Numbers Chapter 22: Balak hires Balaam, Angel of the Lord withstands him

Mar 1st, 2010 | By | Category: Numbers, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Numbers Chapter 22: Balak hires Balaam, Angel of the Lord withstands him

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

Although more activity must still take place, the time setting of this chapter is the last year of the 40 years’ journey in the wilderness. What has confused almost all geographers in mapping out the four or five peoples mentioned in the account in Numbers is the statement that “the children of Israel … pitched in the plains of Moab.” The problem is that what is called “the plains of Moab” was not in the possession of the Moabites at this time but was formerly their territory. The Amorites pushed the Moabites out of their former inheritance so that only the southern half of what used to be Moab was retained.

It is helpful to remember the names of the four different rivers or wadis that formed natural east-west boundaries of these various kingdoms. For instance, the river that marked the northern border of Edom was the wadi Zered, and the Edomites occupied a portion of territory that reached all the way down to the Gulf of Eilat. Since that territory extended for so many miles, most maps cannot cover it in its entirety without the type getting very small.

The four wadis are as follows. Zered divided the northern border of Edom from the southern border of Moab. The river or wadi Arnon was the northern border of the Moabites at this time, but previously Moab occupied territory all the way up to the north end of the Dead Sea and the plains of Moab, which were near or across from Jericho. In other words, the name “plains of Moab” is an older name that was retained when these records were codified. First, the Amorites conquered territory from the Moabites; then the Israelites dispossessed the Amorites.

Q: What is the meaning of the words “on this side Jordan by Jericho”?

A: The problem is the word “by,” which is supplied. The Israelites, being on the east side of the Jordan River, had not yet crossed over into the Promised Land. The Israelites pitched near Jericho but across the Jordan on the east.

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

Moses had skirted Edom and did not molest Moab because the Moabites were the children of Lot. Ammon, too, was not to be interfered with for the same reason. However, the Amorites, who occupied the land of Moab, were displaced by Israel.

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

The Moabites were distressed because they had seen the Israelites defeat the Amorites and thought they would be next.

Num. 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.

Q: Midian was far to the south, below Edom, so how could the king of Moab speak “unto the elders of Midian” up in his territory?

A: The Midianites were nomads who roamed various territories. They were mainly down in Sinai, but they traveled or roamed elsewhere, even up into Gilead. Likewise, the Amorites and the Amalekites were nomadic peoples. We read about the Amalekites when Moses fought them with raised hands way down by Rephidim (Exod. 17:8), but they were in many places.

Bedouin wandered about from place to place, taking advantage of the lay of the land so that they did not have to till and cultivate the soil. On the other hand, the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the Edomites were not nomads.

Num. 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:

The king of Moab sent messengers to Balaam, whose lineage is given as “the son of Beor.” Pethor was probably a city, but we do not know with certainty where it was.

Comment: The clause “behold, they cover the face of the earth” is not literal. There were many Israelites, but they certainly did not “cover the face of the earth.” Similarly the Flood of Noah’s day did not literally cover the entire earth but was limited to the habitable part of the earth at that time.

Reply: Yes, depending on the context, some of the terms that sound universal or all-embracive need to be modified, and even modified greatly. Of course the king of Moab exaggerated the situation because he wanted Balaam to come quickly and allay his fears.

Q: The Berean Manual suggests that the “river of the land of the children of his people” was the Euphrates, but it cannot be pinned down, can it?

A: No, although the river could be a very minor tributary of the Euphrates.

Num. 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.

Num. 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.

Comment: Balaam must have had quite a reputation to be sent for under this circumstance.

Num. 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.

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

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

Num. 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.

Rahab and others knew how God had helped the Israelites in the Red Sea crossing and the Wilderness of Sinai, so it would be surprising if Balaam did not know who they were.

Comment: The fact God addressed Balaam indicates he was in favor with God at one time.

Reply: Yes, Genesis 31:53 speaks of the “God of Abraham” and the “God of Nahor.” God dealt with both Nahor and Abraham but in a special way with Abraham.

Comment: Then “the river of the land of the children of his [Balaam’s] people” would be up near the territory of the Euphrates.

Reply: Yes, but there are several tributaries, all of which are generally east to west until we get up into Turkey.

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

Num. 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.

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

Certain principles begin to come to the surface with regard to Balaam’s character and testings.

God told Balaam with definiteness that he was not to go with the princes of Moab. Moreover, “Thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.” At this point, Balaam responded favorably and with positiveness: “Return to your land, for God refuses to let me go with you” (paraphrase).

However, we begin to see the technique that Satan uses to erode the character of some who were very strong-willed and properly exercised at one time in their life. He has a method for breaking people down.

Notice that when the princes of Moab returned to King Balak, they omitted some important information. They merely said, “Balaam refuseth to come with us,” and did not mention that Jehovah forbid Balaam to go. Now if we were King Balak and heard only that Balaam refused to come, we would probably try again to persuade him.

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

Num. 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:

Num. 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.

Satan knew the thinking of Balak, and he knew that Balaam loved a reward. While Balaam was very definite about not going the first time, Satan knew a weakness existed and, therefore, played both ends toward the middle. King Balak reasoned, “Since Balaam refuses to come, I will just up the ante and increase the reward.” Balak offered great reward, saying, “Let nothing … hinder you from coming unto me, for I will promote you unto very great honour, and … do whatsoever you say.”

