This chapter continues and concludes the history of the defeat of the
counsels of Balak and Balaam against Israel, not by might, nor by
power, but by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts; and as great an instance
it is of God's power over the children of men, and his favour towards
his own children, as any of the victories recorded in the book of the
wars of the Lord. What preparation was made the third time for the
cursing of Israel we read of in the close of the foregoing chapter. In
this chapter we are told,
I. What the blessing was into which that intended curse was turned,
II. How Balak dismissed Balaam from his service thereupon,
III. The predictions Balaam left behind him concerning Israel, and some
of the neighbouring nations,
|Balaam Blesses Israel a Third Time.
||B. C. 1452.|
1 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.
2 And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in
his tents according to their tribes; and the spirit of God came
3 And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor
hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said:
4 He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the
vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his
5 How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O
6 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.
7 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.
8 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
9 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.
The blessing itself which Balaam here pronounces upon Israel is much
the same with the two we had in the foregoing chapter; but the
introduction to it is different.
I. The method of proceeding here varies much in several instances.
1. Balaam laid aside the enchantments which he had hitherto depended
on, used no spells, or charms, or magic arts, finding they did him no
service; it was to no purpose to deal with the devil for a curse, when
it was plain that God was determined immovably to bless,
Sooner or later God will convince men of their folly in seeking after
lying vanities, which cannot profit. To what purpose should he seek for
enchantment? He knew that God was out of the reach of them.
2. He did not now retire into a solitary place as before, but set his
face directly towards the wilderness where Israel lay encamped; and,
since there is no remedy, but they must be blessed, he will design
nothing else, but will submit by compulsion.
3. Now the Spirit of God came upon him, that is, the Spirit of
prophecy, as upon Saul to prevent him from taking David,
1 Samuel 19:23.
He spoke not his own sense, but the language of the Spirit that came
4. He used a different preface now from what he had used before
much like that of David
(2 Samuel 23:1-3),
yet savouring very much (as some think) of pride and vain-glory, taking
all the praise of this prophecy to himself, and magnifying himself as
one of the cabinet-council of heaven. Two things he boasts of:--
(1.) The favour God did him in making known himself to him. He heard
the words of God, and saw the vision of the Almighty. God himself
had met him and spoken to him
and with this he was greatly puffed up. Paul speaks with humility of
his visions and revelations
(2 Corinthians 12:1),
but Balaam speaks of his with pride.
(2.) His own power to receive and bear those revelations. He fell into
a trance indeed, as other prophets did, but he had his eyes open. This
he mentions twice; but the words in the original are not the same. The
man whose eyes were shut, some think it may be read so
but now having his eyes open,
When he attempted to curse Israel, he owns, he was in a mistake, but
now he began to see his error, and yet still he remained blinded by
covetousness and ambition, those foolish and hurtful lusts. Note,
[1.] Those that oppose God and his people will sooner or later be made
to see themselves wretchedly deceived.
[2.] Many have their eyes open that have not their hearts open, are
enlightened, but not sanctified; and that knowledge which puffs men up
with pride will but serve to light them to hell, whither many go with
their eyes open.
II. Yet the blessing is for substance the same with those before.
Several things he admires in Israel:--
1. Their beauty
How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob! Though they dwelt not in
stately palaces, but in coarse and homely tents, and these, no doubt,
sadly weather-beaten, yet Balaam sees a beauty in those tents, because
of their admirable order, according to their tribes,
Nothing recommends religion more to the good opinion of those that look
upon it at a distance than the unity and harmony of its professors,
The amiableness of this people, and the great reputation they should
gain among their neighbours, are compared
to the beauty and sweetness of fruitful valleys and fine gardens,
flourishing trees and fragrant spices. Note, Those whose eyes are open
see the saints on the earth to be excellent ones, and their delight is
accordingly in them. The righteous, doubtless, is more
excellent than his neighbour. They are trees which the Lord has
planted; that is their excellency. The branches of righteousness
are the planting of the Lord. See
2. Their fruitfulness and increase. This may be intended by those
of the valleys, gardens, and trees, as well as by those expressions
He shall pour the water out of his buckets; that is, God shall
water them with his blessing like rain from heaven, and then his
seed shall be in many waters. Compare
I will sow her unto me in the earth. And waters are in scripture
put for peoples, and multitudes, and nations. This has been
fulfilled in the wonderful increase of that nation and their vast
multitude even in their dispersion.
3. Their honour and advancement. As the multitude of the people is the
honour of the prince, so the magnificence of the prince is the honour
of the people; Balaam therefore foretells that their king shall be
higher than Agag. Agag, it is probable, was the most potent monarch
in those parts; Balaam knew of none more considerable than he was; he
rose above the rest of his neighbours. But Balaam foretells that
Israel's chief commander, who, after Moses, was Joshua, should be more
great and honourable than ever Agag was, and make a far better figure
in history. Saul, their first king, triumphed over Agag, though, it is
said, he came delicately.
4. Their power and victory,
(1.) He looks back upon what they had done, or rather what had been
done for them: God brought them forth out of Egypt; this he had
spoken of before,
The wonders that attended their deliverance out of Egypt contributed
more to their honour, and the terror of their adversaries, than any
He that brought them out of Egypt will not fail to bring them into
Canaan, for, as for God, his work is perfect.
(2.) He looks down upon their present strength. Israel hath, as it
were, the strength of a unicorn, of which creature it is said
Will he be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou
bind him with his band in the furrow? "No, Israel is too powerful
to be checked or held in by my curses or thy armies."
(3.) He looks forward to their future conquests: He shall eat up the
nations his enemies; that is, "he shall not only destroy and devour
them as easily and irresistibly as a lion does his prey, but he shall
himself be strengthened, and fattened, and enriched, by their
5. Their courage and security: He lay down as a lion, as a great
Now he does so in the plains of Moab, and asks no leave of the king of
Moab, nor is he in fear of him; shortly will he do so in Canaan. When
he has torn his prey, he will take his repose, quiet from the fear
of evil, and bid defiance to all his neighbours; for who shall stir
up a sleeping lion? It is observed of lions (as the learned bishop
Patrick takes notice here) that they do not retire into places of
shelter to sleep, but lie down any where, knowing that none dares
meddle with them: thus secure were Israel in Canaan, chiefly in the
days of David and Solomon; and thus is the righteous bold as a
not to assault others, but to repose themselves, because God maketh
them to dwell in safety,
6. Their interest, and influence upon their neighbours. Their friends,
and those in alliance with them, were happy: Blessed is he that
blesseth thee; those that do them any kindness will certainly fare
the better for it. But their enemies, and those in arms against them,
were certainly miserable: Cursed is he that curseth thee; those
that do them any injury do it at their peril; for God takes what is
done to them, whether good or evil, as done to himself. Thus he
confirms the blessing of Abraham
and speaks as if therefore he did at this time bless Israel, and
not curse them, because he desired to share in the blessing of Israel's
friends and dreaded the curse on Israel's enemies.
||B. C. 1452.|
10 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.
11 Therefore now flee thou to thy place: I thought to promote
thee unto great honour; but, lo, the LORD hath kept thee back
12 And Balaam said unto Balak, Spake I not also to thy
messengers which thou sentest unto me, saying,
13 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
14 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.
We have here the conclusion of this vain attempt to curse Israel, and
the total abandonment of it.
1. Balak made the worst of it. He broke out into a rage against Balaam
expressed both in words and gesture the highest degree of vexation at
the disappointment; he smote his hands together, for indignation, to
see all his measures thus broken, and his project baffled. He charged
Balaam with putting upon him the basest affront and cheat imaginable:
"I called thee to curse my enemies, and thou hast shown thyself
in league with them, and in their interests, for thou hast blessed
them these three times, though, by appointing the altars to be
built and sacrifices to be offered, thou madest be believe thou
wouldest certainly curse them." Hereupon he forbade him his presence,
expelled him his country, upbraided him with the preferments he had
designed to bestow upon him, but now would not
"The Lord hath kept thee back from honour. See what thou gettest
by pleasing the Lord, instead of pleasing me; thou has hindered thy
preferment by it." Thus those who are any way losers by their duty are
commonly upbraided with it, as fools, for preferring it before their
interest in the world. Whereas, if Balaam had been voluntary and
sincere in his adherence to the word of the Lord, though he lost the
honour Balak designed him by it, God would have made that loss up to
him abundantly to his advantage.
