וַיִּסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיַּחֲנוּ בְּעַרְבֹות מֹואָב מֵעֵבֶר לְיַרְדֵּן יְרֵחֹו 22:1
Numb. 22:1 And the children of Israel journeyed and they camped on the plains of Moab on the same side of the Jordan as Jericho.
There seems to be no way to determine when this encampment and the rest of the subsequent narrative, the story of Balaam, took place. If the Israelites had already possessed the land and dwelled in the cities, as described in the final verses of the last chapter, it would seem that this could be a flashback, or a parallel story, or it might relate to those Israelites who had not remained in the cities.
וַיַּרְא בָּלָק בֶּן־צִפֹּור אֵת כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל לָאֱמֹרִי 22:2
Numb. 22:2 Now Balak, the son of Zippor, saw all that Israel did to the Amorite.
וַיָּגָר מֹואָב מִפְּנֵי הָעָם מְאֹד כִּי רַב־הוּא וַיָּקָץ מֹואָב מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל 22:3
Numb. 22:3 And Moab was very afraid because of the appearance of the people, for it was mighty, and Moab was grieved because of the appearance of the children of Israel.
וַיֹּאמֶר מֹואָב אֶל־זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן עַתָּה יְלַחֲכוּ הַקָּהָל אֶת־כָּל־סְבִיבֹתֵינוּ כִּלְחֹךְ הַשֹּׁור אֵת יֶרֶק הַשָּׂדֶה 22:4
וּבָלָק בֶּן־צִפֹּור מֶלֶךְ לְמֹואָב בָּעֵת הַהִוא
Numb. 22:4 So Moab said to the elders of Midian, “Now the multitude will lick up everything around us, as the ox licks up the greenery of the field.” And Balak, the son of Zippor, was Moab’s king at that time,
וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים אֶל־בִּלְעָם בֶּן־בְּעֹור פְּתֹורָה אֲשֶׁר עַל־הַנָּהָר אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי־עַמֹּו לִקְרֹא־לֹו לֵאמֹר הִנֵּה 22:5
עַם יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם הִנֵּה כִסָּה אֶת־עֵין הָאָרֶץ וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב מִמֻּלִי
Numb. 22:5 and he sent messengers to Balaam, the son of Beor, of Pethor, which is at the river, the land of the children of his people, to proclaim to him saying, “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. Behold, it has covered the face of the earth, and it is dwelling opposite me.”
[Return to Numb. 24:3]
וְעַתָּה לְכָה־נָּא אָרָה־לִּי אֶת־הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי־עָצוּם הוּא מִמֶּנִּי אוּלַי אוּכַל נַכֶּה־בֹּו וַאֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ מִן־הָאָרֶץ 22:6
כִּי יָדַעְתִּי אֵת אֲשֶׁר־תְּבָרֵךְ מְבֹרָךְ וַאֲשֶׁר תָּאֹר יוּאָר
Numb. 22:6 “So now please come, curse this people for me, for it is mightier than I. Perhaps I would prevail; we could strike throughout it and I could expel it from the land; for I know whom you would bless would be blessed, and whom you would curse would be cursed.”
The sixth-from-last word in the top line, translated as and I could expel it, is a first-person imperfect verb with a non-inverting vav.
וַיֵּלְכוּ זִקְנֵי מֹואָב וְזִקְנֵי מִדְיָן וּקְסָמִים בְּיָדָם וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל־בִּלְעָם וַיְדַבְּרוּ אֵלָיו דִּבְרֵי בָלָק 22:7
Numb. 22:7 So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with divination in their hand, and they came to Balaam and spoke the words of Balak to him.
וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם לִינוּ פֹה הַלַּיְלָה וַהֲשִׁבֹתִי אֶתְכֶם דָּבָר כַּאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֵלָי וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׂרֵי־מֹואָב עִם־ 22:8
Numb. 22:8 Then he said to them, “Stay here tonight and I will bring you back word, as the Lord may speak to me.” So the chiefs of Moab remained with Balaam.
