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Numbers 23:1-10

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 

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.”



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