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(MT versing)
Balak Sends Balaam Balak Sends for Balaam Balak and Balaam The King of Moab Sends for Balaam
22:1 22:1 22:1-6 22:1 The King of Moab Appeals to Balaam
22:2-14 22:2-14 22:2-6 22:2-3a
22:7-14 22:7-8 22:7-14
22:15-20 22:15-21 22:15-21 22:15-17 22:15-21
The Angel and Balaam Balaam, the Donkey, and the Angel Balaam and His Donkey Balaam's Donkey
22:22-30 22:22-30 22:22-30 22:22-28 22:22-23
22:31-35 22:31-35 22:31-35 22:31-33 22:31-35
Balak Welcomes Balaam Balaam and Balak
22:36-40 22:36-40 22:36-40 22:36-37 22:36-38
Balaam's First Prophecy
The Four Oracles ofBalaam
Balaam's First Prophecy
22:41 22:41 22:41 22:41-23:1

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


  1. Geographical
    1. This is the last major geographical section of Numbers, 22:1-36:3 (i.e., on the plains of Moab).
    2. It is the third lengthy encampment—Sinai, Kadesh, and now the plains of Moab.
    3. This is also the geographical setting of the book of Deuteronomy.

  2. Theological
    1. Balaam is a true prophet but is not Hebrew.
    2. These chapters show that God's spiritual gifts can be abused.
    3. The Bible records no mythological type accounts. It does record several times when God utilized animals for His purposes.


1Then the sons of Israel journeyed, and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan opposite Jericho.

2Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. 3So Moab was in great fear because of the people, for they were numerous; and Moab was in dread of the sons of Israel. 4Moab said to the elders of Midian, "Now this horde will lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field." And Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time. 5So he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, at Pethor, which is near the River, in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying, "Behold, a people came out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land, and they are living opposite me. 6Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed." 7So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam and repeated Balak's words to him. 8He said to them, "Spend the night here, and I will bring word back to you as the Lord may speak to me. " And the leaders of Moab stayed with Balaam. 9Then God came to Balaam and said, "Who are these men with you?" 10Balaam said to God, "Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent word to me, 11'Behold, there is a people who came out of Egypt and they cover the surface of the land; now come, curse them for me; perhaps I may be able to fight against them and drive them out.'" 12God said to Balaam, "Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed." 13So Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak's leaders, "Go back to your land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you." 14The leaders of Moab arose and went to Balak and said, "Balaam refused to come with us."

22:2 "Amorites" This refers to the defeated Canaanite tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan, located between Moab and Ammon. The Macmillan Bible Atlas is very helpful in geography and topology. See SPECIAL TOPIC: AMORITES.

22:3 Israel's large numbers caused "fear" among

  1. Egypt ‒ Exod. 1:9-10
  2. Edom ‒ Exod. 15:15
  3. Moab ‒ Exod. 15:15; Num. 22:5-6,11
  4. note Rahab's statement in Josh. 2:9-11
  5. kings on Jordan's west side ‒ Josh. 5:1


22:4 "the elders of Midian" This nomadic tribal group was widely spread over Arabia and the Sinai peninsula. Jethro, Moses' father-in-law was of this tribal group. Here, it refers to a tribal group that lived in Moab.

This name is used of different people/places in the OT.

  1. a child of Abraham by Keturah sent away to the east (cf. Gen. 25:1-6; 1 Chr. 1:32)
  2. a group of traders associated with the Ishmaelites (cf. Gen. 37:25-36)
  3. some part of the Sinai peninsula where Moses fled (Exodus 2-4; esp. 3:1-2)
  4. somewhere in the southern trans-Jordan area (1 Kgs. 11:18)
  5. in Num. 22:4,7, its leaders are associated with Moab's leaders
  6. enemies of Gideon in Judges (cf. Judges 6-8)
  7. their five kings are listed in Jos. 13:21, which implies a city-state society, like the Philistines in the southern trans-Jordan area south to the eastern Gulf of Aqaba area

▣ "will lick up. . .licks up" This VERB (BDB 535, KB 525, Piel) is used in three metaphorical ways.

