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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
With this chapter begins the fourth and last division of the Book of Numbers, comprising 14 chapters. In them are narrated the events which befell Israel while encamped in the plains of Moab, and certain instructions and arrangements are laid down by Moses with reference to their actual entry upon the promised inheritance.
1And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.
The plains - Hebrew ערבה ‛ărābâh; the word is the plural of that which is used to denote the whole depressed tract along the Jordan and the Dead Sea, and onward, where it is still called the Arabah (compare Numbers 21:4 note), to the Elanitic gulf.
On this side Jordan by Jericho - Rather, across the Jordan of Jericho, i. e., that part of Jordan which skirted the territory of Jericho. This form of expression indicates the site of the camp in its relation to the well-known city of Jericho. See Deuteronomy 1:1.
2And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
Balak the son of Zippor - The comparison of Numbers 22:4 with Numbers 21:26 suggests that Balak was not the hereditary king but a Midianite, and that a change of dynasty had taken place. His father's name, Zippor, "Bird," reminds us of those of other Midianites, e. g., Oreb, "Crow," Zeeb, "Wolf." Possibly the Midianite chieftains had taken advantage of the weakness of the Moabites after the Amorite victories to establish themselves as princes in the land.
3And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.
4And 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.
5He 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 the son of Beor was from the first a worshipper in some sort of the true God; and had learned some elements of pure and true religion in his home in the far East, the cradle of the ancestors of Israel. But though prophesying, doubtless even before the ambassadors of Balak came to him, in the name of the true God, yet prophecy was still to him as before a mere business, not a religion. The summons of Balak proved to be a crisis in his career: and he failed under the trial. When the gold and honors of Balak seemed to be finally lost, he became reckless and desperate; and, as if in defiance, counseled the evil stratagem by which he hoped to compass indirectly that ruin of God's people which he had been withheld from working otherwise. He thus, like Judas and Ahithophel, set in motion a train of events which involved his own destruction.
The name Balaam signifies "destroyer," or "glutton," and is in part identical with "Bela, son of Beor," the first king of Edom Genesis 36:32. The name "Beor" ("to burn up") is that of the father, or possibly ancestor, of the prophet.
Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people - Rather, Pethor which was ... land. Pethor (Pitru, Assyrian) was on the river Sagura (modern: Sajur) near its junction with the Euphrates.
6Come 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.
7And 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.
Rewards of divination - Rightly interpreted in 2 Peter 2:15 as "the wages of unrighteousness."
8And 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.
Balaam must surely have known that God's blessing was on the people with whose marvelous march forth from Egypt he was acquainted 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.
9And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?
10And Balaam said unto God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me, saying,
11Behold, 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.
12And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.
13And 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.
14And the princes of Moab rose up, and they went unto Balak, and said, Balaam refuseth to come with us.
15And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.
Balak, like the ancient pagan world generally, not only believed in the efficacy of the curses and incantations of the soothsayers, but regarded their services as strictly venal. Hence, when his first offer was declined, he infers at once that he had not bid high enough.
16And 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:
17For 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.
18And 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.
19Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will say unto me more.
Ye also - i. e., as the other envoys before you. Had Balaam possessed a sincere spirit of obedience, he would have found in the first instructions Numbers 22:12 a final decision upon the matter. His hypocritical importunity with God when the fresh messengers came from Balak demonstrates his aversion to God's declared will.
20And 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.
21And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.
22And 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.
The angel - i. e., the Angel that led the Israelites through the wilderness (compare Numbers 20:16 and references), and subsequently appeared as the Captain of the Lord's host to Joshua Jos 6:13. In desiring to curse Israel, Balaam was fighting against Israel's Leader. The presence of the Angel in his path was designed to open his eyes, blinded by sin, to the real character of his course of conduct.
23And 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.
24But the angel of the LORD stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side.
In a path of the vineyards - i. e., in a path shut in by vineyard-walls on each side. The progress from the road through the open field Numbers 22:23 to that walled in, and thence to the strait place, where there was no room to turn Numbers 22:26, shows that Balaam was approaching a city, no doubt that which was the goal of his journey.
25And 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.
26And 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.
A city of Moab - Or, Ir-Moab, probably the same with Ar-Moab Numbers 21:15. As Balaam in his journey would avoid the districts occupied by the Israelites, he must have approached this city from the east, by the course of the Nahaliel; and in the name Balu'a, still borne by one of the upper branches of this stream, there is perhaps a reminiscence of the name of the prophet.
27And 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.
28And 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?
And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass - The account was perhaps given by Balaam to the Israelites after his capture in the war against Midian. Compare Numbers 31:8. That which is here recorded was apparently perceived by him alone among human witnesses. God may have brought it about that sounds uttered by the creature after its kind became to the prophet's intelligence as though it addressed him in rational speech. Indeed to an augur, priding himself on his skill in interpreting the cries and movements of animals, no more startling warning could be given than one so real as this, yet conveyed through the medium of his own art.
29And 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.
30And 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.
31Then 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.
32And 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:
Is perverse - Rather, is headlong. Compare Peter's words 2 Peter 2:16, "the madness of the prophet."
33And 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.
34And 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.
35And 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 - A command, not a permission merely. Balaam, no longer a faithful servant of God, was henceforth overruled in all his acts so that he might subserve the divine purpose as an instrument.
36And 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.
37And 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?
38And 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.
39And Balaam went with Balak, and they came unto Kirjathhuzoth.
Kirjath-buzoth - i. e., "city of streets," within Balak's dominions, south of the Arnon, and identified either with the ruins of Shihan, 4 miles west by south of the site assigned to Ar or Ir, or with Kirjathaim (Kureivat).
40And Balak offered oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes that were with him.
41And 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.
That thence he might see - Rather, and thence he saw.