The story of Balaam in this chapter and the next, is remarkable. Here at its outset, we find an unusual situation (although not unique -- we’ve encountered this sort of thing before (see Gene. 14:18ff). Though Balaam was a pagan, he was familiar with the Lord, and the Lord spoke to him.
וַיָּבֹא אֱלֹהִים אֶל־בִּלְעָם וַיֹּאמֶר מִי הָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה עִמָּךְ 22:9
Numb. 22:9 And God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?”
God surely knew who these men were. So why was He asking? I imagine to hear Balaam’s explanation. As I have stated before, and as I understand it, the Lord knows all the possible answers Balaam, in exercising free will, could give Him. And He was giving Balaam the opportunity to choose his words.
וַיֹּאמֶר בִּלְעָם אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִים בָּלָק בֶּן־צִפֹּר מֶלֶךְ מֹואָב שָׁלַח אֵלָי 22:10
Numb. 22:10 And Balaam said to He Who is God, “Balak, the son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent to me:
הִנֵּה הָעָם הַיֹּצֵא מִמִּצְרַיִם וַיְכַס אֶת־עֵין הָאָרֶץ עַתָּה לְכָה קָבָה־לִּי אֹתֹו אוּלַי אוּכַל לְהִלָּחֶם בֹּו 22:11
Numb. 22:11 ‘Behold the people who have come out of Egypt, and it covers the face of the land. Now come curse it for me; perhaps I might be able to fight with it and expel it.’”
וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל־בִּלְעָם לֹא תֵלֵךְ עִמָּהֶם לֹא תָאֹר אֶת־הָעָם כִּי בָרוּךְ הוּא 22:12
Numb. 22:12 And God said to Balaam, “You will not go with them. You will not curse the people, for is it blessed.”
יָּקָם בִּלְעָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל־שָׂרֵי בָלָק לְכוּ אֶל־אַרְצְכֶם כִּי מֵאֵן יְהוָה לְתִתִּי לַהֲלֹךְ עִםָּכֶם 22:13
Numb. 22:13 Then Balaam rose in the morning and he said to the chiefs of Balak, “Go to your land, for the Lord has refused to permit me to go with you.”
וַיָּקוּמוּ שָׂרֵי מֹואָב וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל־בָּלָק וַיֹּאמְרוּ מֵאֵן בִּלְעָם הֲלֹךְ עִמָּנוּ 22:14
Numb. 22:14 And the chiefs of Moab rose up and came to Balak and they said, “Balaam refused coming with us.”
וַיֹּסֶף עֹוד בָּלָק שְׁלֹחַ שָׂרִים רַבִּים וְנִכְבָּדִים מֵאֵלֶּה 22:15
Numb. 22:15 And yet again Balak sent chiefs, more numerous and more honored than those.
וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל־בִּלְעָם וַיֹּאמְרוּ לֹו כֹּה אָמַר בָּלָק בֶּן־צִפֹּור אַל־נָא תִמָּנַע מֵהֲלֹךְ אֵלָי 22:16
Numb. 22:16 And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak, the son of Zippor: ‘Now you must not refrain from coming to me,
כִּי־כַבֵּד אֲכַבֶּדְךָ מְאֹד וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר־תֹּאמַר אֵלַי אֶעֱשֶׂה וּלְכָה־נָּא קָבָה־לִּי אֵת הָעָם הַזֶּה 22:17
Numb. 22:17 for I will bestow a great honor on you, and I will do anything that you will say to me. But please come, curse this people for me.”
