that Balak took Balaam and brought him up into the high places of Baal; where groves were planted, and altars erected to that "idol" and which the Targum of Jonathan calls the idol Peor, the same with Baalpeor, Numbers 25:3 which might be their god Chemosh, the same with Bacchus or Priapus:
that thence he might see the utmost part of the people; the whole host of Israel, even to the extreme part of it; the camp of Dan, as the Targum of Jonathan, which brought up the rear; he had him to those high places, both that he might have a better view of the whole body of the people, and know how they lay, and to direct his curses at them, and that success might attend the undertaking, these being places of religious worship. Josephus says (z) those high places were sixty furlongs or seven and one half miles from the camp of Israel.
(y) in matutino, Montanus; mane, V. L. Junius & Tremellius, Piscator. (z) Antiqu. l. 4. c. 6. sect. 4.
INTRODUCTION TO Numbers 23
This chapter gives an account of the sacrifices offered by Balak and Balaam, and how God met Balsam, and put a word into his mouth, which he delivered in the presence of the king of Moab and his princes, Numbers 23:1, the substance of which are, the separate state and condition of Israel from other nations, their number, and the happiness of the righteous at death, Numbers 23:8, which made Balak uneasy, since instead of cursing he blessed Israel, and therefore he had him to another place to take a view of the people, Numbers 23:11 where having offered sacrifices, another word was put into the mouth of Balaam, and which he also delivered before the king and his nobles, Numbers 23:14, in which were expressed the unchangeableness of God, the irreversibleness of the blessing of Israel, the strength, safety, happiness, and glory of that people, Numbers 23:19 which made Balak more uneasy still; but willing to try him a third time, he carried him to another place, and there built altars, and offered sacrifices, the consequence of which is related in the next chapter, Numbers 23:25.
build me here seven altars; this was purely Heathenish; for not only the Israelites after the law of Moses had but one altar, but the patriarchs before that never built but one altar at a time. Some have thought regard is had to the seven planets worshipped by Heathens; though no doubt Balaam pretended to sacrifice to Jehovah the true God, in order to gain him over to him to agree to it to curse Israel, and persuaded Balak, though an idolater, to join with him; and, the more easily to bring him to it, mixes Heathen rites and customs in sacrifice to him:
and prepare me here seven oxen, and seven rams; which were creatures offered in sacrifice according to the law of Moses, and before that was given, and by persons who were not under it; and even by seven of each sort, and that by the express command of God, Job 42:8. It may be observed, that both in this, and the preceding clause, the word here is carefully expressed, namely, in one of the high places; there the altars were erected, and thither the oxen were brought to be sacrificed; so that both the place, and the number of the altars, savoured of Heathenish worship, in which he complied to induce the king to sacrifice to Jehovah.
and Balak and Balsam offered on every altar a bullock and a ram; both seem to be concerned in offering the sacrifices; Balak, though a king, it being usual for kings to be priests also, as Melchizedek was, and Balaam as a prophet; and these sacrifices were offered to the true God, as seems clear from Numbers 23:4 and to which Balak, at the direction of Balaam, agreed, in order to gain the Lord on his side, that he might prevail over the people of Israel.
and I will go; depart from thence, at some little distance, unto some private place:
peradventure the Lord will come to meet me; upon the offering of these sacrifices to him, though he could not be certain of it, he having lately shown some displeasure and resentment unto him; and this was also in the daytime, when it was in the night he usually came unto him:
and whatsoever he showeth me I will tell thee; the whole of it, truly as it is, whether agreeable or not:
and he went to an high place; but he was in one already, and therefore if this is the sense of the word, he must go to another, into a grove in one of the high places, where he might be retired, and so fit for a divine converse; and the Targum of Onkelos renders it alone: but rather the sense is, that he went into a plain, as De Dieu has shown from the use of the word in the Syriac language; he was upon a high place, and he went down from thence into the plain, perhaps into a cave at the bottom of the hill, a retired place, where he hoped the Lord would meet him, as he did.
and he said unto him; in a bragging boasting way, in order to gain his favour, and carry his point:
I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered upon every altar a bullock and a ram: that is, to him the Lord; for had they been offered to Baal, he could never have had the nerve to have spoken of them to God; and which he could never have proposed as a reason why he should be regarded by him, or expect on account of them any favour from him: and indeed these altars and sacrifices were not at his expense, though they were prepared and offered at a motion of his; nor were they offered in a right manner, nor with a right end, nor from a right principle, and were far from being acceptable unto God, yea, were abominable unto him; see Proverbs 21:27.
and said, return unto Balak, and thus shalt thou speak; that is, unto him, and what is expressed in Numbers 22:7.
and, lo, he stood by his burnt sacrifice; continued in his devotions, hoping for success, and waiting for Balaam's return:
he and all the princes of Moab; not only those that were sent to Balaam, but perhaps all the princes of the kingdom who were got together on this occasion, and by reason of the imminent danger they apprehended the nation was in on account of Israel.
Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram; or Syria, that is, from Mesopotamia, as the Septuagint translate it; and so the Targum of Jonathan, from Aram or Syria, which is by Euphrates:
out of the mountains of the east: it being the mountainous part of Mesopotamia or Chaldea, where Balaam dwelt, which lay to the east of the land of Moab:
saying, come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel; he owns that this was Balak's view in sending for him; nor does he deny that be himself came with such an intention, could he be able to execute it; even curse the people of Israel, with the utmost abhorrence and detestation of them, and in the most furious and wrathful manner, as the last word used signifies.
or how shall I defy whom the Lord hath not defied? which is the same thing in other words, only this last word is expressive of more contempt and indignation.
lo, the people shall dwell alone; this certainly respects their dwelling in the land of Canaan, where they dwelt a separate people from all others, distinguished by their language, religion, laws, customs, and manner of living, being different both in their clothing, and in their food, from other people; nor had they dealings, nor did they company with those of other nations; see Esther 3:8 "or shall dwell safely" (z), or securely, not so much because of the situation of their country, but because of the protection of the Almighty; see Deuteronomy 33:28.
and shall not be reckoned among the nations; as belonging to them, shall not be made of any account by them, but be despised and reproached for their religion chiefly; nor reckon themselves of them, nor mix with them; so the Targum of Jerusalem,"they shall not be mixed;''or, as Jonathan,"they shall not be led in the laws of the people;''and though they are now scattered among the people and nations of the world, yet they are not mixed with them, nor reckoned to be a part of them; nor do they reckon themselves to be of them, but are a separate distinct people from them. Thus Israel, or the people of God in a spiritual sense, dwell alone; not solitarily, or without company, in every sense, for they have the company of Father, Son, and Spirit, of angels and saints; but they dwell in God, in Christ, in the house of God, and with one another, separately and distinctly from the world: they are a separate people in the love of God; in the choice of them in Christ; in the covenant of grace made with them in him; in redemption by him; in his intercession for them; in effectual calling; as they will be in the resurrection morn, and in heaven to all eternity: and they shall dwell safely, God being around them; Christ the rock and fortress of them; the Spirit in them being greater than he that is in the world; angels their guardians, and they in a strong city, whose walls and bulwarks are salvation: nor are they reckoned among the nations; they are chosen, redeemed, and called out of them, and are not accounted of by them any other than the refuse and offscouring of all things; nor do they reckon themselves to be of the world, but as pilgrims and strangers in it. Baal Hatturim refers this prophecy to the days of the Messiah; see Jeremiah 23:5.
(z) "confidenter", Pagninus; "securus", Vatablus.
and the number of the fourth part of Israel; one of the four camps of Israel, as the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan; for this people was divided into four camps, under so many standards, which were those of Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan, see Numbers 2:1, and one of them is represented by Balaam as so numerous, as not to be counted, or should be so, see Hosea 1:10. The spiritual Israel of God, though comparatively few, are in themselves, and will be when all together, a great number, which no man can number, Revelation 7:9,
let me die the death of the righteous; which are among them, as Jarchi, among the Israelites; for they were not all righteous, nor are any, of themselves, or by their own works, but by the righteousness of Christ: or the death of the upright ones (a); such as are upright in heart and life, who have right spirits renewed in them, and walk uprightly according to the rule of the divine word; such as are Israelites indeed, in whom there is no guile; the word used is pretty near, in sound and signification, to Jeshurun, one of the names of Israel, Deuteronomy 32:15, the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem render it,"the death of the true ones,''who are truly righteous and upright, truly gracious persons; who have the truth of grace, and the root of the matter in them: these die as well as others, yet their death is different from others, not in the thing itself, but in the concomitants and consequences of it; they die in the Lord, in union to him, in faith of him, in hope of eternal life by him, and their death is precious to him; and in consequence of this they are carried by angels to glory at death are immediately in heaven with Christ, and it will be well with them to all eternity. Balaam had some notion of this; and though he did not care to live the life of such, he wished to die their death, or that he might be as happy at death as they; by which he bears a testimony to the immortality of the soul, to a future state after death, and to an eternal life and happiness to be enjoyed by good men:
and let my last end be like his; which is a phrase expressive of much the same thing as before: death is the end of a man in this world; and the end of a righteous man in it is peace, rest, salvation, and eternal life, or is what follows upon it, and he then enters into: some render it, "my reward" (b), which comes to much the same sense, the above being the righteous man's reward, not in a way of debt, but grace; others render the word, "my posterity" (c); but it is not certain Balaam had any, and if he had, his concern seems to be more for himself than for them.
