Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The third saying. - Num 24:1 and Num 24:2. From the two revelations which he had received before, Balaam, saw, i.e., perceived, that it pleased Jehovah to bless Israel. This induced him not to go out for auguries, as on the previous occasions. כּפעם־בּפעם, "as time after time," i.e., as at former times (Num 23:3 and Num 23:15). He therefore turned his face to the desert, i.e., to the steppes of Moab, where Israel was encamped (Num 22:1). And when he lifted up his eyes, "he saw Israel encamping according to its tribes; and the Spirit of God came over him." The impression made upon him by the sight of the tribes of Israel, served as the subjective preparation for the reception of the Spirit of God to inspire him. Of both the earlier utterances it is stated that "Jehovah put a word into his mouth" (Num 23:5 and Num 23:16); but of this third it is affirmed that "the Spirit of God came over him." The former were communicated to him, when he went out for a divine revelation, without his being thrown into an ecstatic state; he heard the voice of God within him telling him what he was to say. But this time, like the prophets in their prophesyings, he was placed by the Spirit of God in a state of ecstatic sight; so that, with his eyes closed as in clairvoyance, he saw the substance of the revelation from God with his inward mental eye, which had been opened by the Spirit of God. Thus not only does he himself describe his own condition in Num 24:3 and Num 24:4, but his description is in harmony with the announcement itself, which is manifestly the result both in form and substance of the intuition effected within him by the Spirit of God.
Num 24:3 and Num 24:4 contain the preface to the prophecy: "The divine saying of Balaam the son of Beor, the divine saying of the man with closed eye, the divine saying of the hearer of divine words, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down and with opened eyes." For the participial noun נאם the meaning divine saying (effatum, not inspiratum, Domini) is undoubtedly established by the expression יהוה נאם, which recurs in Num 14:28 and Gen 22:16, and is of constant use in the predictions of the prophets; and this applies even to the few passages where a human author is mentioned instead of Jehovah, such as Num 24:3, Num 24:4, and Num 24:15, Num 24:16; also Sa2 23:1; Pro 30:1; and Psa 36:2, where a נאם is ascribed to the personified wickedness. Hence, when Balaam calls the following prophecy a נאם, this is done for the purpose of designating it as a divine revelation received from the Spirit of God. He had received it, and now proclaimed it as a man העין שׁתם, with closed eye. שׁתם does not mean to open, a meaning in support of which only one passage of the Mishnah can be adduced, but to close, like סתם in Dan 8:26, and שׁתם in Lam 3:8, with the שׁ softened into ס or שׂ (see Roediger in Ges. thes., and Dietrich's Hebrew Lexicon). "Balaam describes himself as the man with closed eye with reference to his state of ecstasy, in which the closing of the outer senses went hand in hand with the opening of the inner" (Hengstenberg). The cessation of all perception by means of the outer senses, so far as self-conscious reflection is concerned, was a feature that was common to both the vision and the dream, the two forms in which the prophetic gift manifested itself (Num 12:6), and followed from the very nature of the inward intuition. In the case of prophets whose spiritual life was far advanced, inspiration might take place without any closing of the outward senses. But upon men like Balaam, whose inner religious life was still very impure and undeveloped, the Spirit of God could only operate by closing their outward senses to impressions from the lower earthly world, and raising them up to visions of the higher and spiritual world.
(Note: Hence, as Hengstenberg observes (Balaam, p. 449), we have to picture Balaam as giving utterance to his prophecies with the eyes of his body closed; though we cannot argue from the fact of his being in this condition, that an Isaiah would be in precisely the same. Compare the instructive information concerning analogous phenomena in the sphere of natural mantik and ecstasy in Hengstenberg (pp. 449ff.), and Tholuck's Propheten, pp. 49ff.)
What Balaam heard in this ecstatic condition was אל אמרי, the sayings of God, and what he saw שׁדּי מחזה, the vision of the Almighty. The Spirit of God came upon him with such power that he fell down (נפל), like Saul in Sa1 19:24; not merely "prostrating himself with reverential awe at seeing and hearing the things of God" (Knobel), but thrown to the ground by the Spirit of God, who "came like an armed man upon the seer," and that in such a way that as he fell his (spirit's) eyes were opened. This introduction to his prophecy is not an utterance of boasting vanity; but, as Calvin correctly observes, "the whole preface has no other tendency than to prove that he was a true prophet of God, and had received the blessing which he uttered from a celestial oracle."
The blessing itself in Num 24:5. contains two thoughts: (1) the glorious prosperity of Israel, and the exaltation of its kingdom (Num 24:5-7); (2) the terrible power, so fatal to all its foes, of the people which was set to be a curse or a blessing to all the nations (Num 24:8, Num 24:9).
"How beautiful are thy tents, O Jacob! thy dwellings, O Israel! Like valleys are they spread out, like gardens by the stream, like aloes which Jehovah has planted, like cedars by the waters. Water will flow out of his buckets, and his seed is by many waters. And loftier than Agag be his king, and his kingdom will be exalted." What Balaam had seen before his ecstasy with his bodily eyes, formed the substratum for his inward vision, in which the dwellings of Israel came before his mental eye adorned with the richest blessing from the Lord. The description starts, it is true, from the time then present, but it embraces the whole future of Israel. In the blessed land of Canaan the dwellings of Israel will spread out like valleys. נחלים does not mean brooks here, but valleys watered by brooks. נטּה, to extend oneself, to stretch or spread out far and wide. Yea, "like gardens by the stream," which are still more lovely than the grassy and flowery valleys with brooks. This thought is carried out still further in the two following figures. אהלים are aloe-trees, which grow in the East Indies, in Siam, in Cochin China, and upon the Moluccas, and from which the aloe-wood was obtained, that was so highly valued in the preparation of incense, on account of its fragrance. As the aloes were valued for their fragrant smell, so the cedars were valued on account of their lofty and luxuriant growth, and the durability of their wood. The predicate, "which Jehovah hath planted," corresponds, so far as the actual meaning is concerned, to מים עלי, "by water;" for this was "an expression used to designate trees that, on account of their peculiar excellence, were superior to ordinary trees" (Calvin; cf. Psa 104:16).
And not only its dwellings, but Israel itself would also prosper abundantly. It would have an abundance of water, that leading source of all blessing and prosperity in the burning East. The nation is personified as a man carrying two pails overflowing with water. דּליו is the dual דּליים. The dual is generally used in connection with objects which are arranged in pairs, either naturally or artificially (Ges. 88, 2). "His seed" (i.e., his posterity, not his sowing corn, the introduction of which, in this connection, would, to say the least, be very feeble here) "is," i.e., grows up, "by many waters," that is to say, enjoys the richest blessings (comp. Deu 8:7 and Deu 11:10 with Isa 44:4; Isa 65:23). ירם (optative), "his king be high before (higher than) Agag." Agag (עגג, the fiery) is not the proper name of the Amalekite king defeated by Saul (Sa1 15:8), but the title (nomen dignitatis) of the Amalekite kings in general, just as all the Egyptian kings had the common name of Pharaoh, and the Philistine kings the name of Abimelech.
(Note: See Hengstenberg (Dissertations, ii. 250; and Balaam, p. 458). Even Gesenius could not help expressing some doubt about there being any reference in this prophecy to the event described in Sa1 15:8., "unless," he says, "you suppose the name Agag to have been a name that was common to the kings of the Amalekites" (thes. p. 19). He also points to the name Abimelech, of which he says (p. 9): "It was the name of several kings in the land of the Philistines, as of the king of Gerar in the times of Abraham (Gen 20:2-3; Gen 21:22-23), and of Isaac (Gen 26:1-2), and also of the king of Gath in the time of David (Psa 34:1; coll. Sa1 21:10, where the same king of called Achish). It seems to have been the common name and title of those kings, as Pharaoh was of the early kings of Egypt, and Caesar and Augustus of the emperors of Rome.")
The reason for mentioning the king of the Amalekites was, that he was selected as the impersonation of the enmity of the world against the kingdom of God, which culminated in the kings of the heathen; the Amalekites having been the first heathen tribe that attacked the Israelites on their journey to Canaan (Exo 17:8). The introduction of one particular king would have been neither in keeping with the context, nor reconcilable with the general character of Balaam's utterances. Both before and afterward, Balaam predicts in great general outlines the good that would come to Israel; and how is it likely that he would suddenly break off in the midst to compare the kingdom of Israel with the greatness of one particular king of the Amalekites? Even his fourth and last prophecy merely announces in great general terms the destruction of the different nations that rose up in hostility against Israel, without entering into special details, which, like the conquest of the Amalekites by Saul, had no material or permanent influence upon the attitude of the heathen towards the people of God; for after the defeat inflicted upon this tribe by Saul, they very speedily invaded the Israelitish territory again, and proceeded to plunder and lay it waste in just the same manner as before (cf. Sa1 27:8; Sa1 30:1.; Sa2 8:12).
(Note: Even on the supposition (which is quite at variance with the character of all the prophecies of Balaam) that in the name of Agag, the contemporary of Saul, we have a vaticinium ex eventu, the allusion to this particular king would be exceedingly strange, as the Amalekites did not perform any prominent part among the enemies of Israel in the time of Saul; and the command to exterminate them was given to Saul, not because of any special harm that they had done to Israel at that time, but on account of what they had done to Israel on their way out of Egypt (comp. Sa1 15:2 with Exo 17:8).)
מלכּו, his king, is not any one particular king of Israel, but quite generally the king whom the Israelites would afterwards receive. For מלכּו is substantially the same as the parallel מלכתו, the kingdom of Israel, which had already been promised to the patriarchs (Gen 17:6; Gen 35:11), and in which the Israelites were first of all to obtain that full development of power which corresponded to its divine appointment; just as, in fact, the development of any people generally culminates in an organized kingdom. - The king of Israel, whose greatness was celebrated by Balaam, was therefore neither the Messiah exclusively, nor the earthly kingdom without the Messiah, but the kingdom of Israel that was established by David, and was exalted in the Messiah into an everlasting kingdom, the enemies of which would all be made its footstool (Psa 2:1-12 and Psa 110:1-7).
