Balaam and Balak meet (Num 22:36-22:41)

“When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at Ir-moab, on the boundary formed by the Arnon, at the farthest point of the boundary. Balak said to Balaam, ‘Did I not send to summon you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not able to honor you?’ Balaam said to Balak, ‘I have come to you now, but do I have power to say just anything? The word God puts in my mouth that is what I must say.’ Then Balaam went with Balak. They came to Kiriath-huzoth. Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent them to Balaam and to the officials who were with him. On the next day, Balak took Balaam and brought him up to Bamoth-baal. From there they could see part of the Israelites.”

When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went to meet him at the border by the Arnon. Balak wanted to know why Balaam had not come to him. Balaam responded to Balak the he could only say the words that God puts in his mouth. Then Balaam went with Balak to Kiriath-huzoth. There Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent them to Balaam and the officials with him. The next day, Balak took Balaam and brought him up to Bamoth-baal, a small mountain on the Arnon, where they could see part of the Israelites. This is the only biblical mention of the towns of Ir-moab, on the border of Moab, as well as Kiriath-huzoth and Bamoth-baal, both near the Arnon River.

Balaam’s talking donkey (Num 22:22-22:35)

“God’s anger was kindled because Balaam was going. The angel of Yahweh took his stand in the road as his adversary. Now Balaam was riding on a donkey, and his two servants were with him. The donkey saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey turned off the road and went into the field. Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road. Then the angel of Yahweh stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. When the donkey saw the angel of Yahweh, it scraped against the wall, and scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck it again. Then the angel of Yahweh went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of Yahweh, it lay down under Balaam. Balaam’s anger was kindled. He struck the donkey with his staff. Then Yahweh opened the mouth of the donkey. The donkey said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?’ Balaam said to the donkey, ‘Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now.’ But the donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?’ And he said, ‘No.’”

Now we have a colorful Yahweh tale with a talking donkey, like in the movie Shrek. Yahweh was angry because Balaam was going to see Balak. Thus the angel of Yahweh took his stand in the road as his adversary. Balaam was riding on the donkey with his two servants with him. The donkey saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey turned off the road, and went into a field. However, Balaam struck the donkey. Next the angel of Yahweh stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. Then the donkey scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall. Balaam struck the donkey again. Then the angel of Yahweh went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of Yahweh, it lay down under Balaam. Balaam was angry. He struck the donkey a third time. Then Yahweh opened the mouth of the donkey. The donkey spoke to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?’ Balaam spoke back to the donkey, saying that the donkey had made a fool of him. He wanted to kill the donkey. But the donkey replied that he had ridden him all his life.

Then the Yahweh opened the eyes of Balaam. He saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand. He bowed down, falling on his face. The angel of Yahweh said to him, ‘Why have you struck your donkey three times? I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me. He turned away from me three times. If it had not turned away from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let it live.’”

Then Yahweh opened the eyes of Balaam. He finally saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed down, falling on his face. The angel of Yahweh asked him why he had struck the donkey three times? The donkey saw me, and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away from me, I would have killed you and let the donkey live.

“Then Balaam said to the angel of Yahweh, ‘I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now therefore, if it is displeasing to you, I will return home.’ The angel of Yahweh said to Balaam, ‘Go with the men. But speak only what I tell you to speak.’ So Balaam went on with the officials of Balak.”

Then Balaam admitted that he had sinned. He did not see the angel of Yahweh. He was willing to go home, but the angel of Yahweh told him to speak only when Yahweh told him to speak. So Balaam went on with the officials of Balak. What a great story! The donkey is smarter than this divine magic person. He is almost like Abraham, doing whatever Yahweh wants him to do. Notice that Yahweh opens the mouth of the donkey and the eyes of Balaam. There may be some symbolism in the concept of the 3 incidents and the 3 whippings of the donkey.