(a) rectorum, Pagninus, Montanus, Piscator. (b) see Proverbs 24.20. (c) Sept.
I took thee to curse mine enemies: so he calls the Israelites, though they had never done him any wrong; nor committed any acts of hostility against him, nor showed any intention to commit any; nay, were forbidden by the Lord their God to contend in battle with him and his people:
and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether; or, "in blessing blessed" (g), done nothing but bless them, and that with many blessings, or pronounced them blessed, and prophesied of their blessedness, for their number, their safety, and of their happiness, not only in life, but at and after death.
(f) "pro me". (g) "benedixisti benedicendo", Pagninus, Montanus, Piscator.
must I not take heed to speak that which the Lord hath put in my mouth? pretending a great regard to the word of God, and to great carefulness to speak it, exactly and punctually as he received it, whereas he was forced to it, and could not do otherwise.
come, I pray thee, with me unto another place, from whence thou mayest see them; for he had a mighty notion that both the sight of the people, and the place from whence they were seen, would greatly contribute to answer the end he had in view, cursing the people:
thou shall see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all; for he thought, either that he was so charmed with so glorious a sight as the regular encampment of such a body of people was, that he could not find in his heart to curse them; or that he was so terrified at the sight of such a vast number of people, that he dared not attempt it; and therefore Balak proposed to have him to a place where he could only see a part of them and not the whole:
and curse me them from thence: that part, hoping that when he had cursed them he would gradually go on till he had cursed them all: but there is this objection to our version, and the sense it directs to, that Balaam had been brought to a place already, where he had seen the utmost part of the people, Numbers 22:41 wherefore some read (h) the middle clause in a parenthesis, and in the past tense "(for thou hast seen but the utmost part of them, and hast not seen them all)"; and therefore would have him come to a place where he might see them all, and curse them from thence.
(h) So Vatablus.
to the top of Pisgah; a high hill in this place, where perhaps the watch tower was, or, however, the watchman stood: this looked towards Jeshimon or Bethjesimoth, in the plain of Moab, where Israel lay encamped, see Numbers 21:20, and built seven altars, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar: as he had done before, Numbers 23:2.
(i) Onomastic Sacr. p. 935.
while I meet the Lord yonder; pointing to some place at a little distance, where he expected to meet the Lord, and have some instructions from him, which he seemed confident of, having met with him once already.
and said, go again unto Balak, and say thus; the words which are expressed in Numbers 23:18.
and Balak said unto him, what hath the Lord spoken? being in haste to know what it was, whether agreeable or not.
and said, rise up Balak, and hear; not from his seat, as Eglon a successor of his did, Judges 3:20 for he was now standing by his burnt offering; but the sense is, that he would raise his attention, and stir up himself with all diligence to hear what he was about to say:
hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor; or to his word, as the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan, which follow.
hath he said, and shall he not do it? or "hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" whether it be with regard to things temporal, spiritual, or eternal; for there is no variableness nor shadow of turning in his mind; he never forgets his word, he foresees all events, he is able to perform, and is true and faithful; and therefore whatever is gone out of his lips will never be altered, but will be most certainly fulfilled, Psalm 89:34 Isaiah 14:24.
and he hath blessed, and I cannot reverse it; God has blessed them, has determined to bless them, has promised to bless them, has blessed them in the victories he has given them, and will complete the blessing of them, by bringing them into the land he has given them: so the blessings which God has designed for his spiritual Israel, and bestows upon them, are irreversible; they are blessings indeed, spiritual ones, and are for ever; he blesses them with himself, as their covenant; God, their portion here and hereafter, with Christ his Son, and all things with him, with righteousness, peace, and pardon, with his Spirit and the grace thereof, with sonship, heirship, and eternal life.
