Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 24

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-25

Numbers 24:1

As at other times, or, "as (he had done) time after time." Septuagint, κατὰ τὸ εἰωθός. To seek for enchantments. Rather, "for the meeting with aunties." לִקְמראת נְחַשִׁים. Septuagint, to συνάντησιν τοῖς οἰωνοῖς. Nachashim; as in Numbers 23:23, is not enchantments in the sense of magical practices, but definitely auguries, i.e. omens and signs in the natural world observed and interpreted according to an artificial system as manifesting the purposes of God. As one of the commonest and worst of heathen practices, it was forbidden to Israel (Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 18:10) and held up to reprobation, as in 2Ki 17:17; 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chronicles 33:6. Toward the wilderness. הַמִּדְבָּר. Not "Jeshimon," but apparently the Arboth Moab in which Israel was encamped, and which were for the most part desert as compared with the country around.

Numbers 24:2

The spirit of God came upon him. This seems to intimate a higher state of inspiration than the expression, "God put a word into his mouth" (Numbers 23:5, Numbers 23:16).

Numbers 24:3

Balaam … hath said. Rather, "the utterance of Balaam." נְאֻם is constantly used, as in Numbers 14:28, for a Divine utterance, effatum Dei, but it does not by itself, apart from the context, claim a superhuman origin. The man whose eyes are open. הַגֶּבֶר שְׁתֻם הָעָיִן. The authorities are divided between the rendering in the text and the opposite rendering given in the margin. סָתַם is used in Daniel 8:26, and שָׂתָם in Lamentations 3:8, in the sense of "shut;" but, on the other hand, a passage in the Mishnah distinctly uses שׁתם and סתם in opposite senses. The Vulgate, on the one hand, has obturatus; the Septuagint, on the other, has ὁ ἀληθινῶς ὁρῶν, and this is the sense given by the Targums. Strange to say, it makes no real difference whether we read "open" or "shut," because in any case it was the inward vision that was quickened, while the outward senses were closed.

Numbers 24:4

Falling into a trance. Rather, "falling down." Qui cadit, Vulgate. The case of Saul, who "fell down naked all that day" (1 Samuel 19:24), overcome by the illapse of the Spirit, affords the best comparison. Physically, it would seem to have been a kind of catalepsy, in which the senses were closed to outward things, and the eyes open but unseeing. The word for "open" in this verse is the ordinary one, not that used in Numbers 24:3.

Numbers 24:6

As the valleys, or, "as the torrents" (נְחָלִים), which pour down in parallel courses from the upper slopes. As gardens by the river's side. The river (נָהָר), as in Numbers 22:5) means the Euphrates. Balaam combines the pleasant imagery of his own cultivated land with that of the wilder scene amidst which he now stood. As the trees of lign aloes. אָהָלִים. Aloe trees, such as grew in the further east, where Balaam had perhaps seen them. Which the Lord hath planted, or, "the Lord's planting," a poetical ,way of describing their beauty and rarity (cf. Psalms 1:3; Psalms 104:16).

Numbers 24:7

He shall pour the water, or, "the water shall overflow." Out of his buckets. דָּלְיָו is the dual, "his two buckets." The image, familiar enough to one who lived in an irrigated land, is of one carrying two buckets on the ends of a pole which are so full as to run over as he goes. And his seed … in many waters. It is uncertain in what sense the word "seed" issued. It may be an image as simple as the last, of seed sown either by or actually upon many waters (cf. Ecclesiastes 11:1), and so securing a plentiful and safe return; or it may stand for the seed, i.e; the posterity, of Israel, which should grow up amidst many blessings (Isaiah 44:4). The former seems most in keeping here. His king shall be higher than Agag. Rather, "let his king be higher than Agag." The name Agag (אַגַג, the fiery one) does not occur again except as the name of the king of Amalek whom Saul conquered and Samuel slew (1 Samuel 15:1-35.); yet it may safely be assumed that it was the official title of all the kings of Amalek, resembling in this "Abimelech" and "Pharaoh." Here it seems to stand for the dynasty and the nation of the Amalekites, and there is no reason to suppose that any reference was intended to any particular individual or event in the distant future. The "king" of Israel here spoken of is certainly not Saul or any other of the kings, but God himself in his character as temporal Ruler of Israel; and the "kingdom" is the kingdom of heaven as set forth by way of anticipation in the polity and order of the chosen race. As a fact, Israel had afterwards a visible king who overthrew Agag, but their having such a king was alien to the mind of God, and due to a distinct falling away from national faith, and therefore could find no place in this prophecy.

Numbers 24:8

And shall break their bones. יְגָרֵם (cf. Ezekiel 23:34) seems to mean "crush" or "smash." The Septuagint has ἐκμυελιεῖ, "shall suck out," i.e; the marrow, but the word does not seem to bear this meaning. Pierce them through with his arrows, or, "dash in pieces his arrows," i.e; the arrows shot at him. חִחָּיו יְמִחָץ. The difficulty is the possessive suffix to "arrows," which is in the singular; otherwise this rendering gives a much better sense, and more in keeping with the rest of the passage The image in Balaam's mind is evidently that of a terrible wild beast devouring his enemies, stamping them underfoot, and dashing to pieces in his fury the arrows or darts which they vainly launch against him (compare the imagery in Daniel 7:7).

Numbers 24:9

A lion. אַרִי. A great lion. לָבִיא. See on Numbers 23:24, and Genesis 49:9. Blessed is he that blesseth thee, &c. In these words Balaam seems to refer to the terms of Balak's first message (Numbers 22:6). Far from being affected by blessings and cursings from without, Israel was itself a source of blessing or cursing to others according as they treated him.

Numbers 24:12

Spake I not also. This was altogether true. Balaam had enough of the true prophet about him not only to act with strict fidelity, as far as the letter of the command went, but also to behave with great dignity towards Balak.

Numbers 24:14

I will advertise thee. אִיעָצְךָ has properly the meaning "advise", but it seems to have here the same subordinate sense of giving information which "advise" has with us. The Vulgate here has followed the surmise of the Jewish commentators, who saw nothing in Balaam but the arch-enemy of their race, and has actually altered the text into "dabo consilium quid populus tuus populo huic faciat" (cf. Numbers 31:16).

Numbers 24:16

Knew the knowledge of the Most High. Septuagint, ἐπιστάμενος ἐπιστήμην παρὰ Υψίστου. This expression alone distinguishes this introduction of Balaam's mashal from the former one (Numbers 24:3, Numbers 24:4), but it is difficult to say that it really adds anything to our understanding of his mental state. If we ask when Balaam had received the revelation which he now proceeds to communicate, it would seem most natural to reply that it was made known to him when "the Spirit of God came upon him," and that Balak's anger had interrupted him in the midst of his mashal, or possibly he had kept it back, as too distasteful to his patron, until he saw that he had nothing more to expect from that quarter.

Numbers 24:17

I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh. Rather, "I see him, but not now: I behold him, but not near" (אַשׁוּרֶנּוּ … אֶראֶנוּ exactly as in Numbers 23:9). Balaam does not mean to say that he expected himself to see at any future time the mysterious Being of whom he speaks, who is identical with the "Star" and the "Scepter" of the following clauses; he speaks wholly as a prophet, and means that his inner gaze is fixed upon such an one, with full assurance that he exists in the counsels of God, but with clear recognition of the fact that his actual coming is yet in the far future. There shall come a Star out of Jacob. Septuagint, ἀνατελεῖ ἀστρον. It may quite as well be rendered by the present; Balaam simply utters what passes before his inward vision. The star is a natural and common poetic symbol of an illustrious, or, as we say, "brilliant," personage, and as such recurs many times in Scripture (cf. Job 38:7; Isaiah 14:12; Daniel 8:10; Matthew 24:29; Philippians 2:15; Revelation 1:20; Revelation 2:28). The celebrated Jewish fanatic called himself Barcochab, "son of the Star," in allusion to this prophecy. A Scepter shall rise out of Israel. This further defines the "star ‘ as a ruler of men, for the scepter is Used in that sense in the dying prophecy of Jacob (Genesis 49:10), with which Balaam was evidently acquainted. Accordingly the Septuagint has here ἀναστήσεται. Shall smite the corners of Moab. Rather, "the two corners" (dual), or "the two sides of Moab," i.e; shall crush Moab on either side. And destroy all the children of Sheth. In Jeremiah 48:45, where this prophecy is in a manner quoted, the word קַרְקַר (qarqar, destroy) is altered into קָדקֹר (quadqod, crown of the head). This raises a very curious and interesting question as to the use made by the prophets of the earlier Scriptures, but it gives no authority for an alteration of the text. The expression בְּנֵי־שֵׁת has been variously rendered. The Jewish commentators, followed by the Septuagint (πάντας υἱοὺς Σήθ) and the older versions, understand it to mean the sons of Seth, the son of Adam, i.e; all mankind. Many modern commentators, however, take שֵׁת as a contraction of שֵׁאת (Lamentations 3:47—"desolation''), and read "sons of confusion," as equivalent to the unruly neighbours and relations of Israel. This, however, is extremely dubious in itself, for שֵׁת nowhere occurs in this sense, and derives no sup. port from Jeremiah 48:45. It is true that בְּנֵי שֵׁת is there replaced by בְּנֵי שָׁאוֹן, "sons of tumult," but then this very verse affords the clearest evidence that the prophet felt no hesitation in altering the text of Scripture to suit his own inspired purpose. If it be true that קַרְקַר will not bear the meaning given to it in the Targums of "reign over," still there is no insuperable difficulty in the common rendering. Jewish prophecy, from beginning to end, contemplated the Messiah as the Conqueror, the Subduer, and even the Destroyer of all the heathen, i.e; of all who were not Jews. It is only in the New Testament that the iron scepter with which he was to dash in pieces the heathen (Psalms 2:9) becomes the pastoral staff wherewith he shepherds them. The prophecy was that Messiah should destroy the heathen; the fulfillment that he destroyed not them, but their heathenism (cf. e.g; Psalms 149:6-9 with James 5:20).

