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Numbers 23:7-10

Context
23:7 Then Balaam 1  uttered 2  his oracle, saying,

“Balak, the king of Moab, brought me 3  from Aram,

out of the mountains of the east, saying,

‘Come, pronounce a curse on Jacob for me;

come, denounce Israel.’ 4 

23:8 How 5  can I curse 6  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; 7 

from the hills I watch them. 8 

Indeed, a nation that lives alone,

and it will not be reckoned 9  among the nations.

23:10 Who 10  can count 11  the dust 12  of Jacob,

Or number 13  the fourth part of Israel?

Let me 14  die the death of the upright, 15 

and let the end of my life 16  be like theirs.” 17 

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

2 tn Heb “took up.”

3 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.

4 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.

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

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

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

8 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.

9 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.

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

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

12 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.

13 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.

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

15 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.

16 tn Heb “my latter end.”

17 tn Heb “his.”



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