Numbers 24


Balaam, finding that God was determined to bless Israel, seeks

no longer for enchantments, 1.

The Spirit of God coming upon him, he delivers a most important

prophetic parable, 2-9.

Balak's anger is kindled against him, and he commands him to

depart to his own country, 10,11.

Balaam vindicates his conduct, 12, 13;

and delivers a prophecy relative to the future destruction of

Moab by the Israelites, 14-17;

also of Edom, 18, 19;

of the Amalekites, 20;

and of the Kenites, 21, 22.

Predicts also the destruction of Asshur and Eber, by the naval

power of Chittim, which should afterwards be itself destroyed,

23, 24.

Balaam and Balak separate, 25.


Verse 1. He went not, as at other times, to seek for

enchantments] We have already had occasion to observe that the

proper meaning of the word nachash is not easily ascertained;

see Nu 21:9, and see on Ge 3:1. Here the plural

nechashim is rendered enchantments; but it probably means no more

than the knowledge of future events. When Balaam saw that it

pleased God to bless Israel, he therefore thought it unnecessary

to apply for any farther prophetic declarations of God's will as

he had done before, for he could safely infer every good to this

people, from the evident disposition of God towards them.

Verse 2. The Spirit of God came upon him.] This Divine

afflatus he had not expected on the present occasion, but God had

not yet declared the whole of his will.

Verse 3. He took up his parable] His prophetic declaration

couched in highly poetic terms, and in regular metre, as the

preceding were.

The man whose eyes are open] I believe the original

shethum, should be translated shut, not open; for in the next

verse, where the opening of his eyes is mentioned, a widely

different word is used, galah, which signifies to open or

reveal. At first the eyes of Balaam were shut, and so closely too

that he could not see the angel who withstood him, till God opened

his eyes; nor could he see the gracious intentions of God towards

Israel, till the eyes of his understanding were opened by the

powers of the Divine Spirit. This therefore he mentions, we may

suppose, with humility and gratitude, and to the credit of the

prophecy which he is now about to deliver, that the Moabites may

receive it as the word of God, which must be fulfilled in due

season. His words, in their meaning, are similar to those of the

blind man in the Gospel: "Once I was blind, but now I see."

Verse 4. Falling into a trance] There is no indication in the

Hebrew that he fell into a trance; these words are added by our

translators, but they are not in the original. nophel is the

only word used, and simply signifies falling, or falling down,

perhaps in this instance by way of religious prostration.

Verse 6. Lign aloes which the Lord hath planted] Or, as the

tents which the Lord hath pitched; for it is the same word,

ohalim, which is used in the 5th verse. But from other parts of

Scripture we find that the word also signifies a species of tree,

called by some the sandal tree, and by others the lignum or wood

aloes. This tree is described as being eight or ten feet high,

with very large leaves growing at the top; and it is supposed that

a forest of those at some distance must bear some resemblance to a

numerous encampment. As the word comes from the root ahal,

which signifies to spread or branch out, and therefore is applied

to tents, because of their being extended or spread out on the

ground; so when it is applied to trees it must necessarily mean

such as were remarkable for their widely-extended branches; but

what the particular species is, cannot be satisfactorily

ascertained. By the Lord's planting are probably meant such trees

as grow independently of the cultivation of man.-Nullis hominum

cogentibus; or, as Virgil expresses it,

Sponte sua quae se tollunt in luminis oras.

VIRG., Geor. ii., 47.

"Such as sprung up, spontaneously into the regions of light.

As cedar trees] Gabriel Sionita, a very learned Syrian

Maronite, who assisted in editing the Paris Polyglot, a man worthy

of all credit, thus describes the cedars of Mount Lebanon, which

he had examined on the spot:-

"The cedar grows on the most elevated part of the mountain, is

taller than the pine, and so thick that five men together could

scarcely fathom one. It shoots out its branches at ten or twelve

feet from the ground; they are large, and distant from each other,

and are perpetually green. The cedar distils a kind of gum, to

which different effects are attributed. The wood of it is of a

brown colour, very solid, and incorruptible if preserved from wet.

It bears a small apple, like to that of the pine."

De la Roque relates some curious particulars concerning this

tree, which he learned from the Maronites of Mount Libanus: "The

branches grow in parallel rows round the tree, but lessen

gradually from the bottom to the top, shooting out parallel to the

horizon, so that the tree is, in appearance, similar to a cone.

