The last of the four parables of Balaam brings before us the world’s total and final collapse under the judgments of God. It is occupied exclusively with the future and is divided into four prophecies, each part commencing with the words, “he took up this parable and said” (Num 24:15, 20, 21, 23).
The first of these prophecies refers to the two nations that were related to Israel, Edom and Moab (vv 17-19). The second refers to Amalek, Israel’s first enemy (v 20). The third deals with the Kenites who were allied to Israel (vv 21-22), and the fourth has reference to the great world powers of that day (vv 23-24). The nations mentioned here seem to be representative of the nations in the “latter days” when the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, is manifested in all His glory and majesty.
At the commencement of the third parable, Balaam describes himself as “the man whose eyes are open,” “which heard the words of God,” “which saw the vision of the Almighty,” and “falling into a trance, but having his eyes open” (Num 24:3-4). In the fourth parable he adds to this description, “and knew the knowledge of the Most High” (v 16). The Most High is God’s well-known millennial title. How solemn to note the manner in which Balaam introduces himself and, yet, with all his privileges and knowledge, he was found opposed to the people of God and died in rebellion against God (Num 31:8, 16). How dreadful! It is possible to have a great knowledge of the things of God and yet be an enemy of God.
The prophecy commences with the coming of the Messiah: “I shall see Him, but not now,” (i.e., He has not already appeared). “I shall behold Him, but not nigh” (i.e., He is not to appear immediately, but in some future day) – the latter days (v 14); “there shall come a Star out of Jacob … a Scepter shall rise out of Israel” (v 17).
In Genesis 49:10, the reference is to the line of Judah, whereas here it is to the nation. The Scepter is an emblem of regal authority and here it refers to the One in Whom that authority resides. The Star speaks of the Messiah in His imperial greatness and splendor, and the Scepter of the Messiah in His absolute authority and sovereignty. He it is Who will destroy His enemies and raise up Israel to prominence.
The first enemies of Israel mentioned are Moab and Edom. Moab stands first for two reasons: (1) Balak, who was being addressed, was king of the Moabites and therefore the future of his people is mentioned first; (2) the hostility of Moab is emphasized in Balak’s desire to curse Israel. Thus Moab shall be smitten: “For in this mountain shall the hand of the Lord rest, and Moab shall be trodden down under him, even as straw is trodden down for the dunghill” (Isa 25:10).
“Sheth” means “tumult” and thus the reference is to the subjugation of all the sons of confusion. “Edom shall be a possession; Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies.” Edom is the name of the people; Seir is the name of the country. Edom that refused Israel even a passage through their land shall become the possession of their enemies (Amos 9:12). They opposed Israel and became their enemy, but Israel shall “acquire strength” or “do valiantly” and Edom shall fall (Isa 11:14). Again, the emphasis is upon the Ruler out of Jacob, the Messiah – the Lord Jesus Christ. Keil amd Delitzsch say the word “city” in verse 19 is employed in a collective and general sense, as in Psalm 72:16. Every city in which there is a remnant of Edom shall be destroyed (Isa 63:1-3; Jer 49:17-22; Joel 3:13).
Although Edom was near to Israel in blood relationship, yet their enmity against Israel was persistent. In some way they took vengeance against the house of Judah and took advantage of Israel’s calamities, showing their hatred and enmity. In a coming day, Israel, so shamefully treated, will be used to inflict judgment upon Edom (Ez 25:12-14).
The second prophecy in this parable deals with Amalek. The expression, “the first of the nations” (v 20) does not indicate that they were the first nation in time or the most distinguished nation, but that they were the first to attack Israel after their deliverance out of Egypt (Exo 17:8-16). The result of such hostility was that God declared, “I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Exo 17:14). Thus Israel was commanded to blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven when they were established in the land (Deut 25:17-19). In the reign of Saul there was only a partial fulfillment of this and Saul lost the kingdom because of his disobedience to the Lord’s command. This is a solemn lesson to all who are marked by disobedience. The Amalekites who were spared were subdued by David (2Sam 8:12), but not destroyed (cf. 1Chron 4:42-43 and Esther 3:1, 5-6). Haman descended from Agag (1Sam 15:20). The end of Amalek will be utter destruction.
Surely in these judgments we see clearly the righteous dealings of God with men. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal 6:7). That principle is seen here relative to the judgment of nations. This is also a reminder that we cannot act as we like without suffering the consequences. We do well to govern our lives by the Word of God.