In two previous posts, I introduced Michael Rydelnik’s comments on textual criticism and Messianic prophecy, and then gave an example of how this plays out in Numbers 24:7. Rydelnik’s content on textual criticism is excellent, but I expressed some reasons preventing me from agreeing with his take on Numbers 24:7. I informed him that about the post, and invited him to reply to my disagreements. Graciously, he responded with some thoughtful rebuttals, which I have shared here.
Michael Rydelnik on Numbers 24:7
My original words are in bold italics, and Rydelnik’s replies in regular type.
Despite the widespread nature of the variant, I couldn’t find a modern English text that prefers the “Gog” reading over “Agag”.
I find this irrelevant. Having been part of a translation team for a modern translation, I found the editors reluctant to adopt a reading that is distinctive or different. I was part of a team of OT scholars that went to the editor in chief of this modern translation, asking him to revise this translation to “Gog.” He replied that the text critical evidence seemed to support the Gog reading but he said he would find it hard to convince the publisher to adopt a reading so radically different from other translations. Sadly, this is no different than commentary tradition. “It’s always been understood this way so we can’t change.”
Rather than a distant term, “latter days” could merely be relative, in which case it could easily apply to David, who was certainly in Balaam’s future.
Of course it could be translated “in the future” but the simplest and most literal rendering is the “end of days” or the “latter days.” The phrase is used repeatedly in key poetic portions of the Pentateuch (Gen 49:1; Deut 31:29) that have eschatological significance (for example, Gen 49:8-12).
Significantly, Num 24 refers back to Gen 49:9 (Num 24:9). Also, later in Num 24, in the 4th Balaam oracle, it speaks in seemingly eschatological terms, not merely future terms (Num 24:17, “I seem Him but not now, I behold Him but not near”). To me, B’acharit hayamim should be translated according to its literal meaning: latter days.
Rydelnik doesn’t explain why the language in Num 24:7 is too exalted to be describing David.
David was a great king but he did not have an exalted kingdom (Num 24:7). David was the founder of the dynasty, not the one who would bring the kingdom to an exalted state. In fact, Solomon’s kingdom was even greater than David’s. The phrase “His kingdom shall be exalted” is too strong to describe David. The ultimate defeat of the many nations in Num 24:20-24 (including Rome: “Ships of Kittim”; Dan 11:30) indicates a kingdom more exalted than David’s.
While Ezek 38:17 does imply that Gog is referred to elsewhere in Scripture, this may not be a reference to the variant reading in Num 24:7. According to Ezek 38:17, Gog was spoken of by “my servants the prophets of Israel”, of which Balaam was certainly not a member!
Yes, but Moses, author of Numbers, was a prophet. Ezekiel saw Numbers 24:5-9 as part of “The Book of Moses” not “The Book of Balaam”.
My Bible has Jeremiah 6:22-23 as a related text, which may be a better contender than the textual variant.
Intertextual references by biblical authors are to be preferred over cross references by an editor in a Bible company.
Daniel Block, an Ezekiel expert, also suggests a deceptively simple interpretation that the answer to the question in Ezekiel 38:17 is “no”! That is, Gog is not an elsewhere-predicted agent that God uses to judge Israel, but instead his destructive intentions will be thwarted by God.
Dan Block is a great scholar but I think his “deceptively simple interpretation” is more simplistic than simple. Ezekiel 38:17 seems to have a specific individual in mind.
Again, I very much appreciate Dr. Rydelnik taking the time to offer these responding thoughts. I will need to give his responses some thought as they certainly address my concerns! If Numbers 24:7 is a direct prediction of Jesus, it certainly makes good sense of related issues such as early Jewish opinion of this as a messianic text.
Be on the lookout in the future for some more posts on Messianic prophecy. I am teaching through the Psalms this semester at CCBCY, so I will probably be thinking out loud on this blog.