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Numbers 23:1--24:25

Context
Balaam Blesses Israel

23:1 1 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 2  altar a bull and a ram. 23:3 Balaam said to Balak, “Station yourself 3  by your burnt offering, and I will go off; perhaps the Lord will come to meet me, and whatever he reveals to me 4  I will tell you.” 5  Then he went to a deserted height. 6 

23:4 Then God met Balaam, who 7  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 8  in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Return to Balak, and speak what I tell you.” 9 

23:6 So he returned to him, and he was still 10  standing by his burnt offering, he and all the princes of Moab. 23:7 Then Balaam 11  uttered 12  his oracle, saying,

“Balak, the king of Moab, brought me 13  from Aram,

out of the mountains of the east, saying,

‘Come, pronounce a curse on Jacob for me;

come, denounce Israel.’ 14 

23:8 How 15  can I curse 16  one whom God has not cursed,

or how can I denounce one whom the Lord has not denounced?

23:9 For from the top of the rocks I see them; 17 

from the hills I watch them. 18 

Indeed, a nation that lives alone,

and it will not be reckoned 19  among the nations.

23:10 Who 20  can count 21  the dust 22  of Jacob,

Or number 23  the fourth part of Israel?

Let me 24  die the death of the upright, 25 

and let the end of my life 26  be like theirs.” 27 

Balaam Relocates

23:11 Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but on the contrary 28  you have only blessed them!” 29  23:12 Balaam replied, 30  “Must I not be careful 31  to speak what the Lord has put in my mouth?” 32  23:13 Balak said to him, “Please come with me to another place from which you can observe them. You will see only a part of them, but you will not see all of them. Curse them for me from there.”

23:14 So Balak brought Balaam 33  to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, 34  where 35  he built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar. 23:15 And Balaam 36  said to Balak, “Station yourself here 37  by your burnt offering, while I meet the Lord there. 23:16 Then the Lord met Balaam and put a message 38  in his mouth and said, “Return to Balak, and speak what I tell you.” 23:17 When Balaam 39  came to him, he was still standing by his burnt offering, along with the princes of Moab. And Balak said to him, “What has the Lord spoken?”

Balaam Prophesies Again

23:18 Balaam 40  uttered 41  his oracle, and said,

“Rise up, 42  Balak, and hear;

Listen to me, son of Zippor:

23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie,

nor a human being, 43  that he should change his mind.

Has he said, and will he not do it?

Or has he spoken, and will he not make it happen? 44 

23:20 Indeed, I have received a command 45  to bless;

he has blessed, 46  and I cannot reverse it. 47 

23:21 He 48  has not looked on iniquity in Jacob, 49 

nor has he seen trouble 50  in Israel.

The Lord their God is with them;

his acclamation 51  as king is among them.

23:22 God brought them 52  out of Egypt.

They have, as it were, the strength of a wild bull. 53 

23:23 For there is no spell against 54  Jacob,

nor is there any divination against Israel.

At this time 55  it must be said 56  of Jacob

and of Israel, ‘Look at 57  what God has done!’

23:24 Indeed, the people will rise up like a lioness,

and like a lion raises himself up;

they will not lie down until they eat their 58  prey,

and drink the blood of the slain.” 59 

Balaam Relocates Yet Again

23:25 Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all 60  nor bless them at all!” 61  23:26 But Balaam replied 62  to Balak, “Did I not tell you, ‘All that the Lord speaks, 63  I must do’?”

23:27 Balak said to Balaam, “Come, please; I will take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God 64  to let you curse them for me from there.” 65  23:28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, that looks toward the wilderness. 66  23:29 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build seven altars here for me, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams.” 23:30 So Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

Balaam Prophesies Yet Again

24:1 67 When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, 68  he did not go as at the other times 69  to seek for omens, 70  but he set his face 71  toward the wilderness. 24:2 When Balaam lifted up his eyes, he saw Israel camped tribe by tribe; 72  and the Spirit of God came upon him. 24:3 Then he uttered this oracle: 73 

“The oracle 74  of Balaam son of Beor;

the oracle of the man whose eyes are open; 75 

24:4 the oracle of the one who hears the words of God,

who sees a vision from the Almighty,

although falling flat on the ground 76  with eyes open: 77 

24:5 ‘How 78  beautiful are your tents, O Jacob,

and your dwelling places, O Israel!

