Exegesis Preparation Numbers 22:22-40
Context Table for Numbers
|1 – 21||Israelites leave The Sinai wandering in the desert for 40 years and arrive in Moab and camp on the plains|
|22 – 24||The story of Balaam and Balak|
|22:22 – 35||The story of Balaam and his donkey|
|22:35 – 40||Balaam arrives at the Moab border and meets Balak|
|22:41 – 24:25||Remainder of the Balaam and Balak story|
|25-36||The Israelites prepare to enter the Promised Land|
Observations from the Text
Numbers contains narrative relating to the Israelites and their 40 years in the desert. Our passage is a smaller section of the narrative that speaks of Balaam a seer/prophet from Pethor and Balak the king of Moab, the Israelites have just defeated Og the king of Bashan in battle and settled on the plains of Moab. Balak has summoned Balaam to come and curse the Israelites, as he is afraid of what the Israelites may do to Moab. When reading the wider context of Numbers the story of Balaam and Balak appears to be out of context with the rest of the book, other than it took place while the Israelites were camped on the plains of Moab.
Q1. Is the story of Balaam and Balak a later addition to the Book of Numbers?
Numbers 22:1-21 speak of the actions leading up to our passage. Balaam has received a message from God saying not to go to Moab, and then a later message where God says go to Moab but only speak the words I put in your mouth (Num. 22:20). In v.22 our passage starts with God being angry with Balaam for beginning the journey and sends an Angel holding a sword as an adversary to block Balaam’s way.
Q2. If in v.20 God tells Balaam he could go to Moab to visit Balak, why is God now angry with him and why is the angel sent sword in hand to block his way?
In v.21 Balaam is accompanied by two Moabite (officials NRSV, NIV, dignitaries JPS, leaders NASB), but in v.22 Balaam begins the journey riding his donkey and accompanied by two of his servants. In v.35 Balaam begins his journey again but he is being accompanied by the two Moabite officials again.
Q3. Does this inconsistency point to another possible later addition to the text?
Balaam is a famous ‘seer/prophet’ but in the text he is portrayed as blind and it is the donkey that can see. Three times the donkey sees the Angel blocking the way (progressively less room for the donkey to move away), and Balaam is then the one who is angry and he strikes the donkey three times. God opens the mouth of donkey and it asks the question “Why have you struck me these three times?”, to which Balaam replies, “You have made a fool of me and I would kill you if I had a sword”.
Q4. How are we to interpret the reversal of roles where the seer is blind and the donkey has the divine sight and ability to speak? What does this say about the credibility of Balaam the famous seer and prophet?
Balaam’s eyes are finally opened and he is told of his foolishness and how the donkey (his loyal servant) has saved his life. Balaam realizes his sin and repents and continues the journey to Moab.
Q5. Why would Balak the king of Moab travel to the furthest point of the border to meet Balaam, and is this significant for the culture of the time?
Further Comments on the Text
The four translations I read during the preparation were NRSV, JPS, NASB (formal), and the NIV (mediation). The language across the four translations was similar accept for a few places:
NRSV “he bowed down, falling on his face” no translation note.
JPS “he bowed right down to the ground” translation note – Lit. “and prostrated himself to his nostrils”
NASB “he bowed all the way to the ground” translation note – Lit. “and prostrated himself to his face”
NIV “bowed low and fell facedown” no translation note.
NRSV “perverse to me” translation note – meaning of Heb. Uncertain
JPS “obnoxious to me” translation note – Precise meaning of Heb. Uncertain
NASB “contrary to me” translation note – “reckless”
NIV “reckless one before me” translation note – Lit. reckless
|Verse||Text Type||Place & Time||Characters & Event||Other Notes||Section Heading|
|22||Narration Legend?||On the road to Moab||God, Balaam, adversary, Angel, donkey, and 2 servants. Keywords: anger, kindled, going, stand, road, adversary? riding||Q. Why was God angry? Why was the Angels Balaam’s adversary?||Donkey sees the Angel|
|23||Narration Legend?||As above||Donkey, Angel, Balaam. Keywords: saw, standing, road, “drawn sword”, hand, “turned off”, went, field, struck, turn, back, onto.||Donkey sees the angel. Angel has a sword.Donkey goes into field.Balaam strikes the donkey.|
|24||Narration Legend?||On the road to Moab, near vineyard||Angel. Keywords: stood, narrow, path, between, vineyards, wall, “either side”||Angel blocks narrow path. Walls on both sides of path.|
|25||Narration Legend?||As above||Donkey, Angel,Balaam. Keywords: saw, scraped, against, wall, foot, struck, again.||Donkey sees angel again and turns aside.Balaam scrapes foot on wall.Balaam strikes donkey again.|
|26||Narration Legend?||On the road to Moab, further ahead.||Angel Keywords: went, ahead, stood, “narrow place”, “no way”, turn, left, right.||Angel goes ahead and blocks the road so person cannot pass left or right.|