וַיַּעַן בִּלְעָם וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל־עַבְדֵי בָלָק אִם־יִתֶּן־לִי בָלָק מְלֹא בֵיתֹו כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב לֹא אוּכַל לַעֲבֹר אֶת־פִּי 22:18
יְהוָה אֱלֹהָי לַעֲשֹׂות קְטַנָּה אֹו גְדֹולָה
Numb. 22:18 And Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “If Balak would give the fill of his house of silver and gold to me, I would not be able to transgress the word of the Lord, my God, to do anything small or great.”
וְעַתָּה שְׁבוּ נָא בָזֶה גַּם־אַתֶּם הַלָּיְלָה וְאֵדְעָה מַה־יֹּסֵף יְהוָה דַּבֵּר עִמִּי 22:19
Numb. 22:19 “But now you also please remain here tonight that I may know what the Lord might again speak with me.”
The eighth word in this verse, translated as that I may know, is a first-person imperfect verb with a non-inverting vav.
וַיָּבֹא אֱלֹהִים אֶל־בִּלְעָם לַיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר לֹו אִם־לִקְרֹא לְךָ בָּאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים קוּם לֵךְ אִתָּם וְאַךְ אֶת־הַדָּבָר 22:20
אֲשֶׁר־אֲדַבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ אֹתֹו תַעֲשֶׂה
Numb. 22:20 And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call for you, rise up, go with them, but only the word that I speak to you, it shall you do.”
וַיָּקָם בִּלְעָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיַּחֲבֹשׁ אֶת־אֲתֹנֹו וַיֵּלֶךְ עִם־שָׂרֵי מֹואָב 22:21
Numb. 22:21 So Balaam arose in the morning and saddled his ass, and went with the chiefs of Moab.
וַיִּחַר־אַף אֱלֹהִים כִּי־הֹולֵךְ הוּא וַיִּתְיַצֵּב מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה בַּדֶּרֶךְ לְשָׂטָן לֹו וְהוּא רֹכֵב עַל־אֲתֹנֹו וּשְׁנֵי 22:22
Numb. 22:22 And the “anger” of God was kindled because he was going, and an angel of the Lord placed himself in the way to be his adversary. Now he was riding on his ass, and two of his servants were with him.
Why was the Lord “angry?” What it doesn’t say in this or the previous verse, but is hinted at in the ensuing verses, is probably that Balaam was intending to ignore the Lord’s word.
וַתֵּרֶא הָאָתֹון אֶת־מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה נִצָּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ וְחַרְבֹּו שְׁלוּפָה בְּיָדֹו וַתֵּט הָאָתֹון מִן־הַדֶּרֶךְ וַתֵּלֶךְ בַּשָּׂדֶה 22:23
וַיַּךְ בִּלְעָם אֶת־הָאָתֹון לְהַטֹּתָהּ הַדָּרֶךְ
Numb. 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 from the path and went into the field. Then Balaam beat the ass for her moving out of the path.
Had the Lord made Balaam blind to the angel and the ass aware of him? Or was the intent of this verse to illustrate that Balaam’s attention had become so focused that he couldn’t see anything else but the mission before him?
וַיַּעֲמֹד מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה בְּמִשְׁעֹול הַכְּרָמִים גָּדֵר מִזֶּה וְגָדֵר מִזֶּה 22:24
Numb. 22:24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrowing between vineyards, a fence on this side and a fence on the other side.
וַתֵּרֶא הָאָתֹון אֶת־מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה וַתִּלָּחֵץ אֶל־הַקִּיר וַתִּלְחַץ אֶת־רֶגֶל בִּלְעָם אֶל־הַקִּיר וַיֹּסֶף לְהַכֹּתָהּ 22:25
Numb. 22:25 And the ass saw the angel of the Lord and she thrust herself toward the wall and pressed the foot of Balaam to the wall, and he proceeded again to beat her.
וַיֹּוסֶף מַלְאַךְ־יְהוָה עֲבֹור וַיַּעֲמֹד בְּמָקֹום צָר אֲשֶׁר אֵין־דֶּרֶךְ לִנְטֹות יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול 22:26
Numb. 22:26 And once more the angel of the Lord passed beyond and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn right or left.
