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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-
The blessing was in that God was imputing righteousness to Israel, covering their sins, and seeing them as saved- despite their weaknesses. The connection between blessing and forgiveness / salvation is widespread throughout Scripture: Dt. 33:23; Ps. 5:12 (blessing = grace) Dt. 30:19; Ps. 3:8; 24:5; 28:9; 133:3 (= salvation); Ex. 12:32; 32:29; Num. 24:1; 2 Sam. 21:3; Ps. 67:1 (cp. context); Lk. 6:28; Acts 3:26; Rom. 4:7,8; 1 Cor. 10:16; Gal. 3:14 (= forgiveness). The setting his face to the desert rather than looking at Israel appears another desperate attempt to make the "evil eye" myth work (see on :2,3).

Num 24:2 Balaam lifted up his eyes-
This could be understood as meaning that he began to pray to God, seeking for a curse upon Israel. A feature of Biblical prayers is the way they start with some reference to God, often involving several clauses. This is to be connected with the idea of lifting the eyes to Heaven at the start of a prayer (Ps. 121:1; 123:1; Ez. 23:27; Dan. 4:34; Lk. 16:23; 18:13; Jn. 11:41; 17:1). There are enough of these references to make us wonder whether other references to lifting up the eyes to Heaven is an idiom for prayer. This seems likely in Num. 24:2; Josh. 5:13; Jud. 19:17 and 1 Chron. 21:16 among others. The simple implication of all this is that we should begin our prayers with a conscious imagination and personalization of the Father to whom we pray; "Our Father, who is in Heaven" says it all.

And he saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came on him-
The lifting up his eyes could be a reference to Balaam trying to use the belief in the 'evil eye' upon Israel. But as he began to do this, God's Spirit took him over and made him bless them. It would be an example of where the Bible deconstructs belief in things like the evil eye and other connections with a supposed supernatural source of evil. Even if these things were true, then God's Spirit power was far greater than them. See on :3.

Num 24:3 He took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor says, the man whose eye was closed says-
The idea may be that Balaam had tried to use superstitions about the 'evil eye' against Israel and had lifted up his eyes against Israel in this way (see on :2). But his [evil] eye had been closed by God and he was now taken over by God's Spirit in order to as it were have his eye opened to bless Israel. We note "eye" in the singular, not the plural. But he was being directed to remember how his eyes had been closed to the Angel standing in the way, opposing him. And then they had been opened. He was still being nudged towards repentance, despite committing the presumptuous sin of trying to curse God's people, knowing that whoever cursed them would be cursed. These considerations explain the similarity and confusion within the Hebrew word for "closed" and "opened" used here.
 
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-
His eyes were opened to the Angel blocking his way, and when he realized how he had closed his spiritual vision to the Angel trying to stop him going to Balak, he fell down on his face (Num. 22:31). But when he is later given a vision of Balak’s judgment, the vision which Balaam didn’t want to see, he describes himself as “the man whose eye was closed” and yet had to see the vision with his eyes open (Num. 24:3). He didn’t learn the lesson. He closed his eyes so as not to see the vision, and yet God forced him to open his eyes and see it. And again, he fell down upon his face (Num. 24:4,16 RV), as he had when the Angel blocked his path earlier. He wouldn’t learn his lesson, he wouldn’t perceive how circumstances were being repeated in God’s desperate effort to get him to repent.

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). Very often, the name Jacob is associated with the way that God sees His people of Jacob / Israel as righteous when in fact they are not (Num. 23:7,10,21; 24:5; Ps. 47:4; 105:6; 135:4; Is. 41:8). The names “Jacob” and “Israel” are often used together (e.g. Hos. 12:12) to show how God saw the Jacob as Israel, without forgetting he was still Jacob.

Num 24:6 As valleys they are spread forth, as gardens by the riverside, as aloes which Yahweh has planted-
Or, as the tents which the Lord has pitched (s.w. :5). 'Planted' 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.

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.

Unless we read "palms" for "cedar trees", we must note that cedars do not grow beside water; although cedars were considered to have been planted by Yahweh (Ps. 104:16). This would then connect with the earlier thought about the aloes, that they were planted "contrary to nature" by God in Canaan. 

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" is 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 neighbouring 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 nine Arab nations headed up by a Gog / Agag figure, as outlined in Ez. 38. See on :24. "Agag" was 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-
But Israel had felt so weak before the apparent strength of the Canaanites. They believed the faithless words of the ten spies. They failed to appreciate their potential strength. In Num. 22:4 we learn that the Moabites feared that "Now this multitude will lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field". God had specifically told Moses not to fight with Moab (Dt. 2:9), and I suggested on Num. 22:2 that there was some contact between Balak and Moses. When Israel passed along the highways, they had been careful not stray from the route and had not drunk from the wells of those whom they passed through. Moab need have had no fear that Israel would lick up all around. It was only those who came out against Israel in battle who had been defeated, and Balak would have been wiser to learn from this. But God gave them according to their fears by saying He would make Israel like a powerful ox (also Num. 23:22). 

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), just as Levi was to pierce through his enemies (Dt. 33:11).

Num 24:9 He couched, he lay down as a lion, as a lioness; who shall rouse him up?-
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. These prophecies would come to have their ultimate fulfilment in the Lord Jesus as the lion of Judah; for Israel didn't have the boldness of a lion when they entered Canaan.

Everyone who blesses you is blessed, everyone who curses you is cursed-
This was a sober reminder to Balaam, out of his own mouth, that whoever cursed Israel as he was trying to do- would be cursed.

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-
"Kept you back" is the word used in Num. 22:16 for how Balak urged Balaam initially: "Please let nothing hinder you [s.w.] from coming to me". Repeatedly, God is the one who hinders or keeps back (Gen. 30:2; 1 Sam. 25:26,34; Neh. 9:20 etc.). Balak seems to be effectively saying 'Don't let Yahweh hinder you'. Balak recognizes that it was Yahweh and not Balaam who had hindered, and his words are really a lament that Yahweh had kept back Balaam. He knew that Balaam was eager for it. "Don't let your God / religion stop you..." is the call of temptation which the world makes to God's people of every generation. And heeding it is to go in the way of Balaam.   

Num 24:12 Balaam said to Balak, Didn’t I also tell your messengers whom you sent to me, saying-
"Messengers" is the Hebrew malak , the same word translated "Angels". The Angels as in supernatural beings cannot sin. They are of Divine nature. Any passengers which appear to talk of Angels sinning are using malak in the sense it is used here, of human beings who were messengers or servants.

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.

In the very similar statement Balaam makes in Num. 22:18 he speaks of Yahweh as "my God". Now he omits reference to Yahweh as "my God". Balaam knew that when Divine words of prophecy came to him, he had to speak them out, and could not add to or diminish from them (Num. 22:18) nor add any good or bad to them according to what was in his own mind (Num. 24:13). This is all a helpful insight into what it meant for a prophet to be Divinely inspired. The words they uttered were from God and were not their own opinions at all. For Balaam would dearly loved to have cursed Israel and not to have uttered the words of blessing which he did.


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-
Balaam understood the 'last days' to be when the Davidic dynasty would arise (Num. 24:14 cp. Is. 2:2; Mic. 4:1)- and so I take this as another indication that in some sense, Solomon could have been the Messiah of the 'last days'.  But he like many such figures, failed to live up to the potential possible. This is the tragic story of so many lives.

Num 24:15 He took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor says, the man whose eye was closed says-
This may imply he was a 'seer' who didn't want to see. He was seeing and stating that which was not at all what he wanted to. See on :1-4.

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-
Balaam's claim that "I didn't know..." of God's opposition to his journey to curse Israel was untrue (Num. 22:34); so he is made to say in prophecy that he did know God's will (Num. 24:16). See on :1-4. Falling down with open eyes is to direct Balaam back to how he had fallen down before the Angel with his eyes now open to the Angel. We marvel at how God was continually trying to nudge him even at this stage towards repentance.

Num 24:17 I see him, but not now; I see him, but not near-
The idea is 'I see him (Israel), but not (as he is) now; I see him, but not (camped as he is now) near (to me)’.

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". See on Num. 21:28. David was the future king who would smite Moab (2 Sam. 8:2), so we look forward to David's great Messianic son doing this- the Lord Jesus.

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. These things will only come fully true in the last days. Edom in the last days will be possessed by their enemies, i.e. Christ and his true Israel, referring back to the promise that Abraham's seed would physically and spiritually possess the gates of his enemies (Num. 24:18 cp. Gen. 22:17,18).

As noted on :17, there is an incipient fulfilment of these things in David, to whom Edom became servants (2 Sam. 8:14). So we are bidden to look forward to David's great Messianic son doing this- the Lord Jesus. Obadiah 21 seems to specifically apply this to the Lord's latter day victory over Israel's neighbours, as the shorter term possibilities were not realized to the extent they could have been: "And saviours shall come upon Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s".