In Num 24:8 and Num 24:9, Balaam proclaims still further: "God leads him out of Egypt; his strength is as that of a buffalo: he will devour nations his enemies, and crush their bones, and dash them in pieces with his arrows. He has encamped, he lies down like a lion, and like a lioness: who can drive him up? Blessed be they who bless thee, and cursed they who curse thee!" The fulness of power that dwelt in the people of Israel was apparent in the force and prowess with which their God brought them out of Egypt. This fact Balaam repeats from the previous saying (Num 23:22), for the purpose of linking on to it the still further announcement of the manner in which the power of the nation would show itself upon its foes in time to come. The words, "he will devour nations," call up the image of a lion, which is employed in Num 24:9 to depict the indomitable heroic power of Israel, in words taken from Jacob's blessing in Gen 49:9. The Piel גּרם is a denom. verb from גּרם, with the meaning to destroy, crush the bones, like שׁרשׁ, to root out (cf. Ges. 52, 2; Ewald, 120, e.). הצּיו is not the object to ימחץ; for מחץ, to dash to pieces, does not apply to arrows, which may be broken in pieces, but not dashed to pieces; and the singular suffix in חצּיו can only apply to the singular idea in the verse, i.e., to Israel, and not to its enemies, who are spoken of in the plural. Arrows are singled out as representing weapons in general.
(Note: The difficulty which many feel in connection with the word חצּיו cannot be removed by alterations of the text. The only possible conjecture חלציו (his loins) is wrecked upon the singular suffix, for the dashing to pieces of the loins of Israel is not for a moment to be thought of. Knobel's proposal, viz., to read קמיו, has no support in Deu 33:11, and is much too violent to reckon upon any approval.)
Balaam closes this utterance, as he had done the previous one, with a quotation from Jacob's blessing, which he introduces to show to Balak, that, according to words addressed by Jehovah to the Israelites through their own tribe-father, they were to overcome their foes so thoroughly, that none of them should venture to rise up against them again. To this he also links on the words with which Isaac had transferred to Jacob in Gen 27:29 the blessing of Abraham in Gen 12:3, for the purpose of warning Balak to desist from his enmity against the chosen people of God.
This repeated blessing of Israel threw Balak into such a violent rage, that he smote his hands together, and advised Balaam to fly to his house: adding, "I said, I will honour thee greatly (cf. Num 22:17 and Num 22:37); but, behold, Jehovah has kept thee back from honour." "Smiting the hands together" was either a sign of horror (Lam 2:15) or of violent rage; it is in the latter sense that it occurs both here and in Job 27:23. In the words, "Jehovah hath kept thee back from honour," the irony with which Balak scoffs at Balaam's confidence in Jehovah is unmistakeable.
But Balaam reminds him, on the other hand, of the declaration which he made to the messengers at the very outset (Num 22:18), that he could not on any account speak in opposition to the command of Jehovah, and then adds, "And now, behold, I go to my people. Come, I will tell thee advisedly what this people will do to thy people at the end of the days." יעץ, to advise; here it denotes an announcement, which includes advice. The announcement of what Israel would do to the Moabites in the future, contains the advice to Balak, what attitude he should assume towards Israel, if this people was to bring a blessing upon his own people and not a curse. On "the end of the days," see at Gen 49:1.
Balaam's fourth and last prophecy is distinguished from the previous ones by the fact that, according to the announcement in Num 24:14, it is occupied exclusively with the future, and foretells the victorious supremacy of Israel over all its foes, and the destruction of all the powers of the world. This prophecy is divided into four different prophecies by the fourfold repetition of the words, "he took up his parable" (Num 24:15, Num 24:20, Num 24:21, and Num 24:23). The first of these refers to the two nations that were related to Israel, viz., Edom and Moab (Num 24:17-19); the second to Amalek, the arch-enemy of Israel (Num 24:20); the third to the Kenites, who were allied to Israel (Num 24:21 and Num 24:22); and the fourth proclaims the overthrow of the great powers of the world (Num 24:23 and Num 24:24). - The introduction in Num 24:15 and Num 24:16 is the same as that of the previous prophecy in Num 24:3 and Num 24:4, except that the words, "he which knew the knowledge of the Most High," are added to the expression, "he that heard the words of God," to show that Balaam possessed the knowledge of the Most High, i.e., that the word of God about to be announced had already been communicated to him, and was not made known to him now for the first time; though without implying that he had received the divine revelation about to be uttered at the same time as those which he had uttered before.
