Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Plains.
Septuagint, "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, chap. xxi. 13. Yet they still kept possession of Mount Phasga. (Calmet)
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. (St. Jerome) --- They were not governed by kings, but by an aristocracy,
or senate of princes. (Haydock)
Ver. 5. Beor.
St. Peter (ii. 11, 15) reads Bosor. --- A soothsayer, or magician, (ariolum) as this word always indicates,
Josue 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. (St. Jerome, q. 3. Hebrew in Genesis) He certainly foretold the Messias, or star of Jacob, by divine inspiration,
chap. xxiv. 17. (Haydock) --- He consults and acknowledges the true God, ver. 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. St. 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, St. Jude 11. St. 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. (Theodoret,
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. (Calmet) --- The river, Euphrates, which
waters the country of the Ammonites. (Menochius) --- Hebrew, "to Pethora, which is by the land of the children of his people."
St. Jerome has translated Pethora "soothsayer," and has left Ammon undeclined. (Haydock) --- The Chaldean 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; (chap. xxiii. 17,) and we know that he came from Mesopotamia. Hebrew Aram
Naharaim, (Deuteronomy xxiii. 4.; Calmet) 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, than upon the efforts of all his own armies, and those of his auxiliaries, and is willing to pay him for cursing
his enemies at so dear a rate. Perhaps he thought that they employed magical arts to conquer their enemies, by prayer. See
Exodus xvii. 11.; Origen, hom. 13. (Haydock)
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 Pliny,
[Natural History?] iii. 5.; Solin. ii.; Plut.[Plutarch?] prob. vi. (Calmet) --- Rome, in Greek, has the same import
as Valentia in Latin, and signifies strength. (Haydock) --- 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. (Calmet)
Ver. 7. The
price. Hebrew literally, "the enchantments." But they took money, to engage the soothsayer to comply more readily
with their iniquitous request, 2 Peter ii. 15. (Septuagint, &c.) It was customary to offer presents to the prophets, 1
Kings ix. 7.
Ver. 8. Night.
He was accustomed to exercising his art by night; loving darkness, for his works were evil, John iii. 19. (Haydock)
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.
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. (Challoner) (St. Augustine, q. 48.) --- Philo (de vita, Mos. i.) thinks
that Balaam feigned this leave of God, ver. 22. (Calmet)
Ver. 22. Angry.
Either because he had not granted him permission to go, or he saw that Balaam was disposed to curse the Israelites, ver. 32.
Septuagint, "the angel (Michael) rose up on the road to oppose him, " diaballein. Literally, "to calumniate, accuse,
resist, or to be a satan." Hence diabolus means an accuser, opponent, calumniator, &c. (St. Augustine)
Ver. 23. Ass.
The angel appeared thrice to the ass, before he was perceived by Balaam, chap. xxix. 3, 4. The second time, St. Augustine
(q. 50,) thinks he was standing in the vineyard. (Calmet)
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. (Challoner) --- St. Thomas Aquinas (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, Genesis iii. Infidels deride this miracle, and some
have thought that it was only in the imagination of Balaam, that this dialogue was formed. (Maimonides) --- St. 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 St. Peter says, the dumb beast....speaking with man's voice, forbade the folly
of the prophet, 2 Peter 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 farther regard to such a wonderful transaction,
but held conversation with his ass, without any emotion. (St. Augustine, q. 48, 50.) (Calmet) --- 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 St. Cyril remarks, in his third book against Julian. (Haydock) --- 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. (Calmet) --- The river Causus said, "Hail, Pythagoras." (Porphyrius, cited by St. Cyril, &c.)
Ver. 31. Ground,
with religious worship; not as God, but as an angel. See Exodus xx. (Worthington)
Ver. 36. A
town. Eusebius thinks it was Ar, the capital.
Ver. 39. City,
&c. Hebrew, "Kiryath, chutsoth." Calmet would read Hares, a city mentioned, Isaias xvi. 7, 11, and styled
the walls of brick, (4 Kings iii. 25,) being the same with Ar. But then the former town must be situated somewhere
upon the frontiers of Moab, as they came from it to the capital. (Haydock)
Ver. 40. With
him. Only two servants were mentioned, (ver. 22,) and the princes sent by Balac, ver. 15. Perhaps others from Mesopotamia
might attend Balaam. (Haydock) --- The king sent parts of the victims to all. (Chaldean)
Ver. 41. People.
From the heights or temple of Baal, or the god of Chamos, where a statue or pillar (Septuagint) was erected in his honour,
(Calmet) on Mount Arabim, (Menochius) the soothsayer was enabled to take a distinct view of all the camp of Israel, (chap.
xxiii. 13,) and not of a part only, as the Septuagint and Arabic versions would insinuate. It was deemed necessary to have
those present upon whom people intended to vent their imprecations. (Calmet)