As the snows, which fall in vast quantities on this mountain, must

necessarily, by their weight on such a vast surface, break down

these branches, nature, or rather the God of nature, has so

ordered it, that at the approach of winter, and during the snowy

season, the branches erect themselves, and cling close to the body

of the tree, and thus prevent any quantity of snow from lodging on


Mr. Maundrell, who visited Mount Libanus in 1697, gives the

following description of the cedars still growing there:-

"These noble trees grow among the snow, near the highest part of

Lebanon, and are remarkable, as well for their own age and

largeness as for those frequent allusions to them in the word of

God. Some of them are very old, and of a prodigious bulk; others

younger, and of a smaller size. Of the former I could reckon only

sixteen, but the latter are very numerous. I measured one of the

largest, and found it twelve yards and six inches in girt, and yet

sound, and thirty-seven yards in the spread of its branches. At

about five or six yards from the ground it was divided into five

limbs, each of which was equal to a great tree."-Journey from

Aleppo to Jerusalem, p. 142.

Verse 7. He shall pour the water out of his buckets, &c.] Here

is a very plain allusion to their method of raising water in

different parts of the East. By the well a tall pole is erected,

which serves as a fulcrum to a very long lever, to the smaller end

of which a bucket is appended. On the opposite end, which is much

larger, are many notches cut in the wood, which serve as steps for

a man, whose business it is to climb up to the fulcrum, in order

to lower the bucket into the well, which, when filled, he raises

by walking back on the opposite arm, till his weight brings the

bucket above the well's mouth: a person standing by the well

empties the bucket into a trench, which communicates with the

ground intended to be watered.

His seed shall be in many waters] Another simple allusion to

the sowing of rice. The ground must not only be well watered, but

flooded, in order to serve for the proper growth of this grain.

The rice that was sown in many waters must be the most fruitful.

By an elegant and chaste metaphor all this is applied to the

procreation of a numerous posterity.

His king shall be higher than Agag] This name is supposed to

have been as common to all the Amalekitish kings as Pharaoh was to

those of Egypt. But several critics, with the Septuagint, suppose

that a small change has taken place here in the original word, and

that instead of meagag, than Agag, we should read

miggog, than Gog. As Gog in Scripture seems to mean the enemies

of God's people, then the promise here may imply that the true

worshippers of the Most High shall ultimately have dominion over

all their enemies.

Verse 8. God brought him forth out of Egypt] They were neither

expelled thence, nor came voluntarily away. God alone, with a

high hand and uplifted arm, brought them forth. Concerning the

unicorn, See Clarke on Nu 23:22.

Verse 9. He couched, he lay down as a lion, &c.] See the

original terms explained Nu 23:24.

These oracles, delivered by Balaam, are evident prophecies of

the victories which the Israelites should gain over their enemies,

and of their firm possession of the promised land. They may also

refer to the great victories to be obtained by the Lord Jesus

Christ, that Lion of the tribe of Judah, over sin, death, and

Satan, the grand enemies of the human race; and to that most

numerous posterity of spiritual children which should be begotten

by the preaching of the Gospel.

Verse 11. Lo, the Lord hath kept thee back from honour.] A

bitter and impious sarcasm. "Hadst thou cursed this people, I

would have promoted thee to great honour; but thou hast chosen to

follow the directions of Jehovah rather than mine, and what will

he do for thee?"

Verse 15. The man whose eyes are open] See Clarke on Nu 24:3.

It seems strange that our version should have fallen into such a

mistake as to render shethum, open, which it does not signify,

when the very sound of the word expresses the sense. The Vulgate

has very properly preserved the true meaning, by rendering the

clause cujus obturatus est oculus, he whose eyes are shut. The

Targum first paraphrased the passage falsely, and most of the

versions followed it.

Verse 17. I shall see him, but not now] Or, I shall see him,

but he is not now. I shall behold him, but not nigh-I shall have

a full view of him, but the time is yet distant. That is, The

person of whom I am now prophesying does not at present exist

among these Israelites, nor shall he appear in this generation.

There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out

of Israel-a person eminent for wisdom, and formidable for

strength and power, shall arise as king among this people. He

shall smite the corners of Moab-he shall bring the Moabites

perfectly under subjection; (See 2Sa 8:2;)

and destroy all the children of Sheth. The original word

karkar, from karah, to meet, associate, join, blend, and

the like, is variously translated;

-vastabit, he shall waste, VULGATE.

