Numbers 24:17
I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) I shall see him . . . —Better, I see him (or, it), but not now; I behold him (or, it), but not nigh. The reference cannot be to Israel, whose armies were encamped before the eyes of Balaam. His words must be understood as having reference to One whom he beheld with the eyes of his mind, not with his bodily sight. This is obvious from the words which follow. Balaam beholds in vision a Star and a Sceptre, not as having already appeared, but as about to appear in the future.

There shall come a Star out of Jacob . . . —Literally, There hath come forth a Star out of Jacob, &c. The verb is in the prophetic past or historic tense of prophecy, denoting the certainty of the event predicted. (Comp. Jude 1:14 : “Behold the Lord cometh”—literally, came.) If there is any ambiguity in the first symbol it is removed in the second. A star is a fitting image of an illustrious king or ruler, and the mention of the sceptre in the words which follow (comp. Genesis 49:10) shows that it is so employed in the present instance. The Targum of Onkelos is as follows:—“When the King shall arise out of Jacob, and the Messiah shall be anointed from Israel.” The Targum of Palestine reads thus:—“A King is to arise from the house of Jacob, and a Redeemer and Ruler from the house of Israel.” Ibn Ezra interprets these words of David, but he says that many interpret them of the Messiah. It seems to have been with reference to this prophecy that the pretender to the title of the Messiah in the days of the Emperor Adrian took the name of Bar-cochab, or Bar-cochba (the son of a star). The words of the Magi, “We have seen his star in the East” (Matthew 2:2), appear to have reference to this prophecy.

And shall smite the corners of Moab.—Or, the two sides of Moab. The prophecy was partially, or typically, fulfilled in the time of David (2Samuel 8:2). Moab and Edom represented symbolically the enemies of Christ and of His Church, and as such will eventually be subdued by the King of kings. (Comp. Psalm 60:8.)

And destroy all the children of Sheth.—Better, and destroy (or, break down; comp, Isaiah 22:5) all the sons of tumult. Such appears to be the most probable rendering of these words according to the present Hebrew text. It has been conjectured, however, that the word which is rendered “destroy” (karkar) should be read kodkod (crown of the head), as in the parallel passage of Jeremiah 48:45, in which case the clause may be rendered, And the crown of the head of all the sons of tumult.

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.”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.Render, I see him, though he be not now: I behold him, though he be not near. Balaam here describes what is actually before him in inward vision.

Him - i. e., the prince, represented in the succeeding words by the Star and Scepter. The star has among all nations served as a symbol of regal power and splendour: and the birth and future glory of great monarchs were believed by the ancients to be heralded by the appearance of stars or comets: compare also Isaiah 14:12; Daniel 8:10; Revelation 1:16, Revelation 1:20; Revelation 2:1; Revelation 9:1.

The corners of Moab - literally, "the two sides of Moab," i. e., the length and breadth of the land: compare Jeremiah 48:45.

Destroy all the children of Sheth - Rather, "overthrow the sons of tumult," i. e., the warriors of Moab, whose valour and fierceness is frequently referred to elsewhere (compare Exodus 15:15; Isaiah 15:4; Isaiah 16:6, etc.) Compare Jeremiah 48:45.

17. I shall see him—rather, "I do see" or "I have seen him"—a prophetic sight, like that of Abraham (Joh 8:56).

him—that is, Israel.

there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel—This imagery, in the hieroglyphic language of the East, denotes some eminent ruler—primarily David; but secondarily and pre-eminently, the Messiah (see on [88]Ge 49:10).

corners—border, often used for a whole country (Ex 8:2; Ps 74:17).

children of Sheth—some prince of Moab; or, according to some, "the children of the East."

I shall see, or, I have seen, or do see, for the future is oft put for other times or tenses: he speaks of a prophetical sight, like that of Abraham’s, who saw Christ’s day, John 8:56.

