Ver. 1. Plains. Sept. "to the west of Moab." These plains had formerly belonged to that people, but the Hebrews had lately taken them from Sehon, and intended now to pass over the Jordan. The Moabites, however, being jealous of their growing power, called in the aid of the Madianites, and of the magician Balaam, and, by their wanton provocation, brought destruction upon themselves. We know not exactly the extent of the dominions of the Moabites. They seemed to have lost the greatest part of the country north of the Arnon. Their last town and capital was Ar. C. xxi. 13. Yet they still kept possession of Mount Phasga. C.
Ver. 3. Of him: Israel. M.
--- They knew not that God had forbidden the Hebrews to attack the Moabites, unless they were first assailed. Joseph.
--- Heb. "Moab was much afraid of the people, because of their numbers, and was distressed (and upon his guard) on account of the children of Israel." H.
Ver. 4. Elders of Madian, who dwelt also upon the Arnon, towards the lake of Sodom. These Madianites were a different people from those who inhabited the country to the east of the Red Sea. S. Jerom
--- They were not governed by kings, but by an aristocracy, or senate of princes. H.
Ver. 5. Beor. S. Peter (ii. 11, 15) reads Bosor.
--- A soothsayer, or magician, (ariolum) as this word always indicates. Jos. xiii. 22. The Hebrews believe he was once a true prophet, a descendant of Buz, the son of Melcha, and the same as Eliu, the friend of Job. S. Jer. q. 3. Heb. in Gen.) He certainly foretold the Messias, or star of Jacob, by divine inspiration. C. xxiv. 17. H.
--- He consults and acknowledges the true God, v. 8. 18. 20. Origen (hom. 13,) believes that he left a book of his prophecies, which was known to the wise men, and discovered to them the birth of the Messias; and some Rabbins think that Moses has here inserted from that work what relates to Balaam. S. Augustine (q. 48) shews that he was a wicked man, of whom nevertheless God made use to convey important instructions; and that he is one of those reprobates who will say, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? He is placed with Cain and Core. S. Jude 11. S. Ambrose (ep. 50,) observes, that he might prophesy, like Caiphas, without knowing what he said, and that the gift of prophecy on this occasion, was no proof of his virtue. Many of the Fathers look upon him as a mere magician, who could utter no blessing, but only curses, by the rules of his infernal art. He did not design to consult God, but the Lord puts answers into his mouth. Theod. q. 39. 42. The method of consultation seemed to border on superstition. He wished to make God change his resolutions, as if he were an idol, and attempted to evade the impressions of his spirit. C.
--- The river, Euphrates, which waters the country of the Ammonites. M.
--- Heb. "to Pethora, which is by the land of the children of his people." S. Jerom has translated Pethora "soothsayer," and left Ammon un declined. H.
--- The Chaldee informs us, that he was a resident at Petor, a city of Syria, on the Euphrates. It is probably the same town with the Pacora of Ptolemy, near Thapsacus. Balaam is styled an Aramean; (C. xxiii. 17,) and we know that he came from Mesopotamia. Hebrew Aram Naharaim, (Deut. xxiii. 4. C.) or "Syria, between the two rivers," the Euphrates and Tigris. Salien.
--- Me, ready to fall upon my dominions. It appears hence, that Balaam was in high estimation, since a distant king depends more upon his power, that upon the efforts of all his own armies, and those of his auxiliaries, and is willing to pay him for cursing his enemies at do dear a rate. Perhaps he thought that they employed magical arts to conquer their enemies, by prayer. See Ex. xvii. 11. Orig. hom. 13. H.
Ver. 6. Curse. The ancients placed great confidence in those whom they believed to be under the guidance of a superior spirit, whether good or bad. They thought their blessing or cursing would surely have its effect. By means of charms, they also strove to evoke or draw off the tutelary god of a place, before they could expect to take possession of it. Hence, as it was requisite to mention the true name of the place, fictitious names were given to most cities of importance, while the real appellation was kept a profound secret; and Valerius Soranus was severely punished for discovering the name of Rome, Valentia. See Plin. iii. 5. Solin. ii. Plut. prob. vi. C.
--- Rome, in Greek, has the same import as Valentia in Latin, and signifies strength. H.
--- Macrobius has preserved the form of a solemn curse, pronounced by the Roman general against the Carthaginians. Saturn iii. 9. "Dis Pater, or Jupiter, or if you prefer any other title, I beg that you will send fright and terror, and put this city of Carthage, and this army which I intend to specify, to flight, &c. If you will perform these things, according to my intention, I promise to offer in sacrifice to you, O earth, mother of all things, and to you, great god Jupiter, three black sheep." Thus, probably, Balac wished the Hebrews to be devoted or cursed. C.
