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This is a very remarkable chapter, and merits particular attention. It commenceth the wonderful history of Balaam and his ass. There is much to be discovered in it of the LORD'S gracious dealings with his people. The contents of it are the fright and the consequent wicked and foolish attempts of Balak, king of the Moabites, to prevent Israel from invading his borders. The impious endeavours of the king to gain over to his interest, a noted sorcerer of Mesopotamia: the impious attempts of this sorcerer, who knew better, yet for the sake of gain hired himself out to curse a people whom he knew the LORD had blessed: the history of these characters, and their conduct upon this occasion, together with the miraculous interposition of GOD, in causing a dumb ass to speak with man's voice, to forbid the madness of the prophet, are related in this chapter.
It is precious to the believer, when drawing near the borders of death and the grave, like Israel in the place where they are now arrived, they are on the brink of Jordan, and have Canaan in full prospect. Reader! what are your thoughts of this? Hebrews 11:6 .
Though Balak saw the destruction of the Amorites by Israel, yet had he consulted what was said concerning Moab, he might have learnt that Israel had no commission at that time to hurt Moab. On the contrary as Moab sprung from Lot, the LORD had given special command, concerning the preservation of Moab. See Deuteronomy 2:9 .
See what a corrupt heart is ever disposed to do, to consult flesh and blood, and to look to an arm of flesh rather than the living GOD. Reader! is it not too often so with you and me? Jeremiah 2:13 .
Median was a neighboring state to Moab; and therefore Balak, prudently as he thought, called in this state as an auxiliary equally concerned with Moab. Alas! though hand join in hand the wicked shall not go unpunished. What a strong confidence, ought that sweet scripture of GOD by the prophet to give to all his faithful people: who would set briars and thorns against the LORD in battle? Isaiah 27:4-5 .
Who this Balaam was, or how he had acquired the outward knowledge of the GOD of Israel, is not said. Peter calls him a prophet, 2 Peter 2:16 . Perhaps similar to Simon Magus, mentioned in the gospel account. Acts 8:10 . There can be no question but that he was a bad man, and longed to hire himself out to work iniquity for gain. But in the midst of this had so much knowledge of the true GOD, as in the moment he did wrong he knew what was right. Devils believe, (we art told) and tremble. James 2:19 . And there is very little doubt, but that the devils with respect to head knowledge, in consequence of their intellectual faculties, have a clearer and better knowledge of the doctrines of JESUS than his best informed people. But here is the line of distinction between them and the LORD'S inheritance; they knew nothing of the LORD JESUS by the influence of his HOLY SPIRIT. They are and ever must be eternal strangers to the love of JESUS. I conclude that Balaam's knowledge of the LORD was of the kind I have mentioned; and his use of sorcery seems to confirm it.
If the Reader be surprised that GOD should visit such a character as Balaam, let him recollect that the LORD will work by whom he will work. It was the evident intention of GOD, as the sequel of the history proves, to make this time-serving wretch, an instrument of mercy and comfort to his people: witness these scriptures, which the LORD by the ministry of this man, hath blessed his church with in all ages since that period. See Num_23:18-24; Num_24:4-9; Num_24:15-19 .-If the Reader be at a loss to explain, wherefore GOD should make use of such instruments, he should be told, that it hath pleased the divine mind in all ages, to do the same. Rather than his children shall want bread, JESUS will feed them even from his enemies table. Sweet thought to the believer! and especially to the humble and unlearned believer. Cherish it, Reader, in your heart. But it is an awful consideration, and enough to make the ears of the unawakened to tingle, that many who have cast out devils in JESUS'S name, will have their portion with devils in the world to come. See what the LORD JESUS saith on this subject: Matthew 7:22-23 .
We must not suppose that the LORD asked Balaam, from an ignorance of which had passed, wherefore these men were come: but the subject of the discourse is thus carried on. Moreover, it should seem from what follows, that Balaam was temporizing, as it were, with GOD in order to gratify Balak! He longed, as all bad men like himself have always done, to curse the LORD'S people. See David's account of this: Psalms 109:28 .
What a precious scripture is here! Reader! do not confine it to the Israel then, or to the occasion on which the sweet words were spoken. But consider it as of an everlasting import: GOD'S people are blessed. They ever have been, now are, and ever shall be. And if you would know why, turn to the word of GOD, and there discover that they are so wholly on the account of JESUS. Men shall be blessed in him. He is the sure mercies of David. Psalms 72:17 ; Isaiah 55:3 .