24:6 They are like 79  valleys 80  stretched forth,

like gardens by the river’s side,

like aloes 81  that the Lord has planted,

and like cedar trees beside the waters.

24:7 He will pour the water out of his buckets, 82 

and their descendants will be like abundant 83  water; 84 

their king will be greater than Agag, 85 

and their kingdom will be exalted.

24:8 God brought them out of Egypt.

They have, as it were, the strength of a young bull;

they will devour hostile people 86 

and will break their bones

and will pierce them through with arrows.

24:9 They crouch and lie down like a lion,

and as a lioness, 87  who can stir him?

Blessed is the one who blesses you,

and cursed is the one who curses you!’”

24:10 Then Balak became very angry at Balaam, and he struck his hands together. 88  Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, and look, you have done nothing but bless 89  them these three times! 24:11 So now, go back where you came from! 90  I said that I would greatly honor you; but now the Lord has stood in the way of your honor.”

24:12 Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not also tell your messengers whom you sent to me, 24:13 ‘If Balak would give me his palace full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond 91  the commandment 92  of the Lord to do either good or evil of my own will, 93  but whatever the Lord tells me I must speak’? 24:14 And now, I am about to go 94  back to my own people. Come now, and I will advise you as to what this people will do to your people in the future.” 95 

Balaam Prophesies a Fourth Time

24:15 Then he uttered this oracle: 96 

“The oracle of Balaam son of Beor;

the oracle of the man whose eyes are open;

24:16 the oracle of the one who hears the words of God,

and who knows the knowledge of the Most High,

who sees a vision from the Almighty,

although falling flat on the ground with eyes open:

24:17 ‘I see him, but not now;

I behold him, but not close at hand. 97 

A star 98  will march forth 99  out of Jacob,

and a scepter 100  will rise out of Israel.

He will crush the skulls 101  of Moab,

and the heads 102  of all the sons of Sheth. 103 

24:18 Edom will be a possession,

Seir, 104  his enemies, will also be a possession;

but Israel will act valiantly.

24:19 A ruler will be established from Jacob;

he will destroy the remains of the city.’” 105 

Balaam’s Final Prophecies

24:20 Then Balaam 106  looked on Amalek and delivered this oracle: 107 

“Amalek was the first 108  of the nations,

but his end will be that he will perish.”

24:21 Then he looked on the Kenites and uttered this oracle:

“Your dwelling place seems strong,

and your nest 109  is set on a rocky cliff.

24:22 Nevertheless the Kenite will be consumed. 110 

How long will Asshur take you away captive?”

24:23 Then he uttered this oracle:

“O, who will survive when God does this! 111 

24:24 Ships will come from the coast of Kittim, 112 

and will afflict Asshur, 113  and will afflict Eber,

and he will also perish forever.” 114 

24:25 Balaam got up and departed and returned to his home, 115  and Balak also went his way.

1 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).

2 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.

3 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.

4 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.

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

6 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.

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

8 tn Heb “word.”

9 tn Heb “and thus you shall speak.”

10 tn The Hebrew text draws the vividness of the scene with the deictic particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) – Balaam returned, and there he was, standing there.

11 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Balaam) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

12 tn Heb “took up.”

13 tn The passage calls for a past tense translation; since the verb form is a prefixed conjugation, this tense should be classified as a preterite without the vav (ו). Such forms do occur, especially in the ancient poetic passages.

14 sn The opening lines seem to be a formula for the seer to identify himself and the occasion for the oracle. The tension is laid out early; Balaam knows that God has intended to bless Israel, but he has been paid to curse them.

15 tn The figure is erotesis, a rhetorical question. He is actually saying he cannot curse them because God has not cursed them.

16 tn The imperfect tense should here be classified as a potential imperfect.

17 tn Heb “him,” but here it refers to the Israelites (Israel).

18 sn Balaam reports his observation of the nation of Israel spread out below him in the valley. Based on that vision, and the Lord’s word, he announces the uniqueness of Israel – they are not just like one of the other nations. He was correct, of course; they were the only people linked with the living God by covenant.

19 tn The verb could also be taken as a reflexive – Israel does not consider itself as among the nations, meaning, they consider themselves to be unique.

20 tn The question is again rhetorical; it means no one can count them – they are innumerable.

