on Numbers 24 :6
Lign aloes which the Lord hath planted - Or, as the tents which the Lord hath pitched; for it is the same word, אהלים ohalim, which is used in the 5th verse. But from other parts of Scripture we find that the word also signifies a species of tree, called by some the sandal tree, and by others the lignum or wood aloes. This tree is described as being eight or ten feet high, with very large leaves growing at the top; and it is supposed that a forest of those at some distance must bear some resemblance to a numerous encampment. As the word comes from the root אהל ahal, which signifies to spread or branch out, and therefore is applied to tents, because of their being extended or spread out on the ground; so when it is applied to trees it must necessarily mean such as were remarkable for their widely-extended branches; but what the particular species is, cannot be satisfactorily ascertained. By the Lord's planting are probably meant such trees as grow independently of the cultivation of man - Nullis hominum cogentibus; or, as Virgil expresses it,
Sponte sua quae se tollunt in luminis oras.
Virg., Geor. ii., 47.
"Such as sprung up, spontaneously into the regions of light."
As cedar trees - Gabriel Sionita, a very learned Syrian Maronite, who assisted in editing the Paris Polyglot, a man worthy of all credit, thus describes the cedars of Mount Lebanon, which he had examined on the spot: -
"The cedar grows on the most elevated part of the mountain, is taller than the pine, and so thick that five men together could scarcely fathom one. It shoots out its branches at ten or twelve feet from the ground; they are large, and distant from each other, and are perpetually green. The cedar distils a kind of gum, to which different effects are attributed. The wood of it is of a brown color, very solid, and incorruptible if preserved from wet. It bears a small apple, like to that of the pine."
Deuteronomy la Roque relates some curious particulars concerning this tree, which he learned from the Maronites of Mount Libanus:
"The branches grow in parallel rows round the tree, but lessen gradually from the bottom to the top, shooting out parallel to the horizon, so that the tree is, in appearance, similar to a cone. As the snows, which fall in vast quantities on this mountain, must necessarily, by their weight on such a vast surface, break down these branches, nature, or rather the God of nature, has so ordered it, that at the approach of winter, and during the snowy season, the branches erect themselves, and cling close to the body of the tree, and thus prevent any quantity of snow from lodging on them."
Mr. Maundrell, who visited Mount Libanus in 1697, gives the following description of the cedars still growing there: -
"These noble trees grow among the snow, near the highest part of Lebanon, and are remarkable, as well for their own age and largeness as for those frequent allusions to them in the word of God. Some of them are very old, and of a prodigious bulk; others younger, and of a smaller size. Of the former I could reckon only sixteen, but the latter are very numerous. I measured one of the largest, and found it twelve yards and six inches in girt, and yet sound, and thirty-seven yards in the spread of its branches. At about five or six yards from the ground it was divided into five limbs, each of which was equal to a great tree." - Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem, p. 142.
on Numbers 24 :6
As gardens by the river's side - Balaam's language reflects the famous artificial gardens along the banks of his own river, the Euphrates.
As the trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted - The latter words contain an apparent reference to Paradise (compare Genesis 2:8). The aloe, imported from China and the far distant east, furnished to the ancients one of the most fragrant and precious of spices; compare Psalm 45:8; Proverbs 7:17,
As cedar trees beside the waters - i. e., as the noblest of trees branching forth in the fairest of situations: an image of majestic beauty, as that of the last verse was of rare fecundity.
on Numbers 24 :6
24:6 As the valleys - Which often from a small beginning are spread forth far and wide. As gardens - Pleasant and fruitful and secured by a fence. As lign - aloes - An Arabian and Indian tree of a sweet smell, yielding shade and shelter both to man and beast; such is Israel, not only safe themselves, but yielding shelter to all that join themselves to them. Which the Lord hath planted - Nature, not art.