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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 22

 

 

Verses 1-41

BALAK HIRING BALAAM

(vs.1-21)

Still within Moab, Israel moved again to the plains and camped near Jordan, across from Jericho. Moab had no power to withstand them, however, though Balak, king of Moab, was in terror of them because of their great number (v.3).

He saw his only hopeful resource to be in a man who had a reputation of great success in occult practices, Balaam, the son of Beor. Balak sent messengers to Balaam to urge him to come and put a curse upon the people who had come from Egypt, so that Balak might be able to defeat them and drive them out of his land. For he said he understood that both Balaam's blessings and his curses were effective (v.6). Balaam was clearly dependent on satanic power, though he evidently did not realize this himself unless he knew he was guilty of deliberate deception.

The messengers delivered the message to Balaam, who told them to stay the night and he would give them an answer as the Lord directed him. He could use the Lord's name in this way, though he did not even intend to really seek the Lord's name in this way, though he did not even intend to really seek the Lord's guidance, but to receive an answer from the occult power he was accustomed to. Chapter 24:1 tells us this, that he was looking for enchantments as a sorcerer. But God intervened, coming to Balaam to ask who these messengers were. Balaam answered that they had come from Balak who wanted Balaam to curse a people come from Egypt (vs.10-11). Neither Balak nor Balaam used the peoples' name "Israel," for they were likely fearful of that name, which means "a prince with God." But God spoke decisively to Balaam, "You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed" (v.12).

When God had told Balaam not to go with the princes of Moab, Balaam realized he was helpless without a supernatural power to back him up, so he could only tell Balak's messengers that the Lord refused to give him permission to go with them (v.13). They returned to tell Balak that Balaam refused his offer. Balak sent other princes more honorable and more numerous than the first, to urge Balaam to allow nothing to stop him from coming, and promising him great reward for doing so (vs.15-17).

Balaam's reply to them was plausible and sanctimonious, to the effect that, no matter how great reward Balak would give him, Balaam could not go beyond the word of the Lord his God. But if he really believed the word of the Lord, he would have told them that God's word had already been given, and this was final: the people must not be cursed, for they are blessed. However, Balaam was still hopeful of a reward, and told the messengers he would inquire again of the Lord (v.19), for a false prophet considers that the Lord may change His mind, as do false gods, for his usual contact was with evil spirits, not the Lord.

God again intervened and because Balaam wanted to go. God told him to do so, but that he must speak only what God told him to. How little Balaam knew what would be the consequences of not bowing to God's first word to him! If after God has expressed His will, we still want our own way, God may likely allow us to have our way in order that we may learn by experience the folly of our own self-will.

A DONKEY SPEAKING

(vs.22-35)

God did not intend Balaam to take the journey without understanding that he was disobeying His word as He had given it at the first. Therefore, in anger against Balaam, He had the Angel of the Lord stand in his way as he rode on a donkey. The donkey saw the Angel with a sword drawn, and turned to the side into a field. Balaam did not see the Angel, and he angrily struck the donkey to turn it back to the road (v.23). The Angel then took another stand where there were walls on both sides, and the donkey, trying to avoid the Angel, crushed Balaam's foot against a wall. Again Balaam struck the donkey (v.25), when he ought to have realized that God was dealing with him in some serious way.

The Angel then chose a more narrow spot still, where the donkey could not turn either way, and the donkey simply laid down. But rather than even questioning in his mind why these things had happened, Balaam in a bad temper struck the donkey again with his staff (v.27). Then God put words into the mouth of the donkey, asking Balaam why he had struck her these three times. Even this amazing miracle had no effect on Balaam, for he replied in anger to the donkey that he wished he had a sword with which to kill her! Though God had given Balaam several opportunities to realize that He Himself was intervening to awaken Balaam to a sense of his own folly, Balaam was totally insensitive to this, which would not have been the case if he were a true prophet of God.

Again the donkey spoke to him, asking him if she had ever, in all his experience with her, done what she had done that day (v.30). He answered "No," but seemed still too dense to realize there was a special reason for this happening. God was not in his thoughts.

Finally the Lord opened Balaam's eyes so that he saw the Angel standing in the way with a drawn sword in his hand (v.31). In shocked terror Balaam fell on his face. The Angel then reproved the bad temper of Balaam in striking his donkey, telling him that if the donkey had not avoided the Angel, He would have killed Balaam and spared the donkey (vs.32-33). What a lesson is this, that an unbeliever is more ignorant as regards God than a beast!

Balaam acknowledged that he had sinned (v.34), but let himself down easily in pleading his ignorance of the Angel standing in the way. But he was not ignorant of the fact that God had forbidden him to curse Israel, so that his way was perverse before the Lord. He still did not decide to bless Israel, but offered to turn back if God was displeased. He had before been told of God's displeasure against any cursing of Israel, but he had no desire to take God's viewpoint himself.

The Angel of the Lord told him to go, however, with the absolute command that he speak only what the Angel spoke to him (v.35). Notice that this indicates that in the Old Testament the term "The Angel of the Lord" refers to the Lord Himself, whose words Balaam must speak.

Balak came to meet the false prophet, remonstrating with him because he had not come before, since Balak was able to give him great honor (v.37). Balaam answered that he had no power even to speak but must receive his words from God. He needed a supernatural power by which to speak, and he called this power "God," though he did not know the true God. Balak responded by offering oxen and sheep (v.40), likely as a bribe to get Balaam's god on his side.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Numbers 22:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/numbers-22.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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