 

The King of Moab makes an appeal to Balaam (Num 22:1-22:21)

“The Israelites set out, and camped in the plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho. Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that the Israel had done to the Amorites. Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were so numerous. Moab was overcome with fear of the Israelites. Moab said to the elders of Midian, ‘This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.’ Balak son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time. He sent messengers to Balaam son of Beor at Pethor, which is on the Euphrates River, in the land of Amaw to summon him, saying, ‘A people has come out of Egypt. They have spread over the face of the earth. They have settled next to me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are stronger than I. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land. I know that whomever you bless is blessed. Whomever you curse is cursed.”

The Israelites camped in the plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho. Balak son of Zippor, the king of the Moabites realized what the Israelites had done to the Amorites. They were overcome with fear of the Israelites. So Balak sent messengers to Balaam son of Beor at Pethor, which is in Babylon near the Euphrates River. Balaam was some kind of Babylonian mystic, sorcerer, magician, diviner, medium, or spiritualist. Balak wanted Balaam to curse these people who came out of Egypt and spread over the face of the earth. What is worse, they have settled next to Balak. If he had Balaam’s blessing, he might be able to defeat them.

“So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand. They came to Balaam, and gave him Balak’s message. He said to them, ‘Stay here tonight. I will bring back word to you, just as Yahweh speaks to me.’ So the officials of Moab stayed with Balaam.”

The elders of Moab and Midian departed with the spiritual fees. They came to Balaam and gave him Balak’s message. They were ready to pay for his blessing and curse. Balaam, however, told them to stay there that night. He would bring back word after he had spoken to Yahweh. So the officials of Moab stayed with Balaam. It is interesting that Balaam is subject to Yahweh and not independent. Once again the Babylonian roots of Yahweh and the Israelites appear.

“God came to Balaam and said, ‘Who are these men with you?’ Balaam said to God, ‘King Balak son of Zippor of Moab has sent me this message. ‘A people has come out of Egypt. They have spread over the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.’ God said to Balaam, ‘You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.’ So Balaam rose in the morning, and said to the officials of Balak, ‘Go to your own land, for Yahweh has refused to let me go with you.’ So the officials of Moab rose and went to Balak, and said, ‘Balaam refuses to come with us.’”

God came to Balaam and wanted to know who these men were. Balaam explained that King Balak son of Zippor of Moab had sent them. God then said to Balaam that he should not go with them because the Israelites were a blessed people. The next morning Balaam told the officials of Balak to go home because Yahweh would not let him curse the Israelites. So the officials of Moab went back to Balak and told him that Balaam refused to come with us.

“Once again Balak sent officials, more numerous and more distinguished than these. They came to Balaam and said to him, ‘Thus says Balak son of Zippor: ‘Do not let anything hinder you from coming to me. For I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come, curse this people for me.’ But Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, ‘Even if Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of Yahweh to do less or more. You remain here, as the others did, so that I may learn what more Yahweh may say to me.’ That night God came to Balaam and said to him, ‘If the men have come to summon you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do.’ So Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the officials of Moab.”

So there you have it. Balak is asking Balaam to curse the Israelites, but Balaam is listening to Yahweh, who is on the Israelite side. This is going to be difficult for the Moabites.  However, Yahweh says that it is okay to go as long as Balaam listens to Yahweh.

The conquest of the Amorites (Num 21:21-21:35)

“Then Israel sent messengers to King Sihon of the Amorites, saying, ‘Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into field or vineyard. We will not drink the water of a well. We will go by the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.’ But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. He gathered all his men together, and went out against Israel to the wilderness. He came to Jahaz, and fought against Israel. Israel put him to the sword. Israel took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as to the Ammonites. For the boundary of the Ammonites was strong. Israel took all these towns. Israel settled in all the towns of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all its villages. For Heshbon was the city of King Sihon of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and captured all his land as far as the Arnon.”

This is basically the same request that they sent to the King of Edom. The response of King Sihon was like the king of Edom since he would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. Thus, he went out to fight against Israel at Jahaz. However, Israel won the battle and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, up to the strong boundary of the Ammonites. Israel took all these towns, and settled in them, including Heshbon, the city of King Sihon.. Thus, we have a real victory here since some of the Israelites stay in these towns and are in the Promised Land, no longer wandering.

“Therefore the ballad singers say,

Come to Heshbon, let it be built.

Let the city of Sihon be established.

