We have already looked at the first two prophecies in this fourth parable of Balaam dealing with Moab, Edom, and Amalek (Num 24:15-20). The third prophecy has reference to the Kenites (vv 21-22). Their origin cannot be determined and it is suggested that they were divided into two distinct groups. In the main they dwelt among the Canaanites (Gen 15:19) and were viewed as the enemies of Israel. However, some dwelt among the Midianites and became allied to Israel when Moses married Zipporah and Hobab went to Israel in the desert (Num 10:29). It seems that this section helped Israel in Judges 4 and intermarried with the line of Caleb (1 Chron 2:55).
The Kenites figure prominently in the history of Israel through Rechab who was known for his zeal for God (2 Kings 10:15-24 cf. Jer 35). It is suggested that the Kenites in general are before us in Numbers 24 and that, although they were never marked by the outward hostility of other nations, they did not fully enter into the relationship with Israel. The expression “strong is thy dwelling place, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock” may be figurative of their act of associating themselves with Israel. Nevertheless, they will not be safe from the invasion of the Assyrians. “The Kenite shall be wasted, until Asshur shall carry thee away captive” (v 22). This verse indicates either that the Kenites shall only be overthrown by the Assyrian power or that they shall endure until Israel itself shall be carried away captive by Asshur. Whichever view is taken, it is evident that we are not being introduced to one of the great powers of the end times. The mention of Asshur leads us on into the fourth and final prophecy of this fourth parable.
The fourth prophecy brings us to the climax when eastern and western powers clash and collapse (vv 23-24). Such will be the universal dealings of God with men that the prophecy commences with the question, “Alas, who shall live when God doeth this” (v 23)? This question does not refer to what has gone before, but to what follows. It is suggested that the meaning is, “who shall preserve his life in the universal catastrophe that is now coming?” The prophecy refers to the clash between the eastern (Asshur) and western (Chittim) powers in the end times. Thus, right at the beginning of Israel’s history, Balaam speaks of sovereignty being in the hands of the Gentiles from the east first and then the Gentiles of the west. Balaam names world powers before they were in existence. Centuries later, Daniel speaks of four kingdoms having dominion, the first two Asiatic and the last two European (Dan 2). In Balaam’s prophecies we have the prediction of Gentile sovereignty and its overthrow. We, therefore, have the germ of all that is to follow and it is significantly declared through the lips of a Gentile and to a Gentile king. The prophecy does not go into great detail. F. W. Grant has said, “Here is not the place for long prophetic detail. We do not get the details here, but a germ of all that is developed in later prophecies. This prophecy merely gives the inevitable result when the ‘Sceptre shall rise out of Israel.’”
“Ships shall come from the coast of Chittim” – Chittim was a son of Javan, son of Japheth (Kittim of Gen 10:4), but all seem agreed that the reference is to Cyprus with its capital of Citium being used to signify a western power (cf. Dan 11:30). Thus a western power shall afflict Asshur and Eber. Asshur, all agree, speaks of the Assyrians. However, some take Eber as referring to the Hebrews, while others feel it refers to Gentiles on the other side of the Euphrates, not actually Asshur, but associated with Asshur. Whichever view is taken, the emphasis is upon a power from the west afflicting both Asshur and Eber.
Asshur, the power in the third prophecy, is now afflicted or humbled in this prophecy – “his latter end shall be that he perish forever” (v 20). Gentile dominion, whether eastern, western or a combination of both, will be terminated with the coming of Israel’s Messiah. Thus the prophecy emphasizes the ultimate triumph of Israel over all Gentile powers through their great and glorious King. The seed in this fourth parable is developed in later prophecies where we see the ten-kingdom confederacy having possession of Assyria from where the Assyrian of Isaiah 10-12 arises at the little horn (Dan 7-8). He will attain to supremacy and sovereignty over the kingdom and hold universal sway (Rev 13:8; 17:17) only to meet his awful doom at the hand of Israel’s almighty King, the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev 19).
Thus we have seen one power after another brought before us only to be trodden under foot by Israel’s great Ruler. Rev. F. Whitfield, M.A. from his book Balaam’s Parables, says “the Star out of Jacob shall rise and gild the clouds of that dark day with radiance. The Sceptre out of Israel shall arise and break in pieces every enemy. The Sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings and scatter every cloud, heal every disease, dry every tear, and speak peace to every heart.”
What a privilege, what a dignity it is to be associated with such a glorious Person. We should live in keeping with that privilege and dignity.