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1Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 2Balak did as Balaam had said; and Balak and Balaam offered a bull and a ram on each altar. 3Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your burnt offerings while I go aside. Perhaps the L ord will come to meet me. Whatever he shows me I will tell you.” And he went to a bare height.

4 Then God met Balaam; and Balaam said to him, “I have arranged the seven altars, and have offered a bull and a ram on each altar.” 5The L ord put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, “Return to Balak, and this is what you must say.” 6So he returned to Balak, who was standing beside his burnt offerings with all the officials of Moab. 7Then Balaam uttered his oracle, saying:

“Balak has brought me from Aram,

the king of Moab from the eastern mountains:

‘Come, curse Jacob for me;

Come, denounce Israel!’


How can I curse whom God has not cursed?

How can I denounce those whom the L ord has not denounced?


For from the top of the crags I see him,

from the hills I behold him.

Here is a people living alone,

and not reckoning itself among the nations!


Who can count the dust of Jacob,

or number the dust-cloud of Israel?

Let me die the death of the upright,

and let my end be like his!”

11 Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but now you have done nothing but bless them.” 12He answered, “Must I not take care to say what the L ord puts into my mouth?”

Balaam’s Second Oracle

13 So Balak said to him, “Come with me to another place from which you may see them; you shall see only part of them, and shall not see them all; then curse them for me from there.” 14So he took him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah. He built seven altars, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar. 15Balaam said to Balak, “Stand here beside your burnt offerings, while I meet the L ord over there.” 16The L ord met Balaam, put a word into his mouth, and said, “Return to Balak, and this is what you shall say.” 17When he came to him, he was standing beside his burnt offerings with the officials of Moab. Balak said to him, “What has the L ord said?” 18Then Balaam uttered his oracle, saying:

“Rise, Balak, and hear;

listen to me, O son of Zippor:


God is not a human being, that he should lie,

or a mortal, that he should change his mind.

Has he promised, and will he not do it?

Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?


See, I received a command to bless;

he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.


He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob;

nor has he seen trouble in Israel.

The L ord their God is with them,

acclaimed as a king among them.


God, who brings them out of Egypt,

is like the horns of a wild ox for them.


Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob,

no divination against Israel;

now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,

‘See what God has done!’


Look, a people rising up like a lioness,

and rousing itself like a lion!

It does not lie down until it has eaten the prey

and drunk the blood of the slain.”

25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Do not curse them at all, and do not bless them at all.” 26But Balaam answered Balak, “Did I not tell you, ‘Whatever the L ord says, that is what I must do’?”

27 So Balak said to Balaam, “Come now, I will take you to another place; perhaps it will please God that you may curse them for me from there.” 28So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, which overlooks the wasteland. 29Balaam said to Balak, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 30So Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

