How was Amalek "first among the nations"? There is some contention whether it means the most powerful among the surrounding nations or the first of the nations to oppose Israel once they left Egypt (Exodus 17:8-16). Whatever the case, their primacy would be stripped from them, and before long, they would cease forever as a nation.
Another question is the identity of the Kenites. Again, they could be one of two peoples: a Canaanite tribe, representing all those whom Israel would displace (Genesis 15:19), or the family of Moses' father-in-law Jethro, a Kenite who was priest of Midian (see Exodus 3:1; Judges 1:16; 4:11). The latter seems to be the better choice, as Balaam's prediction is actually more positive than it first appears. Verse 22 is better read, "Kain shall not be given up to destruction until Asshur carries it away captive." Through this oracle, God is blessing the Kenites for their loyalty to Israel, a trait that persisted in at least one of their branches, the Rechabites (I Chronicles 2:55; Jeremiah 35). Part of the Kenite people may have been taken captive in the Assyrian invasion of Israel in 721-718 BC, and the rest of them certainly went into captivity to Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar (he inherited the title "King of Asshur" from his father Nabopolassar, who had conquered Assyria in 609 BC).
Last of all, Balaam gives a general oracle that may have Balaam's own people, Eber, as one of its targets! He says in verse 24, "But ships shall come from the coast of Kittim, and they shall afflict Asshur and shall afflict Eber; so they [literally, he] also shall come to destruction" (NAS). Kittim is the normal Hebrew word for what we call Cyprus, but it can also stand for other maritime peoples of the Mediterranean, notably the Greeks and later the Romans. Both of these empires marched through the eastern and western Semitic peoples Balaam groups together under the names Asshur and Eber.
This prophecy succinctly shows the succession of empires to come to power and fall like waves of the ocean. Just as Israel, Judah, and the Kenites fell to Assyria and its successor, Babylon, so would these empires fall. Greece and Rome too would also perish after their periods of hegemony, and so it would be until the "Star . . . out of Jacob" puts down all rule and sets up His Kingdom forever (Daniel 2:44; 7:13-14, 26-27).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Prophecies of Balaam (Part Two)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Numbers 24:24: