1 - 2 The Spirit of God Comes upon Balaam
1 When Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times to seek omens but he set his face toward the wilderness. 2 And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God came upon him.
Balaam is getting ready for his third discourse. For the first time we read that the Spirit of God comes upon him. We see something similar happening with the unbelieving Saul (1Sam 19:23). In the wilderness, Balaam sees a people, not in disorder and rebellion, but camping according to his tribes. He sees the people in the order they have before God.
3 - 9 Third blessing spell
3 He took up his discourse and said,
“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened;
4 The oracle of him who hears the words of God,
Who sees the vision of the Almighty,
Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered,
5 How fair are your tents, O Jacob,
Your dwellings, O Israel!
6 “Like valleys that stretch out,
Like gardens beside the river,
Like aloes planted by the LORD,
Like cedars beside the waters.
7 “Water will flow from his buckets,
And his seed [will be] by many waters,
And his king shall be higher than Agag,
And his kingdom shall be exalted.
8 “God brings him out of Egypt,
He is for him like the horns of the wild ox.
He will devour the nations [who are] his adversaries,
And will crush their bones in pieces,
And shatter [them] with his arrows.
9 “He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him?
Blessed is everyone who blesses you,
And cursed is everyone who curses you.”
In his third discourse he speaks of himself in the same way as later David does (2Sam 23:1-3). He is “the man whose eye is opened”. He sees much, much more than many a member of the people of God. But that says nothing about his personal faith. You can know a lot through everything you have heard in the meetings and you can tell a lot about it, but how tragic as it is in the way of Balaam, for whom it is not a matter of his heart.
In the previous discourse there is talk of what God does not see in Jacob and Israel (Num 23:21). In this third discourse Balaam speaks of what God does see in His people. Now that the justification of the people has been pronounced, the full testimony about Israel can be given and is no longer limited to God’s plans and thoughts about them.
In verses 5-6 we read how God rejoices about their dwellings, not in the land, but in the wilderness. He sees them like valleys that stretch out. This refers to valleys through which streams flow that supply these valleys with water. But the metaphor goes even further. Their dwellings are even more lovely than the brook valleys with their abundant grass and their wealth of flowers: they are like gardens with fragrant aloe trees (Psa 45:8a; Jn 19:39-40), planted by the LORD Himself, and like the stately cedars (Song 5:15b) of which the wood has a long durability.
To see so much refreshment and beauty in God’s people we must stand in a high place (Num 23:28), that is, next to God. We must lift up our hearts to Him. Then we will better understand God’s thoughts and share His thoughts of grace that He sees the beauty of His people, His church, through everything. Through this vision of God on the church we are encouraged and unspeakably happy. We also see the whole people of God and not just the few members we know. For this the Lord must open our eyes.
Balaam does not speak about what is going on in those tents. In those tents there was a lot of grumbling, but he is not talking about that. These are dwelling places that reflect something of the dwelling place of God. God dwells in a tent among His people. The tents wherein his people dwell are a picture of it. That is how God sees our dwelling places and that is how we must show it to the world.
Tent and house are both a space where one stays to rest and seek protection against the heat. It is also the place where we have contact with family members. A tent emphasizes the temporary aspect of the stay. We travel through the world, on a journey to our eternal destination. In ‘dwelling’ the thought is more what one does in this stay, all that the resident can enjoy. They are the tents of “Jacob”, tents with people full of weakness. They are the dwellings of “Israel”, dwellings in which the people of God dwell.
God wants His people to be like valleys, like gardens, where He can find rest and pleasure. Are we such a valley and garden for Him? Aloe gives a wonderful fragrance, a cedar speaks of strength. If the Holy Spirit can work in us, all of this will be found in us by God because the fruit of the Spirit will then become visible: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23a).
We will then become a blessing to others, which is represented by water flowing out of us to others (verse 7; Jn 7:38). ‘Buckets’ presupposes labor, because effort is needed to fill the buckets. From what we have discovered ourselves in the Word, we can give others for their refreshment. This refreshment will not only be part of those who surround us, but also of our descendants.
Another consequence is that the Lord Jesus will have all authority in our lives, He will have dominion in our lives. Agag, the king of the Amalekites, picture of the flesh, will be kept subjected. The kingdom of God, now still hidden, will become visible in our families, in our tents.
We are reminded again of the origin of God’s people, of the leading out of Egypt (verses 8-9). God is for His people, also thereafter, and against His enemies. He will give His people the strength to defeat all enemies. Then they will lay down like a lion and find peace. Nobody will dare to disturb them in that rest, so that they should get up again to fight.
Lions are said not to seek refuge to sleep. They can lie down anywhere to go to sleep because nobody dares to attack them. The people of Canaan live in Canaan during the reign of Salomon in that kind of safety, peace and security; they will live in the kingdom of peace in such security and peace.
10 - 14 Reaction of Balak; Reply of Balaam
10 Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have persisted in blessing them these three times! 11 Therefore, flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but behold, the LORD has held you back from honor.” 12 Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not tell your messengers whom you had sent to me, saying, 13 ‘Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything contrary to the command of the LORD, either good or bad, of my own accord. What the LORD speaks, that I will speak’? 14 And now, behold, I am going to my people; come, [and] I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the days to come.”
Balak is desperate. In words and gestures his anger burns against Balaam. The striking of the hands is a gesture of horror, of great anxiety (Job 27:23). He dismisses Balaam, who gets nothing from what he promised him because he has not kept the deal. Balak says it is the LORD’s fault that Balaam gets no reward. That is also true, but Balak means this mockingly, to indicate where the obedience of Balaam to the LORD has led to.