The prophecy itself commences with a picture from the "end of the days," which rises up before the mental eye of the seer. "I see Him, yet not now; I behold Him, but not nigh. A star appears out of Jacob, and a sceptre rises out of Israel, and dashes Moab in pieces on both sides, and destroys all the sons of confusion." The suffixes to אראנּוּ and עשׁוּרנּוּ refer to the star which is mentioned afterwards, and which Balaam sees in spirit, but "not now," i.e., not as having already appeared, and "not nigh," i.e., not to appear immediately, but to come forth out of Israel in the far distant future. "A star is so natural an image and symbol of imperial greatness and splendour, that it has been employed in this sense in almost every nation. And the fact that this figure and symbol are so natural, may serve to explain the belief of the ancient world, that the birth and accession of great kings was announced by the appearance of stars" (Hengstenberg, who cites Justini hist. xxxvii. 2; Plinii h. n. ii. 23; Sueton. Jul. Caes. c. 78; and Dio Cass. xlv. p. 273). If, however, there could be any doubt that the rising star represented the appearance of a glorious ruler or king, it would be entirely removed by the parallel, "a sceptre arises out of Israel." The sceptre, which was introduced as a symbol of dominion even in Jacob's blessing (Gen 49:10), is employed here as the figurative representation and symbol of the future ruler in Israel. This ruler would destroy all the enemies of Israel. Moab and (Num 24:18) Edom are the first of these that are mentioned, viz., the two nations that were related to Israel by descent, but had risen up in hostility against it at that time. Moab stands in the foremost rank, not merely because Balaam was about to announce to the king of Moab what Israel would do to his people in the future, but also because the hostility of the heathen to the people of God had appeared most strongly in Balak's desire to curse the Israelites. מואב פּאתי, "the two corners or sides of Moab," equivalent to Moab on both sides, from one end to the other. For קרקר, the inf. Pilp. of קוּר or קיר, the meaning to destroy is fully established by the parallel מחץ, and by Isa 22:5, whatever may be thought of its etymology and primary meaning. And neither the Samaritan text nor the passage in Jeremiah (Jer 48:45), which is based upon this prophecy, at all warrants an alteration of the reading קרקר into קדקד (the crown of the head), since Jeremiah almost invariably uses earlier writing in this free manner, viz., by altering the expressions employed, and substituting in the place of unusual words wither more common ones, or such as are similar in sound (cf. Kper, Jerem. libror, ss. interpres atque vindex, pp. xii.ff. and p. 43). - כּל־בּני־שׁת does not mean "all the sons of Seth," i.e., all mankind, as the human race is never called by the name of Seth; and the idea that the ruler to arise out of Israel would destroy all men, would be altogether unsuitable. It signifies rather "all the sons of confusion," by which, according to the analogy of Jacob and Israel (Num 24:17), Edom and Seir (Num 24:18), the Moabites are to be understood as being men of wild, warlike confusion. שׁת is a contraction of שׁאת (Lam 3:47), and derived from שׁאה; and in Jer 48:45 it is correctly rendered שׁאון בּני.
(Note: On the other hand, the rendering, "all the sons of the drinker, i.e., of Lot," which Hiller proposed, and v. Hoffmann and Kurtz have renewed, is evidently untenable. For, in the first place, the fact related in Gen 19:32. does not warrant the assumption that Lot ever received the name of the "drinker," especially as the word used in Gen 19 is not שׁתה, but שׁקה. Moreover, the allusion to "all the sons of Lot," i.e., the Moabites and Ammonites, neither suits the thoroughly synonymous parallelism in the saying of Balaam, nor corresponds to the general character of his prophecies, which announced destruction primarily only to those nations that rose up in hostility against Israel, viz., Moab, Edom, and Amalek, whereas hitherto the Ammonites had not assumed either a hostile or friendly attitude towards them. And lastly, all the nations doomed to destruction are mentioned by name. Now the Ammonites were not a branch of the Moabites by descent, nor was their territory enclosed within the Moabitish territory, so that it could be included, as Hoffmann supposes, within the "four corners of Moab.")
In the announcement of destruction which is to fall upon the enemies of Israel through the star and sceptre out of the midst of it, Moab is followed by "its southern neighbour Edom."
"And Edom becomes a possession, and Seir becomes a possession, its enemies; but Israel acquires power." Whose possession Edom and Seir are to become, is not expressly stated; but it is evident from the context, and from איביו (its enemies), which is not a genitive dependent upon Seir, but is in apposition to Edom and Seir, just as צריו in Num 24:8 is in apposition to גּוים. Edom and Seir were his, i.e., Israel's enemies; therefore they were to be taken by the ruler who was to arise out of Israel. Edom is the name of the people, Seir of the country, just as in Gen 32:4; so that Seir is not to be understood as relating to the prae-Edomitish population of the land, which had been subjugated by the descendants of Esau, and had lost all its independence a long time before. In Moses' days the Israelites were not allowed to fight with the Edomites, even when they refused to allow them to pass peaceably through their territory (see Num 20:21), but were commanded to leave them in their possessions as a brother nation (Deu 2:4-5). In the future, however, their relation to one another was to be a very different one; because the hostility of Edom, already in existence, grew more and more into obstinate and daring enmity, which broke up all the ties of affection that Israel was to regard as holy, and thus brought about the destruction of the Edomites. - The fulfilment of this prophecy commenced with the subjugation of the Edomites by David (Sa2 8:14; Kg1 11:15-16; Ch1 18:12-13), but it will not be completed till "the end of the days," when all the enemies of God and His Church will be made the footstool of Christ (Psa 110:1.). That David did not complete the subjugation of Edom is evident, on the one hand, from the fact that the