrate their conquest of Moab (along with its national god Chemosh), but now they themselves were conquered (26-30). As a result of this victory, Israel now controlled an area on Canaan’s eastern border that extended from the Arnon River north to the Jabbok River (31-32).
Israel expanded even farther north with its conquest of Og, another Amorite king, who ruled over the rich pasture land of Bashan. This gave Israel control of the whole region east of the Jordan River (33-35). The Israelites set up their main camp on the plains of Moab, east of Jordan opposite Jericho (22:1).
22:2-32:42 EVENTS ON THE PLAINS OF MOAB
Balak sends for Balaam (22:2-35)
The victories of the advancing Israelites put fear into the Moabite king, Balak. After gaining the assurance of Midianite support, he sent for Balaam, a non-Israelite soothsayer who knew something of Israel’s God. Balak believed that Balaam had supernatural power, by which he could put a curse on Israel that would ensure its defeat (2-6).
Although the messengers from Moab and Midian promised to reward Balaam richly, Balaam refused to go, for God had shown him that Israel was not to be cursed. But Balaam weakened when the messengers returned with a renewed request and a more tempting offer. Balaam clearly knew God’s will, but he sent to ask God again. He was tempted by the offered reward and hoped that somehow God would allow him to go. In the end God allowed him to go so that he might teach him a lesson (7-20; cf. 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11).
God was angry with Balaam for his stubbornness in going to Balak and showed him that only divine mercy had stopped him from being destroyed. Then, when Balaam offered to turn back, God forced him to go on, though he would not get the reward he wanted and would speak only what God wanted him to speak (21-35).
Balaam’s announcements (22:36-24:25)
Balak welcomed Balaam and took him to a high place where he could see the vastness of the Israelite camp. Balak no doubt hoped that Balaam, on seeing this, would be convinced that the Israelites were a serious threat and would put a destructive curse upon them (36-41). But Balaam announced God’s approval of the Israelites. Their vast number, their place in history and their present migration were according to God’s will. Balaam comforted himself with the thought that if Balak killed him for giving a blessing instead of a curse, he would at least die for doing right (23:1-12).
Not giving in easily, Balak tried again to get Balaam to curse Israel, hoping that a change of place might bring a different result. As on the previous occasion, Balaam foresaw no misfortune or trouble for Israel, because God was on Israel’s side. God had saved the people from Egypt and he would give them victory over other enemies (13-24).
Angrily, Balak told Balaam that even if he would not curse the Israelites, he had no need to bless them (25-26)! For a third time Balak looked for a way to make Balaam curse them. This time, apparently in an effort to please Balak, Balaam did not look for omens as he had done previously, but just looked out over Israel and waited to see what words came to him. But God’s Spirit came upon him. The sight of Israel’s vast camp spreading over the countryside prompted Balaam to prophesy a prosperous and victorious future for the nation (23:27-24:9).
In bitterness Balak dismissed Balaam, saying that if Balaam was disappointed at not receiving the offered reward, he had only God to blame (10-11). Balaam replied with his fourth and final announcement, prophesying Israel’s conquest of Moab. In addition the Edomites, Amalekites, Kenites and Assyrians (Asshur) would be destroyed, but Israel would progress (12-25).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Numbers 22". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany