Upon first glance, this verse doesn't look particularly interesting. But in light of the context, a new picture arises.
At this time in history, God had redeemed Israel from slavery and was bringing them into the land that He had sworn to give to them. Moab was not part of the land, for God said, "Do not harass Moab, nor contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land as a possession, because I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession." Deuteronomy 2:9 Still, from Moab's perspective, they must have been anxious. Israel had even sung:
"The people will hear and be afraid...
The mighty men of Moab, trembling will take hold of them;
All the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away." Exodus 15:14-15
And across the river, Jericho was afraid. One of the citizens of Jericho tells us this: "I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed." Joshua 2:9-10
So when "the children of Israel moved, and camped in the plains of Moab on the side of the Jordan across from Jericho" (Numbers 22:1) it was not so much a leisurely nomadic journey as it was a military offensive. No wonder Balak, king of Moab, hired Balaam to spiritually attack them with a curse. How interesting that God would not allow it. Ma tovu!
Ma Tovu by Paul Wilbur. The words of this Jewish prayer come from Numbers 24:5 and Psalm 5:8