Balaam is not impressed. He keeps the honor to himself. He can’t do anything else either. He is against will an instrument in God’s hand. He is so impressed by the power of God, that all the gold and silver of Balak could not persuade him to go against God. Under the power of God, he acts against his greedy nature. Unfortunately, all this is beyond his conscience. He loses the reward of Balak, but he doesn’t choose for the LORD either.
If he continues to pronounce another prophecy, it is because of the same power that led him to pronounce the former prophecies. He invites Balak to come once again and listen to an announcement of future events. Among other things, they are about what “this people”, that is Israel, will do to “your people”, that is Moab. This means that Balak’s fear of “this people” (Num 22:3) is justified. However, this fear will only become true in the future. Anyway, because it is also about his people, those events will have to interest Balak.
15 - 24 Fourth discourse
15 He took up his discourse and said,
“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened,
16 The oracle of him who hears the words of God,
And knows the knowledge of the Most High,
Who sees the vision of the Almighty,
Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered.
17 “I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near;
A star shall come forth from Jacob,
A scepter shall rise from Israel,
And shall crush through the forehead of Moab,
And tear down all the sons of Sheth.
18 “Edom shall be a possession,
Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession,
While Israel performs valiantly.
19 “One from Jacob shall have dominion,
And will destroy the remnant from the city.”
20 And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said,
“Amalek was the first of the nations,
But his end [shall be] destruction.”
21 And he looked at the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said,
“Your dwelling place is enduring,
And your nest is set in the cliff.
22 “Nevertheless Kain will be consumed;
How long will Asshur keep you captive?”
23 Then he took up his discourse and said,
“Alas, who can live except God has ordained it?
24 “But ships [shall come] from the coast of Kittim,
And they shall afflict Asshur and will afflict Eber;
So they also [will come] to destruction.”
The fourth prophecy is exclusively about the future. Through the four times repeated word “discourse” (verses 15,20,21,23), this fourth prophecy is divided into four parts. The first discourse is about Moab and Edom (verses 17-19), the second about the arch-enemy Amalek (verse 20), the third about the Kenites (verses 21-22) and the fourth about the destruction of the great world powers (verses 23-24).
Balaam speaks of himself as the man who hears the words of God, who knows the knowledge of the Most High and who sees the vision of the Almighty. He has heard and seen much of God. This can also be seen in the different names with which he mentions God. Unfortunately, it did not bring him a step closer to that God, the God of Israel. The cause is that all his knowledge about God has had no effect on his conscience.
Here Balaam uses a new name of God: the Most High. This is the name of God in the millennial realm (cf. Gen 14:18-20). He then is revealed above all nations, all enemies are subdued, and His people have received all that He promised. In His omnipotence He carried His people through all the difficulties of the wilderness and brought them into the blessing of the kingdom of peace.
The coming of the Messiah is connected with the above (verse 17b). Balaam sees Him, “but not now”, that is to say, as not yet present; he beholds Him, “but not near”, that is, in the distance, not the near future. In Numbers 23 Balaam also said that he sees and beholds him (Num 23:9). There he means the people. Here he says it again, but now he means a Person.
The star mentioned here by Balaam will later lead the magi from the east to the Messiah (Mt 2:1-11). It says here that it is a star that comes from Jacob, not a star that comes to Jacob from heaven. It indicates that the Messiah comes forth from that people. Thus also the Redeemer comes from Zion, not to Zion (Rom 11:26). The scepter rises from Israel (Gen 49:10). For us, the church, He is the “shining Morningstar” (Rev 22:16), Who arises in our hearts (2Pet 1:19; Rev 2:28).
What will soon be a reality for Israel – that the day will come with the coming of the Messiah (2Sam 23:3-4) – is already a reality for us. We are “sons of the day” (1Thes 5:5). We already have part in the blessings that will soon be part of all creation. Christ reigns already in our lives, soon He will reign over all creation.
The “forehead of Moab”, literally the “corners of Moab” means the boundaries of Moab. Moab and Edom (verse 18) will not be able to resist the power of Israel, which they derive from their Messiah (verse 19). The weak Jacob will become the mighty Israel. All enemies will be presented with the bill of their attitude towards Israel.
“Amalek” is the worst, the main enemy (verse 20). That enemy is a picture of the power of the flesh. But he will be destroyed. The Kenite (verse 21) were part of Amalek (1Sam 15:6). They thought they could escape destruction because they dwelt high in the cliff. But like “Cain” they should be consumed. Cain represents man who has his permanent residence in the world and builds cities to make life there as pleasant and safe as possible. “Asshur” is used to keep Cain captive.
Life is only possible in connection with God. To those who stand outside Him is the following: “Who can live?” With these words, Balaam begins his last discourse in verse 23, as if he had understood through the previous discourses that what God says is going to happen.
As certain as the blessing is for Israel, so too is the judgment for the enemies. No one is capable of turning the blessing, no one is capable of turning the judgment or escaping it. So Asshur will in turn be subject to the Kittimites (verse 24). Some interpreters assume that the Kittimites do not mean only the inhabitants of the island of Cyprus, but all powers on the western side of the Mediterranean, including Rome (Jer 2:10; Dan 11:30).
25 Balaam and Balak Break Up
25 Then Balaam arose and departed and returned to his place, and Balak also went his way.
With the painting of the subjugation of all enemies of Israel and the blessing of Israel under the rule of the Messiah, the discourses of Balaam have come to an end. Balak has no perspective anymore. He has seen his end. There is nothing more to change or add. Balaam and Balak have nothing more to tell each other and part. Poor people! For a moment they were under the influence of God’s Word. However, it has not touched their conscience. Both of them goes his way, a way that will end in complete darkness. Does what God says touch our conscience?