  1. consume all the produce of the land (literal) or imagery for military defeat, as here
  2. action of YHWH in 1 Kgs. 18:38 to prove He is real in comparison to Ba'al
  3. symbol of humiliation (i.e., "lick the dust" in Ps. 72:9; Isa. 49:23; Micah 7:17)

22:5 "Pethor, which is near the River" Balaam was from Syria, near the head waters of the Euphrates. He was not of Abraham but apparently knew YHWH (i.e., Melchizedek, Gen. 14:17-20).

NASB, NKJV, LXX  "in the land of the sons of his people"
NRSV, TEV  "in the land of Amaw"
NJB, REB  "in the territory of the Amawites"
JPSOA  "in the land of his kinsfolk"
Peshitta  "of the land of the children of Ammon"

The MT has "in the land of his people." The UBS Text Project, p. 240, gives "in the land of the children of Amaw" a "C" rating (considerable doubt). The exact location of Balaam's home area in Syria is unknown but he is surely not an Israelite. Yet, he knows YHWH.

The land of Amaw is known from cuneiform texts (JB, p. 201). It is 12 miles south of Carchemish on the west side of the Euphrates, about 400 miles north of Moab.

The Peshitta follows the text of the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Vulgate. However, Ammon is not close to the River Euphrates. Possibly "Aram" was originally the geographical location.

22:6 "curse" For a good brief discussion, see NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 491-493.

For the people of the ANE, cursing had an independent power to hurt, thwart, defeat a potential foe. YHWH would not allow Balaam to curse His people. Balaam was forced to publically/ritualistically bless Israel in the very presence of Balak.

▣ "for I know that he whom. . ." Balaam was a well known and effective prophet of God (see Num. 22:13,18). This shows that God communicated to more than just the Israelis (cf. Melchizedek, Genesis 14).

22:7 "elders" See SPECIAL TOPIC: ELDER.

▣ "fees for divination" This is literally "instruments of." It was a means of knowing God's will, which was prohibited to Israel (cf. Lev. 19:26; 20:27; Deut. 18:10-11; 1 Sam. 15:23; 2 Kgs. 17:17). Israel was to use the Urim by means of the High Priests (cf. Num. 27:21). See SPECIAL TOPIC: DIVINER.

22:8 "the Lord" There are several names for Deity used in this chapter.

  1. YHWH ‒ the special covenant name for Israel's Deity, cf. Num. 22:8, 13, 18, 28; 23:3, 5, 12, 16, 21; see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, D
  2. the Angel of the Lord ‒ Num. 22:23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 31, 32, 34, 35; see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE ANGEL OF THE Lord
  3. Elohim ‒ the general name for Deity (like El) in the ANE; see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, C; it appears in Num. 22:9, 10, 20, 22, 38; 23:4, 27; 24:4, 5, 16
  4. Eloah ‒ in the combined title of Num. 22:18, the singular form of Elohim is used
  5. El ‒ in Num. 23:8, 19, 22, 23

This is an unusual variety of Divine names. It seems to imply that Balaam was not an Israelite but knew Israel's Deity (i.e., Melchizedek, Jethro).

22:9 Apparently God revealed Himself to Balaam by dreams (i.e., "spend the night here," Num. 22:8,19-20). This is similar to how YHWH communicated to Jacob (Gen. 28:10-17) and Joseph (i.e., Genesis 40-41). For other revelations by dreams (trance) see

  1. Abraham ‒ Gen. 15:12-21
  2. Jacob ‒ Gen. 28:10-22; 31:10-11
  3. Joseph ‒ Gen. 37:5-11; 40-41
  4. Solomon ‒ 1 Kgs. 3:4-15
  5. here
  6. Peter in Acts 10

▣ "Who are these men with you" Surely this is not a lack of information on YHWH's part, but like Gen. 3:9, is an attempt to get humans to think about their current situation. I reject the tenets of "Open Theism."

22:12 This verse is very specific and clear.