1. Build me here seven altars. We more positively conclude from hence that this degenerate prophet had been by no means wont to prophesy in accordance with pure revelations from God, but that the art of divination, in which he boasted, had some affinity to magical exorcisms, and was infected with many errors and deceptions. Still this did not prevent him from being sometimes a true prophet by the inspiration of God’s Spirit; because, as has been already said, whilst the world was plunged in darkness, it was God’s will that some little sparks of light should still shine, in order to render even the most ignorant inexcusable. Since, therefore, Balaam was only endowed with a special gift, he borrowed devices in various directions, which savored of nothing but the illusions of the devil, and were utterly foreign to the true and legitimate method of consulting (God.) Hence came the seven victims and the seven altars; for, although God, by consecrating the seventh day unto Himself, as also in the seven lamps, and other things, indicated that there was something of perfection in that number; nevertheless, afterwards, many strange superstitions were invented, and under this pretense Satan cunningly deluded wretched men, by persuading them that secret virtues were contained in this number seven. This frivolous subtlety prevailed also among profane writers, so that they sought the confirmation of the error throughout all nature. Thus they allege the seven planets, as many Pleiades, the Septemtriones, 153153     “The seven stars, or Charles’s wain.” — Ainsworth. “Sed ego quidem cum L. Aelio, et M. Varrone sentio, qui triones rustico certo vocabulo boves appellatos scribunt, quasi quosdam terriones, hoc est, arandae colendaeque terrae idoneos. Itaque hoc sidus, quod a figura posituraque ipsa, quia simile plaustro videtur, antiqui Graecorum, αμαξαν dixerunt, nostri quoque veteres a bubus junctis septemtriones appellarunt; id est, a septem stellis, ex quibus quasi juncti triones figurantur.” — A. Gell. 2:21. and as many circles or zones; and again, that infants do not come into the world alive till the seventh month. Many such things they heap together in order to prove that some hidden mystery is implied in the number seven. This contagion reached the Christians also: for on this point the ancients 154154     “Les anciens docteurs.” — Fr. sometimes philosophize too refinedly, and have in general preferred to corrupt (Scripture) rather than not to restrict the gifts of the Spirit to this number, and to establish the sevenfold grace of the Holy Ghost. It is plain that Balaam was infected by this fanciful notion, when he endeavours to draw down God by seven altars, and twice seven sacrifices. Let us, however, learn from Balak’s prompt compliance, that the superstitious neither spare expense, nor refuse anything which is demanded by the masters of their errors. Wherefore we must beware lest we be rashly credulous; whilst at the same time we take care lest, when it is clear what we ought to do, we should be withheld by discreditable supineness, when unbelievers hasten so eagerly and speedily to their own destruction.

3. And Balaam said unto Balak. In this respect, also, he imitates the true servants of God: for he seeks retirement, because God has almost always appeared unto His servants when they have been separated from the company of men. You would say that he was another Moses, when he exhorts the king to persevering prayer, and, in order that he may be more earnest in supplication, bids him remain perfectly still by the altars. Meanwhile he withdraws himself from the crowd, and the eyes of the witnesses, so that he may be more ready to receive the revelation. Since, however, there was no sincerity in him, we may probably conclude, that in vain ostentation he imitated the servants of God, that, like one of God’s councillors, he might bring forth the secrets from the shrines of heaven. I know not why some render the word שפי, shephi, alone, others, sad; 155155     A.V. “an high place.” Margin, “he went solitary.” “Onkelos explains the word שפי as יחידי alone; but Kimchi interprets it as גכוח a high place. Rabbi Jehuda expounds is it as נשבר affected with grief; etc.” S.M. There is a curious error in the Fr., evidently arising from its dictation to an amanuensis, “le mot que j’ay translate Amen,” i.e., “a mont,” as it stands in the Fr. Text. it is more suitable to take it for a high place; which other similar passages confirm. The impostor, therefore, retired into a higher place, or summit, in order that he might come forth from thence more surely established as a prophet by his familiar intercourse with God.

4. And God met Balaam. It is wonderful that God should have determined to have anything in common with the pollutions of Balaam; since there is no communion between light and darkness, and He detests all association with demons; but, however hateful to God the impiety of Balaam was, this did not prevent Him from making use of him in this particular act. This meeting him, then, was by no means a proof of His favor, as if he approved of the seven altars, and sanctioned these superstitions; but as He well knows how to apply corrupt instruments to His use, so by the mouth of this false prophet, He promulgated the covenant, which He had made with Abraham, to foreign and heathen nations.

In truth, he boasts of his seven altars, as if he had duly propitiated God. Thus do hypocrites arrogantly trust that they deserve well of God, when they do but provoke His anger. God, however, passes over this corrupt worship, and proceeds with what He had determined; for He sends Balaam to be a proclaimer and witness of the sureness of His grace towards His chosen people. He supplies, indeed, His servants with what they speak, and controls their tongues; for neither would they be sufficient to think anything, unless the ability were bestowed by Him; and no one can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Still the holy Prophets were in suchwise organs of the Spirit, that they gave forth from the heart the treasures which God had deposited with them. In this view, Jeremiah says that he “did eat the words of God,” (Jeremiah 15:16;) and Ezekiel, that he ate the roll on which his prophecies were written. (Ezekiel 3:1.) For we must not conceive an inspiration (ἐνθουσιασμὸς) such as that by which the heathens supposed their diviners to be carried away, so that the heavenly afflatus transported them, or threw them into ecstasies; but rather did that take place in them, which David declares of himself: “I believed, therefore have I spoken,” (Psalm 116:10:) and God illuminated their senses before He guided their tongues. The case of Balaam was different, whose mind was alienated while he delivered the words which were put into his mouth. 156156     Addition in Fr.; “comme une pie en cage, ainsi qu’on dit;” like pie in a cage, as they say.

