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Numbers 24:17

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

I shall see him, but not now - Or, I shall see him, but he is not now. I shall behold him, but not nigh - I shall have a full view of him, but the time is yet distant. That is, The person of whom I am now prophesying does not at present exist among these Israelites, nor shall he appear in this generation. There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel - a person eminent for wisdom, and formidable for strength and power, shall arise as king among this people. He shall smite the corners of Moab - he shall bring the Moabites perfectly under subjection; (See 2 Samuel 8:2;); and destroy all the children of Sheth. The original word קרקר karkar, from קרה karah, to meet, associate, join, blend, and the like, is variously translated; vastabit, he shall waste, Vulgate - προνομευσει, shall prey on, Sept - ישלוט yishlot, shall rule over, Targum - Shall shake, Arabic - barbend, shall put a yoke on, Pers - Shall unwall, Ainsworth, etc., etc.

The Targum of Onkelos translates the whole passage thus:

"I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but he is not near. When a king shall arise from the house of Jacob, and the Messiah be anointed from the house of Israel, he shall slay the princes of Moab, and rule over all the children of men."

The Jerusalem Targum is a little different:

"A king shall arise from the house of Jacob, a redeemer and governor from the house of Israel, who shall slay the chiefs of the Moabites, and empty out and destroy all the children of the East."

Rabbi Moses ben Maimon has, in my opinion, perfectly hit the meaning of the prophecy in the following paraphrase of the text:

"I shall see him, but not now. This is David - I shall behold him, but not nigh. This is the king Messiah - A Star shall come out of Jacob. This is David - And a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel. This is the king Messiah - And shall smite the corners of Moab. This is David, (as it is written, 2 Samuel 8:2; : And he smote Moab, casting them down to the ground) - And shall destroy all the children of Sheth. This is the king Messiah, of whom it is written, ( Psalm 72:8;), He shall have dominion from sea to sea."

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Render, I see him, though he be not now: I behold him, though he be not near. Balaam here describes what is actually before him in inward vision.

Him - i. e., the prince, represented in the succeeding words by the Star and Scepter. The star has among all nations served as a symbol of regal power and splendour: and the birth and future glory of great monarchs were believed by the ancients to be heralded by the appearance of stars or comets: compare also Isaiah 14:12; Daniel 8:10; Revelation 1:16, Revelation 1:20; Revelation 2:1; Revelation 9:1.

The corners of Moab - literally, “the two sides of Moab,” i. e., the length and breadth of the land: compare Jeremiah 48:45.

Destroy all the children of Sheth - Rather, “overthrow the sons of tumult,” i. e., the warriors of Moab, whose valour and fierceness is frequently referred to elsewhere (compare Exodus 15:15; Isaiah 15:4; Isaiah 16:6, etc.) Compare Jeremiah 48:45.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Under the powerful influence of the Spirit of prophecy, Balaam foretold the future prosperity and extensive dominion of Israel. Balaam boasts that his eyes are open. The prophets were in old times called seers. He had heard the words of God, which many do who neither heed them, nor hear God in them. He knew the knowledge of the Most High. A man may be full of the knowledge of God, yet utterly destitute of the grace of God. He calls God the Most High and the Almighty. No man could seem to express a greater respect to God; yet he had no true fear of him, love to him, nor faith in him; so far a man may go toward heaven, and yet come short of it at last. Here is Balaam's prophecy concerning Him who should be the crown and glory of his people Israel; who is David in the type; but our Lord Jesus, the promised Messiah, is chiefly pointed at, and of him it is an illustrious prophecy. Balaam, a wicked man, shall see Christ, but shall not see him nigh; not see him as Job, who saw him as his Redeemer, and saw him for himself. 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. He shall come out of Jacob, and Israel, as a Star and a Sceptre; the former denoting his glory and lustre; the latter his power and authority. Christ shall be King, not only of Jacob and Israel, but of all the world; so that all shall be either governed by his golden sceptre, or dashed in pieces by his iron rod. Balaam prophesied concerning the Amalekites and Kenites, part of whose country he had now in view. Even a nest in a rock will not be a lasting security. Here is a prophecy that looks as far forward as to the Greeks and Romans. He acknowledges all the revolutions of states and kingdoms to be the Lord's doing. These events will make such desolations, that scarcely any will escape. They that live then, will be as brands plucked out of the fire. May God fit us for the worst of times! Thus Balaam, instead of cursing the church, curses Amalek the first, and Rome the last enemy of the church. Not Rome pagan only, but Rome papal also; antichrist and all the antichristian powers. Let us ask ourselves, Do we in knowledge, experience, or profession, excel Balaam? No readiness of speech, even in preaching or prayer, no gifts of knowledge or prophecy, are in themselves different from, or superior to the boasted gifts of him who loved the wages of unrighteousness, and died the enemy of God. Simple dependence on the Redeemer's atoning blood and sanctifying grace, cheerful submission to the Divine will, constant endeavours to glorify God and benefit his people, these are less splendid, but far more excellent gifts, and always accompany salvation. No boasting hypocrite ever possessed these; yet the feeblest believer has something of them, and is daily praying for more of them.
Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 59

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him.” DA 59.1

The wise men from the East were philosophers. They belonged to a large and influential class that included men of noble birth, and comprised much of the wealth and learning of their nation. Among these were many who imposed on the credulity of the people. Others were upright men who studied the indications of Providence in nature, and who were honored for their integrity and wisdom. Of this character were the wise men who came to Jesus. DA 59.2

The light of God is ever shining amid the darkness of heathenism. As these magi studied the starry heavens, and sought to fathom the mystery hidden in their bright paths, they beheld the glory of the Creator. Seeking clearer knowledge, they turned to the Hebrew Scriptures. In their own land were treasured prophetic writings that predicted the coming of a divine teacher. Balaam belonged to the magicians, though at one time a prophet of God; by the Holy Spirit he had foretold the prosperity of Israel and the appearing of the Messiah; and his prophecies had been handed down by tradition from century to century. But in the Old Testament the Saviour's advent was more clearly revealed. The magi learned with joy that His coming was near, and that the whole world was to be filled with a knowledge of the glory of the Lord. DA 59.3

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Ellen G. White
Education, 161

The melody of praise is the atmosphere of heaven; and when heaven comes in touch with the earth, there is music and song—“thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.” Isaiah 51:3. Ed 161.4

Above the new-created earth, as it lay, fair and unblemished, under the smile of God, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Job 38:7. So human hearts, in sympathy with heaven, have responded to God's goodness in notes of praise. Many of the events of human history have been linked with song. Ed 161.5

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Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 60

The wise men had seen a mysterious light in the heavens upon that night when the glory of God flooded the hills of Bethlehem. As the light faded, a luminous star appeared, and lingered in the sky. It was not a fixed star nor a planet, and the phenomenon excited the keenest interest. That star was a distant company of shining angels, but of this the wise men were ignorant. Yet they were impressed that the star was of special import to them. They consulted priests and philosophers, and searched the scrolls of the ancient records. The prophecy of Balaam had declared, “There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Numbers 24:17. Could this strange star have been sent as a harbinger of the Promised One? The magi had welcomed the light of heaven-sent truth; now it was shed upon them in brighter rays. Through dreams they were instructed to go in search of the newborn Prince. DA 60.1

As by faith Abraham went forth at the call of God, “not knowing whither he went” (Hebrews 11:8); as by faith Israel followed the pillar of cloud to the Promised Land, so did these Gentiles go forth to find the promised Saviour. The Eastern country abounded in precious things, and the magi did not set out empty-handed. It was the custom to offer presents as an act of homage to princes or other personages of rank, and the richest gifts the land afforded were borne as an offering to Him in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed. It was necessary to journey by night in order to keep the star in view; but the travelers beguiled the hours by repeating traditional sayings and prophetic utterances concerning the One they sought. At every pause for rest they searched the prophecies; and the conviction deepened that they were divinely guided. While they had the star before them as an outward sign, they had also the inward evidence of the Holy Spirit, which was impressing their hearts, and inspiring them with hope. The journey, though long, was a happy one to them. DA 60.2

They have reached the land of Israel, and are descending the Mount of Olives, with Jerusalem in sight, when, lo, the star that has guided them all the weary way rests above the temple, and after a season fades from their view. With eager steps they press onward, confidently expecting the Messiah's birth to be the joyful burden of every tongue. But their inquiries are in vain. Entering the holy city, they repair to the temple. To their amazement they find none who seem to have a knowledge of the newborn king. Their questions call forth no expressions of joy, but rather of surprise and fear, not unmingled with contempt. DA 60.3

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Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 315

Oh, what a lesson is this wonderful story of Bethlehem! How it rebukes our unbelief, our pride and self-sufficiency. How it warns us to beware, lest by our criminal indifference we also fail to discern the signs of the times, and therefore know not the day of our visitation. GC 315.1

It was not alone upon the hills of Judea, not among the lowly shepherds only, that angels found the watchers for Messiah's coming. In the land of the heathen also were those that looked for Him; they were wise men, rich and noble, the philosophers of the East. Students of nature, the Magi had seen God in His handiwork. From the Hebrew Scriptures they had learned of the Star to arise out of Jacob, and with eager desire they awaited His coming, who should be not only the “Consolation of Israel,” but a “Light to lighten the Gentiles,” and “for salvation unto the ends of the earth.” Luke 2:25, 32; Acts 13:47. They were seekers for light, and light from the throne of God illumined the path for their feet. While the priests and rabbis of Jerusalem, the appointed guardians and expounders of the truth, were shrouded in darkness, the Heaven-sent star guided these Gentile strangers to the birthplace of the newborn King. GC 315.2

It is “unto them that look for Him” that Christ is to “appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” Hebrews 9:28. Like the tidings of the Saviour's birth, the message of the second advent was not committed to the religious leaders of the people. They had failed to preserve their connection with God, and had refused light from heaven; therefore they were not of the number described by the apostle Paul: “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.” 1 Thessalonians 5:4, 5. GC 315.3

