Numbers 24

Balaam Prophesies Yet Again

For a thorough study of the arrangement of this passage, see E. B. Smick, “A Study of the Structure of the Third Balaam Oracle,” The Law and the Prophets, 242–52. He sees the oracle as having an introductory strophe (vv. 3, 4), followed by two stanzas (vv. 5, 6) that introduce the body (vv. 7b–9b) before the final benediction (v. 9b).
When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel,
Heb “it was good in the eyes of the Lord.”
he did not go as at the other times
Heb “as time after time.”
to seek for omens,
The word נְחָשִׁים (nekhashim) means “omens,” or possibly “auguries.” Balaam is not even making a pretense now of looking for such things, because they are not going to work. God has overruled them.
but he set his face
The idiom signifies that he had a determination and resolution to look out over where the Israelites were, so that he could appreciate more their presence and use that as the basis for his expressing of the oracle.
toward the wilderness.
When Balaam lifted up his eyes, he saw Israel camped tribe by tribe;
Heb “living according to their tribes.”
and the Spirit of God came upon him.
Then he uttered this oracle:
Heb “and he took up his oracle and said.”

“The oracle
The word נְאֻם (neum) is an “oracle.” It is usually followed by a subjective genitive, indicating the doer of the action. The word could be rendered “says,” but this translations is more specific.
of Balaam son of Beor;
the oracle of the man whose eyes are open;
The Greek version reads “the one who sees truly.” The word has been interpreted in both ways, “shut” or “open.”

the oracle of the one who hears the words of God,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
although falling flat on the ground
The phrase “flat on the ground” is supplied in the translation for clarity. The Greek version interprets the line to mean “falling asleep.” It may mean falling into a trance.
with eyes open:
The last colon simply has “falling, but opened eyes.” The falling may simply refer to lying prone; and the opened eyes may refer to his receiving a vision. See H. E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets, 37–41.

Here מָה (mah) has an exclamatory sense: “How!” (see Gen 28:17).
beautiful are your tents, O Jacob,
and your dwelling places, O Israel!
They are like
Heb “as valleys they spread forth.”
Or “rows of palms.”
stretched forth,
like gardens by the river’s side,
like aloes
The language seems to be more poetic than precise. N. H. Snaith notes that cedars do not grow beside water; he also connects “aloes” to the eaglewood that is more exotic, and capable of giving off an aroma (Leviticus and Numbers [NCB], 298).
that the Lord has planted,
and like cedar trees beside the waters.
He will pour the water out of his buckets,
For this colon the LXX has “a man shall come out of his seed.” Cf. the Syriac Peshitta and Targum.

and their descendants will be like abundant
Heb “many.”
These two lines are difficult, but the general sense is that of irrigation buckets and a well-watered land. The point is that Israel will be prosperous and fruitful.

their king will be greater than Agag,
Many commentators see this as a reference to Agag of 1 Sam 15:32–33, the Amalekite king slain by Samuel, for that is the one we know. But that is by no means clear, for this text does not identify this Agag. If it is that king, then this poem, or this line in this poem, would have to be later, unless one were to try to argue for a specific prophecy. Whoever this Agag is, he is a symbol of power.

and their kingdom will be exalted.
God brought them out of Egypt.
They have, as it were, the strength of a young bull;
they will devour hostile people
Heb “they will devour nations,” their adversaries.

and will break their bones
and will pierce them through with arrows.
They crouch and lie down like a lion,
and as a lioness,
On the usage of this word see HALOT 517 s.v. לָבִיא.
who can stir him?
Blessed is the one who blesses you,
and cursed is the one who curses you!’”
10  Then Balak became very angry at Balaam, and he struck his hands together.
This is apparently a sign of contempt or derision (see Job 27:23; and Lam 2:15).
Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, and look, you have done nothing but bless
The construction is emphatic, using the infinitive absolute with the perfect tense for “bless.”
them these three times!
11 So now, go back where you came from!
Heb “flee to your place.”
I said that I would greatly honor you; but now the Lord has stood in the way of your honor.”

12  Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not also tell your messengers whom you sent to me, 13 ‘If Balak would give me his palace full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond
Heb “I am not able to go beyond.”
the commandment
Heb “mouth.”
of the Lord to do either good or evil of my own will,
Heb “from my heart.”
but whatever the Lord tells me I must speak’?
14 And now, I am about to go
The construction is the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) suffixed followed by the active participle. This is the futur instans use of the participle, to express something that is about to happen: “I am about to go.”
back to my own people. Come now, and I will advise you as to what this people will do to your people in the future.”
Heb “in the latter days.” For more on this expression, see E. Lipinski, “באחרית הימים dans les textes préexiliques,” VT 20 (1970): 445-50.

