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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 24

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2552. B.C. 1452.

Balaam, inspired by God, blesses Israel again, Numbers 24:1-9 . Answers Balak’s reproof, Numbers 24:10-13 . Utters several prophecies, Numbers 24:14-24 . Goes home, Numbers 24:25 .

Verse 1

Numbers 24:1. He went not as at other times At former times; to seek for enchantments The word נחשׁ , from which נחשׁים , necashim, here rendered enchantments, is derived, signifies to augur, conjecture, search, make trial, find out: 1 Kings 20:33, it is translated, to observe diligently; Genesis 30:27, to learn by experience, and, in the margin of Genesis 44:5, to make trial, although in the text there it is rendered to divine. It certainly is not necessary to understand the word of enchantments. Nor is there any proof that Balaam had had recourse to any on either of the two former occasions. On the contrary, the sacred historian informs us, that he retired both times, not to meet evil spirits, and receive communications from them, but to meet JEHOVAH, and receive intimations of his will, saying to Balak on the first occasion, Whatsoever he showeth me I will tell thee. And both times we read that Jehovah put a word in Balaam’s mouth. All, therefore, that we can reasonably conclude from the passage before us is, that Balaam omitted to do now what he had done before. He went not Retired not, as he had done the former times, for the meeting, or obtaining of divinations, that is, for the purpose of obtaining information from the Lord concerning future things, or to make inquiries about them. M. Saurin seems to be clearly of this opinion, and to consider the expression as signifying no more here than “the revelations which Balsam desired of God concerning the destiny of the Israelites.” Houbigant is of the same mind, observing that the word נחשׁים nechashim, auguries, is here to be understood in a good sense, because Balaam interpreted the will of the true God, and not the will of the god of Moab, from these auguries. Thus also Le Clerc, paraphrasing the passage, says, “He judged it superfluous to inquire further into the mind of God, as God had sufficiently declared his purpose to bless Israel.” Indeed, as Christ is known to have no communion with Belial, it seems strange that any Christian should ever have imagined that God would thus have made known his will, and thus lay open the secrets of futurity, to a man that had or attempted to have intercourse with evil spirits. See Isaiah 8:19; and Isaiah 44:25; and Isaiah 47:12. He set his face toward the wilderness Where Israel lay encamped, expecting what God, of his own accord, would suggest to him concerning this matter.

Verses 2-3

Numbers 24:2-3. The Spirit of God came upon him And is it likely that the Spirit of God would have come upon a sorcerer or enchanter? A prophetic influence from God came upon him, whereby he was enabled to foresee future events, and inspired to utter the following words: The man whose eyes are open Some, confounding שׁתם shetum, with סתם , or שׂתם setum, would translate the words, Whose eyes are or were shut, for which there does not seem to be sufficient authority. The Seventy render them, ο αληθινως ορων , seeing truly. His eyes indeed had been shut, and he had been blind and stupid, having eyes but not seeing, nor understanding; but God had opened them in a peculiar and prophetical manner. Hence the prophets were called seers, from God’s having opened their eyes.

Verse 4

Numbers 24:4. The vision of the Almighty So called properly, because he was awake when the following things were revealed to him. Falling into a trance In the Hebrew it is only falling, namely, fainting and falling to the ground, as the prophets sometimes used to do. Our translators supply the words, into a trance, supposing him to have been in an ecstasy or rapture when he had the vision, as it is probable he was; because it follows, having his eyes open Which implies, that when all his outward senses were locked up, his mind had a clear apprehension of the things which God revealed to him.

Verses 5-6

Numbers 24:5-6. How goodly are thy tents, &c. Having seen them pitched in the plains of Moab, (Numbers 24:2,) he thus breaks forth into admiration of their beautiful order, as they lay ranged under their several standards. As the valleys Which often from a small beginning are spread forth far and wide. As gardens Pleasant and fruitful, and secured by a fence. As lign- aloes An Arabian and Indian tree of a sweet smell, yielding shade and shelter both to man and beast; such is Israel, not only safe themselves, but yielding shelter to all that join themselves to them. Which the Lord hath planted Nature, not art.

