Numbers 22

1 And the children of Israel departed, and encamped on the west of Moab by Jordan toward Jericho.
2 And when Balac son of Sepphor saw all that Israel did to the Amorite,
3 then Moab feared the people exceedingly because they were many; and Moab was grieved before the face of the children of Israel.
4 And Moab said to the elders of Madiam, Now shall this assembly lick up all that are round about us, as a calf would lick up the green of the field:—and Balac son of Sepphor was king of Moab at that time.
5 And he sent ambassadors to Balaam the son of Beor, to Phathura, which is on a river of the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, a people is come out of Egypt, and behold it has covered the face of the earth, and it has encamped close to me.
6 And now come, curse me this people, for it is stronger than we; if we may be able to smite some of them, and I will cast them out of the land: for I know that whomsoever thou dost bless, they are blessed, and whomsoever thou dost curse, they are cursed.
7 And the elders of Moab went, and the elders of Madiam, and their divining in their hands; and they came to Balaam, and spoke to him the words of Balac.
8 And he said to them, Tarry here the night, and I will answer you the things which the Lord shall say to me; and the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam.
9 And God came to Balaam, and said to him, Who are these men with thee?
10 And Balaam said to God, Balac son of Sepphor, king of Moab, sent them to me, saying,
11 Behold, a people has come forth out of Egypt, and has covered the face of the land, and it has encamped near to me; and now come, curse it for me, if indeed I shall be able to smite it, and cast it out of the land.
12 And God said to Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them, neither shalt thou curse the people; for they are blessed.
13 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and said to the princes of Balac, Depart quickly to your lord; God does not permit me to go with you.
14 And the princes of Moab rose, and came to Balac, and said, Balaam will not come with us.
15 And Balac yet again sent more princes and more honourable than they.
16 And they came to Balaam, and they say to him, Thus says Balac the son of Sepphor: I beseech thee, delay not to come to me.
17 For I will greatly honour thee, and will do for thee whatsoever thou shalt say; come then, curse me this people.
18 And Balaam answered and said to the princes of Balac, If Balac would give me his house full of silver and gold, I shall not be able to go beyond the word of the Lord God, to make it little or great in my mind.
19 And now do ye also tarry here this night, and I shall know what the Lord will yet say to me.
20 And God came to Balaam by night, and said to him, If these men are come to call thee, rise and follow them; nevertheless the word which I shall speak to thee, it shalt thou do.
21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.
22 And God was very angry because he went; and the angel of the Lord rose up to withstand him. Now he had mounted his ass, and his two servants were with him.
23 And when the ass saw the angel of God standing opposite in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand, then the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field; and smote the ass with his staff to direct her in the way.
24 And the angel of the Lord stood in the avenues of the vines, a fence on this side and a fence on that.
25 And when the ass saw the angel of God, she thrust herself against the wall, and crushed Balaam's foot against the wall, and he smote her again.
26 And the angel of the Lord went farther, and came and stood in a narrow place where it was impossible to turn to the right or the left.
27 And when the ass saw the angel of God, she lay down under Balaam; and Balaam was angry, and struck the ass with his staff.
28 And God opened the mouth of the ass, and she says to Balaam, What have I done to thee, that thou hast smitten me this third time?
29 And Balaam said to the ass, Because thou hast mocked me; and if I had a sword in my hand, I would now have killed thee.
30 And the ass says to Balaam, not I thine ass on which thou hast ridden since thy youth till this day? did I ever do thus to thee, utterly disregarding ? and he said, No.
31 And God opened the eyes of Balaam, and he sees the angel of the Lord withstanding in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand, and he stooped down and worshipped on his face.
32 And the angel of God said to him, Why hast thou smitten thine ass this third time? and, behold, I came out to withstand thee, for thy way was not seemly before me; and when the ass saw me, she turned away from me this third time.
33 And if she had not turned out of the way, surely now, I should have slain thee, and should have saved her alive.
34 And Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, I have sinned, for I did not know that thou wert standing opposite in the way to meet ; and now if it shall not be pleasing to thee , I will return.
35 And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, Go with the men: nevertheless the word which I shall speak to thee, that thou shalt take heed to speak. And Balaam went with the princes of Balac.
36 And when Balac heard that Balaam was come, he went out to meet him, to a city of Moab, which is on the borders of Arnon, which is on the part of the borders.
37 And Balac said to Balaam, Did I not send to thee to call thee? why hast thou not come to me? shall I not indeed be able to honour thee?
38 And Balaam said to Balac, Behold, I am now come to thee: shall I be able to say anything? the word which God shall put into my mouth, that I shall speak.
39 And Balaam went with Balac, and they came to the cities of streets.
40 And Balac offered sheep and calves, and sent to Balaam and to his princes who were with him.
41 And it was morning; and Balac took Balaam, and brought him up to the pillar of Baal, and shewed him thence a part of the people.

