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the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 24

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verse 1

Numbers 24:1

In Balaam we have a man who, while his audacity and superstition are monstrous, still has a strong fear of Almighty God upon him, a determination not to disobey Him openly, a hope that at last he may be found on God's side. But it was with him as it is with others who deceive themselves and perform a juggler's trick with their own soul. First they wish to have their own way in life and then have it blessed by God as if it were His way. Next they cease to think it impossible to elude or deceive even God. We see here a man beseeching God to allow him to do what He had twice and thrice forbidden him to do. God punished him by letting him take his own course. And it is after his example that all will be lost who from a high standing fall into wickedness. Take these three points:

I. If Balaam was lost, it was through himself that he was lost. God gave him both an earnest desire to be saved and the knowledge how to be saved. Yet he is a lost man already when he comes before us. He was lost because he did not follow out his wish into action, and because he did not use the knowledge which he had.

II. What was the means he took for his own destruction, when he had both the wish and the knowledge to be saved? Exactly that which offers itself to us as very natural an attempt to combine the service of God and the service of the world. He wished to stand well with the Lord God, but he also wished to have a brilliant alliance with and a strong influence over one of the principal personages of his time.

III. Even the disobedient prophet prophesied of Christ; even the disobedient boy serves Christ's will. Both do it without meaning it; therefore they have no reward. But they cannot choose but serve Him one way or another.

Archbishop Benson, Boy Life: Sundays in Wellington College, p. 204.

Reference: Numbers 24:1 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 237.

Verse 3

Numbers 24:3

I. Balaam was a man whose eye was open in his day. He was a man of splendid natural genius. We puzzle over the definition of genius; but perhaps it is only the open eye, the power to see things simply as they are. In every sphere of man's intellectual activity the man of genius is the seer.

II. Balaam's is at the same time a character of singular perplexity. He had both the open eye and the itching palm. He had power to see realities, while his heart lusted after vanities, and this condition is far from rare. Splendid endowments are often mated with moral narrowness or feebleness. On the lower level of Balaam's life he was base and grovelling; but when God took possession of his genius, he yielded it readily, and then he was true as steel to the vision. But the sensual nature was really master. It dragged the eagle-eyed spirit down. Faint, trembling, before the vision, he soon dropped to his congenial earth again, and finally he buried his splendid genius in the pit.

Notice: (1) The only word which a man says with power is truth. "The word that God also saith, that shall stand." (2) Balaam saw with his open eye that the man who stands with God stands absolutely beyond reach of harm. (3) There was a third thing that Balaam saw: the man whom God blesses is blessed; the man whom God curses is cursed, absolutely and for ever.

J. Baldwin Brown, The Sunday Afternoon, pp. 370, 378.

Verse 9

Numbers 24:9

I. These were the words of the Eastern sage, as he looked down from the mountain height upon the camp of Israel, abiding among the groves of the lowland according to their tribes in order, discipline, and unity. Before a people so organised he saw well none of the nations round could stand. He likens them not to the locust swarm, the sea-flood, nor the forest fire, but to the most peaceful and most fruitful sight in nature or in art. They are spread forth like the watercourses which carry verdure and fertility as they flow. Their God-given mission may be stern, but it will be beneficent. They will be terrible in war; but they will be wealthy, prosperous, civilised, and civilising in peace.

II. The transformation thus wrought in less than two generations in those who had been the wretched slaves of Egypt was plainly owing to their forty years of freedom, but of freedom under a stern military education, of freedom chastened by discipline and organised by law. No nation of those days enjoyed a freedom comparable to that of the old Jews. They were the only constitutional people of the East. The burdensomeness of Moses' law, ere it was overlaid in later days by rabbinical scrupulosity, has been much exaggerated. Little seemed to have been demanded of the Jews save those simple ten commandments which we still hold to be necessary for all civilised society.

III. And their obedience was, after all, a moral obedience, the obedience of free hearts and wills. Without their moral discipline they would have broken up, scattered, or perished, or at least remained as settlers or as slaves among the Arab tribes. With that moral discipline they held together and continued one people till the last; they couched, they lay down as a lion, and none dared rouse them up.

C. Kingsley, Discipline, and Other Sermons, p. 1.

Reference: Numbers 24:10-19 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 439.

Verse 11

Numbers 24:11

Balaam, it need hardly be said was a very eminent, he was even an extraordinary, man. He lived largely among the wild race of the Midianites, but he had gifts and powers which, so far as we know, were entirely unshared by those among whom he dwelt.

I. (1) He was a careful observer of contemporary events; he was a man of trained political sagacity. (2) He was in possession of a truth which, quite apart from its awful and intrinsic value, gave purpose and meaning to a human life: he believed in one God. (3) He was endowed in a high degree with the gift of supernatural prophecy. Of this gift his closing words to Balak afford one remarkable specimen. His prediction of the star and sceptre that were to arise out of Jacob is not fully satisfied by the conquests of David, of Omri, of John Hyrcanus; it points to the spiritual empire of Jesus Christ. Balaam was in one age what Melchisedek had been in another, and Job in a third an organ of truth beyond the frontiers of the kingdom of truth.

II. With gifts like these, Balaam was naturally a person of great public consideration. Balak, the king of Moab, seems to have looked upon him as a very powerful wizard. Balak's view of Balaam illustrates the way in which in all ages statesmen are apt to look upon religion and its representatives. They see in it only one of the great forces which modify or control human life, and they desire, by whatever means, to enlist it on the side of the policy or the government which they for the moment represent.

III. The real character of Balaam was a very mixed one. On the one hand, he was a man with a clear idea of duty, based on a certain knowledge of God; on the other, we find that his notion of duty was clearly not what he could discover to be God's will, but only what God would not allow him to ignore. It was a minimising rule of duty.

IV. There are two or three considerations which the history suggests: (1) The ministry of grace and truth to others maybe quite independent of the personal character of the minister. (2) It is possible to know a great deal about truth, to make sacrifices for it, to be kept back from honour out of deference to its requirements, and yet to be at heart disloyal to it. (3) The only true safeguard against such a fate as Balaam's is the love of God.

H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 241.

References: Numbers 24:11-13 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. x., p. 158. Numbers 24:15-24 . J. Monro Gibson, The Mosaic Era, p. 305.Numbers 24:15-25 . Expositor, 2nd series, vol. v., p. 341.Numbers 24:17 . Expositor, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 166; J. G. Murphy, The Book of Daniel, p. 18; H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1664.Numbers 25:6-8 . J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. i., p. 258. Numbers 25:11 . J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 1.Numbers 25:12 . Parker, vol. iv., p. 60. Numbers 25:12 , Numbers 25:13 . T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. vi., p. 49. Numbers 25:13 . G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 411

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Numbers 24". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/numbers-24.html.
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