Numbers 24:18

Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies. Seir (Genesis 32:3), or Mount Seir (Genesis 36:8), was the old name, still retained as an alternative, of Edom. It is uncertain whether the rendering "for his (i.e; Edom's) enemies" is correct. The Hebrew is simply אֹיְבָיו, which may stand in apposition to Edom and Seir, "his enemies," i.e; the enemies of Israel. So the Septuagint, Ἡσαῦ ὁ ἐχθρὸς αὐτοῦ. Shall do valiantly, or, "shall be prosperous" (cf. Deuteronomy 8:17; Ruth 4:11).

Numbers 24:19

Shall come he that shall have dominion. וֱיִרְדְּ Literally, "one shall rule," the subject being indefinite. Of the city. מֵעִיר; not apparently out of any city in particular, but "out of any hostile city." The expression implies not only conquest, but total destruction of the foe.

Numbers 24:20

He looked on Amalek. This looking must have been an inward vision, because the haunts of the Amalekites were far away (see on Genesis 36:12; Exodus 17:8; Numbers 14:25, Numbers 14:45). The first of the nations. Amalek was in no sense a leading nation, nor was it a very ancient nation. It was indeed the very first of the nations to attack Israel, but it is a most arbitrary treatment of the words to understand them in that sense. The prophet Amos (Amos 6:1) uses the same expression of the Jewish aristocracy of his day. As it was in no better position than Amalek to claim it in any true sense, we can but suppose that in either case there is a reference to the vainglorious vauntings of the people threatened; it would be quite in keeping with the Bedawin character if Amalek gave himself out be "the first of nations."

Numbers 24:21

He looked on the Kenites. This mashal is excessively obscure, for both the subject of it and the drift of it are disputed. On the one hand, the Kenites are mentioned among the Canaanitish tribes that were to be dispossessed, in Gem Numbers 15:19; on the other, they are identified with the Midianitish tribe to which Hobab and Raguel belonged, in Judges 1:16, and apparently in 1 Samuel 15:6 (see on Numbers 10:29). It has been supposed that the friendly Kenites had by this time loft the camp of Israel and established themselves by conquest in the south of Canaan, and even that they had occupied the territory and taken the name of the original Kenites of Genesis 15:19. This, however, is a mere conjecture, and a very improbable one. That a weak tribe like that of Hobab should have done what Israel had not dared to do, and settled themselves by force of arms in Southern Palestine, and, further, that they should be already known by the name of those whom they had destroyed, is extremely unlikely, and is inconsistent with the statement in Judges 1:16. And thou puttest thy nest in a rock. Rather, "and thy nest laid (שִׂים) upon a rock." We do not know where the Kenites dwelt, and therefore we cannot tell whether this expression is to be understood literally or figuratively. If the Canaanitish tribe is here spoken of, it is very likely they had their residence in some strong mountain fastness, but if the Midianitish tribe, then there is no reason to suppose that they had crossed the Jordan at all In that case the "nest" must be wholly figurative, and must refer to that strong confidence which they placed in the protection of the God of Israel.

Numbers 24:22

Nevertheless the Kenite shall be wasted. כִּי אִם־יִהְיֶה לְבָעֵר קָיִן. Rather, "Kain shall surely not be wasted." כִּי־אִם is of doubtful meaning, but it seems here to have the force of a negative question equivalent to a negation. Kain is mentioned in Joshua 15:57 as one of the towns of Judah, but there is little reason to suppose that an insignificant village is here mentioned by name. Probably "Kain" stands for the tribe-father, and is simply the poetical equivalent of Kenite. Until עַד־מָה. There is some uncertainty about these two particles, which are sometimes rendered "how long?" In the sense of "until" they are said to be an Aramaism, but this is doubtful.

Numbers 24:23

When God doeth this. Literally, "from the settling of it by God." מִשֻּׂמוֹ אֵל, i.e; when God shall bring these terrible things to pass. Septuagint, ὅταν θῇ ταῦτα ὁ θεός. This exclamation refers to the woe which he is about to pronounce, which involved his own people also.

Numbers 24:24

Chittim. Cyprus (see on Genesis 10:4). The "isles of Chittim are mentioned by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:10) and by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:6) in the sense apparently of the western islands generally while in Daniel 11:30 "the ships of Chittim, may have an even wider reference. Indeed the Targum of Palestine makes mention of Italy here, and the Vulgate actually translates "venient in trieribus de Italia." There is, however, no reason to suppose that Balaam knew or spoke of anything further than Cyprus. It was "from the side of" (מִיַּד) Cyprus that the ships of his vision came down upon the Phoenician coasts, wherever their original starting-point may have been. Shall afflict, or, "shall bring low." The same word is used of the oppression of Israel in Egypt (Genesis 15:13). Eber. The Septuagint has here Εβραίους, and is followed by the Peschito and the Vulgate. It is not likely, however, that Balaam would have substituted "Eber" for the "Jacob" and "Israel" which he had previously used. The Targum of Onkelos paraphrases "Eber" by "beyond the Euphrates," and that of Palestine has "all the sons of Eber." From Gem Daniel 10:21 it would appear that "the children of Eber" were the same as the Shemites; Asshur, therefore, was himself included in Eber, but is separately mentioned on account of his fame and power. And he also shall perish forever. The subject of this prophecy is left in obscurity. It is difficult on grammatical grounds to refer it to Asshur, and it does not seem appropriate to "Eber." It may mean that the unnamed conquering race which should overthrow the Asian monarchies should itself come to an end for evermore; or it may be that Balaam added these words while he beheld with dismay the coming destruction of his own Shemitic race, and their final subjugation by more warlike powers. It must be remembered that the Greek empire, although overthrown, did not by any means "perish for ever" in the same sense as the previous empires of the East.

Numbers 24:25

And returned to his place. יָשֹׁב לִמְקֹ וֹ. It is doubtful whether this expression, which is used in Genesis 18:33 and in other places, implies that Balaam returned to his home on the Euphrates. If he did he must have retraced his steps almost immediately, because he was slain among the Midianites shortly after (Genesis 31:8). The phrase, however, may merely mean that he set off homewards, and is not inconsistent with the supposition that he went no further on his way than the headquarters of the Midianites. It is not difficult to understand the infatuation which would keep him within reach of a people so strange and terrible.


That the prophecies of Balaam have a Messianic character, and are only to be fully understood in a Christian sense, seems to lie upon the face of them. The Targums of Onkelos and Palestine make mention of King Meshiba here, and the great mass of Christian interpretation has uniformly followed in the track of Jewish tradition. It is of course possible to get rid of the prophetic element altogether by assuming that the utterances of Balaam were either composed or largely interpolated after the events to which they seem to refer. It would be necessary in this case to bring their real date down to the period of the Macedonian conquests, and much later still if the Greek empire also was to "perish for ever." The difficulty and arbitrary character of such an assumption becomes the more evident the more it is considered; nor does it seem consistent with the form into which the predictions are cast. A patriotic Jew looking back from the days of Alexander or his successors would not call the great Eastern power by the name of Asshur, because two subsequent empires had arisen in the place of Assyria proper. But that Balaam, looking forward down the dim vista of the future, should see Asshur, and only Asshur, is in perfect keeping with what we know of prophetic perspective,—the further off the events descried by inward vision, the more extreme the foreshortening,—according to which law it is well known that the first and second advents of Christ are inextricably blended in almost every case.

If we accept the prophecies as genuine, it is, again, only possible to reject the Messianic element by assuming that no Jewish prophecy overleaps the narrow limits of Jewish history. The mysterious Being whom Balaam descries in the undated future, who is the King of Israel, and whom he identifies with the Shiloh of Jacob's dying prophecy, and who is to bring to nought all nations of the world, cannot be David, although David may anticipate him in many ways; still less, as the reference to Agag, Amalek, and the Kenites might for a moment incline us to believe, can it be Saul. At the same time, while the Messianic element in the prophecy cannot reasonably be ignored, it is obvious that it does not by any means exist by itself; it is so mixed up with what is purely local and temporal in the relations between Israel and the petty tribes which surrounded and envied him, that it is impossible to isolate it or to exhibit it in any clear and definite form. The Messiah indeed appears, as it were, upon the stage in a mysterious and remote grandeur; but he appears with a slaughter weapon in his hand, crushing such enemies of Israel as were then and there formidable, and exterminating the very fugitives from the overthrow. Even where the vision loses for once its local colouring in one way, so that the King of Israel deals with all the sons of men, yet it retains it in another, for he deals with them in wrath and destruction, not in love and blessing. There is here so little akin to the true ideal, that we are readily tempted to say that Christ is not here at all, but only Saul or David, or the Jewish monarchy personified in the ruthlessness of its consolidated power. But if we know anything of the genius of prophecy, it is exactly this, that the future and the grand and the heavenly is seen through a medium of the present and the paltry and the earthly. The Messianic element almost always occurs in connection with some crisis in the outward history of the chosen people; it is inextricably mixed up with what is purely local in interest, and often with what is distinctly imperfect in morality. To the Jew—and to Balaam also, however unwillingly, as the servant of Jehovah—the cause of Israel was the cause of God; he could not discern between them. "Our country, right or wrong," was an impossible sentiment to him, because he could not conceive of his country being wrong; he knew nothing of moral victories, or the triumphs of defeat or of suffering; he could not think of God's kingdom as asserting itself in any other way than in the overthrow, or (better still) the annihilation, of Moab, Edom, Assyria, Babylon, Rome, the whole world which was not Israel. The sufferings of the vanquished, the horrors of sacked cities, the agonies of desolated homes, were nothing to him; nothing, unless it were joy—joy that the kingdom of God should be exalted in the earth, joy that the reign of wickedness should be broken.

