222 – Numbers 22 – King Balak Introduced
Today we start into Numbers chapter 22. It could be said it is a continuation of Israel conquering people groups on their way into the promised land. But this chapter feels different. It seems like there is so much more detail here than the previous chapter. When we make an observation like that it’s often a good idea to keep it in mind as we study our way through – we may be able, with careful observation, to identify why the change in the narrative occurred.
To start with I want to consider a single phrase in verse one, or more specifically one word. However, in the interest of context, let’s look at the first three verses to establish the setting.
1 Then the children of Israel moved, and camped in the plains of Moab on the side of the Jordan across from Jericho.
2 Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
3 And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel.
I searched through the Bible using Logos Bible software for the phrase “children of Israel”. There were 635 results in 591 verses.
Those of us who have been reading the Bible for quite some time know that the phrase is not referring to a literal band of kids being led by Moses, and directed by Yahweh through the wilderness experience. Even if children of Israel originally meant actual juveniles, it couldn’t mean that now in this passage because it is some 39 or 40 years since they left Egypt, so they’d all be fully grown by now.
Maybe in your thinking, the phrase means, children of the Nation of Israel. That would be closer, but that also is not yet correct. Remember that Jacob was renamed Israel. So the phrase is actually referring to the progeny of the man named Israel. I think looking up the word children in the Hebrew language helps support this conclusion.
The Hebrew word is בני bene. It’s morphology is noun, common, masculine, plural, construct. It has the glosses (possible range of meaning) son; young animal; grandson; member. We know from the context that it certainly is not referring to “young animals”. But it very likely is talking about “sons” and “grandsons” of the man named Israel.
Well, can’t it mean daughters? If so, only by inference or association to the sons. Why do I say that? Because the word for daughter is a different word. It is the Hebrew word בַּנְתְּ banot. Which means daughters. The word for children seems to be a different but related word “banim”.
So why should we care? Does it really influence our understanding of the text? Although these considerations will not change our overall theology, I think it’s worth pondering. I believe the constant reference to “children of Israel” or maybe more accurately rendered “sons of Israel” is a constant reminder of God’s promises to Jacob (Israel) and his posterity. It’s a constant reminder to the nation that God is always faithful to His word. He is bringing them constantly out of Egypt and preparing them for entry into the promised land because, simply put, He promised!
The next portion of verse 1, “…and camped in the plains of Moab…” simply communicates to us that they are in King Balak of Moab’s backyard. They’re here!
What about the remainder of verse 1, “…on the side of the Jordan across from Jericho.”
This to me is incredibly interesting and helps to highlight the “inspired by God” characteristic of the Holy Bible. Jericho is significant to us because we are able to fast forward the Bible narrative to the book of Joshua. There we learn that once the nation crosses into the promised land Jericho is the first city conquered by Israel. But remember here in Numbers Moses is the author. He was dead by the time Israel conquered Jericho! Why then do we find the reference to Jericho here? It certainly helps us to place where Moab was geographically, although the references in the previous chapter to the land of the Amorites sufficiently pinpoints Moab’s location on the map.
Clearly, the reference to Jericho is there because Yahweh understood how significant the reference would become and He instructed or inspired Moses to include it!
Continuing on in our reading it seems that “King Balak” and the “people of Moab” are used interchangeably in the text as if they were synonyms. I think this is because what was going on in Balak’s heart was exactly mirrored in all of the people of Moab.
Notice in verse two that Balak witnessed with His own eyes what this traveling nation did to all of the people groups of the Amorites.
Moab and Balak’s response was naturally one of sheer terror! Verse three tells us they were, “sick with dread”!
Next time, if God allows, we will consider Moab’s response. Did they humble themselves before Yahweh the living God of this destructive nation and ask how they could escape the fate that befell the Amorites?
I know it’s not possible to slow down to a snail’s pace and analyze every verse of the Bible every time we pick up the word of God. But I do believe our understanding and appreciation of the word of Yahweh God is deepened each time we do.
Do you regularly read (or listen to) the Holy Bible? That’s great if you do, but I hope you realize that it should be seen as only one aspect of your encounter with His word. You should also regularly meditate, and ponder, think about and discuss, and study and apply His wonderful written word communication to us.
It might cost you time and effort, but the rewards are infinitely more than the cost of your investment!
God is truly worthy of all praise, worship, and adoration!
All Scripture quotations from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.