Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Divination. Septuagint, “to meet the birds.” The augurs judged of future events by the flying, eating, and other appearances of birds. Hebrew, “enchantments.” (Menochius) — Desert. The plains of Moab, where the Israelites were encamped. He found himself, as it were, involuntarily transported by the spirit of God, ver. 2. (Calmet) — Yet, for all that, he did not become more holy. Some work miracles, and are damned, Matthew vii. 22. (Worthington)
Ver. 3. Up. The same term only occurs again, (Lamentations iii. 8,) where it may have the same sense, though the Septuagint &c., give it here a quite opposite meaning, “the man whose eyes are open,” the prophet. But Balaam alludes to his not being able to see the angel as soon as his ass, as he does, ver. 4., and chap. xxii. 31. (Calmet)
Ver. 4. Falleth. Out of respect to God, or in a trance. Septuagint, “in sleep, his eyes are uncovered.” He was accustomed to commune with the spirits in the night, chap. xxii. 8. (Haydock) — He who is clear-sighted enough in teaching others, neglecteth his own salvation; or, being naturally incapable of diving into futurity, he derives this power solely from the operation of the spirit. (Menochius)
Ver. 6. Woody. Hebrew also “extensive torrents.” — Tabernacles. Hebrew ahalim, which some render lign-aloes, or stacte, as St. Jerome does, Psalm xliv. 9.; Proverbs vii. 17.; Canticle of Canticles iv. 14. The aloe-tree, however, was brought from India, and was not common in Arabia. The Syrian aloe was only a shrub; and this tree, of which Balaam speaks, must have been tall and beautiful. — Pitched. Hebrew, “planted.” (Calmet) — The Septuagint agree however with the Vulgate. (Haydock) — Side. Cedars grow very large on the top of Libanus, and are always green; the fruit resembles the pine-apple; the wood is incorruptible. (Sionita 6.) By humility we must rise to the summit of perfection. (Du Hamel)
Ver. 7. Waters. Septuagint, Chaldean, and Syriac, “From his seed a man shall spring, who shall have dominion over many nations.” This must be understood of the Messias; or, his posterity shall be very numerous; (see Proverbs v. 15, 16) or his country shall be well watered, and his crops luxuriant. — Agag. Saul lost his crown for sparing the king of the Amalecites, who always took this title, 1 Kings xv. 9. Hebrew may be translated, “Above Agag shall his (Israel’s) king be exalted, yet,” &c., or “and his kingdom shall increase.” Philo and St. Ambrose read, “his kingdom shall be raised on high.” The Samaritan and some copies of the Septuagint have, “Over Gog;” while others have Og, (Calmet) which may be referred to the king of Basan, who, though lately overthrown, had been possessed of great power and wealth. Israel was not satisfied with the extent of his dominions. (Haydock) — Those who read Gog, suppose that the victories of Christ over Antichrist are foretold. (Origen, hom. 17.; St. Cyprian, Test. i. 10.) (Calmet)
Ver. 8 – 9. Lioness. See ver. 22, 24, of the preceeding chapter. (Haydock) — This prediction was accomplished under the reigns of David and of Solomon. (Menochius)
Ver. 10. Together, to hinder him from being heard, and through indignation, Job xxxvii. 23.
Ver. 11. Honour, or reward.
Ver. 14. Counsel, out of my own head. This he was going to do, (Calmet) that he might not lose his reward, when again he found himself impelled by the Lord to speak what was contrary to his temporal interest. After complying reluctantly, God ceased to strive, as it were, with his rebellious will any longer, and left him to follow the bent of his corrupt heart. Upon which he proceeded to give that infernal counsel which involved many of the Israelites and himself in utter destruction. (Haydock) (Chap. xxxi. 16., and Apocalypse ii. 4.) — Days. Hebrew, “Come, I will admonish thee what this people shall do to thy people,” &c. Onkelos and Origen, (hom. 18. and 20.) give both senses. (Calmet) — Indeed, the transactions of both people were so blended, when they were fighting together, that to give the history of one, would be explaining the fortune of the other. (Haydock)
Ver. 16. Who knoweth. This is a new title which he had not before assumed, ver. 4.