All these feelings belonged to a most imperfect morality and we rightly look upon them with horror, because we have (albeit as yet very imperfectly) conformed our sentiments to a higher standard. But it was the very condition of the old dispensation that God adopted the then moral code, such as it was, and hallowed it with religious sanctions, and gave it a strong direction God-ward, and so educated his own for something higher. Hence it is wholly natural and consistent to find this early vision of the Messiah, the heaven-sent King of Israel, introduced in connection with the fall of the petty pastoral state of Moab. To Balaam, standing where he did in time and place, and all the more because his personal desires went with Moab as against Israel, Moab stood forth as the representative kingdom of darkness, Israel as the kingdom of light, Through that strong, definite, narrow, and essentially imperfect, but not untrue, conviction of his he saw the Messiah, and he saw him crushing Moab first, and then trampling down all the rest of a hostile world. That no one would have been more utterly astonished if he had beheld the Messiah as he was, is certain; but that is not at all inconsistent with the belief that he really prophesied concerning him. That he should put all enemies under his feet was what Balaam truly saw; but he saw it and gave utterance to it according to the ideas and imagery of which his mind was full. God ever reveals the supernatural through the natural, the heavenly through the earthly, the future through the present.

It remains to consider briefly the temporal fulfillments of Balaam's prophecies. Moab was not apparently seriously attacked until the time of David, when it was vanquished, and a great part of the inhabitants slaughtered (2 Samuel 8:2). In the division of the kingdom it fell to the share of Israel, with the other lands beyond Jordan, but the vicissitudes of the northern monarchy gave it opportunities to rebel, of which it successfully availed itself after the death of Ahab (2 Kings 1:1). Only in the time of John Hyrcanus was it finally subdued, and ceased to have an independent existence.

Edom was also conquered for the first time by David, and the people as far as possible exterminated (1 Kings 11:15, 1 Kings 11:16). Nevertheless, it was able to shake off the yoke under Joram (2 Kings 8:20), and, although defeated, was never again subdued (see on Genesis 27:40). The prophecies against Edom were indeed taken up again and again by the prophets (e.g; Obadiah), but we must hold that they were never adequately fulfilled, unless we look for a spiritual realization not in wrath, but in mercy. The later Jews themselves came to regard "Edom" as a Scriptural synonym for all who hated and oppressed them.

Amalek was very thoroughly overthrown by Saul, acting under the directions of Samuel (1 Samuel 15:7, 1 Samuel 15:8), and never appears to have regained any national existence. Certain bands of Amalekites were smitten by David, and others at a later period in the reign of Hezekiah by the men of Simeon (1 Chronicles 4:39-43).

The prophecy concerning the Kenites presents, as noted above, great difficulty, because it is impossible to know certainly whether the older Kenites of Genesis or the later Kenites of 1 Samuel are intended. In either case, however, it must be acknowledged that sacred history throws no light whatever on the fulfillment of the prophecy; we know nothing at all as to the fate of this small clan. No doubt it ultimately shared the lot of all the inhabitants of Palestine, with the exception of Judah and Jerusalem, and was transplanted by one of the Assyrian generals to some far-off spot, where its very existence as a separate people was lost.
The "ships from the side of Cyprus" clearly enough represent in the vision of Balaam invaders from over the western seas, as opposed to previous conquerors from over the eastern deserts and mountains. That the invasion of Alexander the Great was not actually made by the way of Cyprus is nothing to the point. It was never any part of spiritual illumination to extend geographical knowledge. To Balaam's mind the only open way from the remote and unknown western lands was the waterway by the sides of Cyprus, and accordingly he saw the hostile fleets gliding down beneath the lee of those sheltering coasts towards the harbours of Phoenicia. Doubtless the ships which Balaam saw were rigged as ships were rigged in Balaam's time, and not as in the time of Alexander. But the rigging, like the route, belonged to the local and personal medium through which the prophecy came, not to the prophecy itself. As a fact it remains true that a maritime power from the West, whose home was beyond Cyprus, did overwhelm the older power which stood in the place and inherited the empire of Assyria. Whether the subsequent ruin of this maritime power also is part of the prophecy must remain doubtful.


Verse 41- Numbers 24:1-25


The prophecies of Balaam were the utterances of a bad man deeply penetrated by religious ideas, and inspired for certain purposes by the Spirit of God; hence it is evident that many deep moral and spiritual lessons may be learnt from them, apart from their evidential value as prophecies. Consider, therefore, with respect to the moral character and conduct of Balaam—

I. THAT BALAK AND BALAAM THOUGHT TO MOVE THE GOD OF ISRAEL BY IMPORTUNITY, OR PERHAPS TO GET THE BETTER OF HIM BY CONTRIVANCE; hence Balak repeatedly shifted his ground and brought Balaam to another point of view. Even so do ungodly men imagine that the immutable decrees of right and wrong may somehow be changed in their favour if they use sufficient perseverance and address. By putting moral questions in many different lights, by getting their outward or inward adviser to look at them from diverse points of view, they think to make right wrong, and wrong right. With what insensate perseverance, e.g; do religious people strive, by perpetually shifting' their ground, to force the Almighty to sanction in their case that covetousness which he has so unmistakably condemned.

II. THAT BALAAM CLEARLY HINTED TO THE ALMIGHTY THAT, AS HE HAD PROCURED MUCH HONOUR FOR HIM FROM BALAK, HE WAS EXPECTED TO DO WHAT WAS POSSIBLE IN THE MATTER FOR HIM. Even so do men who are in truth irreligious, although often seeming very much the reverse, give the Almighty to understand (indirectly and unavowedly, but unmistakably) that they have done much, laid out much, given up much for his honour and glory, and that they naturally look for some equivalent. To serve God for nought (Job 1:9) does not enter into the thoughts of selfish people; to them godliness is a source of gain (1 Timothy 6:5), if not here, then hereafter.

III. THAT BALAAM WAS MOVED TO WISH HE MIGHT DIE THE DEATH OF THE RIGHTEOUS, BUT WAS NOT DISPOSED TO LIVE THE LIFE OF THE RIGHTEOUS; hence his wish was as futile as the mirage of the desert, and was signally reversed by the actual character of his end. Even so do evil men continually desire the rewards of goodness, which they cannot but admire, but they will not submit to the discipline of goodness. A sentimental appreciation of virtue and piety is worse than useless by itself.

IV. THAT BALAAM RECEIVED NO REWARD FROM BALAK BECAUSE HE HAD NOT CURSED ISRAEL, AND NONE FROM GOD BECAUSE HE HAD WISHED TO CURSE HIM. Even so it is with men whose religious feelings restrain, but do not direct, their lives. They miss the rewards of this world because they are outwardly conscientious, and the rewards of the next world because they are inwardly covetous.

V. THAT BALAAM RETURNED TO HIS PLACE, i.e; he went back. as it seemed, to his old home and his old life on the banks of Euphrates; in truth "he went to his own place" (Acts 1:25), for he rushed blindly on destruction, and received the recompense of death.

Consider again, with respect to the sayings of Balaam—

I. THAT IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO CURSE WHOM GOD HATH NOT CURSED. There is in fact but one curse which there is any reason to dread, and that is "Depart from me." Any malediction of men, unless it be merely the echo of this upon earth, spoken with authority, does but fall harmless, or else recoil upon him that utters it.

II. THAT THE SINGULAR GLORY OF ISRAEL WAS HIS SEPARATENESS—a separateness which was outwardly marked by a sharp line of distinction from other peoples, but was founded upon an inward and distinctive holiness of life and worship. Even so is the glory of the Church of Christ and of each faithful soul to be "separate from sinners," as was Christ. And this separation must needs be outwardly marked in many ways and in many cases (1 Corinthians 5:11; 2 Corinthians 6:17); but its essence is an inward divergence of motive, of character, and of condition before God. To be "even as others" is to be the "children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3); to be Christians is to be "a peculiar people" (Titus 2:14). If men cannot bear to be peculiar, they need not look to be blessed; if they must adopt the fashions of this world, they must be content to share its end (Galatians 1:4; 2 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 2:15-17).

III. THAT THE DEATH OF THE RIGHTEOUS IS BLESSED AND AN OBJECT OF DESIRE in a far higher sense than Balaam was able to comprehend. It may appear to the foolish that the life of the righteous is full of sadness, but none can fail to see that his death is full of immortality, that he is in peace by reason of a good conscience, and in hope of glory by reason of the sure mercies of God.

IV. THAT THE LATTER END OF THE RIGHTEOUS IS MORE BLESSED AND DESIRABLE THAN HIS DEATH; for this is to live again, and to live for ever, and to inherit eternity of bliss in exchange for a few short years of strife and patience.

V. THAT IT IS NOT POSSIBLE FOR MAN TO REVERSE THE BENEDICTIONS WHICH GOD HAS PRONOUNCED UPON HIS PEOPLE. This has been tried by Balaam, and by very many since, but to no effect. The blessings which we are called to inherit, as set forth in the New Testament, will certainly hold good in every age and under all circumstances. No matter what the world may say, or we be tempted to think, the "poor" and the "meek" and the "merciful" and the "persecuted for righteousness' sake" will always be "blessed," in spite of all appearances to the contrary.

VI. THAT GOD DOTH NOT BEHOLD INIQUITY IN HIS PEOPLE. Not that it doth not exist (as it existed then in Israel), but because it is not imputed to them that repent and believe in Christ Jesus. God doth not behold sin in the faithful soul, because he regards it not in its own nakedness, but as clothed with the righteousness of Christ, which admits not any spot or stain (Galatians 3:27; Philippians 3:9; Revelation 3:18). And this non-imputation of sin is not arbitrary now (as it was to a great degree in the case of Israel), because it is founded upon a real and living union with Christ as the source of holiness. There is a spiritual unity of life with him (John 3:5; John 6:57; John 15:4; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:30), and there is a consequent moral unity of life with him (Colossians 3:3; 1 John 2:6; 1 John 3:3; 1 John 4:17, &c.), which is only slowly and partially attained in this life; but it hath pleased God for the sake of the spiritual unity to regard the moral unity as though it were already achieved, and therefore he imputeth not sin to them that "walk in the light" (1 John 1:7).

