We have in this Chapter, the continuation and conclusion of the history of Balak and Balaam. And never surely was there afforded a more memorable evidence, than there is in it, of the LORD'S over-ruling the minds of men to his own glory, his people's joy, and his enemies' destruction. Balaam and Balak part in anger, and the former is constrained by the same power, under whose influence he had through the whole conference been guided, to inform the latter, what events, from the LORD and his people should befall him and Moab in the end.
This verse is the key to the whole history. Here it is explained to us by the HOLY GHOST himself, that Balaam's pretended withdrawing from Balak at the time of his standing by his sacrifice, was not to consult the LORD, but to use enchantments. Compare this verse, with Numbers 23:3; Num_23:15. But Reader, let me again and again, charge you to observe with me, how our gracious GOD over-rules the mind in compelling the magician to do the reverse of what he intended. So the LORD worketh upon another occasion by the magicians of Egypt: Exodus 8:18-19. What a beautiful light is thrown upon the whole history of Israel in Egypt, by that single verse of the Psalmist; "He turned their heart to hate his people." Psalms 105:25. Reader, if you are a child of GOD, never anymore be at a loss to explain the cause of all that enmity the world manifests against GOD'S people. How sweet is that truth of the prophet, that GOD will work, and who shall let it. Isaiah 43:13. Well might Balaam determine to lay aside his enchantments, for to what purpose make a third experiment, when baffled twice before?
The SPIRIT of GOD came upon him; that is upon him by an overruling, constraining power, so as to prompt to a service his heart would gladly have been excused from; but not in him, in a way of renewing sanctifying grace. Many have felt the power and sovereignty of the HOLY GHOST who have never known what his sweet and gracious influences in converting the soul from error to salvation mean. Saul is among the prophets, Saul hath another heart given to him, but not a renewed heart. He had indeed another heart suited to the change of station the LORD in his Providence appointed him to; and this for the advantage of the LORD'S people. He was before this seeking his father's asses, and now he is appointed to a kingdom. So that another heart in its bias and pursuits became needful. But here is not a word through all this to lead to the idea, that Saul was a converted and regenerated believer. 1 Samuel 19:23; 1Sa_10:9. Reader! learn to make this nice but most proper distinction, and it will help to explain many of the otherwise seeming difficulties you may meet with in life.
Observe how the HOLY GHOST hath caused the expressions of Balaam to be guarded. It is the man whose eyes are opened, not whose heart; whose knowledge of divine things is in the head, but who never felt the influence of them in his life and practice. Reader! how very awful is it to behold men who have their understanding enlightened, but their minds unrenewed. We are taught to believe that devils excel men in the knowledge of the doctrine of JESUS and his righteousness, but they are eternal strangers to the love or desire of JESUS, in practical, experimental feeling. For while many to whom the SON of GOD came in the days of his flesh, knew him not; the devils cried out, we know thee who thou art, the Holy One of GOD. Luke 4:33-34. Reader! think only what an aggravated state of misery in the other world must it be, both in men and devils, whose darkness becomes more horrible in proportion to the greater light they posses, of knowing without feeling what divine love is. This is what may be supposed intimated in our LORD'S expression: if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness: Matthew 6:23.
If those beautiful words be considered prophetically as undoubtedly they were intended, what a volume of rich mercies, both temporal and spiritual, is contained in them. The Israel of GOD shall prevail over all opposition. This is the burden of the prophecy. The LORD'S people may be, and, no doubt must be a warlike people, for the whole world is against them. But they must conquer, for they shall overcome by the blood of the LAMB. But Reader! do not overlook the principal thing in the prophecy, namely, that it is not Israel's strength but the GOD of Israel, in whose name they are victorious. GOD brought him forth out of Egypt. And the same GOD is engaged to bring him into Canaan. Yes! JESUS hath assured his people of salvation, they shall be where he is to behold his glory. John 17:24; Revelation 7:9-17.
The anger of Balak would most probably have broken out in some act of violence upon Balaam's person, had he not been restrained by fear. And it is likely that, as the LORD had yet more prophecies to be delivered upon this occasion by Balaam, the LORD over-ruled the mind of the prince of Moab, that he should not.