וַתֵּרֶא הָאָתֹון אֶת־מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה וַתִּרְבַּץ תַּחַת בִּלְעָם וַיִּחַר־אַף בִּלְעָם וַיַּךְ אֶת־הָאָתֹון בַּמַּקֵּל 22:27
Numb. 22:27 And the ass saw the angel of the Lord and fell down under Balaam. Then the anger of Balaam became so hot that he struck the ass with a rod.
וַיִּפְתַּח יְהוָה אֶת־פִּי הָאָתֹון וַתֹּאמֶר לְבִלְעָם מֶה־עָשִׂיתִי לְךָ כִּי הִכִּיתַנִי זֶה שָׁלֹשׁ רְגָלִים 22:28
Numb. 22:28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the ass and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you beat me this way three times?”
וַיֹּאמֶר בִּלְעָם לָאָתֹון כִּי הִתְעַלַּלְתְּ בִּי לוּ יֶשׁ־חֶרֶב בְּיָדִי כִּי עַתָּה הֲרַגְתִּיךְ 22:29
Numb. 22:29 And Balaam said to the ass, “Because you have been a pain to me. Had there been a sword in my hand, by now I had killed you.”
The final Hebrew word in the verse, הֲרַגְתִּיךְ, translated as I had killed you, is in the perfect tense, but, in my opinion, should instead be imperfect, so it would be translated as I would have killed you. It’s interesting that in v. 22:33, the angel uses this same word in a similar way, also in the perfect tense, as if echoing and mocking Balaam.
וַתֹּאמֶר הָאָתֹון אֶל־בִּלְעָם הֲלֹוא אָנֹכִי אֲתֹנְךָ אֲשֶׁר־רָכַבְתָּ עָלַי מֵעֹודְךָ עַד־הַיֹּום הַזֶּה הַהַסְכֵּן 22:30
הִסְכַּנְתִּי לַעֲשֹׂות לְךָ כֹּה וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא
Numb. 22:30 And the ass said to Balaam, “Am I not your ass on which you have ridden for all your long life until this day? Has it ever been my custom to do thus to you?” And he said, “No.”
וַיְגַל יְהוָה אֶת־עֵינֵי בִלְעָם וַיַּרְא אֶת־מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה נִצָּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ וְחַרְבֹּו שְׁלֻפָה בְּיָדֹו וַיִּקֹּד וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ 22:31
Numb. 22:31 Then the Lord uncovered the eyes of Balaam and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his sword drawn in his hand, and he bent and bowed down to his nose.
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה עַל־מָה הִכִּיתָ אֶת־אֲתֹנְךָ זֶה שָׁלֹושׁ רְגָלִים הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי יָצָאתִי לְשָׂטָן כִּי־יָרַט 22:32
Numb. 22:32 Then the angel of the Lord said to him, “For what reason have you beaten your ass this three times? Behold, I have come forth to be an adversary, because the way in front of me is perverse.”
The use of the two Hebrew terms at the end of this verse translated as the way in front of me strikes me as rather odd. The root of the last word has a variety of revealing – to me – meanings. Among them are opposed, anti, against, to reveal, to beat, to declare, and compared with (when the lamed prefix is present). All of these meanings seem to apply to this situation. The root of the next-to-last word also has a variety of meanings. The ones of interest are journey, manner, and habit. These three meanings relate to what the angel has been witnessing. In other words, by using these two terms, the angel is saying far more than the one meaning expressed in the translation. He is revealing to Balaam that he is dissatisfied with Balaam’s mission, his mistreatment of his donkey, and his spiritual blindness.
וַתִּרְאַנִי הָאָתֹון וַתֵּט לְפָנַי זֶה שָׁלֹשׁ רְגָלִים אוּלַי נָטְתָה מִפָּנַי כִּי עַתָּה גַּם־אֹתְכָה הָרַגְתִּי וְאֹותָהּ 22:33
Numb. 22:33 “But the ass saw me and turned away before me this three times. If she had not turned aside from me, doubtless by now I had killed you – but kept her alive.”