21 tn The perfect tense can also be classified as a potential nuance. It does not occur very often, but does occur several times.

22 sn The reference in the oracle is back to Gen 13:16, which would not be clear to Balaam. But God had described their growth like the dust of the earth. Here it is part of the description of the vast numbers.

23 tn Heb “and as a number, the fourth part of Israel.” The noun in the MT is not in the construct state, and so it should be taken as an adverbial accusative, forming a parallel with the verb “count.” The second object of the verse then follows, “the fourth part of Israel.” Smr and the LXX have “and who has numbered” (וּמִסְפָּר, umispar), making this colon more parallel to the preceding one. The editor of BHS prefers this reading.

24 tn The use of נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh) for the subject of the verb stresses the personal nature – me.

25 sn Here the seer’s words link with the promise of Gen 12:3, that whoever blesses Israel will be blessed. Since the blessing belongs to them, the upright (and not Balak), Balaam would like his lot to be with them.

26 tn Heb “my latter end.”

27 tn Heb “his.”

28 tn The Hebrew text uses הִנֵּה (hinneh) here to stress the contrast.

29 tn The construction is emphatic, using the perfect tense and the infinitive absolute to give it the emphasis. It would have the force of “you have done nothing but bless,” or “you have indeed blessed.” The construction is reminiscent of the call of Abram and the promise of the blessing in such elaborate terms.

30 tn Heb “he answered and said.” The referent (Balaam) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

31 tn The verb שָׁמַר (shamar) means “to guard, watch, observe” and so here with a sense of “be careful” or even “take heed” (so KJV, ASV). The nuance of the imperfect tense would be obligatory: “I must be careful” – to do what? to speak what the Lord has put in my mouth. The infinitive construct “to speak” is therefore serving as the direct object of שָׁמַר.

32 tn The clause is a noun clause serving as the direct object of “to speak.” It begins with the sign of the accusative, and then the relative pronoun that indicates the whole clause is the accusative.

33 tn Heb “he brought him”; the referents (Balak and Balaam) have been specified in the translation for clarity.

34 tn Some scholars do not translate this word as “Pisgah,” but rather as a “lookout post” or an “elevated place.”

35 tn Heb “and he built.”

36 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Balaam) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

37 tn The verse uses כֹּה (koh) twice: “Station yourself here…I will meet [the Lord] there.”

38 tn Heb “word.”

39 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Balaam) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

40 tn Heb “he.” The antecedent has been supplied in the translation for clarity.

41 tn Heb “took up.”

42 tn The verb probably means “pay attention” in this verse.

43 tn Heb “son of man.”

44 tn The verb is the Hiphil of קוּם (qum, “to cause to rise; to make stand”). The meaning here is more of the sense of fulfilling the promises made.

45 tn The Hebrew text simply has “I have received [to] bless.” The infinitive is the object of the verb, telling what he received. Balaam was not actually commanded to bless, but was given the word of blessing so that he was given a divine decree that would bless Israel.

46 sn The reference is probably to the first speech, where the Lord blessed Israel. Balaam knows that there is nothing he can do to reverse what God has said.

47 tn The verb is the Hiphil of שׁוּב (shuv), meaning “to cause to return.” He cannot return God’s word to him, for it has been given, and it will be fulfilled.

48 tn These could be understood as impersonal and so rendered “no one has discovered.”

49 sn The line could mean that God has regarded Israel as the ideal congregation without any blemish or flaw. But it could also mean that God has not looked on their iniquity, meaning, held it against them.

50 tn The word means “wrong, misery, trouble.” It can mean the idea of “disaster” as well, for that too is trouble. Here it is parallel to “iniquity” and so has the connotation of something that would give God reason to curse them.

51 tn The people are blessed because God is their king. In fact, the shout of acclamation is among them – they are proclaiming the Lord God as their king. The word is used normally for the sound of the trumpet, but also of battle shouts, and then here acclamation. This would represent their conviction that Yahweh is king. On the usage of this Hebrew word see further BDB 929-30 s.v. תְּרוּעָה; HALOT 1790-91 s.v.

52 tn The form is the Hiphil participle from יָצַא (yatsa’) with the object suffix. He is the one who brought them out.

