New European Commentary

 

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Deeper Commentary

 

Num 22:1 The children of Israel travelled, and encamped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan at Jericho.

Num 22:2 Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
Num 22:3 Moab was very afraid of the people, because they were many; and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel-
The fear of the tribes surrounding Israel is stressed in the record, yet Israel were so fearful of them. The obstacles to our inheriting the Kingdom aren’t as insurmountable as they appear.


Num 22:4 Moab said to the elders of Midian, Now this multitude will lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field. Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time.
Num 22:5 He sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the River, to the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people who came out from Egypt. Behold, they cover the surface of the earth, and they are staying opposite me.
Num 22:6 Please come now therefore and curse this people for me; for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall prevail, that we may strike them, and that I may drive them out of the land; for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.
Num 22:7 The elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards for the divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam, and spoke to him the words of Balak-
The simple lesson is that God’s blessing is one of those things which money can’t buy.


Num 22:8 He said to them, Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as Yahweh shall speak to me. The princes of Moab stayed with Balaam-
He should surely have immediately sent them away. He knew that whoever cursed Abraham’s seed would be cursed, and had had experience of this (:6; Gen. 12:3). The longer we keep the possibility of sinning before us, the more likely it is that we shall fall into it.


Num 22:9 God came to Balaam and said, Who are these men with you?-
God knew. It was a rhetorical question, designed to make Balaam reflect that here in his home he had the enemies of God’s people. God likewise at times makes us stop and think, sometimes making us put into words out loud the situation we are really in.


Num 22:10 Balaam said to God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has said to me,
Num 22:11 ‘Behold, the people that has come out of Egypt, it covers the surface of the earth. Now, come curse me them; perhaps I shall be able to fight against them, and shall drive them out’.
Num 22:12 God said to Balaam, You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people; for they are blessed-
 
When Balaam was determined to curse Israel, the spirit of God made him speak out a blessing on them instead (Num. 24:1-13 cf. Dt. 23:5). He could not ‘escape from’ God’s word (Num. 22:12 Heb.). Jude says that he intended to write a letter about a totally different theme to the one he ended up writing about, because “I was constrained to write…” (Jude 3 RV)- by the Holy Spirit inspiring him.


Num 22:13 Balaam rose up in the morning, and said to the princes of Balak, Go to your land; for Yahweh refuses to permit me to go with you-
There’s a hint of resentment against God here; and Balaam should’ve told them direct that he was not going to curse God’s people. It’s rather like us excusing ourselves from doing something  sinful by telling people that our “stupid religion” doesn’t allow it- rather than personally identifying ourselves with the reason why we will not do it.


Num 22:14 The princes of Moab rose up, and they went to Balak, and said, Balaam refuses to come with us.
Num 22:15 Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.
Num 22:16 They came to Balaam, and said to him, Thus says Balak the son of Zippor, ‘Please let nothing hinder you from coming to me:
Num 22:17 for I will promote you to very great honour, and whatever you say to me I will do. Please come therefore, and curse this people for me’.
Num 22:18 Balaam answered the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I can’t go beyond the word of Yahweh my God, to do less or more.
Num 22:19 Now therefore, please wait also here this night, that I may know what Yahweh will speak to me more-
Clearly Balaam wanted to go with them, because he loved the idea of getting the promised wealth (2 Pet. 2:15; Jude 11). If he had sent them away immediately, the spiritual crisis would’ve passed. But instead, God confirmed Balaam in the sinful way he wished to go- for He now permitted Balaam to go with them, but to only speak His word (:20). By going with them- and it was a very long journey- Balaam was going deeper into temptation. This is an example of how whilst the process of temptation is internal (James 1:13-15), God can lead sinful people further into situations of temptation if this is what they wish in their hearts. Hence we should pray that God will not lead us into temptation (Mt. 6:13). Hence God was angry with Balaam because he went (:22), even though God told him to go (:20)- God led him further into temptation, but was angered that Balaam went that way.