Verse 7

Numbers 24:7. He shall pour the water That is, God will abundantly water the valleys, gardens, and tress, which represent the Israelites; he will wonderfully bless his people, not only with outward blessings, of which a chief one in those parts was plenty of water, but also with higher gifts and graces, with his word and Spirit, which are often signified by water, and at last with eternal life, the contemplation whereof made Balaam desire to die the death of the righteous. His seed shall be in Rather, by; many waters This may mean, His seed shall be sown in a ground well watered, and consequently shall bring forth a plentiful crop. Or, as many waters are frequently put figuratively for many people, (see Jeremiah 47:2;

Revelation 17:15; Isaiah 32:20,) and the flowing out of waters signifies an increase of posterity, the words may here be intended to express, by a metaphor, the great increase of Israel. His king shall be higher than Agag It has been supposed, with great probability, by most commentators, that Agag was the common name of the kings of Amalek, as Pharaoh was of the Egyptian kings, and Abimelech of those of the Philistines. “Amalek was a neighbouring country, and therefore is fitly introduced upon the present occasion, and it was likewise at that time a great and flourishing kingdom, being styled ( Num 24:20 ) the first of the nations; and therefore for the king of Israel to be exalted above the king of Amalek was really a wonderful exaltation. But, wonderful as it was, it was accomplished by Saul, who smote the Amalekites from Havilah, &c., and took Agag, the king of the Amalekites, alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword, 1 Samuel 15:7-8. The first king of Israel subdued Agag, the king of the Amalekites. So that it might truly and properly be said, His king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted, as it was afterward greatly by David and Solomon.” Newton.

Verses 8-9

Numbers 24:8-9. He shall eat up the nations, &c. The expressions in these verses are intended to signify the victories which the Israelites should gain over their enemies, and particularly the Canaanites, and the secure and quiet possession they should have of the land afterward, all which was fulfilled especially in the days of David and Solomon. He couched, he lay down as a lion It is remarkable that God here put into the mouth of Balaam nearly the same expressions which Jacob had used concerning Judah, (Genesis 49:9,) and Isaac concerning Jacob, Genesis 27:29. And what wonder, considering that all these prophecies proceeded from one and the same spirit?

Verse 15

Numbers 24:15. He took up his parable A weighty and solemn speech, delivered in figurative and majestic language, is often termed a parable in Scripture. Such are these prophecies of Balaam; we cannot peruse them without being struck, not only with their beauty, but with their uncommon force and energy.

Verse 17

Numbers 24:17. I shall see him, &c. “Rather,” says Bishop Newton, from whose exposition of the prophecies of Balaam many of the following explanatory observations are extracted, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh; the future tense in Hebrew being often used for the present. He saw with the eyes of prophecy, and prophets are emphatically styled seers. There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel The star and the sceptre are probably metaphors borrowed from the ancient hieroglyphics, which much influenced the language of the East; and they evidently denote some eminent and illustrious king or ruler, whom he particularizes in the following words: And shall smite the corners of Moab Or the princes of Moab, according to other versions. This was executed by David; for he smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive; that is, he destroyed two- thirds, and saved one-third alive. And the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts.” See 2 Samuel 8:2.

And destroy all the children of Sheth “If by Sheth was meant the son of Adam, then all the children of Sheth are all mankind; the posterity of Cain and Adam’s other sons having all perished in the deluge. But it is very harsh to say that any king of Israel would destroy all mankind; and therefore the Syriac and Chaldee soften it, that he shall subdue all the sons of Sheth, and rule over all the sons of men. But the Jerusalem Targum translates it, the sons of the east, namely, the Moabites, lying east of Judea. Rabbi Nathan says that Sheth is the name of a city in the border of Moab. Grotius imagines Sheth to be the name of some famous king among the Moabites. Our Poole says, Sheth seems to be the name of some then eminent, though now unknown, place or prince in Moab, there being innumerable instances of such places or persons, some time famous, but now utterly lost, as to all monuments and remembrances of them.”

Verse 18

Numbers 24:18. Edom shall be a possession “This was also fulfilled by David; for throughout all Edom put he garrisons, and all they of Edom became David’s servants, 2 Samuel 8:14. David himself, in two of his Psalms, (Psalms 60:8; and Psalms 108:9;) hath mentioned together his conquest of Moab and Edom, as they are also joined together in this prophecy.” Seir is the name of the mountains of Edom, which were also possessed by David. Israel shall do valiantly As they did, particularly under the command of David.