2. Balaam made the best if it.
(1.) He endeavours to excuse the disappointment. And a very good excuse
he has for it, that God restrained him from saying what he would have
said, and constrained him to say what he would not; and that this was
what Balak ought not to be displeased at, not only because he could not
help it, but because he had told Balak before what he must depend upon,
Balak could not say that he had cheated him, since he had given him
fair notice of the check he found himself under.
(2.) He endeavours to atone for it,
Though he cannot do what Balak would have him do, yet,
[1.] He will gratify his curiosity with some predictions concerning the
nations about him. It is natural to us to be pleased with prophecy, and
with this he hopes to pacify the angry prince.
[2.] He will satisfy him with an assurance that, whatever this
formidable people should do to his people, it should not be till the
latter days; so that he, for his part, needed not to fear any mischief
or molestation from them; the vision was for a great while to
come, but in his days there should be peace.
[3.] He will put him into a method of doing Israel a mischief without
the ceremonies of enchantment and execration. This seems to be implied
in that word: I will advertise thee; for it properly signifies,
I will counsel thee. What the counsel was is not set down here,
because it was given privately, but we are told afterwards what it was,
He counselled him to entice the Israelites to
Since he could not have leave from God to curse them, he puts him in a
way of getting help from the devil to tempt them. Flectere si nequeo
superos, Acheronta movebo--If I cannot move heaven, I will solicit
||B. C. 1452.|
15 And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor
hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said:
16 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:
17 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.
18 And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a
possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly.
19 Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and
shall destroy him that remaineth of the city.
20 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.
21 And he looked on the Kenites, and took up his parable, and
said, Strong is thy dwellingplace, and thou puttest thy nest in a
22 Nevertheless the Kenite shall be wasted, until Asshur shall
carry thee away captive.
23 And he took up his parable, and said, Alas, who shall live
when God doeth this!
24 And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim, and shall
afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and he also shall perish
25 And Balaam rose up, and went and returned to his place: and
Balak also went his way.
The office of prophets was both to bless and to prophesy in the name of
the Lord. Balaam, as a prophet, per force had blessed Israel; here he
foretels future events.
I. His preface is much the same as that,
He personates a true prophet admirably well, God permitting and
directing him to do so, because, whatever he was, the prophecy itself
was a true prophecy. He boasts,
1. That his eyes are open
for prophets were in old time called seers
(1 Samuel 9:9),
because they must speak what they had seen, and therefore, before they
opened their lips, it was necessary that they should have their eyes
2. That he has heard the words of God, which many do that do not
heed them, nor hear God in them.
3. That he knew the knowledge of the Most High; this is added
here. A man may be full of the knowledge of God and yet utterly
destitute of the grace of God, may receive the truth in the light of it
and yet be a stranger to the love of it.
4. That he saw the vision of the Almighty, but not so as to be
changed into the same image. He calls God the Most High,
and the Almighty; no man could speak more honourably of him, nor
seem to put a greater value upon his acquaintance with him, and yet he
had no true fear of him, love to him, or faith in him, so far may a man
go towards heaven, and yet come short.
II. Here is his prophecy concerning him that should be the crown and
glory of his people Israel, who is,
1. David in the type, who not now, not quickly, but in process
of time, should smite the corners of Moab.
and take possession of Mount Seir, and under whom the forces of Israel
should do valiantly,
This was fulfilled when David smote Moab, and measured them with a
line, so that the Moabites became David' servants,
2 Samuel 8:2.
And at the same time the Edomites likewise were brought into obedience
2. Our Lord Jesus, the promised Messiah, is chiefly pointed at in the
antitype, and of him it is an illustrious prophecy; it was the will of
God that notice should thus be given of his coming, a great while
before, not only to the people of the Jews, but to other nations,
because his gospel and kingdom were to extend themselves so far beyond
the borders of the land of Israel. It is here foretold,
(1.) That while: "I shall see him, but not now; I do see him in
vision, but at a very great distance, through the interposing space of
1500 years at least." Or understand it thus:--Balaam, a wicked man,
shall see Christ, but shall not see him nigh, nor 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.
