Numbers 24:23
And he took up his parable, and said, Alas, who shall live when God does this!
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(23) When God doeth this.—These words may be rendered, since (or, from the time that) God sets (or, determines) it (or, this)—quando faciet ista Deus (Vulgate); or, because God determines it (or, this).

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!24:15-25 Under the powerful influence of the Spirit of prophecy, Balaam foretold the future prosperity and extensive dominion of Israel. Balaam boasts that his eyes are open. The prophets were in old times called seers. He had heard the words of God, which many do who neither heed them, nor hear God in them. He knew the knowledge of the Most High. A man may be full of the knowledge of God, yet utterly destitute of the grace of God. He calls God the Most High and the Almighty. No man could seem to express a greater respect to God; yet he had no true fear of him, love to him, nor faith in him; so far a man may go toward heaven, and yet come short of it at last. Here is Balaam's prophecy concerning Him who should be the crown and glory of his people Israel; who is David in the type; but our Lord Jesus, the promised Messiah, is chiefly pointed at, and of him it is an illustrious prophecy. Balaam, a wicked man, shall see Christ, but shall not see him nigh; not see him as Job, who saw him as his Redeemer, and saw him for himself. When he comes in the clouds, every eye shall see him; but many will see him, as the rich man in hell saw Abraham, afar off. He shall come out of Jacob, and Israel, as a Star and a Sceptre; the former denoting his glory and lustre; the latter his power and authority. Christ shall be King, not only of Jacob and Israel, but of all the world; so that all shall be either governed by his golden sceptre, or dashed in pieces by his iron rod. Balaam prophesied concerning the Amalekites and Kenites, part of whose country he had now in view. Even a nest in a rock will not be a lasting security. Here is a prophecy that looks as far forward as to the Greeks and Romans. He acknowledges all the revolutions of states and kingdoms to be the Lord's doing. These events will make such desolations, that scarcely any will escape. They that live then, will be as brands plucked out of the fire. May God fit us for the worst of times! Thus Balaam, instead of cursing the church, curses Amalek the first, and Rome the last enemy of the church. Not Rome pagan only, but Rome papal also; antichrist and all the antichristian powers. Let us ask ourselves, Do we in knowledge, experience, or profession, excel Balaam? No readiness of speech, even in preaching or prayer, no gifts of knowledge or prophecy, are in themselves different from, or superior to the boasted gifts of him who loved the wages of unrighteousness, and died the enemy of God. Simple dependence on the Redeemer's atoning blood and sanctifying grace, cheerful submission to the Divine will, constant endeavours to glorify God and benefit his people, these are less splendid, but far more excellent gifts, and always accompany salvation. No boasting hypocrite ever possessed these; yet the feeblest believer has something of them, and is daily praying for more of them.When God doeth this - The eventual carrying away of the allies of Israel by Assyria presented itself to Balaam as the ruin of all peace and safety upon earth. One prediction was howerer, yet wanting, and is next given, namely, that the conquerors of the Kenites should fare no better than the Kenites themselves. 23. who shall live when God doeth this!—Few shall escape the desolation that shall send a Nebuchadnezzar to scourge all those regions. 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 live and keep his heart from fainting under such grievous pressures? how few will then escape the destroying sword! And he took up his parable, and said,.... Or delivered another prophecy, having made some little pause:

alas, who shall live when God doeth this? referring not to what goes before, but to what follows; though Jarchi and Aben Ezra think it refers to the Assyria conquering and carrying captive, not only the Kenites, but all the nations of the world, so that there was no living comfortably in it on his account; but this is said after Balaam had taken up his parable again, and so respects what follows, as the destruction of the Persian empire by Alexander, in which Ashur or the Assyrians were included; and the destruction of the Jews by the Romans more especially; which was such as had not been the like from the beginning of the world, Matthew 24:21, and perhaps may have a further respect to the affliction of the witnesses and church of Christ by antichrist; see Daniel 12:1.

And he took up his parable, and said, Alas, {p} who shall live when God doeth this!

(p) Some read, Oh who shall not perish when the enemy

(that is, Antichrist) shall set himself up as God?

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
23. when God doeth this] The only rendering which the words will bear is ‘on account of God appointing him.’ If Numbers 24:21-24 were all one poem, as some think, ‘him’ might refer to Asshur, appointed by God as an instrument of destruction.

23, 24. Balaam’s last prophetic message. This is the most obscure of all the poems. The translation is uncertain, and no historical event is known to which the words can refer.

