Book Overview - Numbers
by Arno Clemens Gaebelein
THE BOOK OF NUMBERS
The fourth book of the Pentateuch bears in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint) the title Arithmoi, of which the Latin Numeri and our English “Numbers” are translations. It is called by this name because the people Israel are twice numbered in this book. The first time when they started on their journey, and the second time at the close of their thirty-eight years wandering (chapters 1, and 26). The Hebrews have given to this book the name Be-Midbar, which means “in the wilderness.”
It is the wilderness book and covers the entire period of Israel’s history from the second month of the second year after the Exodus from Egypt to the tenth month of the fortieth year. However, the years of wanderings are passed over in silence, only the different camps are mentioned. Our annotations point out the significance of this.
The Author of Numbers
Numbers is closely linked with Leviticus, though it differs greatly from it. Moses wrote the record of the events in the wilderness as he wrote the instructions Jehovah gave concerning the worship of His people. Only a person who was contemporaneous with the events recorded in Numbers could have been the author of this book. In chapter 33:2 we find a statement to the effect that Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys. If Moses did not write the book, who then was the author? If the Mosaic authorship is denied the genuineness and trustworthiness of the entire book must be given up. Higher criticism, so called, claims that Moses did not write Numbers and that the book itself was not contemporary with the events it describes. They call attention that throughout the book Moses is referred to in the third person. They make much of chapter 12:3, as bearing definite testimony against Moses as the author. (For the explanation see our annotations on that chapter.) The same documents, compilers and redactors, etc., which, as it is claimed, composed the other books of the Pentateuch, and put them into shape in which we have them, centuries after Moses lived, are also brought into play in connection with Numbers. It would be more than unprofitable to follow these foolish theories which have laid the foundation to the most serious denials of the revelation of God.
The story of Numbers is of deep interest. We do not need to follow here the events in detail as recorded in the different chapters; this will be our happy task as we study this book. The Lord had the people numbered first. They had to show their pedigree that they really belonged to the people of God. Then the camp was set in order. The service of the Levites in connection with the tabernacle was appointed. Everything was in readiness for the journey towards the land and the possession of the land. Jehovah Himself went before the camp. Then comes the sad history of Israel’s failure, their murmuring and unbelief. They became wanderers and their carcasses fell in the wilderness.
In the Light of the New Testament
Every careful reader of the New Testament Scriptures knows that Numbers is there repeatedly quoted. The Lord spoke to Nicodemus about the serpent which Moses lifted up in the wilderness (Numbers 21:9) and spoke of it as a type of His death on the cross. Balaam is mentioned by Peter, Jude and in the book of Revelation. Korah and the awful rebellion under him is used by Jude in his brief testimony concerning the apostasy of the last days.
But above all must we remember in the closer study of the book of Numbers that the Holy Spirit has called special attention to the experiences of Israel in this book in its typical character and as a solemn warning for us as pilgrims in this present evil age. The failure of Israel on account of unbelief to enter into the promised land and possess it foreshadows the failure of Christendom to possess the heavenly things in Christ. We follow this more fully in the annotations. All this is fully authorized by the divine statement in 1 Corinthians 10:1-12.
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
And again it is written, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Read also Hebrews 3:7-19; Hebrews 4:1-6. The entire wilderness experience of Israel as recorded in this book will yield to us deeper lessons if we seek them with prayer and a heart which is willing to know and to do His will. These typical and spiritual applications have been made as far as our limited space permits. Much more may be discovered in this great book, our annotations, we hope, will be used, under God, to point out the way.
The faithfulness of Jehovah in the midst of the most awful failures of His people and how He kept them and manifested His grace towards them is one of the beautiful things of this book.
The Levites and their Service
In the wilderness book only the service of the Levites is mentioned. Their responsibility in a service divinely given in taking charge of the things of the tabernacle (all typical of Christ and His work) is typical of our service into which the Lord calls each member of His body.
In this book we find likewise the first of the greater prophetic utterances of the Bible. The parables of Balaam form a great prophecy. The Appendix gives a full exposition. May it please God to use the analysis and annotations which now follow.
The Division of Numbers
The division of this book is very simple if we follow the historical account it contains. There are three parts to it. We give them and the leading contents of the different chapters.
