Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, July 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 22

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Verse 1

Israel in the Plains of Moab

After the Israelites have conquered the whole area of the Amorites, they move to the plains of Moab to prepare for the conquest of Canaan. From here, after the death of Moses, they will, under the leadership of Joshua, cross the Jordan to enter the land of Canaan.

Verses 2-7

Balak Sends Messengers to Balaam

Before the people enter Canaan, God shows in the dialogue between Balak and Balaam something of which Israel is unaware at that moment. It is an attack on God’s people in a form we have not seen before. We are made partakers of it, just like of God’s conversation with Satan about Job (Job 1:6-2 Kings :). And as in the case of Job, Satan’s attack on God’s people is used by God to bless His people.

If we allow the events of the next three chapters to be deeply engraved upon us, we will conclude with Paul shouting: “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?” (Romans 8:33-Nahum :).

Moab is also one of Israel’s inveterate enemies. The hallmark of Moab is his pride (Isaiah 16:6; Jeremiah 48:29). The pride will always try to dominate God’s people. This nation is a great danger to the people of God. Conversely, Balak sees in God’s people an enormous danger to his own existence. He feels threatened in his honor. Yet there is no reason for that fear, because God has forbidden His people to drive Moab out of his territory (Deuteronomy 2:9). But wicked people always see dangers where they are not, because they have a bad conscience.

Warned by the defeat of Sihon and Og he doesn’t see any good in a military confrontation. He understands that such a confrontation means a certain defeat for him. He also knows that the people owe their victories to their God, as all the peoples around Israel know (Joshua 2:10). He seeks salvation in a completely different direction. He seeks the weakness of the people and finds it in the unfaithfulness of the people against their God.

What he wants to try and do, is to drive a wedge between God and His people. He does so at an extremely tactical moment, at the end of the wilderness journey, when all the unfaithfulness of the people has become public. But then Balak shows that he does not understand anything of the God of Israel. He sees the God of Israel as a national idol, just as every nation has its god or gods. For example, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, sees the God of Israel like that (2 Chronicles 32:10-Psalms :).

Balak sends messengers to Balaam, because he sees a prophet of the LORD in Balaam. But Balaam is not a prophet of the LORD. A true prophet of the LORD speaks to the people about their unfaithfulness. He also points to the blessings which are connected to conversion. Neither of these aspects we see with Balaam. Balak and Balaam together form a devilish span that we recognize in the devilish span of the future: the beast and the false prophet (Revelation 13:1; Revelation 13:11-2 Kings :), who, under Satan’s guidance, turn against Christ and His people.

Scripture makes it perfectly clear that Balaam is a false prophet, a servant of Satan, who pretends to be a prophet of the God of Israel. That is why Balak wants to hire him. When Balaam pronounces blessing on God’s people, it says nothing about Balaam and everything about God. God forces Balaam to bless his people.

His name appears in eight Bible books and always in a negative sense (Numbers 22-24 [many times]; Numbers 31:8; Numbers 31:16; Deuteronomy 23:3-:; Joshua 13:22; Joshua 24:9-2 Samuel :; Nehemiah 13:1-Exodus :; Micah 6:5; 2 Peter 2:15-Nehemiah :; Jude 1:11; Revelation 2:14). At the end of Israel’s history, the prophet Micah cites once more what Balak and Balaam want to do here, to use their example to remind Israel of the right of God (Micah 6:5).

The three quotations of Balaam in the New Testament are significant. We read about “the way of Balaam” (2 Peter 2:15), about “the error of Balaam” (Jude 1:11) and about “the teaching of Balaam” (Revelation 2:14). From these quotations and their context, we see that his history teaches us as a church important lessons.

Will Satan, after his failures to kill the people in battle, this time succeed in his efforts to destroy the people? The attempts of the enemy make it clear that God maintains His relationship with His people against the enemy and does not allow His people to be cursed. Balak thinks only of God as a holy God. He knows nothing of the grace of God. As an enemy of God, God does not give him the right to set Him up against His people. The unfaithfulness of the people is always only a matter between God and His people.

Balak is not only looking for support from Balaam. He has also consulted with the elders of Midian. But his hope is mainly in Balaam.

Verses 8-14

Conversation Between God and Balaam

God opens the conversation with Balaam. It does not seem to scare him, as he is used to dealing with the spirit world, where until now he has only had to deal with evil spirits. He doesn’t know better but this is a divining spirit. Thus God captures the sly prophet in his own net (1 Corinthians 3:19).

