Balaam, a fascinating and enigmatic early prophetic conjurer appears in Numbers chapters 22 to 24. His name means “lord” or “devourer” of people, and he was at one time a famous soothsayer (Josh. 13:22). He and his family must have been both respected and feared, for he was the son of Beor, a name meaning “consumer,” and appearing in Chaldee form as “Bosor” or “destruction.” He came from a place on the Euphrates River in northern Mesopotamia called Pethor, meaning “interpretation.” This is in the region of Aram (Num. 23:7) the homeland of the biblical patriarchs.
Dr. B.H. Carroll, in “The Interpretation of the English Bible” tells us, “Who was Balaam? He was a descendant of Abraham, as much as the Israelites were. He was a Midianite and his home was near where the kinsmen of Abraham, Nahor and Laban, lived. They possessed from the days of Abraham a very considerable knowledge of the true God. He was not only a descendant of Abraham and possessed the knowledge of the true God through traditions handed down, as in the case of Job and Melchizedek, but he was a prophet of Jehovah. That is confirmed over and over again. Unfortunately he was also a soothsayer and a diviner, adding that himself to his prophetic office for the purpose of making money.”
Was Balaam an historical figure? The Biblical Background Commentary reports, “In 1967 a Dutch archaeological expedition led by H. J. Franken discovered some inscribed pieces of plaster at a site in Jordan known as Deir ‘Allah. The fragments are apparently written in Aramaic and date to about 850 B.C. They mention Balaam son of Beor, the same figure described as a “seer” in Numbers 22-24. Although the text is very fragmentary, with many breaks and uncertain words, it can be established that Balaam was a seer who received a divine message during the night and that his message was not what his neighbors expected to hear.” A very similar outcome resulted from Balaam’s prophecy concerning latter day Israel!
In the first of four oracles given by Balaam, two important prophetic aspects of latter-day Israel are given by which we can identify them: separate and numerous. Numbers 23:9 says, ” For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” (KJV) What does it mean, “the people shall dwell alone?” Israel was not separate, dwelling alone, when the prophecy was given. In fact, Deuteronomy 7 lists seven distinct nations who resided with the Israelites in Canaan during the pre-exilic era. Clearly, then, this prophecy had a fulfillment after God’s people were removed from the pagan tribes of the land of Palestine in the Babylonian and Assyrian exiles of 732 BC to 537 BC. Noted 18th century scholar, John Gill, stated, ” Israel 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 [rabbinic] Targum of Jerusalem, ‘they shall not be mixed.”’
Bible translators verify this. The Bible in Basic English translates this, “it is a people made separate, not to be numbered among the nations.” Similarly, The Easy to Read version states, “They live alone. They are not part of another nation.” How was this fulfilled in history? For many long centuries the Jewish people have been scattered throughout the world and have formed a part of many other nations, including America and Canada today. The fulfillment of this prophecy is made clearer in The Orthodox Jewish Bible, “the people shall live apart, and shall not be reckoned among the Goyim.” This recognizes that the word “nations” in our English versions is a translation of the Hebrew, “Goyim.” The term, “Goyim” is used by the Jews to refer to the Gentiles among whom they dwell, yet the prophecy said that would not happen! Clearly this prophecy is not realized in the modern Jewish people.
However, another branch of God’s people, Ephraim, or the ten tribe House of Israel, were exiled by the Assyrians in three main conquests between 732 – 676 B.C. and were thereafter lost to recorded history. Evidence in the Apocrypha (2 Esdras 13:40-45) reveals that they migrated north through the upper reaches of the Euphrates River in the direction of the Caucasus and Europe. Their descendants are called Caucasian due to their first appearance in Europe in the Caucasus Mountain area. Early northern Europe was indeed a nearly empty region, “a land where never mankind dwelt” (2 Esdras 13:41).
A second characteristic of Israel was to be their numerousness. This was verified in the Abrahamic Covenant, which foretold that Israel would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore, the dust of the earth, and the stars in the sky (Gen. 13:16; 15:5; 22:16-18). Balaam’s prophecy states in Numbers 23:10, “Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!” (KJV) The word, dust, Hebrew aphar, means sand or soil, and symbolizes seed or descendants. Reformation scholar John Wycliffe (1394) translated (in modern spelling), “Who may number the dust, that is, the kindred, of Jacob, and know the number of the generation of Israel?” Similarly, the ancient Septuagint translation states, “Who has exactly calculated the seed of Jacob, and who shall number the families of Israel?” This implication of great population growth contrasts with the Jewish people, who have frequently been numbered and are declining in population, along with their Samaritan brethren who are nearly extinct.
The original Hebrew text additionally clearly speaks of a “fourth part,” (Hebrew, roba). The Amplified Version says, “Who can count the dust, the descendants, of Jacob and the number of the fourth part of Israel?” John Gill comments, “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 Num. 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 Israel of God…are in themselves, and will be when all together, a great number, which no man can number, Rev. 7:9.”
Similarly, the Pulpit Commentary says, “The fourth part of Israel is so rendered by the Targums, as alluding to the four great camps into which the host was divided.” Early Israel dwelled in the wilderness in a square formation, with three tribes on each side, one of which was a quadrant leader. These four quadrant leading tribes were symbolized in their heraldry as a lion (Judah); an ox, stag, or unicorn (Ephraim); a man (Reuben); and an eagle or serpent (Dan). Each of these tribes had distinct characteristics and prophetic fulfillments (Gen. 49; Deut. 33) to be realized in the latter days (Gen. 49:1). A fuller discussion of Israel heraldry in Western nations with full color illustrations is found in the book, “Symbols of Our Celto-Saxon Heritage” by W.H. Bennett, available from CBIA at www.migrations.info.
The fact that there are four parts to Israel, with distinct histories and prophetic fulfillments, indicates that all of Israel cannot be found only in the relatively small Jewish community today.
The Haydock Bible Commentary adds, “God had promised to multiply the seed of Abraham as the dust of the earth, Genesis xiii. 16. Balaam had just beheld several thousands of them, and in rapture, exclaims, according to the Hebrew, “Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel?” Their camp was divided into four great battalions, surrounding the ark and the Levites. Who can tell the number of one of these divisions, much less of all the multitudes there assembled, and what millions may, in a short time, proceed from them?”
Yes, many millions have descended from each of these four parts of Israel, and completed numerous prophecies of Scripture, even while most ministers are blind concerning their fulfillment. Some recognize that all four prophetic parts have been realized in the Western European Caucasian nations, but assume that the Abrahamic Covenant has only a spiritual aspect. One well-known biblical commentator, the late Arno C. Gaebelin, while not understanding the identification of Israel in the world today, was moved to say, “But what was said of Israel is also true, spiritually, of the church.” We would be wise to add, what is true spiritually is also true literally!