Kittim, derived from Kitti a town in Cyprus, was a name used for Greece; cf. Genesis 10:4 (where Kittim is reckoned as a son of Javan, i.e. Greece), 1Ma 1:1; 1Ma 8:5; it was also used sometimes for the Western maritime powers generally; cf. Jeremiah 2:10, Ezekiel 27:6. In Daniel 11:30 it is even referred to the Romans; cf. Vulg. ‘Italia’ in the present passage.Verse 23. - When God doeth this. Literally, "from the settling of it by God." מִשֻּׂמו אֵל, i.e., when God shall bring these terrible things to pass. Septuagint, ὅταν θῇ ταῦτα ὁ θεός. This exclamation refers to the woe which he is about to pronounce, which involved his own people also. The prophecy itself commences with a picture from the "end of the days," which rises up before the mental eye of the seer. "I see Him, yet not now; I behold Him, but not nigh. A star appears out of Jacob, and a sceptre rises out of Israel, and dashes Moab in pieces on both sides, and destroys all the sons of confusion." The suffixes to אראנּוּ and עשׁוּרנּוּ refer to the star which is mentioned afterwards, and which Balaam sees in spirit, but "not now," i.e., not as having already appeared, and "not nigh," i.e., not to appear immediately, but to come forth out of Israel in the far distant future. "A star is so natural an image and symbol of imperial greatness and splendour, that it has been employed in this sense in almost every nation. And the fact that this figure and symbol are so natural, may serve to explain the belief of the ancient world, that the birth and accession of great kings was announced by the appearance of stars" (Hengstenberg, who cites Justini hist. xxxvii. 2; Plinii h. n. ii. 23; Sueton. Jul. Caes. c. 78; and Dio Cass. xlv. p. 273). If, however, there could be any doubt that the rising star represented the appearance of a glorious ruler or king, it would be entirely removed by the parallel, "a sceptre arises out of Israel." The sceptre, which was introduced as a symbol of dominion even in Jacob's blessing (Genesis 49:10), is employed here as the figurative representation and symbol of the future ruler in Israel. This ruler would destroy all the enemies of Israel. Moab and (Numbers 24:18) Edom are the first of these that are mentioned, viz., the two nations that were related to Israel by descent, but had risen up in hostility against it at that time. Moab stands in the foremost rank, not merely because Balaam was about to announce to the king of Moab what Israel would do to his people in the future, but also because the hostility of the heathen to the people of God had appeared most strongly in Balak's desire to curse the Israelites. מואב פּאתי, "the two corners or sides of Moab," equivalent to Moab on both sides, from one end to the other. For קרקר, the inf. Pilp. of קוּר or קיר, the meaning to destroy is fully established by the parallel מחץ, and by Isaiah 22:5, whatever may be thought of its etymology and primary meaning. And neither the Samaritan text nor the passage in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 48:45), which is based upon this prophecy, at all warrants an alteration of the reading קרקר into קדקד (the crown of the head), since Jeremiah almost invariably uses earlier writing in this free manner, viz., by altering the expressions employed, and substituting in the place of unusual words wither more common ones, or such as are similar in sound (cf. Kper, Jerem. libror, ss. interpres atque vindex, pp. xii.ff. and p. 43). - כּל־בּני־שׁת does not mean "all the sons of Seth," i.e., all mankind, as the human race is never called by the name of Seth; and the idea that the ruler to arise out of Israel would destroy all men, would be altogether unsuitable. It signifies rather "all the sons of confusion," by which, according to the analogy of Jacob and Israel (Numbers 24:17), Edom and Seir (Numbers 24:18), the Moabites are to be understood as being men of wild, warlike confusion. שׁת is a contraction of שׁאת (Lamentations 3:47), and derived from שׁאה; and in Jeremiah 48:45 it is correctly rendered שׁאון בּני.

(Note: On the other hand, the rendering, "all the sons of the drinker, i.e., of Lot," which Hiller proposed, and v. Hoffmann and Kurtz have renewed, is evidently untenable. For, in the first place, the fact related in Genesis 19:32. does not warrant the assumption that Lot ever received the name of the "drinker," especially as the word used in Genesis 19 is not שׁתה, but שׁקה. Moreover, the allusion to "all the sons of Lot," i.e., the Moabites and Ammonites, neither suits the thoroughly synonymous parallelism in the saying of Balaam, nor corresponds to the general character of his prophecies, which announced destruction primarily only to those nations that rose up in hostility against Israel, viz., Moab, Edom, and Amalek, whereas hitherto the Ammonites had not assumed either a hostile or friendly attitude towards them. And lastly, all the nations doomed to destruction are mentioned by name. Now the Ammonites were not a branch of the Moabites by descent, nor was their territory enclosed within the Moabitish territory, so that it could be included, as Hoffmann supposes, within the "four corners of Moab.")

In the announcement of destruction which is to fall upon the enemies of Israel through the star and sceptre out of the midst of it, Moab is followed by "its southern neighbour Edom."

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