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Balaam’s Fourth Oracle

15 So he uttered his oracle, saying:

“The oracle of Balaam son of Beor,

the oracle of the man whose eye is clear,


the oracle of one who hears the words of God,

and knows the knowledge of the Most High,

who sees the vision of the Almighty,

who falls down, but with his eyes uncovered:


I see him, but not now;

I behold him, but not near—

a star shall come out of Jacob,

and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;

it shall crush the borderlands of Moab,

and the territory of all the Shethites.

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15. Balaam the son of Beor hath said. Inasmuch as he was preparing to treat of most important matters, it is not without reason that he renews his preface, in order to obtain more authority for his prophecy: and although it was not without ambition that he proclaimed these magnificent titles, still we cannot doubt but that God would ratify by them what he had determined to deliver through the mouth of the prophet. It was requisite that this worthless man, whose doctrine would otherwise have been contemptible: should be marked out by Divine indications; and thus it was that he assumed a character that he did not possess, and attributed to himself what only belongs to true prophets. I have before explained how the open and the closed eye are spoken of in the same sense, though for different reasons: forhe calls the eye “hidden,” as perceiving the secret things of darkness, which are incomprehensible to the human sense; but he claims for himself “open eyes,” in that he beholds, by prophetic vision, what he is about to say, as if he would deny that he was going to speak of things which were obscure, and scarcely intelligible to himself.

17. I shall see him, but not now. 175175     “I see him,” etc. — Lat. Though the verbs are in the future tense, they are used for the present; and again, the pronoun him designates some one who has not yet been mentioned; and this is a tolerably common usage with the Hebrew, especially when referring to Jerusalem, or God, or some very distinguished man. The relative is, therefore, here put κατ ἐξοχὴν for the antecedent: and although there can be no doubt but that he alluded to the people of Israel, it is still a question whether he designates the head or the whole body; on which point I do not make much contention, since it is substantially the same thing.

The reason why Balaam postpones his prophecies to a distant period, is in order to afford consolation to Balak, for, as much as he possibly can, he seeks to avoid his ill-will, and therefore assures him that, although he denounces evil, it was not to be feared at an early period, since he treats of things which were as yet far off.

The second clause must be unquestionably restricted to the head of the people, called metaphorically “a Star,” and then expressly referred to without a figure; for this repetition is common with the Hebrews, by which they particularize the same thing twice over. Assuredly he means nothing else by “the Sceptre,” except what he had indicated by the “Star;” and thus he connects the prosperity of the people with the kingdom. Hence we gather that its state was not perfect until it began to be governed by the hand of a king. For, inasmuch as the adoption of the family of Abraham was founded on Christ, only sparks of God’s blessing shone forth until its completed brightness was manifested in Christ. It must be observed, therefore, that when Balaam begins to prophesy of God’s grace towards the people of Israel, he directs us at once to the scepter, as if it were the true and certain mirror of God’s favor. And, in fact, God never manifested Himself as the Father of this people except by Christ. I admit, indeed, that some beginnings existed in the person of David, but they were very far from exhibiting the fullness of the reality: for the glory of his kingdom was not lasting, nay, its chief dignity was speedily impaired by the rebellion of the ten tribes, and was finally altogether extinguished; and when David’s power was at its height, his dominion never extended beyond the neighboring nations. The coming forth of the Star and the Sceptre, therefore, of which Balaam speaks explicitly, refers to Christ; and what we read in the Psalm corresponds with this prophecy;

“The Lord shall send the sceptre 176176     A. V., “The rod.” of thy strength out of Sion.” (Psalm 110:2.)

Hence it follows that the blessing, of which Balaam speaks, descends even to us; for, if the prosperity of the ancient people, their rest, their well-ordered government, their dignity, safety, and glory, proceeded from the scepter as its unmixed source, there is no doubt but that Christ by His coming accomplished all these things more fully for us.

The destruction of the nation of Moab is added as an adjunct of the kingdom. And first, indeed, Balaam declares that “its princes shall be transfixed.” If any prefer to read its “corners,” 177177     Dr. Boothroyd has a curious conjecture on this passage. he says, “Most of the ancients, after LXX., give to פאתי the signification of chiefs, princes, or the like. They are supposed to have read פחתי But I am persuaded that פאתי is the genuine reading, and to be taken here in the same sense as in Jeremiah 48:45, where a very similar passage occurs: and in both places, it is my belief, the word signifies whiskers.” the expression is metaphorical, implying that the Sceptre will break through its munitions, or destroy what may seem to be strongest. I do not doubt but that the same thing is confirmed in what is said of the children of Sheth;” for those who take it generally for the whole human race, 178178     “The children of Seth, i.e., all men; so the Chaldee.” — Corn. a Lapide in loco. violently wrest the text by their gloss. Balaam is speaking of the neighboring nations; and, when in the next verse he goes on to specify Edom, he adds Mount Seir by way of explanation. Since the form of the two sentences is identical, it is probable that none others than the Moabites are meant by the children of Sheth. Still the question arises why Balaam attributes to a single nation what was common to all, for all who were of the descendants of Sheth equally derived their origin from Noah. Some think that they boasted of this descent in order to conceal their shame, for we know that the founder of this nation sprang from an incestuous connection. But another more satisfactory reason occurs to me, viz., that they boasted, like the Amalekites, of the extreme antiquity of their race; since, therefore, they desired to be reckoned amongst the most ancient nations, it will not be improbable that by this ironical appellation their vain-glory was reproved. It may, however, have been the case that some one amongst the descendants of Moab was distinguished by this name. Still, as I have lately said, the Moabites as well as the Edomites were subdued by David, for David thus justly celebrates his triumphs over them,

“Moab is my wash-pot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe,”
(Psalm 60:8;)

but then was merely typified, what Christ at length fulfilled, in that He reduced under His sway all adverse and hostile nations. Therefore it is said, he “shall destroy him that remaineth of the cities,” i.e., all enemies whom He shall find to be incorrigible.