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Num 23:1 And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams.
Ver. 1. Build me here seven altars. ] Here, in Baal’s high places. Num 22:41 A sinful mixture, such as was that of those mongrels 2Ki 17:28-29 and their natural nephews, the Samaritans, Joh 4:5 Ambidexters in their religion, which being grosser at first, was afterward refined by Manasseh a Jewish priest - such another as Balaam - that in Alexander’s time made a defection to them, and brought many Jews with him. Of Constantinus Copronymus it is said, how truly I know not, that he was neither Jew, heathen, nor Christian, sed colluviem quandam impietatis, but a hodge podge of wickedness. And of Redwald, king of the East Saxons, the first that was baptized, Camden reports, that he had in the same Church one altar for Christian religion and another for sacrificing to devils. And a loaf of the same leaven was that resolute Rufus, that painted God on the one side of his shield, and the devil on the other, with this desperate inscription, In utrumque paratus, Ready for either, catch as catch may.
Num 23:2 And Balak did as Balaam had spoken; and Balak and Balaam offered on [every] altar a bullock and a ram.
Ver. 2. And Balak did. ] Ready to conform to any religion, so he might obtain his purposes. God abhors these lukewarm neuter passives, that are inter coelum terramque penduli, that halt between two, that commit idolatry between the porch and the altar, with those five and twenty miscreants. Eze 8:16
Num 23:3 And Balaam said unto Balak, Stand by thy burnt offering, and I will go: peradventure the LORD will come to meet me: and whatsoever he sheweth me I will tell thee. And he went to an high place.
Ver. 3. Stand by thy burnt offering. ] Or, Present thyself, to see if God will accept thy person.
Num 23:4 And God met Balaam: and he said unto him, I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered upon [every] altar a bullock and a ram.
Ver. 4. I have prepared seven altars. ] He boasts of his devotions, and so thinks to demerit God’s favour. So those hypocrites in Isaiah. Isa 58:3 Non sic deos coluimus, ut ille nos vinceret, We have not so served the gods, as that the enemy should have the better of us, said the Emperor Antonius, the philosopher.
Num 23:5 And the LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, Return unto Balak, and thus thou shalt speak.
Ver. 5. And the Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth.] The words thus put into his mouth, do but pass from him; they are not polluted by him, because they are not his! as the trunk through which a man speaks is not more eloquent for the speech uttered through it. Balaam did not "eat" God’s word as Jeremiah did, Jer 15:16 nor believe what he had spoken, as David, and after him St Paul did. Psalms 116:10 2Co 4:13 No more did Plato, Seneca, and other heathens, in their divine sentences.
Num 23:7 And he took up his parable, and said, Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, [saying], Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel.
Ver. 7. And he took up his parable. ] Or, Pithy and powerful speech, uttered in numerous and sententious terms, and taken among the heathen for prophecies or oracles: poemata pro vaticiniis, &c. Poets were taken for prophets, Tit 1:12 and poems for prophecies. Hence their στοιχομαντεια , wherein opening a book of Homer, Hesiod, &c., they took upon them, by the first verse they lighted upon, to divine. Tragedians also, for their parables, or master sentences, were highly esteemed of old, insomuch as, after the discomfit of the Athenians in Sicily, they were relieved who could repeat somewhat of Euripides.
Out of Aram. ] Aram Naharim, or Mesopotamia, so called, because it is situated between those two rivers of Paradise, Tigris and Euphrates. This was Abraham’s country, where, while he was in it, he "served strange gods." Jos 24:2
Num 23:8 How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, [whom] the LORD hath not defied?
Ver. 8. How shall I curse? ] He had a good mind to it, but did not, because he durst not: God stood over him with a whip, as it were; the angel with a sword in his hand could not be forgotten by him. Virtus nolentium nulla est.
How shall I defy? ] How easy a thing is it to wag a wicked tongue? to find good words in mouth of hell?
Num 23:9 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.
Ver. 9. From the top of the rocks I see him. ] And have no power to hurt him. She heard me without daunting; I departed not without terror, when I opened the conspiracy against her life; howbeit, clothed with the best art I could; - said Parry the traitor concerning Queen Elizabeth. a Achilles was said to be Styge armatus, but Israel was Deo armatus, and therefore extra iactum.
Lo, the people shall dwell alone. ] That they might have no meddling with the heathen. God would not have them lie near the sea coasts, for the Philistines lay between them and the sea, lest they should by commerce wax prouder, as Tyre did, Eze 27:3 and learn foreign fashions. See Esther 3:8 . Hence Judea, though part of the continent, is called an "island." Isa 20:6
a Camden’s Elisab.
Num 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!
