|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
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.
Verse 25. - And returned to his place. יָשֹׁב לִמְקֹ ו. It is doubtful whether this expression, which is used in Genesis 18:33 and in other places, implies that Balaam returned to his home on the Euphrates. If he did he must have retraced his steps almost immediately, because he was slain among the Midianites shortly after (chapter 31:8). The phrase, however, may merely mean that he set off homewards, and is not inconsistent with the supposition that he went no further on his way than the headquarters of the Midianites. It is not difficult to understand the infatuation which would keep him within reach of a people so strange and terrible. NOTE ON THE PROPHECIES OF BALAAM. That the prophecies of Balaam have a Messianic character, and are only to be fully understood in a Christian sense, seems to lie upon the face of them. The Targums of Onkelos and Palestine make mention of King Meshiba here, and the great mass of Christian interpretation has uniformly followed in the track of Jewish tradition. It is of course possible to get rid of the prophetic element altogether by assuming that the utterances of Balaam were either composed or largely interpolated after the events to which they seem to refer. It would be necessary in this case to bring their real date down to the period of the Macedonian conquests, and much later still if the Greek empire also was to "perish for ever." The difficulty and arbitrary character of such an assumption becomes the more evident the more it is considered; nor does it seem consistent with the form into which the predictions are cast. A patriotic Jew looking back from the days of Alexander or his successors would not call the great Eastern power by the name of Asshur, because two subsequent empires had arisen in the place of Assyria proper. But that Balaam, looking forward down the dim vista of the future, should see Asshur, and only Asshur, is in perfect keeping with what we know of prophetic perspective, - the further off the events descried by inward vision, the more extreme the foreshortening, - according to which law it is well known that the first and second advents of Christ are inextricably blended in almost every case. If we accept the prophecies as genuine, it is, again, only possible to reject the Messianic element by assuming that no Jewish prophecy overleaps the narrow limits of Jewish history. The mysterious Being whom Balaam descries in the undated future, who is the King of Israel, and whom he identifies with the Shiloh of Jacob's dying prophecy, and who is to bring to nought all nations of the world, cannot be David, although David may anticipate him in many ways; still less, as the reference to Agag, Amalek, and the Kenites might for a moment incline us to believe, can it be Saul. At the same time, while the Messianic element in the prophecy cannot reasonably be ignored, it is obvious that it does not by any means exist by itself; it is so mixed up with what is purely local and temporal in the relations between Israel and the petty tribes which surrounded and envied him, that it is impossible to isolate it or to exhibit it in any clear and definite form. The Messiah indeed appears, as it were, upon the stage in a mysterious and remote grandeur; but he appears with a slaughter weapon in his hand, crushing such enemies of Israel as were then and there formidable, and exterminating the very fugitives from the overthrow. Even where the vision loses for once its local colouring in one way, so that the King of Israel deals with all the sons of men, yet it retains it in another, for he deals with them in wrath and destruction, not in love and blessing. There is here so little akin to the true ideal, that we are readily tempted to say that Christ is not here at all, but only Saul or David, or the Jewish monarchy personified in the ruthlessness of its consolidated power. But if we know anything of the genius of prophecy, it is exactly this, that the future and the grand and the heavenly is seen through a medium of the present and the paltry and the earthly. The Messianic element almost always occurs in connection with some crisis in the outward history of the chosen people; it is inextricably mixed up with what is purely local in interest, and often with what is distinctly imperfect in morality. To the Jew - and to Balaam also, however unwillingly, as the servant of Jehovah - the cause of Israel was the cause of God; he could not discern between them. "Our country, right or wrong," was an impossible sentiment to him, because he could not conceive of his country being wrong; he knew nothing of moral victories, or the triumphs of defeat or of suffering; he could not think of God's kingdom as asserting itself in any other way than in the overthrow, or (better still) the annihilation, of Moab, Edom, Assyria, Babylon, Rome, the whole world which was not Israel. The sufferings of the vanquished, the horrors of sacked cities, the agonies of desolated homes, were nothing to him; nothing, unless it were joy - joy that the kingdom of God should be exalted in the earth, joy that the reign of wickedness should be broken. All these feelings belonged to a most imperfect morality and we rightly look upon them with horror, because we have (albeit as yet very imperfectly) conformed our sentiments to a higher standard. But it was the very condition of the old dispensation that God adopted the then moral code, such as it was, and hallowed it with religious sanctions, and gave it a strong direction God-ward, and so educated his own for