Edomites revolted again under Solomon, though without success (Kg1 11:14.); that they shook off the yoke imposed upon them under Joram (Kg2 8:20); and notwithstanding their defeat by Amaziah (Kg2 14:7; Ch2 25:11) and Uzziah (Kg2 14:22; Ch2 26:2), invaded Judah a second time under Ahaz (Ch2 28:17), and afterwards availed themselves of every opportunity to manifest their hostility to the kingdom of Judah and the Jews generally, - as for example at the conquest of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans (Eze 35:15; Eze 36:5; Oba 1:10 and Oba 1:13), and in the wars between the Maccabees and the Syrians (1 Macc. 5:3, 65; 2 Macc. 10:15; 12:38ff.), - until they were eventually conquered by John Hyrcanus in the year b.c. 129, and compelled to submit to circumcision, and incorporated in the Jewish state (Josephus, Ant. xiii. 9, 1, xv. 7, 9; Wars of the Jews, iv. 5, 5). But notwithstanding this, they got the government over the Jews into their own hands through Antipater and Herod (Josephus, Ant. xiv. 8, 5), and only disappeared from the stage of history with the destruction of the Jewish state by the Romans. On the other hand, the declarations of the prophets (Amo 9:12; Oba 1:17.), which foretell, with an unmistakeable allusion to this prophecy, the possession of the remnant of Edom by the kingdom of Israel, and the announcements in Isa 34 and Isa 63:1-6, Jer 49:7., Eze 25:12. and Eze 35:1-15, comp. with Psa 137:7 and Lam 4:21-22, prove still more clearly that Edom, as the leading foe of the kingdom of God, will only be utterly destroyed when the victory of the latter over the hostile power of the world has been fully and finally secured. - Whilst Edom falls, Israel will acquire power. חיל עשׂה, to acquire ability or power (Deu 8:17-18; Rut 4:11), not merely to show itself brave or strong. It is rendered correctly by Onkelos, "prosperabitur in opibus;" and Jonathan, "praevalebunt in opibus et possidebunt eos."
"And a ruler shall come out of Jacob, and destroy what is left out of cities." The subject to ירדּ is indefinite, and to be supplied from the verb itself. We have to think of the ruler foretold as star and sceptre. The abbreviated form וירדּ is not used for the future ירדּה, but is jussive in its force. One out of Jacob shall rule. מעיר is employed in a collected and general sense, as in Psa 72:16. Out of every city in which there is a remnant of Edom, it shall be destroyed. שׁריד is equivalent to אדום שׁארית (Amo 9:12). The explanation, "destroy the remnant out of the city, namely, out of the holy city of Jerusalem" (Ewald and Baur), is forced, and cannot be sustained from the parallelism.
The second saying in this prophecy relates to the Amalekites. Balaam sees them, not with the eyes of his body, but in a state of ecstasy, like the star out of Jacob. "Beginning of the heathen is Amalek, and its end is destruction." Amalek is called the beginning of the nations, not "as belonging to the most distinguished and foremost of the nations in age, power, and celebrity" (Knobel), - for in all these respects this Bedouin tribe, which descended from a grandson of Esau, was surpassed by many other nations, - but as the first heathen nation which opened the conflict of the heathen nations against Israel as the people of God (see at Exo 17:8.). As its beginning had been enmity against Israel, its end would be "even to the perishing" (אבד עדי), i.e., reaching the position of one who was perishing, falling into destruction, which commenced under Saul and was completed under Hezekiah.
The third saying relates to the Kenites, whose origin is involved in obscurity (see at Gen 15:19), as there are no other Kenites mentioned in the whole of the Old Testament, with the exception of Gen 15:19, than the Kenites who went to Canaan with Hobab the brother-in-law of Moses (Num 10:29.: see Jdg 1:16; Jdg 4:11; Sa1 15:6; Sa1 27:10; Sa1 30:29); so that there are not sufficient grounds for the distinction between Canaanitish and Midianitish Kenites, as Michaelis, Hengstenberg, and others suppose. The hypothesis that Balaam is speaking of Canaanitish Kenites, or of the Kenites as representatives of the Canaanites, is as unfounded as the hypothesis that by the Kenites we are to understand the Midianites, or that the Kenites mentioned here and in Gen 15:19 are a branch of the supposed aboriginal Amalekites (Ewald). The saying concerning the Kenites runs thus: "Durable is thy dwelling-place, and thy nest laid upon the rock; for should Kain be destroyed until Asshur shall carry thee captive?" This saying "applies to friends and not to foes of Israel" (v. Hoffmann), so that it is perfectly applicable to the Kenites, who were friendly with Israel. The antithetical association of the Amalekites and Kenites answers perfectly to the attitude assumed at Horeb towards Israel, on the one hand by the Amalekites, and on the other hand by the Kenites, in the person of Jethro the leader of their tribe (see Exo 17:8., Ex 18). The dwelling-place of the Kenites was of lasting duration, because its nest was laid upon a rock (שׂים is a passive participle, as in Sa2 13:32, and Oba 1:4). This description of the dwelling-place of the Kenites cannot be taken literally, because it cannot be shown that either the Kenites or the Midianites dwelt in inaccessible mountains, as the Edomites are said to have done in Oba 1:3-4; Jer 49:16. The words are to be interpreted figuratively, and in all probability the figure is taken from the rocky mountains of Horeb, in the neighbourhood of which the Kenites led a nomade life before their association with Israel (see at Exo 3:1). As v. Hoffmann correctly observes: "Kain, which had left its inaccessible mountain home in Horeb, enclosed as it was by the desert, to join a people who were only wandering in search of a home, by that very act really placed its rest upon a still safer rock." This is sustained in Num 24:22 by the statement that Kain would not be given up to destruction till Asshur carried it away into captivity. אם כּי does not mean "nevertheless." It signifies "unless" after a negative clause, whether the negation be expressed directly by לא, or indirectly by a question; and "only" where it is not preceded by either a direct or an indirect negation, as in Gen 40:14; Job 42:8. The latter meaning, however, is not applicable here, because it is unsuitable to the