|27||Narration Legend?||On the road to Moab, where the Angel is now||Donkey, Angel, Balaam. Keywords: when, saw, “lay down”, under, anger, kindled, struck, staff.||Donkey sees angel and cannot move left or right. Donkey lays down under Balaam. Balaam very angry and strikes the donkey with his staff.|
|28||Dialogue comedy||Stopped on the road to Moab.||The Lord, Donkey. Keywords: then, opened, mouth, said, what, done, you, struck, three, times.||Lord opens the donkeys mouth. The speaks,saying “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three time?”|
|29||Dialogue||As above||Balaam, Donkey Keywords: said, because, fool, sword, hand, would, kill, right, now.||Balaam speaks to the donkey and says “you have made a fool of me, I would kill you if I had my sword”|
|30||Dialogue||As above||Donkey, Balaam. Keywords: said, “not your”, which, you, ridden, all, your, life, day, habit, treating, “this way”, no.||Donkey speaks again saying “You have ridden me all your life, have I done this to you before?” Balaam responds “No”.|
|31||Narration Legend?||As above||Lord, Balaam, Angel. Keywords: opened, eyes, saw, standing, road, drawn, sword, hand, bowed, down, falling, face.||The Lord opens Balaam’s eyes.Balaam sees the Angel with the drawn sword.Balaam bows falling on his face.||Balaam sees the Angel|
|32||Dialogue||As above||Angel, adversary, Balaam, Donkey. Keywords: said, him, why, struck, three, times, “come out”, adversary, because, way, perverse, “before me”.||Angel says he is Balaam’s adversary, and tells Balaam his ways are perverse. He then says to Balaam, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times?”|
|33||Dialogue||As above.||Angel, Balaam, Donkey. Keywords: saw, surely, “just now”, killed, let, live.||Angel says to Balaam that the donkey turned away 3 times, had the donkey not turned the angel would have killed Balaam.|
|34||Dialogue||As above||Angel, Balaam. Keywords: said, sinned, “did not”, know, standing, road, oppose, therefore, displeasing, return, home.||Balaam speaks to the angel. Balaam sinned, he says if the angel is displeased he will turn back.|
|35||Dialogue||Continues journey to Moab.||Balaam, Angel, Officials of Balaak. Keywords: go, men, speak, only, “tell you”, went.||Officials of Balaak? In v22 it says Balaam was travelling with his 2 servants. Is this inconsistent?|
|36||Narration||While Balaam continues journey. Ir-moab on the farthest boundary of Moab formed by the Arnon River, at||Balak, Balaam. Keywords: heard, come, “went out”, meet, boundary, farthest, point.||Ir-moab also called Ar by some.Balak goes to Ir-moab to meet Balaam and officials.||Balaam meets Balak|
|37||Dialogue||Ir-moab on meeting Balaam.||Balak, Balaam. Keywords: send, summon, “not come”, “not able”, honour.||Balak chides Balaam for not coming earlier|
|38||Dialogue||As above||Balaam, Balak. Keywords: come, now, “do I”, power, say, “just anything”, word, puts, mouth, “I must say”.||Balaam responds to Balak, saying he cannot say what he likes, he must only say the words put into his mouth by the Lord.|
|39||Narration||Journey to Kiriath-huzoth.||Balaam, Balak||What type of sacrifice was this?|
|40||Narration||Kiriath-huzoth||Balak, Balaam, Officials. Keywords: sacrificed, oxen, sheep, sent.||Balak sacrifices oxen and sheep. Sends them to Balaam and Officials. What type of sacrifice was this?|
List of Resources
(Added via EndNote using Chicago 16th Footnote Style)
Frisch, Amos. “The Story of Balaam’s She-Ass (Numbers 22:21-35): A New Literary Insight.” Hebrew Studies 56 (2015): 103-13.
Hackett, Jo Ann. “”Story of Balaam”, N.P. [Cited 23 Mar 2017]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org/Places/Related-Articles/the-Story-of-Balaam.” (2017).
Klingbeil, Martin, G. VanGemeren, and ed. Willem A. “The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis. Accordance Electronic Ed., Version 2.4. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.” (1997).
Levine, Baruch A. “Anchor Yale Bible Commentary: Genesis through Deuteronomy.” (2000).
Michael David Coogan, Editor, and Carol A. Newsom Marc Z. Brettler, and Pheme Perkins, Associate Editors. “The New Oxford Annotated Bible New Revised Version with the Apocrypha an Ecumenical Study Bible Fourth Edition.” (2010).
Milgrom, Jacob. “Numbers. The Jps Torah Commentary. Accordance Electronic Ed. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.” (1990).
Milgrom, Jacob, and David Noel Freedman, ed. “The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. Accordance Electronic Ed., Version 3.9. New Haven: Yale University Press.” (2008).
Routledge, Bruce. ““Moab”, N.P. [Cited 23 Mar 2017]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org/En/Places/Main-Articles/Moab.” (2017).
Sherwood, Stephen K. “Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Berit Olam. Accordance Electronic Ed. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press.” (2002).
Way, Kenneth. “Animals in the Prophetic World: Literary Reflections on Numbers 22 and 1 Kings 13.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 34, no. 1 (2009): 47-62.
“Numbers 22:22-40 (New American Standard Bible Update).” (1995).
“Numbers 22:22-40 (New International Version).” (2011).
“Numbers 22:22-40 (New Revised Standard Version).” (1989).”Numbers 22:22–40 (Jps Tanakh ).” (1985).