And Balaam said to God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying,
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Exodus 15:14; Exodus 18:1; Joshua 2:9, and from whom he had himself probably learned much (compare the language of Numbers 23:12 with Genesis 13:6, and that of Numbers 24:9 with Genesis 49:9). But his reply to the messengers next morning Numbers 22:13, betrays the desire to venture to the utmost of that which God would not forbid rather than to carry out God's will in hearty sincerity.
Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me; these men, and a message by them:And Balaam said unto God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me, saying,
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)10. hath sent unto me, saying] The word ‘saying’ is absent from the Heb. The abruptness with which the words of Balak’s message are given is perhaps due to the fusion of J and E .Numbers 22:1-7). At first Balaam declined this invitation, in consequence of divine instructions (Numbers 22:8-14); but when a second and still more imposing embassy of Moabite princes appeared before him, God gave him permission to go with them, but on this condition, that he should do nothing but what Jehovah should tell him (Numbers 22:15-21). When on the way, he was warned again by the miraculous opposition of the angel of the Lord, to say nothing but what God should say to him (Numbers 22:22-35). When Balak, therefore, came to meet him, on his arrival at the border of his kingdom, to give him a grand reception, Balaam explained to him, that he could only speak the word which Jehovah would put into his mouth (Numbers 22:36-40), and then proclaimed, in four different utterances, what God inspired him to declare. First of all, as he stood upon the height of Bamoth-baal, from which he could see the end of the Israelitish camp, he declared that it was impossible for him to curse this matchless, numerous, and righteous people, because they had not been cursed by their God (Numbers 22:41-23:10). He then went to the head of Pisgah, where he could see all Israel, and announced that Jehovah would bless this people, because He saw no unrighteousness in them, and that He would dwell among them as their King, making known His word to them, and endowing them with activity and lion-like power (Numbers 23:11-24). And lastly, upon the top of Peor, where he could see Israel encamped according to its tribes, he predicted, in two more utterances, the spread and powerful development of Israel in its inheritance, under the blessing of God (Numbers 23:25-24:9), the rise of a star out of Jacob in the far distant future, and the appearance of a ruler in Israel, who would break to pieces all its foes (Numbers 24:10-24); and upon this Balak sent him away (Numbers 24:25).
From the very earliest times opinions have been divided as to the character of Balaam.
(Note: On Balaam and his prophecies see G. Moebius Prophetae Bileami historia, Lips. 1676; Lderwald, die Geschichte Bileams deutlich u. begreiflich erklrt (Helmst. 1787); B. R. de Geer, Diss. de Bileamo, ejus historia et vaticiniis; Tholuck's vermischte Schriften (i. pp. 406ff.); Hengstenberg, History of Balaam, etc. (Berlin, 1842, and English translation by Ryland: Clark, 1847); Kurtz, History of the Old Covenant (English translation: Clark, 1859); and Gust. Baur, Gesch. der alttestl. Weissagung, Giessen, 1861, where the literature is given more fully still.)
Some (e.g., Philo, Ambrose, and Augustine) have regarded him as a wizard and false prophet, devoted to the worship of idols, who was destitute of any susceptibility for the true religion, and was compelled by God, against his will, to give utterance to blessings upon Israel instead of curses. Others (e.g., Tertullian and Jerome) have supposed him to be a genuine and true prophet, who simply fell through covetousness and ambition. But these views are both of them untenable in this exclusive form. Witsius (Miscell. ss. i. lib. i. c. 16, 33ff.), Hengstenberg (Balaam and his Prophecies), and Kurtz (History of the Old Covenant), have all of them clearly demonstrated this. The name בּלעם (lxx Βαλαάμ) is not to be derived, as Gesenius suggests, from בּל and עם, non populus, not a people, but either from בּלע and עם (dropping one )ע, devourer of the people (Simonis and Hengstenberg), or more probably from בּלע, with the terminal syllable ם-, devourer, destroyer (Frst, Dietrich), which would lead to the conclusion, that "he bore the name as a dreaded wizard and conjurer; whether he received it at his birth, as a member of a family in which this occupation was hereditary, and then afterwards actually became in public opinion what the giving of the name expressed as an expectation and desire; or whether the name was given to him at a later period, according to Oriental custom, when the fact indicated by the name had actually made its appearance" (Hengstenberg). In its true meaning, the name is related to that of his father, Beor.