Balaam Prophesies a Fourth Time

15  Then he uttered this oracle:
Heb “and he took up his oracle and said.”

“The oracle of Balaam son of Beor;
the oracle of the man whose eyes are open;
16  the oracle of the one who hears the words of God,
and who knows the knowledge of the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
although falling flat on the ground with eyes open:
17  ‘I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not close at hand.
Heb “near.”

A star
This is a figure for a king (see also Isa 14:12) not only in the Bible but in the ancient Near Eastern literature as a whole. The immediate reference of the prophecy seems to be to David, but the eschatological theme goes beyond him. There is to be a connection made between this passage and the sighting of a star in its ascendancy by the magi, who then traveled to Bethlehem to see the one born King of the Jews (Matt 2:2). The expression “son of a star” (Aram Bar Kochba) became a title for a later claimant to kingship, but he was doomed by the Romans in a.d. 135.
will march forth
The verb is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive; it is equal to the imperfect expressing the future. The verb דָּרַךְ (darakh), related to the noun “way, road,” seems to mean something like tread on, walk, march.”
out of Jacob,
and a scepter
The “scepter” is metonymical for a king who will rise to power. NEB strangely rendered this as “comet” to make a parallel with “star.”
will rise out of Israel.
He will crush the skulls
The word is literally “corners,” but may refer to the corners of the head, and so “skull.”
of Moab,
and the heads
The MT reads “shatter, devastate.” Smr reads קֹדְקֹד (qodqod, “head; crown; pate”). Smr follows Jer 48:45 which appears to reflect Num 24:17.
of all the sons of Sheth.
The prophecy begins to be fulfilled when David defeated Moab and Edom and established an empire including them. But the Messianic promise extends far beyond that to the end of the age and the inclusion of these defeated people in the program of the coming King.

18  Edom will be a possession,
Seir is the chief mountain range of Edom (Deut 33:2), and so the reference here is to the general area of Edom.
his enemies, will also be a possession;
but Israel will act valiantly.
19  A ruler will be established from Jacob;
he will destroy the remains of the city.’”
Or, understanding the Hebrew word for “city” as a place name, “of Ir” (cf. NRSV, NLT).

Balaam’s Final Prophecies

20  Then Balaam
Heb “he”; the referent (Balaam) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
looked on Amalek and delivered this oracle:
Heb “and he lifted up his oracle and said.” So also in vv. 21, 23.

“Amalek was the first
This probably means that it held first place, or it thought that it was “the first of the nations.” It was not the first, either in order or greatness.
of the nations,
but his end will be that he will perish.”
21  Then he looked on the Kenites and uttered this oracle:

“Your dwelling place seems strong,
and your nest
A pun is made on the name Kenite by using the word “your nest” (קִנֶּךָ, qinnekha); the location may be the rocky cliffs overlooking Petra.
is set on a rocky cliff.
22  Nevertheless the Kenite will be consumed.
Heb “Nevertheless Cain will be wasted; how long will Asshur take you captive?” Cain was believed to be the ancestor of the Kenites. The NAB has “yet destined for burning, even as I watch, are your inhabitants.” Asshur may refer to a north Arabian group of people of Abrahamic stock (Gen 25:3), and not the Assyrian empire.

How long will Asshur take you away captive?”
23  Then he uttered this oracle:

“O, who will survive when God does this!
Because there is no parallel line, some have thought that it dropped out (see de Vaulx, Les Nombres, 296).

24  Ships will come from the coast of Kittim,
The MT is difficult. The Kittim refers normally to Cyprus, or any maritime people to the west. W. F. Albright proposed emending the line to “islands will gather in the north, ships from the distant sea” (“The Oracles of Balaam,” JBL 63 [1944]: 222-23). Some commentators accept that reading as the original state of the text, since the present MT makes little sense.

and will afflict Asshur,
Or perhaps “Assyria” (so NCV, TEV, CEV, NLT).
and will afflict Eber,
and he will also perish forever.”
Or “it will end in utter destruction.”

25  Balaam got up and departed and returned to his home,
Heb “place.”
and Balak also went his way.

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