I. THE PREPARATION FOR THE JOURNEY
1. The People Numbered (Numbers 1:1-54)
2. The Camp Put in Order (Numbers 2:1-34)
3. The Levites and their Ministrations (Numbers 3-4)
4. The Sanctification of the Camp and the Nazarite (Numbers 5-6)
5. The Offerings of the Princes (Numbers 7:1-89)
6. The Consecration of the Levites (Numbers 8:1-26)
7. Passover and Jehovah with His People (Numbers 9:1-23)
8. The Trumpets of Silver (Numbers 10:1-10)
II. THE JOURNEY STARTED AND THE PEOPLE’S UNBELIEF, FAILURE AND PUNISHMENT
1. The Departure and the First Failure (Numbers 10:11-36)
2. At Taberah and Kibroth-Hattaavah (Numbers 11:1-35)
3. The Rebellion of Miriam and Aaron (Numbers 12:1-16)
4. At Kadesh Barnea and Israel’s Unbelief (Numbers 13-14)
5. Various Laws, the Sabbath Breaker, and the Tassels upon the Garment (Numbers 15:1-41)
6. The Rebellion of Korah and the Murmuring of the Whole Assembly (Numbers 16:1-50)
7. The Priesthood of Aaron Confirmed (Numbers 17:1-13)
8. The Priesthood and Iniquity and the Recompense ofthe Priests (Numbers 18:1-32)
9. The Red Heifer and the Law of Purification (Numbers 19:1-22)
10. At Kadesh in the Fortieth Year, Murmuring and Conquests (Numbers 20-21)
III. EVENTS IN THE PLAINS OF MOAB AND FACING THE LAND
1. Balaam and His Parables (Numbers 22-24)
2. Israel’s Sin with the Daughters of Moab and the Zeal of Phinehas (Numbers 25:1-18)
3. The Second Numbering of the People (Numbers 26:1-65)
4. The Daughters of Zelophehad, the Death of Moses and his Successor Announced (Numbers 27:1-23)
5. Order of the Offerings and the Set Times (Numbers 28-29)
6. Concerning Vows (Numbers 30:1-16)
7. The War against the Midianites (Numbers 31:1-54)
8. The Tribes of Reuben, Gad, Half-Manasseh and their portion (Numbers 32:1-42)
9. The Encampments in the Wilderness (Numbers 33:1-49)
10. Instructions Concerning the Conquest and the Boundaries of the Land (Numbers 33:50-56; Num_34:1-29)
11. The Cities of Refuge (Numbers 35:1-34)
12. The Security of the Inheritance (Numbers 36:1-13)
THE PROPHECIES OF BALAAM
The healing of Israel by the believing look on the brazen serpent stands at the end of their murmurings in the wilderness. Israel was victorious once more, and songs of praise and victory are heard in the camp. And now, after the sad history of their disobedience is almost ended, a prophet pronounces remarkable blessings over the wonderful nation, the nation so miraculously saved from Egypt, guided and kept and healed. This voice of prophecy comes from the lips of a Gentile, and a Gentile king hears the message first, in which, besides Israel, the king of Moab and all his Gentile successors are so eminently concerned.
Balak (waster) saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. He knew that the people had come out of Egypt. He was sore afraid; the fate of the Egyptians and Amorites seemed to foretell his own; his heart, therefore is filled with fear and hatred, and he desired to oppose and curse Israel. He allied himself with the elders of Midian. It is nothing less than the history of anti-Semitism in a nutshell. Gentile nations, Christian in name, still hate and fear the people whom no Pharaoh and no soothsayer could overcome, a people disobedient, judged and suffering, still always conquering. Like Balak, opposing Gentile nations and kingdoms will yet rise in fear and hatred against Israel before Israel’s coming King will sweep them aside, and what Balak heard from the prophet’s lips in his day--the complete destruction of the world-powers by the appearing of the glorious king of Jeshurum--will be the fate of these nations. Balak sends for Balaam, a prophet and a soothsayer. Who was Balaam? His name is a terrible one, “the devourer of people”; his father, Beor, “the consumer”; his native place, Pethor, meaning “interpretation.” He must have known Jehovah to some extent, for he asked of Him and God answered his request. At the same time he was known for his skill in cursing nations and for his readiness for gold and silver to destroy them by his powerful spells. He may have practiced his soothsaying for many years, becoming rich by it, when, probably, one day he heard of Jehovah, who had done such great things for and among the wandering nation. Most likely for selfish reasons he sought God, like Simon, the sorcerer, who offered the apostles money for the power to heal the sick, thus Balaam may have desired the acquaintance of God, seeking revelations from Him for the sake of gain, and Jehovah revealed Himself to him. It is very significant that Balaam is mentioned in that important prophetic Epistle of Jude, where he stands as a type of the great apostasy at the end of this age. Balak, the representative of the anti-Semitic world-powers, and Balaam, the half hearted prophet, a type of apostate Christendom, forming an alliance against Israel.