The watchmen upon the walls of Zion should have been the first to catch the tidings of the Saviour's advent, the first to lift their voices to proclaim Him near, the first to warn the people to prepare for His coming. But they were at ease, dreaming of peace and safety, while the people were asleep in their sins. Jesus saw His church, like the barren fig tree, covered with pretentious leaves, yet destitute of precious fruit. There was a boastful observance of the forms of religion, while the spirit of true humility, penitence, and faith—which alone could render the service acceptable to God—was lacking. Instead of the graces of the Spirit there were manifested pride, formalism, vainglory, selfishness, oppression. A backsliding church closed their eyes to the signs of the times. God did not forsake them, or suffer His faithfulness to fail; but they departed from Him, and separated themselves from His love. As they refused to comply with the conditions, His promises were not fulfilled to them. GC 315.4

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Ellen G. White
Patriarchs and Prophets, 475

Moses saw the chosen people established in Canaan, each of the tribes in its own possession. He had a view of their history after the settlement of the Promised Land; the long, sad story of their apostasy and its punishment was spread out before him. He saw them, because of their sins, dispersed among the heathen, the glory departed from Israel, her beautiful city in ruins, and her people captives in strange lands. He saw them restored to the land of their fathers, and at last brought under the dominion of Rome. PP 475.1

He was permitted to look down the stream of time and behold the first advent of our Saviour. He saw Jesus as a babe in Bethlehem. He heard the voices of the angelic host break forth in the glad song of praise to God and peace on earth. He beheld in the heavens the star guiding the Wise Men of the East to Jesus, and a great light flooded his mind as he called those prophetic words, “There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Numbers 24:17. He beheld Christ's humble life in Nazareth, His ministry of love and sympathy and healing, His rejection by a proud, unbelieving nation. Amazed he listened to their boastful exaltation of the law of God, while they despised and rejected Him by whom the law was given. He saw Jesus upon Olivet as with weeping He bade farewell to the city of His love. As Moses beheld the final rejection of that people so highly blessed of Heaven—that people for whom he had toiled and prayed and sacrificed, for whom he had been willing that his own name should be blotted from the book of life; as he listened to those fearful words, “Behold your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38), his heart was wrung with anguish, and bitter tears fell from his eyes, in sympathy with the sorrow of the Son of God. PP 475.2

He followed the Saviour to Gethsemane, and beheld the agony in the garden, the betrayal, the mockery and scourging—the crucifixion. Moses saw that as he had lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of God must be lifted up, that whosoever would believe on Him “should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:15. Grief, indignation, and horror filled the heart of Moses as he viewed the hypocrisy and satanic hatred manifested by the Jewish nation against their Redeemer, the mighty Angel who had gone before their fathers. He heard Christ's agonizing cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Mark 15:34. He saw Him lying in Joseph's new tomb. The darkness of hopeless despair seemed to enshroud the world. But he looked again, and beheld Him coming forth a conqueror, and ascending to heaven escorted by adoring angels and leading a multitude of captives. He saw the shining gates open to receive Him, and the host of heaven with songs of triumph welcoming their Commander. And it was there revealed to him that he himself would be one who should attend the Saviour, and open to Him the everlasting gates. As he looked upon the scene, his countenance shone with a holy radiance. How small appeared the trials and sacrifices of his life when compared with those of the Son of God! how light in contrast with the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”! 2 Corinthians 4:17. He rejoiced that he had been permitted, even in a small measure, to be a partaker in the sufferings of Christ. PP 475.3

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Ellen G. White
Prophets and Kings, 684

Again, on the borders of the Promised Land, the coming of the world's Redeemer was foretold in the prophecy uttered by Balaam: PK 684.1

Through Moses, God's purpose to send His Son as the Redeemer of the fallen race, was kept before Israel. On one occasion, shortly before his death, Moses declared, “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye shall hearken.” Plainly had Moses been instructed for Israel concerning the work of the Messiah to come. “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee,” was the word of Jehovah to His servant; “and will put My words in His mouth; and He shall speak unto them all that I shall command Him.” Deuteronomy 18:15, 18. PK 684.3

In patriarchal times the sacrificial offerings connected with divine worship constituted a perpetual reminder of the coming of a Saviour, and thus it was with the entire ritual of the sanctuary services throughout Israel's history. In the ministration of the tabernacle, and of the temple that afterward took its place, the people were taught each day, by means of types and shadows, the great truths relative to the advent of Christ as Redeemer, Priest, and King; and once each year their minds were carried forward to the closing events of the great controversy between Christ and Satan, the final purification of the universe from sin and sinners. The sacrifices and offerings of the Mosaic ritual were ever pointing toward a better service, even a heavenly. The earthly sanctuary was “a figure for the time then present,” in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices; its two holy places were “patterns of things in the heavens;” for Christ, our great High Priest, is today “a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.” Hebrews 9:9, 23; 8:2. PK 684.4

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