עד־מה (until) which follows. Consequently אם yl can only be understood in the sense of "is it that," as in Kg1 1:27; Isa 29:16; Job 31:16, etc., and as introducing an indirect query in a negative sense: "For is it (the case) that Kain shall fall into destruction until...?" - equivalent to "Kain shall not be exterminated until Asshur shall carry him away into captivity;" Kain will only be overthrown by the Assyrian imperial power. Kain, the tribe-father, is used poetically for the Kenite, the tribe of which he was the founder. בּער, to exterminate, the sense in which it frequently occurs, as in Deu 13:6; Deu 17:7, etc. (cf. Sa2 4:11; Kg1 22:47). - For the fulfilment of this prophecy we are not to look merely to the fact that one branch of the Kenites, which separated itself, according to Jdg 4:11, from its comrades in the south of Judah, and settled in Naphtali near Kadesh, was probably carried away into captivity by Tiglath-Pileser along with the population of Galilee (Kg2 15:29); but the name Asshur, as the name of the first great kingdom of the world, which rose up from the east against the theocracy, is employed, as we may clearly see from Num 24:24, to designate all the powers of the world which took their rise in Asshur, and proceeded forth from it (see also Ezr 6:22, where the Persian king is still called king of Asshur or Assyria). Balaam did not foretell that this worldly power would oppress Israel also, and lead it into captivity, because the oppression of the Israelites was simply a transitory judgment, which served to refine the nation of God and not to destroy it, and which was even appointed according to the counsel of God to open and prepare the way for the conquest of the kingdoms of the world by the kingdom of God. To the Kenites only did the captivity become a judgment of destruction; because, although on terms of friendship with the people of Israel, and outwardly associated with them, yet, as is clearly shown by Sa1 15:6, they never entered inwardly into fellowship with Israel and Jehovah's covenant of grace, but sought to maintain their own independence side by side with Israel, and thus forfeited the blessing of God which rested upon Israel.
(Note: This simple but historically established interpretation completely removes the objection, "that Balaam could no more foretell destruction to the friends of Israel than to Israel itself," by which Kurtz would preclude the attempt to refer this prophecy to the Kenites, who were in alliance with Israel. His further objections to v. Hoffmann's view are either inconclusive, or at any rate do not affect the explanation that we have given.)
The fourth saying applies to Asshur, and is introduced by an exclamation of woe: "Woe! who will live, when God sets this! and ships (come) from the side of Chittim, and press Asshur, and press Eber, and he also perishes." The words "Woe, who will live," point to the fearfulness of the following judgment, which went deep to the heart of the seer, because it would fall upon the sons of his own people (see at Num 22:5). The meaning is, "Who will preserve his life in the universal catastrophe that is coming?" (Hengstenberg). משּׂמו, either "since the setting of it," equivalent to "from the time when God sets (determines) this" (ὅταν θῇ ταῦτα ὁ Θεός, quando faciet ista Deus; lxx, Vulg.), or "on account of the setting of it," i.e., because God determines this. שׂוּם, to set, applied to that which God establishes, ordains, or brings to pass, as in Isa 44:7; Hab 1:12. The suffix in שׂוּמו is not to be referred to Asshur, as Knobel supposes, because the prophecy relates not to Asshur "as the mighty power by which everything was crushed and overthrown," but to a power that would come from the far west and crush Asshur itself. The suffix refers rather to the substance of the prophecy that follows, and is to be understood in a neuter sense. אל is "God," and not an abbreviation of אלּה, which is always written with the article in the Pentateuch (האל, Gen 19:8, Gen 19:25; Gen 26:3-4; Lev 18:27; Deu 4:42; Deu 7:22; Deu 19:11), and only occurs once without the article, viz., in Ch1 20:8. צים, from צי (Isa 33:21), signifies ships, like ציּים in the passage in Dan 11:30, which is founded upon the prophecy before us. מיּד, from the side, as in Exo 2:5; Deu 2:37, etc. כּתּים is Cyprus with the capital Citium (see at Gen 10:4), which is mentioned as intervening between Greece and Phoenicia, and the principal station for the maritime commerce of Phoenicia, so that all the fleets passing from the west to the east necessarily took Cyprus in their way (Isa 23:1). The nations that would come across the sea from the side of Cyprus to humble Asshur, are not mentioned by name, because this lay beyond the range of Balaam's vision. He simply gives utterance to the thought, "A power comes from Chittim over the sea, to which Asshur and Eber, the eastern and the western Shem, will both succumb" (v. Hoffmann). Eber neither refers to the Israelites merely as Hebrews (lxx, Vulg.), nor to the races beyond the Euphrates, as Onkelos and others suppose, but, like "all the sons of Eber" in Gen 10:21, to the posterity of Abraham who descended from Eber through Peleg, and also to the descendants of Eber through Joktan: so that Asshur, as the representative of the Shemites who dwelt in the far east, included Elam within itself; whilst Eber, on the other hand, represented the western Shemites, the peoples that sprang from Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram (Gen 10:21). "And he also shall perish for ever:" these words cannot relate to Asshur and Eber, for their fate is already announced in the word ענּוּ (afflict, press), but only to the new western power that was to come over the sea, and to which the others were to succumb. "Whatever powers might rise up in the world of peoples, the heathen prophet of Jehovah sees them all fall, one through another, and one after another; for at last he loses in the distance the power to discern whence it is that the last which he sees rise up is to receive its fatal blow" (v. Hoffmann, p. 520). The overthrow of this last power of the world, concerning which the prophet Daniel was the fist to receive and proclaim new revelations, belongs to "the end of the days," in which the star out of Jacob is to rise upon Israel as a "bright morning star" (Rev 22:16).
