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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 22

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.

The children of Israel set forward. The starting-point was Ije-Abarim 21:10; 33:48), on the Moabitish frontier. The Israelites had formed a regular encampment there, completed by the erection of the tabernacle; and from that place, as their headquarters, detachments (Numbers 32:39-42; Deuteronomy 3:14-15) were sent out, by which the kingdoms of Sihon and Og were successively vanquished, the various stations mentioned (Numbers 21:18-20) being military posts within the Amorite territory. On the return of these victorious parties to the main body the camp was removed from Abarim.

Pitched in the plains of Moab, [ bª`arbowt (H6160) Mow'aab (H4124); Septuagint, epi dusmoon Mooab (on the western parts of Moab); Vulgate, campestria Moab]. "The plains of Moab" were so called from having formerly belonged to that people; and though wrested from them by Sihon (Numbers 21:26-30), his usurpation was of too recent a date to allow the ancient name of the place to fall into desuetude (cf. Joshua 13:32). "The plains of Moab," on the east of the Jordan valley, distinguished from that portion of it which lies on the west, called "the plains of Jericho" (Joshua 4:13), begin at the northern extremity of the Dead Sea, reach northward to the Jabbok, and extend in breadth from the Jordan to the hills of Moab-a space of four miles; and it is observable that this tract-very different from "the field of Moab" (see the note at Numbers 21:20) - was for the most part a dry, sunken, desert region. But there are exceptional parts. Between the Jordan and the mountains of Moab and Ammon, nearly opposite Jericho, there lies a spacious plain, of a triangular shape, forming by its carpet of verdure and its extensive groves an oasis in that barren region; and as there is no place, either on the north or south, along, the base of the mountains where a mighty multitude could have pitched their tents, while it was admirably adapted for that purpose, travelers have, with one consent, fixed upon that spot as most probably the scene of Israel's last encampment in their wanderings ('Tent and Khan,' p. 369: cf. Numbers 33:49; Deuteronomy 1:1).

Being on the immediate confines of the promised land, which they had shown so impatient a desire to reach, they might have been expected to press forward without the delay of a day's halt. But they were induced to encamp there for a considerable period, in order to secure the possession of the valuable country east of the Jordan, which had fallen so unexpectedly and easily into their hands. It was during their encampment on "the plains of Moab" that all the transactions occurred which are related in the remainder of this book and the whole of Deuteronomy.

Verse 2

And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.

Balak the son of Zippor, [Septuagint, Sepfoor]. "Balak" - i:e., empty. Corbeaux ('Jour. Sac. Lit.,' April, 1852, p. 78) endeavours to show that this king was not a native Moabite, but a chieftain of the ancient race of the Emim. 'In the treaty between Rameses II. and the Shet'ta, the pedigree of the great chief of this nation is given; and the name of his grandfather, which Mr. Birch reads Sapuru, shows that the name of Balak's father, Zippor, evidently must have been a family name, characteristic of the last Shethite dynasty, as Rameses was of the contemporaneous rival power in Egypt. The first Zippor (or Sapuru) lived in the time of Rameses I. The last was contemporary of Rameses III, and for aught we know it may be his portrait that figures among The last was contemporary of Rameses III, and for aught we know it may be his portrait that figures among the captive princes at Medinet-Abou.'

Verse 3

And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.

And Moab was sore afraid of the people. The presence of so vast a multitude, and the irresistible rapidity of their conquests in the adjoining kingdoms, naturally diffused a panic throughout the country of Moab; and this feeling of dismay had been predicted (Exodus 15:15; Deuteronomy 2:25).

And Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel. The addition of this clause being tautological, Michaelis and Hengstenberg take the verb [ quwts (H6972)] in its primary signification, to loathe, to be disgusted, or wearied of a thing (Numbers 21:5: cf. Genesis 27:46). The Septuagint translates prosoochthise Mooab, was indignant, but Gesenius shows that the idea of loathing in several verbs is also transferred to that of fear.

Verse 4

And Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field. And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time.

Moab said unto the elders of Midian. While branches of the Midianites established themselves in various localities (Genesis 36:35; Exodus 3:1, etc.), the main portion of the tribe were settled on the high table-lands east of Moab and south of Ammon, being under the government of five kings (shiekhs) (Numbers 31:8; Joshua 13:21) - evidently those who are here called "elders" [ ziqniym (H2205); Septuagint, gerousia (G1087), the senate of Midian]. They were a pastoral people, who, like many Arab nomads that are found in the present day in Eastern countries, wandered through the country, and on the Amorite usurpation became tributary to the new power-`dukes (princes) of Sihon, dwelling in the country.'

Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field.

This was an allusion most significant to the minds of a pastoral people, who were familiar with the manner in which the ox collects his food, with the quantity which he devours, and the rapidity with which he eats down the pasture. A more graphic picture could not have been drawn than what lies in the ideas suggested by this simile of the calamity to which the Midianites would be exposed by the unchecked invasion of the Israelite armies.

Verse 5

He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me:

He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam the son of Beor. [ Bil`aam (H1109) is a name compounded, according to Gesenius of bal (H1077) and `aam (H5971), not of the people - i:e., a foreigner; according to Hengstenberg, who follows Simonis' 'Onomast.,' of baala` (H1104), to swallow up, to devour, and `aam (H5971), the people; and to Furst, who, taking the final letter as added merely for the sake of euphony, considers Balaam as signifying destroyer, vanquisher.] The name might have been given to him at birth, as the descendant of a family tinguished for their skill in magical arts, as in the East conjurors transmit the secret of incantations to their sons for generations; or it might have been bestowed on him, according to Oriental custom, after he had risen to distinction.

"The son of Beor" [ ben (H1121) Bª`owr (H1160)]. [ bª`owr (H1160), a torch, or lamp, according to Gesenius; But 'destroyer,' to Henstenberg, after Simonis from baa`aar (H1197), to eat to consume, in allusion to the destructive influence of his maledictions; and Kurtz, who adopts this view, thinks that it imparts great significance to the common way of designating him "the son of Beor" (or in the Chaldee form, Bosor) (2 Peter 2:15) - i:e., the famous son of a famous father.] Lord Arthur Hervey ('Genealogies,' p. 275), who thinks it highly probable that Balaam, the son of Beor, was contemporary with the first king of Edom, "Bela, the son of Beor," suggests that they must have been near relatives, 'perhaps brothers, if not one and the same individual.'

To Pethor. The Vulgate renders this word 'ariolum, soothsayer.' But a place is evidently meant.

Which is by the river ... of the children of his people. This is a literal rendering of the present Hebrew text; but the description it gives of Balaam's abode is too vague and indefinite to afford any clue toward ascertaining the locality of Pethor. [The Septuagint has Phathoura.] Though in the opinion of the most eminent Biblical geographers this city is unknown, it has long been considered, on the authority of Deuteronomy 23:4, to have been situated in Mesopotamia; and Mr. Birch ('Select Papyri,' 56:, b. 46) has identified it with a town, designated in Assyrian characters Pet. r. t.; which he considers Pethor on the Murnaa = the Euphrates.

Dr. Kennicott mentions that out of fourteen Hebrew MSS. of great authority, he had examined twelve, all of which supplied the final Hebrew letter, nun (n) to `amow (H5971); so that the clause would stand thus-`Pethor, which is near the river of the children of Ammon.' This reading, which is supported by the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac and the Vulgate versions, determines Balaam's place of residence to have been much nearer Moab than is generally imagined; because its site would be among the eastern mountains, whence issues "the river of the children of Ammon" - i:e., either Wady Zerka, or the Moiet-Amman. But as that soothsayer is said (Numbers 23:7) to have come from "Aram," which we have shown (see the notes at Genesis 10:23; Genesis 24:10) to denote the country between the upper Tigris and the Euphrates, we adhere to the old opinion, which, following the Septuagint, takes Aram to be Mesopotamia.

In further support of this view, it may be mentioned that the notion extensively prevailed among the pagan that Mesopotamia was the birthplace of prophets (Cicero, 'De Divinatione,' 11:, 174, 175); and as Balaam, though a bad man, was really a prophet, professedly acknowledging himself a servant of that God who had so remarkably blessed Israel, it was in accordance with this traditional belief that the king of Moab sent to that region to enlist the services of a man whose fame for prophetic gifts had spread far and wide. Osburn ('Monumental History,' vol. 2:, p. 532) states (we quote without endorsing the statement) that a treaty had been secretly formed between Sesostris, the Egyptian monarch, and Moab, to crush Israel, and that the fears of Balak originated in a guilty consciousness that 'Israel had sustained a deep wrong from Moab, and one very likely to bring down terrible national retribution upon the descendants of the perpetrators. We submit there is no extravagance in our conjecture that it was this treaty whereby, as settlers in Egypt, the Israelites were betrayed into bondage for three generations, which constituted the wrong, the consequences of which were dreaded by Balak.'