The parables which Balaam is obliged to give by the power of God, are divided into four parts. He utters them from three points, all mountain tops. The first from the high places of Baal, the second from the summit of Pisgah, and the last from Peor. From these mountain tops Balak and Balaam had a good view of the camp of Israel. Each one of the three points is nearer to the camp and a more complete view obtained from them. It seems Balak tried to diminish the number of Israel and their strength in the eyes of Balaam, for he took him first to a place from which he saw only a part, the utmost part, the fourth part of the people. Seeing that his scheme failed, Balak took Balaam to Pisgah; from there the view was more complete, and then at last to Peor, from which point he saw the twelve tribes of Israel with their flags in camp. Upon each mountain Balaam had seven altars erected, and two sacrifices, a bullock and a ram, are brought upon each altar. The whole proceedings were evidently calculated to make all as impressive and solemn as possible. On the heights of Baal, Balaam says to Balak: “I will go, may be Jehovah will come to meet me, and whatever He may say to me I will declare to thee.” He went to a bare height and God met him there and put a word in his mouth. Next is Pisgah; here Balaam tells Balak to stand by the burnt offering, “while,” he says, “I go to meet,” in the authorized version it says “the Lord,” but that does not appear in the original. In Hebrew it reads, “I will go to meet--yonder.” He tried to impress Balak once more with his mysterious power, and in proceeding to Mount Peor, Balak, utterly disheartened by the continued blessing of Israel from Balaam’s lips, demands that he is neither to curse nor to bless. Balaam, however, knows that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel; he no longer goes out to meet with enchantments; he drops the mask, and now the Spirit of God comes upon him. Balak’s anger is kindled after this third parable, and while he smites his hands together the prophet opens his mouth once more and utters the sublimest of all his prophecies, after which he went to his place soon after to meet with his terrible fate.
And now we will read the parables themselves and study their wonderful meaning. The first from the heights of Baal:
From Aram Balak hath fetched me,
The King of Moab-from the mountains of the East.
Come, curse me Jacob,
Come and denounce Israel!
How shall I curse? God hath not cursed,
How shall I denounce? The Lord hath not denounced,
For from the top of the rocks I see Him
And from the hills I behold Him.
Behold a nation that dwelleth alone,
Not to be reckoned among the nations.
Who counted the dust of Jacob?
By number the fourth part of Israel.
Let me die the death of Jeshurum,
And let my last end be like his.
This first inspired utterance of Balaam speaks of the general character of Israel as the chosen people of God. It is, so to speak, the foundation, the key-note for all he is about to say by divine inspiration to Balak. We may divide this first parable into four parts.
1. After stating the fact of Balak’s call and his wish that he should curse Jacob and denounce Israel, he states the impossibility to curse and to denounce--for God hath not cursed him, He hath not denounced him. In the original the name El, God, stands in connection with Jacob, and Jehovah, the covenant-keeping God, with Israel. When Balak’s deputation came to Balaam, God had said to him, “Thou shalt not curse the people, for they are blessed.” And now what God told him there in the secret place he is to speak here in public. It is the truth which we find all through the Word of God, Israel’s blessed calling, the seed of Abraham blest and to be a blessing. How many have tried to curse Jacob and to denounce Israel? They have never succeeded, for Isaiah’s vision has been fulfilled in all generations, “No weapon that is found against thee shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.” No magic, no voice, no power, no tongue can counteract the decree of God. Jacob and his seed is blest of God. Oh that men would understand it, but alas, they are wise in their own conceits, and boasting against the broken off branches they think of Jacob as accursed and denounce Israel, and thus dishonor God and make Him a liar.
2. With his hands before his eyes, Balak gazes upon the fourth part of the Israelitish camp from the tops of the rocks and from the hill and sees a second general characteristic of the people, namely, that Israel is to be a separated people. Israel is Ho-Am, the nation, and as such different from the nations and not to be reckoned among them.