Num 22:20 God came to Balaam at night, and said to him, If the men have come to call you, rise up, go with them; but only the word which I speak to you, that you shall do.
Num 22:21 Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab-
Num 22:22 God’s anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of Yahweh placed himself in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him-
 
v. 22-27- see on Job 19:8. The Hebrew word for adversary is “satan”. Good people, Angels, even God Himself, can be ‘satans’ or adversaries. ‘Satan’ carries no bad connotation of itself as a word; it has been loaded with this meaning by the wrong idea that there is a personal ‘satan’ out in the cosmos who is in radical opposition to God. This isn’t a Biblical idea.


Num 22:23 The donkey saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the way, with his sword drawn in his hand; and the donkey turned aside out of the way, and went into the field. Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the way-
The two times Balaam faces the Angel, albeit unknowingly, refer to the two times that Balak’s messengers had come to him. Balaam didn’t see God in it all; and he was angry with the donkey for perceiving God in a situation where he himself couldn’t perceive God.


Num 22:24 Then the angel of Yahweh stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side.
Num 22:25 The donkey saw the angel of Yahweh, and she thrust herself to the wall, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall; and he struck her again-
 
It would seem that the natural creation may see the Angels when they are invisible to us- thus Balaam's donkey saw the Angel standing in the way and was too frightened by the realness of it to go further (Num. 22:25). This was to teach Balaam that he ought to have seen the Angelic presence at work without having his eyes specially opened to see the Angel, in the same way as the ass didn't need it's eyes opened to see the Angel.


Num 22:26 The angel of Yahweh went further, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left-
The New Testament describes Balaam as rushing headlong on this journey, running greedily for the money (Jude 11), in “madness” (2 Pet. 2:15). This is the effect which the hope of wealth can have upon people.


Num 22:27 The donkey saw the angel of Yahweh, and she lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff.
Num 22:28 Yahweh opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?
Num 22:29 Balaam said to the donkey, Because you have mocked me, I wish there were a sword in my hand, for now I would have killed you-
Moments later, Balaam sees the Angel with a sword in his hand, thinking of killing him, but refraining by grace. God was trying to teach Balaam that He is indeed gracious.


Num 22:30 The donkey said to Balaam, Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Was I ever in the habit of doing so to you? He said, No.
Num 22:31 Then Yahweh opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the way, with his sword drawn in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on his face-
 
His eyes were opened to the Angel blocking his way, and when he realized how he had closed his spiritual vision to the Angel trying to stop him going to Balak, he fell down on his face (Num. 22:31). But when he is later given a vision of Balak’s judgment, the vision which Balaam didn’t want to see, he describes himself as “the man whose eye was closed” and yet had to see the vision with his eyes open (Num. 24:3,4 RV). He didn’t learn the lesson. He closed his eyes so as not to see the vision, and yet God forced him to open his eyes and see it. And again, he fell down upon his face (Num. 24:4,16 RV), as he had when the Angel blocked his path earlier. He wouldn’t learn his lesson, he wouldn’t perceive how circumstances were being repeated in God’s desperate effort to get him to repent.


Num 22:32 The angel of Yahweh said to him, Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come forth as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me:
Num 22:33 and the donkey saw me, and turned aside before me these three times. Unless she had turned aside from me, surely now I would have killed you, and saved her alive.
Num 22:34 Balaam said to the angel of Yahweh, I have sinned; for I didn’t know that you stood in the way against me. Now therefore, if it displeases you, I will go back again-
Still Balaam doesn’t get it. Surely he knew his journey was displeasing to God. Sometimes people are pulled up by God in their path- and still they refuse to understand. They are blinded by the immediate rather than seeing God’s perspective. 


Num 22:35 The angel of Yahweh said to Balaam, Go with the men; but only the word that I shall speak to you, that you shall speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak-
Again God leads him further into temptation, seeing he didn’t himself decide to return home. God was pushing him onwards down the destructive road he so eagerly chose to go.


Num 22:36 When Balak heard that Balaam had come, he went out to meet him to the City of Moab, which is on the border of the Arnon, which is in the utmost part of the border.
Num 22:37 Balak said to Balaam, Didn’t I earnestly send to you to call you? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I not able indeed to promote you to honour?
Num 22:38 Balaam said to Balak, Behold, I have come to you. Have I now any power at all to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that shall I speak.
Num 22:39 Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath Huzoth.
Num 22:40 Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes who were with him.
Num 22:41 It happened in the morning, that Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into the high places of Baal; and he saw from there the utmost part of the people.