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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Numbers 23

Verses 1-30

Sacrifice Without Obedience

Numbers 23:4

Balaam wished to serve his own ends, and yet, if possible, to please God. He has prepared seven altars, etc.; will not God be appeased and accept his service, and be won over to his side? This is the kind of attempt that many people make.

I. Perfect Orthodoxy in place of Humble Christian Graces. Balaam is particular as to the number. The number seven, sacred and complete. Nothing has been omitted. But might we not say that the very elaborateness and completeness are suspicious and dangerous? So much thought expended on the tithing of mint and cummin left little for the weightier matters of the law; designedly turned itself away from these weightier matters. There is always a danger of proud, conceited orthodoxy and scrupulous ceremonial.

II. Great Efforts in place of Constant Dutifulness. The seven bullocks and rams rather than the daily offering of devoted service. But the Christian life is a walk, not an occasional race or flight. Every day brings its new duty, every relation of life has its own claims. Wait continually on Christ, and ask, 'Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?'

III. A Complacent Looking Back upon the Past. 'I have prepared seven altars and have offered,' etc I was converted at such a time. Are they always the best Christians who are sure of the very date of their conversion? It is doubtful. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, or a bad tree good fruit. Let not the Christian rest on past services, however great, that he may have rendered to Christ and his fellow-men. The question is not, How many and how high altars have you reared in the past, and how many and how noble victims have you laid upon them? but, What offerings of love and service are you now ready to bring to Him Who gave His life for you?

References. XXIII. 10. A. G. Mortimer, Studies in Holy Scripture, p. 71; see also Lenten Preaching, p. 159. Morgan Dix, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, p. 1. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons for Daily Life, p. 358. C. Parsons Reichel, Sermons, p. 27. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 218. Barlow, Rays from the Sun of Righteousness, p. 213. T. M'Crie, Sermons, p. 235. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 746. XXIII. 10; XXXI. 8. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, p. 371. XXIII. 13. Phillips Brooks, The Mystery of Iniquity, p. 208. XXIII. 21. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1709. C. W. Stubbs, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. 1901, p. 1.

The Living Christ

Numbers 23:23

To every age our Father who is in heaven, and to whom all times are alike, proportions the evidence and the Divine helps to the needs and circumstances of His children. The one thing perpetually to remember is this, that in all cases, and in all circumstances, and in all times, the walk must be by faith and not by sight.

I. The particular application of this principle which I ask you to consider, is in looking round on the world in which we are moving to see the influence and the power of our spiritual and invisible King. The actual effect of the faith of Christ about us is the evidence which is the most immediate support of our own belief. Still greater weight has the evidence of our own conscience. And here it is that I wish particularly that we should remind ourselves of the rule that while we may justly expect a reasonable confirmation of our hopes from the signs of the hand of God about us, we have no right to look for demonstration. It is because they look for demonstration that so many are disappointed. The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Many thoughtful men who have not grasped this principle weary and vex themselves if they find any movement or tendency or practice or fact amongst a people nominally Christian which is contrary to the teaching of our King. And so, as they have been looking in the wrong direction, Christ has seemed to them very far off Fallacies have been the food of their hopes. Far from any promise existing that the world as the world would love Christ and be obedient to Him, we are taught the very reverse. And far from promising or predicting any special or exclusive blessing on public movements, or policies, or legislation, or on what is called social progress, our Lord has most distinctly warned us that His kingdom was in no sense of this world, but that the only revolution, or change, or dominion which He wished to create, and from which He would expect any benefit, was in the secret heart of the individual.

II. The kingdom of heaven is within us. That which is the substance of religion, its hopes and consolations, its intermixture with the thoughts by day and by night, the devotion of the heart, the control of the appetite, the steady direction of the will to the commands of God, is necessarily invisible. Yet upon these depend the virtue and the happiness of millions. This cause renders the representations of history with respect to religion defective and fallacious in a greater degree than they are upon any other subject. Religion operates most upon those of whom history knows least.

III. But there is this further. The Christian religion does also act on public wages and institutions, even though it is by an operation which is only secondary and indirect. Christianity is not a code of civil law. It can only reach institutions through private character. Little as legislation can do, still it is of immeasurable consequence that for the most part our laws have had a Christian and not an unchristian spirit and moulding.

W. M. Sinclair, Christ and Our Times, p. 105.

Illustration. Well has it been said by a Socialist writer, Cabet: 'If Christianity had been interpreted and applied in the spirit of Jesus Christ, if it had been well known and faithfully practised by the numerous portions of Christians who are animated by a sincere piety, and who have only need to know truth well to follow it, then this Christianity, its morals, its philosophy, its precepts, would have sufficed, and would still suffice, to establish a perfect society and political organization, to deliver humanity from the evil which weighs it down, and to assure the happiness of the human race on the earth.'

W. M. Sinclair, Christ and Our Times, p. 115.

Numbers 23:23

This was John Wesley's text when he laid the foundation-stone of City Road Chapel, London, in 1777.

References. XXIII. 23. P. H. Hall, The Brotherhood of Man, p. 37. XXIII. 26-27. Marcus Dods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 10. XXIV. 5. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 218.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Numbers 23". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/numbers-23.html. 1910.