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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 23

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verse 1

Balaam, after the general custom of the pagan, prefaced his divinations by sacrifice. In the number of the altars regard was probably had to the number of the then known planets. Yet Balaam evidently intended his sacrifice as an offering to the true God.

Verse 3

Balaam apparently expected to mark some phenomenon in the sky or in nature, which he would be able, according to the rules of his art, to interpret as a portent. It was for such “auguries” (not as the King James Version “enchantments” Numbers 23:23) that he now departed to watch; contrast Numbers 24:1.

An high place - Or, “A bare place on the hill,” as opposed to the high place with its grove of trees.

Verse 4

God met Balaam - God served His own purposes through the arts of Balaam, and manifested His will through the agencies employed to seek it, dealing thus with Balaam in an exceptional manner. To God’s own people auguries were forbidden Leviticus 19:26.

I have prepared seven altars - And therefore Balaam expected that God on His part would do what was desired by the donor; compare Numbers 22:15 note.

Verse 7

Aram - Or, “highland.” This term denotes the whole elevated region, from the northeastern frontier of Palestine to the Euphrates and the Tigris. The country between these streams was especially designated “Aram-naharaim,” or “Aram of the two rivers:” the Greeks called it Mesopotamia; and here, according to Deuteronomy 23:4, was Balaam’s home. Compare Numbers 22:5 note.

Verse 9

For from the top of the rocks ... - The “for” indicates the constraint under which Balaam felt himself. He had been met by God in his own way; from the cliff he had watched for the expected augury; and by the light of this he here interprets, according to the rules of his art, the destiny of Israel.

Dwell alone - i. e., apart from others, undisturbed by their tumults, and therefore in safety and just security. Compare the same idea in marginal reference; Jeremiah 49:31; and Micah 7:14. This tranquility was realized by the Israelites so long as they clave to God as their shelter and protection. But the inward “dwelling alone” was the indispensable condition of the outward “dwelling alone,” and so soon as the influence of the pagan world affected Israel internally, the external power of paganism prevailed also. Balaam himself, when he eventually counseled tempting the people into sin, acted upon the knowledge that God’s blessing and Israel’s prosperity depended essentially on faithfulness to God.

Verse 10

The fourth part of Israel - i. e., each one of the four camps, into which the host of Israel was divided (see Numbers 2:0), seemed to swarm with innumerable multitudes. Possibly Balaam could only see one camp. Balaam bears testimony in this verse to the fulfillment of the promises in Genesis 13:16; Genesis 28:14.

The righteous - i. e., the ancestors of Israel, who “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off” Hebrews 11:13. With their histories Balaam was familiar, particularly with that of Abraham, “the righteous man” whom God had “raised up from the east (and) called to His foot” Isaiah 41:2.

Let my last end be like his - Render rather, “last estate,” for the reference is not so much to the act of death, as to all that followed upon it - to the future, in which the name and influence of the deceased person would be perpetuated.

Verse 13

Balak seems to hope that the prophet’s words in Numbers 23:10 reflected the impression conveyed by the scene before him at the moment of the augury; and so that the sight of a mere few straggling Israelites in the utmost part of the camp might induce a different estimate of their resources and prospects.

Verse 14

The field of Zophim - Or, “of watchers.” It lay upon the top of Pisgah, north of the former station, and nearer to the Israelite camp; the greater part of which was, however, probably concealed from it by an intervening spur of the hill. Beyond the camp Balaam’s eye would pass on to the bed of the Jordan. It was perhaps a lion coming up in his strength from the swelling of that stream (compare Jeremiah 49:19) that furnished him with the augury he awaited, and so dictated the final similitude of his next parable.

Verse 20

I have received commandment to bless - literally, “I have received to bless.” The reason of his blessing lay in the augury which he acknowledged, and in the divine overruling impulse which he could not resist, not in any “commandment” in words.

Verse 21

“Iniquity” and “perverseness” are found together again in the Hebrew of Psalms 10:7; Psalms 90:10, and elsewhere; and import wickedness together with that tribulation which is its proper result.

The shout - The word is used (Leviticus 23:24 note) to describe the sound of the silver trumpets. The “shout of a king” will therefore refer to the jubilant sounds by which the presence of the Lord as their King among them was celebrated by Israel.

Verse 22

An unicorn - A wild bull, the now extinct Aurochs, formidable for its size, strength, speed, and ferocity.

Verse 23

Enchantment ... divination - More strictly “augury” and “soothsayer’s token,” or the omen that was superstitiously observed. “Soothsayer” is the term applied to Balaam in Joshua 13:22.

The verse intimates that the seer was at last, through the overruling of his own auguries, compelled to own what, had he not been blinded by avarice and ambition, he would have discerned before - that there Was an indisputable interference of God on Israel’s behalf, against which all arts and efforts of man must prove vain. The sense suggested by margin (i. e., that the soothsayer’s art was not practiced in Israel) would be strictly true (compare the Numbers 23:4 note).

According ... - Rather, in due time it shall be told to Jacob, etc. God will, through His own divinely appointed means (e. g. the Urim and Thummim), reveal to Israel, as occasion may require, His will and purposes.

Verse 28

The position of Peor northward from Pisgah, along the Abarim heights, is approximately determined by the extant notices of Beth-peor.

Jeshimon - was the waste, in the great valley below, where stood Beth-jeshimoth, “the house of the wastes.”

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Numbers 23". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/numbers-23.html. 1870.
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