Commentary on Numbers 23:7-12

Notes (NET Translation)

7 Then Balaam uttered his oracle, saying, “Balak, the king of Moab, brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, ‘Come, pronounce a curse on Jacob for me; come, denounce Israel.’

Aram is a region on the upper Euphrates (Deut 23:4). The mountains to the east are in the Syrian desert.

8 How can I curse one whom God has not cursed, or how can I denounce one whom the LORD has not denounced?

Note the generic term for God (El) is identified with Yahweh.

9 For from the top of the rocks I see them; from the hills I watch them. Indeed, a nation that lives alone, and it will not be reckoned among the nations.

The “rocks” refer to a crag of the mountain, not small stones. Israel dwells alone, apart, separated to God (Ex 19:5-6; Lev 20:24; Deut 33:28). It will conquer the promised land without support from allied nations.

10 Who can count the dust of Jacob, Or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, and let the end of my life be like theirs.”

The “dust of Jacob” is an allusion to Gen 13:16 (“And I will make your descendants like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone is able to count the dust of the earth, then your descendants also can be counted.”). Balaam desires to be as blessed as Israel in the second sentence of this verse.

11 Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but on the contrary you have only blessed them!”

Ostensibly there is no blessing in Balaam’s first oracle, only praise. But the blessing resides in Israel’s potential, and it will be articulated in the following oracles.1

The praise Balaam heaps on the Israelites shows they have already been blessed.

12 Balaam replied, “Must I not be careful to speak what the LORD has put in my mouth?”


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.

  1. Milgrom 1990, 197 

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