Matthew Poole's Commentary
And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.The Israelites pitch in the plains of Moab, Numbers 22:1. Balak the king sends for Balaam to curse Israel, Numbers 22:2-8. He inquires of the Lord, who forbids him to go: he goes not, Numbers 22:9-14. Balak sends again: the Lord permits Balaam to go, Numbers 22:15-21. An angel stands in the way; which his ass perceives: his eyes are at length opened to see the angel, who rebukes him, Numbers 22:22-33. He confesses his fault, and offers to go back; He is commanded to go on, and speak as should be revealed to him, Numbers 22:34,35. Balak comes to meet him; receives him; expostulates with him; he declares he has no power but to speak the word which God should put into his mouth, Numbers 22:36-41.
The plains of Moab still retained their ancient title, though they had been taken away from the Moabites by Sihon, and from him by the Israelites.
By Jericho, i.e. over against Jericho; or, near the passage over Jordan to Jericho, or its territories.
And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.Balak, the son or successor of him whom Sihon had spoiled of part of his kingdom, Numbers 21:26. Of him see Judges 11:25 Micah 6:5.
And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.As it was foretold both in general of all nations, Deu 2:25, and particularly concerning Moab, Exodus 15:15.
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.The elders of Midian, called the kings of Midian, Numbers 31:8, and princes of Midian, Joshua 13:21; who though divided into their kingdoms, yet were now unified 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, Exo 2 Exo 3, which seem to have been a part or 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, as is evident from many scriptures.
Lick up, i.e. consume and utterly destroy, in which sense the fire is said to lick up the water and sacrifices, 1 Kings 18:38. The meaning is, we can expect no mercy from them, they will utterly root us out as they did the Amorites, if we do not make a stout and timely opposition.
All that are round about us, i.e. all our people, who lived in the country and territory adjoining to each city, where the princes resided.
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:Balaam is called a prophet, 2 Peter 2:16, because God was pleased to inspire and direct him to speak the following prophecy, as he did inspire Caiaphas to speak those words, John 11:51,52, and as sometimes he did for a time inspire other wicked men; but in truth he was a soothsayer, as he is called, Joshua 13:22. See Numbers 24:1.
Beor, or Bosor, 2 Peter 2:15; for he had two names, as many others had.
Pethor; a city in Mesopotamia or Aram: see Numbers 23:7 Deu 23:4.
By the river, i.e. by Euphrates, which is oft called the river, by way of eminency, as Genesis 15:18 Joshua 24:2,15, and here the river of Balaam’s land or country, to wit, of Mesopotamia or Aram, Numbers 21:7.
They abide over against me; they are encamped in my neighbourhood, ready to invade my kingdom.
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.Curse me this people, i.e. curse them for my sake and benefit; use thy utmost power, which thou hast with thy gods or infernal spirits, to blast and ruin them.
That we may smite them; thou by thy magical imprecations, and I by my sword joined with them. He had some experience of, or, at least, a great confidence in, Balaam’s skill and power in these matters.
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.With the rewards of divination, Heb. with divinations; by which he understands not the instruments of divination, which it was needless and absurd to bring to so eminent a diviner, who doubtless was thoroughly furnished for his own trade; but the rewards of it, as it is explained 2 Peter 2:15, and as in the Hebrew, 2 Samuel 4:10, good tidings is put for the reward of good tidings. Nor is it probable they would go to, or could expect to prevail with such a person, especially being noted for his covetousness, as appears from the story, without that powerful engine.
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.The night was the time when God used to reveal his mind by dreams. Here is the first discovery of his wickedness, that he hakes time to consider, and doth his endeavour to effect that wicked notion of cursing the Israelites, which he should have rejected and abhorred at the first mention of it.
As the Lord shall speak, Heb. Jehovah, the true God, whom he here mentions, either for his own greater reputation, as if he consulted not with inferior spirits, as other soothsayers did, but with the supreme God; or rather because this was Israel’s God, and the only possible way of ruining them was by engaging their God against them; as the known way of the Romans and other heathens, when they went to besiege any city, they used enchantments to call forth that god under whose peculiar protection they were.
The princes of Moab, and of Midian too, as is manifest from Numbers 22:7, which was needless to repeat here.
And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?God came unto Balaam, not to gratify his covetous desire, but to advance his own honour and service, even by the counsels of his enemies. He asketh not for his own information, but partly 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 cursed business; and partly 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,No text from Poole on this verse.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.God revealeth his mind to Balaam, not for any love to him, but for the sake of his people concerned in it, as he did to Pharaoh, Genesis 41:25, and to Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 2:45.
They are blessed by my irrevocable decree and sentence, and therefore it is in vain for men to curse them.
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.He conceals the principal things, to wit, the reason of God’s prohibition, which might have given a stop to their further course and counsels in this matter, and secretly intimates his own goodwill and readiness to comply with them, if God had not hindered him.
And the princes of Moab rose up, and they went unto Balak, and said, Balaam refuseth to come with us.Thus they lay the blame upon Balaam, which he imputed to God.
And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.No text from Poole on this verse.
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:No counsel nor suggestion either of God or man.
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.Before he wrought upon his covetousness, now upon his ambition.
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.You desire and expect that from me which is out of my power, to resist the will of the great God. He slyly insinuates, that he wanted not will, but power only.