God never asks questions that He Himself does not know the answer to, but to force man to think about what is in his heart. In this case, it must confront Balaam to the fact that they have come to ask him to curse God’s people. Balaam explains to God what it is all about. From what he says, it appears that he has no idea that it is the people of the God with Whom he speaks.

God ends the matter by ordering Balaam not to go along to curse the people because they are blessed. The fact that Balaam tries again later shows that he is led by greed and not by what God says. God has spoken to other ungodly people, such as Abimelech and Laban, with the command not to offend His elect (Genesis 20:3; Genesis 31:24).

In his answer to the messengers of Balak, Balaam only speaks about the LORD’s refusal to let him go with them. It echoes the disappointment of a man who has no fellowship with God. He wants to go, but unfortunately he is not allowed. He does not say a word about them being a blessed people. Neither do the messengers give a true and fair account of what Balaam said. They refer only to the refusal by Balaam.

Verses 15-19

Balak Sends Messengers Again to Balaam

Balak again sends messengers to Balaam. He now appeals not only to the greed of Balaam, but also to his ambition. A distinguished envoy with a lot of money is something else than an insignificant messenger with a lot of money. He also gives the promise that Balaam only has to ask what he wants, and Balak will comply. People of the world give everything to obtain the favor of a medium. They are empowered by the possession of the medium to assure themselves of the future, without realizing that this will bring them into the power of the medium.

Balaam speaks of “the LORD my God”. Bad people can use very pious language. But God knows the heart of man. Balaam uses these words as a formula. There is no question of a relationship. The One Whom he calls “the LORD my God” is for him nothing more than a divine spirit, to whom he has submitted himself, and to whom he cannot escape.

The fact that he is not aware of God’s authority and that he owes Him full obedience is once again evident from his further actions. God clearly has said that he should not go with them. So why should he try again? He believes he is dealing with a spirit that is easily willing to adapt.

Verse 20

God Again Speaks to Balaam

God speaks again to Balaam. God knows his heart and instructs him to go with the men. God often gives assignments that fit the desires of people. Thus he gives Israel a king like Saul. He is going to use Balaam to give a great testimony about His people.

Verses 21-35

Balaam Meets God as an Adversary

Balaam meets God as his adversary. Balaam goes because God has said it, and because he goes, God is angry. That seems to be a contradiction. Balaam knows it is against the will of God, but he goes, driven by love for money.

In the history with the donkey God shows that Balaam is even more stupid than a donkey. Blinded as he is by the greed of money, he does not know what danger he is in. The donkey has an eye for that. Animals often have more eye for their Owner than humans (Isaiah 1:3). An animal sees more here than someone created in God’s image. What foolishness to persevere on an evil way on which the sword of the LORD is stretched out against the evil one. The donkey saves him from that folly (2 Peter 2:15-Nehemiah :).

Balaam doesn’t seem to notice the unusualness of the donkey’s speaking. He talks to her. It has been suggested that perhaps through his contacts with the demons he is used to talking to animals. Perhaps his anger also makes him so excited that the strangeness of it doesn’t strike him.

That the LORD let the donkey speak shows how exceptional this event with Balaam is. What is at stake is much indeed. It is about blessing or cursing for the people of God and all related promises. God can use everything and give a voice to give a testimony of His omnipotence and thereby warn (Luke 19:40; Habakkuk 2:11). He can also, if this fits into the execution of His plan, intervene in a law established by Himself (2 Kings 6:6; 2 Kings 20:11; Joshua 10:13).

Unbelief speaks mockingly of three “saving animals”: the speaking serpent (Genesis 3:1), the speaking donkey (here) and the fish in which Jonah was (Jonah 1:17; Jonah 2:1Jonah 2:10). Yet it is true that those who do not believe that this really happened cannot be saved, for such a person makes God a liar. The events in which animals are used by God for a special purpose above their nature have to do with the Fall (the serpent), the connection between God and His people with the associated promises (the donkey) and the Lord Jesus (the fish). All three are quoted in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 11:3; 2 Peter 2:16; Matthew 12:40).

Instead of wondering why the donkey, who has never let him down, does so, he whips her off. He even wants to kill her, a folly that is prevented because he has no sword with him. What would he have gained from that? He would only have lost by it. So many people in their folly do things that do not profit them, but only make them lose.