Num. 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.

Num. 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.

Num. 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.

Balaam did two things that were wrong. His words sounded very commendable on the surface: “Though Balak offers me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot do more or less than God says.” However, God had told Balaam the first time, “You shall not go. You cannot curse the Israelites because they are a blessed people.” Balaam should not have parleyed with the situation but should have nipped it in the bud. Because he did not do so, his words about a house full of silver and gold were really meaningless. What he was really saying was, “Stay overnight, for I have to think this over.” The first time Balaam sent the messengers back posthaste, but now he was saying, “Tarry overnight, for perhaps God has changed His mind.”

The second thing Balaam did wrong was to not listen carefully enough to what God had said to him. It is like the earlier lesson where God told Moses, “Speak unto the rock,” but Moses smote the rock. No doubt Moses felt righteous indignation, but he paid the penalty for disobedience by not being allowed to go into the Promised Land. Notice that the instruction to Balaam was, “If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them.”

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

“Balaam rose up in the morning”—the very thing he should not have done. Why not? Because he did not wait to be called. God had said, “If the men come to call thee, [then] rise up,” but Balaam rose up before they called him, saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. Of course they were delighted to see him coming.

Num. 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.

No wonder God’s anger was kindled because, to repeat, Balaam erred in two ways. (1) He should have drawn the lesson from the first experience. (2) He should have listened more attentively to what God had said to him. Many Bible scholars miss these points and thus cannot understand why God was angry.

Comment: It is apparent that Balaam really wanted to go with the princes of Moab despite his earlier professions.

Reply: Yes, and that attitude becomes more obvious when we read in Jude 11 that Balaam loved the “reward” and in 2 Peter 2:15 that he “loved the wages of unrighteousness.” The Adversary knew Balaam’s weakness, and he also knew that the omitted information would cause Balak to up the ante to make the prophet’s journey more worthwhile. And Balaam did think quite highly of the second offer.

While Balaam “was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him,” the “angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him [Balaam].”

Num. 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.

At first, only the ass “saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, … his sword drawn in his hand.” With neither Balaam nor the two servants seeing the angel, all they knew was that for some reason, the animal balked and bolted out of the path into a field. Other examples of the selective opening of some eyes and/or ears and the closing of others are the dove that lighted on Jesus’ shoulder at the time of his baptism and only Paul’s seeing and hearing the risen Lord on the way to Damascus.

In anger and frustration over the animal’s seeming stubbornness in heeding his direction, “Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.” Balaam was eager now to get to King Balak, so the situation was all the more infuriating.

Comment: The angel would have been fairly large to block the way entirely.

Num. 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.

Num. 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.

Num. 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.

Num. 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.

Three times the angel blocked the way of the ass. First, the animal turned aside out of the way into a field. Next she crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall in the vineyards. Finally the path became so narrow and constricted that the ass could not swerve to one side and simply collapsed under Balaam. By this time, Balaam was furious.

Num. 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?

Num. 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.

Num. 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.

This portion of the account is comical and almost unbelievable, but it truly happened. The dialogue shows that anger can cause one to lose his reason temporarily. Balaam did not even question that the ass was talking to him! Instead he just argued back and forth. The ass even counted the number of times she had been punished: “What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?” After Balaam replied, the ass continued: “Have I ever been unfaithful to you in the past?” Balaam had to admit, “No.”

Num. 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.

Num. 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:

Num. 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.

Of course Balaam submitted when his eyes were opened to see the angel who was standing in the way with a drawn sword. He showed the spirit of reverence by bowing his head and falling flat on his face.

Num. 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.

Balaam admitted his error, but after all that had happened, he said weakly, “Now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.” There is no question that Balaam’s actions displeased the Lord, for the angel said, “If the animal had not turned from me these three times, I would have killed you.” In other words, “You should be thankful for what the ass did, for I would have spared the animal but not you.”

Under normal circumstances, Balaam would have turned around and gone back home without asking about displeasing the Lord, for of course God was displeased. However, this incident was highlighted for historical purposes, some of which will be seen in subsequent chapters.

Num. 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.

Num. 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.

King Balak went out to meet Balaam.

Num. 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?

Num. 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.

Num. 22:39 And Balaam went with Balak, and they came unto Kirjath-huzoth.

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

King Balak offered oxen and sheep in sacrifice to the God of his people. Probably the animals were ostensibly offered to the same God, but instead of His being called the God of Abraham, He would be considered the God of Nahor. Thus Balak was trying to put a religious slant on his intentions.

Num. 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.

The next day King Balak escorted Balaam to the “high places … that thence he might see the utmost part of the people.” In other words, Balak took Balaam to a place where the full extent of the Israelites could be seen in the plain below. But why did Balak do this? He may have felt that if Balaam issued the curse, it would befall only those people who were within range of his sight. Therefore, to make sure Balaam’s curse would have the greatest effect, Balak took him to a place where all of the people could be seen. Stated another way, by Balaam’s surmounting the situation and going high enough, presumably his authority would be all-embracive in its damaging effects.

Q: Deuteronomy 12:2 reads, “Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree.” How can we be sure that Balak’s sacrifices in “the high places of Baal” were really to Jehovah?

A: “Baal” means “Lord.” Many places in the Old Testament, especially in regard to altars, were given a name that included “Baal.” Most of the altars were on hills, and where possible, they were under a large oak tree.

(1996–1997 Study)

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