-προνομευσει, shall prey on, SEPT.

-' yishlot, shall rule over, TARGUM.

-Shall shake, ARABIC.

-[Persian] barbend, shall put a yoke on, PERS.

-Shall unwall, AINSWORTH, &c., &c.

The Targum of Onkelos translates the whole passage thus: "I

shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but he is not

near. When a king shall arise from the house of Jacob, and the

Messiah be anointed from the house of Israel, he shall slay the

princes of Moab, and rule over all the children of men."

The Jerusalem Targum is a little different: "A king shall arise

from the house of Jacob, a redeemer and governor from the house of

Israel, who shall slay the chiefs of the Moabites, and empty out

and destroy all the children of the East."

Rabbi Moses ben Maimon has, in my opinion, perfectly hit the

meaning of the prophecy in the following paraphrase of the text:

"I shall see him, but not now. This is DAVID.-I shall behold him,

but not nigh. This is the king MESSIAH.-A Star shall come out of

Jacob. This is DAVID.-And a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel.

This is the king MESSIAH.-And shall smite the corners of Moab.

This is DAVID, (as it is written, 2Sa 8:2:

And he smote Moab, casting them down to the ground.)-And shall

destroy all the children of Sheth. This is the king MESSIAH, of

whom it is written, (Ps 72:8,)

He shall have dominion from sea to sea."

Verse 18. And Edom shall be a possession] That is, to DAVID:

as it is said: "And all they of Edom became David's servants;"

2Sa 8:14.

Seir also shall be a possession] That is, unto the king

MESSIAH; as it is said: "And saviours shall come upon Mount Zion

to judge the Mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord's;"

Obad., Ob 1:21.

See Ainsworth.

Verse 19. Out of Jacob shall come, &c.] This is supposed to

refer to Christ, because of what is said Ge 49:10.

It is exceedingly difficult to fix the true sense of this

prophecy in all its particulars. Probably the star, Nu 24:17, is

only an emblem of kingly power. Among the Egyptians a star is

said to have been the symbol of the Divine Being. The sceptre

refers to the kingly power in exercise. The corners or outskirts

may mean the petty Moabitish governments, as the Chaldee has

understood the term. If karkar, which we translate utterly

destroy, be not the name of a place here, as it is in Jud 8:10,

(which is not very likely,) it may be taken in one of those senses

assigned to it, (See Clarke on Nu 24:17,)

and signify the blending together the children of Sheth, that is,

all the inhabitants of the earth; for so the children of Sheth must

necessarily be understood, unless we consider it here as meaning

some king of the Moabites, according to Grotius, or a city on the

borders of Moab, according to Rabbi Nathan. As neither Israel nor

the Messiah ever destroyed all the children of men, we must (in

order to leave the children of Sheth what they are generally

understood to be, all the inhabitants of the world) understand the

whole as a prophecy of the final universal sway of the sceptre of

Christ, when the middle wall of partition shall be broken down, and

the Jews and Gentiles become one united, blended fold, under one

shepherd and bishop of their souls.

I cannot think that the meteoric star which guided the wise men

of the east to Bethlehem can be intended here; nor do I think that

Peter refers to this prophecy when he calls Christ the day star,

2Pe 1:19; nor that Re 2:28, where Christ is called

the morning star, nor Re 22:16, where he is called

the bright and morning star, refers at all to this prophecy of

Balaam. Nor do I think that the false Christ who rose in the time

of Adrian, and who called himself Barcochab, which literally

signifies the son of a star, did refer to this prophecy. If he

had, he must have defeated his own intention, because the SON of

the star is not THE STAR that should arise, but at the utmost a

descendant; and then, to vindicate his right to the Jewish throne,

he must show that the person who was called the star, and of whom

he pretended to be the son or descendant, had actually reigned

before him. As the sun, moon, stars, planets, light, splendours,

effulgence, day, &c., were always considered among the Asiatics as

emblems of royalty, government, &c., therefore many, both men and

women, had these names given to them as titles, surnames, &c. So

the queen of Alexander the Great, called Roxana by the Greeks, was

a Persian princess, and in her native tongue her name was [Persian]