7. And he took up his parable and said. The word משל, mashal, signifies all weighty and notable sayings, especially when expressed in exalted language. The meaning, therefore, is, that Balaam began to speak eloquently, and in no ordinary strain. Nor can it be doubted but that he aroused Balak’s attention by this grandeur of language through God’s secret influence; that the wretched man might acknowledge that Balaam now spoke in no mortal fashion, but that there was something of divine inspiration in his words, so that his mind might be the more deeply affected by the revelation. The sum of what he said was to this effect, that there was not merely perversity and folly in Balak’s design to curse the people, but that whatever he attempted would be vain and useless, since he was fighting against God. At the same time, he renounces for himself that power, which Balak was persuaded that he eminently possessed: for Moses has already recorded the words of Balak before spoken, “I know that he whom thou cursest is cursed,” as if the power of God were transferred to him, so that he might exercise it according to his will. But what was this, but to depose God from His supremacy? Consequently this abominable imagination is refuted by the mouth of Balaam, when he attributes the right of blessing to God alone. “How (he says) should I curse except according to God’s command?” not that God always restrains the wicked from declaring what is opposed to His truth: for we know that they often prate at random, vomit forth their blasphemies by the mouthful, obscure the light by their falsehoods, and endeavor, as far as in them lies, to overthrow the faithfulness of God. But inasmuch as Balaam was compelled to play a different part, viz., to proclaim the revelation suggested to him by God, he confesses that his tongue was tied, so that he could not utter a single syllable against God’s command.

Since mention is made of Syria, some have supposed that Balaam was fetched from Mesopotamia; and some color was given to this mistake, because the art of divination had its rise amongst the Chaldeans. But, as has been said before, it is not credible that the fame of the man should have extended so far; and again, in the short time during which the people remained there, how could an embassy have been twice sent to a distant country? for they would have occupied at least six months. Besides, we shall soon see that he was slain among the Midianites. But it is very probable that the country was included under the name of Aram or Syria, which even profane authors describe as contiguous to Arabia, towards the Red Sea. Now, since, in reference to the land of Moab, Midian was to the eastward, and, moreover, was high and mountainous, it is rightly added that he was called “from the mountains of the east;” and thus does he designate a place well known to the Moabites, on account of its neighborhood to them.

9 For from the top of the rocks I see him. Unless I am mistaken, the meaning is that, although he only beheld the people from afar, so that he could not accurately perceive their power from so high and distant a spot, still they portended to him something great and formidable. A closer view generally intimidates men; besides, a body of twenty thousand men then dazzles our sight, as if the number were five times as great: whilst the real extent of a thing is also more accurately ascertained. But Balaam declares, in the spirit of prophecy, that he sees far more in the people of God than their distance from him would allow; for, posted as he was on a high eminence, he would have only belleld them as dwarfs with the ordinary vision of men. He says, that “the people shall dwell alone,” as being by no means in want of external support: for לבדד, lebadad, is equivalent to solitarily or separately. It is said of the people, therefore, that they shall dwell in such a manner as to be content with their own condition, neither desiring the wealth or power of others, nor seeking their aid. The fact that the people had recourse at one time to the Egyptians, at another to the Assyrians, and entangled themselves in improper alliances, is not repugnant to this prophecy, in which the question is not as to the virtue of the people, but only as to the blessing of God, which is again celebrated in the same words in Deuteronomy 33:28