(Note: The form Bosor, which we find instead of Beor in 2 Peter 2:15, appears to have arisen from a peculiar mode of pronouncing the guttural ע (see Loescher de causis ling. ebr. p. 246); whereas Vitringa maintains (in his obss. ss. l. iv. c. 9), that Peter himself invented this form, "that by this sound of the word he might play upon the Hebrew בשׂר, which signifies flesh, and thus delicately hint that Balaam, the false prophet, deserved to be called the son of Bosor, i.e., בשׂר, or flesh, on account of his persuading to the indulgence of carnal lusts.")
בּעור, from בּער, to burn, eat off, destroy: so called on account of the destructive power attributed to his curses (Hengstenberg). It is very probable, therefore, that Balaam belonged to a family in which the mantic character, or magical art, was hereditary. These names at once warrant the conjecture that Balaam was a heathen conjurer or soothsayer. Moreover, he is never called נביא, a prophet, or חזה, a seer, but הקּסם, the soothsayer (Joshua 13:22), a title which is never used in connection with the true prophets. For קסם, soothsaying, is forbidden to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 18:10., as an abomination in the sight of Jehovah, and is spoken of everywhere not only as a grievous sin (1 Samuel 15:23; Ezekiel 13:23; 2 Kings 17:17), but as the mark of a false prophet (Ezekiel 13:9; Ezekiel 22:28; Jeremiah 14:14, and even in Isaiah 3:2, where קסם forms the antithesis to נביא). Again, Balaam resorts to auguries, just like a heathen soothsayer (Numbers 24:1, compared with Numbers 23:3, Numbers 23:5), for the purpose of obtaining revelations; from which we may see that he was accustomed to adopt this as his ordinary mode of soothsaying.
(Note: "The fact that he made use of so extremely uncertain a method as augury, the insufficiency of which was admitted even by the heathen themselves (vid., Ngelsbach, homer. Theol. pp. 154ff.), and which no true prophet among the Israelites ever employed, is to be attributed to the weakness of the influence exerted upon him by the Spirit of God. When the Spirit worked with power, there was no need to look round at nature for the purpose of ascertaining the will of God" (Hengstenberg).)
On the other hand, Balaam was not without a certain measure of the true knowledge of God, and not without susceptibility for such revelations of the true God as he actually received; so that, without being really a prophet, he was able to give utterance to true prophecies from Jehovah. He not only knew Jehovah, but he confessed Jehovah, even in the presence of Balak, as well as of the Moabitish messengers. He asked His will, and followed it (Numbers 22:8, Numbers 22:13, Numbers 22:18-19, Numbers 22:28; Numbers 23:12), and would not go with the messengers of Balak, therefore, till God had given him permission (Numbers 22:20). If he had been altogether destitute of the fear of God, he would have complied at once with Balak's request. And again, although at the outset it is only Elohim who makes known His will (Numbers 22:9, Numbers 22:20), and even when he first of all goes out in search of oracles, it is Elohim who comes to him (Numbers 23:4); yet not only does the angel of Jehovah meet him by the way (Numbers 22:22.), but Jehovah also puts words into his mouth, which he announces to the king of the Moabites (Numbers 23:5, Numbers 23:12, Numbers 23:16), so that all his prophecies are actually uttered from a mind moved and governed by the Spirit of God, and that not from any physical constraint exerted upon him by God, but in such a manner that he enters into them with all his heart and soul, and heartily desires to die the death of these righteous, i.e., of the people of Israel (Numbers 23:10); and when he finds that it pleases Jehovah to bless Israel, he leaves off resorting any longer to auguries (Numbers 24:1), and eventually declares to the enraged monarch, that he cannot transgress the command of Jehovah, even if the king should give him his house full of silver and gold (Numbers 24:13).