Reader! observe the temporizing conduct of Balaam. He doth in effect say by this apology, that he would gladly have obliged Balak, had he dared. But we have authority to make a larger comment upon Balaam's conduct on this occasion, and to observe, that this time-serving wretch actually taught Balak, that there was but one method by which he could ruin Israel in the favour of GOD, and thereby preserve his own people from ruin; and that was by tempting them to idolatry. If the Reader will consult, Revelation 2:14, he will there learn this unquestionable truth from the word of the LORD JESUS himself. And if he will after this consult Numbers 25:3-4, he will there behold how sadly the poisonous advice of this impious character operated. Alas! what are even the LORD'S Israel, except upheld by the GOD of Israel.
Observe how he endeavours to soften this message by referring the event foretold to the latter days. As much as to say, it will never happen in your time.
It is very awful to read again this man's acknowledgment, that his eyes were open, and that he had heard the words of GOD, and knew the knowledge of the Most High. Oh, Reader! think, I charge you think, what a vast difference there is between an head full of the knowledge of GOD, and an heart full of the grace of GOD.
How awful will be the sight of JESUS to the sinner! He will see him but not nigh; not as Job, for himself: but as the unhappy wretch mentioned in the gospel, who in hell lifted up his eyes in torments, and saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom. See those scriptures: Revelation 1:7; Job 19:25; Job_19:27; Luke 16:23. The star, that is here prophesied to arise, very probably became the foundation of that tradition, which, among the heathen world, led the nations to expect a great prince about the time that CHRIST was born, to arise out of Judea. Matthew 2:2. In a literal sense, this prophecy had its accomplishment, when David obtained a victory over the Moabites: see 2 Samuel 8:2.
I connect all that is here said respecting the destruction of the nations by Israel, for the sake of shortness. If the Reader be disposed to search out for the accomplishment of these prophecies, I refer him to Jg 3; 8, and Jg 11; 2Ch 20; 26. But when I refer the Reader to these scriptures in order that he may discover the literal accomplishment of the prophecy, I would call upon him to look yet further, even unto the days of the gospel, for their spiritual accomplishment in the person, character and offices of the LORD JESUS CHRIST. The prophet Daniel points to his kingdom and conquests in a most beautiful and interesting manner, and by his unanswerable evidence gives us to see in whom the whole was accomplished. See Daniel 7:13-14; Dan_7:27. Compared with Daniel 2:34. And well may every true believer cry out in the contemplation of these events; so let all thine enemies perish, O LORD but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might. Judges 5:31.
Here ends the account of the conference. It is proper to observe, that the LORD'S judgments overtook Balaam before the death of Moses; as we read, Numbers 31:8. And which is recorded again by Joshua. Joshua 13:22.
READER! do not take a farewell review of the history of Balaam and Balak, without first imploring grace from GOD to take with you the several most interesting improvements which it holds forth. Learn first, what lengths bad men will proceed to, like Balak, in order to accomplish their devices against the righteous. The seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent are, and ever must be, hostile to each other. But oh! for grace to be as much alive in the cause of GOD and CHRIST, as the foes of JESUS are in their fruitless attempts to overcome the Israel of GOD. Learn next, Reader, from the character of Balaam, what a miserable state mast those be in, who minister in divine things with a mere head knowledge, void of heart influence. It is precious indeed to see, that our gracious head of his church is always superintending the government of it. And he can and will arrange and order even the ministry of bad men, so as to promote, in defiance of their wishes and inclinations, his own glory, and his people's welfare. But what must be the end of those men, and what can the wages of unrighteousness be but death, even spiritual and eternal death. And lastly, and above all, let the history of Moab's vain attempt to crush Israel, and the wonderful interposition of their covenant GOD, as is here most delightfully related, teach the Reader, (and may the instruction be impressed upon the Writer's heart also), how eternally safe and secure the fold of JESUS is through all the eventful periods of this world's pilgrimage. Yes! thou precious GOD of thy people, who art the same yesterday, and today, and forever; thy promise is like thyself; thy people shall never perish neither shall any pluck them out of thine hand. Unworthy, undeserving, and ill and hell-deserving as they are in themselves, they are beloved for thy sake, and they are beloved for the FATHER'S sake. Oh! may we ever remember on what account it is our mercies are secure; and begin now, ere we come to sing it louder in glory, the song of salvation to GOD and the LAMB.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Numbers 24". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany