Numbers 24:24
And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim, and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and he also shall perish for ever.
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(24) And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim.—The Chittim (or, Kittim) are said to have migrated from Phœnicia to Cyprus, and there founded the city of Citium, the modern Chitti. (See Josephus, “Antiq.” i.6, 1.) The name probably applies to the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean generally. The rendering of the Vulgate is Venient in trieribus de Italiâ; and in Daniel 11:30, which is obviously founded upon this verse, the Vulgate identifies the Kittim with the Romans.

And shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber.—Some understand by Eber the Hebrews only. The word, however, appears to be used in a wider signification, as comprising “all the children of Eber” (Genesis 10:21). Perhaps the word Asshur may here be used to denote the Eastern Shemites, and Eber the Western Shemites.

And he also shall perish for ever—i.e., the victorious power which was to afflict Asshur and Eber. “The overthrow of this last power of the world,” says Keil, in loc., “concerning which the prophet Daniel was the first to receive and proclaim new revelations, belongs ‘to the end of the days,’ in which the star out of Jacob is to rise upon Israel as ‘a bright morning-star’” (Revelation 22:16). There is no evidence as to the manner in which Balaam’s prophecies came into the hands of the Israelites. It is possible that he may have communicated them to Moses, in the expectation of receiving from him the reward which he had failed to obtain from Balak, or, if captured, in the hope of thereby saving his life.

Numbers 24:24. From the coast of Chittim — A place or people, so called from Chittim, the son of Javan, (Genesis 10:4,) whose posterity were very numerous, and were first seated in the lesser Asia, and from thence sent forth colonies into the islands of the Ægean sea, and into Cyprus; afterward into Macedonia and other parts of Greece, and then into Italy. Whence it comes to pass that by this name is understood sometimes Macedonia, as 1Ma 1:1, and 1Ma 8:5; sometimes Italy, as Daniel 11:29-30; and sometimes both, as in this place: for he speaks here of the scourge that God had appointed for the Assyrian after he had done God’s work in punishing of his people and the bordering nations. Shall afflict Asshur — “Asshur signifies the descendants of Asshur, the Assyrians; but their name was of as large extent as their empire, and the Syrians and Assyrians are often confounded together, and mentioned as one people.” Now although the Assyrian and Chaldean empire was subdued by the Medes and Persians, yet the chief afflictions of that people came from two hands, both beyond the sea, and brought to them by ships; first from the Greeks, and then from the Romans. “It is so well known as to require no particular proof that the Grecians, under Alexander, subdued all these countries. The Romans afterward” (who subdued the whole Grecian empire) “extended their conquests into the same regions; and, as Dion informs us, Assyria, properly so called, was conquered by Trajan.” And shall afflict Eber — That is, the posterity of Eber, the Hebrews, who were the flower and chief of Eber’s children. “The Hebrews were afflicted, though not much, by Alexander himself, yet by his successors the Seleucidæ, and particularly by Antiochus Epiphanes, 1 Maccabees 1. They were worse afflicted by the Romans, who not only subdued and oppressed them, but at last took away their place and nation, and sold and dispersed them over the face of the earth.” So that, although Balaam was commissioned chiefly to bless and prophesy good concerning Israel, yet he here at last foretels that they should be scourged for their sins. He also shall perish for ever — Not the Hebrews; they shall have a better end: all Israel shall be saved; but the afflicter or scourge of Asshur and Eber; namely, the Grecian and Roman empire. Thus Balaam, instead of cursing the church, curses Amalek, the first, and Rome, the last enemy of it. “It appears, then,” adds the bishop, “that Balaam was a prophet divinely inspired, or he could never have foretold so many distant events, some of which are fulfilling in the world at this time. And what a singular honour was it to the people of Israel, that a prophet, called from another country, and at the same time a wicked man, should bear testimony to their righteousness and holiness! The commendations of an enemy, among enemies, are commendations indeed. And Moses did justice to himself as well as to his nation in recording these transactions. They are not only a material part of his history, but likewise a strong confirmation of the truth of his religion. Balaam’s bearing witness to Moses, is somewhat like Judas’s attesting the innocence of Christ.” See Dissert. on Prophecies, vol.1. p. 130, and seq.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.Chittim - i. e., Cyprus, the nearest of the western islands, the only one visible from Palestine, and so the representative to Balsam and to Israel of all those unknown western regions across the Mediterranean Sea, from which were at length to come the conquerors of the mighty empires of the East. Compare Isaiah 23:1, Isaiah 23:12; Jeremiah 2:10.

Eber - i. e., the descendants of Shem. Of these Asshur was one (compare marginal references), and is here specified by name, since the Assyrians attained, in the empires of Babylon and Nineveh, to an extraordinary grandeur, and were destined to a most signal and irretrievable fall.

He also - i. e., the conqueror of Asshur and Eber who should come across the sea. It is not revealed from where the blow should come that should overthrow in its turn the power that prevailed over the great monarchies of the East.

24. Chittim—the countries lying on the Mediterranean, particularly Greece and Italy (Da 11:29, 30). The Assyrians were themselves to be overthrown—first, by the Greeks under Alexander the Great and his successors; secondly, by the Romans.

Eber—the posterity of the Hebrews (Ge 10:24).

he also shall perish—that is, the conqueror of Asher and Eber, namely, the Greek and Roman empires.

Chittim; a place or people so called from Chittim the son of Javan, Genesis 10:4, whose posterity were very numerous, and were first seated in the Lesser Asia, and from thence sent forth colonies into the islands of the Ægean Sea, and into Cyprus, and afterwards into Macedonia, and other parts of Greece, and then into Italy. Whence it comes to pass that by this name is understood sometimes Macedonia, as appears from /APC 1Ma 1:1 8:5; and sometimes Italy, as is manifest from Daniel 11:29,30; and sometimes both, as in this place; for he speaks here of the scourge that God hath appointed for the Assyrian after he had done God’s work in punishing of his people and the bordering nations. Now although the Assyrian and Chaldean empire was subdued by the Medes and Persians, yet the chief afflictions and calamities of that people came from two hands, both beyond the sea, and brought to them by ships, as is here expressed; first from the Grecians under Alexander and his successors, by whom that people were grievously oppressed and wasted; then from the Romans, who subdued all the Grecian empire, one great part whereof were the Assyrians largely so called, and after many bloody wars made them a colony. Eber, i.e. the posterity of Eber, Genesis 10:24, the Hebrews, who were the chief and flower of Eber’s children, and therefore are here designed by that general name, such general expressions being oft used concerning one particular and the most eminent of its kind. And it pleased God to express it thus darkly here, because though he would foretell this for the comfort and instruction of his people in after-ages, yet he would not have Balak, nor Balaam neither, understand or utter any thing which might seem to thwart that happy estate of Israel, which Balaam clearly saw and openly applauded. He also; not the Hebrews, as some understand, for his affliction was now mentioned before, and other scriptures tell us they shall have a better end, and that all Israel shall be saved, and therefore not perish for ever; but the afflicter or scourge of Asshur and Eber, to wit, the Grecian and Roman empire. And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim,.... Kittim was the son of Javan, Genesis 10:4 and so designs some part of Greece: Josephus (r) says that Kittim possessed the island now called Cyprus, in which was a city now called Citium, after his name; Macedonia, a considerable part of Greece, is called the land of Cittim,"And it happened, after that Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came out of the land of Chettiim, had smitten Darius king of the Persians and Medes, that he reigned in his stead, the first over Greece,'' (1 Maccabees 1:1)"Beside this, how they had discomfited in battle Philip, and Perseus, king of the Citims, with others that lifted up themselves against them, and had overcome them:'' (1 Maccabees 8:5)but the Targum of Jonathan interprets it, of the country of Italy; the Jerusalem Targum, of the Roman legions; and perhaps both Greeks and Romans are intended, and so ships from Cittim, in Daniel 11:30, design Romans in Grecian ships; for in such were the Roman ambassadors carried, who distressed Antiochus, king of Syria; see Gill on Daniel 11:30; and both may be intended here: it is affirmed (s) that Noah with his son Japheth, came into the country now called Italy, and built a city, and gave it the name of Cethim, since called Volterra, and was the metropolis of Etruria, and gave name to all Italy; and that in the year two hundred and twenty from the building of that city, Cethim the son of Javan, and grandson of Noah, took two colonies with him, and sailed to an island which he called after his own name Cethim, now Cyprus:

and shall afflict Ashur; which being a part of the Persian empire, was afflicted, conquered, and subdued by Alexander the Macedonian, who is said to come out of the land of Cittim,"And it happened, after that Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came out of the land of Chettiim, had smitten Darius king of the Persians and Medes, that he reigned in his stead, the first over Greece,'' (1 Maccabees 1:1)

and shall afflict Eber; or the Hebrews, as the Septuagint version; not that the Grecians or Macedonians should do this, for they under Alexander did not afflict the Jews; unless this is to be understood of the Seleucidae, the kings of Syria, the successors of Alexander, who did distress the Jews; but rather this respects the Romans under Pompey, and especially under Titus Vespasian, who destroyed their city, and carried them captive, and who ever since have been dispersed among the nations:

and he also shall perish for ever: not Eber, but those that afflicted him, even the Romans; and indeed both monarchies, Grecian and Roman, are prophesied of as what should be destroyed, and that by a son of Eber, the Messiah; the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, said to break in pieces all these kingdoms, Daniel 2:44 and not Rome Pagan only, but Rome Papal also, antichrist and all the antichristian powers, 2 Thessalonians 2:8. and so the Targum of Jonathan says, that the end both of the one and the other, that is, that shall afflict Eber, shall be, to fall by the hand of the King Messiah, and they shall perish for ever.

(r) Antiqu. l. 1. c. 6. sect. 1.((s) Inghiram. Etrusc. Antiqu. apud Dickinson. Delph. Phaenic. Append. p. 153. Vid. p. 77.

And ships shall come from the coast of {q} Chittim, and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and {r} he also shall perish for ever.

(q) The Grecians and Romans.

(r) Meaning, Eber, or the Jews for rebelling against God.

24. ships shall come … Kittim] ships from the side of Kittim. The clause has no verb, and, if the text is right, it must form the subject of the following verb ‘shall afflict,’ the intervening ‘and’ being disregarded.

Asshur and Eber. The two names appear to denote the world powers of the east; but the exact meaning of the name Eber is quite unknown.

And he also shall come to destruction] ‘he’ apparently refers to Asshur and Eber considered as one nation. After carrying the Kenites captive, Asshur will itself be destroyed by invaders from the west. There is, however, no support for this in history, unless Asshur be given the unusual meaning (which it bears in Ezra 6:22) of the Persian empire, which was overthrown by Alexander.

