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, Num. 24:3; 4. 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 (Num. 24:15), for prophets were in old time called seers (1 Sam. 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 open. 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. (Num. 24:17), and take possession of Mount Seir, and under whom the forces of Israel should do valiantly, Num. 24:18. This was fulfilled when David smote Moab, and measured them with a line, so that the Moabites became David’ servants, 2 Sam. 8:2. And at the same time the Edomites likewise were brought into obedience to Israel, Num. 24:14. But, 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, Job 19:25. 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 Jews, Matt. 2:2. (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. (Num. 24:17), 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 Cor. 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, Dan. 11:32.
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 (Num. 24:20), therefore Agag was spoken of (Num. 24:7) 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 (Exod. 15:14; 16), 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, Num. 24:21. Thou thinkest thyself safe, and yet the Kenites shall be wasted (Num. 24:22) 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 Chittim, Num. 24:24.
1. The introduction to this parable; this article of his prophecy is very observable (Num. 24:23): 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 triumph? Rev. 6:8. 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 times!
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. But, (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, Dan. 2:34. 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!