What follows, that “they shall not be reckoned among the nations,” must not be understood in depreciation of them, as if it were said that they should be of no credit or position; but the elect people is exalted above all others in dignity and excellence, as though he had said that there should be no nation under heaven equal to or comparable with them. And, although there were other kingdoms more illustrious for the flourishing condition of their people, and superior both in the number of their inhabitants, and in all kinds of prosperity, still this people never forfeited their pre-eminence, since they were distinguished, not so much by wealth and external endowments, as by the adoption of God. Thus, Mount Sion is called noble above all other mountains, because God had there chosen to make His abode. Others explain it that the people should be alone, so as not to be brought into comparison with the Gentiles, inasmuch as its religion should be separate from the whole world, and unmingled with heathen corruptions. The exposition which I have given is, however, more simple.

10. Who can count the dust of Jacob? Hence it is plain that what Balaam was to say was suggested to him by God, since he quotes the words of God’s solemn promise, wherein the seed of Abraham is compared to the dust of the earth. Still, we must bear in mind what I have just adverted to, that, although that multitude was reduced to a small number by the sin of the people, nevertheless this was not declared in vain, inasmuch as that little body at length expanded itself so as to fill the whole world. Speaking by hyperbole, then, he says that their offspring would be infinite, since the fourth part will be almost innumerable. His aspiration at the conclusion is more emphatic than a simple affirmation. “I would (he says) that I might share with them their last end!” 157157     Corn. a Lapide has a curious note on “the death of the righteous,” contrasting the happy deaths of some, whom he deemed righteous, with those of others, whom he counted enemies of the Church. Amongst the latter he refers to Calvin himself. “Calvin, excruciated, according to Beza, by divers diseases, was in addition preyed upon by lice, as Jerome Bolsec, a physician of Lyons, and formerly his disciple, reports in his Life, ch. 22. Hence observe, that those who persecute the Church, were, by God’s just judgment, eaten by worms. Such was the case with Huneric, Herod, Antiochus, the emperors Maximinianus and Arnulphus, and Calvin.” For, in the first place, every one longs for what is most for his good; and again, Balaam confesses himself unworthy to be reckoned among the elect people of God. Hence it might be easily inferred how foolishly Balak trusted to his curse. Further, in these words he refers to everlasting felicity; as much as to say that (Israel) would be blessed in death as in life. At the same time he is a witness to our future immortality; not that he had reflected in himself wherefore the death of the righteous would be desirable, but God extorted this confession from an unholy man, so that, either unwillingly or thoughtlessly, he exclaimed that God so persevered in the extension of His paternal favor towards His people, that He did not cease to be gracious to them even in their death. Hence it follows, that the grace of God extends beyond the bounds of this perishing life. Wherefore this declaration contains a remarkable testimony to our future immortality. For although Balaam, perhaps, did not thoroughly consider what he desired, still, there is no doubt but that he truly professed that he wished it for himself. Nevertheless, as hypocrites are wont to do, he did but conceive an evanescent wish, for it was in no real seriousness that he sought what he was convinced was best. 158158     “Qu’il desireroit d’estre en pare’le condition avecques le peuple d’Israel;” that he desired to be in a like condition with the people of Israel. — Fr.

The Israelites are called righteous (recti,) as also in other places, not on account of their own righteousness, but in accordance with God’s good pleasure, who had deigned to separate them from the unclean nations.

11. And Balak said unto Balaam. The proud man again reproaches the false prophet, as if he had fairly purchased of him the right of prophecy. 159159     L’authorite de le faire parler comme il veudroit;” the authority to make him speak whatever he chose. — Fr Behold how the reprobate seek God by crooked paths, and desire to have nothing to do with Him, unless He yields to their improper wishes — in a word, unless they render Him submissive to them. Balaam, therefore, is compelled to repress this stupid arrogance, by pleading God’s command, and declaring that nothing more was allowed him than to announce what God prescribed. But we must remember that this was only spoken in reference to a particular act, when, as far as his words went, he acted the part of a true prophet, although his feelings were altogether on the other side.

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