Numbers 22 Commentary

Chapter 22

Balak's fear of Israel, He sends for Balaam. (1-14) Balaam goes to Balak. (15-21) The opposition to Balaam by the way. (22-35) Balaam and Balak meet. (36-41)

Verses 1-14 The king of Moab formed a plan to get the people of Israel cursed; that is, to set God against them, who had hitherto fought for them. He had a false notion, that if he could get some prophet to pray for evil upon them, and to pronounce a blessing upon himself and his forces, that then he should be able to deal with them. None had so great a reputation as Balaam; and Balak will employ him, though he send a great way for him. It is not known whether the Lord had ever spoken to Balaam, or by him, before this; though it is probable he had, and it is certain he did afterwards. Yet we have abundant proof that he lived and died a wicked man, an enemy to God and his people. And the curse shall not come upon us if there is not a cause, even though men utter it. To prevail with Balaam, they took the wages of unrighteousness, but God laid restraint upon Balaam, forbidding him to curse Israel. Balaam was no stranger to Israel's cause; so that he ought to have answered the messengers at once, that he would never curse a people whom God had blessed; but he takes a night's time to consider what he should do. When we parley with temptations, we are in great danger of being overcome. Balaam was not faithful in returning God's answer to the messengers. Those are a fair mark for Satan's temptation, who lessen Divine restraints; as if to go against God's law were only to go without his leave. The messengers also are not faithful in returning Balaam's answer to Balak. Thus many are abused by the flatteries of those about them, and are prevented from seeing their own faults and follies.

Verses 15-21 A second embassy was sent to Balaam. It were well for us, if we were as earnest and constant in prosecuting a good work, notwithstanding disappointments. Balak laid a bait, not only for Balaam's covetousness, but for his pride and ambition. How earnestly should we beg of God daily to mortify such desires in us! Thus sinners stick at no pains, spare no cost, and care not how low they stoop, to gratify their luxury, or their malice. Shall we then be unwilling to do what is right? God forbid! Balaam's convictions charged him to keep to the command of God; nor could any man have spoken better. But many call God theirs, who are not his, not truly because not only his. There is no judging men by their words; God knows the heart. Balaam's corruptions at the same time inclined him to go contrary to the command. He seemed to refuse the temptation; but he expressed no abhorrence of it. He had a strong desire to accept the offer, and hoped that God might give him leave to go. He had already been told what the will of God was. It is a certain evidence of the ruling of corruption in the heart, to beg leave to sin. God gave Balaam up to his own heart's lusts. As God sometimes denies the prayers of his people in love, so sometimes he grants the desires of the wicked in wrath.

Verses 22-35 We must not think, that because God does not always by his providence restrain men from sin, therefore he approves of it, or that it is not hateful to him. The holy angels oppose sin, and perhaps are employed in preventing it more than we are aware. This angel was an adversary to Balaam, because Balaam counted him his adversary; those are really our best friends, and we ought so to reckon them, who stop our progress in sinful ways. Balaam has notice of God's displeasure by the ass. It is common for those whose hearts are fully set in them to do evil, to push on violently, through the difficulties Providence lays in their way. The Lord opened the mouth of the ass. This was a great miracle wrought by the power of God. He who made man speak, could, when he pleased, make the ass to speak with man's voice. The ass complained of Balaam's cruelty. The righteous God does not allow the meanest or weakest to be abused; but they shall be able to speak in their own defence, or he will some way or other speak for them. Balaam at length has his eyes opened. God has many ways to bring down the hard and unhumbled heart. When our eyes are opened, we shall see the danger of sinful ways, and how much it was for our advantage to be crossed. Balaam seemed to relent; I have sinned; but it does not appear that he was sensible of this wickedness of his heart, or willing to own it. If he finds he cannot go forward, he will be content, since there is no remedy, to go back. Thus many leave their sins, only because their sins have left them. The angel declared that he should not only be unable to curse Israel, but should be forced to bless them: this would be more for the glory of God, and to his own confusion, than if he had turned back.

Verses 36-41 Balak has now nothing to complain of, but that Balaam did not come sooner. Balaam bids Balak not depend too much upon him. He seems to speak with vexation; but is really as desirous to please Balak, as ever he had pretended to be to please God. See what need we have to pray every day, Our Father which art in heaven, lead us not into temptation. Let us be jealous over our own hearts, seeing how far men may go in the knowledge of God, and yet come short of Divine grace.

Footnotes 3

Chapter Summary


The children of Israel being come into the plains of Moab, put the king of Moab into a panic, who expressed his fears to the elders of Midian, Nu 22:1-4 and sent for Balaam the soothsayer to curse the people of Israel, but he, upon consulting the Lord refused to come, Nu 22:5-14, on which the king of Moab sent to him a second time, making large promises of preferment to him, and who at this time got leave from the Lord to go with the messengers, Nu 22:15-21, but was met with in the way by an angel of the Lord, who would have slain him had it not been for his ass, of which a very wonderful revelation is given, Nu 22:22-35, and the chapter is closed with the interview between Balak king of Moab and Balaam, and an account of what passed between them, and what was done by them, Nu 22:36-41.

Numbers 22 Commentaries

The Brenton translation of the Septuagint is in the public domain.