Ver. 17. Him. The great personage whom I have in view, whose coming is deferred yet for many ages. (Haydock) — The whole prediction refers to the Messias, whom Balaam beheld by the eyes of his posterity, the wise men, (Calmet) or in the prophetic vision. (Menochius) — Some modern Rabbins pretend that he speaks of David, who was indeed a figure of Christ, (Calmet) and defeated the Moabites, 2 Kings v. 8. But the prophecy was perfectly fulfilled only in our Saviour’s person, who is called the bright and morning star, (Apocalypse xxii. 16,) to whom all nations were given for an inheritance, Psalm ii., and Acts i. 8. (Worthington) — Hebrew also, “I see this thy ruin, but,” &c. Septuagint, “I will shew to him, yet not now; I will make him happy, (Calmet); but (makarizo, I bless) it, or he does not approach.” God executed what he ever promised in favour of all Israel, when he sent them his beloved Son. — A Star. Christ, the light of the world, the splendour of his Father’s glory, whose birth was made known in the East, by a star, or meteor of unusual brightness. (Haydock) — This material star is not the primary object of the prediction, since it did not rise out of Jacob, but it pointed out the orient from on high, and then disappeared. The ancient Jews understood this passage of the Messias. (Onkelos, &c.) Hence the impostor, Ben. Cusiba, took advantage of this general opinion, to draw the people after him, as the person designated; when he assumed the title of Bar-chocheba, “the son of the star,” in the second age [century] of the church. — Of Seth. Though David, as the figure of the Messias, conquered the Moabites, he cannot be said to have subdued all nations, the descendants of Seth, by Noe, nor all the just of whom Seth was the father, in opposition to the children of Cain. But Christ will subject all the just to his empire, and will judge all mankind. Some, nevertheless, take the children of Seth to be the Moabites, who had been already mentioned; and Junius translates the Hebrew with allusion to the shameful origin of that people. The Samaritan may also signify, if we substitute d for r in korkor, as Jeremias also reads (chap. xlviii. 45,) kodkod. “He shall penetrate the ends of Moab, and shall overturn the walls of the children of elevation, or of pride.” There were many hills in the country of the Moabites, and the people were noted for haughtiness, Jeremias xlviii. 28, 29, 45. (Calmet) — Some also assert, that Seth was the name of a king, (Grotius) and of a town of Moab. (Rabbi Nathan) — But of this there is no proof. (Haydock)
Ver. 18. Idumea and Seir. The children of Esau shall acknowledge the dominion of Israel, from David to Josaphat, and again under Hircan, 3 Kings xi. 15., and 4 Kings iii. 20. (Josephus, [Antiquities?] xiii. 17.) (Calmet) — Not only the faithful Israelites, but also the profane and headstrong sons of Esau, shall bend the knee before Christ, who will subdue them by the power of his grace, and by the preaching of his disciples. (Haydock)
Ver. 19. City of this world. Jesus will destroy their evil habits, (Origen, hom. 18,) and will select some whose lives had been hitherto scandalous, to be his intimate friends. (Haydock) — He will save those who abandoned paganism, which had fixed its seat at the great city of Rome, (Calmet) and he will raise up Constantine (Menochius; Tirinus) to rule over Jacob, his people. At his second coming, he will exterminate all who shall have refused to acknowledge his sovereignty, and who have remained out of the city of his Church. (Haydock) — Those who have fled out of the cities for safety, shall be sought out by David, and destroyed. He slew all the male children of Edom, 3 Kings xv. 15. (Calmet) — In this prophecy, some particulars relate to him, as that he shall subject Moab and Idumea by the valour of his troops, while other things can belong only to Christ, the star, who shall destroy the remains of the city. (Menochius) — By changing one letter, Calmet would translate, “Princes shall spring from Jacob: but Seir shall perish from his cities.” A long train of princes in Jacob prefigured the Messias, while the Idumeans have been unknown for many ages. (Calmet)
Ver. 20. Nations, which rose up to attack the Hebrews. (Onkelos) — Saul will punish them, 1 Kings xv. The Amalecites were a very ancient people, known in the days of Abraham, Genesis xiv. 7. But now they are no more. (Haydock)
Ver. 21. Cinite. From the top of the hill, he cast his eyes across the Dead Sea, and beholding the strong holds of the Cinite, whose country had been promised to the Hebrews, he is inspired to foretel what would happen to this people. He alludes to their name, which signifies a nest; (Calmet) and to the manner in which those nations of Arabia lived, in caverns cut out of a rock. (Bellon, ii. 61.)
