Numbers 22


The Israelites pitch in the plains of Moab, 1.

Balak, king of Moab, is greatly terrified, 2-4;

and sends to Balaam, a diviner, to come and curse them, 5, 6.

The elders of Moab take a reward and carry it to Balaam, 7.

He inquires of the Lord, and is positively ordered not to go

with them, 8-12.

He communicates this to the elders of Moab, 13.

They return to Balak with this information, 14.

He sends some of his princes to Balaam with promises of great

honour, 15-17.

He consults God, and is permitted! to go, on certain conditions,


Balaam sets off, is opposed by an angel of the Lord, and the

Lord miraculously opens the mouth of his ass to reprove him,


Balaam sees the angel, and is reproved by him, 31-33.

He humbles himself, and offers to go back, 34;

but is ordered to proceed, on the same conditions as before, 35.

The king of Moab goes out to meet him, 36.

His address to him, 37.

Balaam's firm answer, 38.

Balak sacrifices, and takes Balaam to the high places of Baal,

that he may see the whole of the Israelitish camp, 39-41.


Verse 1. And pitched in the plains of Moab] They had taken no

part of the country that at present appertained to the Moabites;

they had taken only that part which had formerly belonged to this

people, but had been taken from them by Sihon, king of the


On this side Jordan] On the east side. By Jericho, that is,

over against it.

Verse 5. To Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the

children of his people] Dr. Kennicott justly remarks, that "the

description now given of Balaam's residence, instead of being

particular, agrees with any place in any country where there is a

river; for he lived by Pethor, which is by the river of the land

of the children of his people. But was Pethor then near the Nile

in Egypt? Or in Canaan, near Jordan? Or in Mesopotamia,

near the Euphrates, and belonging to the Ammonites? This last was

in fact the case; and therefore it is well that twelve Hebrew MSS.

(with two of De Rossi's) confirm the Samaritan text here in

reading, instead of ammo, his people, Ammon, with

the Syriac and Vulgate versions." Houbigant properly contends for

this reading; and necessity urges the propriety of adopting it.

It should therefore stand thus: by the river of the land of the

children of Ammon; and thus it agrees with De 23:4.

Verse 6. Come now, therefore, I pray thee, curse me this

people] Balaam, once a prophet of the true God, appears to have

been one of the Moshelim, (see Nu 21:27,) who had added to his

poetic gift that of sorcery or divination. It was supposed that

prophets and sorcerers had a power to curse persons and places so

as to confound all their designs, frustrate their counsels,

enervate their strength, and fill them with fear, terror, and

dismay. See Ge 9:25; Ps 109:6, 20; Jos 6:26;

Jer 17:5, 6.

Macrobius has a whole chapter De carmine quo evocari solebant

dii tutelares, et aut urbes, aut exercitus devoveri. "Of the

incantations which were used to induce the tutelary gods to

forsake the cities, &c., over which they presided, and to devote

cities and whole armies to destruction." See Saturnal., lib.

iii., cap. ix. He gives us two of the ancient forms used in

reference to the destruction of Carthage; the first, to call over

the protecting deities, was pronounced by the dictator or general,

and none other, when they began the siege. It is as follows,

literatim et punctatim:-

Si. Deus. si. Dea. est. cui. popolus. civitas. que.

Karthaginiensis. est in. tutela. te. que. maxime, ille. qui.

urbis. hujus. popoli. que. tutelam. recepisti. precor. veneror,

que. veniam. que. a. vobis. peto. ut. vos. popolum. civitatem.

que. Karthaginiensem. deseratis. loca. templa. sacra. urbem. que.

eorum. relinquatis. absque. his. abeatis. ei. que. popolo.

civitati. que. metum. formidinem. oblivionem. injiciatis. proditi.

que. Romam. ad. me. meos. que. veniatis. nostra. que. vobis. loca.

templa. sacra. urbs. acceptior. probatior. que. sit. mihi. que.

popolo. que. Romano. militibus. que. meis. praepositi. sitis. ut.

sciamus. intelligamus. que. Si. ita. feceritis. voveo. vobis.

templa. ludos. que. facturum.

"Whether it be god or goddess, under whose protection the people

and city of Carthage are placed; and thee, especially, who hast

undertaken to defend this city and people; I pray, beseech, and

earnestly entreat that you would forsake the people and city of

Carthage, and leave their places, temples, sacred things, and

city, and depart from them: and that you would inspire this people

and city with fear, terror, and forgetfulness: and that, coming

out from them, you would pass over to Rome, to me, and to mine:

and that our places, temples, sacred things, and city may be more

agreeable and more acceptable to you: and that you would preside

over me, the Roman people, and my soldiers; that we may know and

perceive it. If ye will do this, I promise to consecrate to your

honour both temples and games."