Fire came out from Heshbon.

Flame came from the city of Sihon.

It devoured Ar of Moab.

It swallowed up the heights of the Arnon.

Woe to you, O Moab!

You are undone, O people of Chemosh!

He has made his sons’ fugitives

and his daughters captives to an Amorite king, Sihon.

So their posterity perished from Heshbon to Dibon.

We laid waste until fire spread to Medeba.”

Once again we have a song, a victory chant about Heshbon, the city of King Sihon. Fire and flames came from this city of King Sihon. Heshbon was 20 miles east of the mouth of the Jordan, on the east side of Jordan River. Ar had been part of the Moab holdings that King Sihon had captured. Thus the Moabites perished from Heshbon to Dibon. Now the Israelites defeated Sihon. Chemosh was a Moabite God. Dibon had been the ancient capital of the Moabites while Medeba still exists today in modern Jordan. This is a great victory as now the Moabites are gone. The Amorites were also defeated. Moses was the leader of this great victory since there is no mention of any other leader.

“Thus Israel settled in the land of the Amorites. Moses sent to spy out Jazer. They took its villages and dispossessed the Amorites that were there. Then they turned and went up the road to Bashan. King Og of Bashan came out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. But Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Do not be afraid of him. For I have given him into your hand, all his people, and all his land. You shall do to him as you did to King Sihon of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon.’ So they killed him, his sons, and all his people, until there were no survivors left. They took possession of his land.”

Israel settled in the land of the Amorites. Moses sent spies to Jazer and took its villages. Jazer was about 15 miles north of Heshbon. Then they turned north and went up road to Bashan. There they defeated King Og of Bashan in the battle of Edrei, one of the capital cities in Bashan. Yahweh had told Moses to not be afraid of him because he was going to be like King Sihon. So the Israelites killed him, his sons, and all his people, until there was not a survivor left. They took possession of his land. King Og was considered to be a giant, who ruled Bashan. This is another great victory at Edrei, but there is no mention of who the leader of the Israelites is. However, it is clear that these Amorites are utterly wiped out, not a single survivor. The Israelites are settling into these former Amorite lands, since there are no Amorites left. Basically the east bank of the Jordan River is in the hands of the Israelites.

 

Stages towards the trans-Jordan area (Num 21:10-21:20)

“The Israelites set out, and camped in Oboth. They set out from Oboth, and camped at Iye-abarim, in the wilderness bordering Moab toward the sunrise. From there they set out, and camped in the Wadi Zered. From there they set out, and camped on the other side of the Arnon, in the wilderness that extends from the boundary of the Amorites. The Arnon is the boundary of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites.

Now the adventure begins anew.

1)      They stop and camp at Oboth, south of the Dead Sea.

2)      Then they went to Iye-abarim, in the wilderness which borders Moab, southeast of the Dead Sea.

3)      From there they went to the Wadi-Zered, the valley border between Edom and Moab.

4)      Then they camped on the other side of Arnon, also known as Wadi Mujib, near the Dead Sea. This apparently was the boundary between the Amorites and Moabites.

Both these two, the Moabites and the Amorites, with the Edomites were on the eastern side of the Jordan. These three groups from south to north were the Edomites, then the Moabites, with the Amorites being the furthest north.

“Wherefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of Yahweh.

‘Waheb to Suphah, and the wadis,

The Arnon and the slopes of the wadis

that extend to the seat of Ar,

and lie along the border of Moab.’”

What is interesting here is the insertion of another book. There had been no mention of any books until here. This ancient book was called The Book of the Wars of Yahweh which is now lost, if it ever existed. Like many lost books, people must have considered it not worth while recopying. It did not make its way into the Hebrew canon. It may have been a source for some of the works of the Bible, like Q for the New Testament. It appears to be a book that was available to the authors so that would put it around 1000 BCE or later. This book had a few victory chants that are often hard to understand.

“From there they continued to Beer. That is the well of which Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Gather the people together. I will give them water.’ Then Israel sang this song:

‘Spring up, O well!

Sing to it!

The well that the leaders sank,

That the nobles of the people dug,

With the scepter and the staff.’”

