7 And he (Balaam) took up his parable, and said, Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel. (Numbers 23:7)
Why does this verse speak of “Aram” being in the east, when my Bible atlas shows “Aram” to be north of Israel and Moab?
It is obvious from what Balaam says in Numbers 23:7 that the “Aram” he is talking about is “in the east.” And not just east of Jerusalem, but east of Moab as well. For that is where he is when he makes the statement. In view of this “Aram” must be a designation for more than one place. And indeed it is. In fact “Aram” is a common name used in connection with many geographic places in that general area. Unfortunately most modern Bible maps and atlases only make reference to the major designations, like Aram (Syria) to the north of Israel and the individual towns and villages within it named Aram-‘this’ or Aram-‘that.’ So when people see this they tend to think that this is the only Aram there is. But, again, this is not the case.
Actually the fact that “Aram” is the name for Syria tells us that the name does not originate there, but that it comes from the area east of there. For the name Syria does not originate there either, but is from Assyria, making it so that the name originates in the east, in the Assyrian area. It is therefore an eastern name, originally used in connection with the area of Assyria and Mesopotamia.
Later on in Deuteronomy 23:4 Balaam is spoken of as “the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia.” “Mesopotamia,” as you undoubtedly know, means ‘between the rivers/the two rivers’; i.e. the Tigris and the Euphrates. However the area is also known as Aram-Mesopotamia, especially when it is being described nationally. That is, when it is being described in connection with the time of Assyrian rule, and as the southern area of Assyrian domain.
So then Aram-Mesopotamia is the “Aram” that Balaam is talking about in Numbers 23:7. This is the “Aram” he came from; which in order to identify it more precisely in view of the wide use of the name, he further defined it as being “of the mountains of the east.” This is the “Aram” that is east of Moab, and also of Jerusalem.
– K.R. Blades