Balaam, leaving divinations, prophesies the happiness of Israel. (1-9) Balak dismisses Balaam in anger. (10-14) Balaam's prophecies. (15-25)
Verses 1-9 Now Balaam spake not his own sense, but the language of the Spirit that came upon him. Many have their eyes open who have not their hearts open; are enlightened, but not sanctified. That knowledge which puffs men up with pride, will but serve to light them to hell, whither many go with their eyes open. The blessing is nearly the same as those given before. He admires in Israel, their beauty. The righteous, doubtless, is more excellent than his neighbour. Their fruitfulness and increase. Their honour and advancement. Their power and victory. He looks back upon what had been done for them. Their power and victory. He looks back upon what had been done for them. Their courage and security. The righteous are bold as a lion, not when assaulting others, but when at rest, because God maketh them to dwell in safety. Their influence upon their neighbours. God takes what is done to them, whether good or evil, as done to himself.
Verses 10-14 This vain attempt to curse Israel is ended. Balak broke out into a rage against Balaam, and expressed great vexation. Balaam has a very full excuse; God restrained him from saying what he would have said, and constrained him to say what he would not have uttered.
Verses 15-25 Under the powerful influence of the Spirit of prophecy, Balaam foretold the future prosperity and extensive dominion of Israel. Balaam boasts that his eyes are open. The prophets were in old times called seers. He had heard the words of God, which many do who neither heed them, nor hear God in them. He knew the knowledge of the Most High. A man may be full of the knowledge of God, yet utterly destitute of the grace of God. He calls God the Most High and the Almighty. No man could seem to express a greater respect to God; yet he had no true fear of him, love to him, nor faith in him; so far a man may go toward heaven, and yet come short of it at last. Here is Balaam's prophecy concerning Him who should be the crown and glory of his people Israel; who is David in the type; but our Lord Jesus, the promised Messiah, is chiefly pointed at, and of him it is an illustrious prophecy. Balaam, a wicked man, shall see Christ, but shall not see him nigh; not see him as Job, who saw him as his Redeemer, and saw him for himself. When he comes in the clouds, every eye shall see him; but many will see him, as the rich man in hell saw Abraham, afar off. He shall come out of Jacob, and Israel, as a Star and a Sceptre; the former denoting his glory and lustre; the latter his power and authority. Christ shall be King, not only of Jacob and Israel, but of all the world; so that all shall be either governed by his golden sceptre, or dashed in pieces by his iron rod. Balaam prophesied concerning the Amalekites and Kenites, part of whose country he had now in view. Even a nest in a rock will not be a lasting security. Here is a prophecy that looks as far forward as to the Greeks and Romans. He acknowledges all the revolutions of states and kingdoms to be the Lord's doing. These events will make such desolations, that scarcely any will escape. They that live then, will be as brands plucked out of the fire. May God fit us for the worst of times! Thus Balaam, instead of cursing the church, curses Amalek the first, and Rome the last enemy of the church. Not Rome pagan only, but Rome papal also; antichrist and all the antichristian powers. Let us ask ourselves, Do we in knowledge, experience, or profession, excel Balaam? No readiness of speech, even in preaching or prayer, no gifts of knowledge or prophecy, are in themselves different from, or superior to the boasted gifts of him who loved the wages of unrighteousness, and died the enemy of God. Simple dependence on the Redeemer's atoning blood and sanctifying grace, cheerful submission to the Divine will, constant endeavours to glorify God and benefit his people, these are less splendid, but far more excellent gifts, and always accompany salvation. No boasting hypocrite ever possessed these; yet the feeblest believer has something of them, and is daily praying for more of them.
Numbers 24:1-25 . BALAAM FORETELLS ISRAEL'S HAPPINESS.
1. to seek for--that is, to use enchantments. His experience on the two former occasions ( Numbers 23:3 Numbers 23:15 ) had taught him that these superstitious accompaniments of his worship were useless, and therefore he now simply looked towards the camp of Israel, either with a secret design to curse them, or to await the divine afflatus.
2. he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes--that is, in the orderly distribution of the camp ( Numbers 2:1-34 ).
the spirit of God came upon him--Before the regular ministry of the prophets was instituted, God made use of various persons as the instruments through whom He revealed His will, and Balaam was one of these ( Deuteronomy 23:5 ).
3. the man whose eyes are open--that is, a seer ( 1 Samuel 9:9 ), a prophet, to whom the visioned future was disclosed--sometimes when falling into a sleep ( Genesis 15:12-15 ), frequently into "a trance."
5-7. How goodly are thy tents, . . . O Israel!--a fine burst of admiration, expressed in highly poetical strains. All travellers describe the beauty which the circular area of Bedouin tents impart to the desert. How impressive, then, must have been the view, as seen from the heights of Abarim, of the immense camp of Israel extended over the subjacent plains.
6. As the valleys--Hebrew, "brooks," the watercourses of the mountains.
lign aloes--an aromatic shrub on the banks of his native Euphrates, the conical form of which suggested an apt resemblance to a tent. The redundant imagery of these verses depicts the humble origin, rapid progress, and prosperity of Israel.
7. his king shall be higher than Agag--The Amalekites were then the most powerful of all the desert tribes, and "Agag" a title common to their kings.
10-14. Balak's anger was kindled against Balaam, and he smote his hands together--The "smiting of the hands together" is, among Oriental people, an indication of the most violent rage (see Ezekiel 21:17 , 22:13 ) and ignominious dismissal.
15. he took his parable--or prophecy, uttered in a poetical style.
17. I shall see him--rather, "I do see" or "I have seen him"--a prophetic sight, like that of Abraham ( John 8:56 ).
him--that is, Israel.
there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel--This imagery, in the hieroglyphic language of the East, denotes some eminent ruler--primarily David; but secondarily and pre-eminently,
corners--or, "smite through the princes of Moab"; "corners," or border, often used for a whole country ( Exodus 8:2 , Psalms 74:17 ).
children of Sheth--some prince of Moab; or, according to some, "the children of the East."
18. Edom shall be a possession--This prophecy was accomplished by David ( 2 Samuel 8:14 ).
Seir--seen in the south, and poetically used for Edom. The double conquest of Moab and Edom is alluded to ( Psalms 60:8 , 108:9 ).
19. Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion--David, and particularly Christ.
that remaineth of the city--those who flee from the field to fortified places ( Psalms 60:9 ).
20. Amalek . . . his latter end shall be that he perish for ever--Their territory was seen at the remote extremity of the desert. 1 Samuel 15:1-35 ).
21. Kenites . . . nest in a rock--Though securely established among the clefts in the high rocks of En-gedi towards the west, they should be gradually reduced by a succession of enemies till the Assyrian invader carried them into captivity ( Judges 1:16 , Judges 4:11 Judges 4:16 Judges 4:17 ; also 2 Kings 15:29 , 17:6 ).
23. who shall live when God doeth this!--Few shall escape the desolation that shall send a Nebuchadnezzar to scourge all those regions.
24. Chittim--the countries lying on the Mediterranean, particularly Greece and Italy ( Daniel 11:29 Daniel 11:30 ). The Assyrians were themselves to be overthrown--first, by the Greeks under Alexander the Great and his successors; secondly, by the Romans.
Eber--the posterity of the Hebrews ( Genesis 10:24 ).
he also shall perish--that is, the conqueror of Asher and Eber, namely, the Greek and Roman empires.
25. Balaam rose up, and went . . . to his place--Mesopotamia, to which, however, he did not return.