וַיֹּאמֶר בִּלְעָם אֶל־מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה חָטָאתִי כִּי לֹא יָדַעְתִּי כִּי אַתָּה נִצָּב לִקְרָאתִי בַּדָּרֶךְ וְעַתָּה אִם־רַע 22:34
בְּעֵינֶיךָ אָשׁוּבָה לִּי
Numb. 22:34 And Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned that I did not know that you were appointed to meet me on the way. So now if it displeases you, I will turn myself back.”
Despite the critical role the donkey played in this episode, she is no longer acknowledged. Like many females in the bible, she is quickly forgotten. But how many animals speak? Of course there are some, the serpent (Gene. Chapter 3) being one.
וַיֹּאמֶר מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה אֶל־בִּלְעָם לֵךְ עִם־הָאֲנָשִׁים וְאֶפֶס אֶת־הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר־אֲדַבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ אֹתֹו תְדַבֵּרְ 22:35
וַיֵּלֶךְ בִּלְעָם עִם־שָׂרֵי בָלָק
Numb. 22:35 But the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but only the word of which I shall speak to you, shall you speak.” So Balaam went with the chiefs of Balak.
וַיִּשְׁמַע בָּלָק כִּי בָא בִלְעָם וַיֵּצֵא לִקְרָאתֹו אֶל־עִיר מֹואָב אֲשֶׁר עַל־גְּבוּל אַרְןֹן אֲשֶׁר בִּקְצֵה הַגְּבוּל 22:36
Numb. 22:36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, then he went out to meet him, to a city of Moab, that is on the border of Arnon, which is in the uttermost part of the territory.
וַיֹּאמֶר בָּלָק אֶל־בִּלְעָם הֲלֹא שָׁלֹחַ שָׁלַחְתִּי אֵלֶיךָ לִקְרֹא־לָךְ לָמָּה לֹא־הָלַכְתָּ אֵלָי הַאֻמְנָם לֹא אוּכַל 22:37
Numb. 22:37 And Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not earnestly send to you to call for you? Why did you not come to me? Am I indeed not able to honor you?”
וַיֹּאמֶר בִּלְעָם אֶל־בָּלָק הִנֵּה־בָאתִי אֵלֶיךָ עַתָּה הֲיָכֹול אוּכַל דַּבֵּר מְאוּמָה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יָשִׂים 22:38
אֱלֹהִים בְּפִי אֹתֹו אֲדַבֵּר
Numb. 22:38 And Balaam said to Balak, “Behold, I have come to you now. Do I at all have the power of speaking anything? The word that God will put in my mouth, that must I speak.”
וַיֵּלֶךְ בִּלְעָם עִם־בָּלָק וַיָּבֹאוּ קִרְיַת חֻצֹות 22:39
Numb. 22:39 And Balaam went with Balak and they arrived in Kiriath-huzoth.
וַיִּזְבַּח בָּלָק בָּקָר וָצֹאן וַיְשַׁלַּח לְבִלְעָם וְלַשָּׂרִים אֲשֶׁר אִתֹּו 22:40
Numb. 22:40 Then Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep; then he sent for Balaam and for the chiefs who were with him.
וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר וַיִּקַּח בָּלָק אֶת־בִּלְעָם וַיַּעֲלֵהוּ בָּמֹות בָּעַל וַיַּרְא מִשָּׁם קְצֵה הָעָם 22:41
Numb. 22:41 And it was in the morning that Balak took Balaam and brought him up to Bamoth-baal, and he had a view from there of the outermost part of the people.
The name Bamoth-baal could mean the high places of Baal. This is presumably the ancient Moab name for the place. It might also have an ironic spiritual significance, since Balaam is being guided by the Lord and His angel.
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