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Numbers 22:1-14

Context
Balaam Refuses to Curse Israel

22:1 1 The Israelites traveled on 2  and camped in the plains of Moab on the side of the Jordan River 3  across from Jericho. 4  22:2 Balak son of Zippor saw all that the Israelites had done to the Amorites. 22:3 And the Moabites were greatly afraid of the people, because they were so numerous. The Moabites were sick with fear because of the Israelites.

22:4 So the Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “Now this mass of people 5  will lick up everything around us, as the bull devours the grass of the field. Now Balak son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at this time. 22:5 And he sent messengers to Balaam 6  son of Beor at Pethor, which is by the Euphrates River 7  in the land of Amaw, 8  to summon him, saying, “Look, a nation has come out of Egypt. They cover the face 9  of the earth, and they are settling next to me. 22:6 So 10  now, please come and curse this nation 11  for me, for they are too powerful for me. Perhaps I will prevail so that we may conquer them 12  and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, 13  and whoever you curse is cursed.”

22:7 So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fee for divination in their hand. They came to Balaam and reported 14  to him the words of Balak. 22:8 He replied to them, “Stay 15  here tonight, and I will bring back to you whatever word the Lord may speak to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam. 22:9 And God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” 22:10 Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent a message to me, saying, 22:11 “Look, a nation has come out 16  of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth. Come now and put a curse on them for me; perhaps I will be able to defeat them 17  and drive them out.” 18  22:12 But God said to Balaam, “You must not go with them; you must not curse the people, 19  for they are blessed.” 20 

22:13 So Balaam got up in the morning, and said to the princes of Balak, “Go to your land, 21  for the Lord has refused to permit me to go 22  with you.” 22:14 So the princes of Moab departed 23  and went back to Balak and said, “Balaam refused to come with us.”

1 sn The fifth section of the book (22:1-33:56) traces the Israelite activities in Transjordan. It is hard to determine how long they were in Transjordan, but a good amount of time must have elapsed for the number of moves they made and the wars they fought. There is a considerable amount of information available on this section of the book. Some of the most helpful works include: H. C. Brichto, The Problem of “Curse” in the Hebrew Bible (JBLMS); E. Burrows, The Oracles of Jacob and Balaam; G. W. Coats, “Balaam, Sinner or Saint?” BR 18 (1973): 21-29; P. C. Craigie, “The Conquest and Early Hebrew Poetry,” TynBul 20 (1969): 76-94; I. Parker, “The Way of God and the Way of Balaam,” ExpTim 17 (1905): 45; and J. A. Wharton, “The Command to Bless: An Exposition of Numbers 22:4123:25,” Int 13 (1959): 37-48. This first part introduces the characters and sets the stage for the oracles. It can be divided into four sections: the invitation declined (vv. 1-14), the second invitation extended (vv. 15-21), God opposes Balaam (vv. 22-35), and Balaam meets Balak (vv. 36-41).

2 tn The verse begins with the vav (ו) consecutive.

3 tn The word “River” is not in the Hebrew text, but has been supplied in the translation for clarity.

4 map For the location of Jericho see Map5 B2; Map6 E1; Map7 E1; Map8 E3; Map10 A2; Map11 A1.

5 tn The word is simply “company,” but in the context he must mean a vast company – a horde of people.

6 sn There is much literature on pagan diviners and especially prophecy in places in the east like Mari (see, for example, H. B. Huffmon, “Prophecy in the Mari Letters,” BA 31 [1968]: 101-24). Balaam appears to be a pagan diviner who was of some reputation; he was called to curse the Israelites, but God intervened and gave him blessings only. The passage forms a nice complement to texts that deal with blessings and curses. It shows that no one can curse someone whom God has blessed.

7 tn Heb “by the river”; in most contexts this expression refers to the Euphrates River (cf. NAB, NCV, NRSV, TEV, CEV, NLT).

8 tn Heb “in the land of Amaw” (cf. NAB, NRSV, TEV); traditionally “in the land of the sons of his people.” The LXX has “by the river of the land.”

9 tn Heb “eye.” So also in v. 11.

10 tn The two lines before this verse begin with the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh), and so they lay the foundation for these imperatives. In view of those circumstances, this is what should happen.

11 tn Heb “people.” So also in vv. 10, 17, 41.

12 tn The construction uses the imperfect tense אוּכַל (’ukhal, “I will be able”) followed by the imperfect tense נַכֶּה (nakkeh, “we will smite/attack/defeat”). The second verb is clearly the purpose or the result of the first, even though there is no conjunction or particle.

13 tn The verb is the Piel imperfect of בָּרַךְ (barakh), with the nuance of possibility: “whomever you may bless.” The Pual participle מְבֹרָךְ (mÿvorakh) serves as the predicate.

14 tn Heb “spoke.”

15 tn The verb לִין (lin) means “to lodge, spend the night.” The related noun is “a lodge” – a hotel of sorts. Balaam needed to consider the offer. And after darkness was considered the best time for diviners to consult with their deities. Balaam apparently knows of the Lord; he testifies to this effect in 22:18.

16 tn In this passage the text differs slightly; here it is “the nation that comes out,” using the article on the noun, and the active participle in the attributive adjective usage.

17 tn Here the infinitive construct is used to express the object or complement of the verb “to be able” (it answers the question of what he will be able to do).

18 tn The verb is the Piel perfect with vav (ו) consecutive. It either carries the force of an imperfect tense, or it may be subordinated to the preceding verbs.

19 tn The two verbs are negated imperfects; they have the nuance of prohibition: You must not go and you must not curse.

20 tn The word בָּרוּךְ (barukh) is the Qal passive participle, serving here as the predicate adjective after the supplied verb “to be.” The verb means “enrich,” in any way, materially, spiritually, physically. But the indication here is that the blessing includes the promised blessing of the patriarchs, a blessing that gave Israel the land. See further, C. Westermann, Blessing in the Bible and the Life of the Church (OBT).

21 tc The LXX adds “to your lord.”

22 tn The main verb is the Piel perfect, “he has refused.” This is followed by two infinitives. The first (לְתִתִּי, lÿtitti) serves as a complement or direct object of the verb, answering the question of what he refused to do – “to give me.” The second infinitive (לַהֲלֹךְ, lahalokh) provides the object for the preceding infinitive: “to grant me to go.”

23 tn Heb “rose up.”



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