Numbers 22

1 The children of Israel traveled, and encamped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan at Jericho. 2 Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. 3 Moab was very afraid of the people, because they were many. Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel. 4 Moab said to the elders of Midian, “Now this multitude will lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time. 5 He sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the River, to the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, “Behold, there is a people who came out of Egypt. Behold, they cover the surface of the earth, and they are staying opposite me. 6 Please come now therefore curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall prevail, that we may strike them, and that I may drive them out of the land; for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” 7 The elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand. They came to Balaam, and spoke to him the words of Balak. 8 He said to them, “Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the LORD shall speak to me.” The princes of Moab stayed with Balaam. 9 God came to Balaam, and said, “Who are these men with you?” 10 Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has said to me, 11 ‘Behold, the people that has come out of Egypt covers the surface of the earth. Now, come curse me them. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them, and shall drive them out.’” 12 God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people; for they are blessed.” 13 Balaam rose up in the morning, and said to the princes of Balak, “Go to your land; for the LORD refuses to permit me to go with you.” 14 The princes of Moab rose up, and they went to Balak, and said, “Balaam refuses to come with us.” 15 Balak again sent princes, more, and more honorable than they. 16 They came to Balaam, and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor, ‘Please let nothing hinder you from coming to me, 17 for I will promote you to very great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Please come therefore, and curse this people for me.’” 18 Balaam answered the servants of Balak, “If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I can’t go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more. 19 Now therefore, please wait also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will speak to me more.” 20 God came to Balaam at night, and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise up, go with them; but only the word which I speak to you, that you shall do.” 21 Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab. 22 God’s anger burnt because he went; and the LORD’s angel placed himself in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 The donkey saw the LORD’s angel standing in the way, with his sword drawn in his hand; and the donkey turned aside out of the way, and went into the field. Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the way. 24 Then the LORD’s angel stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side. 25 The donkey saw the LORD’s angel, and she thrust herself to the wall, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. He struck her again. 26 the LORD’s angel went further, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left. 27 The donkey saw the LORD’s angel, and she lay down under Balaam. Balaam’s anger burnt, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28 The LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have mocked me, I wish there were a sword in my hand, for now I would have killed you.” 30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long until today? Was I ever in the habit of doing so to you?” He said, “No.” 31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the LORD’s angel standing in the way, with his sword drawn in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on his face. 32 the LORD’s angel said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me, and turned aside before me these three times. Unless she had turned aside from me, surely now I would have killed you, and saved her alive.” 34 Balaam said to the LORD’s angel, “I have sinned; for I didn’t know that you stood in the way against me. Now therefore, if it displeases you, I will go back again.” 35 the LORD’s angel said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but only the word that I shall speak to you, that you shall speak.” So Balaam went with the princes of Balak. 36 When Balak heard that Balaam had come, he went out to meet him to the City of Moab, which is on the border of the Arnon, which is in the utmost part of the border. 37 Balak said to Balaam, “Didn’t I earnestly send to you to call you? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I not able indeed to promote you to honor?” 38 Balaam said to Balak, “Behold, I have come to you. Have I now any power at all to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that shall I speak.” 39 Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath Huzoth. 40 Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes who were with him. 41 In the morning, Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into the high places of Baal; and he saw from there part of the people.

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Questions about today’s reading? See if Matthew Henry can help.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, 1706

Verses 1–14

The king of Moab formed a plan to get the people of Israel cursed; that is, to set God against them, who had hitherto fought for them. He had a false notion, that if he could get some prophet to pray for evil upon them, and to pronounce a blessing upon himself and his forces, that then he should be able to deal with them. None had so great a reputation as Balaam; and Balak will employ him, though he send a great way for him. It is not known whether the Lord had ever spoken to Balaam, or by him, before this; though it is probable he had, and it is certain he did afterwards. Yet we have abundant proof that he lived and died a wicked man, an enemy to God and his people. And the curse shall not come upon us if there is not a cause, even though men utter it. To prevail with Balaam, they took the wages of unrighteousness, but God laid restraint upon Balaam, forbidding him to curse Israel. Balaam was no stranger to Israel’s cause; so that he ought to have answered the messengers at once, that he would never curse a people whom God had blessed; but he takes a night’s time to consider what he should do. When we parley with temptations, we are in great danger of being overcome. Balaam was not faithful in returning God’s answer to the messengers. Those are a fair mark for Satan’s temptation, who lessen Divine restraints; as if to go against God’s law were only to go without his leave. The messengers also are not faithful in returning Balaam’s answer to Balak. Thus many are abused by the flatteries of those about them, and are prevented from seeing their own faults and follies.

Verses 15–21

A second embassy was sent to Balaam. It were well for us, if we were as earnest and constant in prosecuting a good work, notwithstanding disappointments. Balak laid a bait, not only for Balaam’s covetousness, but for his pride and ambition. How earnestly should we beg of God daily to mortify such desires in us! Thus sinners stick at no pains, spare no cost, and care not how low they stoop, to gratify their luxury, or their malice. Shall we then be unwilling to do what is right? God forbid! Balaam’s convictions charged him to keep to the command of God; nor could any man have spoken better. But many call God theirs, who are not his, not truly because not only his. There is no judging men by their words; God knows the heart. Balaam’s corruptions at the same time inclined him to go contrary to the command. He seemed to refuse the temptation; but he expressed no abhorrence of it. He had a strong desire to accept the offer, and hoped that God might give him leave to go. He had already been told what the will of God was. It is a certain evidence of the ruling of corruption in the heart, to beg leave to sin. God gave Balaam up to his own heart’s lusts. As God sometimes denies the prayers of his people in love, so sometimes he grants the desires of the wicked in wrath.

Verses 22–35

We must not think, that because God does not always by his providence restrain men from sin, therefore he approves of it, or that it is not hateful to him. The holy angels oppose sin, and perhaps are employed in preventing it more than we are aware. This angel was an adversary to Balaam, because Balaam counted him his adversary; those are really our best friends, and we ought so to reckon them, who stop our progress in sinful ways. Balaam has notice of God’s displeasure by the ass. It is common for those whose hearts are fully set in them to do evil, to push on violently, through the difficulties Providence lays in their way. The Lord opened the mouth of the ass. This was a great miracle wrought by the power of God. He who made man speak, could, when he pleased, make the ass to speak with man’s voice. The ass complained of Balaam’s cruelty. The righteous God does not allow the meanest or weakest to be abused; but they shall be able to speak in their own defence, or he will some way or other speak for them. Balaam at length has his eyes opened. God has many ways to bring down the hard and unhumbled heart. When our eyes are opened, we shall see the danger of sinful ways, and how much it was for our advantage to be crossed. Balaam seemed to relent; I have sinned; but it does not appear that he was sensible of this wickedness of his heart, or willing to own it. If he finds he cannot go forward, he will be content, since there is no remedy, to go back. Thus many leave their sins, only because their sins have left them. The angel declared that he should not only be unable to curse Israel, but should be forced to bless them: this would be more for the glory of God, and to his own confusion, than if he had turned back.

Verses 36–41

Balak has now nothing to complain of, but that Balaam did not come sooner. Balaam bids Balak not depend too much upon him. He seems to speak with vexation; but is really as desirous to please Balak, as ever he had pretended to be to please God. See what need we have to pray every day, Our Father which art in heaven, lead us not into temptation. Let us be jealous over our own hearts, seeing how far men may go in the knowledge of God, and yet come short of Divine grace.

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