Verse 19

Numbers 24:19. Out of Jacob Out of his loins. He that shall have dominion David, and especially Christ. Shall destroy him that remaineth of the city Not only defeat them in the field, but destroy them even in their strongest cities. “We see,” Bishop Newton further observes, “how exactly this prophecy hath been fulfilled in the person and actions of David; but most Jewish as well as Christian writers apply it, primarily, perhaps, to David, but ultimately to the Messiah, as the person chiefly intended, in whom it was to receive its full and entire completion. Onkelos interprets it of the Messiah. Maimonides understands it partly of David, and partly of the Messiah, and with him agree other rabbis. It appears to have been generally understood by the Jews as a prophecy of the Messiah, because the false Christ, who appeared in the reign of the Roman emperor Adrian, assumed the title of Barchochebas, or Son of the Star, in allusion to this prophecy, and in order to have it believed that he was the star that Balaam had seen afar off. The Christian fathers, I think, are unanimous in applying this prophecy to our Saviour, and to the star which appeared at his nativity. Origen, in particular, produces it as one of the plainest and clearest prophecies of the Messiah; and both he and Eusebius affirm, that it was in consequence of Balaam’s prophecies, which were known and believed in the East, that the magi, upon the appearance of a new star, came to Jerusalem to worship him who was born king of the Jews. The stream of modern divines and commentators apply the prophecy principally to our Saviour; and by Moab and Edom they understand the enemies and persecutors of the church.”

Verse 20

Numbers 24:20. He looked upon Amalek From the top of Pisgah, which was exceeding high, and gave him the prospect of part of all these kingdoms, he turned his eyes from the Moabites more to the south and west, and looked on their neighbours the Amalekites. Amalek was the first of the nations Hebrew, the beginning, or first-fruits, so called, either because they were the first of all the neighbouring nations which were imbodied together in one government, or because they were the first who fought against Israel and were vanquished by them. That victory was an earnest and first-fruit of the large harvest of victories which the Israelites should, in due time, get over all their enemies. “The Amalekites appear to have been a very ancient nation. They are mentioned as early as the wars of Chedorlaomer, (Genesis 14:7,) and therefore must have been a nation before the times of Abraham and Lot, and consequently much older than the Moabites or Edomites, or any of the nations descended from those patriarchs. But though they were the most ancient and powerful of the neighbouring nations, yet, says Balaam, their latter end shall be that they perish for ever Here he confirms what God had before denounced by Moses: see Exodus 17:14. Balaam had before declared that the king of Israel should prevail over the king of Amalek; but here the menace is carried further, and Amalek is consigned to utter destruction. And this sentence was in a great measure executed by Saul, 1 Samuel 15:7; afterward more fully by David, 1 Samuel 27:8-9; and 1 Samuel 30:1. And at last, in the days of Hezekiah, the sons of Simeon smote the rest of the Amalekites that were escaped, and dwelt in their habitations, 1 Chronicles 4:41-43. And where is the name or nation of Amalek subsisting at this day? What history, what tradition of them is remaining anywhere? They are but just enough known and remembered to show that what God hath threatened he hath punctually fulfilled.” How incontrovertible is the argument arising from hence in favour not only of the truth of Balaam’s prophecy, but of the assurance which Moses had of its truth, and of the certainty of its accomplishment, inasmuch as he recorded it while Amalek was yet a very powerful nation, and thereby risked on its truth and fulfilment all his credit as an historian and his authority as a lawgiver and messenger of God!