Various emendations throughout the two verses have been proposed (see Gray, Numb. pp. 377–9), but none of them has materially lightened the difficulties.Verse 24. - Chittim. Cyprus (see on Genesis 10:4). The "isles of Chittim are mentioned by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:10) and by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:6) in the sense apparently of the western islands generally while in Daniel 11:30 "the ships of Chittim, may have an even wider reference. Indeed the Targum of Palestine makes mention of Italy here, and the Vulgate actually translates "venient in trieribus de Italia." There is, however, no reason to suppose that Balaam knew or spoke of anything further than Cyprus. It was "from the side of" (מִיַּד) Cyprus that the ships of his vision came down upon the Phoenician coasts, wherever their original starting-point may have been. Shall afflict, or, "shall bring low." The same word is used of the oppression of Israel in Egypt (Genesis 15:13). Eber. The Septuagint has here 'Αβραίους, and is followed by the Peschito and the Vulgate. It is not likely, however, that Balaam would have substituted "Eber" for the "Jacob" and "Israel" which he had previously used. The Targum of Onkelos paraphrases "Eber" by "beyond the Euphrates," and that of Palestine has "all the sons of Eber." From Gem 10:21 it would appear that "the children of Eber" were the same as the Shemites; Asshur, therefore, was himself included in Eber, but is separately mentioned on account of his fame and power. And he also shall perish forever. The subject of this prophecy is left in obscurity. It is difficult on grammatical grounds to refer it to Asshur, and it does not seem appropriate to "Eber." It may mean that the unnamed conquering race which should overthrow the Asian monarchies should itself come to an end for evermore; or it may be that Balaam added these words while he beheld with dismay the coming destruction of his own Shemitic race, and their final subjugation by more warlike powers. It must be remembered that the Greek empire, although overthrown, did not by any means "perish for ever" in the same sense as the previous empires of the East. "And Edom becomes a possession, and Seir becomes a possession, its enemies; but Israel acquires power." Whose possession Edom and Seir are to become, is not expressly stated; but it is evident from the context, and from איביו (its enemies), which is not a genitive dependent upon Seir, but is in apposition to Edom and Seir, just as צריו in Numbers 24:8 is in apposition to גּוים. Edom and Seir were his, i.e., Israel's enemies; therefore they were to be taken by the ruler who was to arise out of Israel. Edom is the name of the people, Seir of the country, just as in Genesis 32:4; so that Seir is not to be understood as relating to the prae-Edomitish population of the land, which had been subjugated by the descendants of Esau, and had lost all its independence a long time before. In Moses' days the Israelites were not allowed to fight with the Edomites, even when they refused to allow them to pass peaceably through their territory (see Numbers 20:21), but were commanded to leave them in their possessions as a brother nation (Deuteronomy 2:4-5). In the future, however, their relation to one another was to be a very different one; because the hostility of Edom, already in existence, grew more and more into obstinate and daring enmity, which broke up all the ties of affection that Israel was to regard as holy, and thus brought about the destruction of the Edomites. - The fulfilment of this prophecy commenced with the subjugation of the Edomites by David (2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Kings 11:15-16; 1 Chronicles 18:12-13), but it will not be completed till "the end of the days," when all the enemies of God and His Church will be made the footstool of Christ (Psalm 110:1.). That David did not complete the subjugation of Edom is evident, on the one hand, from the fact that the Edomites revolted again under Solomon, though without success (1 Kings 11:14.); that they shook off the yoke imposed upon them under Joram (2 Kings 8:20); and notwithstanding their defeat by Amaziah (2 Kings 14:7; 2 Chronicles 25:11) and Uzziah (2 Kings 14:22; 2 Chronicles 26:2), invaded Judah a second time under Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:17), and afterwards availed themselves of every opportunity to manifest their hostility to the kingdom of Judah and the Jews generally, - as for example at the conquest of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans (Ezekiel 35:15; Ezekiel 36:5; Obadiah 1:10 and Obadiah 1:13), and in the wars between the Maccabees and the Syrians (1 Macc. 5:3, 65; 2 Macc. 10:15; 12:38ff.), - until they were eventually conquered by John Hyrcanus in the year b.c. 129, and compelled to submit to circumcision, and incorporated in the Jewish state (Josephus, Ant. xiii. 9, 1, xv. 7, 9; Wars of the Jews, iv. 5, 5). But notwithstanding this, they got the government over the Jews into their own hands through Antipater and Herod (Josephus, Ant. xiv. 8, 5), and only disappeared from the stage of history with the destruction of the Jewish state by the Romans. On the other hand, the declarations of the prophets (Amos 9:12; Obadiah 1:17.), which foretell, with an unmistakeable allusion to this prophecy, the possession of the remnant of Edom by the kingdom of Israel, and the announcements in Isaiah 34 and Isaiah 63:1-6, Jeremiah 49:7., Ezekiel 25:12. and Ezekiel 35:1-15, comp. with Psalm 137:7 and Lamentations 4:21-22, prove still more clearly that Edom, as the leading foe of the kingdom of God, will only be utterly destroyed when the victory of the latter over the hostile power of the world has been fully and finally secured. - Whilst Edom falls, Israel will acquire power. חיל עשׂה, to acquire ability or power (Deuteronomy 8:17-18; Ruth 4:11), not merely to show itself brave or strong. It is rendered correctly by Onkelos, "prosperabitur in opibus;" and Jonathan, "praevalebunt in opibus et possidebunt eos."
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