the Lord his God is with him and which is his protection and defence, and in vain it is for any to be against him, or seek to hurt him; nothing is a greater happiness, or can be a greater safety, than to have the presence of God; it is this makes ordinances pleasant and delightful; by this saints are assisted in duty, and supported under trials; it is an instance of distinguishing and amazing goodness, and is what will make heaven be the happy place and state it is: all the three Targums interpret it of the Word of the Lord that is with them, and for their help; who is the Angel of God's presence, Immanuel, God with us; and who has promised to be with his churches and ministers to the end of the world, and will be with them through life, at death, and to all eternity:
and the shout of a king is among them; of God their King, the Shechinah of their King, as the Targum of Onkelos; his glorious Majesty, to whom they make their joyful acclamations, upon his appearing among them, and on the account of the victories he gives them over their enemies: or of the King Messiah, as the Targum of Jonathan, the King of kings, the Lord of lords; and so, in an ancient writing of the Jews (k), this passage is referred to the days of the Messiah: and this shout may respect the joyful sound of the Gospel, one part of which is, that Zion's King reigns, and which proclaims him to be King, and speaks of the things concerning his kingdom, both the kingdom of grace, and the kingdom of glory; some respect may be had to the sounding of the silver trumpets by the priests on various occasions in Israel; see Numbers 10:1.
(k) Pesikta in Ketoreth Hassamim in Numb. fol. 25. 4.
he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn; that is, not God, but the people he brought out of Egypt, being a mighty people, able to push their enemies and subdue them, being numerous and strong, especially as strengthened by the mighty God of Jacob; and therefore their strength is expressed by the strength of this creature; for be it what it will, whether the rhinoceros or the wild ox, or one kind of goats, as Bochart (l) thinks; whatever is meant by the term here must be a strong creature, see Deuteronomy 33:17 and great is the strength of the spiritual Israel of God, which they have from him to exercise grace, perform duty, withstand and overcome all their spiritual enemies, sin, Satan, and the world.
(l) Hierozoic. par. 1. l. 3. c. 27. col. 965.
according to this time it shall be said of Jacob, and of Israel, what hath God wrought! as with respect to this time as well as to time past, and with respect to time to come, even with respect to all times; it shall be said with wonder and amazement, what great things has God done for this people! as bringing them out of the land of Egypt, leading them through the Red sea, feeding and supplying them in the wilderness, protecting them from their enemies there, expelling the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, and setting them there in their stead; and wonderful things has God done for his spiritual Israel, in the redemption of them by Christ, in the beginning and carrying on the work of grace upon their hearts, by his Spirit; and at last he will bring them all to the heavenly Canaan of rest and happiness, and where this will be matter of admiration with them to all eternity, what has God done for us?
(m) "in Jahacob, in Israel", Pagninus, Montanus, &c.
and shall lift up himself as a young lion; both phrases denoting the courage and strength of the people of Israel, in attacking their enemies and engaging them:
he shall not lie down; being once roused up and engaged in war:
until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain; as the lion does when it has seized on a creature, tears it to pieces, eats its flesh and drinks its blood: this may refer to the slaughter of the Midianites that would be quickly made, and among the slain of whom Balaam himself was, Numbers 31:7, and to the slaughter and conquest of the Canaanites under Joshua, and taking their spoils.
(n) "ut leaena", V. L. Tigurine version. (o) Var. Hist. l. 12. c. 39. Vid. Herodot. Thalia, sive, l. 3. c. 108.
(p) So Fagius, Vatablus; with which agree the Arabic version, and Noldius, p. 221. No. 1024.
saying, all that the Lord speaketh, that I must do; which was very true, he was obliged to do as he had bid him, and speak what he had said unto him, though it was sore against his will; he would fain both have spoken and done otherwise, if he might have been permitted.
peradventure it will please God that thou mayest curse me them from thence; it may be God will give thee leave to curse the people from that place, being devoted to sacred service: this is the first time that Balak makes mention of the name of God; and he now seems to be satisfied that it was not Balaam's fault that he did not curse Israel, but that he was hindered by God, who would not suffer him to do it.
that looketh towards Jeshimon; as Pisgah also did, and very likely it was not far from it, since from thence they came hither, Numbers 23:14. Jeshimon is the same with Bethjesimoth, and so the Targum of Jonathan here calls it, a part of the plains of Moab, where Israel lay encamped, Numbers 33:49 so that from hence Balaam could have a full view of them.
build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams; which had been done in two places before, Numbers 23:1 the same sort of creatures, and the same number here as there, and these only clean creatures, such as were used in sacrifice by the true worshippers of God, and which, no doubt, Balaam had knowledge of, and therefore judged that those would be most acceptable to the Lord.