Matthew Poole's Commentary
And when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness.Balaam lays aside his sorceries, and the Spirit of God comes upon him; his eyes are open; hears the words of God, and sees the vision of the Almighty, Numbers 24:1-4; prophesies of Israel’s prosperity, Numbers 24:5-9. Balak is angry; commands him to flee; his answer, Numbers 24:10-14. He prophesies of the Messias the King, and of the destruction of the nations, Numbers 24:15-24. He returns to his place; and Balak goes his way, Numbers 24:25.
To seek for enchantments, i.e. to use enchantments, which he is said to have done, either because when he consulted and sacrificed to God, he did also use enchantments and consult with the devil, that if one would not, the other might help him; or because he consulted God in a magical and superstitious way, by using such postures or instruments or forms of words as enchanters used.
Toward the wilderness, where Israel lay encamped, either with intent to curse Israel without God’s leave; or rather, expecting what God of his own accord would suggest to him concerning this matter.
And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes; and the spirit of God came upon him.According to their tribes; in the order appointed, Num 2.
Came upon him, i.e. inspired him to speak the following words, and so constrained him again to bless those whom he desired to curse.
And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said:The eyes, either,
1. Of his body, as in the following verse; or,
2. Of his mind, which God had opened in a peculiar and prophetical manner, whence prophets are called seers, 1 Samuel 9:9. He implies that before he was blind and stupid, having eyes, but not seeing nor understanding. Some render the words having his eyes shut, as the Hebrew verb satham signifies, the letters schin and samech being frequently exchanged; and so the meaning is, that he received this revelation either in a dream, when men’s eyes are simply shut; or in an ecstasy or trance, when men’s eyes, though open, are in a manner shut, to wit, as to the use and exercise of them.
He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open:The vision; so called either strictly and properly, because he was awake when this was revealed to him; or largely and improperly, for any extraordinary discovery of God’s mind to him, whether sleeping or waking. A trance, or ecstasy, fainting and falling upon the ground, as the prophets used to do. See 1 Samuel 19:24 Ezekiel 1:28 3:23 43:3 Daniel 8:17,18 10:15 Revelation 1:17. Others, falling suddenly into a sleep, as the prophets sometimes did, as Genesis 15:12 Daniel 8:18.
How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!No text from Poole on this verse.
As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lign aloes which the LORD hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters.Valleys ofttimes from a small beginning are spread forth fir and wide. Others, as the brooks, or rivers, as the word signifies, which stretch out and disperse their waters into several channels, and sometimes farther. Are they spread forth, i.e. the Israelites last mentioned. As gardens by the river’s side; pleasant and fruitful, and secured by a fence.
Trees of lign-aloes; an Arabian and Indian tree, of a sweet smell, yielding good shade and shelter both to man and beast; such is Israel, famous among the nations, and not only save themselves, but yielding shelter to all that join themselves to them.
Which the Lord hath planted; which are the best of the kind; such as not man, but God, might seem to have planted, as the best of all sorts are ascribed to God, as the trees, hills, cities, of God, &c. Compare Psalm 104:16.
As cedar trees, which are famous for growth, and height, and strength, and durableness, whence Solomon’s temple was built of this wood, 1 Kings 6:9,10.
Beside the waters, where trees thrive best.
He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.He, i.e. God, will abundantly water the valleys, gardens, and trees, is which represent the Israelites, Numbers 24:6, i.e. he will wonderfully bless his people, not only with outward blessings, of which a chief one in those parts was plenty of water, but also with higher gifts and graces, with his word and Spirit, which are often signified by waters, John 3:5 John 4:10 7:38,39, and at last with eternal life, the contemplation whereof made Balaam desire to die the death of the righteous. Others thus, God shall make his posterity numerous; for the procreation of children is oft signified by waters, fountains, cisterns, &c., as Psalm 68:26 Proverbs 5:15,18 9:17 Isaiah 48:1. But there is no necessity of flying to metaphors here, and therefore the other being the literal and proper sense, is by the laws of good interpretation to be preferred before it.
In many waters: this also may be literally understood of their seed, which shall be sown in waterish ground, and therefore bring forth a better increase, Isaiah 32:20. Others thus, His seed shall be so numerous, that it shall branch forth into many people, the several tribes being reckoned and sometimes called several people. Or, his seed shall rule over many people or nations, which are sometimes signified by many waters, as Psalm 144:7 Isaiah 57:20 Jeremiah 47:2 Revelation 17:15. But here also the literal sense seems best. His king, i.e. the king of Israel; either God, who was in a peculiar manner their King or Ruler, Numbers 23:21 Judges 6:13 1 Samuel 8:7 Isaiah 33:22; or their chief governor or governors, whether king or others; for Moses called their king, Deu 33:5, and the judges were in a manner kings.
Than Agag, i.e. than the king of the Amalekites, which king and people were famous and potent in that age, Numbers 24:20, as may be guessed by their bold attempt upon so numerous a people as Israel was. And it is probably thought by the Jewish and other interpreters, that the Amalekitish kings, as Abimelech was of the Philistines, and Pharaoh of the Egyptians, and Caesar of the Romans. But though this king only be instanced in, yet other kings, to wit, such as did or should border upon the Israelites, are doubtless to be understood, above whom the kings and people of Israel sometimes were advanced, and oftener should have been, if they had not been their own hinderance by their sins. Some make this a prophecy of Saul’s conquering Agag and his people, 1 Samuel 15:7,8. But the words seem to be more general, and to signify a greater honour and advantage to Israel than that was.
God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.Shall break their bones, or, unbone, or, take out, i.e. shall eat the flesh to the very bones, and then break them also.
He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee.Having conquered his enemies the Canaanites, and their land, he shall quietly and securely rest and settle himself there.
