Commentary on Numbers 22:41-23:6

Notes (NET Translation)

22:41 Then on the next morning Balak took Balaam, and brought him up to Bamoth Baal. From there he saw the extent of the nation.

Bamoth Baal means “the high places of Baal”. Balaam sees only a part of the nation of Israel.

23:1 Balaam said to Balak, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.”

The number seven was sacred not just in Israel but in the ancient Near East generally. The use of multiple altars for a single ritual is not attested elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. It is a pagan practice that was part of Balaam’s divinatory technique. Gordon Wenham notes a Babylonian tablet containing instructions to set up seven altars in the presence of the Babylonian deities Ea, Shamash, and Marduk.

23:2 So Balak did just as Balaam had said. Balak and Balaam then offered on each altar a bull and a ram.

A bull and a ram were probably the most expensive, and thus most efficacious, sacrificial animals (cf. Lev 4:1-21; 5:14-6:7 while realizing this passage in Numbers is not describing an Israelite sacrifice).

23:3 Balaam said to Balak, “Station yourself by your burnt offering, and I will go off; perhaps the LORD will come to meet me, and whatever he reveals to me I will tell you.” Then he went to a deserted height.

The idea is that Balaam will walk around the area in the hopes of receiving a message from the Lord. The word “perhaps” indicates he knows he cannot force the Lord to appear to him.

23:4 Then God met Balaam, who said to him, “I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered on each altar a bull and a ram.”

23:5 Then the LORD put a message in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Return to Balak, and speak what I tell you.”

According to Ashley and Milgrom, the phrase “the LORD put a message in Balaam’s mouth” means the Lord told him the exact words to speak.

23:6 So he returned to him, and he was still standing by his burnt offering, he and all the princes of Moab.

Bibliography

Ashley, Timothy R. The Book of Numbers. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Cole, R. Dennis. Numbers. Kindle Edition. The New American Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Friedman, Richard Elliott. Commentary on the Torah. First Edition. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperOne, 2001.

Levine, Baruch A. Numbers 21-36. The Anchor Yale Bible. New York: Yale University Press, 2000.

Mays, James L., ed. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. Revised Edition. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.

Milgrom, Jacob. Numbers. The JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Wenham, Gordon J. Numbers. Kindle Edition. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP Academic, 2015.

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