Confrontations with Sichon and Og
||The Israelites then moved on, and they camped in the western plains of Moab, across the Jordan from Jericho.
Balak and Balaam
||When Balak son of Tzippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites,
||the Moabites became deathly afraid because the [Israelite] people were so numerous. Dreading the Israelites,
||Moab said to the elders of Midian, 'Now the [Israelite] community will lick up everything around us, just as a bull licks up all the vegetation in the field.'
Balak son of Tzippor was then king of Moab.
||He sent emissaries to Balaam son of Beor, to his native land in Pethor on the [Euphrates] River. They were to summon him with the following message: 'A nation that covers the land's surface has left Egypt, and is now staying right near us.
||This nation is too powerful for us [alone], so if you would, come and curse this nation for me. Then, we may be able to defeat them and drive them from the area. I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed.'
||The elders of Moab and Midian, versed in occult arts, went to Balaam, conveying to him Balak's message.
||'Spend the night here,' he replied to them, 'and when God speaks to me, I will be able to give you an answer.'
The Moabite dignitaries remained with Balaam.
||God appeared to Balaam and asked, 'Who are these men with you?'
||Balaam replied to God, 'Balak son of Tzippor, king of Moab, has sent me a message:
||'A nation that covers the earth's surface has left Egypt. Come and curse them for me, so that, hopefully, I will be able to fight against them and drive them away.' '
||God said to Balaam, 'Do not go with them. Do not curse the nation [in question], because it is a blessed [nation].'
||When Balaam got up in the morning, he said to Balak's dignitaries, 'Go home! God refuses to let me go with you.'
||The Moabite dignitaries set out, and when they came to Balak, they said, 'Balaam refuses to go with us.'
||Balak sent another delegation, this time with a larger number of dignitaries, higher in rank than the first.
||When they came to Balaam, they gave him the following message in the name of Balak son of Tzippor: 'Do not refuse to come to me.
||I will give you great honor, doing anything you say. But please come and curse this nation for me.'
||Balaam interrupted Balak's servants and said, 'Even if Balak gave me his whole palace full of gold and silver, I would not be able to do anything great or small that would violate the word of God my Lord.
||But now, you, too, remain here overnight. Then I will know what God shall declare to me.'
||That night, God appeared to Balaam and said to him, 'If the men have come to summon you, set out and go with them. But only do exactly as I instruct you.'
||When Balaam got up in the morning, he saddled his female donkey, and went with the Moabite dignitaries.
||God displayed anger because [Balaam was so anxious to] go, and an angel of God planted himself in the road to oppose him. [Balaam] was riding on his donkey, accompanied by his two boy servants.
||When the donkey saw God's angel standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, the donkey went aside from the road into the field. Balaam beat the donkey to get it back on the road.
||God's angel then stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, where there was a fence on either side.
||When the donkey saw God's angel, it edged over to the side, crushing Balaam's foot against the wall. [Balaam] beat it even more.
||God's angel continued ahead [of Balaam], and he stood in a narrow place, where there was no room to turn right or left.
||When the donkey saw God's angel, it lay down [refusing to budge] for Balaam. Balaam lost his temper, and beat the donkey with a stick.
||God then gave the donkey the power of speech, and it said to Balaam, 'What have I done to you that you beat me these three times?'
||'You have been playing games with me!' shouted Balaam at the donkey. 'If I had had a sword in my hand just now, I would have killed you!'
||The donkey replied to Balaam, 'Am I not your [old] donkey? You have been riding on me as far back as you remember. Have I ever been in the habit of doing this to you?'
'No,' replied [Balaam].
||God then gave Balaam the ability to see, and he perceived the angel standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. [Balaam] kneeled and prostrated himself on his face.
||God's angel said to him, 'Why did you beat your donkey these three times? I have come out to oppose you, because your errand is obnoxious to me.
||When the donkey saw me, it turned aside these three times. If it had not turned aside before me, as it did now, I would have killed you and spared [the donkey].'
||Balaam said to God's angel, 'I have sinned! I did not know that you were standing on the road before me. If you consider it wrong [for me to go], I will go back home.'
||God's angel said to Balaam, 'Go with the men. But do not say anything other than the exact words that I declare to you.'
Balaam thus continued with Balak's dignitaries.
||When Balak heard that Balaam had arrived, he went out to meet him in the City of Moab, which was at the extreme end of his territory, on the edge of the Arnon.
||Balak said to Balaam, 'I had to make so much effort to get you. Why did you not come to me [right away]? Did you think that I couldn't honor you?'
||'And now that I have come to you,' replied Balaam to Balak, 'do you think that I can say anything? I can only declare the words that God places in my mouth.'
||Balaam went with Balak, and they came to the city's suburbs.
||Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep, sending some to Balaam and the dignitaries who were with him.
||In the morning, Balak took Balaam, and brought him to the High Altars of Baal, where he could see [as far as] the outer edges of the [Israelite] people.
Headed back south (Chizzkuni; see Numbers 21:33).
(Septuagint). Aravoth Moab in Hebrew.
|across the Jordan from Jericho|
They were just north-east of the Dead Sea. More specifically, they were in the Shittim area (Numbers 25:1, Micah 6:5). This consisted of a plain, Avel Shittim (Numbers 33:49), and the stream or wadi that flows into the north-east end of the Dead Sea, 'the stream of Shittim' (Joel 4:18). The Israelites were to remain there until Joshua brought them across the Jordan (Joshua 2;1, 3:1) (See Ibn Ezra on 25:1).
See Joshua 24:9, Judges 11:25, Micah 6:5. Balak was a descendant of Lot (BeMidbar Rabbah 20:19). According to tradition, he was the ancestor of Ruth (Sotah 47a; Nazir 23b). See notes on Numbers 22:4,5.