Here then we have the destiny of Israel, a destiny the same for all times--a peculiar people, separated from all other nations. As far as Old Testament times are concerned, this decree of God can hardly be denied; but many Christians have stated and believe that in these New Testament times Israel has ceased to be a peculiar people, and that there is no difference between them and the other nations. Experience, however, teaches differently. Truly the seed of Abraham is today mingling with the nations, scattered in fact among all the nations, and there the sons of Jacob have not lost their peculiar characteristics. Assimilation has been attempted, and quite often by themselves, but rarely if ever has it been successful. God has kept Israel as His own separated people as truly as He has separated and keeps unto Himself by His Holy Spirit a spiritual, heavenly people, the church. All movements endeavoring to rob Israel of its peculiarity and separation have failed, and thus Israel remains a stranger in a strange land. What a tremendous testimony the Zionistic movement is in this direction! It is a movement to establish a Jewish state for the Jewish people in the Jewish land, and in itself a confession that assimilation with other nations is impossible. In speaking the Word of our God to the scattered Jews, God’s future purpose in Israel as a nation must not be overlooked.
3. In the third place, we have the wonderful increase. “Who has counted the dust of Jacob?” The promise to Jacob when he went out from Beer-Sheba was, “Thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth.” It stands for the earthly promises and earthly blessings which are Jacob’s. What a sight it must have been for Balaam and Balak, standing beside their smoking altars, and down, way down in the desert, tent after tent is to be seen; but still it is only the fourth part, and appears like the dust of the earth--a people having passed through so much affliction and punishment, yet in spite of it all, strong and numerous as ever. In looking over the past, a still grander picture presents itself to us. Israel has wandered through a greater desert and through greater afflictions and punishments than ever before; they have been a people scattered and peeled, yet how wonderfully God has kept them, and more than ever they are like dust, down-trodden yet ever increasing, and multiplying, to the astonishment of their enemies. Who counted the dust of Jacob? The question is often asked, How many Jews are living today in the world? We tried to give a conservative estimate, still some tell us it is too low and others too high. The fact is no one seems to be able to get a correct number of the Jews living. Surely they are increasing rapidly all over the earth, and it is more true than ever before, “Who counted the dust of Jacob?”
4. Balaam’s exclamation forms a fitting conclusion to his first parable. “Let me die the death of Jeshurum and let my end be like his.” We do not think that Balaam had so much the physical death of Israel in view, as their hope and glorious end, the glorious end of ages when the God of Jeshurum will reveal Himself once more for the salvation of His people and brings vengeance upon their enemies. Of that glorious end which is Israel’s, that glorious morning after a night of storm and disaster, he has here the first glimpse, and in his next parable the Holy Spirit puts it before him and before Balak in detail. It remains only to be said that the contents of this first parable are in part a repetition of God’s promises to Abraham, but now the promise is not given to a member of Abraham’s family, but put into the mouth of a Gentile to transmit it to the Gentile king.
Next they are on top of Mount Pisgah, on the fields of Zophim. Balaam, after having been away from Balak hastens back, and filled with a greater degree of inspiration, it seems, he bursts forth:
Rise up Balak and hear!
Listen to me, son of Zippor!
God is not a man to lie;
Nor son of Adam to repent.
Hath He said and will He not do it?
Or spoken and shall not make it stand?
Behold I have commanded to bless:
Yea, he hath blessed and I cannot change it.
He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob:
Nor has he seen travail in Israel:
Jehovah, his God is with him,
The shout of a king is in his midst.
God bringeth them out of Egypt:
He hath strength like that of the wild ox:
No enchantment there is against Jacob,
There is no divination against Israel.
In its time shall it be said of Jacob and of Israel,
What hath God wrought?
Behold the people rise up as a lioness!
And as a lion does he raise himself up!
He shall not lie down till he eat of the prey,
And drink the blood of the slain.
What an awful rebuke this was to unbelieving Balak. He surely had expected a change in the mind of that God whose aid and help Balaam was to invoke. Maybe, he thought that God would once more, after a second request, allow Balaam, as at the time when Balak’s princes came to him, to speak a more favorable word; instead of that with an awful commanding voice--for thus it must have been--Balaam shouts to Balak to rise and listen. He hears now that God’s promises to Israel are unchangeable, they can never be reversed. The same truth we have not alone from Balaam’s lips, but likewise from the lips of Paul, the servant of the Lord, who after giving his wonderful prophetic testimony concerning his own beloved Jewish nation, cries out in exaltation, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” God is ever the covenant-keeping God, and every word which has come from His loving heart through the prophets to His people Israel He will yet fulfill. Balak, in his unbelief and his ignorance, as well as his hatred against Israel, is, alas, a sad type of Christendom, apostate, disbelieving the promises of the God of Abraham, ignorant of His purposes concerning Israel, and, therefore, despising and cursing those whom they should honor and love. Again, in this parable, we notice four principal thoughts, which now bring us a step nearer to Israel, Israel’s calling and Israel’s future, just as Balaam and Balak were on Pisgah’s mountain top nearer to the camp than on the heights of Baal.
1. He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob nor seen travail (or perverseness) in Israel. It seems to us a very significant fact that in all of Balaam’s parables sin and guilt are never mentioned. However, it does not say here that Israel is without iniquity or evil travail, but the statement is that God hath not beheld iniquity and not seen perverseness in Israel. Truly Israel had sinned against God during their travels in the wilderness. Israel was likewise punished for it, but their apostasy was never hopeless. In all their iniquity and perverseness they are still His beloved children, and the promise is theirs very definitely, that the seed of Israel can only be cast away for all that they have done if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath (Jeremiah 31:36-37). That, of course, means that it will never come to pass. But more than that, to Israel belongs the promise of forgiveness, when, indeed, the eyes of God will not behold iniquity in Jacob nor will He see perverseness in Israel. In Micah, the last chapter and last three verses, is one of these sweet national promises to Israel, “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger forever, because He delighteth in mercy. He will turn again and have compassion upon us; He will tread our iniquities under foot, and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which Thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.” God looking upon Israel and no iniquity, God beholds His people and no perverseness; their sins forgiven and remembered no more.
2. In the second place notice the statement of Balaam, “Jehovah his God is with him, and the shout of a king in his midst.” This was true in part when Balaam looked upon the camp of Israel. I wonder if Balaam’s prophetic eye did pierce that cloud of glory, which in all its splendor was resting in the midst of Israel? Maybe he saw in that cloud, what the prophet Ezekiel saw in his vision, a throne, and upon the throne one like the Son of Man surrounded by the sign of the first covenant, a rainbow. There was no king in the midst of Israel at that time; Jehovah was King. Prophetically all points to the time when Israel’s travail and iniquity will have an end, and He whose name is ever Emanuel will be the King in the midst of His redeemed people.
3. In the next place we notice that Balaam speaks of that deed of salvation, the redemption of Israel from the house of Egypt, which stands in the Old Testament as a type not only of our redemption in the blood of the Son of God, but likewise as the type of that future deed of God when He will gather His outcast children from the four corners of the earth. (See Jeremiah 16:14-15.) It is important that in the next parable Balaam repeats the same words only in another connection. Connected with the fact in this parable that God brought Israel out of Egypt stands the statement that there is no enchantment against Jacob and no divination against Israel. Egypt could hold Israel for centuries, but Egypt’s wickedness ripened, and when the hour had come there was no power in the air nor upon the earth which could prevent the carrying out of the judgments of God upon Egypt, and the mercies upon Israel. No enchantment and no divination will ever frustrate God’s plan in the future.
4. And then in the fourth place: In its time shall it be said of Jacob and of Israel, “What hath God wrought?” Just a glimpse is given here of that time of conquest in Israel and through Israel, when the people shall rise up as a lioness, when she shall not lie down till she has eaten the prey and drunk the blood of the slain; which not only Balaam in his next parables has to make plainer because the vision now hastens towards the end, but likewise which all the prophets from beginning to end have revealed. We shall see more of this in the third parable of Balaam.
From the top of Peor, Balaam now beholds Israel abiding in their tents according to their tribes. The Spirit of the Lord comes upon him. It is no longer meeting with the Lord and receiving it from Him, but the Spirit is upon him and through the Spirit he receives a higher revelation. He is now fully persuaded that Israel is to be blessed and he yields himself without resistance to God.
The oracle of Balaam, son of Beor,
Even the oracle of the man with eyes that had been shut:
His oracle who heard the words of God,
Who seeth with the vision of the Almighty;
Falling, but his eyes uncovered:
How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob!
