(1) Build me here seven altars.—The patriarchs of old, as their pious descendants after the giving of the Law, never erected more than one altar in one place. A plurality of altars was the badge of idolatry. Hengsten-berg adduces several instances in proof that the ancients were accustomed to have recourse to sacrifice and conjuration in order to avert calamity and produce prosperity. (History of Balaam and his Prophecies, p. 392.) The number seven was regarded as significant among the Greeks and Romans, as well as among the Israelites.
Lo, the people shall dwell alone . . . —Better, Lo, it is a people that dwelleth alone, and that is not numbered, &c. In the fact that the host of Israel dwelt by itself in a separate encampment, Balaam discerned a type of the essential separation of Israel from the surrounding nations. When Israel adopted the ways of the heathen nations it speedily lost its external independence. Hengstenberg observes upon the last clause of this verse as follows:—“How truly Balaam said that Israel ‘did not reckon itself with the heathen’ appears from the fact that while all the powerful empires of the ancient world—the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, and others—have utterly perished, Israel (which even under the Old Covenant was rescued from so many dangers that threatened its entire destruction, particularly in being brought back from exile) flourishes anew in the Church of the New Covenant, and continues also to exist in that part of it which, though at present rejected, is destined to restoration at a future period.” (History of Balaam, &c., p. 409.)
And the number of the fourth part of Israel.—The Israelites were divided into four great encampments (Numbers 2). It is probable that Balaam could only see one of these encampments from Bamoth-Baal (Numbers 22:41); but see below on Numbers 23:13.
The death of the righteous.—The Hebrew word yesharim (upright, or righteous) is applied to Israel because God, who is just and right (Deuteronomy 32:4). had chosen His people to be a Jeshurun (Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 33:5; Deuteronomy 33:26)—a holy and peculiar people, following after righteousness and judgment. The end of Balaam (Numbers 31:8) presented a strange contrast to his prayer, and showed that even the prayer of the wicked is abomination in the sight of the Lord. (See Proverbs 28:9.)
The shout of a king.—The word which is rendered shout (teruah) is the same which occurs in Leviticus 23:24, and which is there rendered blowing of trumpets. (Comp. Joshua 6:5; Joshua 6:20, where the same word is rendered shout as here.)
The strength of an unicorn.—Better, of a buffalo. (Comp. Deuteronomy 33:17—a passage closely resembling the present—from which it appears that the reem had more than one horn.)
Numbers 23:29And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams.
Numbers 23:30And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.