Roushen, splendour. Hadassah, who became queen to Ahasuerus, in

place of the repudiated Vashti, and is called Esther by Europeans

in general, was called in the language of Persia [Persian] Sitareh;

from whence by corruption came both Esther, the Persian queen, and

our word star. And to waive all farther examples, a Mohammedan

prince, at first named Eesouf or Joseph, was called [Arabic]

Roushen Akhter when he was raised to the throne, which signifies a

splendid or luminous star. This prince, by a joyful reverse of

fortune, was brought from a gloomy prison and exalted to the throne

of Hindostan; on which account the following couplet was made, in

which there is a paronomasia or play on the name Roushen Akhter;

and the last line alludes to the history of the patriarch Joseph,

who was brought out of prison and exalted to the highest honours in




Roushen Akhter bood, aknoon mah shud:

Yousef az zendan ber amd shah shud.

"He was a bright star, but is now become a moon.

Joseph is brought out of prison, and is become a

glorious king."

Verse 20. Amalek was the first of the nations] The most

ancient and most powerful of all the nations or states then within

the view of Balaam; but his latter end shall be that he perish for

ever, or his posterity acharitho, shall be destroyed,

or shall utterly fail. This oracle began to be fulfilled by Saul,

1Sa 15:7, 8, who overthrew the Amalekites, and took their king,

Agag, prisoner. Afterwards they were nearly destroyed by David,

1Sa 27:8, and they were finally exterminated by the sons of

Simeon in the days of Hezekiah, 1Ch 4:41-43; since that time

they have ceased to exist as a people, and now no vestige of them

remains on the face of the earth; so completely is their posterity

cut off, according to this prophecy. The marginal reading does

not appear to give the proper sense.

Verse 21. He looked on the Kenites] Commentators are not well

agreed who the Kenites were. Dr. Dodd's opinion is, I think,

nearest to the truth. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, is

called a priest or prince of Midian, Ex 3:1, and in Jud 1:16 he

is called a Kenite; we may infer, therefore, says he, that the

Kenites and the Midianites were the same, or at least that the

Kenites and the Midianites were confederate tribes. Some of these

we learn from Judg. i., followed the Israelites, others abode still

among the Midianites and Amalekites. When Saul destroyed the

latter, we find he had no commission against the Kenites,

1Sa 15:6, for it appears that they were then a small and

inconsiderable people; they had doubtless been wasted, as the text

says, though by what means does not appear from history. On the

other hand, it may be observed that the Midianites mentioned here

lived close to the Dead Sea, at a great distance from the Midian

where Jethro lived, which was near Horeb. Perhaps they were a

colony or tribe that had migrated from the vicinity of Mount Sinai.

It seems that at this time the Kenites occupied a very strong

position: Strong is thy dwelling place, and thou puttest thy nest

in a rock; where there is a play on the original word , which

signifies both a Kenite and a nest. High rocks in these countries

were generally used as their strong places.

Verse 22. Until Asshur shall carry thee away captive.] The

Assyrians and Babylonians who carried away captive the ten tribes,

2Ki 17:6, and the Jews into Babylon, 2Ki 25:1, 11, probably

carried away the Kenites also. Indeed this seems pretty evident,

as we find some Kenites mentioned among the Jews after their

return from the Babylonish captivity, 1Ch 2:55.

Verse 23. Who shall live when God doeth this!] There are two

senses in which these words may be taken: -1. That the event is

so distant that none then alive could possibly live to see it.

2. That the times would be so distressing and desolating that

scarcely any should be able to escape. The words are very similar

to those of our Lord, and probably are to be taken in the same

sense: "Wo to them that are with child, and to them that give suck

in those days."

Verse 24. Ships shall come from the coast of Chittim] Some

think by Chittim the Romans, others the Macedonians under

Alexander the Great, are meant. It is certain that the Romans did

conquer the Assyrians, including all the people of Syria,

Mesopotamia, &c., but Calmet strongly contends that by Chittim

Macedonia is meant, and that the prophecy refers to the conquests

of Alexander. Chittim was one of the sons of Javan, the son of

Japheth, the son of Noah, Ge 10:4; and his posterity, according

to Josephus, Antiq., l. iii., c. 22, settled in Cilicia,

Macedonia, Cyprus, and Italy also; and therefore, says Mr.

Ainsworth, the prophecy may imply both the troubles that befell

the Assyrians and Jews by the Greeks and Seleucidae, in the

troublous days of Antiochus.

