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Balaam Refuses to Curse Israel

22 [a] The Israelites traveled on[b] and camped in the rift valley plains[c] of Moab on the side of the Jordan River[d] across from Jericho. Balak son of Zippor saw all that the Israelites had done to the Amorites. And the Moabites were greatly afraid of the people, because they were so numerous. The Moabites were sick with fear because of the Israelites.

So the Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “Now this mass of people[e] will lick up everything around us, as the bull devours the grass of the field.” Now Balak son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at this time. And he sent messengers to Balaam[f] son of Beor at Pethor, which is by the Euphrates River[g] in the land of Amaw,[h] to summon him, saying, “Look, a nation has come out of Egypt. They cover the face[i] of the earth, and they are settling next to me. So[j] now, please come and curse this nation[k] for me, for they are too powerful for me. Perhaps I will prevail so that we may conquer them[l] and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed,[m] and whoever you curse is cursed.”

So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fee for divination in their hands. They came to Balaam and reported[n] to him the words of Balak. He replied to them, “Stay[o] here tonight, and I will bring back to you whatever word the Lord may speak to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam. And God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” 10 Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent a message to me, saying, 11 ‘Look, a nation has come out[p] of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth. Come now and put a curse on them for me; perhaps I will be able to defeat them[q] and drive them out.’”[r] 12 But God said to Balaam, “You must not go with them; you must not curse the people,[s] for they are blessed.”[t]

13 So Balaam got up in the morning, and said to the princes of Balak, “Go to your land,[u] for the Lord has refused to permit me to go[v] with you.” 14 So the princes of Moab departed[w] and went back to Balak and said, “Balaam refused to come with us.”

Balaam Accompanies the Moabite Princes

15 Balak again sent princes,[x] more numerous and more distinguished than the first.[y] 16 And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak son of Zippor: ‘Please do not let anything hinder you from coming[z] to me. 17 For I will honor you greatly,[aa] and whatever you tell me I will do. So come, put a curse on this nation for me.’”

18 Balaam replied[ab] to the servants of Balak, “Even if Balak would give me his palace full of silver and gold, I could not transgress the commandment[ac] of the Lord my God[ad] to do less or more. 19 Now therefore, please stay[ae] the night here also, that I may know what more the Lord might say to me.”[af] 20 God came to Balaam that night, and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, get up and go with them, but the word that I will say to you, that you must do.” 21 So Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab.

God Opposes Balaam

22 Then God’s anger was kindled[ag] because he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose[ah] him. Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him. 23 And the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with[ai] his sword drawn in his hand, so the donkey turned aside from the road and went into the field. But Balaam beat the donkey, to make her turn back to the road.

24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a path[aj] among the vineyards, where there was a wall on either side.[ak] 25 And when the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pressed herself into the wall, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he beat her again.[al]

26 Then the angel of the Lord went farther, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she crouched down under Balaam. Then Balaam was angry, and he beat his donkey with a staff.

28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, “You have made me look stupid; I wish[am] there were a sword in my hand, for I would kill you right now.” 30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey that you have ridden ever since I was yours until this day? Have I ever attempted[an] to treat you this way?”[ao] And he said, “No.” 31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his sword drawn in his hand; so he bowed his head and threw himself down with his face to the ground.[ap] 32 The angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? Look, I came out to oppose you because what you are doing[aq] is perverse before me.[ar] 33 The donkey saw me and turned from me these three times. If[as] she had not turned from me, I would have killed you but saved her alive.” 34 Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood against me in the road.[at] So now, if it is evil in your sight,[au] I will go back home.”[av] 35 But the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but you may only speak[aw] the word that I will speak to you.”[ax] So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.

Balaam Meets Balak

36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at a city of Moab that was on the border of the Arnon at the boundary of his territory. 37 Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send again and again[ay] to you to summon you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not able to honor you?”[az] 38 Balaam said to Balak, “Look, I have come to you. Now, am I able[ba] to speak[bb] just anything? I must speak[bc] only the word that God puts in my mouth.” 39 So Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath Huzoth. 40 And Balak sacrificed bulls and sheep, and sent some[bd] to Balaam, and to the princes who were with him. 41 Then on the next morning Balak took Balaam, and brought him up to Bamoth Baal.[be] From there he saw the extent of the nation.