53 sn The expression is “the horns of the wild ox” (KJV “unicorn”). The point of the image is strength or power. Horns are also used in the Bible to represent kingship (see Pss 89 and 132).

54 tn Or “in Jacob.” But given the context the meaning “against” is preferable. The words describe two techniques of consulting God; the first has to do with observing omens in general (“enchantments”), and the second with casting lots or arrows of the like (“divinations” [Ezek 21:26]). See N. H. Snaith, Leviticus and Numbers (NCB), 295-96.

55 tn The form is the preposition “like, as” and the word for “time” – according to the time, about this time, now.

56 tn The Niphal imperfect here carries the nuance of obligation – one has to say in amazement that God has done something marvelous or “it must be said.”

57 tn The words “look at” are not in the Hebrew text but have been added in the translation for clarity.

58 tn The pronoun “their” has been supplied for clarity; it is not present in the Hebrew text.

59 sn The oracle compares Israel first to a lion, or better, lioness, because she does the tracking and hunting of food while the lion moves up and down roaring and distracting the prey. But the lion is also the traditional emblem of Judah, Dan and Gad, as well as the symbol of royalty. So this also supports the motif of royalty as well as power for Israel.

60 tn The verb is preceded by the infinitive absolute: “you shall by no means curse” or “do not curse them at all.” He brought him to curse, and when he tried to curse there was a blessing. Balak can only say it would be better not to bother.

61 tn The same construction now works with “nor bless them at all.” The two together form a merism – “don’t say anything.” He does not want them blessed, so Balaam is not to do that, but the curse isn’t working either.

62 tn Heb “answered and said.”

63 tn This first clause, “all that the Lord speaks” – is a noun clause functioning as the object of the verb that comes at the end of the verse. It is something of an independent accusative case, since it is picked up with the sign of the accusative: “all that the Lord speaks, it I must do.”

64 tn Heb “be pleasing in the eyes of God.”

65 sn Balak is stubborn, as indeed Balaam is persistent. But Balak still thinks that if another location were used it just might work. Balaam had actually told Balak in the prophecy that other attempts would fail. But Balak refuses to give up so easily. So he insists they perform the ritual and try again. This time, however, Balaam will change his approach, and this will result in a dramatic outpouring of power on him.

66 tn Or perhaps as a place name, “Jeshimon” (cf. 21:20).

67 sn For a thorough study of the arrangement of this passage, see E. B. Smick, “A Study of the Structure of the Third Balaam Oracle,” The Law and the Prophets, 242-52. He sees the oracle as having an introductory strophe (vv. 3, 4), followed by two stanzas (vv. 5, 6) that introduce the body (vv. 7b-9b) before the final benediction (v. 9b).

68 tn Heb “it was good in the eyes of the Lord.”

69 tn Heb “as time after time.”

70 tn The word נְחָשִׁים (nÿkhashim) means “omens,” or possibly “auguries.” Balaam is not even making a pretense now of looking for such things, because they are not going to work. God has overruled them.

71 tn The idiom signifies that he had a determination and resolution to look out over where the Israelites were, so that he could appreciate more their presence and use that as the basis for his expressing of the oracle.

72 tn Heb “living according to their tribes.”

73 tn Heb “and he took up his oracle and said.”

74 tn The word נְאֻם (nÿum) is an “oracle.” It is usually followed by a subjective genitive, indicating the doer of the action. The word could be rendered “says,” but this translations is more specific.

75 tn The Greek version reads “the one who sees truly.” The word has been interpreted in both ways, “shut” or “open.”

76 tn The phrase “flat on the ground” is supplied in the translation for clarity. The Greek version interprets the line to mean “falling asleep.” It may mean falling into a trance.

77 tn The last colon simply has “falling, but opened eyes.” The falling may simply refer to lying prone; and the opened eyes may refer to his receiving a vision. See H. E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets, 37-41.

78 tn Here מָה (mah) has an exclamatory sense: “How!” (see Gen 28:17).

79 tn Heb “as valleys they spread forth.”

80 tn Or “rows of palms.”

81 sn The language seems to be more poetic than precise. N. H. Snaith notes that cedars do not grow beside water; he also connects “aloes” to the eaglewood that is more exotic, and capable of giving off an aroma (Leviticus and Numbers [NCB], 298).

82 tc For this colon the LXX has “a man shall come out of his seed.” Cf. the Syriac Peshitta and Targum.