The Lord my God; so he calls him, partly, to magnify himself as the servant of the great Jehovah; partly, that by professing this respect unto God he might the sooner induce him to grant his desire; and partly, because he worshipped the true God, together with idols, as many in those times and places did.
Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will say unto me more.Possibly he may change his mind, or yield to my renewed suit. Thus he sought to make God and his conscience stoop to the service of his pride and covetousness, which was abominable.
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.Go with them, since this is thy great desire and purpose; as far as thou canst, take thy course; I will, according to thy wish, withdraw my restraint, and leave thee to thyself and thy own choice. Compare Psalm 81:11,12.
That shalt thou do: these words signify not so much his duty as the event and his disappointment, Thou shalt not do what thou desirest, to wit, curse my people, and so enrich and advance thyself; but I will so overrule thy mind, and bridle thy tongue, that thou shalt speak nothing but what is contrary to thy desire and interest; and therefore though I permit thee to go, thou shalt lose thy design in it.
And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.God’s anger was kindled; either,
1. Because he went of his own accord with the princes of Moab, and did not wait till they came to call him, i.e. urged him to go, which was the sign and condition of God’s permission, Numbers 22:20, but rather himself rose and called them, as it may seem from Numbers 22:21. Or,
2. Because those words, Numbers 22:20, did contain no approbation nor license, but a bare permission, and that. in anger, as Balaam might easily have understood, if he had considered his own heart, or the circumstances of his concession. This was no more an approbation than that passage of Christ to Judas, John 13:27, That thou doest, do quickly. Or,
3. Because he went with ill design, and desire to do contrary to what God had charged him, to wit, to curse the people, as plainly appears from the following story, and from Deu 23:5; for God hath been oft and justly angry with those who have done what God bade them, when they did it in evil manner, or for evil ends, as appears from Isaiah 10:6,7, and many other places.
The Lord stood in the way, i.e. to oppose and terrify, if not to kill him.
His two servants were 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.Balaam saw not the angel because God withheld his eyes, as he did the eyes of Daniel’s companions, Daniel 10:7. It is a truth, which mere philosophers own, that when God withdraws his concourse or help from any of his creatures, they cannot perform their natural acts and offices; the eye cannot see, as Ge 19, nor the ear hear, nor the fire burn, as Da 3.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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?i.e.
The Lord conferred upon the ass the power of speech and reasoning for that time. Impudent are those heathens that disbelieve and scoff at the Scripture for this and some such relations contained in it, when there are examples of the same kind of prodigies, to wit, of oxen and other brute creatures speaking some few words, in the greatest and most approved writers of the Roman history as Plutarch, Polybius, Livy, an others. See the particulars in my Latin Synopsis on this place. Not included
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.Balaam, was not much terrified with the ass’s speaking, because he was much accustomed to converse with evil spirits, which oft appeared to him and discoursed with him in the shape of such creatures.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.In token of reverence and submission.
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:Howsoever thou mayst deceive thyself or others, I see the perverseness of thy heart and way, the wickedness of thy design and desires in this journey, which thou hast undertaken, not to please me, but to gratify Balak, and, if it be possible, to curse my people.
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.I had slain thee alone, and left her; and therefore her turning aside and falling down was wholly for thy sake and 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.A frivolous supposition; for it was apparently displeasing to God, who had now said that his way was perverse, and had therefore opposed him and sought to slay him: but hereby he shows how loth he was to go back and lose the hopes he had conceived; and besides he speaks of desisting from the outward action, but shows no sense of the plague of his heart, his vile affections, which were the root of this ill-designed journey.
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.Go with the men: this may be either,
1. A mere permission; Since neither the convictions of thy own conscience, nor the experience of thy danger, have weaned thee from thy base designs and inclinations, I shall no further restrain thee; my angel shall give thee no more disturbance; go on and prosper. Or,
2. A concession; I allow thee to go upon the following terms; for the words here are more absolute and unconditional than those Numbers 22:20.
That thou shalt speak: these words may express either,
1. The event; or,
2. His duty. See Poole on "Numbers 22:20".
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.That by this great honour he might give him a taste and earnest of those great rewards he designed him, and thereby oblige him to use his utmost skill and interest for him.
The utmost coast; not far from the camp of the Israelites, whom he desired him to curse.
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?No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Any thing, to wit, agreeable to thy expectation or my own inclination.
That shall I speak; I am forced to do so by his superior power, and therefore be not offended with me, if I speak things unpleasing to thee.
And Balaam went with Balak, and they came unto Kirjathhuzoth.No text from Poole on this verse.
And Balak offered oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes that were with him.Or, killed, either for sacrifice, or rather for a feast; for the sacrifices were offered after this, Numbers 23:1,2.
Sent to Balaam, to invite him to the feast. The king had left the princes to accompany him and attend upon him.
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.The high places of Baal, i.e. consecrated to the worship of Baal, i.e. of Baal-peor, who was their Baal or god, Numbers 25:2,3 or of Chemosh.
The utmost part of the people, i.e. all that people, even to the utmost and remotest of them, as appears by comparing this with Numbers 23:13. He hoped that the sight of such a numerous host ready to break in upon his country would stir up his passion and further his charms.