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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams.
Balaam, after the general custom of the pagan, prefaced his divinations by sacrifice. In the number of the altars regard was probably had to the number of the then known planets. Yet Balaam evidently intended his sacrifice as an offering to the true God.
2And Balak did as Balaam had spoken; and Balak and Balaam offered on every altar a bullock and a ram.
3And 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.
Balaam apparently expected to mark some phenomenon in the sky or in nature, which he would be able, according to the rules of his art, to interpret as a portent. It was for such "auguries" (not as the King James Version "enchantments" Numbers 23:23) that he now departed to watch; contrast Numbers 24:1.
An high place - Or, "A bare place on the hill," as opposed to the high place with its grove of trees.
4And 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.
God met Balaam - God served His own purposes through the arts of Balaam, and manifested His will through the agencies employed to seek it, dealing thus with Balaam in an exceptional manner. To God's own people auguries were forbidden Leviticus 19:26.
I have prepared seven altars - And therefore Balaam expected that God on His part would do what was desired by the donor; compare Numbers 22:15 note.
5And the LORD put a word in Balaam's mouth, and said, Return unto Balak, and thus thou shalt speak.
6And he returned unto him, and, lo, he stood by his burnt sacrifice, he, and all the princes of Moab.
7And 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.
Aram - Or, "highland." This term denotes the whole elevated region, from the northeastern frontier of Palestine to the Euphrates and the Tigris. The country between these streams was especially designated "Aram-naharaim," or "Aram of the two rivers:" the Greeks called it Mesopotamia; and here, according to Deuteronomy 23:4, was Balaam's home. Compare Numbers 22:5 note.
8How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the LORD hath not defied?
9For 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.
For from the top of the rocks ... - The "for" indicates the constraint under which Balaam felt himself. He had been met by God in his own way; from the cliff he had watched for the expected augury; and by the light of this he here interprets, according to the rules of his art, the destiny of Israel.
Dwell alone - i. e., apart from others, undisturbed by their tumults, and therefore in safety and just security. Compare the same idea in marginal reference; Jeremiah 49:31; and Micah 7:14. This tranquility was realized by the Israelites so long as they clave to God as their shelter and protection. But the inward "dwelling alone" was the indispensable condition of the outward "dwelling alone," and so soon as the influence of the pagan world affected Israel internally, the external power of paganism prevailed also. Balaam himself, when he eventually counseled tempting the people into sin, acted upon the knowledge that God's blessing and Israel's prosperity depended essentially on faithfulness to God.
10Who 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!
The fourth part of Israel - i. e., each one of the four camps, into which the host of Israel was divided (see Numbers 2), seemed to swarm with innumerable multitudes. Possibly Balaam could only see one camp. Balaam bears testimony in this verse to the fulfillment of the promises in Genesis 13:16; Genesis 28:14.
The righteous - i. e., the ancestors of Israel, who "died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off" Hebrews 11:13. With their histories Balaam was familiar, particularly with that of Abraham, "the righteous man" whom God had "raised up from the east (and) called to His foot" Isaiah 41:2.
Let my last end be like his - Render rather, "last estate," for the reference is not so much to the act of death, as to all that followed upon it - to the future, in which the name and influence of the deceased person would be perpetuated.
11And Balak said unto Balaam, What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether.
12And he answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak that which the LORD hath put in my mouth?
13And 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.
Balak seems to hope that the prophet's words in Numbers 23:10 reflected the impression conveyed by the scene before him at the moment of the augury; and so that the sight of a mere few straggling Israelites in the utmost part of the camp might induce a different estimate of their resources and prospects.
14And 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.
The field of Zophim - Or, "of watchers." It lay upon the top of Pisgah, north of the former station, and nearer to the Israelite camp; the greater part of which was, however, probably concealed from it by an intervening spur of the hill. Beyond the camp Balaam's eye would pass on to the bed of the Jordan. It was perhaps a lion coming up in his strength from the swelling of that stream (compare Jeremiah 49:19) that furnished him with the augury he awaited, and so dictated the final similitude of his next parable.
15And he said unto Balak, Stand here by thy burnt offering, while I meet the LORD yonder.
16And the LORD met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, Go again unto Balak, and say thus.
17And 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?
18And he took up his parable, and said, Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor:
19God 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?
20Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.
I have received commandment to bless - literally, "I have received to bless." The reason of his blessing lay in the augury which he acknowledged, and in the divine overruling impulse which he could not resist, not in any "commandment" in words.
21He 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.
"Iniquity" and "perverseness" are found together again in the Hebrew of Psalm 10:7; Psalm 90:10, and elsewhere; and import wickedness together with that tribulation which is its proper result.
The shout - The word is used (Leviticus 23:24 note) to describe the sound of the silver trumpets. The "shout of a king" will therefore refer to the jubilant sounds by which the presence of the Lord as their King among them was celebrated by Israel.
22God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.
An unicorn - A wild bull, the now extinct Aurochs, formidable for its size, strength, speed, and ferocity.
23Surely 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!
Enchantment ... divination - More strictly "augury" and "soothsayer's token," or the omen that was superstitiously observed. "Soothsayer" is the term applied to Balaam in Joshua 13:22.
The verse intimates that the seer was at last, through the overruling of his own auguries, compelled to own what, had he not been blinded by avarice and ambition, he would have discerned before - that there Was an indisputable interference of God on Israel's behalf, against which all arts and efforts of man must prove vain. The sense suggested by margin (i. e., that the soothsayer's art was not practiced in Israel) would be strictly true (compare the Numbers 23:4 note).
According ... - Rather, in due time it shall be told to Jacob, etc. God will, through His own divinely appointed means (e. g. the Urim and Thummim), reveal to Israel, as occasion may require, His will and purposes.
24Behold, 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.
25And Balak said unto Balaam, Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all.
26But Balaam answered and said unto Balak, Told not I thee, saying, All that the LORD speaketh, that I must do?
27And 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.
28And Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor, that looketh toward Jeshimon.
The position of Peor northward from Pisgah, along the Abarim heights, is approximately determined by the extant notices of Beth-peor.
Jeshimon - was the waste, in the great valley below, where stood Beth-jeshimoth, "the house of the wastes."
29And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams.
30And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.