The second, to devote the city to destruction, which it was

supposed the tutelary gods had abandoned, is the following:

Dis. Pater. Vejovis. Manes. sive. vos. quo. allo. nomine. fas.

est. nominare. ut. omnes. iliam. urbem. Karthaginem. exercitum.

que. quem. ego. me. sentio. dicere. fuga. formidine. terrore. que.

compleatis. qui. que. adversum. legiones. exercitum. que. nostrum.

arma. tela. que. ferent. Uti. vos. eum. exercitum. eos. hostes.

eos. que. homines. urbes. agros. que. eorum. et. qui. in. his.

locis. regionibus. que. agris. urbibus. ve. habitant. abducatis.

lumine. supero. privetis. exercitum. que. hostium. urbes. agros.

que. eorum. quos. me. sentio. dicere. uti. vos. eas. urbes. agros.

que. capita. aetates. que. eorum. devotas. consecratas. que.

habeatis. illis. legibus. quibus. quando. que. sunt. maxime.

hostes. devoti. eos. que. ego. vicarios. pro. me. fide.

magistratu. que. meo. pro. popolo. Romano. exercitibus.

legionibus. que. nostris. do. devoveo. ut. me. meam. que. fidem.

imperium. que. legiones. exercitum. que. nostrum. qui. in. his.

rebus. gerundis. sunt. bene. salvos. siritis. esse. Si. haec. ita.

faxitis. ut. ego. sciam. sentiam. intelligam. que. tune. quisquis.

hoc. votum. faxit. ubi. ubi. faxit. recte. factum. esto. ovibus.

atris. tribus. Tellus. mater. te. que. Juppiter. obtestor.

"Dis. Pater. Vejosis. Manes., or by whatsoever name you wish to

be invoked, I pray you to fill this city of Carthage with fear and

terror; and to put that army to flight which I mention, and which

bears arms or darts against OUR legions and armies: and that ye

may take away this army, those enemies, those men, their cities

and their country, and all who dwell in those places, regions,

countries, or cities; and deprive them of the light above: and let

all their armies, cities, country, chiefs, and people be held by

you consecrated and devoted, according to those laws by which, and

at what time, enemies can be most effectually devoted. I also

give and devote them as vicarious sacrifices for myself and my

magistracy; for the Roman people, and for all our armies and

legions; and for the whole empire, and that all the armies and

legions which are employed in these countries may be preserved in

safety. If therefore ye will do these things, as I know,

conceive, and intend, then he who makes this vow wheresoever and

whensoever he shall make it, I engage shall sacrifice three black

sheep to thee, O mother Earth, and to thee. O Jupiter." "When

the execrator mentions the earth, he stoops down and places both

his hands on it; and when he names Jupiter, he lifts up both his

hands to heaven; and when he mentions his vow, he places his hands

upon his breast." Among the ancient records, Macrobius says he

found many cities and people devoted in this way. The Romans held

that no city could be taken till its tutelary god had forsaken it;

or if it could be taken, it would be unlawful, as it would be

sacrilegious to have the gods in captivity. They therefore

endeavoured to persuade the gods of their enemies to come over to

their party. Virgil intimates that Troy was destroyed, only

because the tutelary gods had forsaken it:-

Excessere omnes, adytis arisque relictis,

Dii, quibus imperium hoc steterat.

AEn., lib. ii., ver. 351.

"All the gods, by whose assistance the empire had hitherto been

preserved, forsook their altars and their temples." And it was on

this account that the Greeks employed all their artifice to steal

away the Palladium, on which they believed the safety of Troy


Tacitus observes that when Suetonius Paulinus prepared his army

to cross over into Mona, (Anglesea,) where the Britons and Druids

made their last stand, the priestesses, with dishevelled hair,

white vestments, and torches in their hands, ran about like

furies, devoting their enemies to destruction; and he farther adds

that the sight, the attitude, and horrible imprecations of these

priestesses had such effect on the Roman soldiers, that for a

while they stood still and suffered themselves to be pierced with

the darts of the Britons, without making any resistance. Tacit.

Ann., l. xiv., c. 29. Many accounts are related in the Hindoo

Pooran of kings employing sages to curse their enemies when too

powerful for them.-WARD'S Customs.

The Jews also had a most horrible form of execration, as may be

seen in Buxtorf's Talmudical Lexicon under the word . These

observations and authorities, drawn out in so much detail, are

necessary to cast light on the strange and curious history related

in this and the two following chapters.

Verse 7. The rewards of divination] Whoever went to consult a

prophet took with him a present, as it was on such gratuitous

offerings the prophets lived; but here more than a mere present is

intended, perhaps every thing necessary to provide materials for

the incantation. The drugs, &c., used on such occasions were

often very expensive. It appears that Balaam was very covetous,

and that he loved the wages of unrighteousness, and probably lived

by it; see 2Pe 2:15.

Verse 8. I will bring you word again, as the Lord shall speak]

So it appears he knew the true God, and had been in the habit of

consulting him, and receiving oracles from his mouth.