Thy tabernacles, O Israel!
As valleys are they spread forth
As gardens by the river’s side;
As aloe trees that Jehovah planted;
As cedars beside the waters!
Water poureth from his buckets,
And his seed is in many waters:
And his king shall be higher than Agag,
And his kingdom shall be exalted.
God bringeth him out of Egypt;
He hath strength like that of the wild ox
He shall eat upon the nations, his adversaries,
Yea, he shall break their bones,
And smite them through with his arrows,
He couched, he lay down as a lion;
And as a lioness, who will rouse him?
Blessed is he that blessed thee,
And cursed is he that curseth thee!
Balaam, forced to speak, is now made to proclaim the victory of the nation of destiny and what God will do among them.
1. We notice first a description of Israel: “Goodly tents, beautiful tabernacles spread forth as valleys, gardens by the river side, aloe trees and cedars beside the waters, waters poured from his buckets, seed in many waters.” Every Sabbath day and at every feast commanded by God, in entering the synagogue, this beautiful description of Israel’s happiness is chanted by the orthodox Jews. Still it has not yet been realized, and whatever spiritual lessons for the church we may derive from it, we do not care to follow them at this time. Israel still living in miserable huts, no tabernacles among them, far from being like gardens by the riverside, and aloe trees and cedars beside the waters. Truly his seed in many waters, but not in honor and peace, but dishonor and unrest. The prophetic eye, however, sees it all accomplished, and Balaam’s vision leaps over centuries and centuries to the time of the end when Israel’s unbelief has ended and once more the tribes are gathering to take possession of the land, their glorious inheritance. When that great Sabbath day commences, that day of the Lord, Israel’s hope will be realized, and what the pious orthodox Jew today sees in faith and often repeats with tears in his eyes, will then be a blessed reality. How goodly are thy tents O Jacob, thy tabernacles O Israel. In the highly poetical strain we realize the type of the living Spirit, the water poured from His buckets.
2. In two lines Balaam speaks of the king and kingdom which is to be exalted. Agag was the title of the king of the Amalekites, the national enemy of Israel. Haman was an Agagite; he came from Amalek, a fitting type of Antichrist, and here Balaam sees a king coming, who is higher than Agag, than all the powers which are anti-Semitic, and that king will have a kingdom which will be exalted. It is hardly necessary to enlarge upon this.
3. We notice now for the second time the repetition, “God bringeth him out of Egypt,” but after the phrase, he hath strength like that of a wild ox, he changes his words. In the second parable we saw that he continues saying, “there is no enchantment against Jacob and no divination against Israel,” while in this he says after stating, “God bringeth him out of Egypt, he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries, yea, he shall break their bones and smite them through with his arrows.” It seems in the second parable Egypt of the past is meant, and in this parable, it is Egypt of the future, as already quoted from Jeremiah, the regathering of the people through the high and wonderful hand of the Lord. Connected with that second Egypt, that great and wonderful deed of Jehovah’s, when the whole nation will be redeemed and spirit-filled in that day; connected with that is the judgment of the nations, which are the adversaries of Israel. There is a wonderful similarity between the story in Exodus and the future history of Israel, and the nations still unwritten on the pages of history and only visible by eyes of faith in the word of our God, who will speak again and not keep silence. The words, “he couched, he lay down as a lion and as a lioness will rouse him,” is a quotation from Jacob’s prophecy of Judah, but here applied to the entire nation, which will become through the lion of the tribe of Judah the lioness who will lie down and spring upon its prey and drink the blood of the slain. The last stanza of the first part of the third parable is again a repetition of God’s promise to Abraham now seen in its fulfillment; both declare from an enemy’s mouth how surely, how fully every utterance of God shall come to pass.
However, the prophecy in these parables is still incomplete, something is lacking which must be said. Step by step the Lord and the Spirit led Balaam up to the consummation, and while Balak’s anger is kindled and like a raving maniac he stamps with his feet and smites his hands together, crying to Balaam, “I called thee to curse mine enemies and lo, thou hast altogether blessed them these three times, flee to thy place,” and while Balak denied him the honor he had promised, Balaam in a divine defiance, the fire of God burning forth from his eyes, turns once more to Balak and says, “Behold I am going to my people; come, I will admonish thee what this people shall do unto thy people in the last days.” Then--
The oracle of Balaam, son of Beor,
Even the oracle of the man with eyes that had been shut!
