Numbers 24:21
And he looked on the Kenites, and took up his parable, and said, Strong is your dwelling place, and you put your nest in a rock.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(21-22) And he looked on the Kenites . . . —According to the ordinary interpretation of these verses the continuous destruction of the Kenites is foretold until the Israelites should be taken captive by the Assyrians. The Kenites are included amongst the tribes whose country Abraham’s descendants were to possess (Genesis 15:19). A portion of this tribe, however (for there is no evidence that the Canaanitish and the Midianitish Kenites had a different origin), joined the Israelites, and settled on the southern border of Judah (Judges 1:16). If the Authorised Version of these verses be adopted, it is reasonable to conclude that the Kenites to whom Balaam’s prophecy referred must have been included amongst the enemies of Israel, whose destruction, in common with their other foes, is here predicted. It is obvious that this interpretation is open to two serious objections:—(1) that the natural reference of the words “carry thee away captive” is to the Kenites, not to the Israelites; and (2) that as the later history, as well as the Book of Numbers, makes mention only of those Kenites who allied themselves with the Israelites, we should naturally expect that in accordance with the promise which was given to Hobab by Moses (Numbers 10:29), the Kenites should be distinguished from the enemies of Israel, and be exempted from the destruction with which they were threatened. Another rendering of Numbers 24:22, and one which appears to be more agreeable to the context in which it stands, is the following:—“For surely the Kenites shall not be destroyed until Asshur shall carry thee into captivity.” This version has the support of the Targum of Palestine and other authorities. It is true that there is no express record of the fulfilment of this prophecy, but it is not probable that the Assyrians spared the Kenites who were settled amongst the Israelites; and we know from Jeremiah 35:11 that after the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar, the Rechabites, who were of the Kenite race (1Chronicles 2:55), came to Jerusalem for fear of the armies of the Chaldeans and Syrians. If Asshur denotes in this place the Assyrians in the later acceptation of the term, it must be remembered that one branch of the Kenites settled in Naphtali, near Kadesh (Judges 4:11). Asshur, however, appears to be used in a wider sense, so as to include all the nations which proceeded from it (see Numbers 24:24). Even the Persian king is called, as Keil has observed, King of Asshur (Ezra 6:22). If this interpretation of the text be received, the antithesis between the doom of the Amalekites and the deliverance of the Kenites exactly corresponds to the attitude assumed by those tribes respectively in regard to Israel.

Numbers 24:21-22. He looked on the Kenites — Commentators are much at a loss to say, with any certainty, who these Kenites were. The most probable account of them, Bishop Newton thinks, is as follows: “Jethro, the father- in-law of Moses, is called the priest of Midian, Exodus 3:1; and Jdg 1:16, the Kenite. We may infer, therefore, that the Midianites and Kenites were the same, or at least that the Kenites were some of the tribes of Midian. Now of the Kenites, part followed Israel, Jdg 1:6; but the greater part, we may presume, remained among the Midianites and Amalekites, 1 Samuel 15:6. Their situation is said to be strong and secure among the mountains: Strong is thy dwelling-place, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock — Wherein is an allusion to the name, the same word in the Hebrew signifying a nest and a Kenite. Nevertheless the Kenite shall be wasted, until Asshur shall carry thee away captive — The Amalekites were to be utterly destroyed, but the Kenites were to be carried captive. Accordingly, when Saul was sent by divine commission to destroy the Amalekites, he ordered the Kenites to depart from among them; for the kindness which some of them showed to Israel, their posterity was saved, 1 Samuel 15:6. This passage shows that they were wasted, and reduced to a low and weak condition; and as the kings of Assyria carried captive not only the Jews, but also the Syrians and several other nations, (2 Kings 16:9; 2 Kings 19:12-13,) it is most highly probable that the Kenites shared the same fate with their neighbours, and were carried away by the same torrent; and especially as we find some Kenites mentioned among the Jews after their return from captivity,” 1 Chronicles 2:55.24:15-25 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.The Kenites - First mentioned Genesis 15:19 as one of the tribes whose territory was promised to Abraham. In Judges 1:16, where we read of them as moving with the children of Judah, to establish themselves in the pastures south of Arad, Moses' father-in-law is spoken of as a Kenite (compare Judges 4:11). It appears therefore, since Moses' father-in-law was a prince or priest of Midian (Exodus 2:15 ff), that the Kenites must have been of Midianite extraction, and so descended from Abraham through Keturah Genesis 25:2.