Verse 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 that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.

Come ... curse me this people. Among the pagan an opinion prevailed that prayers for evil, or curses, would be heard by the unseen powers as well as prayers for good, when offered by a prophet or priest, and accompanied by the use of certain rites, (Brucker, 'Hist. Phil.,' tom. 1:, p. 108; 'Heliogab.,' cap. 9:) Many examples are found in the histories of the Greeks and Romans of whole armies being devoted to destruction. Similar instances occur among the natives of India and other pagan countries still. In the Burmese war, magicians were employed to curse the British troops.

For I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed. It might be that the king of Moab had personal experience of the successful results of Balaam's incantations; or the confidence with which he spoke might have arisen from the high reputation of Balaam's powers. We, of course, cannot suppose for a moment that the magical arts of this man, however eminent his skill, could be possessed of any real efficacy. But among a superstitious people, who believed in their mystic virtues, his presence and professional services would produce a marvelous effect in animating or depressing them; and as the minds of the Israelites must have been open to the prevailing impression, the knowledge of Balaam's anathemas being denounced against them would have exercised so dispiriting and baneful an influence, that it is easy to account for the circumstance of God's overruling the conduct of Balaam being always represented in Scripture as a great deliverance (Deuteronomy 23:5; Joshua 24:10; Nehemiah 13:2; Micah 6:5).

Verse 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.

The rewards of divination - like the fee of a fortune-teller, and being a royal present, it would be something handsome.

Verses 8-14

And he said unto them, Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the LORD shall speak unto me: and the princes of Moab abode with Balaam.

Lodge here this night ... God usually revealed His will in visions and dreams; and Balaam's birth and residence in Mesopotamia, where the remains of patriarchal religion still lingered, account for his knowledge of the true God. His real character has long been a subject of discussion. Some, judging from his language, have thought him a saint; others, looking to his conduct, have described him as an irreligious charlatan; and a third class consider him a novice in the faith, who had a fear of God, but who had not acquired power over his passions (Hengstenberg).

Verse 13. The Lord refuseth to give me leave. This answer has an appearance of being good; but it studiously concealed the reason of the divine prohibition, and it intimated his own willingness and desire to go-if permitted. Balak despatched a second mission, which held out still more flattering prospects both to his avarice and his ambition (Micah 3:11).

Verses 15-18

And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 19

Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will say unto me more.

Tarry ye also here this night. The divine will, as formerly declared, not being according to his desires, he hoped by a second request to bend it, as he had already bent his own conscience to his ruling passions of pride and covetousness The permission granted to Balaam is in accordance with the ordinary procedure of Providence. God often gives up men to follow the impulse of their own lusts; but there is no approval in thus leaving them to act at the prompting of their own wicked hearts (cf. John 13:27).

Verse 20

And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 21

And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.

Balaam ... saddled his ass. Probably one of the white sprightly animals which persons of rank were accustomed to ride. The saddle, as usually in the East, would be nothing more than a pad or his outer cloak.

Verse 22

And God's anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.

God's anger was kindled because he went. The displeasure arose partly from his neglecting the condition on which leave was granted him-namely, to wait until the princes of Moab "came to call him," and because, through desire for "the wages of unrighteousness," he entertained the secret purpose of acting in opposition to the solemn charge of God.

For an adversary against him, [ lªsaaTaan (H7854)]. This is the first occurrence of the word Satan-but as used here, in the form of a verb, it describes the attitude of the angel, who appeared to withstand Balaam in the commission of an act forbidden by God (cf. Judges 5:23; Psalms 35:5), [The Septuagint has diabalein auton-an analogous verb, whence comes diabolos (G1228).]

Verse 23

And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 24

But the angel of the LORD stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side.

The angel of the Lord stood in a path of the vineyards. The roads which lead through fields and vineyards are so narrow that in most parts a man could not pass a beast without care and caution. A stone or mud fence flanks each side of these roads, to prevent the soil being washed off by the rains, "The angel of the Lord" is the old formula for the covenant God of Israel (see the note at Genesis 16:7), which occurs in this narrative not less than nine times, interchanged with "the Lord" twice. It is objected that the occasion was not worthy of the personal interposition of the Divine Being. But surely, if it was consistent with the character of God to answer Balaam's first application, and counsel him not to comply with the wishes of the enemies of His people, it was not less proper and necessary to oppose him in his headlong resistance-his mad course against Israel. The ultimate object of "the angel" was to preserve His people from harm; and as Balaam had received an intimation of that "angel's" will, his sin was greatly aggravated by his perverse opposition to what had been revealed to him as the path of duty.