  1. Numbers 22:1 sn The fifth section of the book (22:1-33:56) traces the Israelite activities in Transjordan. It is hard to determine how long they were in Transjordan, but a good amount of time must have elapsed for the number of moves they made and the wars they fought. There is a considerable amount of information available on this section of the book. Some of the most helpful works include: H. C. Brichto, The Problem of “Curse” in the Hebrew Bible (JBLMS); E. Burrows, The Oracles of Jacob and Balaam; G. W. Coats, “Balaam, Sinner or Saint?” BR 18 (1973): 21-29; P. C. Craigie, “The Conquest and Early Hebrew Poetry,” TynBul 20 (1969): 76-94; I. Parker, “The Way of God and the Way of Balaam,” ExpTim 17 (1905): 45; and J. A. Wharton, “The Command to Bless: An Exposition of Numbers 22:41-23:25, ” Int 13 (1959): 37-48. This first part introduces the characters and sets the stage for the oracles. It can be divided into four sections: the invitation declined (vv. 1-14), the second invitation extended (vv. 15-21), God opposes Balaam (vv. 22-35), and Balaam meets Balak (vv. 36-41).
  2. Numbers 22:1 tn The verse begins with the vav (ו) consecutive.
  3. Numbers 22:1 tn The singular form of the word עֲרָבָה (ʿaravah) refers to the rift valley, which extends from Mt. Hermon to the Gulf of Aqaba. In the Bible it most often refers to sections of the rift valley, such as the Jordan valley, the region around the Dead Sea, or the portion south of the Dead Sea. The plural form עַרְבוֹת (ʿarevot) refers to that section of the rift valley which is just north of the Dead Sea. The region is divided by the Jordan river and referred to as the עַרְבוֹת (ʿarevot) of Jericho on the west and the עַרְבוֹת of Moab on the east. Each side has gently sloping plains that go down to the Jordan and the Dead Sea. Jericho’s side descends about 450 feet over five miles, while Moab’s side is steeper. Many versions translate the עַרְבוֹת of Moab simply as “plains of Moab,” but this might be misunderstood as Moab’s tableland above and east of the rift valley.
  4. Numbers 22:1 tn The word “River” is not in the Hebrew text, but has been supplied in the translation for clarity.
  5. Numbers 22:4 tn The word is simply “company,” but in the context he must mean a vast company—a horde of people.
  6. Numbers 22:5 sn There is much literature on pagan diviners and especially prophecy in places in the east like Mari (see, for example, H. B. Huffmon, “Prophecy in the Mari Letters,” BA 31 [1968]: 101-24). Balaam appears to be a pagan diviner who was of some reputation; he was called to curse the Israelites, but God intervened and gave him blessings only. The passage forms a nice complement to texts that deal with blessings and curses. It shows that no one can curse someone whom God has blessed.
  7. Numbers 22:5 tn Heb “by the river”; in most contexts this expression refers to the Euphrates River (cf. NAB, NCV, NRSV, TEV, CEV, NLT).
  8. Numbers 22:5 tn Heb “in the land of Amaw” (cf. NAB, NRSV, TEV); traditionally “in the land of the sons of his people.” The LXX has “by the river of the land.”
  9. Numbers 22:5 tn Heb “eye.” So also in v. 11.
  10. Numbers 22:6 tn The two lines before this verse begin with the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh), and so they lay the foundation for these imperatives. In view of those circumstances, this is what should happen.
  11. Numbers 22:6 tn Heb “people.” So also in vv. 10, 17, 41.
  12. Numbers 22:6 tn The construction uses the imperfect tense אוּכַל (ʾukhal, “I will be able”) followed by the imperfect tense נַכֶּה (nakkeh, “we will smite/attack/defeat”). The second verb is clearly the purpose or the result of the first, even though there is no conjunction or particle.
  13. Numbers 22:6 tn The verb is the Piel imperfect of בָּרַךְ (barakh), with the nuance of possibility: “whomever you may bless.” The Pual participle מְבֹרָךְ (mevorakh) serves as the predicate.
  14. Numbers 22:7 tn Heb “spoke.”
  15. Numbers 22:8 tn The verb לִין (lin) means “to lodge, spend the night.” The related noun is “a lodge”—a hotel of sorts. Balaam needed to consider the offer. And after darkness was considered the best time for diviners to consult with their deities. Balaam apparently knows of the Lord; he testifies to this effect in 22:18.
  16. Numbers 22:11 tn In this passage the text differs slightly; here it is “the nation that comes out,” using the article on the noun, and the active participle in the attributive adjective usage.
  17. Numbers 22:11 tn Here the infinitive construct is used to express the object or complement of the verb “to be able” (it answers the question of what he will be able to do).
  18. Numbers 22:11 tn The verb is the Piel perfect with vav (ו) consecutive. It either carries the force of an imperfect tense, or it may be subordinated to the preceding verbs.
  19. Numbers 22:12 tn The two verbs are negated imperfects; they have the nuance of prohibition: You must not go and you must not curse.
  20. Numbers 22:12 tn The word בָּרוּךְ (barukh) is the Qal passive participle, serving here as the predicate adjective after the supplied verb “to be.” The verb means “enrich,” in any way, materially, spiritually, physically. But the indication here is that the blessing includes the promised blessing of the patriarchs, a blessing that gave Israel the land. See further, C. Westermann, Blessing in the Bible and the Life of the Church (OBT).
