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with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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Numbers 24

Balaam, leaving divinations, prophesies the happiness of Israel. (1-9) Balak dismisses Balaam in anger. (10-14) Balaam’s prophecies. (15-25)

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Balaam, leaving divinations, prophesies the happiness of Israel

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 upon him.

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 eyes open:

5 How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!

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 arrows.

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.

Balak dismisses Balaam in anger

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 from honour.

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 speak?

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.

Balaam’s prophecies

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 rock.

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 for ever.

25 And Balaam rose up, and went and returned to his place: and Balak also went his way.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. Divination. Sept. “to meet the birds.” The augurs judged of future events by the flying, eating, and other appearances of birds. Heb. “enchantments.” M. — Desert. The plains of Moab, where the Israelites were encamped. He found himself, as it were, involuntarily transported by the spirit of God, v. 2. C. — Yet, for all that, he did not become more holy. Some work miracles, and are damned. S. Matt. vii. 22. W.

Ver. 3. Up. The same term only occurs again, (Lament. iii. 8,) where it may have the same sense, though the Sept. &c. give it here a quite opposite meaning, “the man whose eyes are open,” the prophet. But Balaam alludes to his not being able to see the angel as soon as his ass, as he does, v. 4. C. xxii. 31. C.

Ver. 4. Falleth. Out of respect to God, or in a trance. Sept. “in sleep, his eyes are uncovered.” He was accustomed to commune with the spirits in the night. C. xxii. 8. H. — He who is clear-sighted enough in teaching others, neglecteth his own salvation; or, being naturally incapable of diving into futurity, he derives this power solely from the operation of the spirit. M.

Ver. 6. Woody. Heb. also “extensive torrents.” — Tabernacles. Heb. ahalim, which some render lign-aloes, or stacte, as S. Jerom does, Ps. xliv. 9. Prov. vii. 17. Cant. iv. 14. The aloe-tree, however, was brought from India, and was not common in Arabia. The Syrian aloe was only a shrub; and this tree, of which Balaam speaks, must have been tall and beautiful. — Pitched. Heb. “planted.” C. — The Sept. agree however with the Vulg. H. — Side. Cedars grow very large on the top of Libanus, and are always green; the fruit resembles the pine-apple; the wood is incorruptible. Sionita 6. By humility we must rise to the summit of perfection. D.

Ver. 7. Waters. Sept. Chal. and Syr. “From his seed a man shall spring, who shall have dominion over many nations.” This must be understood of the Messias; or, his posterity shall be very numerous; (see Prov. v. 15. 16,) or his country shall be well watered, and his crops luxuriant. — Agag. Saul lost his crown for sparing the king of the Amalecites, who always took this title, 1 K. xv. 9. Heb. may be translated, “Above Agag shall his (Israel’s) king be exalted, yet,” &c. or “and his kingdom shall increase.” Philo and S. Ambrose read, “his kingdom shall be raised on high.” The Sam. and some copies of the Sept. have, “Over Gog;” while others have Og, (C.) which may be referred to the king of Basan, who, though lately overthrown, had been possessed of great power and wealth. Israel was not satisfied with the extent of his dominions. H. — Those who read Gog, suppose that the victories of Christ over Antichrist are foretold. Origen, hom. 17. S. Cyp. Test. i. 10. C.

Ver. 8 – 9. Lioness. See v. 22. 24, of the preceeding chapter. H. — This prediction was accomplished under the reigns of David and of Solomon. M.

Ver. 10. Together, to hinder him from being heard, and through indignation. Job xxxvii. 23.

Ver. 11. Honour, or reward.

Ver. 14. Counsel, out of my own head. This he was going to do, (C.) that he might not lose his reward, when again he found himself impelled by the Lord to speak what was contrary to his temporal interest. After complying reluctantly, God ceased to strive, as it were, with his rebellious will any longer, and left him to follow the bent of his corrupt heart. Upon which he proceeded to give that infernal counsel, which involved both many of the Israelites and himself in utter destruction. H. C. xxxi. 16. Apoc. ii. 4. — Days. Heb. “Come, I will admonish thee what this people shall do to thy people,” &c. Onkelos and Origen (hom. 18. and 20.) give both senses. C. — Indeed, the transactions of both people were so blended, when they were fighting together, that to give the history of one would be explaining the fortune of the other. H.

Ver. 16. Who knoweth. This is a new title, which he had not before assumed, v. 4.

Ver. 17. Him. The great personage whom I have in view, whose coming is deferred yet for many ages. H. — The whole prediction refers to the Messias, whom Balaam beheld by the eyes of his posterity, the wise men, (C.) or in the prophetic vision. M. — Some modern Rabbins pretend that he speaks of David, who was indeed a figure of Christ, (C.) and defeated the Moabites, 2 K. v. 8. But the prophecy was perfectly fulfilled only in our Saviour’s person, who is called the bright and morning star, (Apoc. xxii. 16,) to whom all nations were given for an inheritance. Ps. ii. Acts i. 8. W. — Heb. also, “I see this thy ruin, but,” &c. Sept. “I will shew to him, yet not now; I will make him happy, (C.); but (makarizo, I bless) it, or he does not approach.” God executed what he ever promised in favour of all Israel, when he sent them his beloved Son. — A star. Christ, the light of the world, the splendour of his Father’s glory, whose birth was made known in the East, by a star, or meteor of unusual brightness. H. — This material star is not the primary object of the prediction, since it did not rise out of Jacob, but it pointed out the orient from on high, and then disappeared. The ancient Jews understood this passage of the Messias. Onkelos, &c. Hence the impostor, Ben. Cusiba, took advantage of this general opinion, to draw the people after him, as the person designated; when he assumed the title of Bar-chocheba, “the son of the star,” in the second age of the church. — Of Seth. Though David, as the figure of the Messias, conquered the Moabites, he cannot be said to have subdued all nations, the descendants of Seth, by Noe, nor all the just of whom Seth was the father, in opposition to the children of Cain. But Christ will subject all the just to his empire, and will judge all mankind. Some, nevertheless, take the children of Seth to be the Moabites, who had been already mentioned; and Junius translates the Heb. with allusion to the shameful origin of that people. The Samar. may also signify, if we substitute d for r in korkor, as Jeremias also reads (C. xlviii. 45,) kodod. “He shall penetrate the ends of Moab, and shall overturn the walls of the children of elevation, or of pride.” There were many hills in the country of the Moabites, and the people were noted for haughtiness. Jer. xlviii. 28. 29. 45. C. — Some also assert, that Seth was the name of a king, (Grot.) and of a town of Moab. R. Nathan. — But of this there is no proof. H.