Ver. 10. Let me die the death. ] But he was so far from living the life of the righteous, that he gave pestilent counsel against the lives of God’s Israel: and though here, in a fit of compunction, he seem a friend, yet he was afterward slain by the sword of Israel, whose happiness he admireth, and desires to share in. Num 31:8 Carnales non curant quaerere, quem tamen desiderant invenire; cupientes consequi, sed non et sequi, a Carnal men care not to seek that which they would gladly find, &c. Some faint desires, and short-winded wishes, may be sometimes found in them, but the mischief is, they would break God’s chain, sunder happiness from holiness, salvation from sanctification, the end from the means; they would dance with the devil all day, and then sup with Christ at night; live all their lives long in Delilah’s lap, and then go to Abraham’s bosom when they die. The Papists have a saying that a man would desire to live in Italy, a place of great pleasure, but to die in Spain, because there the Catholic religion, as they call it, is so sincerely professed. And a heathen being asked, whether he would rather be Socrates, a painful philosopher, or Croesus, a wealthy king; answered, that for this life he would be Croesus, but for the life to come Socrates. Thus all men wish well to heaven’s happiness; but bad men find no more comfort of it, than a man doth of the sun when it shines not in his own horizon. Balaam might here be compared to a stranger, that travelling a far country, seeth the state and magnificence of the court, and is admitted into the presence chamber, which greatly doth affect him, though himself have no part or interest in the king. See Trapp on " Num 24:5 "
Num 23:11 And Balak said unto Balaam, What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed [them] altogether.
Ver. 11. What hast thou done unto me. ] Hereby it appears that Balak, in serving of God by building altars and offering sacrifices, did but serve himself upon God; as Ephraim bore "fruit to himself"; Hos 10:1 and "Did ye fast to me, even to me?" Zec 7:5
Num 23:12 And he answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak that which the LORD hath put in my mouth?
Ver. 12. Must I not take heed to speak. ] See how those hypocrites mock one with another. Potest augur augurem videre, et non ridere? a said Cato.
a Cic., De Divinat., lib. ii.
Num 23:13 And Balak said unto him, Come, I pray thee, with me unto another place, from whence thou mayest see them: thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all: and curse me them from thence.
Ver. 13. From whence thou mayest see them. ] And over-look them, as they say witches do, Bασκαινειν quasi φαεσι καινειν ; Nescio quis teneros, &c. In Hebrew the same word signifies both an eye and a fountain; to show, that from the eye, as a fountain, flows both sin and misery.
Num 23:16 And the LORD met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, Go again unto Balak, and say thus.
Ver. 16. Put a word. ] See Trapp on " Num 23:5 "
Num 23:18 And he took up his parable, and said, Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor:
Ver. 18. Rise up, Balak. ] The greatest potentate must reverently attend to the word of God. Ehud, though a fat unwieldy man, stood up to hear a message from God. Jdg 3:20 So did Constantine the Great, a and our Edward VI, hear sermons standing, and usually uncovered. b
b Act. and Mon.
Num 23:19 God [is] not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do [it]? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
Ver. 19. That he should repent. ] When at any time God is said to repent, it is Mutatio rei, non Dei; effectus non affectus; facti non consilii: it is not a change of his will, but of his work.
Num 23:20 Behold, I have received [commandment] to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.
Ver. 20. Behold, I have, &c. ] A bad man may bless by command from God, and he say Amen to it. The precious stone Lyncuris may issue out of the body of the lynx, an unclean and spotted beast.
Num 23:21 He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God [is] with him, and the shout of a king [is] among them.
Ver. 21. He hath not beheld iniquity. ] Of this place of Scripture we may say as we did of another, This verse had been easy, had not commentators made it so knotty. The sense I like best is, that at this time, when Balak hired Balaam, there was no peccatum flagrans, no foul sin of that people, flaming in the eyes of God, or stinking in his nostrils; and therefore there could be no enchantment against them. Num 23:23 Whence that devilish counsel of his to Balak, to set fair women afore them, to entice them to adultery and idolatry, and so to put them under God’s displeasure. But what strange inferences are those from this text, that God sees no sin in his elect, that the very being of their sins is abolished out of his sight; that God is never displeased with his people, though they fall into adultery or the like sin, no not with a fatherly displeasure! &c.
Num 23:23 Surely [there is] no enchantment against Jacob, neither [is there] any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!
Ver. 23. Surely there is no enchantment. ] No looking for signs of good luck, as Numbers 24:1 . The gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
Num 23:24 Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat [of] the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.
Ver. 24. Behold the people. ] This is chiefly true of God’s peculiar people, subduing their spiritual enemies, Mic 5:8-9 being bold as lions.
Num 23:25 And Balak said unto Balaam, Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all.
Ver. 25. Nor bless them at all. ] But they are blessed, and they shall be blessed, the one cursing the malice of earth and of hell.
Num 23:26 But Balaam answered and said unto Balak, Told not I thee, saying, All that the LORD speaketh, that I must do?
Ver. 26. That I must do. ] Though with no goodwill. Devils and wicked men do God’s will; but oft full sore against their own.
Num 23:27 And Balak said unto Balaam, Come, I pray thee, I will bring thee unto another place; peradventure it will please God that thou mayest curse me them from thence.
Ver. 27. Peradventure it will please God. ] Heb., It will be right in the eyes of God. Never think it, man. "He is not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness." Psa 5:4
Num 23:28 And Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor, that looketh toward Jeshimon.
Ver. 28. Unto the top of Peor. ] An idolatrous and therefore most unlikely place. Deu 3:29
Num 23:30 And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bullock and a ram on [every] altar.
Ver. 30. And Balak did. ] How unweariable are wicked men in their ways!
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Numbers 23". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25