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24. Balaam's Oracles

And when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness. 2And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes; and the spirit of God came upon him. 3And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said: 4He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: 5How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! 6As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river’s side, as the trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters. 7He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. 8God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows. 9He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee.

10And Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he smote his hands together: and Balak said unto Balaam, I called thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them these three times. 11Therefore now flee thou to thy place: I thought to promote thee unto great honour; but, lo, the Lord hath kept thee back from honour. 12And Balaam said unto Balak, Spake I not also to thy messengers which thou sentest unto me, saying, 13If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the commandment of the Lord, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; but what the Lord saith, that will I speak? 14And now, behold, I go unto my people: come therefore, and I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days.

15And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said: 16He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: 17I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. 18And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. 19Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city.

20And when he looked on Amalek, he took up his parable, and said, Amalek was the first of the nations; but his latter end shall be that he perish for ever. 21And he looked on the Kenites, and took up his parable, and said, Strong is thy dwellingplace, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock. 22Nevertheless the Kenite shall be wasted, until Asshur shall carry thee away captive. 23And he took up his parable, and said, Alas, who shall live when God doeth this! 24And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim, and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and he also shall perish for ever. 25And Balaam rose up, and went and returned to his place: and Balak also went his way.

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.


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