Stir him up, i.e. awake or provoke him.
And Balak's anger was kindled against Balaam, and he smote his hands together: and Balak said unto Balaam, I called thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them these three times.He smote his hands together; a sign of great anger, Ezekiel 21:17 22:13.
Therefore now flee thou to thy place: I thought to promote thee unto great honour; but, lo, the LORD hath kept thee back from honour.Flee thou to thy place, whence I sent for thee, Numbers 22:5. The Lord, whose commands thou hast preferred before my desires and interest; and therefore seek thy recompence from him, and not from me.
And Balaam said unto Balak, Spake I not also to thy messengers which thou sentest unto me, saying,No text from Poole on this verse.
If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the commandment of the LORD, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; but what the LORD saith, that will I speak?No text from Poole on this verse.
And now, behold, I go unto my people: come therefore, and I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days.Advertise thee, or inform thee, to wit, concerning future things, as it here follows, for this word seems inseparably joined with the following. Others, give thee counsel, and tell thee what this people, &c. So it is a short and defective speech, such as we have Exodus 4:5 13:8. And by counsel. they understand that which is related Numbers 25:1,2, which was done by Balaam’s counsel, Numbers 31:16 Revelation 2:14. But the former sense is more unforced and agreeable to the following words as they lie.
In the latter days: not in thy time, therefore thou hast no reason to fear, but in succeeding ages, as 2 Samuel 8:2, &c.
And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said:No text from Poole on this verse.
He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open:No text from Poole on this verse.
I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.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.
And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly.A possession; which was also foretold Genesis 25:23, and in part fulfilled, 2 Samuel 8:14 1 Chronicles 18:13, but more fully by Christ, Amos 9:12 Obadiah 1:18; who shall subdue and possess all his enemies; here signified by the name of Edom; as Jacob or Israel, his brother, signifies all his church and people. Seir, a part and mountain of Edom, Genesis 36:8, which may be here mentioned as the strongest part of Edom, to show that not only the rest of Edom, which is more accessible, but even the rocks and best munitions of it, shall be taken.
His enemies, the Israelites.
Do valiantly, or, gain power, or riches, or victory, all which are comprehended in this phrase.
Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city.Out of Jacob; out of Jacob’s loins.
He that shall have dominion; David, and especially Christ.
Of the city, or, from or out of this city, i.e. the cities, the singular number for the plural, which hath been oft noted before. The sense is, He shall not only subdue those Moabites and Edomites which meet him in the field, but he shall pursue them even to their strongest holds and cities, and shall pull them out thence. Possibly he may note some eminent city in which they confided most, their metropolis or royal city, as may be guessed from Psalm 60:9.
And when he looked on Amalek, he took up his parable, and said, Amalek was the first of the nations; but his latter end shall be that he perish for ever.He looked from the top of Pisgah, which was exceeding high, and gave him the prospect of parts of all these kingdoms.
The first, Heb. the first-fruits; so called either,
1. Because they were the first of all the neighbouring nations which were embodied together in one government. Or,
2. Because they were the most powerful and eminent of them, as is implied above, Numbers 24:7, the best things in each kind being oft signified by the name of first-fruits. Or,
3. Because he was the first who fought against Israel, and was vanquished by them, in that famous battle Exo 17, which victory was an earnest and first-fruits of that large harvest of victories which the Israelites should in due time get over all their enemies, and, among others, over Amalek himself, 1 Samuel 15:3.
That he perish for ever: he began with God and with Israel. but God will end with him; and the firm purpose and will of God is, that he shall be utterly destroyed, Exodus 17:14; so that Saul lost his kingdom for not executing this decree and God’s command pursuant thereunto, 1Sa 15.
And he looked on the Kenites, and took up his parable, and said, Strong is thy dwellingplace, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock.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.
Nevertheless the Kenite shall be wasted, until Asshur shall carry thee away captive.Kenite, Heb. Kain, i.e. the Kenite; so called, either by a transposition of letters, which is very usual in the Hebrew tongue; or from the name of some eminent place where they lived, or person from whom they were descended, though now the memory of them be utterly lost, as it hath fared with innumerable other places and persons famous in their generations mentioned in ancient heathen writers.
Shall be wasted, i.e. shall be by degrees diminished and wasted by the incursions of divers enemies, till at last the Assyrian comes to complete the work, and carries them into captivity. For the Kenites lived partly among the ten tribes, Joshua 19:33, compared with Judges 4:11, and partly with the two tribes, Judges 1:16 4:16,17, and were carried captive with them, part by Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria, 2 Kings 17:6, and part by Nebuchadnezzar, who also is called an Assyrian, Ezra 6:22 Isaiah 52:4. The words may be rendered thus, shall be wasted. How long? to wit, shall they be thus wasted? (these particles being oft used abruptly and pathetically in the same manner, Psalm 6:3 90:13 Isaiah 6:11) till Asshur comes,
Asshur shall carry thee away captive.
And he took up his parable, and said, Alas, who shall live when God doeth this!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 ships shall come from the coast of Chittim, and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and he also shall perish for ever.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 Balaam rose up, and went and returned to his place: and Balak also went his way.To his place, i.e. to Mesopotamia.
Object: He went only to Midian, where he was slain, Numbers 31:8.
Answ. 1. He is said to return home, because he intended and began to do so, though he was diverted by the Midianites; for men in Scripture are oft said to do what they design or attempt to do, as Exodus 8:18 Numbers 14:40.
Answ. 2. He did go home first, though afterwards he returned to the Midianites, either because they sent for him, or to recover his lost credit, and to do that by policy which he could not do by charms, to which purpose he gave them that devilish counsel which was put in practice, Num 25, and that by his advice, Numbers 31:16 Revelation 2:14.