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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Numbers 23

 

 

Verses 1-30

Numbers 23:1

Build me here seven altars. According to the common opinion of the heathen, it was necessary to propitiate with sacrifices the God with whom they had to do, and if possible to secure his favourable consideration on their side. The number seven was especially connected with the revelation of the tree God, the Creator of the world, and was probably observed here for this reason. The sacrifices were offered no doubt to Jehovah.

Numbers 23:3

Peradventure the Lord will come to meet me. It might be concluded from Numbers 24:1 that Balaam went only to look for "auguries," i.e; for such natural signs in the flight of birds and the like as the heathen were wont to observe as manifestations of the favour or disfavour of God, the success or failure of enterprises. It seems clear that it was his practice to do so, either as having some faith himself in such uncertainties, or as stooping to usual heathen arts which he inwardly despised. But from the fact that God met him (we know not how), and that such supernatural communication was not unexpected, we may conclude that Balaam's words meant more for himself than the mere observance of auguries, whatever they may have meant for Balak. To an high place. Rather, "to a bald place" ( שֶׁפִי —compare the meaning of "Calvary"), from which the immediate prospect was uninterrupted.

Numbers 23:4

I have prepared seven altars. Balaam, acting for the king of Moab, his heathen patron, in this difficult business, points out to God that he had given him the full quota of sacrifices to begin with. It was implied in this reminder that God would naturally feel disposed to do something for Balaam in return.

Numbers 23:7

Took up his parable. מָשָׁל (cf. Numbers 21:27). Balaam's utterances were in the highest degree poetical, according to the antithetic form of the poetry of that day, which delighted in sustained parallelisms, in lofty figures, and in abrupt turns. The "mashal" of Balaam resembled the "burden" of the later prophets in this, that it was not a discourse uttered to men, but a thing revealed in him of which he had to deliver himself as best he might in such words as came to him. His inward eye was fixed on this revelation, and he gave utterance to it without consideration of those who heard. Aram, i.e; Aram-Naharaim, or Mesopotamia (cf. Genesis 29:1; Deuteronomy 23:4). Defy, or "threaten,' i.e; with the wrath of Heaven. Jacob. The use of this name as the poetical equivalent of Israel shows that Balaam was familiar with the story of the patriarch, and understood his relation to the people before him.

Numbers 23:9

The people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned. Rather, "It is a people that dwelleth apart, and is not numbered." It was not the outward isolation on which his eye was fixed, for that indeed was only temporary and accidental, but the religious and moral separateness of Israel as the chosen people of God, which was the very secret of their national greatness.

Numbers 23:10

The fourth part of Israel. אֶת־רבַע is so rendered by the Targums, as alluding to the four great camps into which the host was divided. The Septuagint has δήμους, apparently from an incorrect reading. The Samaritan and the older versions, followed by the Vulgate, render it "progeny,'" but this meaning is conjectural, and there seems no sufficient reason to depart from the common translation. Let me die the death of the righteous. The word "righteous" is in the plural ( יְשָׁרִים, δικαίων ): it may refer either to the Israelites as a holy nation, living and dying in the favour of God; or to the patriarchs, such as Abraham, the promises made to whom, in faith of which they died, were already so gloriously fulfilled. If the former reference was intended, Balaam must have had a much fuller and happier knowledge of "life and immortality" than the Israelites themselves, to whom death was dreadful, all the more that it ended a life protected and blessed by God (cf. e.g; Psalms 88:10-12; Isaiah 38:18, Isaiah 38:19). It is hardly credible that so singular an anticipation of purely Christian feeling should really be found in the mouth of a prophet of that day, for it is clear that the words, however much inspired, did express the actual emotion of Balaam at the moment. It is therefore more consistent with the facts and probabilities of the case to suppose that Balaam referred to righteous Abraham (cf. Isaiah 41:2) and his immediate descendants, and wished that when he came to die he might have as sure a hope as they had enjoyed that God would bless and multiply their seed, and make their name to be glorious in the earth. Let my last end be like his. אַחַרִית (last end) is the same word translated "latter days" and "latter end" in Numbers 24:14, Numbers 24:20. It means the last state of a people or of a man as represented in his offspring; the sense is not incorrectly expressed by the Septuagint, γένοιτο τὸ σπέρμα μου ὡς τὸ σπέρμα τούτων.

Numbers 23:13

Come … unto another place. Balak attributed the miscarriage of his enterprise thus far to something inauspicious in the locality. Thou shalt see but the utmost part of them. אֶפֶס קָצֶהוּ תִרְאֶה. Both the meaning of the nouns and the tense of the verb are disputed. By some "ephes katsehu" (the end of the last of them) is held equivalent to "the whole of them," which seems to contradict the next clause even if defensible in itself. The ordinary rendering is favoured by the Septuagint ( ἀλλ ἢ μέρος τι αὐτοῦ ὄψει) and by the Targums. On the other hand, some would read the verb in the present tense, and understand Balak's words to refer to the place they were leaving. This is in accordance with the statement in Numbers 22:41, and it would certainly seem as if Balak and Balaam moved each time nearer to that encampment which was for different masons the center of attraction to them both.

Numbers 23:14

The field of Zophim, i.e; of the watchers. Probably a well-known outlook. To the top of Pisgah. They followed apparently on the track of their enemies (see on Numbers 21:20).