Observe! how this wretch trades in iniquity. Had he dealt honestly with the servants of Balak, he would have told them that the people whom their master wished him to curse, the LORD had determined to bless; and therefore, it would be the highest impiety in him to do what Balak wished him. But probably he hoped by this message to keep the embassy open, and that he might yet do what Balak wished him. See what Jude saith of him: Jude 1:11 .
We see those that were messengers of Balak, used deception as well as Balaam. They did not say that the LORD'S hand was in it, and therefore he did not come. But that he refused to come. Probably, by what followed, they led their prince to believe he would yet come, if the offers of reward were made larger.
Observe the gradations of sin. First, Balaam's heart was tempted with the offer of money; now there is added to it worldly honour. And the argument is strengthened with the consideration, let nothing hinder: no, neither GOD nor conscience; and like another impious monarch of antiquity, his heart challengeth compliance, for who is the LORD that his voice should be obeyed? Exodus 5:2 .
What a babble is man to himself, and to his own heart! under all the seeming resolution, not to go beyond the word of the LORD, yet the HOLY GHOST who knew his heart, tells us, that he ran greedily into an error for reward. Jude 1:11 . Certain it is, that all along he wished to hire himself out to curse the people of GOD, and consequently never could have been one of the LORD'S people. Else wherefore wait to hear what the LORD would say to him upon another trial, when the LORD had decided so plainly before.
I beg the Reader not to overlook in those verses, that Balaam's permission to go, was on condition that the man called upon him again. Whereas it doth not appear, that he was again invited, but that he hastened in the morning to depart with them.
GOD'S displeasure, it should seem, was not for the journey of Balaam; for the LORD had determined that he should be the unwilling instrument of good to his people, and confusion to his enemies. But it was from the secret malice in his heart against Israel, that he might yet, somehow or other, make Balak his friend in cursing them.
Was not this angel the same which had gone before Israel all the way through the wilderness? Exodus 23:20 compared with Malachi 2:1 .
Were not all these providences intended as so many checks and calls upon Balaam? Leviticus 26:21-24 .
The circumstances of the fact itself is unquestionable, since the apostle tells us that the dumb ass spake with man's voice. 2 Peter 2:16 . And why should the thing be thought incredible? Who hath made man's mouth? is a question of the LORD himself, to show that all things are of him. Exodus 4:11 .
Until GOD speaks, and until he opens the blind eye, nothing is effectual: but when he takes up the cause, all the pride of man falls to the ground. Job 42:5-6 .
How striking and unanswerable are the divine remonstrances. See another instance: Genesis 4:7 . And depend upon it, in the end of the day, the wicked will be found speechless, and without excuse.
Observe, here are no relentings, no sorrow of heart, no remorse of mind, that he had come out with an express intention to curse the people of GOD; but a fear of punishment, and therefore rather than that should take place he will go back. See another example in the case of Saul. 1 Samuel 15:30 .
Observe, how the LORD determines that Balaam shall speak that word, which is the very reverse of what he intended. That is a striking scripture to the same effect, which shows that men shall be the instruments to accomplish the reverse of their own intentions, Psalms 76:10 .
The long wished for interview is now obtained, and Balak makes sure that he shall now accomplish his wishes against Israel. But Balaam had his fears about him, as conscious sinners sometimes have, that he should not be able to do what he wished as much as Balak did; namely, to curse the people of GOD. Nevertheless, they went both together, and did as the enemies of JESUS in after ages are described as doing; they took counsel together against the LORD, and against his anointed. Psalms 2:2-4 .
PAUSE, my soul, and with horror contemplate the character of the graceless, even in their highest attainments of knowledge, as instanced in the case of wretched Balaam! What a wretched service must be the service of sin, when in spite of better knowledge, a man will hire himself out to work iniquity with all greediness; and for the sake of a little honour of this dying world, or the sordid gain of it, will go forth in the cause of the devil, against the LORD and against his CHRIST. Dearest JESUS! what everlasting cause have I to praise thee, that when I was pursuing the wages of sin, thou hast granted me the gift of GOD; and by thy precious blood and righteousness, thou hast made me free from sin that I might become the servant of GOD. LORD, make me very jealous over my own heart, that seeing, in so awful an example, to what lengths men may arrive in the knowledge of thee, and of thy ways, and yet come short of the grace of GOD, my soul may take up with nothing short of this, that CHRIST is formed in my heart the only hope of glory.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Numbers 22". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent