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Numbers 24:1-9

Context
Balaam Prophesies Yet Again

24:1 1 When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, 2  he did not go as at the other times 3  to seek for omens, 4  but he set his face 5  toward the wilderness. 24:2 When Balaam lifted up his eyes, he saw Israel camped tribe by tribe; 6  and the Spirit of God came upon him. 24:3 Then he uttered this oracle: 7 

“The oracle 8  of Balaam son of Beor;

the oracle of the man whose eyes are open; 9 

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 10  with eyes open: 11 

24:5 ‘How 12  beautiful are your tents, O Jacob,

and your dwelling places, O Israel!

24:6 They are like 13  valleys 14  stretched forth,

like gardens by the river’s side,

like aloes 15  that the Lord has planted,

and like cedar trees beside the waters.

24:7 He will pour the water out of his buckets, 16 

and their descendants will be like abundant 17  water; 18 

their king will be greater than Agag, 19 

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 20 

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, 21  who can stir him?

Blessed is the one who blesses you,

and cursed is the one who curses you!’”

1 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).

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

3 tn Heb “as time after time.”

4 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.

5 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.

6 tn Heb “living according to their tribes.”

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

8 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.

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

10 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.

11 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.

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

13 tn Heb “as valleys they spread forth.”

14 tn Or “rows of palms.”

15 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).

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

17 tn Heb “many.”

18 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.

19 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.

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

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



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