VII. THAT IF THE LORD OUR GOD BE WITH US, THEN THE SHOUT OF A KING IS AMONG us, i.e; the joyful acclamation of them that welcome the King who never fails to lead them to victory. And this is one note of the faithful, that they rejoice in their King (Psalms 149:2, Psalms 149:5, Psalms 149:6; Matthew 21:9; Philippians 4:4), and that gladness is ever found in their hearts (Romans 14:17) and praise in their mouths (Acts 16:25; Hebrews 13:15; 1 Peter 2:9; and cf. Ephesians 5:18-20).

VIII. THAT NO MAGICAL INFLUENCE CAN BE BROUGHT TO BEAR AGAINST THE RIGHTEOUS. If they fear God they need not fear any one else (Luke 12:4, Luke 12:5; Romans 8:38, Romans 8:39). Superstitious fears are unworthy of a Christian. But note that, according to the other rendering of Numbers 23:23, the spiritual meaning is that the faithful have no need of, and no resort to, any such uncertain and unauthorized pryings into the unseen and unrevealed as superstition and irreligion do ever favour. Here is a warning against all the arts of so-called "spiritualism," which (if it be not wholly an imposture) is rank heathenism and abominable to God. If the gospel be true, then we have all the light we need for our present path, and we have the assurance of all the light we could desire in our future home (John 8:12; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2).

IX. THAT THE CAMP OF ISRAEL WAS LOVELY IN THE EYES OF THE PROPHET NOT SO MUCH BY REASON OF ITS SIZE, AS BECAUSE OF THE ORDER AND METHOD WITH WHICH IT WAS LAID OUT—like the cultivated gardens of the East. Even so is the order Divinely imparted to the Church its chiefest beauty. It is not its mere size, in which indeed it is inferior to some false religions, but its unity in the midst of variety, its coherence side by side with manifold distinctions, which stamps it as a thing of heavenly origin and growth. The highest art of the gardener is to allow to each tree the fullest liberty of individual growth, while arranging them for mutual protection and for beauty of effect; even so is the art of the Divine Husbandman (John 15:1) with the trees which he hath planted in his garden.

X. THAT THE FUTURE PROSPERITY OF ISRAEL WAS SPOKEN OF BY BALAAM UNDER TWO FIGURESOF OVERFLOWING BUCKETS USED IN IRRIGATION, AND OF SEED SOWN BY MANY WATERS. Even so the prosperity of the Church has a twofold character: it stands partly in the diligent and ample watering of that which is already sprung up, which is her pastoral work; partly in the widespread sowing by many waters, far and near, which is her missionary work.

XI. THAT THE CHURCH OF GOD IS NOT AFFECTED BY THE BLESSING OR CURSING, THE GOOD OR EVIL WILL OF MEN, BUT, ON THE CONTRARY, IS THE SOURCE OF BLESSING OR CURSING TO THEM; according as they treat her, so must they fare themselves. For since Christ hath loved her and given himself for her (Ephesians 5:25), his interests and hers are all one, and howsoever we act towards the Church, he taketh it unto himself (cf. Matthew 25:40, Matthew 25:45).

Consider again, with respect to the enterprise of Balaam—

I. THAT BALAAM WAS HIRED TO CURSE ISRAEL, BUT WAS CONSTRAINED TO BLESS HIM ALTOGETHER (cf. Deuteronomy 23:5; Joshua 24:10; Micah 6:5). Even so all the efforts of the world to cast infamy and odium upon the Church are turned backward, unless indeed she is untrue to herself. No weapon is forged against her more terrible than the interested enmity of gifted and intellectual men, which often promises to succeed where brute force is powerless; but even this cannot prosper. It is often the policy of the world to assail religion by religious influences, but God overrules this also. Gifts which are truly of his giving cannot be really turned against him or his.

II. THAT GOD'S PURPOSES AND PRONOUNCEMENTS CONCERNING HIS CHURCH ARE ETERNAL AND IMMUTABLE, SINCE HE CANNOT DENY HIMSELF, NOR GO BACK FROM HIS WORD. The future of his Church is perfectly safe and absolutely unassailable, because it depends not on any human counsel or constancy, but upon the eternal predestination and changeless will of God.

Consider again, with respect to that which Balaam spake by the Spirit of God—

I. THAT BALAAM HAD A VISION OF CHRIST HIMSELF, i.e. of a mysterious Being, a King of Israel, exalted and extolled, and very high, whom the Jews believed, and we know, to be the Christ. Even so all true prophecy looks on, more or less consciously, to him in whom all the promises of God are Amen (2 Corinthians 1:20), and in whom all the gifts of God to men are concentrated. The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 19:10), because there was nothing else really worth prophesying.

II. THAT BALAAM SAW HIM UNDER THE EMBLEMS OF A STAR AND OF A SCEPTER. Even so the Lord is both a luminary (Luke 2:32; 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16) and a ruler (Luke 1:33; Hebrews 1:8; Revelation 12:5) forever.

III. THAT BALAAM SAW HIM AS A DESTROYER, CRUSHING THE ENEMIES OF GOD AND OF HIS PEOPLE. And this is at first sight strange, because he came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them. But as it is quite naturally explained from a moral point of view when we take into account the moral ideas of Balaam's age, so it is found perfectly true in a spiritual sense when we consider what the work of Christ really is. For that work is indeed a work of destruction: he came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8); he came to destroy—not men, but—all that is sinful in men; not the enemies of God (for God has no enemies among men), but all in men which is inimical to him and to his truth. Hence he is ever represented as a destroyer in the Apocalypse, which reverts to the imagery of the Old Testament (Revelation 6:2; Revelation 19:11, Revelation 19:13, Revelation 19:15, &c.). And this aspect of his work, which is true and necessary, and is jealously guarded as his in Holy Scripture, ought not to be set aside or obscured by the gentler and pleasanter aspects of his reign. That he must put all enemies under his feet is the first law of his kingdom, and must somehow or other be brought to pass in us, as in others.

IV. THAT BALAAM SAW (ACCORDING TO HIS DAY) THE ENEMIES OF THE CHURCH OF GOD UNDER THE SEMBLANCE OF MOABITES, EDOMITES, AMALEKITES, KENITES, AND ASSYRIANS. And these may be interpreted in a spiritual sense as typifying the different forms in which a common hostility to the truth of Christ displays itself. In Moab we may see the hostility of cunning, which fears an open contest, but enlists the intellect and craft of others on its side; in Edom the hostility of insolent opposition, which loses no opportunity of inflicting annoyance and injury; in Amalek we may see vainglorious anger, which resents pretensions greater than its own, and rushes upon a hopeless conflict; in the Kenites we may see confidence in earthly strength, and in a lodgment so naturally strong as to defy all assaults; in Asshur we have the embodiment of brute force brutally used. If, however, the Kenites were the friends, not the foes, of Israel, then we may see in them how vain is the self-confidence even of religious people in any advantages of position or circumstance. The Kenites are not known to have provoked God, as Israel did, and their abode was peculiarly inaccessible and defensible; nevertheless, they too fell victims to Assyria, at the very time perhaps when Hezekiah and Jerusalem escaped.

V. THAT BALAAM WAS STRUCK WITH FEAR WHEN HE FORESAW THESE DESTRUCTIONS EXTENDING EVEN TO HIS OWN PEOPLE. Who shall live? In the crash of these great contending world-powers who could hope to escape? How much more may evil men fear "when God doeth this" which he hath so clearly foretold I And not evil men only, but all who are not in the truest sense of the Israel of God (1 Peter 1:17; 1 Peter 4:17, 1 Peter 4:18; 2 Peter 3:11).


Numbers 24:8


God's "defiance" the signal of destruction; God's "curse," fatal. But if protected from these we are safe, for "the curse causeless cannot come." We are safe from—

1. Malicious designs. E.g; Balaam's wish to curse; the plot of the Jews to stone Paul at Iconium (Acts 14:5), and to assassinate him at Jerusalem (Acts 23:1-35.).

2. Words of execration. E.g; Shimei (2 Samuel 16:1-23); the blasphemies spoken against Christ, and the libels uttered against his people (Matthew 10:24-26).

3. Witchcraft and divination. In reply to all such foolish fears let it suffice to say, "I believe in God" (Isaiah 8:13, Isaiah 8:14 : 1 Peter 3:13).

4. Assaults and all violence. E.g; the various attempts to seize or kill Jesus Christ when "his hour was not yet come." When the hour for suffering "as a Christian is come," let him glorify God "(1 Peter 4:12-16). Such calamities are not "curses" from God, and God can change all other curses into blessings, as in the case of Balaam (Deuteronomy 23:5).

5. Every kind of persecution (Romans 8:35-39). The devil's curse is a telum imbelle; his defiance an empty threat. The objects of God's care are invincible, if not invulnerable (Isaiah 54:17).—P.

Numbers 24:19


Two truths are suggested in contrast.


1. They repent, i.e; they change their mind, frequently, hastily, because of ignorance, or short-sightedness, or prejudice, or narrow-mindedness. Picture a man, fickle, irresolute, and therefore "unstable" (James 1:8). When he does not repent it may be a sign of obstinacy rather than of laudable firmness (Jeremiah 8:6).

