New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Num 24:1 When Balaam perceived that it pleased Yahweh to bless Israel, he didn’t go as at the other times to meet with enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness.

Num 24:2 Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came on him.
Num 24:3 He took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor says, the man whose eye was closed says;
Num 24:4 he says, who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, and having his eyes open:
Num 24:5 How beautiful are your tents, Jacob, and your tents, Israel!-
The repeated parallel of Jacob and Israel was to reflect how God imputed righteousness to the historical Jacob, changing his name in recognition of it, and He was doing the same to Israel's people. God is described in the prophets as being in love with Israel at this time (Ez. 16:8), just as He is with us on our wilderness journey towards His Kingdom. He didn’t ‘see’ their sin (see on Num. 23:21).  

Num 24:6 As valleys they are spread forth, as gardens by the riverside, as aloes which Yahweh has planted, as cedar trees beside the waters-
The repeated use of the idea of "as" was perhaps to reflect how God saw them- as if they were righteous. Mic. 6:4,5 records God's response to Balak and Balaam is a parade example of His saving grace to Israel, which was intended to encourage the Israel of Micah's day. Hos. 9:10 speaks of this time- God "found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the first ripe in the fig tree at its first season; but they came to Baal Peor, and consecrated themselves to the shameful thing". God saw them as if they were so wonderful- but they turned to worship Baalpeor (Num. 25:3). Our response to imputed righteousness must not be the same.

Planted- This is an image frequently used about how God would plant His people permanently in Canaan, and the figure is sometimes used along with the idea of 'never to be removed' (Ex. 15:17; 2 Sam. 7:10; Ps. 44:2; 80:8,15; Is. 5:2; Jer. 2:21). As Yahweh planted the garden of Eden, so He speaks here of how He had already planted His people- the first step towards a potential restoration of Eden (Gen. 2:8). But the reality was that at the time Balaam was speaking, the people of Israel were in tents, waiting to enter the land. But God saw them as if they were already there and established- just as He sees us even in our wilderness years as His Kingdom, even though it is not yet literally established.

Gen. 2:5 explains how God created "every plant of the field before it was in the earth / eretz / land [promised to Abraham]". Quite simply, the plants Israel knew had been made by God and somehow transplanted or moved into the land, just as one does when developing a garden. It was Moses' understanding that on entering the land, God would be planting Israel there (Ex. 15:17; Num. 24:6), just as God had planted in Eden (Gen. 2:8 s.w.).

Num 24:7 Water shall flow from his buckets, his seed shall be in many waters, his king shall be higher than Agag; his kingdom shall be exalted-
His King- Israel's King. There is here an intimation that Israel's seed and king- Messiah- would have personal conflict with 'Gog', a leader of a coalition of surrounding nations. Throughout the chapter, a total of nine Arab nations are mentioned, under the leadership of a tenth individual- Agag / Gog. Such victories never happened in Israel's history because they failed to live up to the potential power they were given in this prophecy, but the essence will come true in Messiah's latter day victories against another group of 9 Arab nations headed up by a Gog / Agag figure, as outlined in Ez. 38. See on :24.
Agag- A generic name for the kings of Amalek, rather like 'Abimelech', 'Caesar' or 'Pharaoh'.

Num 24:8 God brings him out of Egypt; he has as it were the strength of the wild ox. He shall eat up the nations his adversaries, shall break their bones in pieces and pierce them with his arrows-
The shame was that God saw Israel as triumphing over their enemies- but instead, they were beguiled by them, slept with their women and worshipped their idols. They were to "pierce them through with [their] arrows" - and Phinehas therefore pierced through the Midianite woman with a javelin (Num. 25:8).

Num 24:9 He couched, he lay down as a lion, as a lioness; who shall rouse him up? Everyone who blesses you is blessed, everyone who curses you is cursed-
The past tenses suggest God saw Israel as already having entered and possessed Canaan; He likens them to a lion which couched down before it sprung in to Canaan and destroyed the tribes. But the sad record of Joshua and Judges is that Israel feared their enemies and were oppressed by them. The great potential didn't come true. It was so sad for God, and is the understandable basis for His anger in chapter 25 when Israel did the very opposite and joined themselves in sexual and moral submission to the Baal of Peor.

Num 24:10 Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, I called you to curse my enemies, and, behold, you have altogether blessed them these three times-
Balaam ought to have perceived that each time he tried to curse Israel and ended up blessing them, it was like him trying those three times to ride his donkey down the lane with God standing in the way to block him. The same phrase “these three times” occurs three times in that record (Num. 22:28,32,33).

