Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.III. EVENTS IN THE PLAIN OF MOAB FACING THE LAND
1. Balak and Balaam and Balaam’s Parables
1. Balak’s message to Balaam (Numbers 22:1-20)
2. The journey of Balaam (Numbers 22:21-35)
3. Balaam with Balak (Numbers 22:36-41)
The last section of the wilderness book begins with the story of Balak and Balaam. An enemy, the Gentile Balaam, has to speak the words of prophecy, predicting wonderful blessing and glory for the hosts of Israel. The advancing Israelites inspired terror and Balak (waster), the king of Moab, not willing to meet Israel in open battle, sent for Balaam (devourer of the people) to put his powerful magic spell upon Israel and curse them.
Balaam, originally a heathen magician of an ordinary class, was, very probably (like Jethro, Exodus 18) and Rahab (Joshua 2) conducted to the acknowledgement of Jehovah by the overpowering influence of the wonderful deeds of God in Egypt and in the wilderness, which made a deep impression on all of the surrounding nations (Exodus 15:14; Joshua 5:1). He resolved to serve Jehovah and to perform his enchantments henceforth in the name of Jehovah. Analogous instances in the New Testament occur in Matthew 12:27; Acts 19:13; and, particularly, in Acts, ch. 8, which relates the case of Simon the sorcerer, the Balaam of the New Testament. Such a combination of heathenish magic with the service of Jehovah, could not be permanent, and the experience of Balaam would necessarily soon compel him to abandon the one or the other. When the message of Balak reached him, the period of decision arrived--the test was applied, and Balaam was found wanting.
Balak send gifts to Balaam, but he declined the invitation as the result of divine instructions. He could not resist the second deputation, which was more imposing than the first. God gave him permission on the condition that he was to say nothing but what God would tell him. How God’s anger (not Jehovah, the covenant name) was kindled against him and the ass saw the angel of Jehovah, how the Lord opened the mouth of the ass and all the other details the reader will find in the text, so that a repetition here is not needed. Infidelity and higher criticism scoff at the incident of the speaking ass. One of their arguments is that the story of the speaking ass is disproven by the fact that Balaam carried on a conversation with the beast without expressing any astonishment at all at the occurrence. This is admirably answered by Augustinus: “Balaam was so carried away by his cupidity that he was not terrified by this miracle, and replied just as if he had been speaking to a man, when God, although He did not change the nature of the ass into that of a rational being, made it give utterance to whatever He pleased for the purpose of restraining his madness.” That the ass saw the angel of the Lord first, before Balaam saw him, does not present any difficulty at all.
Naturalists tell us that irrational animals have a much keener instinctive presentiment of many natural phenomena, such as earthquakes and storms, than man. The horses, for instance, sometimes will see dangers when the rider is entirely ignorant of what is ahead.
“Jehovah opened the mouth of the ass.” An omnipotent God can do this; why then should it be thought impossible? It is unbelief which makes objection to a miracle of this kind. If the occurrence did not happen, and must be classed as they Claim, with legends, what becomes of the inspiration of the New Testament? The Holy Spirit through Peter confirms the miracle (2Peter 2:15-16).
Balaam is used in the Epistle of Jude and in the corresponding testimony in the second Epistle of Peter (chapter 2) as well as in the message to Pergamos, as a type of the apostates in Christendom. “They ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward” (Jude 1:2). “Following the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2Peter 2:15). They make merchandise of the things of God. They deny the Master, who bought them, and exercise a religious office for “filthy lucre’s sake.” We shall find additional information on this matter in the twenty-fifth chapter.