Now if according to this the fact is firmly established, that in this last prophecy of Balaam, "the judgment of history even upon the imperial powers of the West, and the final victory of the King of the kingdom of God were proclaimed, though in fading outlines, more than a thousand years before the events themselves," as Tholuck has expressed it in his Propheten und ihre Weissagung; the announcement of the star out of Jacob, and the sceptre out of Israel, i.e., of the King and Ruler of the kingdom of God, who was to dash Moab to pieces and take possession of Edom, cannot have received its complete fulfilment in the victories of David over these enemies of Israel; but will only be fully accomplished in the future overthrow of all the enemies of the kingdom of God. By the "end of days," both here and everywhere else, we are to understand the Messianic era, and that not merely at its commencement, but in its entire development, until the final completion of the kingdom of God at the return of our Lord to judgment. In the "star out of Jacob," Balaam beholds not David as the one king of Israel, but the Messiah, in whom the royalty of Israel promised to the patriarchs (Gen 17:6, Gen 17:16; Gen 35:11) attains its fullest realization. The star and sceptre are symbols not of "Israel's royalty personified" (Hengstenberg), but of the real King in a concrete form, as He was to arise out of Israel at a future day. It is true that Israel received the promised King in David, who conquered and subjugated the Moabites, Edomites, and other neighbouring nations that were hostile to Israel. But in the person of David and his rule the kingly government of Israel was only realized in its first and imperfect beginnings. Its completion was not attained till the coming of the second David (Hos 3:5; Jer 30:9; Eze 34:24; Eze 37:24-25), the Messiah Himself, who breaks in pieces all the enemies of Israel, and founds an everlasting kingdom, to which all the kingdoms and powers of this world are to be brought into subjection (Sa2 7:12-16; Psa 2:1; 72, and Psa 110:1-7).
(Note: The application of the star out of Jacob to the Messiah is to be found even in Onkelos; and this interpretation was so widely spread among the Jews, that the pseudo-Messiah who arose under Hadrian, and whom even R. Akiba acknowledged, took the name of Bar Cochba (son of a star), on consequence of this prophecy, from which the nickname of Bar Coziba (son of a lie) was afterward formed, when he had submitted to the Romans, with all his followers. In the Christian Church also the Messianic explanation was the prevalent one, from the time of Justin and Irenaeus onwards (see the proofs in Calovii Bibl. ad h. l.), although, according to a remark of Theodoret (qu. 44 ad Num.), there were some who did not adopt it. The exclusive application of the passage to David was so warmly defended, first of all by Grotius, and still more by Verschuir, that even Hengstenberg and Tholuck gave up the Messianic interpretation. But they both of them came back to it afterwards, the former in his "Balaam" and the second edition of his Christology, and the latter in his treatise on "the Prophets." At the present time the Messianic character of the prophecy is denied by none but the supporters of the more vulgar rationalism, such as Knobel and others; whereas G. Baur (in his History of Old Testament Prophecy) has no doubt that the prediction of the star out of Jacob points to the exalted and glorious King, filled with the Holy Spirit, whom Isaiah (Isa 9:5; Isa 11:1.) and Micah (Mic 5:2) expected as the royal founder of the theocracy. Reinke gives a complete history of the interpretation of this passage in his Beitrge, iv. 186ff.)