Num 24:11 Therefore now flee you to your place! I thought to promote you to great honour; but, behold, Yahweh has kept you back from honour.
Num 24:12 Balaam said to Balak, Didn’t I also tell your messengers whom you sent to me, saying,
Num 24:13 ‘If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I can’t go beyond the word of Yahweh, to do either good or bad of my own mind. I will say what Yahweh says?’-
Clearly Balaam really wanted the promised reward from Balak. He wanted God to curse Israel; Dt. 23:5 and Josh. 24:10 state that God did not hear Balaam's prayers about this. But there is no record that he prayed to God to curse Israel. But clearly his unspoken desires were read by God as a prayer, just as Elijah's feelings about Israel were read as his making intercession to God against Israel. Likewise our ability to verbalize is not the same as ability in prayer. Our deepest, unspoken feelings are seen by God as prayer. Neh. 13:2 goes so far as to say that God turned Balaam's curse into a blessing- implying Balaam's thoughts were read by God as asking Him to curse Israel. See on 25:11.

Peter alludes here in his defence: "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). He told the Sanhedrin that to make true Christians agree not to preach was simply an inappropriate suggestion, because "we cannot but  speak" out- it was something which went part and parcel with the experience of the risen Lord Jesus. Peter was not just an illiterate fisherman; so many of his words and phrasing indicate a thorough familiarity with the Greek Old Testament. Here, he seems to have Num. 24:13 at the back of his mind; Balaam says that although Balak is forbidding him to speak, he cannot but speak what God has inspired him with, even  if it is intensely unpopular with those around him.

Num 24:14 Now, behold, I go to my people. Come, I will inform you what this people shall do to your people in the latter days.

Num 24:15 He took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor says, the man whose eye was closed says;
Num 24:16 he says, who hears the words of God, knows the knowledge of the Most High, and who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, and having his eyes open:
Num 24:17 I see him, but not now; I see him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob, a sceptre will rise out of Israel, and shall strike through the corners of Moab, and break down all the sons of Sheth-
This star and sceptre would seem to refer to Israel’s Messiah, the Lord Jesus. It seems He will yet win a resounding victory against Israel’s Arab enemies, represented here by Moab, and be higher than Agag (:7), or Gog. Ez. 38:1-7 speaks of Christ’s latter day conflict with Gog. It seems there will be a final conflict around the time of Christ’s return, in which He will finally save Israel from all their surrounding enemies. The wise men said that they had seen the star of the King of Israel and were following it- they were clearly alluding to this prophecy, and the Star was therefore ultimately the Lord Jesus.

The future king was to be totally out of Israel, an Israelite indeed. This is an eloquent prophecy of the Lord's human nature and lack of any personal pre-existence. Likewise :19, He was to "arise out of Jacob".

Num 24:18 Edom shall be a possession. Seir, his enemies, also shall be a possession, while Israel does valiantly-
Despite occasional victories against these powers, Israel never possessed them and they revolted against Israel repeatedly (under Solomon, 1 Kings 11:14; Joram, 2 Kings 8:20; Ahaz, 2 Chron. 28:17 and during the Babylonian invasion, Ez. 35:15; Obad. 10,13). Yet total dominion over them was potentially possible for Israel.

Num 24:19 Out of Jacob shall come one who shall have dominion, and shall destroy the remnant from the city.
Num 24:20 He looked at Amalek and took up his parable, and said, Amalek was the first of the nations, but his latter end shall come to destruction.
Num 24:21 He looked at the Kenite, and took up his parable and said, Your dwelling place is strong, your nest is set in the rock.
Num 24:22 Nevertheless Kain shall be wasted, until Asshur carries you away captive.
Num 24:23 He took up his parable and said, Alas, who shall live when God does this?
Num 24:24 But ships shall come from the coast of Kittim; they shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber. He also shall come to destruction.
Num 24:25 Balaam rose up and went and returned to his place, and Balak also went his way-
Balaam figured that if Israel sinned against their God, then the prophecies of blessing and victory would not come true. He understood prophecy as conditional. He advised Balak to tempt Israel to commit fornication with the pagan gods so that the prophecies would not come true (Num. 31:16; Rev. 2:14). Balaam is seen as the prototypical false teacher within Israel in 2 Pet. 2:15 and Jude  11. It could be that he entered the camp of Israel and told them the prophecies he had been inspired to make- and this would explain the [human] source of this material which Moses incorporated in Numbers- and having gotten their confidence, then encouraged them to commit fornication with Moab. This rings true, in that then Balaam was exactly prototypical of the false prophets within the first century Israel of God who were also teaching the new Israel to commit fornication and worship idols, having credibility because they had also uttered true prophecies.