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Numbers 22:34--23:5

Context
22:34 Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood against me in the road. 1  So now, if it is evil in your sight, 2  I will go back home.” 3  22:35 But the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but you may only speak 4  the word that I will speak to you.” 5  So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.

Balaam Meets Balak

22:36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at a city of Moab which was on the border of the Arnon at the boundary of his territory. 22:37 Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send again and again 6  to you to summon you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not able to honor you?” 7  22:38 Balaam said to Balak, “Look, I have come to you. Now, am I able 8  to speak 9  just anything? I must speak 10  only the word that God puts in my mouth.” 22:39 So Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. 22:40 And Balak sacrificed bulls and sheep, and sent some 11  to Balaam, and to the princes who were with him. 22:41 Then on the next morning Balak took Balaam, and brought him up to Bamoth Baal. 12  From there he saw the extent of the nation.

Balaam Blesses Israel

23:1 13 Balaam said to Balak, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.” 23:2 So Balak did just as Balaam had said. Balak and Balaam then offered on each 14  altar a bull and a ram. 23:3 Balaam said to Balak, “Station yourself 15  by your burnt offering, and I will go off; perhaps the Lord will come to meet me, and whatever he reveals to me 16  I will tell you.” 17  Then he went to a deserted height. 18 

23:4 Then God met Balaam, who 19  said to him, “I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered on each altar a bull and a ram.” 23:5 Then the Lord put a message 20  in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Return to Balak, and speak what I tell you.” 21 

1 sn Balaam is not here making a general confession of sin. What he is admitting to is a procedural mistake. The basic meaning of the word is “to miss the mark.” He now knows he took the wrong way, i.e., in coming to curse Israel.

2 sn The reference is to Balaam’s way. He is saying that if what he is doing is so perverse, so evil, he will turn around and go home. Of course, it did not appear that he had much of a chance of going forward.

3 tn The verb is the cohortative from “return”: I will return [me].

4 tn The imperfect tense here can be given the nuance of permission.

5 tn The Hebrew word order is a little more emphatic than this: “but only the word which I speak to you, it you shall speak.”

6 tn The emphatic construction is made of the infinitive absolute and the perfect tense from the verb שָׁלַח (shalakh, “to send”). The idea must be more intense than something like, “Did I not certainly send.” Balak is showing frustration with Balaam for refusing him.

7 sn Balak again refers to his ability to “honor” the seer. This certainly meant payment for his service, usually gold ornaments, rings and jewelry, as well as some animals.

8 tn The verb is אוּכַל (’ukhal) in a question – “am I able?” But emphasizing this is the infinitive absolute before it. So Balaam is saying something like, “Can I really say anything?”

9 tn The Piel infinitive construct (without the preposition) serves as the object of the verb “to be able.” The whole question is rhetorical – he is saying that he will not be able to say anything God does not allow him to say.

10 tn The imperfect tense is here taken as an obligatory imperfect.

11 sn The understanding is that Balak was making a sacrifice for a covenant relationship, and so he gave some of the meat to the men and to the seer.

12 sn The name Bamoth Baal means “the high places of Baal.”

13 sn The first part of Balaam’s activity ends in disaster for Balak – he blesses Israel. The chapter falls into four units: the first prophecy (vv. 1-10), the relocation (vv. 11-17), the second prophecy (vv. 18-24), and a further location (vv. 25-30).

14 tn The Hebrew text has “on the altar,” but since there were seven of each animal and seven altars, the implication is that this means on each altar.

15 tn The verb הִתְיַצֵּב (hityatsev) means “to take a stand, station oneself.” It is more intentional than simply standing by something. He was to position himself by the sacrifice as Balaam withdrew to seek the oracle.

16 tn Heb “and the word of what he shows me.” The noun is in construct, and so the clause that follows functions as a noun clause in the genitive. The point is that the word will consist of divine revelation.

17 tn The verb is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive. This clause is dependent on the clause that precedes it.

18 sn He went up to a bald spot, to a barren height. The statement underscores the general belief that such tops were the closest things to the gods. On such heights people built their shrines and temples.

19 tn The relative pronoun is added here in place of the conjunction to clarify that Balaam is speaking to God and not vice versa.

20 tn Heb “word.”

21 tn Heb “and thus you shall speak.”



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