83 tn Heb “many.”

84 sn These two lines are difficult, but the general sense is that of irrigation buckets and a well-watered land. The point is that Israel will be prosperous and fruitful.

85 sn Many commentators see this as a reference to Agag of 1 Sam 15:32-33, the Amalekite king slain by Samuel, for that is the one we know. But that is by no means clear, for this text does not identify this Agag. If it is that king, then this poem, or this line in this poem, would have to be later, unless one were to try to argue for a specific prophecy. Whoever this Agag is, he is a symbol of power.

86 tn Heb “they will devour nations,” their adversaries.

87 tn On the usage of this word see HALOT 517 s.v. לָבִיא.

88 sn This is apparently a sign of contempt or derision (see Job 27:23; and Lam 2:15).

89 tn The construction is emphatic, using the infinitive absolute with the perfect tense for “bless.”

90 tn Heb “flee to your place.”

91 tn Heb “I am not able to go beyond.”

92 tn Heb “mouth.”

93 tn Heb “from my heart.”

94 tn The construction is the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) suffixed followed by the active participle. This is the futur instans use of the participle, to express something that is about to happen: “I am about to go.”

95 tn Heb “in the latter days.” For more on this expression, see E. Lipinski, “באחרית הימים dans les textes préexiliques,” VT 20 (1970): 445-50.

96 tn Heb “and he took up his oracle and said.”

97 tn Heb “near.”

98 sn This is a figure for a king (see also Isa 14:12) not only in the Bible but in the ancient Near Eastern literature as a whole. The immediate reference of the prophecy seems to be to David, but the eschatological theme goes beyond him. There is to be a connection made between this passage and the sighting of a star in its ascendancy by the magi, who then traveled to Bethlehem to see the one born King of the Jews (Matt 2:2). The expression “son of a star” (Aram Bar Kochba) became a title for a later claimant to kingship, but he was doomed by the Romans in a.d. 135.

99 tn The verb is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive; it is equal to the imperfect expressing the future. The verb דָּרַךְ (darakh), related to the noun “way, road,” seems to mean something like tread on, walk, march.”

100 sn The “scepter” is metonymical for a king who will rise to power. NEB strangely rendered this as “comet” to make a parallel with “star.”

101 tn The word is literally “corners,” but may refer to the corners of the head, and so “skull.”

102 tc The MT reads “shatter, devastate.” Smr reads קֹדְקֹד (qodqod, “head; crown; pate”). Smr follows Jer 48:45 which appears to reflect Num 24:17.

103 sn The prophecy begins to be fulfilled when David defeated Moab and Edom and established an empire including them. But the Messianic promise extends far beyond that to the end of the age and the inclusion of these defeated people in the program of the coming King.

104 sn Seir is the chief mountain range of Edom (Deut 33:2), and so the reference here is to the general area of Edom.

105 tn Or, understanding the Hebrew word for “city” as a place name, “of Ir” (cf. NRSV, NLT).

106 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Balaam) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

107 tn Heb “and he lifted up his oracle and said.” So also in vv. 21, 23.

108 sn This probably means that it held first place, or it thought that it was “the first of the nations.” It was not the first, either in order or greatness.

109 sn A pun is made on the name Kenite by using the word “your nest” (קִנֶּךָ, qinnekha); the location may be the rocky cliffs overlooking Petra.

110 tc Heb “Nevertheless Cain will be wasted; how long will Asshur take you captive?” Cain was believed to be the ancestor of the Kenites. The NAB has “yet destined for burning, even as I watch, are your inhabitants.” Asshur may refer to a north Arabian group of people of Abrahamic stock (Gen 25:3), and not the Assyrian empire.

111 tc Because there is no parallel line, some have thought that it dropped out (see de Vaulx, Les Nombres, 296).

112 tc The MT is difficult. The Kittim refers normally to Cyprus, or any maritime people to the west. W. F. Albright proposed emending the line to “islands will gather in the north, ships from the distant sea” (“The Oracles of Balaam,” JBL 63 [1944]: 222-23). Some commentators accept that reading as the original state of the text, since the present MT makes little sense.

113 tn Or perhaps “Assyria” (so NCV, TEV, CEV, NLT).

114 tn Or “it will end in utter destruction.”

115 tn Heb “place.”



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