Num 24:19 Out of Jacob shall come one who shall have dominion, and shall destroy the remnant from the city-
Perhaps the city in view immediately was "Ar" which means "the city". Had Moab not hired Balaam, then God's original intention that Moab not be touched would have come true (Dt. 2:9). We see here the open nature of God's purpose, ever able to change according to human response and behaviour. But the idea was that a Messianic figure would appear at that time. I have suggested on Joshua 1 that Joshua was that figure, and his name is the Hebrew equivalent of "Jesus". But he didn't live up to his potentials. And so he became but a type of the future Lord Jesus Christ.

Or we can read this as "And dominion will be exercised out of Jacob, and the remnant (of Israel’s enemies) will be destroyed out of the city". In this case, "out of Jacob" is parallel with "out of the city", and in a latter day context this would apply to Zion and the emergence from there of the Lord Jesus against Israel's enemies.

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-
The "latter end" may refer to a specific fulfilment in the last days or some latter day equivalent of Amalek. There were various fulfillments at the time of Saul (who also took Agag prisoner, 1 Sam. 15:7,8), David (1 Sam. 27:8) and Hezekiah (1 Chron. 4:41-43). But all those kings of Judah failed to fully live up to the Messianic potential they had. So they became types of the final latter day fulfilment in the Lord Jesus.

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-
There is a word play upon the very similar words for "nest" and "Kayin" or "Kain", whence "Kenite". Moses' first wife Zipporah was the daughter of a Kenite (Jud. 1:16). Balak was the son of Zippor, the male form of Zipporah. Balaam was known to them. I have earlier suggested that they knew of Yahweh from the 40 years Moses lived with them, and now after his divorce with Zipporah, they had turned against Israel. And because of their knowledge of Yahweh and wilful attempt to curse His people, they had more responsibility and were to be judged severely. The word for "Kayin" or "Kain" can mean a smith, "the forger of every cutting instrument of brass and iron" (Gen. 4:22). And so they are presented as the descendants of unrighteous Cain.

Num 24:22 Nevertheless Kain shall be wasted, until Asshur carries you away captive-
The Assyrians and Babylonians took the ten tribes and Judah into captivity, and we assume the Kenites were taken with them- for there were Kenites amongst the Jewish exiles who returned from Babylon (1 Chron. 2:55). This kind of internal corroboration within the records is to me the most powerful evidence of the Divine inspiration of the Bible.

Num 24:23 He took up his parable and said, Alas, who shall live when God does this?-
Heb. "On account of God appointing him", referring to Asshur. "Who shall live...?" was a rhetorical question which begged the answer 'Those who repent'. And as noted on :22, some Kenites apparently did. At this point in time, these people were trying to curse Israel, fully aware that he who curses Israel shall be cursed. We marvel at God's patient desire for their repentance.  

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-
Balaam's prophecy about Israel's final destiny speaks of how finally both Assyria and Eber will be judged for their abuse of Israel in the last days. "Eber" is 'the other side', a similar meaning as the words 'Syria' and 'Aram' in Hebrew, and effectively referring to Syria; or to those 'on the other side' of the Euphrates, namely Iran. They are mentioned together because they will be operating together- and now we see that they actually are coming together (Num. 24:24). Whilst we must remember that Syria and Assyria were historically different, the current talk of a ‘Greater Syria’ and ‘The Islamic state of Iraq and Greater Syria’ is nothing less than Biblical ‘Assyria’ born again.

Kittim or Kitti was a town in Cyprus. Because it became a naval base, it came to be put for powers further to the west whose ships used it. Thus it was a term used for Greece (1 Maccabees 1:1; 8:5 and cp. Gen. 10:4 where Kittim is a son of Javan / Greece) and also for Rome (Dan. 11:30); hence the Vulgate here reads "Italia" for "Kittim". Kittim became a general term for maritime powers to the west of Israel (Jer. 2:10; Ez. 27:6). Something similar happened to the term "Tarshish", which originally referred to the maritime port of Tyre, just as "Kittim" was originally Kitti in Cyprus. But "Tarshish" then came to apply to various maritime powers to the west of Israel, and doesn't have just one specific application to any single power. 

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. The latter day equivalent to this may be specific temptations for God's people in the very last days, on the borders of the Kingdom, which will involve sexual and idolatry issues.