Verses 21-22

Numbers 24:21-22. He looked on the Kenites Commentators are much at a loss to say, with any certainty, who these Kenites were. The most probable account of them, Bishop Newton thinks, is as follows: “Jethro, the father- in-law of Moses, is called the priest of Midian, Exodus 3:1; and Judges 1:16, the Kenite. We may infer, therefore, that the Midianites and Kenites were the same, or at least that the Kenites were some of the tribes of Midian. Now of the Kenites, part followed Israel, Judges 1:6; but the greater part, we may presume, remained among the Midianites and Amalekites, 1 Samuel 15:6. Their situation is said to be strong and secure among the mountains: Strong is thy dwelling-place, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock Wherein is an allusion to the name, the same word in the Hebrew signifying a nest and a Kenite. Nevertheless the Kenite shall be wasted, until Asshur shall carry thee away captive The Amalekites were to be utterly destroyed, but the Kenites were to be carried captive. Accordingly, when Saul was sent by divine commission to destroy the Amalekites, he ordered the Kenites to depart from among them; for the kindness which some of them showed to Israel, their posterity was saved, 1 Samuel 15:6. This passage shows that they were wasted, and reduced to a low and weak condition; and as the kings of Assyria carried captive not only the Jews, but also the Syrians and several other nations, (2 Kings 16:9; 2 Kings 19:12-13,) it is most highly probable that the Kenites shared the same fate with their neighbours, and were carried away by the same torrent; and especially as we find some Kenites mentioned among the Jews after their return from captivity,” 1 Chronicles 2:55.

Verse 23

Numbers 24:23. Alas, who shall live How calamitous and miserable will the state of the world be, when the Assyrian, and after him the Chaldean, shall overrun and overturn all these parts of the world! Who will be able to keep his heart from fainting under such grievous pressures? Nay, how few will escape the destroying sword!

Verse 24

Numbers 24:24. From the coast of Chittim A place or people, so called from Chittim, the son of Javan, (Genesis 10:4,) whose posterity were very numerous, and were first seated in the lesser Asia, and from thence sent forth colonies into the islands of the Ægean sea, and into Cyprus; afterward into Macedonia and other parts of Greece, and then into Italy. Whence it comes to pass that by this name is understood sometimes Macedonia, as Malachi 1:1; Malachi 1:1, and 1Ma 8:5 ; sometimes Italy, as Daniel 11:29-30; and sometimes both, as in this place: for he speaks here of the scourge that God had appointed for the Assyrian after he had done God’s work in punishing of his people and the bordering nations. Shall afflict Asshur “Asshur signifies the descendants of Asshur, the Assyrians; but their name was of as large extent as their empire, and the Syrians and Assyrians are often confounded together, and mentioned as one people.” Now although the Assyrian and Chaldean empire was subdued by the Medes and Persians, yet the chief afflictions of that people came from two hands, both beyond the sea, and brought to them by ships; first from the Greeks, and then from the Romans. “It is so well known as to require no particular proof that the Grecians, under Alexander, subdued all these countries. The Romans afterward” (who subdued the whole Grecian empire) “extended their conquests into the same regions; and, as Dion informs us, Assyria, properly so called, was conquered by Trajan.” And shall afflict Eber That is, the posterity of Eber, the Hebrews, who were the flower and chief of Eber’s children. “The Hebrews were afflicted, though not much, by Alexander himself, yet by his successors the Seleucidæ, and particularly by Antiochus Epiphanes, 1 Maccabees 1. They were worse afflicted by the Romans, who not only subdued and oppressed them, but at last took away their place and nation, and sold and dispersed them over the face of the earth.” So that, although Balaam was commissioned chiefly to bless and prophesy good concerning Israel, yet he here at last foretels that they should be scourged for their sins. He also shall perish for ever Not the Hebrews; they shall have a better end: all Israel shall be saved; but the afflicter or scourge of Asshur and Eber; namely, the Grecian and Roman empire. Thus Balaam, instead of cursing the church, curses Amalek, the first, and Rome, the last enemy of it. “It appears, then,” adds the bishop, “that Balaam was a prophet divinely inspired, or he could never have foretold so many distant events, some of which are fulfilling in the world at this time. And what a singular honour was it to the people of Israel, that a prophet, called from another country, and at the same time a wicked man, should bear testimony to their righteousness and holiness! The commendations of an enemy, among enemies, are commendations indeed. And Moses did justice to himself as well as to his nation in recording these transactions. They are not only a material part of his history, but likewise a strong confirmation of the truth of his religion. Balaam’s bearing witness to Moses, is somewhat like Judas’s attesting the innocence of Christ.” See Dissert. on Prophecies, vol.1. p. 130, and seq.

Verse 25

Numbers 24:25. Balaam went to his place To Mesopotamia; though afterward he returned to the Midianites, and gave them that wicked counsel which was put in practice, chap. 25. And it appears, from Numbers 31:8, that he was slain among the Midianites.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 24". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/numbers-24.html. 1857.
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