If, however, the star out of Jacob first rose upon the world in Christ, the star which showed the wise men from the east the way to the new-born "King of the Jews," and went before them, till it stood above the manger at Bethlehem (Mat 2:1-11), is intimately related to our prophecy. Only we must not understand the allusion as being so direct, that Balaam beheld the very star which appeared to the wise men, and made known to them the birth of the Saviour of the world. The star of the wise men was rather an embodiment of the star seen by Balaam, which announced to them the fulfilment of Balaam's prophecy, - a visible sign by which God revealed to them the fact, that the appearance of the star which Balaam beheld in the far distant future had been realized at Bethlehem in the birth of Christ, the King of the Jews. - The "wise men from the east," who had been made acquainted with the revelations of God to Israel by the Jews of the diaspora, might feel themselves specially attracted in their search for the salvation of the world by the predictions of Balaam, from the fact that this seer belonged to their own country, and came "out of the mountains of the east" (Num 23:7); so that they made his sayings the centre of their expectations of salvation, and were also conducted through them to the Saviour of all nations by means of supernatural illumination. "God unfolded to their minds, which were already filled with a longing for the 'star out of Jacob' foretold by Balaam, the meaning of the star which proclaimed the fulfilment of Balaam's prophecy; He revealed to them, that is to say, the fact that it announced the birth of the 'King of the Jews.' And just as Balaam had joyously exclaimed, 'I see Him,' and 'I behold Him,' they also could say, 'We have seen His star' " (Hengstenberg).
If, in conclusion, we compare Balaam's prophecy of the star that would come out of Jacob, and the sceptre that would rise out of Israel, with the prediction of the patriarch Jacob, of the sceptre that should not depart from Judah, till the Shiloh came whom the nations would obey (Gen 49:10), it is easy to observe that Balaam not only foretold more clearly the attitude of Israel to the nations of the world, and the victory of the kingdom of God over every hostile kingdom of the world; but that he also proclaimed the Bringer of Peace expected by Jacob at the end of the days to be a mighty ruler, whose sceptre would break in pieces and destroy all the enemies of the nation of God. The tribes of Israel stood before the mental eye of the patriarch in their full development into the nation in which all the families of the earth were to be blessed. From this point of view, the salvation that was to blossom in the future for the children of Israel culminated in the peaceful kingdom of the Shiloh, in whom the dominion of the victorious lion out of Judah was to attain its fullest perfection. But the eye of Balaam, the seer, which had been opened by the Spirit of God, beheld the nation of Israel encamped, according to its tribes, in the face of its foes, the nations of this world. They were endeavouring to destroy Israel; but according to the counsel of the Almighty God and Lord of the whole world, in their warfare against the nation that was blessed of Jehovah, they were to succumb one after the other, and be destroyed by the king that was to arise out of Israel. This determinate counsel of the living God was to be proclaimed by Balaam, the heathen seer out of Mesopotamia the centre of the national development of the ancient world: and, first of all, to the existing representatives of the nations of the world that were hostile to Israel, that they might see what would at all times tend to their peace - might see, that is to say, that in their hostility to Israel they were rebelling against the Almighty God of heaven and earth, and that they would assuredly perish in the conflict, since life and salvation were only to be found with the people of Israel, whom God had blessed. And even though Balaam had to make known the purpose of the Lord concerning His people primarily, and in fact solely, to the Moabites and their neighbours, who were like-minded with them, his announcement was also intended for Israel itself, and was to be a pledge to the congregation of Israel for all time of the certain fulfilment of the promises of God; and so to fill them with strength and courage, that in all their conflicts with the powers of this world, they should rely upon the Lord their God with the firmest confidence of faith, should strive with unswerving fidelity after the end of their divine calling, and should build up the kingdom of God on earth, which is to outlast all the kingdoms of the world. - In what manner the Israelites became acquainted with the prophecies of Balaam, so that Moses could incorporate them into the Thorah, we are nowhere told, but we can infer it with tolerable certainty from the subsequent fate of Balaam himself.
At the close of this announcement Balaam and Balak departed from one another. "Balaam rose up, and went and turned towards his place" (i.e., set out on the way to his house); "and king Balak also went his way." למקמו ישׁב does not mean, "he returned to his place," into his home beyond the Euphrates (equivalent to אל־מקמו ישׁב), but merely "he turned towards his place" (both here and in Gen 18:33). That he really returned home, is not implied in the words themselves; and the question, whether he did so, must be determined from other circumstances. In the further course of the history, we learn that Balaam went to the Midianites, and advised them to seduce the Israelites to unfaithfulness to Jehovah, by tempting them to join in the worship of Peor (Num 31:16). He was still with them at the time when the Israelites engaged in the war of vengeance against that people, and was slain by the Israelites along with the five princes of Midian (Num 31:8; Jos 13:22). At the time when he fell into the hands of the Israelites, he no doubt made a full communication to the Israelitish general, or to Phinehas, who accompanied the army as priest, concerning his blessings and prophecies, probably in the hope of saving his life; though he failed to accomplish his end.
(Note: It is possible, however, as Hengstenberg imagines, that after Balaam's departure from Balak, he took his way into the camp of the Israelites, and there made known his prophecies to Moses or to the elders of Israel, in the hope of obtaining from them the reward which Balak had withheld, and that it was not till after his failure to obtain full satisfaction to his ambition and covetousness here, that he went to the Midianites, to avenge himself upon the Israelites, by the proposals that he made to them. The objections made by Kurtz to this conjecture are not strong enough to prove that it is inadmissible, though the possibility of the thing does not involve either its probability or its certainty.)