Verses 25-27

And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam's foot against the wall: and he smote her again.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 28

And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times? The Lord opened the mouth of the ass - to utter, like a parrot, articulate sounds, without understanding them. That this was a visionary scene is a notion which, although entertained by Maimonides, by Hengstenberg, and by many writers of eminence, seems inadmissible because of the improbability of a vision being described as an actual occurrence in the middle of a plain history. Besides, the opening of the donkey's mouth must have been an external act, and that, with the manifest tenor of Peter's language, strongly favours the literal view. The absence of any surprise at such a phenomenon on the part of Balaam may be accounted for by his mind being wholly engrossed with the prospect of gain, which produced" the madness of the prophet." Whatever may be said of the structure of the ass' mouth, and of the tongue and jaws being unfit for articulate speech, yet the act is traced to an adequate cause; because the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey.

Verses 29-30

And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 31

Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.

Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, [ wayªgal (H1540); Septuagint, apekalupse]. 'Both these (the Hebrew and the Greek) terms signify the rolling back of a veil, or such a removal of it from any object before which it has hung, that it shall no longer intervene between that object and the subject of vision, to prevent his contemplation of it. It is on this principle we are to account for and interpret such metaphorical phrases as uncovering the ears or opening the eyes of any one' (cf. Numbers 24:3-16; 1 Samuel 9:15; 2 Samuel 7:27: Henderson on 'Inspiration,' p. 27). It was a miracle, performed to humble his proud heart, which had to be first subjected in the school of a donkey before he was brought to attend to the voice of God speaking by the angel; and the lesson taught him by this extraordinary incident was, that the mouth and tongue were under the control of Him who made them, and who, when it suited the purposes of His all-wise Providence, could cause a mute donkey to speak, contrary to its nature, as well as constrain him to utter blessings contrary to his purpose.

Verses 32-33

And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 34

And Balaam said unto the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.

I have sinned ... if it displease thee. Notwithstanding this confession, he evinced no spirit of penitence, as he speaks of desisting only from the outward act. The words "go with the men" was a mere withdrawal of further restraint; but the terms in which leave was given are more absolute peremptory than those in Numbers 22:20.

Verse 35

And the angel of the LORD said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 36

And when Balak heard that Balaam was come, he went out to meet him unto a city of Moab, which is in the border of Arnon, which is in the utmost coast.

Balak ... went out to meet him. The higher the rank of the expected guest, politeness requires a greater distance to be gone to welcome his arrival.

Verse 37

And Balak said unto Balaam, Did I not earnestly send unto thee to call thee? wherefore camest thou not unto me? am I not able indeed to promote thee to honour?

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 38

And Balaam said unto Balak, Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say any thing? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak.

The word that God putteth in my mouth. This appears a pious answer. It was an acknowledgment that he was restrained by superior power. It is obvious that the subjects of prophetic announcement were such as rendered this direct suggestion a matter of necessity.

Verse 39

And Balaam went with Balak, and they came unto Kirjath-huzoth.

Kirjath-huzoth - a city of streets. Its site is unknown. But the street was regarded as the leading characteristic of the city (cf. Genesis 10:11; Genesis 36:37; Hengstenberg, 'Christology,' 3:, p. 143).

Verse 40

And Balak offered oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes that were with him.

Balak offered oxen and sheep - made preparations for a grand entertainment to Balaam and the princes of Midian.

Verse 41

And it came to pass on the morrow, that Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into the high places of Baal, that thence he might see the utmost part of the people.

Balak took Balaam; and brought him up into the high places of Baal, [ baamowt (H1116)] - eminences consecrated to the worship of Baal-peor (Numbers 25:3) or Chemosh. From a comparison of Numbers 21:18-20; Joshua 13:17; Isaiah 15:2, Hengstenberg declares it as his opinion that 'Bamoth Baal is, in all probability, the mountain on the south side of the Waleh, distant about one hour from Dibon, a town in the Amoritish territory (Numbers 21:30; Numbers 33:45), and on the summit of which is a very beautiful plain.' Kurtz disputes the soundness of this conclusion, on the ground that it does not consist with the following clause --

That thence he might see the utmost part of the people [ qªtseeh (H7097)]. Hengstenberg interprets this, an end, a portion of them. But Gesenius, followed by Kurtz, renders it, the uttermost - i:e., the whole people, even to the extremities.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 22". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/numbers-22.html. 1871-8.
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