2. They lie. Children of Satan (John 8:44), often trained from childhood in ways of falsehood (Psalms 58:3), they help to undermine the foundations of society (Isaiah 59:13-15), and to tempt truthful men to universal distrust (Psalms 116:11). Such men are apt to think that God is like themselves, changeable and unfaithful. They project an image of themselves, like idolaters, and call it God (Psalms 115:8). E.g; Balak (Numbers 24:13, 27), and Balaam himself at first (Numbers 22:8, Numbers 22:19).

II. IT IS "IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO LIE." Some of God's threats and promises are conditional, though in form they may seem absolute. E.g; Numbers 14:11, Numbers 14:12; Ezekiel 33:12-20. But others are fixed and absolute. We see this in—

1. Threats. E.g; exclusion of Hebrews from Canaan (chapter 14:20-22); Saul's loss of the kingdom (1 Samuel 15:22-29); exclusion of the impure from heaven (Hebrews 12:14; Revelation 21:27). Hence learn the folly of those who hope that God may change his mind, while theirs is unchanged; that God may repent instead of themselves. (Illustrate from Simon Magus, who desired to escape God's wrath while he gave no hint of abandoning his sins—Acts 8:24.)

2. Promises. E.g.,

(1) To Abraham, hundreds of years before (Genesis 12:1-3). Therefore Balaam says, verses 19, 20. So we may trace the effects of the promise down to the latest of the Old Testament prophets (Malachi 3:6) and the greatest of the Christian apostles (Romans 11:28, Romans 11:29).

(2) To believers in Christ. Because with God there is "no variableness," &c; therefore we have "strong consolation," &c. (Hebrews 6:18, Hebrews 6:19; James 1:17), and hope of the fullness of "eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised," &c. (Matthew 24:35; Titus 1:2).

(3) To suppliants who claim God's promises. God can as soon cease to exist as refuse to "make good" any promise claimed with faith through Jesus Christ our Lord.—P.


Verse 39- Numbers 23:12



1. The sacrifices. Balak and Balaam, however different their thoughts in other respects, were agreed as to the necessity of the sacrifices, if the desired curse were to be put in the prophet's mouth. And so there was abundance of sacrificing. Balak first makes spontaneous offerings, and then such as were specified by Balaam. They felt that God was not to be approached in an irregular way or with empty hands. As Balak thought of Balaam, so he thought of God. The prophet was to be bought with riches and honours, and God was to be bought with sacrifices of slain beasts. Here then is this common element in the practice of two men so different in other respects. It is in Aram and Moab alike. The tradition of Abel's accepted offering has come down far and wide, so that both men are found feeling that such sacrifices were in some way acceptable to God. But the faith and spirit of Abel could not be transmitted along with the knowledge of his outward act. These men did not understand that these sacrifices were worthless in themselves. God is a Spirit, and cannot eat the flesh of bulls and drink the blood of goats. Shedding of blood was for the remission of sins, and these men neither felt sin, confessed it, nor desired the removal of it.

2. The sight of the people to be cursed. The king took the prophet into the high places of Baal, that he might see the utmost part of the people. Very likely Balak himself had not seldom stood there, and gone down again each time more alarmed than ever. Balaam must now see these dreadful people, to satisfy himself that it was neither a trifling nor a needless work he had been called to do; to see how close at hand they were, and to be impressed with the necessity of making the curse potent, speedy, and sure. Added to which, Balak probably believed that, for the curse to operate, Balaam's eyes must rest on the people. Lane in his ‘Modern Egyptians' tells us how dreaded is the evil eye. Here then Balaam looked on these people in something of their wide extent. What an opportunity for better thoughts if the spirit that brings them had been in his heart! How he might have said, "Have I been called then to blast this mighty host, who have now lain so long in such close neighbourhood to Balak, yet harmed him not?"

3. The prophet has his own special preparations. While Balak attends to the sacrifices, Balaam retires to his secret enchantments (Numbers 24:1) in some high, solitary place. God did choose that his servants should go into such places to meet with him alone, but how differently Balaam looks here from Moses going up into Sinai, or Elijah when he went his day's journey into the wilderness, or Ezekiel when he heard the Lord say, "Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk to thee" (Ezekiel 3:22); above all, from Jesus, in those solitary, refreshing, blessed hours of which we have some hints in the Gospels! How far this retirement was sincere, how far it was meant to deceive Balak, and how far it was mere habit, we cannot tell. The conscience that is welt-nigh dead to practical righteousness, to justice, compassion, and truth, may yet be in an everlasting fidget with superstitious fear.


1. To Balaam. The whole of what happened may not have been unexpected. The meeting with God he certainly would be prepared for. He had met with God only too often of late, and not at all to his peace of mind and the furtherance of his wishes. We may conclude that God allowed him to go through with his enchantments, else he would hardly have gone to repeat them a second time (cf. Numbers 23:15 and Numbers 24:1). And perhaps the very fact that there was no interruption to his enchantments may have lifted his mind in hope that God was at last going to be propitious. If so it was but higher exaltation in order to deeper abasement. God meets with him, puts a word in his mouth, and commands him thus to speak with Balak. Are we to understand that by having the word put into his mouth, Balaam there and then had all the prophecy clearly before his mind, so that he could consider every word he had presently to utter? Possibly so. And it is possible also that as he went back to Balak he considered how he could trim this prophecy, as previously he had trimmed the commands of God. And now comes something for which, with all his assertions of only being able to speak the word God put in his mouth, Balaam was probably quite unprepared. He gets no chance of exerting his skill to trim and soften down unacceptable words. God assumes per-feet control of those rebellious, lying lips. God, who opened the mouth of an ass and made it utter human speech, now opens the mouth of one whose heart was ready to deceive and curse, and makes that mouth to utter truth and blessing.

2. To Balak. The words of the prophecy must have been utterly unexpected by him. He had counted with all confidence on getting what he wanted. Not a shadow of doubt had crossed his mind as to Balaam's power to curse and his own power to buy that power. Hardly a more impressive instance could be found of a man given over to strong delusion, to believe a lie. Counting on the curse as both attainable and efficacious, he now finds to his amazement, horror, and perplexity that Balaam cannot even speak the words of cursing; for doubtless when the Lord took possession of Balaam's mouth he took possession also of eyes, expression, tone, gesture, so that there would be no incongruity between the words and the way in which they were uttered.


1. A clear statement of how these two men come to be standing together. Balak brings Balaam all this long way in order to curse Jacob and defy Israel. The object of all these messages and these smoking sacrifices is stated in naked and brief simplicity. There is no reference to motives, inducements, difficulties. The simple historical fact is given without any note or comment; the request of Balaam mentioned, in order that it may be clearly contrasted with the reason why it is refused.

2. Balaam is forced into a humiliating confession. What he had so long concealed, as dangerous to his reputation, he must now publish from the high places of Baal. And notice that he confines himself to saying that the required curse and defiance are impracticable. No more is put into his mouth than he is able truthfully to say. Glorious as this prophecy is, one might imagine it being made more glorious still by the mingling with it of a penitent, candid confession of wrong-doing. He might have said, "Balak hath brought me," &c; and surely God would not have sealed his lips if it had been in his heart to add, "I bitterly repent that I came." He might have said, "How can I curse whom God hath not cursed? and indeed I discovered this long ago, but pride and policy kept the discovery confined within my own breast." And so we see how, while God kept Bahrain from uttering falsehood, and forced him to utter sufficient truth, yet Balaam the man remained the same. He says no more than he is obliged to say, but it is quite enough; with his own lips he publishes his incapacity to the world.

3. The very place of speaking becomes subservient to the purpose of God. We may presume that Balak well knew he was taking Balaam to the most favourable view-point. It was thought to be the best place for cursing, and from what Balaam now sees and says it would seem to be a very fit place for blessing.

4. And now, as Balaam looks from the top of the rocks and from the hills, what does he see? He may have been struck even already, and at that distance, and before he began the prophecy, with the outward peculiarities of Israel. Some peculiarities of Israel could only be known by a close and detailed inspection; others, e.g; the arrangement of the camp around the tabernacle, were best known by a sort of bird's-eye view. An intimate knowledge of London is only to be gained by going from street to street and building to building, but one thus gaining a very intimate knowledge of London would yet be without such an impression of it as is to be got from the top of St. Paul's. As Balaam looks down from the tops of the rocks he sees enough for the present purposes of God. He sees enough to indicate the separation and the vast numerical force of Israel. It was not needful here to speak of more. The immediate purpose of the prophecy was served if it deterred Balak from further folly. A great deal more might have been said of Israel, and was said afterwards. In one sense this was an introductory prophecy, followed up by fuller revelations in later ones; in another sense it stands by itself. The others would not have been spoken if the first had proved sufficient. Passing over the concluding wish of Balaam, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" which demands to be considered by itself, we note—

5. The state of suspense in which the prophecy leaves Balak as to his own position. It would have been so easy to introduce a reassuring word—one which, if it did not actually take away Balak's alarm, would at all events have been fitted to do so. But the king's request had something so peremptory and dictatorial about it that God's answer is confined to a refusal. He might have explained that Israel was now busy with its own internal affairs, and would soon, according to his purpose, cross Jordan, and that in the mean time, if Balak would show himself friendly, there was nothing in Israel to make it his foe. But Balak had so acted that the great thing to be done was to impress him with a deep sense of the strength and security of Israel. If we prefer unreasonable and arrogant requests, we must expect to receive answers which, if we were uneasy before, will leave us more uneasy still. God must go on speaking and acting so as to shake the ground under all selfishness.—Y.

Numbers 24:10


This certainly appears an extraordinary wish when we bear in mind the position and character of the man who uttered it. Any one taking these words on his lips, and thereby making them his own, would inevitably direct our attention to his life, and compel us to consider what he might be doing to make the wish a reality. From the time of his first entrance on the scene Balaam unconsciously reveals his character. He could not by any stretch of the word be described as a good man; the whole narrative is little but an illustration of his duplicity, selfishness, vanity, greed of gain and glory, and utter disregard of the plain commandments of God. The position of Balaam at this particular time is also to be remembered. He has been called to curse, twice pressed to make a long journey for this special purpose; he has offered sacrifices and sought enchantments to secure it; and yet he not only fails to curse, but, more than that, is compelled to bless; and, last of all, to crown the reversal of what had been so carefully prepared for, he is heard expressing an emphatic wish that he himself might be found among this blessed people.

