And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.Numbers 22:1. The plains of Moab — Which still retained their ancient title, though they had been taken from the Moabites by Sihon, and from him by the Israelites. By Jericho — That is, over against Jericho.
And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.Numbers 22:3. Moab was sore afraid — As Moses had foretold of Moab in particular, (Exodus 15:15,) and as the Lord himself had promised concerning all nations in general, Deuteronomy 2:25. The Moabites were afraid lest the Israelites should destroy or expel them out of their country, as they had done the Amorites; for they knew nothing of God’s command, prohibiting them from disturbing the Moabites in their possessions.
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.Numbers 22:4. The elders — Called the kings of Midian, Numbers 31:8; and princes of Midian, Joshua 13:21; who, though divided into their kingdoms, yet were now united upon the approach of the Israelites, their common enemy, and being, as it seems, a potent and crafty people, and neighbours to the Moabites, these seek confederacy with them. We read of Midianites near mount Sinai, Exodus 2:3.; which seem to have been a colony of this people, that went out to seek new quarters, as the manner of those times was; but the body of that people were seated in those parts. Lick up — That is, consume and utterly destroy, in which sense the fire is said to lick up the water and sacrifices, 1 Kings 18:38; all that are round about us — All our people, who live in the country adjoining to each city, where the princes reside. A lively metaphor to signify the facility with which the Israelites should conquer them without a timely opposition, and likewise what a universal desolation they should make.
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:Numbers 22:5. He sent messengers — Ancient history informs us that it was a general custom among most of the heathen nations, before they took up arms, to consult their gods by oracles and other methods of divination, about the event of the war. Thus the king of Moab is desirous, before he engaged in this war, to know the event, to interest the gods in his cause, and turn their power against his enemies. Unto Balaam — He is called a soothsayer, or diviner, Joshua 13:22; and is thought by some to have used enchantments; see on chap. Numbers 24:1. And it was the opinion of the generality of the fathers, as it is of numbers of commentators, that he was a mere magician, a false prophet, and idolater. But that he was a true prophet, or one who had revelations from the true God, is evident from 2 Peter 2:16, compared with Numbers 22:8-13; Numbers 24:1. And indeed no prophet in Israel could speak of God more reverently, and yet in more familiar terms, than he does, Numbers 22:18. The Jewish writers say that he had been a great prophet, who, for the accomplishment of his predictions, and the answers of his prayers, had been justly looked upon as a man having great interest with God. But the history shows that afterward his covetousness and ambition got the better of his piety, and that God departed from him. Beor — Or Bosor, (2 Peter 2:15,) for he had two names, like many others. Pethor — A city of Mesopotamia. By the river — Euphrates, called the river, by way of eminence, and here the river of Balaam’s land, or country, namely, of Mesopotamia.
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.Numbers 22:6. Curse me this people — Agreeably to a superstitious opinion which prevailed in ancient times, that some men were so much in favour with the gods, that by prayers or imprecations they were able to prosper or blast the designs, not only of particular persons, but of whole armies. Among the worshippers of the true God, the blessings or imprecations of the inspired prophets were, indeed, very justly to be regarded, as being proper predictions of prosperity or disaster; see Genesis 49:1-2; and
2 Kings 2:24. But it is certain that false prophets, or the worshippers of idols, having no intercourse with God, who alone presides over futurity, but relying only upon delusive and diabolical arts, were mere pretenders to that privilege, which the truly inspired prophets enjoyed.
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.Numbers 22:7. With the rewards of divination — It was customary for those who came to consult the prophets, to bring them gifts or gratuities to reward them for their trouble, 1 Samuel 9:7.
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.Numbers 22:8. This night — The night was the time when God used to reveal his mind by dreams. As the Lord shall speak unto me — Hebrew, Jehovah, the true God. Though he was mercenary and addicted to superstitious rites, he might still have some revelations from the true God, even as Laban had, though he used teraphim, or idol gods, Genesis 36:24-30. Thus, though termed a soothsayer, he here acknowledges the true God, by his incommunicable name Jehovah, and yet with that profession he both loved the wages of unrighteousness, 2 Peter 2:15, and joined in offering sacrifices on the high places of Baal, Numbers 22:41, and Numbers 23:2. Some think that he mentioned Jehovah either for his own greater reputation, as if he consulted not with inferior spirits, but with the Supreme God; or rather, because Jehovah was Israel’s God, and the only possible way of ruining them was by engaging their God against them. Thus the Romans and other heathens, when they went to besiege any city, used enchantments, to call forth that god under whose peculiar protection it was supposed to be.
And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?Numbers 22:9. What men are these? — He asks this that Balaam, by repeating the thing in God’s presence, might be convinced and ashamed of his sin and folly, in offering his service in such a business, and for a foundation to the following answer.
And Balaam said unto God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me, saying,
Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which covereth the face of the earth: come now, curse me them; peradventure I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out.
And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.Numbers 22:12. They are blessed — They are conducted under the banner of heaven, and no imprecations can hinder their progress. Though Balaam’s cursing Israel signified nothing of itself, yet God would not permit it, because the Moabites would have paid so great a regard to it, that they would thereupon have attacked the Israelites in hopes of being able to overcome and drive them back, Numbers 22:11; and so this would have brought on a war between them, which God did not design at this time to permit, Deuteronomy 2:9.
And Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes of Balak, Get you into your land: for the LORD refuseth to give me leave to go with you.Numbers 22:13. The Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you — He ought to have informed them that the Lord had strictly forbidden him to curse this people, and assured him that they were blessed. Such a declaration would probably have prevented any further message from Balak, and have preserved Balaam from running into more sin. God, however, overruled it all to his own glory and the good of his people Israel.
And the princes of Moab rose up, and they went unto Balak, and said, Balaam refuseth to come with us.
And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.
And they came to Balaam, and said to him, Thus saith Balak the son of Zippor, Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from coming unto me:
For I will promote thee unto very great honour, and I will do whatsoever thou sayest unto me: come therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people.
And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more.
Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will say unto me more.Numbers 22:19. Tarry ye also this night — “Here,” says Bishop Butler, p. 123 of his Sermons at the Rolls, “the iniquity of his heart begins to disclose itself. An honest man would, without hesitation, have repeated his former answer, that he could not be guilty of so infamous a prostitution of the sacred character with which he was invested, as, in the name of a prophet, to curse those whom he knew to be blessed: but instead of this he desires the princes of Moab to tarry that night with him also; and, for the sake of the reward, deliberates whether, by some means or other, he might not be able to obtain leave to curse Israel.”
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.Numbers 22:20-21. If the men come to call thee, rise up and go with them — He had no leave to go at all unless the messengers came again in the morning to him. And, perhaps, if he had not gone to them, after having promised them an answer, they might have thought their master’s great offers neglected, and have gone away without him. But his head and heart were too full of expectations from the journey, to run the hazard of not being further invited into it. And so he rose early in the morning, and saddled his ass — Or commanded it to be saddled, for he had servants to wait upon him; and went to them, directly contrary to God’s express order, and was opposed by the angel for the breach of his duty.
And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.
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.Numbers 22:22. Because he went — Namely, of his own accord, and did not wait till the princes of Moab came to call him, which was the sign and condition of God’s permission, but rather himself rose and went to call them. The apostle describes Balaam’s sin here to be, that he ran greedily into an error for reward, Judges 11. For an adversary — To oppose, if not to kill him. His servants with him — The rest of the company being probably gone before them. For in those ancient times there was more of simplicity, and less of ceremony, and therefore it is not strange that Balaam came at some distance after the rest, and attended only by his own servants.
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.
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.
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.
And the angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.
And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam's anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.
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?Numbers 22:28-29. Opened the mouth — Conferred upon her the power of speech and reasoning for that time. Balaam said — Balaam was not much terrified with the ass’s speaking, because perhaps he was accustomed to converse with evil spirits, who appeared to him and discoursed with him in the shape of different creatures. Or, perhaps, he was so blinded by passion that he did not consider the strangeness of the thing.
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.
And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? And he said, Nay.
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.Numbers 22:31-32. The Lord opened the eyes of Balaam — He presented the angel to his view, who had hitherto been invisible to him. He fell flat on his face — In token of reverence and submission. Thy way is perverse — Springing from covetousness.
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:
And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive.Numbers 22:33. I had slain thee — Thee alone, and not the ass; therefore her turning aside and falling down was wholly for thy benefit, not for her own, and thy anger against her was unjust and unreasonable.
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.Numbers 22:34. I have sinned — He confesses his passion and thoughtlessness in his ill treatment of the ass, and excuses himself for so wilfully persisting in his journey, from his ignorance of the angel’s standing in the way to oppose him; but he makes no confession of his covetousness, which was the dishonest principle that influenced him in all his steps.
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.Numbers 22:35. Go with the men — I allow thee to go upon the following terms. It must have tended to convince the Moabites how much Israel was under the divine protection, to see that Balaam, covetous as he was, and even after such great rewards were set before him, durst not imprecate evil against that people. Only the word that I shall speak, &c. — These words may be understood as a prediction, as well as a command; importing that he would find himself unable to pronounce either more or less about Israel than what God would put in his mouth.
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.Numbers 22:36-38. In the utmost coast — Not far from the camp of the Israelites, whom he desired him to curse. Have I now any power at all, &c. — He here lets Balak know he was under the overruling power of God, whose commands he could not gainsay.
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?
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.
And Balaam went with Balak, and they came unto Kirjathhuzoth.
And Balak offered oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes that were with him.Numbers 22:40. Sent to Balaam, and to the princes, &c. — Either to invite them to partake of the feast upon the sacrifice, or, having sacrificed, he sent portions of the sacred banquet to him, and the princes whom he had left to attend him. Balaam, who professed to be a worshipper of the true God, was very blame-worthy in partaking of meat offered to idols.
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.Numbers 22:41. The high places of Baal — Consecrated to the worship of Baal, that is, of Baal-peor, who was their Baal, or lord, as the word signifies, a name given to several gods, both male and female. Their god, like those of other nations, it appears, was worshipped on high places, which were generally planted with groves, whose solemn gloom served to inspire the worshippers with serious thoughts. To several of these high places Balak brought Balaam, that he might see where he could take the fullest view of the Israelites; for in those solemn imprecations it was judged necessary to have the persons devoted present to the view of him who pronounced the malediction.