Ver. 22. Captive. The Samaritan insinuates that they should return, 1 Paralipomenon ii. 55. “Though thy nest should be entirely consumed, thy inhabitants shall return out of Assyria.” (Calmet) — Septuagint, “If to Beor (the capital) there should be nests of iniquity, the Assyrians will reduce thee to captivity.” Hebrew, “Yet the Cinite shall be wasted, till,” &c. (Haydock) — The family of Jethro was now among the Hebrews, and their posterity were suffered to dwell with the tribe of Juda. Abor afterwards removed into the tribe of Nephthali, and was led away by Salmanasar, 4 Kings xvii. (Menochius) — Some of the Cinites were mixed with the Amalecites, 1 Kings xv. 6. The Assyrians infested the neighbouring nations, as well as the Hebrews, under Sennacherib and Nabuchodonosor, as the prophets inform us. (Calmet)
Ver. 23. Things, of which he is about to speak. The time is remote, but very dreadful, when the Assyrians shall be chastised, in their turn, as well as the Greeks and Romans, who shall have destroyed Assur, and even the most favourite nation of God. Balaam began by announcing the prosperity of the Hebrews, but he at last gives some comfort to Balac, by letting him know that they shall also be laid waste, as well as his kingdom, and the powerful nations around him. This is the condition of all human things! (Haydock)
Ver. 24. Italy. Hebrew, “Cittim,” which Bochart endeavours to prove with great erudition to mean Italy; while Grotius contends it means Macedon, and Calmet doubts not but this is the import of the present text. The Macedonians, under Alexander and his successors, conquered the countries of Assyria, Palestine, &c. Antiochus Epiphanes raised a cruel persecution against the Jews. But many suppose that the Hebrews here mentioned, are the nations beyond the Euphrates. (Calmet) — Hebrew, “ships….shall afflict Heber, and he also shall perish for ever,” which seems to refer to Heber alone, and not to those who shall oppress them, as the Vulgate, Septuagint, &c., express it. (Haydock) — Indeed, we do not find that the Scripture mentions the end of the Roman empire, of which many explain this passage. (Calmet) — Grotius (Jur. ii. 9) maintained that it still subsisted in the German empire. Others think it will be destroyed only in the days of Antichrist. (Tirinus) (Daniel ii. 40.) — But many have asserted that it was overturned by the Goths, and that the Romans are the people who would reduce the Hebrews to the greatest misery, under Titus. (Menochius) — The kings of Macedon are, however, styled kings of Cethim, (1 Machabees i. 1., viii. 5) and they were the immediate subverters of the Persian empire, as theirs fell a prey to the Romans. (Theodoret, q. 44.) (Calmet)
Ver. 25. Place, in Aram. He returned soon after to the country of the Madianites, and was deservedly involved in their ruin. (Haydock) (Chap. xxxi. 8.) — Perhaps he only began his journey homeward, and stopped on the road. (Calmet) — As for Balac, he fought against Israel, (Josue xxiv. 9,) at least by endeavouring to get them cursed. Severus says, “he was overcome.” But we know not the particulars of the battle. (Haydock)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Balaam still continues to prophesy good things in favour of Israel.
1 And when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord that he should bless Israel, he went not as he had gone before, to seek divination: but setting his face towards the desert,
2 And lifting up his eyes, he saw Israel abiding in their tents by their tribes: and the spirit of God rushing upon him,
3 He took up his parable, and said: Balaam, the son of Beor, hath said: The man hath said, whose eye is stopped up:
4 The hearer of the words of God hath said, he that hath beheld the vision of the Almighty, he that falleth, and so his eyes are opened:
5 How beautiful are thy tabernacles, O Jacob, and thy tents, O Israel!
6 As woody valleys, as watered gardens near the rivers, as tabernacles which the Lord hath pitched, as cedars by the water side.
7 Water shall flow out of his bucket, and his seed shall be into many waters. For Agag shall his king be removed, and his kingdom shall be taken away.
8 God hath brought him out of Egypt, *whose strength is like to the rhinoceros. They shall devour the nations that are his enemies, and break their bones, and pierce them with arrows.
9 Lying down he hath slept as a lion, and as a lioness, whom none shall dare to rouse. He that blesseth thee, shall also himself be blessed: he that curseth thee shall be reckoned accursed.
10 And Balac being angry against Balaam, clapped his hands together and said: I called thee to curse my enemies, and thou, on the contrary, hast blessed them three times.
11 Return to thy place. I had determined indeed greatly to honour thee, but the Lord hath deprived thee of the honour designed for thee.
12 Balaam made answer to Balac: Did I not say to thy messengers, whom thou sentest to me:
13 *If Balac would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord, my God, to utter any thing of my own head, either good, or evil: but whatsoever the Lord shall say, that I will speak:
14 But yet going to my people, I will give thee counsel, what thy people shall do to this people in the latter days.
15 Therefore taking up his parable, again he said: Balaam, the son of Beor, hath said: The man whose eye is stopped up, hath said:
16 The hearer of the words of God hath said, who knoweth the doctrine of the Highest, and seeth the visions of the Almighty, who falling hath his eyes opened:
17 I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near. *A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel: and shall strike the chiefs of Moab, and shall waste all the children of Seth.
18 And he shall possess Idumea: the inheritance of Seir shall come to their enemies; but Israel shall do manfully.
19 Out of Jacob shall he come that shall rule, and shall destroy the remains of the city.
20 And when he saw Amalec, he took up his parable, and said: Amalec the beginning of nations, whose latter ends shall be destroyed.
21 He saw also the Cinite: and took up his parable, and said: Thy habitation indeed is strong: but though thou build thy nest in a rock,
22 And thou be chosen of the stock of Cin, how long shalt thou be able to continue? For Assur shall take thee captive.
23 And taking up his parable, again he said: Alas, who shall live when God shall do these things?
24 *They shall come in galleys from Italy, they shall overcome the Assyrians, and shall waste the Hebrews, and at the last they themselves also shall perish.
25 And Balaam rose, and returned to his place: Balac also returned the way that he came.
8: Numbers xxiii. 22.
13: Numbers xxii. 18.
17: Matthew ii. 2.
24: Daniel xi. 30.