I. CONSIDER FOR A MOMENT THESE WORDS OF BALAAM DISCONNECTED FROM ALL THEIR ORIGINAL CIRCUMSTANCES. Consider them as placed before some one who knew neither the character nor position of Balaam as the speaker, nor the position of Israel as the nation referred to. Let him know simply that these words were spoken once upon a time, and ask him to imagine for himself the scene in which they might be fitly spoken. Whither then would his thought be turned? Would it not be to some aged believer, gradually sinking to rest, with the experience that as the outward man decayed, the inward man was renewed from day to day, and with the conviction that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord; looking forward from time into eternity, according to the familiar illustration, as being "but a going from one room into another." Such would be the view suggested by the term "righteous," and the person expressing the wish would seem to be some studious, susceptible observer, with frequent opportunities for observation, who had been impressed by the reality and the superlative worth of the experience on which he had gazed. Then let such a one as we have supposed be confronted with these original circumstances. How perplexed he would be when told that the words were spoken by such a man as Balaam appears in the narrative, and of a people that had done such things as are recorded in the Book of Numbers! These words, looked at in a particular light, might be taken as indicating deep spiritual convictions and earnest, faithful life on the part of whoever speaks them. But we are bound to look at them now in the light of Balaam's character, and in the light also of Israel's past career.

II. CONSIDER THE ACTUAL EXTENT OF BALAAM'S WISH. He wishes to die the death of the righteous. Do not be misled by the prominence of the word "righteous" into supposing that for its own sake Balaam cared about righteousness. It was not righteousness that he desired, but what he saw to be the pleasant, enviable effects of righteousness. He cared nothing about the cause if only he could get the effects. He loved the vine because it produced grapes, and the fig-tree because it produced figs, but if he could have got grapes from thorns and figs from thistles, he would have loved thorns and thistles just as well. We have God revealing to an ungodly man as much as an ungodly man can perceive of the blessedness of the righteous. Balaam was entirely out of sympathy with the purposes of God. tie showed by the best of all evidence that he would have nothing to do with righteousness as a state of heart, habit of conduct, and standard in all dealings with God and men. But though Balaam did not appreciate the need of righteousness, he did appreciate happiness, and that very warmly, in his own carnal way. He saw in Israel everything a man could desire. To have Balaam uttering this wish was as emphatic a way as any God could have taken to show Balak his favour to Israel. Not only from the top of the rocks does the prophet see the separated and multitudinous people, which in itself was enough to drive Balak to unfavourable inferences, but so desirable does the state of the people appear, that Balaam cannot help wishing it were his own. God had told him at first "the people are blessed," and now, as soon as he sees them, God also makes the greatness of the blessedness sufficiently manifest even to his carnal and obscured heart.

III. THUS WE SEE THE DEEP IMPRESSION WHICH THE BLESSED LIFE OF GOD'S PEOPLE IS CAPABLE OF MAKING ON THE UNGODLY. Those who as yet have no sympathy with righteousness may have a keen desire for security, joy, and peace, and a keen perception of the fact that these somehow belong to real believers in Christ. It is a characteristic of the Scriptures, and a very notable and important one, that many of the appeals found in it are to what seem comparatively low motives. Has it not indeed been made a charge against Christian ethics that they make so much of rewards and punishments? But surely this is the very wisdom of God to draw men by inducements suitable to their low and miserable state, to promise joy to the joyless, peace to the distracted, security to the fearful, life to the dying. Certainly Christ the Saviour can do nothing for us as long as we remain impenitent, unbelieving, and unreconciled, but in his mercy he speaks first of all in the most general and sympathetic terms concerning our needs. The most comprehensive invitation the Saviour ever gave runs thus: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Not a word there of conviction of sin, wrath of God, need of righteousness, need of saving faith! Is it by accident that the first psalm begins with a reference to happiness? The sermon on the mount starts with this as the very beginning of Christ's teaching: "Men are unhappy; how can they find and keep blessedness, real happiness?" Suppose a man who has no experimental knowledge of the saving power of Christ, reading through the promises of the New Testament and the actual experiences therein recorded; suppose him to see that if words count for anything, godliness is indeed profitable for the life that now is. Would it be anything strange for such a man to say, "If righteousness brings such effects as these, then let me die the death of the righteous"? Appealing to high motives alone would be all very well if those appealed to were unfallen spirits or perfected saints; but men being what they are, God does not esteem it too great a condescension to draw them to himself by the promise of blessedness, high, peculiar, rich, and lasting.

IV. GOD GIVES HERE THROUGH BALAAM A CLEAR INDICATION OF HOW THIS DESIRABLE BLESSEDNESS COMES. Israel is not only the happy people, but the righteous people. Righteousness brings the happiness, and is the condition and the guarantee of its continuance. Wherever there is righteousness there is an ever-living and ever-fruitful cause of blessedness. The presence of this righteousness as essential is still more clearly indicated in the next prophecy: "God hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob." That is the great difference between Israel and Moab. Moab is not without its possessions and treasures, its carnal satisfactions; Moab has much that it thinks worth fighting for; it has honours and rewards to offer Balaam such as have brought him all this way to utter, if he can, a curse against Israel. But Moab is not righteous, and the sight of its happiness will never provoke such a wish as Balaam's here.

V. THIS BRINGS US TO CONSIDER THE PECULIAR WAY IN WHICH THE WISH IS EXPRESSED. "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" This is as comprehensive a way as was possible at the time of stating the blessedness of the righteous. Life and immortality were not yet brought to light. To die the death of the righteous was a very emphatic way of indicating the present life of the righteous in all its possible extent. No matter how long that life may stretch, it is one to be desired. "The righteous goes on as far as I can see him," Balaam seems to say, "and comes to no harm." The blessedness of God's people, if only they observe the requisite conditions, is a continuous, unbroken experience: not an alternation of oases and deserts. The fluctuations in that blessedness, the flowing and ebbing tides, come from defects in ourselves. Where there is the fullness of faith, prayer, and humility there surely will be the fullness of blessedness also. Then also, when we consider what Christ has shown us by his own experience of what lies beyond death; when we consider his own personal triumph, and the definite, unhesitating way in which a blessed resurrection is assured to his followers, and an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, we see a great prophetic importance in this particular mode of expression: "Let me die the death. Balaam's wish in the very form of it, so peculiar, and we may even say at first so startling, expressed far more than he had any possible conception of. Death stands crowning with one hand the temporal life of the righteous, and with the other opening to him the pure fullness of eternity.

VI. It is very important to notice that by the reference to Israel as the righteous AN UNERRING INDICATION IS GIVEN AS TO WHERE RIGHTEOUSNESS IS TO BE FOUND. Not they who call themselves righteous, but whom God calls righteous, are the people whose death one may desire to die. The true Israelite is he who fulfils the law and the prophets, as he is called to do and made competent to do by the fullness of that Holy Spirit which is given to every one who asks for him. "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." There is a worthless and deceiving righteousness which excludes from the kingdom of heaven, though the scribes and Pharisees, its possessors, make much of it. There is also a righteousness to be hungered and thirsted after (Matthew 5:1-48). We must be careful in this matter, lest we spend money for that which is not bread, and labour for that which satisfieth not (Isaiah 55:2). God hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, for where he beholds iniquity the seed of Jacob is assuredly absent. Those who have learned the corruption and deception, the necessary ignorance and incapacity, of the unrenewed heart, and thereby been impelled to seek and enabled to find renewal, life and light from on high, and holy principles and purposes for their future course, they are the righteous. Israel born of the flesh exists but as the type. We must not limit our view by him. "Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham" (Matthew 3:9).—Y.

Num 24:13 -26


Balaam has cursed where he was expected to bless, he has said things very hard to listen to and keep presence of mind, but Balak has not by any means lost faith in Balaam and his resources. He rather takes the blame to himself than to Balaam. If there be wrath in his heart with the speaker, who, instead of cursing Israel, has blessed it altogether, he manages to conceal the wrath. He cannot afford to quarrel with Balaam, the only known resource he has. He suggests, therefore, as the great cause of failure that the place of cursing has been badly chosen. Remove the cause, and the effect will disappear. Let the prophet come away from the top of the rocks to where his mind will not be filled with the presence of this bewildering multitude; and Balaam, whatever his private thoughts, consents to the experiment. It is the way of the blind, deluded world; all reasons for failure are accepted and acted on save the right one. Balak cannot yet see, will not see for a while, perhaps will never really see, that there is no place on earth where such requests can be granted. He is showing himself now, as Balaam had done before, unsatisfied with the first intimation. Balaam had been told plainly at the very first that Israel was blessed, yet here he is dabbling in superstitions, in enchantments and divinations, with no clear perception of the nature and character of God. Thus, all the narrative through, we see what egregious and scarcely credible blunders men make when they are left to themselves to make discoveries of God. What a proof that revelation in all the large extent of its Scriptural fullness is absolutely indispensable! God must not only give us the truth concerning himself, and the proper relation of men to him, but must also open our hearts and our eyes, and give us light whereby we may see the truth already given. How constantly we should remember the inevitable ignorance of those to whom gospel truth, light, and perceptive power have not yet penetrated! Take pity on them and help them—such darkened minds—as you think of Balak stumbling from one blunder to another, from one discredited resource to another, from one disappointment to another, only to find at last that all his schemes are vanity. And now we advance to consider the second prophecy. It is not only spoken in Balak's hearing, but is a direct appeal to himself. We are to imagine Balak standing with strained and eager look, already full of excitement and expectation, before ever a word is spoken. But this is not enough; he must be solemnly exhorted to attention.

"Things are about to be said directly concerning you, and it may be that when you have heard them, and allowed them to have full effect on your mind, you will cease from these foolish attacks on the established purpose and counsel of Jehovah." That this call upon Balak for attention was not a superfluous one is shown by the fact, that after hearing the prophecy he nevertheless made a third attempt, modified indeed, but still such as to show that he had not taken in the prophecy to anything like its full extent. We know how the Scriptures abound in expressions of which "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear," and "Verily, verily, I say unto you," are representative. Such expressions do not make truth any truer, but they do throw on us a great responsibility, and involve us in unquestionable blame for neglect of the things which belong to our salvation.

I. THE PROPHECY BEGINS BY CORRECTING BALAK'S FATAL MISAPPREHENSIONS CONCERNING GOD. Balak having failed the first time he tried Balaam, succeeded the second; having failed the first time he tries Jehovah, it is natural for him to think he may succeed the second. Hitherto he has known only the idols of Moab, and these of course only in such aspects as the priests presented them. As the priests were, so were the gods; and Balak, having experienced Balaam's final compliance, might excusably argue from Balaam to that Being whom he took to be Balaam's God. And now there falls out of a holier sphere some unexpected and much-needed knowledge for poor Balak, whose chief experience had been of equivocating, vacillating, unstable men. "God is not what you think him to he; he is true and steadfast, neither changing his purposes nor failing in them." Notice the way in which this all-important statement is put. God puts himself in contrast with his fallen, unfaithful, and disgraced creature, man. "God is not a man;" and, as if to emphasize this matter, he speaks the word of truth concerning his own truth through lying lips. "Men change their minds, and therefore break their words; they lie because they repent." What a hint then for us all to change from deceitful hearts to sincere ones, from lying lips to truthful ones, from vain purposes that must some day be relinquished, engendered as they are in our own selfishness and folly, to such purposes as are inspired by the unchanging God himself! Changing thus, we shall get into a state partaking somewhat of God's own steadfastness; or, rather, the only change will be from good to better and better to best. Man may become such that it shall no longer be his reproach that he lies, either carelessly, ignorantly, or maliciously, and repents, playing the weathercock to every wind that blows. God, we may be sure, desires the day to come when, instead of finding in man this awful and humiliating contrast to himself, he will rather be able to say, "Man is now true, clear from all belief in lies, from all deception and evasion, and steadfast in all the ways of righteousness, holiness, and love.

II. THE PROPHECY GOES ON TO REVEAL STILL MORE OF ISRAEL'S STRENGTH. The unchangeable God, having purposed to bless Israel, must go on blessing them. lie does it in word continually through the great official channel (Numbers 6:22-27), and now it is Balaam's lot (strange expositor of the Divine goodness!) to show clearly that the blessing of God is anything but a nominal or a secondary one. Much has been done to show this in the first prophecy, but a great deal more is done in the second. God has not only put Israel by themselves and made them into this vast multitude, which was a great deal to do, for Jacob's posterity is likened to the dust in number; but now through Balaam he shows quality as well as quantity. The people are not only separated outwardly and visibly, but separated still more by some great peculiarity in their inward life. Their vast numbers are but the most easily perceptible result of the vigorous, abundant vitality within. When Balaam got his first glance from the top of the rocks he saw the most obvious fruit of Israel's peculiar relation to God. Now in the second survey he comes as it were nearer, and sees the root and trunk and branches, the sap and substance whence these fruits take their origin.

1. There is the righteousness of the people. God, who searches into all secrets, and to whom the darkness and the light are both alike, has beheld no iniquity in Jacob, no wrong in Israel; that is to say, putting the thing plainly, there was no iniquity in Jacob. And though it seems a strange thing to say, considering God's late dealings with the people, we feel at once that it must not only be true, but very important, or it would not be put so prominently forward. God looks upon the ideal Israel which lies yet undeveloped in the midst of all the unbelief and carnality of the present generation. Though at the present moment any dozen Israelites might be as debased as any dozen Moabites, yet in Israel there was a seed of holiness, a sure beginning of the perfect and the blessed, which was not to be found anywhere in Moab. God, bear in mind, sees what we cannot see. God is not a man, that he should lie; neither is he a man that his eye should be stopped by the surface and first appearance of things. Jesus sought a solid ground for the future of his saving work in the world, and he found it not amidst the world's wisdom, but where we assuredly should never have looked—among the stumbling, ignorant disciples whom he gathered in Galilee. Looking with other eyes than men, and where proud men never look, he finds what they never find.

2. There is the presence of God with them, and that not only as God, but as King. "When you attack Israel, O Balak, you attack the kingdom of God. You, the king of Moab, appeal to the King of Israel to curse his own people." His sanctuary is also his throne, and where he is worshipped, there he also rules. Every act of worship is also an expression of loyalty. Balak described Israel as a people come out of Egypt (Numbers 22:5); he is now to learn that they came because they were brought; because that very God brought them whose curse he had so laboriously and patiently sought to invoke. "Does it stand to reason, O Balak, that God can have brought them so far now to leave them for the sake of your sacrifices and Balaam's enchantments?" Thus also we may gather that as God in all the fullness of his being, Father, Son, and Spirit, has so long given his indubitable presence to his Church, he will assuredly for this very reason continue it to the end. God indeed looks on that Church in its actual coldness, indolence, and carnality,—and the Israel of God to-day is quite as far away from the fullness of its privileges, the perfection of its faith, and the exactness of its service as was Israel in the wilderness,—but he regards the ideal still. It is through the believers in Christ alone, the spiritual children of the faithful Abraham, that the nations are to be truly blessed. The ideal believer is the ideal man. Where the faithful and true God finds germs of faithfulness and truth in man, there he will abide and never depart.

3. There is strength for all required service and toil. "He hath as it were the strength of the unicorn (or buffalo). "Much increase is by the strength of the ox" (Proverbs 14:4), but an animal stronger even than the ordinary ox is needed to set forth the extent of Israel's advantages. We may take it that the figure here is intended to set forth strength pure and simple. Israel will have power to do whatever the course of events ,nay bring to be done. It is strong to do God's work as long as it is left to the peaceful pursuit of that work, and it is also strong to make a complete defense whenever it may be attacked. "Rouse Israel by your attacks, and the force that has hitherto been used for internal progress will become a wall against you; and not only so, but you ,nay be swept away in the rush of the roused and maddened unicorn." There is thus a warning to Balak not to provoke. It is when the Church has been provoked by persecution that her true strength has been shown to the world. What a mockery of this world's boasted resources, when all its persuasions, cajoleries, threats, and torments have failed to shake the faith of humble believers! It can burn, but it cannot convert. It is marvelous, the strength, energy, and patience which God has bestowed on some of his servants. Paul toiling on among infirmities and persecutions is a proverb; but, to come nearer home, consider John Wesley, hardly ever out of the saddle except when he was in the pulpit, amply furnished for all the weariness of travel and the work of incessant preaching till long past his eightieth year; and in matters of defense so wonderfully strengthened with the strength of the unicorn that he passed unharmed through all physical perils and social opposition. It is one of the most remarkable of all his remarkable experiences that he could say in his seventy-fourth year, "I have traveled all roads by day and by night these forty years, and never was interrupted yet."

4. God gives his people certain, authoritative, regular knowledge as to his will and favour. He does not leave them to auguries and divination. These things indeed were not only useless, but forbidden (Le John 19:26). Whatever he has to say he says through appointed and recognized channels, and confirms and illustrates it by suitable acts. There was place and need for lawgivers, prophets, and priests in Israel, but no room for men like Balaam, augurs, magicians, and priestcraft in general. Enchantments and divination had been the mainstay of Balak's hope, and though Balaam's experience may have prevented him from trusting so fully in them, he nevertheless considered them a very important element in propitiating Jehovah. Man's ways of reaching God are all vanity. God himself has to come down and lay a way very clearly marked and strictly prescribed. In that way, and in that alone, there is certainty and sufficiency of knowledge, safety, and blessedness of life. "The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide" (Psalms 37:31).

III. THE PROPHECY CLOSES BY INDICATING HOW THERE WILL BE IN ISRAEL THE SPIRIT OF DESTRUCTION AND THE STRENGTH TO DESTROY. Israel has not only the strength of the buffalo, but the spirit and propensities of the lion. This is the first intimation of threatening. The prophecy closes with, as it were, a growl and menace from the lion of the tribe of Judah. Up to this time God has told Balak to go round about Zion and tell the towers thereof, and mark well her bulwarks (Psalms 48:12, Psalms 48:13), that he might see how God's ideal people are invulnerable to all enemies. But now the defensive is suddenly turned into the offensive. Israel is a lion. We know from the frequent references to the lion in the Old Testament that this figure must have been a very impressive one to Balak. In Isaiah's prophecy concerning Moab we find these words: "I will bring lions upon him that escapeth of Moab" (Isaiah 15:9). The roar, the spring, the resistless attack, the sudden and complete collapse of the victim, all rise to our minds the moment this majestic animal is mentioned. The idea of defense scarcely enters into our minds in connection with the lion. His resources are those of attack. What shall Balak do if he has to meet a foe whose strength is that of the unicorn, and whose ardour is that of the lion? The figure, remember, is suitable to the occasion. There is a time to compare the people of God to the sheep whom the shepherd leads out and in, and gathers within the protecting fold, but there is also a time to compare them to the restless lion, seeking for his prey, and not lying down till he drinks its blood. The Church of Christ is a destroying institution, and this part of its work must not be concealed and softened down to suit the prejudices of the world. The claws of the lion must not be clipped when it is dealing with vested interests and established iniquities. As it is not the way of the lion to make compromises with its prey, so neither must we make compromises with any evil. We have nothing to do with evil, save, in the name of the God of righteousness, to destroy it as soon as we can. Nor need there be any fear of carrying the comparison too far. He who has taken in the meaning of those words, "Be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves," will well understand how to be ardent, enthusiastic, uncompromising, almost fierce and lion-like, against monster evils, yet at the same time gentle as the lamb, pitiful as God himself, towards the men whose hearts have been hardened and their consciences blinded by the way in which their temporal interests have become intimately mixed with wrong. Wilberforce was one of the most gentle, affectionate, and considerate of men, always on the alert to say a word or write a letter for the spiritual good of others, yet his greatest work took the form of destroying evil. For many long years he had to look in the sight of the world a combatant more than anything else. When the slave trade was abolished in 1807 it is reported of him that he asked his friend Thornton, "What shall we abolish next?" a playful question, of course, but capable of a very serious meaning. No sooner does one great evil vanish from the scene than another becomes conspicuous. Evil seems continually growing as well as good. It is perhaps not without significance that so many associations clamouring for the attention of good and patriotic men have in the names of them such words as these: "abolition," "repression," "prevention." It must needs be so, even to the end. The devil well knows how to make the selfish interests of one half the world dependent on the sufferings and miseries of the other half.—Y.

