Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. Israel . . . pitched in the plains of Moab--so called from having
formerly belonged to that people, though wrested from them by Sihon. It
was a dry, sunken, desert region on the east of the Jordan valley,
2. Balak--that is, "empty." Terrified
at the approach of so vast a multitude and not daring to encounter them
in the field, he resolved to secure their destruction by other
4. elders of Midian--called kings
The Midianites, a distinct people on the southern frontier of Moab,
united with them as confederates against Israel, their common
5. He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam--that is, "lord" or
"devourer" of people, a famous soothsayer
son of Beor--or, in the Chaldee form, Bosor--that is,
Pethor--a city of Mesopotamia, situated on the Euphrates.
6. Come . . . curse me this people--Among the heathen an opinion
prevailed that prayers for evil or curses would be heard by the unseen
powers as well as prayers for good, when offered by a prophet or priest
and accompanied by the use of certain rites. Many examples are found
in the histories of the Greeks and Romans of whole armies being devoted
to destruction, and they occur among the natives of India and other
heathen countries still. In the Burmese war, magicians were employed to
curse the British troops.
7. the elders of Moab and . . . of Midian departed with the rewards of
divination--like the fee of a fortune teller, and being a royal
present, it would be something handsome.
8-14. Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the
Lord shall speak unto me, &c.--God usually revealed His will in
visions and dreams; and Balaam's birth and residence in Mesopotamia,
where the remains of patriarchal religion still lingered, account for
his knowledge of the true God. His real character has long been a
subject of discussion. Some, judging from his language, have thought
him a saint; others, looking to his conduct, have described him as an
irreligious charlatan; and a third class consider him a novice in the
faith, who had a fear of God, but who had not acquired power over his
13-15. the Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you--This answer
has an appearance of being good, but it studiously concealed the
reason of the divine prohibition
and it intimated his own willingness and desire to go--if permitted.
Balak despatched a second mission, which held out flattering prospects,
both to his avarice and his ambition
19, 20. tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the Lord
will say unto me more--The divine will, as formerly declared, not being
according to his desires, he hoped by a second request to bend it, as
he had already bent his own conscience, to his ruling passions of pride
and covetousness. The permission granted to Balaam is in accordance
with the ordinary procedure of Providence. God often gives up men to
follow the impulse of their own lusts; but there is no approval in thus
leaving them to act at the prompting of their own wicked hearts
21. Balaam . . . saddled his ass--probably one of the
white sprightly animals which persons of rank were accustomed to ride.
The saddle, as usually in the East, would be nothing more than a pad or
his outer cloak.
22. God's anger was kindled because he went--The displeasure arose
partly from his neglecting the condition on which leave was granted
him--namely, to wait till the princes of Moab "came to call him"
and because, through desire for "the wages of unrighteousness"
he entertained the secret purpose of acting in opposition to the solemn
charge of God.
24. the angel of the Lord stood in a path of the vineyards--The roads
which lead through fields and vineyards are so narrow that in most
parts a man could not pass a beast without care and caution. A stone or
mud fence flanks each side of these roads, to prevent the soil being
washed off by the rains.
28. the Lord opened the mouth of the ass--to utter, like a parrot,
articulate sounds, without understanding them. That this was a
visionary scene is a notion which seems inadmissible, because of the
improbability of a vision being described as an actual occurrence in
the middle of a plain history. Besides, the opening of the ass's mouth
must have been an external act, and that, with the manifest tenor of
Peter's language, strongly favors the literal view
[2Pe 2:15, 16].
The absence of any surprise at such a phenomenon on the part of Balaam
may be accounted for by his mind being wholly engrossed with the
prospect of gain, which produced "the madness of the prophet"
"It was a miracle, wrought to humble his proud heart, which had to be
first subjected in the school of an ass before he was brought to attend
to the voice of God speaking by the angel" [CALVIN].
34, 35. I have sinned . . . if it displease thee, I will get me back
again--Notwithstanding this confession, he evinced no spirit of
penitence, as he speaks of desisting only from the outward act. The
words "go with the men" was a mere withdrawal of further restraint, but
the terms in which leave was given are more absolute and peremptory
than those in
36, 37. when Balak heard that Balaam was come, he went out to meet
him--Politeness requires that the higher the rank of the expected
guest, greater distance is to be gone to welcome his arrival.
38. the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak--This
appears a pious answer. It was an acknowledgment that he was restrained
by a superior power.
39. Kirjath-huzoth--that is, "a city of streets."
40. Balak offered oxen and sheep--made preparations for a grand
entertainment to Balaam and the princes of Midian.
41. high places of Baal--eminences consecrated to the worship of
Baal-peor (see on