Verse 12. Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the

people] That is, Thou shalt not go with them to curse the people.

With them he might go, as we find he afterwards did by God's own

command, but not to curse the people; this was wholly forbidden.

Probably the command, Thou shalt not go, refers here to that time,

viz., the first invitation: and in this sense it was most

punctually obeyed by Balaam; see Nu 22:13.

Verse 14. Balaam refuseth to come with us.] "Observe," says

Mr. Ainsworth, "Satan's practice against God's word, seeking to

lessen the same, and that from hand to hand, till he bring it to

naught. Balaam told the princes less than God told him, and they

relate to Balak less than Balaam told them; so that when the

answer came to the king of Moab, it was not the word of God, but

the word of man; it was simply, Balaam refuseth to come, without

ever intimating that God had forbidden him." But in this Balaam

is not to blame; he told the messengers in the most positive

manner, Jehovah refuseth to give me leave to go with you,

Nu 22:13; and more explicit he could not be.

Verse 18. I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God]

Balaam knew God too well to suppose he could reverse any of his

purposes; and he respected him too much to attempt to do any thing

without his permission. Though he was covetous, yet he dared not,

even when strongly tempted both by riches and honours, to go

contrary to the command of his God. Many make all the professions

of Balaam, without justifying them by their conduct. "They

pretend," says one, "they would not do any thing against the word

of God for a house full of gold, and yet will do it for a


Verse 19. What the Lord will say unto me more.] He did not

know but God might make a farther discovery of his will to him,

and therefore he might very innocently seek farther information.

Verse 20. If the men come-go with them] This is a confirmation

of what was observed on the twelfth verse; though we find his

going was marked with the Divine displeasure, because he wished,

for the sake of the honours and rewards, to fulfil as far as

possible the will of the king of Moab. Mr. Shuckford observes

that the pronoun hu is sometimes used to denote a person's

doing a thing out of his own head, without regard to the

directions of another. Thus in the case of Balaam, when God had

allowed him to go with the messengers of Balak, if they came in

the morning to call him; because he was more hasty than he ought

to have been, and went to them instead of staying till they should

come to him, it was said of him, not ki halach, that he

went, but ki holech hu, i. e., he went of his own

head-without being called; and in this, Mr. Shuckford supposes,

his iniquity chiefly lay.-Connex., vol. iii., p. 115. How many

are restrained from sinning, merely through the fear of God! They

would gladly do the evil, but it is forbidden on awful penalties;

they wish the thing were not prohibited for they have a strong

desire to do it.

Verse 23. And the ass saw the angel] When God granted visions

those alone who were particularly interested saw them while others

in the same company saw nothing; see Da 10:7; Ac 9:7.

Verse 26. And the angel-stood in a narrow place] In this

carriage of the angel says Mr. Ainsworth the Lord shows us the

proceedings of his judgments against sinners: First he mildly

shakes his rod at them but lets them go untouched. Secondly he

comes nearer and touches them with an easy correction as it were

wringing their foot against the wall. Thirdly, when all this is

ineffectual, he brings them into such straits, that they can

neither turn to the right hand nor to the left, but must fall

before his judgments, if they do not fully turn to him.

Verse 28. The Lord opened the mouth of the ass] And where is

the wonder of all this? If the ass had opened her own mouth, and

reproved the rash prophet, we might well be astonished; but when

God opens the mouth, an ass can speak as well as a man. It is

worthy of remark here, that Balaam testifies no surprise at this

miracle, because he saw it was the Lord's doing. Of animate and

inanimate things receiving for a short time the gift of speech,

the heathen mythology furnishes many fictitious examples, with

which I do not deem it proper to occupy the reader's time.

Verse 33. Surely now also I had slain thee] How often are the

meanest animals, and the most trivial occurrences, instruments of

the preservation of our lives, and of the salvation of our souls!

The messenger of justice would have killed Balaam, had not the

mercy of God prevented the ass from proceeding.

Verse 34. If it displease thee, I will get me back again.] Here

is a proof, that though he loved the wages of unrighteousness, yet

he still feared God; and he is now willing to drop the enterprise

if God be displeased with his proceeding. The piety of many

called Christians does not extend thus far; they see that the

thing displeases God, and yet they proceed. Reader, is this thy


Verse 38. The word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I

speak.] Here was a noble resolution, and he was certainly

faithful to it: though he wished to please the king, and get

wealth and honour, yet he would not displease God to realize even

these bright prospects. Many who slander this poor

semi-antinomian prophet, have not half his piety.

Verse 40. And Balak offered oxen, &c.] This was to gain the

favour of his gods, and perhaps to propitiate Jehovah, that the

end for which he had sent for Balaam might be accomplished.

Verse 41. That-he might see the utmost part of the people.] As

he thought Balaam must have them all in his eye when he pronounced

his curse, lest it might not extend to those who were not in

sight. On this account he took him up into the high places of


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