And shall afflict Eber] Probably not the Hebrews, as some

think, but the people on the other side the Euphrates, from

abar, to pass over, go beyond; all which people were discomfited,

and their empire destroyed by Alexander the Great.

Verse 25. And Balaam-returned to his place] Intended to have

gone to Mesopotamia, his native country, (see De 23:4,) but

seems to have settled among the Midianites, where he was slain by

the Israelites; see Nu 31:8.

THOUGH the notes in the preceding chapters have been extended to

a considerable length, yet a few additional remarks may be

necessary: the reader's attention is earnestly requested to the

following propositions:-

1. It appears sufficiently evident from the preceding account

that Balaam knew and worshipped the true God.

2. That he had been a true prophet, and appears to have been in

the habit of receiving oracles from God.

3. That he practised some illicit branches of knowledge, or was

reputed by the Moabites as a sorcerer, probably because of the

high reputation he had for wisdom; and we know that even in our

own country, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, persons who

excelled their contemporaries in wisdom were reputed as magicians.

4. That though he was a believer in the true God, yet he was

covetous; he loved the wages of unrighteousness.

5. That it does not appear that in the case before us he wished

to curse Israel when he found they were the servants of the true


6. That it is possible he did not know this at first. Balak

told him that there was a numerous people come out of Egypt; and

as marauders, wandering hordes, freebooters, &c., were frequent in

those days, he might take them at first for such spoilers, and the

more readily go at Balak's request to consult God concerning them.

7. That so conscientiously did he act in the whole business,

that as soon as he found it displeased God he cheerfully offered

to return; and did not advance till he had not only the

permission, but the authority of God to proceed.

8. That when he came in view of the Israelitish camp he did not

attempt to make use of any means of sorcery, evocation of spirits,

necromantic spells, &c., to accomplish the wish of Balak.

9. That he did seek to find out the will of the true God, by

using those means which God himself had prescribed, viz.,

supplication and prayer, and the sacrifice of the clean beasts.

10. That though he knew it would greatly displease Balak, yet he

most faithfully and firmly told him all that God said on every


11. That notwithstanding his allowed covetous disposition, yet he

refused all promised honours and proffered rewards, even of the

most extensive kind, to induce him to act in any respect contrary

to the declared will of God.

12. That God on this occasion communicated to him some of the

most extraordinary prophetic influences ever conferred on man.

13. That his prophecies are, upon the whole, clear and pointed,

and have been fulfilled in the most remarkable manner, and furnish

a very strong argument in proof of Divine revelation.

14. That notwithstanding the wicked counsel given to the

Midianites, the effects of which are mentioned in the following

chapter, on which account he probably lost his life, (Nu 31:8,)

the badness of this man's character has been very far overrated;

and that it does not appear that he was either a hypocrite, false

prophet, or a sorcerer in the common acceptation of the term, and

that he risked even life itself in following and fulfilling the

will of the Lord!

15. That though it is expressly asserted, Nu 31:16, and

Re 2:14, that Israel's committing whoredom with the daughters

of Moab was brought about by the evil counsel given by Balaam to

cast this stumbling-block in their way, yet it does not appear

from the text that he had those most criminal intentions which are

generally attributed to him; for as we have already seen so much

good in this man's character, and that this, and his love of money

(and who thinks this a sin?) are almost the only blots in it, it

must certainly be consistent with candour and charity to suggest a

method of removing at least some part of this blame.

16. I would therefore simply say that the counsel given by

Balaam to Balak might have been "to form alliances with this

people, especially through the medium of matrimonial connections;

and seeing they could not conquer them, to endeavour to make them

their friends." Now, though this might not be designed by Balaam

to bring them into a snare, yet it was a bad doctrine, as it led

to the corruption of the holy seed, and to an unequal yoking with

unbelievers; which, though even in a matrimonial way, is as

contrary to sound policy as to the word of God.

See Clarke on Nu 25:3 and "Nu 25:6".

17. That it was the Moabitish women, not Balaam, that called the

people to the sacrifice of their gods; and it argued great

degeneracy and iniquity in the hearts of the people on so slight

an invitation to join so suddenly so impure a worship, and so

speedily to cast off the whole form of godliness, with every

portion of the fear of the Almighty; therefore the high blame

rests ultimately with themselves.

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