But it seems unlikely that the Kenites of Genesis 15:19, who were to be dispossessed by the descendants of Abraham, were identical with those of whom Balaam speaks, and who were, because of good offices rendered at the time of the Exodus, always regarded as kinsmen and friends by Israel (compare 1 Samuel 15:6; 1 Samuel 27:10). Rather, is it probable that the Kenites of Genesis 15:19 were a Canaanite people, who derived their name from the city Kain, which fell eventually within the borders of the tribe of Judah Joshua 15:22; and that the descendants of Hobab, who appear in Judges 1:16 as making war in this very district, possessed themselves of this city, and with it of the name Kenite also. This they would seem to have already done when Balsam uttered his prediction; and in the next verse it is, as the margin correctly indicates, not of the Kenite, but of Kain the city, that he speaks. Nor is it surprising to find them in possession of their new abode in the promised land, while the Israelites were yet in their tents. It may well be that this roving band of Midianites had already entered Canaan, perhaps along the shores of the Dead Sea, and by routes impracticable for the huge host of Israel, and had, as a kind of advanced guard, made a beginning of the conquest of the country.

From 1 Chronicles 2:54-55, we learn that the Rechabites were a branch of the Kenites; and the name Salmaites, always given to the Kenites in the Targums, connects them with Salma, the son of Caleb, there mentioned. Jeremiah 35 shows how tenaciously, for many centuries, they held fast the nomadic habits of their race.

Strong is thy dwellingplace, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock - Render, Strong (or firm) be thy dwelling-place, and put thou thy nest in the rock (or cliff). In the Hebrew there is a play on the words ken, "nest," and Kain, the name of the Kenites' abode. This nest in the cliff might be the city of Hazazon-tamar or Engedi, if that be (as is likely) the "city of palm-trees," from which they went up subsequently Judges 1:16. But there is another site, about 10 miles south of Engedi, to which Balaam's words would be more appropriate, on the summit of the cliff rising perpendicularly from the level of the western shore of the Dead Sea, where was afterward built the city of Masada, the scene of the closing tragedy of the Jewish-Roman war. It is not likely that such a natural fortress would ever have been unoccupied, or even excluded from a place in the list of the cities of Judah. Nor is there any site in the Holy land which a rude but warlike people might more fittingly designate as either Ken, the Nest, or Kain, the Possession.

21. Kenites … nest in a rock—Though securely established among the clefts in the high rocks of En-gedi towards the west, they should be gradually reduced by a succession of enemies till the Assyrian invader carried them into captivity (Jud 1:16; 4:11, 16, 17; also 2Ki 15:29; 17:6). The Kenite; the posterity or kindred of Jethro; not that part of them which dwelt among the Israelites, to whom the following words do not agree, but those of them who were mingled with the Amalekites and Midianites. See Exodus 3:1 Judges 1:16 4:11 1 Samuel 15:6.

Thy nest, i.e. thy dwelling-place, so called, either because it was in a high place, as nests commonly are; or from their security and confidence of continuing long and safe in it; see Job 29:18; or in allusion to their name, for ken in Hebrew signifies a nest. And he looked on the Kenites,.... Not the family and posterity of Jethro, as Aben Ezra, Jarchi, and Abendana; for they were not a people by themselves, but were now encamped with Israel, and went with them into the land of Canaan, and were not carried captive with the ten tribes, though some might that dwelt in Naphtali, Judges 9:4, for they after that remained with Judah under the name of Rechabites, Jeremiah 35:2 and returned with the two tribes, being carried captive with them, 1 Chronicles 2:55 but they were a people, though of the same original and family Jethro descended from, which dwelt near, and afterwards among the Amalekites, and therefore were seen by Balaam, and taken notice of at the same time they were; see 1 Samuel 15:6. Abarbinel takes them to be the same with those in Genesis 15:19.

and took up his parable; or prophecy concerning them, and delivered it:

and said, strong is thy dwelling place, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock, they dwelling in craggy rocky places, where they thought themselves secure and out of danger; and this their habitation he calls "Ken", a nest, in allusion to their name Kenites.