Numbers 23:15

While I meet the Lord yonder. Rather, "and I will go and meet thus." וְאָנֹכִי אִקָּרֶה כֹּה. Balaam does not say whom or what he is going to meet, but from the use of the same term in Numbers 24:1-25. I it is evident that he employed the language of soothsayers looking for auguries. He may have spoken vaguely on purpose, because he was in truth acting a part with Balak.

Numbers 23:20

I have received commandment to bless. The word "commandment "is not wanted here. Balaam had received, not instructions, but an inward revelation of the Divine will which he could not contravene.

Numbers 23:21

He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob. The subject of this and the parallel clause is left indefinite. If it is God, according to the A.V then it means that God in his mercy shut his eyes to the evil which did exist in individuals, and for his own sake would not impute it to the chosen nation. If it be impersonal, according to the Septuagint and the Targums, "one does not behold iniquity," &c; then it means that the iniquity was not flagrant, was not left to gather head and volume until it brought down destruction. Perverseness. Rather, "suffering", the natural consequence of sin. Compare the use of the two words in Psalms 10:7; Psalms 90:10. The shout of a king is among them. The "shout" ( תִּרוּעָה ) is the jubilation of the nation with which it acclaims its victor king (cf. 1 Samuel 4:5, 1 Samuel 4:6). In Le 23:24; Psalms 47:5 it is used of the sounding of the sacred trumpets.

Numbers 23:22

God. אֵל, and also at the end of the next verse, and four times in the next chapter (Numbers 23:4, Numbers 23:8, Numbers 23:16, Numbers 23:23 ). The use seems to be poetic, and no particular signification can be attached to it. Brought them, or, perhaps, "is leading them." So the Septuagint: θεὸς ὁ ἐξαγαγὼν αὐτόν. Unicorn. Hebrew, רְאֵם . It is uniformly rendered μονοκέρως by the Septuagint, under the mistaken notion that the rhinoceros was intended. It is evident, however, from Deuteronomy 33:17 and other passages that the teem had two hems, and that its horns were its most prominent feature. It would also appear from Job 39:9-12 and Isaiah 34:7 that, while itself untameable, it was allied to species employed in husbandry. The reem may therefore have been the aurochs or urus, now extinct, but which formerly had so large a range in the forests of the old world. There is some doubt, however, whether the urns existed in those days in Syria, and it may have been a wild buffalo, or some kindred animal of the bovine genus, whose size, fierceness, and length of horn made it a wonder and a fear.

Numbers 23:23

Enchantment, נָחַשׁ . Rather, "augury." Septuagint, οἰωνισμός. See on Le 19:26, where the practice is forbidden to Israel. Against Jacob, or, "in Jacob," as the marginal reading, and this is favoured by the Septuagint and the Targums, and is equally true and striking. It was the proud peculiarity of Israel that he trusted not to any magic arts or superstitious rites, uncertain in themselves, and always leading to imposture, but to the direction and favour of the Almighty. Divination. קֶסֶם . Septuagint, μαντεία. The art of the soothsayer. According to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel. Rather, "in season," i.e; in God's good time, "it shall be said to Jacob and to Israel. What hath God wrought! or, "what God doeth." The meaning seems to be that augury and divination were useless and vain in the case of Israel, because God himself declared and would declare his mighty acts in behalf of his people, and that by no uncertain vaticination, but by open declaration.

Numbers 23:24

As a great lion. לָבִיא, generally translated "old lion," as in Genesis 49:9 . By some it is rendered lioness (cf. Job 4:11; Nahum 2:12). As a young lion. אַרִי, the ordinary term for a lion without further distinction. It is altogether fantastic to suppose that Balaam had just seen a lieu coming up from the ghor of Jordan, and that this "omen" inspired his "mashal." The rising of a lion from its covert was one of the most common of the more striking phenomena of nature in those regions, and the imagery it afforded was in constant use; but in truth it is evident that these similes are borrowed from Jacob's dying prophecy concerning Judah (Genesis 49:9), in which the word "prey" (Hebrew, טֶרֶף, a torn thing) is also found. Balaam was acquainted with that prophecy, as he was with the promises made to Abraham (cf. Genesis 49:10 with Genesis 13:16; Genesis 28:14).

Numbers 23:27

I will bring thee unto another place. At first (Numbers 23:25) Balak had in his vexation desired to stop the mouth of Balaam, but afterwards he thought it wiser to make yet another attempt to change the mind of God; as a heathen, he still thought that this might be done by dint of importunity and renewed sacrifices.

Numbers 23:28

Unto the top of Peer. On the meaning of Peer see on Numbers 25:3. This Peer was a summit of the Abarim ranges northwards from Pisgah, and nearer to the Israelites. The adjacent village, Beth-Peer, was near the place of Moses' burial (Deuteronomy 34:6). From the phrase used in Deuteronomy 3:29; Deuteronomy 4:46, with which the testimony of Eusebius agrees, it must have lain almost opposite Jericho on the heights behind the Arboth Moab. From Peer, therefore, the whole encampment, in all its length and breadth, would lie beneath their gaze. Jeshi-men. See on Numbers 21:20.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Numbers 23:4". The Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/numbers-23.html. 1897.

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