They then went to Beer, the place of the wells, not the alcoholic beverage. These drinking wells were very important. Remember Abraham and the fights about the drinking wells in Genesis, chapter 26. This is the place where water was given to the Israelites. Thus there was a song about the well. Perhaps this is from the book mentioned above, but it is an ancient chant.

“They went from Mattanah to Nahaliel. Then they went from Nahaliel to Bamoth. Then they went from Bamoth to the valley lying in the region of the Moab by the top of Pisgah which overlooks the wasteland.

They moved on:

1)      From the wilderness to Mattanah,

2)      From Mattanah to Nahaliel,

3)      From Nahaliel to Bamoth,

4)      and from Bamoth to the valley lying in the region of Moab by the top of Pisgah that overlooks the wasteland.

 

The bronze snake (Num 21:4-21:9)

“From Mount Hor, they set out by the way towards the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom.  But the people became impatient on the way.  The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  There is no food and no water.   We detest this miserable food.’ Then Yahweh sent poisonous serpents among the people.  They bit the people so that many Israelites died.   The people came to Moses, and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against Yahweh and against you.  Pray to Yahweh to take away the serpents from us.  So Moses prayed for the people.  Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole.  Everyone who is bitten who shall look at it shall live.’  So Moses made a serpent of bronze.  He put it upon a pole.  Whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.”

To get around the land of Edom, they set out for the Rea Sea on the eastern Sinai Peninsula.  Once again, the people became impatient on the way.  The people spoke against God and against Moses.  They did not want to die in the wilderness without food and water.  However, Yahweh sent poisonous serpents among the people.  They bite the people, so that many Israelites died.  The new punishment was poisonous snakes, like little dragons. Why do they keep complaining when all they get is punishments?  Can Moses work out a deal as usual?  Of course, they came back to Moses, saying that they had sinned.  Just take away the snakes. Yahweh provided the solution to Moses.  Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole.  Whenever a serpent bites someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and then live.  This was not too bad of a punishment.  Just look at the bronze snake and everything will be okay.  Once again, this harkens back to Egyptian magic snakes.

The taking of Hormah (Num 21:1-21:3)

“When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negeb, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive.  Then Israel made a vow to Yahweh and said, ‘If you will indeed give this people into our hands, then we will utterly destroy their towns.’ Yahweh listened to the voice of Israel, and handed over the Canaanites.  They utterly destroyed them and their towns.  So the place was called Hormah.”

This is a kind of summary report about the battle of Hormah, which appeared in Numbers, chapter 14.  There the Israelites were defeated.  This story involves the Canaanite King Arad living in the Negeb area, who heard that Israel was coming at Atharim.  He fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. However, this is the change.  Then Israel made a vow to Yahweh.  Then Yahweh listened to the voice of Israel, and handed over the Canaanites.  The Israelites utterly destroyed them and their towns so the place was called Hormah.  This seems to be in contradiction to chapter 14, where the Israelites lost because Yahweh was not with them in the Ark of the Covenant.  However, it may have been a different battle since the Amalekites were with the Canaanites in chapter 14.  Anyway, the Israelites won this battle.

The death of Aaron (Num 20:22-20:29)

“They set out from Kadesh.  The Israelites, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor.  Then Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom.  ‘Let Aaron be gathered to his people.  He shall not enter the land which I have given to the Israelites, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah.  Take Aaron and his son Eleazar, and bring them up to Mount Hor.  Strip Aaron of his vestments, and put them on his son Eleazar.  But Aaron shall be gathered to his people.  He shall die there.  Moses did as Yahweh had commanded.  They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole congregation.  Moses stripped Aaron of his vestments, and put them upon his son Eleazar.  Aaron died there on the top of the mountain.  Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain.  When the whole congregation saw that Aaron was dead, all the house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days.”

Thus the Israelites went from Kadesh to Mount Hor, which is supposedly southeast of the Dead Sea on the border of Edom.  This is where Aaron got the bad news, game over.  Aaron was to be gathered to his people because he was not going to enter the Promised Land.  There had been a few incidents between Aaron and Moses, but this one must have stuck out.  Aaron had rebelled with the golden calf and the waters at Meribah.  Moses did what Yahweh commanded.  On Mount Hor, he stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar.  Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. When the Israelites saw that Aaron was dead, all the house of Israel mourned 30 days for Aaron.