  1. do not go with them
  2. do not curse Israel
  3. Israel is blessed

22:13 Balaam obeys YHWH's word from v. 12.

One wonders what changes in vv. 20,35. Was YHWH testing Balaam or was Balaam not willing to accept YHWH's word? The first option in context seems best. So, why did YHWH change His mind?

15Then Balak again sent leaders, more numerous and more distinguished than the former. 16They came to Balaam and said to him, "Thus says Balak the son of Zippor, 'Let nothing, I beg you, hinder you from coming to me; 17for I will indeed honor you richly, and I will do whatever you say to me. Please come then, curse this people for me.'" 18Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, "Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the Lord my God. 19Now please, you also stay here tonight, and I will find out what else the Lord will speak to me." 20God came to Balaam at night and said to him, "If the men have come to call you, rise up and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you shall you do."

22:17 "I will indeed honor you richly" This is an intensified grammatical form (an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and an IMPERFECT VERB from the same root, BDB 457, KB 455).

▣ "come. . .curse" These are both Qal IMPERATIVES used as a request, not a command.

22:18 "house full of silver and gold" Some see this as the noble attitude on the part of Balaam, but others see it as an attempt to raise the fee. The rest of Scripture (as well as Jewish tradition) sees this man's motives and actions in a negative light (cf. Num. 31:8, 16; Deut. 23:4-5; 2 Pet. 2:15; Jude 11; and Rev. 2:14). Only God knows! There is the same problem with Saul's and Solomon's end-of-life motives.

22:20 There are two commands and two possible JUSSIVES (following an IMPERATIVE).

  1. rise up ‒ BDB 877, KB1086, Qal IMPERATIVE
  2. go ‒ BDB 229, KB 246, Qal IMPERATIVE, also see Num. 22:35
  3. speak ‒ BDB 180, KB 210, Piel IMPERFECT, possibly used in a JUSSIVE sense
  4. do ‒ BDB 793, KB 889, Qal IMPERFECT, possibly in a JUSSIVE sense

Possibly the "God" of v. 20 is not the "Lord my God" of v. 18. This is only my speculation (because of v. 32) that YHWH gave one word (v. 12), but another word came from a false/evil dream (v. 20). However, this speculation seems not to fit v. 35, where the angel of the Lord gives the same message as v. 20!

Oh my, what is one to do? I want to pull out my "exegetical hair"!

21So Balaam arose in the morning, and saddled his donkey and went with the leaders of Moab.

22But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him. 23When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off from the way and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the way. 24Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path of the vineyards, with a wall on this side and a wall on that side. 25When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pressed herself to the wall and pressed Balaam's foot against the wall, so he struck her again. 26The angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn to the right hand or the left. 27When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick. 28And 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?" 29Then Balaam said to the donkey, "Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now." 30The donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?" And he said, "No."

22:22 "an adversary" This is the meaning of the Hebrew word (BDB 966) which is translated "Satan." See SPECIAL TOPIC: SATAN.

▣ "the angel of the Lord" This is often a personification of Deity. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE ANGEL OF THE Lord. This is obviously not a dream or a parable. It was day time and there were servants with him.

▣ "because he was going" This is a PRESENT ACTIVE PARTICIPLE. The Rotherham's Emphasized Bible, p. 182, has an interesting footnote that tries to explain the seeming contradiction between v. 12 and v. 20.

"Or 'was really going.' The emphasis here (strangely overlooked by both A.V. and R.V.) is significant. It seems to suggest that the command of ver. 20 scarcely even amounted to a permission, but was rather a piece of irony, or at most intimated this, if Balaam was determined to go, he would not be forcibly prevented. Like the hardening of Pharaoh's heart."

In Joshua 24:9-10 the text states YHWH reversed Balaam's original intent. This may support the above theory.

22:23 "donkey" She had more spiritual insight than the prophet!

I must confess that I am bothered by talking animals. I think the serpent in Genesis 3 is indwelt by a spiritual being (i.e., Satan), but here there is a conversation between Balaam and his donkey in which the text does not show surprise. I wish I had more information from God and from the ANE! At this point in my life, the most helpful discussion about "myth" versus "history" is in G. B. Caird's The Language and Imagery of the Bible, "part three: History, Myth and Eschatology," pp. 201-271. I hope it is also helpful for you.