Hebrew for bird. It is similar to Tzipporah, the name of Moses' Midianite wife (Exodus 2:21). Some say that he was called Tzippor because he practiced bird divination (Zohar 3:184b).
Sichon, see Numbers 21:21 ff.
(HaKethav VeHaKabbalah; Rashi; Ibn Ezra; cf. I Samuel 18:15, Psalms 22:24). Or, 'huddled [in their cities]' (Paneach Raza; cf. Psalms 59:4, 149:3).
Or, 'distressed at' (Ibn Ezra; Radak, Sherashim). See Exodus 1:12. Or, 'grieved at' (Ibn Janach; Septuagint), or 'disgusted with life' (Rashi: Rashbam).
Descendants of Abraham through Keturah; Genesis 25:2. Midian's territories were to the south of Edom, just northeast of the Gulf of Aqaba. At this time, Moses was already making plans to attack Midian (Josephus, Antiquities 4:6:1). Although Midian and Moab were hereditary enemies, they made peace out of fear of Israel (Sanhedrin 105a).
Some say that Balak had been one of Sichon's generals, and now that Sichon had been killed, he had just been appointed king over Moab (Tanchuma 4; Sh'muel HaChasid). Other sources indicate that kings of the area would come from Midian and Moab on an alternating basis (Targum Yonathan).
Bil'am in Hebrew. See Deuteronomy 23:5, Joshua 24:9, Michah 6:5, Nehemiah 12:3. See note on Genesis 36:32. Some say that Balaam was descended from Abraham's nephew Kemuel (Lekach Tov; see Genesis 22:21). Others say that he was a descendant of Laban (Sanhedrin 105a; Torah Temimah).
See Genesis 36:32.
|his native land|
Balaam's land (Ramban; Chizzkuni). Others say that Balak and Balaam were both from Pethor, and the verse refers to Balak's native land (BeMidbar Rabbah 20:7; Rashi; Midrash HaGadol).
In Aram Naharaim; see Deuteronomy 23:5. Some identify this with Padan Aram (Targum Yonathan; see Genesis 25:20). From the context it appears to be in the mountainous regions of Aram (see Numbers 23:7). Some identify it with Pitru, or the Egyptian Pedru, on the upper Euphrates. Thus, it must have been at least a 300 mile journey from Moab. See next note.
(Targum Yonathan; Saadia; Josephus, Antiquities 4:6:2). The only mountainous region near the Euphrates is that in the vicinity of As Sukhnah or Dayr az Zawr, in what is now central Syria. It is also possible that Pethor was in the vicinity of Palmyra.
See note on Numbers 21:27.
|versed in occult arts|
(Ibn Ezra). Or, 'with magical devices in hand' (Tanchuma 5; Rashi; Rashbam; Septuagint), or, 'with mystical text' (Baaley Tosafoth; Chizzkuni), 'fees for magic' (Ibid.; Bachya), or, 'magical tests' (Lekach Tov).
But the Midianites did not remain (Sanhedrin 105a).
(Saadia). Literally, 'came.'
|in the name of...|
Literally, 'Thus says...'
See Numbers 22:9.
See note on Exodus 22:18.
At a distance (Chizzkuni).
|was so anxious to|
(see Lekach Tov; HaKethav VeHaKabbalah).
(Targum; Saadia; Lekach Tov; Septuagint). Wide enough for a single man (Radak, Sherashim).
|gave the donkey...|
Literally, 'opened the donkey's mouth.' However, some say that the donkey did not actually speak, but that this was a prophetic vision (Moreh Nevukhim 2:42).
(Radak, Sherashim). Hith-olal in Hebrew; see Exodus 10:2. Or, 'embarrassed' (Rashi), 'insulted' (Lekach Tov). Or, 'rebelled' (Saadia).
|as far back as you remember|
Literally, 'From when you first started until now.'
|been in the habit|
(Saadia; Ibn Ezra; Radak, Sherashim). Or, 'have I ever been unmindful' (Septuagint). Also, possibly, 'have I ever endangered you.'
|gave...ability to see|
(Saadia). Literally, 'opened the eyes of.'
|City of Moab|
The capital of Moab (Rashi). Some identify this with Ar, see Numbers 21:15, 21:28. It was some 23 miles from the Dead Sea.
The northern border of Moab, since Balaam was coming from the north. See Numbers 21:13.
(cf. Targum). Or, 'the city's outer markets' (Rashi; Tanchuma 11). Others see Kiryath Chutzoth here as a proper noun (Ibn Ezra).
For food (Lekach Tov).
|High Altars of Baal|
Bamoth Baal in Hebrew. See Numbers 23:9. Some identify this with Baaley Bamoth Arnon in Numbers 21:28 (Ibn Ezra). Others say that this was an idolatrous temple (Lekach Tov; Midrash HaGadol), possibly that of Baal Peor in 25:3 (Targum Yonathan; BeMidbar Rabbah 20:18). Others say that it was the plain of altars (Chizzkuni).
Josephus states that it was a mountain some 60 furlongs or 5.5 miles from the Israelite camp (Antiquities 4:6:4). This would appear to indicate that Bamoth Baal was the same as Bamoth in Numbers 21:19. Geographically, this would appear to indicate that Balaam was on the mountain spur directly to the south of the one containing Mount Nebo, which would be a little over 5 miles from the Israelite camp. This may be the site of the present Um Juresa.
|as far as|
(Baaley Tosafoth; Paaneach Raza; cf. Ramban). Now he saw the entire camp, because later he saw only part of it (Numbers 23:13; Lekach Tov). Others, however, maintain that he only saw 'the edge of the camp' (Tur; cf. Ramban). Some say that he saw the camp's outcasts (Midrash HaGadol; cf. Targum Yonathan).