Ver. 7. The price. Heb. lit. "the enchantments." But they took money, to engage the soothsayer to comply more readily with their iniquitous request. 2 Pet. ii. 15. Sept. &c. It was customary to offer presents to the prophets. 1 K. ix. 7.
Ver. 8. Night. He was accustomed to exercising his art by night; loving darkness, for his works were evil. Jo. iii. 19. H.
Ver. 18. Less. Not that he was resolved to comply with God's will, but because he found an insuperable impediment to oppose it at present. C.
Ver. 19. To stay. His desiring them to stay, after he had been fully informed already that it was not God's will he should go, came from the inclination he had to gratify Balac for the sake of worldly gain. And this perverse disposition God punished by permitting him to go, (though not to curse the people, as he would willingly have done) and suffering him to fall still deeper and deeper into sin, till he came at last to give that abominable counsel against the people of God, which ended in his own destruction. So sad a thing it is to indulge a passion for money. Ch. S. Aug. q. 48.
--- Philo (de vita, Mos. i) thinks that Balaam feigned this leave of God, v. 22. C.
Ver. 22. Angry. Either because he had not granted him permission to go, or he saw that Balaam was disposed to curse the Israelites, v. 32. Sept. "the angel (Michael) rose up on the road to oppose him, " diaballein. Lit. "to calumniate, accuse, resist, or to be a satan." Hence diabolus means an accuser, opponent, calumniator, &c. S. Aug. H.
Ver. 23. Ass. The angel appeared thrice to the ass, before he was perceived by Balaam. C. xxix. 3. 4. The second time, S. Augustine (q. 50) thinks he was standing in the vineyard. C.
Ver. 28. Opened the mouth, &c. The angel moved the tongue of the ass, to utter these speeches, to rebuke, by the mouth of a brute beast, the brutal fury and folly of Balaam. Ch.
--- S. Thomas (ii. 2. q. 105,) says, an angel spoke by the mouth of the ass, in like manner as the devil did by that of the serpent. Gen. iii. Infidels deride this miracle, and some have thought that it was only in the imagination of Balaam, that this dialogue was formed. Maimon.
--- S. Gregory of Nyssa, seems to think that the ass only brayed as usual, and that the soothsayer, being accustomed to augur from the voice of animals, understood its meaning. But S. Peter says, the dumb beast...speaking with man's voice, forbade the folly of the prophet. 2 Pet. ii. 16. God did not endue it with understanding on this occasion, but only formed, by its mouth, such sounds as might serve to repress the cruel folly of Balaam. But he was more stupid than the ass. "Being accustomed, it seems, to such prodigies," (monstris) and intent upon lucre, he paid no further regard to such a wonderful transaction, but held conversation with his ass, without any emotion. S. Aug. q. 48. 50. C.
--- The pagan historians relate many instances of beasts and trees speaking; (Grotius) so that they object to this history, and to that of the serpent, with a very bad grace, as S. Cyril remarks, in his third book against Julian. H.
--- They relate that the ass of Bacchus spoke to him, and the horse and elephant of Achilles and Porus addressed their respective masters, while the oaks of Dodona were famous for their oracles. C.
--- The river Causus said, "Hail, Pythagoras." Porphyrius, cited by S. Cyril, &c. H.
Ver. 31. Ground, with religious worship; not as God, but as an angel. See Ex. xx. W.
ArnonRiver of Moab: Wâdy el-Môjib. --- Runs from the east, almost in the same direction as the torrent of Zared, but empties itself into the Dead Sea higher up, near the mouth of the Jordan. C.
Ver. 39. City, &c. Heb. "Kiryath, chutsoth." Calmet would read Hares, a city mentioned, Isai. xvi. 7. 11, and styled the walls of brick, (4 K. iii. 25,) being the same with Ar. But then the former town must be situated some where upon the frontiers of Moab, as they came from it to the capital. H.
Ver. 40. With him. Only two servants were mentioned, (v. 22,) and the princes sent by Balac, v. 15. Perhaps others from Mesopotamia might attend Balaam. H.
--- The king sent parts of the victims to all. Chal.
Ver. 41. People. From the heights or temple of Baal, or the god of Chamos, where a statue or pillar (Sept.) was erected in his honour, (C.) on Mount Arabim, (M.) the soothsayer was enabled to take a distinct view of all the camp of Israel, (C. xxiii. 13,) and not of a part only, as the Sept. and Arab. versions would insinuate. It was deemed necessary to have those present upon whom people intended to vent their imprecations. C.