Edom refuses passage (Num 20:14-20:21)

“Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom. ‘Thus says your brother Israel.  You know all the adversity that has befallen us.  How our ancestors went down to Egypt.  We lived in Egypt a long time.  The Egyptians oppressed us and our ancestors.  When we cried to Yahweh, he heard our voice.  He sent an angel.  He brought us out of Egypt.  Here we are in Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. Now let us pass through your land.  We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from any well.  We will go along the King’s Highway.  We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left, until we have passed through your territory.”

In Genesis, chapter 36, Esau the brother of Jacob (or Israel as he came to be called) either founded or certainly lived in the area known as Edom, which is southeast of the Dead Sea.  In fact, some indicate that Edom and Esau are one and the same.  Thus, the Edomites would be distant cousins of the Israelites since Esau’s father would have been Isaac, the father of Israel.  One might expect a warm or cordial relationship.  Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom to explain their history in Egypt and how they left there.   Now they were in Kadesh, a town on the edge of Edom.  They wanted to pass through Edom on the King’s Highway without disturbing their land. The King’s Highway was the main road from Egypt to the Gulf of Aqaba. This seems like a nice simper request between distant relatives.  Unfortunately that does not seem to be the case.

“But Edom said to him.  ‘You shall not pass through, or we will come out with the sword against you.’ The Israelites said to him.  ‘We will stay on the highway.  If we drink of your water, we and our livestock, then we will pay for it.  It is only a small matter.  Just let us pass through on foot.’   But he said, ‘You shall not pass through.’  Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through their territory.  So Israel turned away from them.”

However, Edom had different ideas. The king said that they should not pass through.  That was not the response they were looking for and they responded that they would stay on the main route, this King’s Highway. This time the Israelites said that if they drank any water, they would pay for it.  However, the king of Edom was clear that they were not to pass through Edom.  Then they came out against the Israelites with a strong force. Thus, the Israelites turned away.

The waters of Meribah (Num 20:1-20:13)

“The Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month.  The people stayed in Kadesh.  Miriam died there.  She was buried there.  Now there was no water for the congregation.  So they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron.  The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Would that we had died when our kindred died before Yahweh!  Why have you brought the assembly of Yahweh into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here?  Why have you brought us out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place?  It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates.  There is no water to drink.’  Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting.  They fell on their faces.  The glory of Yahweh appeared to them.  Yahweh spoke to Moses.  ‘Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water.  Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them.  Thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.”

Once again we have moved away from the priestly tradition into the Elohist and Yahweh tradition.  Meanwhile, the Israelites were not a happy group in the wilderness of Zin.  Most of the people stayed in Kadesh, where Miriam, the sister of Aaron and Moses, died and was buried.  Now there was no water for the congregation.  They gathered and quarreled against Moses and Aaron.  Why have you brought us into this wilderness to die?  Why did you bring us to this wretched place?  There is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates.  There is no water to drink.  Once again, they were complaining about their situation.  The response was the same as in Exodus, chapter 17, get water from the rock.  Then Moses and Aaron again went to the entrance of meeting tent and fell on their faces.  Yahweh appeared to them and told them to take their staffs, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water.  Thus they were able to provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.

“Moses took the staff from before Yahweh, as he commanded him. Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock.  He said to them, ‘Listen, you rebels.  Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’  Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff.   Water came forth abundantly.  The congregation and their livestock drank.  But Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron.  ‘Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them. These are the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with Yahweh.  He showed his holiness.”

Moses did what Yahweh asked him to do.  He got everyone together before the rock, and he said to them, ‘Listen, you rebels.  Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’ Thus Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff.  The water came out and the congregation with their cattle drank.  However, Yahweh was not pleased with Moses and Aaron, because they did not believe it possible to make the waters flow from the rock of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with Yahweh but he showed his holiness.  They were not going to bring The Israelites into the Promised Land. Besides, if it takes forty years they will be over 120 years old.