Him, to wit, the Star and Sceptre, as it here follows, i.e. a great and eminent prince, which was to come out of Israel’s loins; either,

1. David, who first did the things here spoken of, 2 Samuel 8:2 Psalm 60:8 108:9, and some of the kings of Judah and Israel after him, for it is not necessarily understood of one particular person; or,

2. The Messias, as both Jewish and Christian interpreters expound it, who most eminently and fully performed what is here said, in destroying the enemies of Israel, or of God’s church, who are here described under the names of the nearest and fiercest enemies of Israel; which he doth partly by himself, by his word and Spirit, and spiritual plagues; and partly by his ministers, those princes whom he makes nursing fathers to his church, and scourges to his enemies. And to him alone agrees the foregoing verb properly,

I shall see him, to wit, in my own person, or with the eyes of my own body, as every eye shall see him, Revelation 1:7, when he comes to judgment. Nor can it seem strange that Balaam should speak of such high and remote things, seeing he foresaw and foretold these things by the revelation of the Spirit of God, by which also he foresaw the great felicity of good men, and the miserable state of bad men, after death and judgment, Numbers 23:10.

But not now; not yet, but after many ages.

A Star; a title oft given to princes and eminent and illustrious persons, and particularly to the Messias, Revelation 2:28 22:16.

A Sceptre, i.e. a sceptre-bearer, a king or ruler, even that sceptre mentioned Genesis 49:10.

The corners; either,

1. Literally, the borders, which by a synecdoche are oft used in Scripture for the whole country to which they belong, as Exodus 8:2 Psalm 74:7 147:14 Jeremiah 15:13 17:3. Or,

2. Metaphorically, to wit, princes and rulers, who are sometimes compared to corners, as Zechariah 10:4, and Christ himself is called a corner-stone, because he unites and supports the building. But I prefer the former sense. Sheth seems to be the name of some then eminent, though now unknown, place or prince in Moab, where there were many princes, as appears from Numbers 23:6 Amos 2:3; there being innumerable instances of such places or persons sometimes famous, but now utterly lost as to all monuments and remembrances of them. I shall see him, but not now,.... Meaning not Israel, for he now saw him encamped, and at no great distance; but one that should descend from him, a famous and excellent person, and who is no other than the Messiah, as appears by what follows; him he should see, not spiritually with an eye of faith, nor corporeally with his bodily eyes in his state of incarnation, but at the day of judgment; and now, indeed, he saw him by a spirit of prophecy:

I shall behold him, but not nigh; signifying, that the coming of this illustrious Person, who should smite the borders of Moab, was not near, and therefore Balak had no reason to indulge any present fears; and that when he was come either into the world to save men, or to judgment, Balaam would have no nearness to him, nor interest in him; he would see him at the last day, but not for himself, as Job says he should, Job 19:25.

there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel; which Aben Ezra interprets of David, though he says many interpret it of the Messiah; and there are some writers, both Jewish and Christian, that understand it partly of David, and partly of Christ, and chiefly of him, and of David as a type of him; the fulfilment of which was only in part in David, but principally and completely in Christ. Maimonides (c) parts the prophecy between them: the whole undoubtedly agrees with Christ, and belongs unto him: the "star" and "sceptre" may be considered as names and titles of the Messiah; he is called the "morning star", Revelation 22:16 for his glory, brightness, and splendour, and for the light that comes by him, and the influence of his grace, and the blessings of it on the sons of men; and hence a false Messiah took the name of Bar Cochab, the son of a star, to answer to this prophecy; and he may be called a "sceptre", that is, a sceptre bearer, because of his royalty; he not only has the name of a king, but has a kingdom, both of nature, providence, and grace, and rules with a sceptre of grace, mercy, and righteousness; and as he was to spring from Jacob or Israel, so he did, being a son of Abraham, a descendant of Jacob, of the tribe of Judah, and family of David, Matthew 1:1, but I rather think that the star is to be considered as a sign and circumstance of his coming, and that the words may be rendered, "when a star steers its course from Jacob", or "unto Jacob, then a sceptre", or "sceptre bearer":

shall rise out of Israel, or "rise up unto Israel"; for the particle sometimes signifies "unto" (d); and that the appearance of a star in Israel was a sign of the Messiah's coming is certain from Matthew 2:1 of which the Magi were informed by Zoroastres (e) their founder, who, being of Jewish extract, had got it from this prophecy of Balaam; and it is as evident that the Jews expected the appearance of an extraordinary star at the time of the Messiah's coming; for so they say more than once, in an ancient book of theirs (f), that when the"Messiah shall be revealed, a bright and shining star shall arise in the east;''which expectation must be founded on this prophecy:

and shall smite the corners of Moab; not only the corners of their houses and cities, but the extreme parts and borders of the land, even all the sides, and the whole of it; or the princes and great men of the land, sometimes called "corners", see Zechariah 10:4 and so the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan:

and shall kill the princes of Moab or the mighty ones of Moab, as the Jerusalem Targum; this was literally fulfilled in David, 2 Samuel 8:2 Psalm 60:1 and figuratively and mystically in Christ, by subduing his enemies, signified by Moabites, as being the enemies of Israel; either by reducing them through the power of his grace to obedience to him, or by smiting and breaking them in pieces with a rod of iron; and which will be more plainly and fully accomplished when he shall destroy those Moabites, the antichristian nations, Revelation 19:15.

and destroy all the children of Sheth; some take Sheth to be the name of some famous king among the Moabites, as Grotius; others, the name of some city of Moab, which David utterly destroyed, as R. Nathan (g); others suppose some particular nations are meant, as either the Edomites, so called because they put confidence in their foundations, and fortified places, so Vitringa (h); or the Egyptians, from Seth or Sethos, one of their kings, who was known by the name Egyptus, as a late learned writer (i) of ours conjectures; but rather by the children of Seth are meant all nations, as Jarchi observes, for all come from Seth, the son of the first man; and so the words may be rendered, as they are by Onkelos,"he shall rule over all the children of men;''which will be fulfilled in Christ, when he shall have put down all rule and authority, and all will be subject to him, and his kingdom be from sea to sea, and his dominion from the river to the ends of the earth; unless rather by the children of Seth are meant the special people of God, in distinction from others, and in allusion to the distinction between the Sethites and Cainites, the one being the people of God, the other not; and so it may be interpreted of Christ's gathering them to him, by clucking as it were for them, as a hen gathers her chickens; so the word is used in Jewish writings, and of God himself; for it is said (k) the holy blessed God clucks over them, as hens do, which is the simile our Lord himself uses, Matthew 23:37 the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan interpret this prophecy of the Messiah by name; and so do many other Jewish writers, both ancient (l) and modern (m).

(c) Hilchot Melachim, c. 11. sect. 1.((d) Vid. Nold. Concord. Ebr. part. p. 545. (e) Abulpharag. Hist. Dynast. p. 54. (f) Zohar in Exod. fol. 3. 3, 4. & in Numb fol. 85. 4. & 86. 1.((g) Apud Lyram in loc. (h) Comment. in Isaiah 22.5. (i) Clayton's Chronology of the Hebrew Bible, &c. p. 445. (k) T. Bab. Taanith, c. 4. in En Jacob, par. 1. fol. 143. 4. (l) Debarim Rabba, fol. 234. 4. Pesikta in Kettoreth Hassammim in Numb. fol. 27. 3. & 28. 1.((m) Abarbinel. Mashmiah Jeshuah, fol. 4. 2, 3. Abendana in loc. R. Isaac Chizzuk Emunah, p. 71, 72.

I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a {i} Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the {k} corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of {l} Sheth.

(i) Meaning Christ.

(k) That is, the princes.

(l) He shall subdue all that resist: for of Sheth came Noah, and of Noah all the world.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. In accordance with Numbers 24:14 Balaam treats of the future of Israel. ‘I see him (Israel), but not (as he is) now; I behold him, but not (encamped as he is) nigh.’

There shall come forth] lit. ‘there hath trodden’ (דָּרַךְ). Read probably יִזְרַח there shall rise.

a star] A metaphor for a glorious king; cf. Isaiah 14:12, Revelation 22:16. According to an early Jewish interpretation, found in the Targum, this verse was a prediction of the Messiah. The famous pretender in the reign of Hadrian was called Barcochba (‘son of the star’).

the corners] better ‘the two sides [of the head],’ the ‘temples.’ In Jeremiah 48:45, where the passage is quoted, the word ‘corner’ is in the singular, and is in parallelism with ‘the crown of the head.’

And break down all the sons of tumult] In accordance with Jeremiah 48:45 קַרְקַר (‘break down’) must be read קָדְקֹד (‘crown of the head’); cf. Psalm 7:16; Psalm 68:21.

sons of tumult] Heb. ‘sons of shçth.’ R.V. (‘tumult’) adopts a necessary emendation (שְׁאֵת for שֵׁת) suggested by Jeremiah 48:45.