Also by the cruel treatment of his faithful riding animal Balaam proves that he is an unrighteous person. The righteous person knows what his cattle need (Proverbs 12:10). By the way, there is a sword in the neighborhood, that of the Angel of the LORD. But for that Balaam is blind. In addition, it is not directed against the donkey, but against him.

The reaction of the donkey is not only wonderful by her speaking, but also in what she says (Numbers 22:30). She speaks with more understanding than Balaam. In her words, in the form of questions, there are wise lessons for Balaam and every human being in their relationship to God. First, it recognizes Balaam’s ownership of her when she says: “Am I not your donkey?”. Secondly, she can say that she has always been there for him in faithful service: “On which you have ridden all your life to this day?” Thirdly, we see that this exceptional action is not the result of her unwillingness, “have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?”, with which she indirectly says that the unwillingness is with him.

The questions of the donkey have no prophetic content. They are not questions that come from God and have a special meaning. She also says nothing about the Angel of the LORD. It is simply the questions that every animal that is abused would ask if it had the opportunity to do so. They do not go outside the realm of an animal’s feelings, but remain within the realm of animal soul life. The only answer Balaam can and have to give to the questions asked is: “No!” But there is no question of any reaction in his conscience.

There is a practical application to be made. If we are on the road and there will be a delay that prevents us from continuing our journey, how do we react? The Lord wants such an obstacle to lead us to consider our motives for undertaking this journey, whether short or long. It doesn’t have to be wrong, but He wants us to enter His thoughts and become aware that everything can only be His honor if He goes with us. This applies even more so to the life path we follow during our life journey, the choices we make, for example, which education, which profession, which man or woman we should choose. From which motive do we choose the way we go?

Just as the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey (Numbers 22:28), so He opens the eyes of Balaam (Numbers 22:31). That brings him on his knees. The LORD speaks to him in a questioning manner about his conduct against his donkey. Then He makes it clear to Balaam that He and Balaam are diametrically opposed to each other. Balaam is not in the way of the LORD, but in a way of which the LORD says: “Because your way was contrary to me.” That means that this way was leading to destruction. The Angel emphasizes that Balaam mistreated his donkey three times to force her to go the way he wants her to go, but that the donkey saved him three times for destruction, by turning away from the Angel.

After the LORD has declared to Balaam the lesson with the donkey, Balaam pronounces: “I have sinned”. But it is in the same way as the Pharaoh, Saul, and Jude do (Exodus 9:27; Exodus 10:16; 1 Samuel 15:24; 1 Samuel 26:21; Matthew 27:4). There is no real repentance. God does not relieve him of his duty, but obliges him to continue, saying that he will only speak what He says to him. It will be to God’s greater honor if He not only prevents Balaam from cursing the people, but also makes Balaam an instrument by whom He blesses His people.

Verses 36-41

Balak and Balaam to the High Places of Baal

During the first contact Balak has with Balaam, he can only blame him for not having come sooner. His expectations are high. Balaam tempered these expectations by pointing out that he could only speak what God puts him in his mouth. He knows himself a prisoner of Him.

Balak takes Balaam to the high places of Baal. This is the first mention of Baal in the Bible. From this place the first attempt to curse will take place. It is a place entirely dedicated to the worship of Satan who hides here behind the name ‘Baal’.

Baal (means: lord) main head god of the Canaanites, while Astarte is the main female head god. This form of idolatry is given a permanent place in Israel in the time of the judges (see the book of Judges). In the first days of Samuel’s performance, this idol is removed from the land. But he comes back. During the reign of the wicked Ahab over the ten tribe realm, his even more wicked wife Jezebel makes the Baal service the official religion in Israel.

From the place that Balak has chosen, Balaam cannot see the whole people, but only a portion of them. It must give Balaam the impression that he is dealing with only a small people, it must lead him to depreciation of the people. But listen to what statement God brings Balaam when he is impressed by what he sees: “Let me die the death of the upright, And let my end be like his!” (Numbers 23:10).

Each subsequent attempt always takes place from a different location, apparently closer and closer to the people. It is Balak’s intention that Balaam sees what will give him a negative impression of that people, so that he gets ‘material’ in his hands, with which he can curse the people.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Numbers 22". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/numbers-22.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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