The oracle of one that heareth the sayings of God
And who knoweth the knowledge of the Most High;
Seeing with the vision of the Almighty;
Falling, but his eyes uncovered:
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not nigh:
There hath come a star out of Jacob,
And a sceptre hath risen out of Israel,
And hath smitten through the sides of Moab,
And dashed against each other all the sons of tumult.
And Edom is a possession--
Seir also a possession--his enemies;
And Israel doeth valiantly.
Yea, out of Jacob one hath dominion,
And destroyeth what is left from the city.
And he looked upon Amalek and took up his parable, saying--
Amalek first of the nations!
And his latter end, destruction!
And he looked at Kenites and took up his parable, saying--
Firm is thy dwelling place,
And thy nest fixed in the rock!
But the Kenite shall be ruined,
Until Asshur carry thee captive away.
And he took up his parable, saying--
Who shall live when God appointeth this?
And ships shall come from the coasts of Kittim,
And shall afflict Asshur, and afflict Eber,
And he also ... to destruction.
And Balaam rose up and went and returned to his place and Balak also went his way.
This is the most remarkable parable of Balaam, and surely it is the very breath of God. He boasts himself of knowing the knowledge of the Most High, seeing with the vision of the Almighty. After this introduction he speaks again that he sees Him and beholds Him. However, not now and not nigh. We recollect that in the first parable he said likewise from the top of the rocks, “I see him and from the hills I behold him.” There it was the nation, here it is a person; namely, the King of Israel whose shout he had heard before among the wonderful people. The description of this coming King is glorious. First he sees Him as a star coming out of Jacob, and then he calls Him a sceptre risen out of Israel, smiting through the sides of Moab and turning against each other all the sons of tumult. In consequence of this Edom becomes His possession, likewise Seir; all His enemies are conquered and Israel stands with the King and does valiantly. It is a very pronounced Messianic prophecy relating to the time when the kingdom is to be restored to Israel. Many teachers of God’s Word have made a mistake in applying this prophecy to the time of the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Jews recognize the prophecy as relating to the King Messiah. One of their false messiahs was known by the name Bar-Chochva, the son of a star. We also notice that after he has taken Edom and Seir for his possession, Balaam says, “Yea, out of Jacob one hath dominion and destroyeth what is left from the city.” In these words reference is made to His reign and rule in the coming age. The vital point of this last parable of Balaam is the prophecy concerning the fate of the Gentile powers. We have first Moab, who is smitten through the sides; the sons of tumult are connected with Moab and who are dashed against each other, Edom and Seir, Amalek, Asshur, Eber, and the ships coming from the coast of Kittim. All these nations having passed away stand nevertheless in a very pronounced relation to the great day of the wrath of the Lord, when He whose right it is will appear once more. In fact they seem to come again to the front in the latter day. We will quote here a remarkable passage from the prophet Jeremiah, which relates to Moab. Jeremiah 48:47, “Yet will I bring again the captivity of Moab in the latter days, saith the Lord.” In chapter 49:6, we read, “And afterward I will bring again the captivity of the children of Ammon, saith the Lord.” And in the 39th verse, “But it shall come to pass in the latter days that I will bring again the captivity of Elam, saith the Lord.” All these nations have been judged in the past, and their descendants are hard to find, yet God knows and in His own way and in His own time He will have every one of His words fulfilled.
What else do we see in this last parable of Balaam than the judgment of the world powers? Later Nebuchadnezzar, another Gentile ruler like Balak, had a dream, and he saw the great image, the wonderful picture of the four kingdoms of the world; and Daniel, a true prophet of Jehovah, not like Balaam, interpreted the dream for Nebuchadnezzar, but what Nebuchadnezzar dreamed and Daniel saw in his vision Balaam here sees in his last vision from the top of Peor. Wonderful description of the time when the stone cut out without hands smashes the proud image and reduces it to dust! Wonderful vision later seen by Zechariah, the four carpenters who are being raised up to conquer the four horns who have scattered Israel, Judah and Jerusalem (Zechariah 1). There is no doubt that Asshur stands for the first of the Gentile empires, that is Babylon, and Eber probably for the other, the Medo-Persian, while Kittim, the isles of the west, stand for the Greek and Roman rule.
the Second Week of Lent