The two lines will therefore run:

And shall smite the temples [of the head] of Moab,

And the crown [of the head] of all the sons of tumult1 [Note: Others would read ‘sons of lifting up,’ i.e. pride (שְׂאֵת)] .Verse 17. - I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh. Rather, "I see him, but not now: I behold him, but not near" (אַשׁוּרֶנּוּ...אֶראֶנוּ exactly as in Numbers 23:9). Balaam does not mean to say that he expected himself to see at any future time the mysterious Being of whom he speaks, who is identical with the "Star" and the "Scepter" of the following clauses; he speaks wholly as a prophet, and means that his inner gaze is fixed upon such an one, with full assurance that he exists in the counsels of God, but with clear recognition of the fact that his actual coming is yet in the far future. There shall come a Star out of Jacob. Septuagint, ἀνατελεῖ ἀστρον. It may quite as well be rendered by the present; Balaam simply utters what passes before his inward vision. The star is a natural and common poetic symbol of an illustrious, or, as we say, "brilliant," personage, and as such recurs many times in Scripture (cf. Job 38:7; Isaiah 14:12; Daniel 8:10; Matthew 24:29; Philippians 2:15; Revelation 1:20; Revelation 2:28). The celebrated Jewish fanatic called himself Barcochab, "son of the Star," in allusion to this prophecy. A Scepter shall rise out of Israel. This further defines the "star ' as a ruler of men, for the scepter is Used in that sense in the dying prophecy of Jacob (Genesis 49:10), with which Balaam was evidently acquainted. Accordingly the Septuagint has here ἀναστήσεται. Shall smite the corners of Moab. Rather, "the two corners" (dual), or "the two sides of Moab," i.e., shall crush Moab on either side. And destroy all the children of Sheth. In Jeremiah 48:45, where this prophecy is in a manner quoted, the word קַרְקַר (qarqar, destroy) is altered into קָדקֹר (quadqod, crown of the head). This raises a very curious and interesting question as to the use made by the prophets of the earlier Scriptures, but it gives no authority for an alteration of the text. The expression בְּנֵי־שֵׁת has been variously rendered. The Jewish commentators, followed by the Septuagint (πάντας υἱοὺς Σήθ) and the older versions, understand it to mean the sons of Seth, the son of Adam, i.e., all mankind. Many modern commentators, however, take שֵׁת as a contraction of שֵׁאת (Lamentations 3:47 - "desolation"), and read "sons of confusion," as equivalent to the unruly neighbours and relations of Israel. This, however, is extremely dubious in itself, for שֵׁת nowhere occurs in this sense, and derives no sup. port from Jeremiah 48:45. It is true that בְּנֵי שֵׁת is there replaced by בְּנֵי שָׁאון, "sons of tumult," but then this very verse affords the clearest evidence that the prophet felt no hesitation in altering the text of Scripture to suit his own inspired purpose. If it be true that קַרְקַר will not bear the meaning given to it in the Targums of "reign over," still there is no insuperable difficulty in the common rendering. Jewish prophecy, from beginning to end, contemplated the Messiah as the Conqueror, the Subduer, and even the Destroyer of all the heathen, i.e., of all who were not Jews. It is only in the New Testament that the iron scepter with which he was to dash in pieces the heathen (Psalm 2:9) becomes the pastoral staff wherewith he shepherds them (Revelation 2:27 - ποιμανεῖ after the Septuagint, which has here misread the text). The prophecy was that Messiah should destroy the heathen; the fulfillment that he destroyed not them, but their heathenism (cf. e.g., Psalm 149:6-9 with James 5:20). This repeated blessing of Israel threw Balak into such a violent rage, that he smote his hands together, and advised Balaam to fly to his house: adding, "I said, I will honour thee greatly (cf. Numbers 22:17 and Numbers 22:37); but, behold, Jehovah has kept thee back from honour." "Smiting the hands together" was either a sign of horror (Lamentations 2:15) or of violent rage; it is in the latter sense that it occurs both here and in Job 27:23. In the words, "Jehovah hath kept thee back from honour," the irony with which Balak scoffs at Balaam's confidence in Jehovah is unmistakeable.
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