Ver. 18. Idumea and Seir. The children of Esau shall acknowledge the dominion of Israel, from David to Josaphat, and again under Hircan. 3 K. xi. 15. 4 K. iii. 20. Josep. xiii. 17. C. — Not only the faithful Israelites, but also the profane and headstrong sons of Esau, shall bend the knee before Christ, who will subdue them by the power of his grace, and by the preaching of his disciples. H.

Ver. 19. City of this world. Jesus will destroy their evil habits, (Orig. hom. 18,) and will select some whose lives had been hitherto scandalous, to be his intimate friends. H. — He will save those who abandoned paganism, which had fixed its seat at the great city of Rome, (C.) and he will raise up Constantine (M. T.) to rule over Jacob, his people. At his second coming, he will exterminate all who shall have refused to acknowledge his sovereignty, and who have remained out of the city of the Church. H. — Those who have fled out of the cities for safety, shall be sought out by David, and destroyed. He slew all the male children of Edom, 3 K. xv. 15. C. — In this prophecy, some particulars relate to him, as that he hall subject Moab and Idumea by the valour of his troops, while other things can belong only to Christ, the star, who shall destroy the remains of the city. M. — By changing one letter, Calmet would translate, “Princes shall spring from Jacob: but Seir shall perish from his cities.” A long train of princes in Jacob prefigured the Messias, while the Idumeans have been unknown for many ages. C.

Ver. 20. Nations, which rose up to attack the Hebrews. Onkelos. — Saul will punish them, 1 K. xv. The Amalecites were a very ancient people, known in the days of Abraham. Gen. xiv. 7. But now they are no more. H.

Ver. 21. Cinite. From the top of the hill, he cast his eyes across the Dead Sea, and beholding the strong holds of the Cinite, whose country had been promised to the Hebrews, he is inspired to foretel what would happen to this people. He alludes to their name, which signifies a nest; (C.) and to the manner in which those nations of Arabia lived, in caverns cut out of a rock. Bellon, ii. 61.

Ver. 22. Captive. The Sam. insinuates that they should return, 1 Par. ii. 55. “Though thy nest should be entirely consumed, thy inhabitants shall return out of Assyria.” C. — Sept. “If to Beor (the capital) there should be nests of iniquity, the Assyrians will reduce thee to captivity.” Heb. “Yet the Cinite should be wasted, till,” &c. H. — The family of Jethro was now among the Hebrews, and their posterity were suffered to dwell with the tribe of Juda. Abor afterwards removed into the tribe of Nephthali, and was led away by Salmanasar, 4 K. xvii. M. — Some of the Cinites were mixed with the Amalecites, 1 K. xv. 6. The Assyrians infested the neighbouring nations, as well as the Hebrews, under Sennacherib and Nabuchodonosor, as the prophets inform us. C.

Ver. 23. Things, of which he is about to speak. The time is remote, but very dreadful, when the Assyrians shall be chastised, in their turn, as well as the Greeks and Romans, who shall have destroyed Assur, and even the most favourite nation of God. Balaam began by announcing the prosperity of the Hebrews, but he at last gives some comfort to Balac, by letting him know that they shall also be laid waste, as well as his kingdom, and the powerful nations around him. This is the condition of all human things! H.

Ver. 24. Italy. Heb. “Chittim,” which Bochart endeavours to prove with great erudition to mean Italy; while Grotius contends it means Macedon, and Calmet doubts not but this is the import of the present text. The Macedonians under Alexander and his successors, conquered the countries of Assyria, Palestine, &c. Antiochus Epiphanes raised a cruel persecution against the Jews. But may suppose that the Hebrews here mentioned, are the nations beyond the Euphrates. C. — Heb. “ships…shall afflict Heber and he also shall perish for ever,” which seems to refer to Heber alone, and not to those who shall oppress them, as the Vulg. Sept. &c. express it. H. — Indeed, we do not find that the Scripture mentions the end of the Roman empire, of which many explain this passage. C. — Grotius (Jur. ii. 9) maintained that it still subsisted in the German empire. Others think it will be destroyed only in the days of Antichrist. T. Dan. ii. 40. — But many have asserted that it was overturned by the Goths, and that the Romans are the people who would reduce the Hebrews to the greatest misery, under Titus. M. — The kings of Macedon are, however, styled kings of Cethim, (1 Mac. i. 1. viii. 5,) and they were the immediate subverters of the Persian empire, as theirs fell a prey to the Romans. Theod. q. 44. C.

Ver. 25. Place, in Aram. He returned soon after to the country of the Madianites, and was deservedly involved in their ruin. H. C. xxxi. 8. — Perhaps he only began his journey homeward, and stopped on the road. C. — As for Balac, he fought against Israel, (Jos. xxiv. 9,) at least by endeavouring to get them cursed. Severus says, “he was overcome.” But we know not the particulars of the battle. H.