And he looked on the Kenites, and took up his parable, and said, Strong is thy dwellingplace, and thou {o} puttest thy nest in a rock.

(o) Make yourself as strong as you can.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
21. The utterance on the Kenites.

And he saw the Kenite] The singular adjective stands for the whole tribe; cf. 1 Samuel 15:6; 1 Samuel 30:29 (Heb.). In the next verse the tribe is called by the name of its reputed ancestor Ḳain.

Enduring is thy dwelling place] With this and the following line cf. Obad. Numbers 24:3 f.

thy nest is set in the rock] The writer here plays upon the words ḳçn (‘nest’) and Ḳayin (‘Ḳain’).

Kain] The reputed ancestor of the tribe; cf. Jdg 4:11 (R.V. marg.). The name (Heb. Ḳayin) denotes ‘a lance,’ and Kênî in Aramaic means ‘a smith.’ This has led to the conjecture that the Kenites were at one time thought of not as a tribe in the strict sense but as an hereditary guild or caste of smiths. Such castes are still found in Arabia and many parts of Africa. In this connexion it is interesting to notice that Tubal-Cain (Ḳayin) is named as ‘the forger of every cutting instrument of brass and iron’ (Genesis 4:22). Further, Cain (Ḳayin) the son of Adam may very possibly be identical with the Ḳayin of the present verse, and his story (Genesis 4:1-17) ‘may preserve the recollection of some old collision between the agricultural and pastoral elements in prehistoric man.’ See Driver, Genesis, pp. 70–73.Verse 21. - He looked on the Kenites. This mashal is excessively obscure, for both the subject of it and the drift of it are disputed. On the one hand, the Kenites are mentioned among the Canaanitish tribes that were to be dispossessed, in Gem 15:19; on the other, they are identified with the Midianitish tribe to which Hobab and Raguel belonged, in Judges 1:16, and apparently in 1 Samuel 15:6 (see on Numbers 10:29). It has been supposed that the friendly Kenites had by this time loft the camp of Israel and established themselves by conquest in the south of Canaan, and even that they had occupied the territory and taken the name of the original Kenites of Genesis 15:19. This, however, is a mere conjecture, and a very improbable one. That a weak tribe like that of Hobab should have done what Israel had not dared to do, and settled themselves by force of arms in Southern Palestine, and, further, that they should be already known by the name of those whom they had destroyed, is extremely unlikely, and is inconsistent with the statement in Judges 1:16. And thou puttest thy nest in a rock. Rather, "and thy nest laid (שִׂים) upon a rock." We do not know where the Kenites dwelt, and therefore we cannot tell whether this expression is to be understood literally or figuratively. If the Canaanitish tribe is here spoken of, it is very likely they had their residence in some strong mountain fastness, but if the Midianitish tribe, then there is no reason to suppose that they had crossed the Jordan at all In that case the "nest" must be wholly figurative, and must refer to that strong confidence which they placed in the protection of the God of Israel. Balaam's fourth and last prophecy is distinguished from the previous ones by the fact that, according to the announcement in Numbers 24:14, it is occupied exclusively with the future, and foretells the victorious supremacy of Israel over all its foes, and the destruction of all the powers of the world. This prophecy is divided into four different prophecies by the fourfold repetition of the words, "he took up his parable" (Numbers 24:15, Numbers 24:20, Numbers 24:21, and Numbers 24:23). The first of these refers to the two nations that were related to Israel, viz., Edom and Moab (Numbers 24:17-19); the second to Amalek, the arch-enemy of Israel (Numbers 24:20); the third to the Kenites, who were allied to Israel (Numbers 24:21 and Numbers 24:22); and the fourth proclaims the overthrow of the great powers of the world (Numbers 24:23 and Numbers 24:24). - The introduction in Numbers 24:15 and Numbers 24:16 is the same as that of the previous prophecy in Numbers 24:3 and Numbers 24:4, except that the words, "he which knew the knowledge of the Most High," are added to the expression, "he that heard the words of God," to show that Balaam possessed the knowledge of the Most High, i.e., that the word of God about to be announced had already been communicated to him, and was not made known to him now for the first time; though without implying that he had received the divine revelation about to be uttered at the same time as those which he had uttered before.
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