(2.) That he shall come out of Jacob, and Israel, as a star and a
sceptre, the former denoting his glory and lustre, and the bright
and morning star, the latter his power and authority; it is he
that shall have dominion. Perhaps this prophecy of Balaam (one of
the children of the east) concerning a star that should arise out of
Jacob, as the indication of a sceptre arising in Israel, being
preserved by a tradition of that country, gave occasion to the wise
men, who were of the east too, upon the sight of an unusual star over
the land of Judea, to enquire for him that was born king of the
(3.) That his kingdom shall be universal, and victorious over all
opposition, which was typified by David's victories over Moab and Edom.
But the Messiah shall destroy, or, as some read it, shall rule over,
all the children of Seth.
that is, all the children of men, who descend from Seth, the son of
Adam, the descendants of the rest of Adam's sons being cut off by the
deluge. Christ shall be king, not only of Jacob and Israel, but of all
the world; so that all the children of Seth shall be either governed by
his golden sceptre or dashed in pieces by his iron rod. He shall set up
a universal rule, authority, and power, of his own, and shall put down
all opposing rule,
1 Corinthians 15:24.
He shall unwall all the children of Seth; so some read it. He
shall take down all their defences and carnal confidences, so that they
shall either admit his government or lie open to his judgments.
(4.) That his Israel shall do valiantly; the subjects of Christ,
animated by his might, shall maintain a spiritual was with the powers
of darkness, and be more than conquerors. The people that do know
their God shall be strong, and do exploits,
III. Here is his prophecy concerning the Amalekites and Kenites, part
of whose country, it is probable, he had now in view.
1. The Amalekites were now the chief of the nations
therefore Agag was spoken of
as an eminent prince, and they were the first that engaged Israel when
they came out of Egypt; but the time will come when that nation, as
great as it looks now, will be totally ruined and rooted out: His
latter end shall be that he perish for ever. Here Balaam confirms
that doom of Amalek which Moses had read
where God had sworn that he would have perpetual war with
Amalek. Note, Those whom God is at war with will certainly perish
for ever; for when God judges he will overcome.
2. The Kenites were now the securest of the nations; their situation
was such as that nature was their engineer, and had strongly fortified
them: "Thou puttest thy nest (like the eagle) in a rock,
Thou thinkest thyself safe, and yet the Kenites shall be wasted
and gradually brought to decay, till they be carried away captive by
the Assyrians," which was done at the captivity of the ten tribes.
Note, Bodies politic, like natural bodies, though of the strongest
constitutions, will gradually decay, and come to ruin at last; even a
nest in a rock will be no perpetual security.
IV. Here is a prophecy that looks as far forward as the Greeks and
Romans, for theirs is supposed to be meant by the coast of
1. The introduction to this parable; this article of his prophecy is
Alas! who shall live when God doeth this? Here he acknowledges
all the revolutions of states and kingdoms to be the Lord's doing:
God doeth this; whoever are the instruments, he is the supreme
director. But he speaks mournfully concerning them, and has a very
melancholy prospect of these events: Who shall live? Either,
(1.) These events are so distant, and so far off to come, that it is
hard to say who shall live till they come; but, whoever shall
live to see them, there will be amazing turns. Or,
(2.) They will be so dismal, and make such desolations, that scarcely
any will escape or be left alive; who shall live when death rides in
Those that live then will be as brands plucked out of the fire, and
will have their lives given them as a prey. God fit us for the worst of
2. The prophecy itself is observable. Both Greece and Italy lie much
upon the sea, and therefore their armies were sent forth mostly in
ships. Now he seems here to foretell,
(1.) That the forces of the Grecians should humble and bring down the
Assyrians, who were united with the Persians, which was fulfilled when
the eastern country was overcome, or overrun rather, by Alexander.
(2.) That theirs and the Roman forces should afflict the Hebrews, or
Jews, who were called the children of Eber; this was fulfilled
in part when the Grecian empire was oppressive to the Jewish nation,
but chiefly when the Roman empire ruined it and put a period to it.
(3.) That Chittim, that is, the Roman empire, in which the Grecian was
at length swallowed up, should itself perish for ever, when the stone
cut out of the mountain without hands shall consume all these kingdoms,
and particularly the feet of iron and clay,
Thus (says Dr. Lightfoot) Balaam, instead of cursing the church, curses
Amalek the first, and Rome the last, enemy of the church. And so let
all thy enemies perish, O Lord!