Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.
Nu 22:1-20. Balak's First Message for Balaam Refused.
1. Israel … pitched in the plains of Moab—so called from having formerly belonged to that people, though wrested from them by Sihon. It was a dry, sunken, desert region on the east of the Jordan valley, opposite Jericho.
And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
2. Balak—that is, "empty." Terrified (De 2:25; Ex 15:15) at the approach of so vast a multitude and not daring to encounter them in the field, he resolved to secure their destruction by other means.
And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.
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.
4. elders of Midian—called kings (Nu 31:8) and princes (Jos 13:21). The Midianites, a distinct people on the southern frontier of Moab, united with them as confederates against Israel, their common enemy.
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:
5. He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam—that is, "lord" or "devourer" of people, a famous soothsayer (Jos 13:22).
son of Beor—or, in the Chaldee form, Bosor—that is, "destruction."
Pethor—a city of Mesopotamia, situated on the Euphrates.
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.
6. Come … curse me this people—Among the heathen an opinion prevailed that prayers for evil or curses would be heard by the unseen powers as well as prayers for good, when offered by a prophet or priest and accompanied by the use of certain rites. Many examples are found in the histories of the Greeks and Romans of whole armies being devoted to destruction, and they occur among the natives of India and other heathen countries still. In the Burmese war, magicians were employed to curse the British troops.
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.
7. the elders of Moab and … of Midian departed with the rewards of divination—like the fee of a fortune teller, and being a royal present, it would be something handsome.
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.
8-14. Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the Lord shall speak unto me, &c.—God usually revealed His will in visions and dreams; and Balaam's birth and residence in Mesopotamia, where the remains of patriarchal religion still lingered, account for his knowledge of the true God. His real character has long been a subject of discussion. Some, judging from his language, have thought him a saint; others, looking to his conduct, have described him as an irreligious charlatan; and a third class consider him a novice in the faith, who had a fear of God, but who had not acquired power over his passions [Hengstenberg].
And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?
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.
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.
13-15. the Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you—This answer has an appearance of being good, but it studiously concealed the reason of the divine prohibition [Nu 22:12], and it intimated his own willingness and desire to go—if permitted. Balak despatched a second mission, which held out flattering prospects, both to his avarice and his ambition (Ge 31:30).
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.
19, 20. tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the Lord will say unto me more—The divine will, as formerly declared, not being according to his desires, he hoped by a second request to bend it, as he had already bent his own conscience, to his ruling passions of pride and covetousness. The permission granted to Balaam is in accordance with the ordinary procedure of Providence. God often gives up men to follow the impulse of their own lusts; but there is no approval in thus leaving them to act at the prompting of their own wicked hearts (Jos 13:27).
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.
And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.
Nu 22:21-41. The Journey.
21. Balaam … saddled his ass—probably one of the white sprightly animals which persons of rank were accustomed to ride. The saddle, as usually in the East, would be nothing more than a pad or his outer cloak.
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.
22. God's anger was kindled because he went—The displeasure arose partly from his neglecting the condition on which leave was granted him—namely, to wait till the princes of Moab "came to call him" [Nu 22:20], and because, through desire for "the wages of unrighteousness" [2Pe 2:15], he entertained the secret purpose of acting in opposition to the solemn charge of God.
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.
24. the angel of the Lord stood in a path of the vineyards—The roads which lead through fields and vineyards are so narrow that in most parts a man could not pass a beast without care and caution. A stone or mud fence flanks each side of these roads, to prevent the soil being washed off by the rains.
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?
28. the Lord opened the mouth of the ass—to utter, like a parrot, articulate sounds, without understanding them. That this was a visionary scene is a notion which seems inadmissible, because of the improbability of a vision being described as an actual occurrence in the middle of a plain history. Besides, the opening of the ass's mouth must have been an external act, and that, with the manifest tenor of Peter's language, strongly favors the literal view [2Pe 2:15, 16]. The absence of any surprise at such a phenomenon on the part of Balaam may be accounted for by his mind being wholly engrossed with the prospect of gain, which produced "the madness of the prophet" [2Pe 2:16]. "It was a miracle, wrought to humble his proud heart, which had to be first subjected in the school of an ass before he was brought to attend to the voice of God speaking by the angel" [Calvin].
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.
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.
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.
34, 35. I have sinned … if it displease thee, I will get me back again—Notwithstanding this confession, he evinced no spirit of penitence, as he speaks of desisting only from the outward act. The words "go with the men" was a mere withdrawal of further restraint, but the terms in which leave was given are more absolute and peremptory than those in Nu 22:20.
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.
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.
36, 37. when Balak heard that Balaam was come, he went out to meet him—Politeness requires that the higher the rank of the expected guest, greater distance is to be gone to welcome his arrival.
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.
38. the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak—This appears a pious answer. It was an acknowledgment that he was restrained by a superior power.
And Balaam went with Balak, and they came unto Kirjathhuzoth.
39. Kirjath-huzoth—that is, "a city of streets."
And Balak offered oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes that were with him.
40. Balak offered oxen and sheep—made preparations for a grand entertainment to Balaam and the princes of Midian.
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.
41. high places of Baal—eminences consecrated to the worship of Baal-peor (see on Nu 25:3) or Chemosh.