(Note: The significant interchange in the use of the names of God, which is seen in the fact, that from the very outset Balaam always speaks of Jehovah (Numbers 22:8, Numbers 22:13, Numbers 22:18-19), - whereas, according to the historian, it is only Elohim who reveals Himself to him (Numbers 22:9-10, Numbers 22:12), - has been pointed out by Hengstenberg in his Dissertations; and even Baur, in his Geschichte der alttestl. Weissagung (i. p. 334), describes it as a "fine distinction;" but neither of them satisfactorily explains this diversity. For the assumption that Balaam is thereby tacitly accused of hypocrisy (Hengstenberg), or that the intention of the writer is to intimate that "the heathen seer did not stand at first in any connection whatever with the true God of Israel" (Baur), sets up a chasm between Elohim and Jehovah, with which the fact that, according to Numbers 22:22, the wrath of Elohim on account of Balaam's journey was manifested in the appearance of the angel of Jehovah, is irreconcilable. The manifestation of God in the form of the angel of Jehovah, was only a higher stage of the previous manifestations of Elohim. And all that follows from this is, that Balaam's original attitude towards Jehovah was a very imperfect one, and not yet in harmony with the true nature of the God of Israel. In his Jehovah Balaam worshipped only Elohim, i.e., only a divine being, but not the God of Israel, who was first of all revealed to him according to His true essence, in the appearance of the angel of Jehovah, and still more clearly in the words which He put into his mouth. This is indicated by the use of Elohim, in Numbers 22:9-10, Numbers 22:12. In the other passages, where this name of God still occurs, it is required by the thought, viz., in Numbers 22:22, to express the essential identity of Elohim and the Maleach Jehovah; and in Numbers 22:38; Numbers 23:27, and Numbers 24:2, to show that Balaam did not speak out of his own mind, but from the inspiration of the Spirit of God.)
This double-sidedness and ambiguity of the religious and prophetic character of Balaam may be explained on the supposition that, being endowed with a predisposition to divination and prophecy, he practised soothsaying and divination as a trade; and for the purpose of bringing this art to the greatest possible perfection, brought not only the traditions of the different nations, but all the phenomena of his own times, within the range of his observations. In this way he may have derived the first elements of the true knowledge of God from different echoes of the tradition of the primeval age, which was then not quite extinct, and may possibly have heard in his own native land some notes of the patriarchal revelations out of the home of the tribe-fathers of Israel. But these traditions are not sufficient of themselves to explain his attitude towards Jehovah, and his utterances concerning Israel. Balaam's peculiar knowledge of Jehovah, the God of Israel, and of all that He had done to His people, and his intimate acquaintance with the promises made to the patriarchs, which strike us in his prophecies (comp. Numbers 23:10 with Genesis 13:16; Genesis 28:14; Numbers 24:9 with Genesis 49:9; and Numbers 24:17 with Genesis 49:10), can only be explained from the fact that the report of the great things which God had done to and for Israel in Egypt and at the Dead Sea, had not only spread among all the neighbouring tribes, as was foretold in Exodus 15:14, and is attested by Jethro, Exodus 18:1., and Rahab the Canaanites, Joshua 2:9., but had even penetrated into Mesopotamia, as the countries of the Euphrates had maintained a steady commercial intercourse from the very earliest times with Hither Asia and the land Egypt. Through these tidings Balaam was no doubt induced not only to procure more exact information concerning the events themselves, that he might make a profitable use of it in connection with his own occupation, but also to dedicate himself to the service of Jehovah, "in the hope of being able to participate in the new powers conferred upon the human race; so that henceforth he called Jehovah his God, and appeared as a prophet in His name" (Hengstenberg). In this respect Balaam resembles the Jewish exorcists, who cast out demons in the name of Jesus without following Christ (Mark 9:38-39; Luke 9:49), but more especially Simon Magus, his "New Testament antitype," who was also so powerfully attracted by the new divine powers of Christianity that he became a believer, and submitted to baptism, because he saw the signs and great miracles that were done (Acts 8:13). And from the very time when Balaam sought Jehovah, the fame of his prophetical art appears to have spread. It was no doubt the report that he stood in close connection with the God of Israel, which induced Balak, according to Numbers 22:6, to hire him to oppose the Israelites; as the heathen king shared the belief, which was common to all the heathen, that Balaam was able to work upon the God he served, and to determine and regulate His will. God had probably given to the soothsayer a few isolated but memorable glimpses of the unseen, to prepare him for the service of His kingdom. But "Balaam's heart was not right with God," and "he loved the wages of unrighteousness" (Acts 8:21; 2 Peter 2:15). His thirst for honour and wealth was not so overcome by the revelations of the true God, that he could bring himself to give up his soothsaying, and serve the living God with an undivided heart. Thus it came to pass, that through the appeal addressed to him by Balak, he was brought into a situation in which, although he did not venture to attempt anything in opposition to the will of Jehovah, his heart was never thoroughly changed; so that, whilst he refused the honours and rewards that were promised him by Balak, and pronounced blessings upon Israel in the strength of the Spirit of God that came upon him, he was overcome immediately afterwards by the might of the sin of his own unbroken heart, fell back into the old heathen spirit, and advised the Midianites to entice the Israelites to join in the licentious worship of Baal Peor (Numbers 31:16), and was eventually put to death by the Israelites when they conquered these their foes (Numbers 31:8).
