And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.…
The Israelites, toughened physically and morally by their long sojourn in the desert, and now well consolidated into a nation, are beginning to emerge from their southern retreat, and to betray their designs upon the regions bordering on the Jordan. They have met and defeated the desert tribes, and are now threatening Moab, which lies in their way. Balak, king of Moab, undertakes the defence of his territory, and, like a wise general, studies and adopts the tactics of his successful enemy. He has learned that the Israelites are led by Moses, a prophet of Jehovah, and that his prayers in the battle against Amalek secured the victory. He will see what of the same sort he can do on his side. Hundreds of miles away, near the head waters of the Euphrates, there lived another prophet of Jehovah, whose reputation filled the whole region. It does not concern us whether his gifts were on one side or the other of the line called supernatural; whether his sagacity was merely extraordinary or was clarified by special, Divine light. It is enough for us that he was great, keen and lofty in his vision, comprehensive in his judgment, that he had a high sense of his prophetic function, and was at first a man of integrity. Balak sends for him. The Israelites have a prophet; he will have a prophet. He sees in the battles hitherto fought a weight not belonging to the battalions, a spiritual force that won the victory; he will employ that force on his side. Moses is a prophet of Jehovah; his prophet also shall be Jehovah's. A. very shrewd man is this Balak. Holding to the Oriental custom of devoting an enemy to destruction before battle, he will match his enemy even in this respect as nearly as possible. That a prophet should be found outside the Hebrew nation is simply an indication that God has witnesses in all nations; it denies the theory that would confine all light and inspiration to one chosen people. That Balaam comes from the ancient home of Abraham hints the possibility of a still lingering monotheism in that region. Though so remote, he probably knew all about the Israelites: their history from the patriarchs down, their exodus from Egypt, their religion, their development under the guiding hand of Moses, their power in battle, and the resistless energy with which they were slowly moving up from the desert with their eyes on the rich slopes of Palestine, He doubtless knew that this was not only a migration of a detached people, such as was now often occurring in Asia, but a migration inspired by a religion somewhat in keeping with his own. These Israelites were not his enemies, and he could not readily be made to treat them as such. When the messengers of Balak come to him with their hands full of rewards, asking him to go and curse Israel, he weighs the matter well, devotes a whole night to it, carries it to God in the simplicity of a good conscience, and refuses to go. So far he seems a true man, acting from considerations of mingled wisdom and inspiration. The messengers retrace their long journey, but Balak sends again by more honourable men and doubtless with larger gifts. He is a shrewd man, and knows what sort of a thing is the human heart. He sends not only gifts, but promises of promotion to great honour, and all by the hands of princes — a triple temptation: flattery, riches, place. How often does any man resist their united voice? Often enough he resists one of them; flattery cannot seduce him, nor money buy him, nor ambition deflect him, but when all unite-flattery dropping its sweet words into the ear, gold glittering before the eye, and ambition weaving its crown before the imagination — who stands out against these when they unite to a definite end? They had their common way with Balaam, hut not at once. Such men do not go headlong and wholly over to the bad side in a moment. The undoing of a strong character is something like its upbuilding, a process of time and degree.
(T. T. Munger.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.