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Numbers Twenty Two

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

Numbers 22:1 And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.

Numbers 22:2 And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.

Numbers 22:3 And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.

Numbers 22:4 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.

elders of Midian. The Midianites (descendants of Abraham through Keturah) and the Moabites (descendants of Abraham's nephew, Lot) were both related to the Israelites, but apparently felt more at ease trusting a Mesopotamian prophet (presumably a descendant of Ham) than their own kinsmen. One can find here an analogy with the attitude of many professing Christians who are more comfortable in the world than with God's people.

Numbers 22:5 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:

Pethor. Pethor was in Mesopotamia (Deuteronomy 23:4), a long way from the land of Moab. This indicates that Balaam was known far and wide as a great prophet. However, he had begun to use methods of divination (Numbers 22:7) and enchantments (Numbers 24:1), which were prohibited by God (Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 18:10), and thus had become a false prophet, deriving his occultic powers from evil spirits, rather than the Holy Spirit, much like modern “channelers,” “psychics,” and so-called “prophets.”

Numbers 22:6 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. It is remarkable that a text of curses actually written by “Balaam son of Beor” has been found in Jordan, about twenty-five miles north of the area where Balaam was brought to curse Israel. It was preserved written in ink on fragments of plaster from a building wall, probably destroyed in the earthquake at the time of Uzziah (Amos 1:1). The text has the title Warnings from the Book of Balaam, a Seer of the Gods, and is written in Aramaic.

too mighty for me. The king of Moab had previously lost some of his kingdom to Sihon and the Amorites, yet the Amorites had been decimated by the Israelites (Numbers 21:24-26), and so had their sister kingdom of Bashan. No wonder Balak was fearful, deciding he would need supernatural help to survive.

Numbers 22:7 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.

Numbers 22:8 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.

Numbers 22:9 And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?

Numbers 22:10 And Balaam said unto God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me, saying,

Numbers 22:11 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.

Numbers 22:12 And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.

Numbers 22:13 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.

Numbers 22:14 And the princes of Moab rose up, and they went unto Balak, and said, Balaam refuseth to come with us.

Numbers 22:15 And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.

Numbers 22:16 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:

Numbers 22:17 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.

Numbers 22:18 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.

Numbers 22:19 Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will say unto me more.

Numbers 22:20 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.

God came unto Balaam. Balaam had evidently been a real prophet of the true God at one time. As is the case with many modern preachers and evangelists, however, his cupidity led him into false religion and practice. The historical reality of Balaam is attested by three writers in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:15-16; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14).

Numbers 22:21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.

Numbers 22:22 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.

Numbers 22:23 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.

Numbers 22:24 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.

Numbers 22:25 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.

Numbers 22:26 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.

Numbers 22:27 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.

Numbers 22:28 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?

opened the mouth. The New Testament: “the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet” (2 Peter 2:16) confirms that this was an actual miracle of God. It was not just that the ass was able physiologically to open his mouth, but that the omnipotent Lord miraculously enabled him to speak. In addition to the immediate reason—that of rebuking the prophet—this miracle perhaps is intended to give us an insight into God's care and concern for “dumb” animals. They also are “living souls” and have “the breath of life” (Genesis 1:21; 7:22).

Numbers 22:29 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 said. Balaam's apparent lack of surprise at the ability of a dumb ass to speak in human words was probably due both to his direct encounter with God the previous night (Numbers 22:20) and also his unthinking rage, accompanied by physical pain, caused by the stubbornness of the animal.

Numbers 22:30 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.

Numbers 22:31 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.

angel of the Lord. It is probable that “the angel of Jehovah,” here as elsewhere in many Old Testament passages, was actually the Lord Jesus Christ, in a pre-incarnate theophany.

Numbers 22:32 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:

Numbers 22:33 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.

Numbers 22:34 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.

Numbers 22:35 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.

Numbers 22:36 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.

Numbers 22:37 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?

Numbers 22:38 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.

Numbers 22:39 And Balaam went with Balak, and they came unto Kirjathhuzoth.

Numbers 22:40 And Balak offered oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes that were with him.

Numbers 22:41 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.