Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars--Balak, being a
heathen, would naturally suppose these altars were erected in honor of
Baal, the patron deity of his country. It is evident, from
that they were prepared for the worship of the true God; although in
choosing the high places of Baal as their site and rearing a number of
Ho 8:11; 10:1),
instead of one only, as God had appointed, Balaam blended his own
superstitions with the divine worship. The heathen, both in ancient and
modern times, attached a mysterious virtue to the number seven;
and Balaam, in ordering the preparation of so many altars, designed to
mystify and delude the king.
3. Stand by thy burnt offering--as one in expectation of an important
peradventure the Lord will come to meet me: and whatsoever he showeth
me--that is, makes known to me by word or sign.
he went to an high place--apart by himself, where he might practise
rites and ceremonies, with a view to obtain a response of the oracle.
4-6. God met Balaam--not in compliance with his incantations, but
to frustrate his wicked designs and compel him, contrary to his desires
and interests, to pronounce the following benediction
7. took up his parable--that is, spoke under the influence of
inspiration, and in the highly poetical, figurative, and oracular style
of a prophet.
brought me from Aram--This word joined with "the mountains of the
East," denotes the upper portion of Mesopotamia, lying on the east of
Moab. The East enjoyed an infamous notoriety for magicians and
8. How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed?--A divine blessing has
been pronounced over the posterity of Jacob; and therefore, whatever
prodigies can be achieved by my charms, all magical skill, all human
power, is utterly impotent to counteract the decree of God.
9. from the top--literally, "a bare place" on the rocks, to which
Balak had taken him, for it was deemed necessary to see the people who
were to be devoted to destruction. But that commanding prospect could
contribute nothing to the accomplishment of the king's object, for the
destiny of Israel was to be a distinct, peculiar people, separated from
the rest of the nations in government, religion, customs, and divine
So that although I might be able to gratify your wishes against other
people, I can do nothing against them
10. Who can count the dust of Jacob?--an Oriental hyperbole for
a very populous nation, as Jacob's posterity was promised to be
(Ge 13:16; 28:14).
the number of the fourth part of Israel--that is, the camp consisted
of four divisions; every one of these parts was formidable in numbers.
Let me die the death of the righteous--Hebrew, "of Jeshurun"; or,
the Israelites. The meaning is: they are a people happy, above all
others, not only in life, but at death, from their knowledge of the
true God, and their hope through His grace. Balaam is a representative
of a large class in the world, who express a wish for the blessedness
which Christ has promised to His people but are averse to imitate the
mind that was in Him.
13-15. Come, . . . with me unto another place, from whence thou mayest
see them--Surprised and disappointed at this unexpected eulogy on
Israel, Balak hoped that, if seen from a different point of
observation, the prophet would give utterance to different feelings;
and so, having made the same solemn preparations, Balaam retired, as
before, to wait the divine afflatus.
14. he brought him into the field of Zophim . . . top of Pisgah--a flat
surface on the summit of the mountain range, which was cultivated land.
Others render it "the field of sentinels," an eminence where some of
Balak's guards were posted to give signals [CALMET].
18, 19. Rise up--As Balak was already standing
this expression is equivalent to "now attend to me." The counsels and
promises of God respecting Israel are unchangeable; and no attempt to
prevail on Him to reverse them will succeed, as they may with a
21. He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob--Many sins were observed and
punished in this people. But no such universal and hopeless apostasy
had as yet appeared, to induce God to abandon or destroy them.
the Lord his God is with him--has a favor for them.
and the shout of a king is among them--such joyful acclamations as
of a people rejoicing in the presence of a victorious prince.
22. he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn--Israel is not as
they were at the Exodus, a horde of poor, feeble, spiritless people,
but powerful and invincible as a reem--that is, a rhinoceros
Ps 22:21; 92:10).
23. Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob--No art can ever
prevail against a people who are under the shield of Omnipotence, and
for whom miracles have been and yet shall be performed, which will be a
theme of admiration in succeeding ages.
26. All that the Lord speaketh, that I must do--a remarkable confession
that he was divinely constrained to give utterances different from what
it was his purpose and inclination to do.
28. Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor--or, Beth-peor
the eminence on which a temple of Baal stood.
that looketh toward Jeshimon--the desert tract in the south of
Palestine, on both sides of the Dead Sea.