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Tuesday, June 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 22

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary


Numbers 22-24. ( JE) . The Episode of Balak and Balaam.— It may reasonably be assumed that the Moabites at first regarded with some satisfaction the defeat of their former conquerors, the Amorites, by their own kinsmen the Israelites. But the latter’ s occupation of the Amorites’ land aroused their jealousy and their fears, and accordingly Balak the king of Moab sent for Balaam, a foreigner, whose blessings and curses were believed to be exceptionally effectual for good and for ill, to curse Israel. Balaam so far acceded to Balak’ s appeal as to come to him, but refused to utter anything but what Yahweh inspired him to say; and by Yahweh the Moabite king’ s wish to injure Israel was made conducive to his own undoing, Balaam being inspired to bless Israel. The narrative is designed to display the providential care for Israel manifested by Yahweh, who overruled to their advantage the devices of their enemies; and illustrates alike ( a) the belief that the God of Israel did not entirely confine His revelations to His own people, ( b) the belief in the potency of the spoken word, and ( c) the belief that the lower animals have occasionally been endowed with the gift of speech. The story is derived from JE; and the composite character of this source is disclosed by the presence of certain repetitions and discrepancies which are pointed out below. A reference to Balaam also occurs in P, which connects him with Midian ( Numbers 31:8; Numbers 31:16); and by a combination of the passages taken from all three sources Balaam has been regarded in the sinister light in which he appears in 2 Peter 2:15 f., Jude 1:1, Revelation 2:14. But the worst feature of the conduct attributed to him— his advice to Israel’ s enemies to seduce them by means of their women— is found only in P, the latest and least trustworthy of the Pentateuchal sources. In J, though he is represented as going to Balak without the Divine permission, yet he is depicted as steadfast in communicating faithfully Yahweh’ s revelation; whilst in E there is nothing at all in his behaviour to afford a handle to censure.

Verses 1-4

Numbers 22:1-4 . Moab’ s Fear of Israel.— Of these verses I comes from P, the rest from JE (the presence of both constituents being shown by the repetitions in Numbers 22:3). As the Moabites were great breeders of sheep ( 2 Kings 3:4), they feared that the pasturage would not suffice for both themselves and Israel (likewise a pastoral people). The reference in Numbers 22:4 (and also Numbers 22:7) to Midian is probably due to an editor who wished to bring P’ s allusions to Balaam in Numbers 31:8; Numbers 31:16 into connexion with the present story.

Numbers 22:1 . beyond the Jordan: i.e. E. of the river, described from the point of view of a resident on the W. of it.

Numbers 22:3 . was distressed because of: better, “ loathed.”

Verses 5-14

Numbers 22:5-14 . Balak’ s first Summons to Balaam, and Yahweh’ s Refusal to Let him Go.— This comes mainly from J. But in Numbers 22:5, if “ the land of the children of his people” (which can only refer to Balak and yields little sense) be corrected (after Sam., Syr., Vulg.) to “ the land of the children of Ammon,” there is a discrepancy in the account of Balaam’ s home, which is diversely represented as ( a) Pethor on the River ( i.e. Pituru on the Euphrates, mentioned in an inscription of Shalmaneser II), nearly a month’ s journey from Moab, and ( b) Ammon, only a few days’ journey distant. The discrepancy is explicable as due to a difference in the sources used: the first statement probably comes from E, the second from J. Balak’ s belief ( Numbers 22:6) in the potency of words uttered in blessing or cursing ( Genesis 9:25-27 *) is illustrated by the narrative of Isaac’ s blessing of Jacob (Genesis 27, especially Genesis 27:33) and by the requisition (cited by Gray) which was made in 69– 63 B.C to Onias by the troops of Hyrcanus II to curse the forces of Aristobulus. The offer to a seer or a prophet of a reward for his services ( Numbers 22:7) has parallels in 1 Samuel 9:8, 1 Kings 14:3, 2 Kings 8:8 f.

Verses 15-21

Numbers 22:15-21 . Balak’ s second Summons to Balaam, and Yahweh’ s Consent that he should Go.— This section probably comes from E, and represents not a change of purpose on the part of God, but a difference of attitude ascribed to Him by the second of the two sources here used, Balaam being allowed to go but not to curse.

Verses 22-35

Numbers 22:22-35 . Balaam’ s Journey to Balak without God’ s Consent.— This section is clearly not the sequel of the preceding, but the continuation of Numbers 22:5-14, and (as far as Numbers 22:34) is derived from J. Balaam disregards the Divine prohibition to go to Balak which is recorded in Numbers 22:12, but is made aware of Yahweh’ s anger in the course of his journey. The ass was the animal commonly used by the Hebrews for riding in times of peace ( Genesis 22:3, Exodus 4:20, Judges 10:4, 1 Kings 2:40, 2 Kings 4:22, Zechariah 9:9). The speaking of a dumb animal (alluded to in 2 Peter 2:16) is paralleled in the OT only by the speaking of the serpent in Genesis 3; but similar fanciful stories of animals that used human language occur in Homer, Il. xix. 407, Livy, iii. 10, xxiv. 10. In Numbers 22:35 the disobedient prophet is apparently allowed to continue his journey; but the words uttered by the angel are virtually identical with God’ s words in Numbers 22:20 (E); so that possibly J’ s version of the angel’ s reply has been lost and replaced by a passage from the other source. It may perhaps be inferred from Numbers 22:37 that Balaam returned home and that Balak went to seek him there.

Numbers 22:32 . thy way is perverse: better (with Syr.), “ thou hast made thy way (or journey) headlong” ( i.e. precipitate).

Verses 36-40

Numbers 22:36-40 . The Meeting of Balak and Balaam.— Partly from E. and partly from J, but the distribution between the two sources is uncertain. Probably Numbers 22:36 and Numbers 22:38 belong to E, describing (in continuation of Numbers 22:21) Balaam’ s journey to Moab, where he is met by Balak at the frontier city of Moab (the Ar of Numbers 21:15); whilst Numbers 22:37 and Numbers 22:39 belong to J, and imply that Balak went in person to fetch Balaam, who returned with him to Kiriath-huzoth (an unknown locality). The sacrifices mentioned in Numbers 22:40 formed part of a feast of welcome, shares of the feast being sent both to Balaam and to the princes.

Verse 41

Numbers 22:41 to Numbers 23:6 . Balak’ s Sacrifices preliminary to Balaam’ s first Oracle.— This section proceeds from E. Balak brought Balaam to Bamoth-baal ( Numbers 22:41 mg.), the site of a sanctuary placed where Balaam could have the objects of his expected curse before him. The sacrifices offered by Balak were designed to dispose God to favour his wishes; and the altars and the victims were reckoned by sevens, because seven was a sacred number among many ancient peoples ( Genesis 21:28, Joshua 6:4, Verg. Æ n. vi. 38). The sacredness attaching to it was perhaps derived from the sun, moon, and five planets known in antiquity (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn). The idea of its sanctity was probably derived by the Israelites from Babylonia, where it occurs in inscriptions.

Numbers 22:41 . the utmost part: i.e. the end nearest to the spectator. The LXX rightly gives the sense “ some portion.”

Numbers 23:2 . omit “ and Balaam” ; the offerings were Balak’ s ( Numbers 22:3).

Numbers 22:4 . and he said . . . altar: these words must have been spoken to Balaam by Balak and should be transposed to the end of Numbers 22:2.

Numbers 22:5 . And Yahweh: this should follow the first clause of Numbers 22:4.

Numbers 22:7 . took up his parable: i.e. took upon his lips the oracle he was inspired to utter.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Numbers 22". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/numbers-22.html. 1919.
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