Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams.
Nu 23:1-30. Balak's Sacrifices.
1. Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars—Balak, being a heathen, would naturally suppose these altars were erected in honor of Baal, the patron deity of his country. It is evident, from Nu 23:4 that they were prepared for the worship of the true God; although in choosing the high places of Baal as their site and rearing a number of altars (2Ki 18:22; Isa 17:8; Jer 11:13; Ho 8:11; 10:1), instead of one only, as God had appointed, Balaam blended his own superstitions with the divine worship. The heathen, both in ancient and modern times, attached a mysterious virtue to the number seven; and Balaam, in ordering the preparation of so many altars, designed to mystify and delude the king.
And Balak did as Balaam had spoken; and Balak and Balaam offered on every altar a bullock and a ram.
And Balaam said unto Balak, Stand by thy burnt offering, and I will go: peradventure the LORD will come to meet me: and whatsoever he sheweth me I will tell thee. And he went to an high place.
3. Stand by thy burnt offering—as one in expectation of an important favor.
peradventure the Lord will come to meet me: and whatsoever he showeth me—that is, makes known to me by word or sign.
he went to an high place—apart by himself, where he might practise rites and ceremonies, with a view to obtain a response of the oracle.
And God met Balaam: and he said unto him, I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered upon every altar a bullock and a ram.
4-6. God met Balaam—not in compliance with his incantations, but to frustrate his wicked designs and compel him, contrary to his desires and interests, to pronounce the following benediction [Nu 23:8-10].
And the LORD put a word in Balaam's mouth, and said, Return unto Balak, and thus thou shalt speak.
And he returned unto him, and, lo, he stood by his burnt sacrifice, he, and all the princes of Moab.
And he took up his parable, and said, Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel.
7. took up his parable—that is, spoke under the influence of inspiration, and in the highly poetical, figurative, and oracular style of a prophet.
brought me from Aram—This word joined with "the mountains of the East," denotes the upper portion of Mesopotamia, lying on the east of Moab. The East enjoyed an infamous notoriety for magicians and soothsayers (Isa 2:6).
How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the LORD hath not defied?
8. How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed?—A divine blessing has been pronounced over the posterity of Jacob; and therefore, whatever prodigies can be achieved by my charms, all magical skill, all human power, is utterly impotent to counteract the decree of God.
For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.
9. from the top—literally, "a bare place" on the rocks, to which Balak had taken him, for it was deemed necessary to see the people who were to be devoted to destruction. But that commanding prospect could contribute nothing to the accomplishment of the king's object, for the destiny of Israel was to be a distinct, peculiar people, separated from the rest of the nations in government, religion, customs, and divine protection (De 33:28). So that although I might be able to gratify your wishes against other people, I can do nothing against them (Ex 19:5; Le 20:24).
Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!
10. Who can count the dust of Jacob?—an Oriental hyperbole for a very populous nation, as Jacob's posterity was promised to be (Ge 13:16; 28:14).
the number of the fourth part of Israel—that is, the camp consisted of four divisions; every one of these parts was formidable in numbers.
Let me die the death of the righteous—Hebrew, "of Jeshurun"; or, the Israelites. The meaning is: they are a people happy, above all others, not only in life, but at death, from their knowledge of the true God, and their hope through His grace. Balaam is a representative of a large class in the world, who express a wish for the blessedness which Christ has promised to His people but are averse to imitate the mind that was in Him.
And Balak said unto Balaam, What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether.
And he answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak that which the LORD hath put in my mouth?
And Balak said unto him, Come, I pray thee, with me unto another place, from whence thou mayest see them: thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all: and curse me them from thence.
13-15. Come, … with me unto another place, from whence thou mayest see them—Surprised and disappointed at this unexpected eulogy on Israel, Balak hoped that, if seen from a different point of observation, the prophet would give utterance to different feelings; and so, having made the same solemn preparations, Balaam retired, as before, to wait the divine afflatus.
And he brought him into the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.
14. he brought him into the field of Zophim … top of Pisgah—a flat surface on the summit of the mountain range, which was cultivated land. Others render it "the field of sentinels," an eminence where some of Balak's guards were posted to give signals [Calmet].
And he said unto Balak, Stand here by thy burnt offering, while I meet the LORD yonder.
And the LORD met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, Go again unto Balak, and say thus.
And when he came to him, behold, he stood by his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him. And Balak said unto him, What hath the LORD spoken?
And he took up his parable, and said, Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor:
18, 19. Rise up—As Balak was already standing (Nu 23:17), this expression is equivalent to "now attend to me." The counsels and promises of God respecting Israel are unchangeable; and no attempt to prevail on Him to reverse them will succeed, as they may with a man.
God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.
He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.
21. He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob—Many sins were observed and punished in this people. But no such universal and hopeless apostasy had as yet appeared, to induce God to abandon or destroy them.
the Lord his God is with him—has a favor for them.
and the shout of a king is among them—such joyful acclamations as of a people rejoicing in the presence of a victorious prince.
God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.
22. he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn—Israel is not as they were at the Exodus, a horde of poor, feeble, spiritless people, but powerful and invincible as a reem—that is, a rhinoceros (Job 39:9; Ps 22:21; 92:10).
Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!
23. Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob—No art can ever prevail against a people who are under the shield of Omnipotence, and for whom miracles have been and yet shall be performed, which will be a theme of admiration in succeeding ages.
Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.
And Balak said unto Balaam, Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all.
But Balaam answered and said unto Balak, Told not I thee, saying, All that the LORD speaketh, that I must do?
26. All that the Lord speaketh, that I must do—a remarkable confession that he was divinely constrained to give utterances different from what it was his purpose and inclination to do.
And Balak said unto Balaam, Come, I pray thee, I will bring thee unto another place; peradventure it will please God that thou mayest curse me them from thence.
And Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor, that looketh toward Jeshimon.
28. Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor—or, Beth-peor (De 3:29), the eminence on which a temple of Baal stood.
that looketh toward Jeshimon—the desert tract in the south of Palestine, on both sides of the Dead Sea.
And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams.
And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.