(Note: When modern critics, such as Knobel, Baur, etc., affirm that the tradition in Numbers 31:8, Numbers 31:16; Joshua 13:22 -viz., that Balaam was a kosem, or soothsayer, who advised the Midianites to seduce the Israelites to join in the worship of Baal-is irreconcilable with the account in Numbers 22-24 concerning Balaam himself, his attitude towards Jehovah, and his prophecies with regard to Israel, they simply display their own incapacity to comprehend, or form any psychological appreciation of, a religious character such as Balaam; but they by no means prove that the account in Numbers 22-24 is interpolated by the Jehovist into the Elohistic original. And all that they adduce as a still further confirmation of this hypothesis (namely, that the weaving of prophetic announcements into the historical narrative, the interchange of the names of God, Jehovah, and Elohim, the appearance of the angel of the Lord, the talking of the ass, etc., are foreign to the Elohistic original), are simply assertions and assumptions, which do not become any more conclusive from the fact that they are invariably adduced when no better arguments can be hunted up.)
Balaam Hired by Balak to Curse Israel. - Numbers 22:2-4. As the Israelites passed by the eastern border of the land of Moab, the Moabites did not venture to make any attack upon them; on the contrary, they supplied them with bread and water for money (Deuteronomy 2:29). At that time they no doubt cherished the hope that Sihon, their own terrible conqueror, would be able with perfect ease either to annihilate this new foe, or to drive them back into the desert from which they had come. But when they saw this hope frustrated, and the Israelites had overthrown the two kings of the Amorites with victorious power, and had conquered their kingdoms, and pressed forward through what was formerly Moabitish territory, even to the banks of the Jordan, the close proximity of so powerful a people filled Balak, their king, with terror and dismay, so that he began to think of the best means of destroying them. There was no ground for such alarm, as the Israelites, in consequence of divine instructions (Deuteronomy 2:9), had offered no hostilities to the Moabites, but had conscientiously spared their territory and property; and even after the defeat of the Amorites, had not turned their arms against them, but had advanced to the Jordan to take possession of the land of Canaan. But the supernatural might of the people of God was a source of such discomfort to the king of the Moabites, that a horror of the Israelites came upon him. Feeling too weak to attack them with force of arms, he took counsel with the elders of Midian. With these words, "This crowd will now lick up all our environs, as the ox licketh up the green of the field," i.e., entirely consume all our possessions, he called their attention to the danger which the proximity of Israel would bring upon him and his territory, to induce them to unite with him in some common measures against this dangerous foe. This intention is implied in his words, and clearly follows from the sequel of the history. According to Numbers 22:7, the elders of Midian went to Balaam with the elders of Moab; and there is no doubt that the Midiantish elders advised Balak to send for Balaam with whom they had become acquainted upon their trading journeys (cf. Genesis 37), to come and curse the Israelites. Another circumstance also points to an intimate connection between Balaam and the Midianites, namely, the fact that, after he had been obliged to bless the Israelites in spite of the inclination of his own natural heart, he went to the Midianites and advised them to make the Israelites harmless, by seducing them to idolatry (Numbers 31:16). The Midianites, who are referred to here, must be distinguished from the branch of the same tribe which dwelt in the peninsula of Sinai (Numbers 10:29-30; Exodus 2:15-16; Exodus 3:1). They had been settled for a long time (cf. Genesis 36:35) on the eastern border of the Moabitish and Amoritish territory, in a grassy but treeless steppe-land, where many ruins and wells are still to be found belonging to very ancient times (Buckingham, Syr. ii. pp. 79ff., 95ff.), and lived by grazing (Numbers 31:32.) and the caravan trade. They were not very warlike, and were not only defeated by the Edomites (Genesis 36:35), but were also subdued and rendered tributary by Sihon, king of the Amorites (see at Numbers 31:8). In the time of the Judges, indeed, they once invaded the land of Israel in company with the Amalekites and the sons of the East, but they were beaten by Gideon, and entirely repulsed (Judges 6 and 7), and from that time forth they disappear entirely from history. The "elders of Midian" are heads of tribes, who administered the general affairs of the people, who, like the Israelites, lived under a patriarchal constitution. The most powerful of them bore the title of "kings" (Numbers 31:8) or "princes" (Joshua 13:21). The clause, "and Balak, the son of Zippor, was king of the Moabites at that time," is added as a supplementary note to explain the relation of Balak to the Moabites.
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