something higher. Hence it is wholly natural and consistent to find this early vision of the Messiah, the heaven-sent King of Israel, introduced in connection with the fall of the petty pastoral state of Moab. To Balaam, standing where he did in time and place, and all the more because his personal desires went with Moab as against Israel, Moab stood forth as the representative kingdom of darkness, Israel as the kingdom of light, Through that strong, definite, narrow, and essentially imperfect, but not untrue, conviction of his he saw the Messiah, and he saw him crushing Moab first, and then trampling down all the rest of a hostile world. That no one would have been more utterly astonished if he had beheld the Messiah as he was, is certain; but that is not at all inconsistent with the belief that he really prophesied concerning him. That he should put all enemies under his feet was what Balaam truly saw; but he saw it and gave utterance to it according to the ideas and imagery of which his mind was full. God ever reveals the supernatural through the natural, the heavenly through the earthly, the future through the present. It remains to consider briefly the temporal fulfillments of Balaam's prophecies. Moab was not apparently seriously attacked until the time of David, when it was vanquished, and a great part of the inhabitants slaughtered (2 Samuel 8:2). In the division of the kingdom it fell to the share of Israel, with the other lands beyond Jordan, but the vicissitudes of the northern monarchy gave it opportunities to rebel, of which it successfully availed itself after the death of Ahab (2 Kings 1:1). Only in the time of John Hyrcanus ( B.C. 129) was it finally subdued, and ceased to have an independent existence. Edom was also conquered for the first time by David, and the people as far as possible exterminated (1 Kings 11:15, 16). Nevertheless, it was able to shake off the yoke under Joram (2 Kings 8:20), and, although defeated, was never again subdued (see on Genesis 27:40). The prophecies against Edom were indeed taken up again and again by the prophets (e.g., Obadiah), but we must hold that they were never adequately fulfilled, unless we look for a spiritual realization not in wrath, but in mercy. The later Jews themselves came to regard "Edom" as a Scriptural synonym for all who hated and oppressed them. Amalek was very thoroughly overthrown by Saul, acting under the directions of Samuel (1 Samuel 15:7, 8), and never appears to have regained any national existence. Certain bands of Amalekites were smitten by David, and others at a later period in the reign of Hezekiah by the men of Simeon (1 Chronicles 4:39-43). The prophecy concerning the Kenites presents, as noted above, great difficulty, because it is impossible to know certainly whether the older Kenites of Genesis or the later Kenites of 1 Samuel are intended. In either case, however, it must be acknowledged that sacred history throws no light whatever on the fulfillment of the prophecy; we know nothing at all as to the fate of this small clan. No doubt it ultimately shared the lot of all the inhabitants of Palestine, with the exception of Judah and Jerusalem, and was transplanted by one of the Assyrian generals to some far-off spot, where its very existence as a separate people was lost. The "ships from the side of Cyprus" clearly enough represent in the vision of Balaam invaders from over the western seas, as opposed to previous conquerors from over the eastern deserts and mountains. That the invasion of Alexander the Great was not actually made by the way of Cyprus is nothing to the point. It was never any part of spiritual illumination to extend geographical knowledge. To Balaam's mind the only open way from the remote and unknown western lands was the waterway by the sides of Cyprus, and accordingly he saw the hostile fleets gliding down beneath the lee of those sheltering coasts towards the harbours of Phoenicia. Doubtless the ships which Balaam saw were rigged as ships were rigged in Balaam's time, and not as in the time of Alexander. But the rigging, like the route, belonged to the local and personal medium through which the prophecy came, not to the prophecy itself. As a fact it remains true that a maritime power from the West, whose home was beyond Cyprus, did overwhelm the older power which stood in the place and inherited the empire of Assyria. Whether the subsequent ruin of this maritime power also is part of the prophecy must remain doubtful.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And Balaam rose up, and went and returned to his place,.... The country from whence he came, that is, he went from Balak, according to his command, in order to return to his own land; for he seems not to have reached it, but stayed by the way among the Moabites and Midianites, and was slain in a battle between Israel and them, Numbers 31:8, or if he did reach Mesopotamia, he returned again, as Chaskuni says; and either before he left Balak, or in his journey homewards, or when he returned, he gave that advice, to seduce the Israelites first to whoredom, and by that to idolatry, the effects of which are observed in the following chapter; see Gill on Numbers 24:14 and Balak also went his way; to his royal city, court, and family, attended, very probably, by the princes of Moab, who had been with him all this while; though how long these things were transacting is not certain.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
25. Balaam rose up, and went … to his place—Mesopotamia, to which, however, he did not return. (See on Nu 31:8).
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