The whole point of the incident is Balaam's lack of spiritual insight, though he is well known for it! This context side by side, gives Balaam a positive character and a negative character!

22:28 Notice YHWH opened the mouth of the donkey. See note at Num. 22:23.

22:30 "Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you" This phrase contains an intensified grammatical structure (i.e., an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and a Hiphil PERFECT of the same root, BDB 698, KB 755).

31Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground. 32The angel of the Lord said to him, "Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me. 33But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live." 34Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, "I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the way against me. Now then, if it is displeasing to you, I will turn back." 35But the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, "Go with the men, but you shall speak only the word which I tell you." So Balaam went along with the leaders of Balak.

22:31 As the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey (v. 28), He now opens the eyes of Balaam (for a similar opening of eyes to the spiritual realm, see 2 Kings 6:15-17).

NASB  "contrary to me"
NKJV, NRSV  "perverse before Me"
TEV  "you should not be making this journey"
NJB  "your road is blocked"
JPSOA  "for the errand is obnoxious"
REB  "you made straight for Me"
LXX  "your way is not pretty before me"
Peshitta  "you have directed your course contrary to Me"

The MT has the VERB (BDB 437, KB 438, Qal PERFECT) occurring only here and Job 16:11. You can see the confusion in the translations. The basic point seems to be that Balaam was acting out of his own will, not YHWH's (see notes at vv. 20 and 22).

22:34 Balaam responds to the angel in an appropriate way.

  1. an acknowledgment of sin (for what, is not stated)
  2. an acknowledgment of acting in ignorance about the angel's presence
  3. an acknowledgment of a willingness to abort the trip

22:35 The angel speaks the same message as "God" of v. 20. This is confusing in the context of v. 12.

36When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, which is on the Arnon border, at the extreme end of the border. 37Then Balak said to Balaam, "Did I not urgently send to you to call you? Why did you not come to me? Am I really unable to honor you?" 38So Balaam said to Balak, "Behold, I have come now to you! Am I able to speak anything at all? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I shall speak." 39And Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. 40Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent some to Balaam and the leaders who were with him.

22:37-38 There are several examples of a Hebrew grammatical feature (i.e., INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and VERB of the same root) in this chapter.

  3. Num. 22:37 ‒ INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and a PERFECT VERB ("Did I not urgently send to you?")
  4. Num. 22:38 ‒ INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and an IMPERFECT VERB ("Am I able to speak anything at all?")

Again, #4, to me, implies a positive word on Balaam's part. He is willing to follow God/YHWH's word (Num. 22:20, 35; 23:5, 12, 16, 26; 24:13).

41Then it came about in the morning that Balak took Balaam and brought him up to the high places of Baal, and he saw from there a portion of the people.

22:41 "the high places of Baal" This shows Balak's spiritual orientation. Ba'al is the male Canaanite fertility god and Ashterah is the female fertility goddess. The high places are traditional sites of Ba'al worship, possibly because of the idea the mountains (or man-made platforms) were closer to heaven. See SPECIAL TOPIC: FERTILITY WORSHIP OF THE ANE and notes at Jdgs. 3:7 and Hos. 2:8; also see William Albright, The Biblical Period From Abraham to Ezra.

Apparently to curse someone you had to see them. So Balak finds several different vantage points (here; Num. 23:13, 27).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Why was the king of Moab afraid of Israel?
  2. Was Balaam a true prophet of YHWH?
  3. What is divination" (v. 7)?
  4. How are Num. 22:12 and 22:20 reconciled?
  5. What is the implied irony of the donkey seeing the spiritual realm but Balaam doesn't?
  6. How did the donkey speak?
  7. Who is "the Angel of the Lord"?
  8. Was Balak a worshiper of Chemosh (Num. 21:29) or Ba'al (Num. 22:41)? How were they alike?

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