  21. Numbers 22:13 tc The LXX adds “to your lord.”
  22. Numbers 22:13 tn The main verb is the Piel perfect, “he has refused.” This is followed by two infinitives. The first (לְתִתִּי, letitti) serves as a complement or direct object of the verb, answering the question of what he refused to do—“to give me.” The second infinitive (לַהֲלֹךְ, lahalokh) provides the object for the preceding infinitive: “to grant me to go.”
  23. Numbers 22:14 tn Heb “rose up.”
  24. Numbers 22:15 tn The construction is a verbal hendiadys. It uses the Hiphil preterite of the verb “to add” followed by the Qal infinitive “to send.” The infinitive becomes the main verb, and the preterite an adverb: “he added to send” means “he sent again.”
  25. Numbers 22:15 tn Heb “than these.”
  26. Numbers 22:16 tn The infinitive construct is the object of the preposition.
  27. Numbers 22:17 tn The construction uses the Piel infinitive כַּבֵּד (kabbed) to intensify the verb, which is the Piel imperfect/cohortative אֲכַבֶּדְךָ (ʾakhabbedekha). The great honor could have been wealth, prestige, or position.
  28. Numbers 22:18 tn Heb “answered and said.”
  29. Numbers 22:18 tn Heb “mouth.”
  30. Numbers 22:18 sn In the light of subsequent events one should not take too seriously that Balaam referred to Yahweh as his God. He is referring properly to the deity for which he is acting as the agent.
  31. Numbers 22:19 tn In this case “lodge” is not used, but “remain, reside” (שְׁבוּ, shevu).
  32. Numbers 22:19 tn This clause is also a verbal hendiadys: “what the Lord might add to speak,” meaning, “what more the Lord might say.”
  33. Numbers 22:22 sn God’s anger now seems to contradict the permission he gave Balaam just before this. Some commentators argue that God’s anger is a response to Balaam’s character in setting out—which the Bible does not explain. God saw in him greed and pleasure for the riches, which is why he was so willing to go.
  34. Numbers 22:22 tn The word is שָׂטָן (satan, “to be an adversary, to oppose”).
  35. Numbers 22:23 tn The word has the conjunction “and” on the noun, indicating this is a disjunctive vav (ו), here serving as a circumstantial clause.
  36. Numbers 22:24 tn The word means a “narrow place,” having the root meaning “to be deep.” The Greek thought it was in a field in a narrow furrow.
  37. Numbers 22:24 tn Heb “a wall on this side, and a wall on that side.”
  38. Numbers 22:25 tn Heb “he added to beat her,” another verbal hendiadys.
  39. Numbers 22:29 tn The optative clause is introduced with the particle לוּ (lu).
  40. Numbers 22:30 tn Here the Hiphil perfect is preceded by the Hiphil infinitive absolute for emphasis in the sentence.
  41. Numbers 22:30 tn Heb “to do thus to you.”
  42. Numbers 22:31 tn The Hishtaphel verb חָוָה (khavah)—שָׁחָה (shakhah) with metathesis—has a basic idea of “bow oneself low to the ground,” and perhaps in some cases the idea of “coil up.” This is the normal posture of prayer and of deep humility in the ancient religious world.
  43. Numbers 22:32 tn Heb “your way.”
  44. Numbers 22:32 tn The verb יָרַט (yarat) occurs only here and in Job 16:11. Balaam is embarking on a foolish mission with base motives. The old rendering “perverse” is still acceptable.
  45. Numbers 22:33 tc Many commentators consider אוּלַי (ʾulay, “perhaps”) to be a misspelling in the MT in place of לוּלֵי (luley, “if not”).
  46. Numbers 22:34 sn Balaam is not here making a general confession of sin. What he is admitting to is a procedural mistake. The basic meaning of the word is “to miss the mark.” He now knows he took the wrong way, i.e., in coming to curse Israel.
  47. Numbers 22:34 sn The reference is to Balaam’s way. He is saying that if what he is doing is so perverse, so evil, he will turn around and go home. Of course it did not appear that he had much of a chance of going forward.
  48. Numbers 22:34 tn The verb is the cohortative from “return”: I will return [me].
  49. Numbers 22:35 tn The imperfect tense here can be given the nuance of permission.
  50. Numbers 22:35 tn The Hebrew word order is a little more emphatic than this: “but only the word which I speak to you, it you shall speak.”
  51. Numbers 22:37 tn The emphatic construction is made of the infinitive absolute and the perfect tense from the verb שָׁלַח (shalakh, “to send”). The idea must be more intense than something like, “Did I not certainly send.” Balak is showing frustration with Balaam for refusing him.
  52. Numbers 22:37 sn Balak again refers to his ability to “honor” the seer. This certainly meant payment for his service, usually gold ornaments, rings and jewelry, as well as some animals.
  53. Numbers 22:38 tn The verb is אוּכַל (ʾukhal) in a question—“am I able?” But emphasizing this is the infinitive absolute before it. So Balaam is saying something like, “Can I really say anything?”
  54. Numbers 22:38 tn The Piel infinitive construct (without the preposition) serves as the object of the verb “to be able.” The whole question is rhetorical—he is saying that he will not be able to say anything God does not allow him to say.
  55. Numbers 22:38 tn The imperfect tense is here taken as an obligatory imperfect.
  56. Numbers 22:40 sn The understanding is that Balak was making a sacrifice for a covenant relationship, and so he gave some of the meat to the men and to the seer.
  57. Numbers 22:41 sn The name Bamoth Baal means “the high places of Baal.”