Verse 27- Numbers 24:14



1. With regard to Balak. After hearing the second prophecy, and especially its menacing conclusion, he is naturally much irritated. It is bad enough to have been disappointed even once, but kings like worse to have threatening added to disappointment, and at first Balak makes as if he would have nothing more said on the subject, one way or another. If Balaam cannot curse the people, neither shall he bless them. But becoming a little calmer, Balak determines to try a third time, and from a still different place; so little did he need the solemn assertion of God's unchangeable purposes to which his attention had been specially called. The conduct of Balak is a warning to us to keep our hearts right at all times with regard to the reception of Divine truth. Truths stated very clearly and emphatically, and in critical circumstances, may yet be utterly neglected. That which is necessary to be known will, we may be quite sure, have a clearness corresponding to the necessity. However clear and simple statements are in themselves, they must needs be as idle breath if we refuse to give humble and diligent attention to them.

2. With regard to Balaam. He no longer goes out seeking for enchantments, although be still clings to the inevitable sacrifices. This forsaking of the enchantments and clinging to the sacrifices, is it not a sort of testimony out of the very depths and obscurities of heathenism that God cannot be approached without something in the way of vicarious suffering? Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel. It had taken him a long time and caused him a great deal of trouble to see this, and yet the sequel proves (Numbers 31:8, Numbers 31:16) that, after all, seeing, he did not perceive, and hearing, he did not understand. Nevertheless, at this time he saw sufficient to convince him how vain were Balak's hopes of a curse from Jehovah. If Israel was to be overthrown, it was not in that way. Observe that in uttering this prophecy Balaam is thrown into a higher state of receptivity than before. When Balak refused to be satisfied with the first prophecy, he got a second one, specially addressed to himself, and fuller; more indicative of Israel's resources, varied, ample, and unfailing as they were for every possible need. But now he does not so much get a prophecy fuller in itself; it is rather a clearer proof that Balaam is indeed employed by God as a prophet. He is thrown into an ecstatic state, His eyes are closed to the outward world, but the mind's eye is opened, and a picture, first beautiful, and then terrible, is presented to his vision. We see from this how much God can do in controlling the powers of carnal and unsympathizing men. God not only puts his own words into Balaam's lying lips, but he makes him see such visions as were customarily confined to men who were spiritually fit for them. Balaam doubtless, looking away into the distance of time from the present encampment of Israel in Moab to their future life in Canaan, would rather have seen ruin, confusion, and desolation—something to rejoice the heart of his employer, and bring to himself the promised rewards. But he could only see what God showed him. If then God held this ungodly Balaam in such control, what may not his power be over those who submit to him with all their hearts? There is a sort of proportion in the matter. As the unwilling Balaam is to the completely submissive believer, so what God did to Balaam is to what God will do for such a believer. The more you give to God for working on, the more, by consequence, he will give to you in return. Yield yourselves to God, that he may not only work through you by his mighty power, but in you and for you according to the purpose of his love and the riches of his grace. The sad reflection is that Balaam allowed himself to be an evidence of the power, but not the grace; allowed God's blessings to go through him, yet, in spite of his own expressed wish, made no attempt to keep blessings for himself.

II. THE PROPHECY ITSELF. Here are set before us two pictures, as it were, a beautiful one and a terrible one. Picture the first. A spectator in an ordinary state of mind, looking down with his natural vision on the Israelite camp, sees long ranges of tents, set in four divisions, and at a reverent distance from the tabernacle in the midst of them. The people dwelt "not in stately palaces, but in coarse and homely tents, and those, no doubt, sadly weather-beaten." But Balaam in his ecstasy, when the Spirit of God came upon him, looked upon a more attractive and respiring scene. What he gazed upon at first was indeed these rows of tents, but, just as if in a dissolving view, they faded away before his eyes, and in place of them, valleys, gardens by the river-side, aloes of Jehovah's planting, and cedars beside the waters were spread out before him. Everything is suggestive of quiet, steady prosperity, of fruitfulness, peace, and beauty. This is the internal life of the Church of Christ, when his people are living to the extent of their privileges. This is the difference between the external appearance and the inward life and experience, Just at that moment when the lot of the Christian looks least attractive to the casual and uninstructed glance, it may be rich in all the great elements of true blessedness. The position of the Christian in this world is not seldom like that of the kernel within the shell: outside, the rough, repulsive, unpromising shell; inside, the precious kernel, with "the promise and potency" in it of a tree like that from which it was taken. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit" (1 Corinthians 2:9, 1 Corinthians 2:10). And thus it is here. It was not possible for Balaam to describe the blessed circumstances of Israel in direct language. He had to fall back on the comparison to certain visible things, such things as would raise in the mind of a dweller in Moab or Canaan, or anywhere round about, a picture of the highest satisfaction and success. Picture the second. The first picture is beautiful, and very beautiful; it is Eden raised in the waste wilderness. The second picture is terrible, and very terrible; yet what else could be expected? If Balak will go on presumptuously defying the sacred and beloved people of God, undeterred by the menaces to which he has already listened, then those menaces must be repeated with all the force and thoroughness of expression that can be thrown into them. The sudden transition from such a peaceful, beautiful scene as goes before heightens the effect, and probably was meant to do so. On one side is Israel engaged in tilling, the garden, the work to which man was set apart in the first days of innocence, watering his far-spread crops and enjoying his fragrant aloes and his cedars; on the other side is Israel the Destroyer, emphatically the Destroyer. The qualities of no one animal, however destructive, are sufficiently expressive to set him forth. Fierce, furious, strong, resistless as the lion is, the lion by himself is not enough to show forth Israel, and you must add the unicorn; and there you are invited to gaze on this unicorn-lion, strong in power, thorough in execution, leaving not one of his enemies unsubdued and undestroyed. Let Balak well understand that Israel, under the good hand of God, is climbing to the highest eminence among the nations. The repetition of the references to the unicorn and the lion shows how important the references are, and how needful it is to let the mind of the Christian dwell encouragingly on them. Balak sets forth the intolerant and suspicious spirit of the world in all its kingdoms; and the world does not heed prophecies; it does not take them to heart, else it would cease to be the world. These prophecies, though they were first spoken by a Balaam and listened to by a Balak, were meant in due course to reach, guide, assure, and comfort Israel. If there are times when we are tempted to fear the world, with its designs, its resources, and the might of its fascinating spirit, then we shall do well to recollect that, by a double and enlarged assurance, God reckons his Church to have the strength of the unicorn and the spirit of the lion, utterly to subdue and destroy all those kingdoms of the world which, to keep up the figure, are considered as the natural prey of the Church.—Y.


Numbers 24:7-10


The word "parable" is used here in a somewhat peculiar sense. It is not, as in the New Testament, a fictitious narrative embodying and enforcing some moral truth, but a "dark saying," a mystic prophecy cast in the form of figurative poetic language, a prophecy that partakes of the nature of allegory. In these ecstatic utterances the impulse of Balaam s better nature overmasters his more sordid passion, and a true prophetic spirit from God takes the place of the false Satanic spirit of heathen divination. The thoughts respecting Israel to which Balaam gives utterance in this first parable are deeply true of the redeemed people of God in every age.

I. THEIR SPECIAL PRIVILEGE AS OBJECTS OF THE DIVINE FAVOUR. "How shall I curse," &c. Balak had faith in Balaam's incantations. "I wot that he whom thou blessest," &c. (Numbers 22:6). But he himself knew well that there was an arbitrament of human interests and destinies infinitely higher than his. God has absolute sovereignty for good or ill over all our human conditions. There is no real blessing where his benediction does not rest, nor need any curse be dreaded by those who live beneath his smile. "If God be for us," &c. (Romans 8:31). No alternative so momentous as this—the favour or the disfavour of God. Note, respecting the Divine favour, that—

1. It is determined by spiritual character. Not an arbitrary, capricious bestowment. It is for us to supply the conditions. We must "be reconciled to God" if we would know the benediction of his smile. God is "for" those who are for him. The cloud in which his glory dwells gives light to those who are. in. spiritual accord with him, but is darkness and confusion to his foes.

2. It is neither indicated nor disproved by the outward experiences of life. External conditions are no criterion of the state of the soul and its Divine relations. The wicked may "have all that heart can wish" of the good of this life, and their very "prosperity may slay them ;" while it is often true that "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth" with sorest tribulations, and those tribulations "work out for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." We judge very falsely if we suppose that spiritual experiences must needs be reflected in outward conditions.

3. It is the source of the purest joy of which the soul of a man is capable. This is true blessedness—to walk consciously in the light of God s countenance. "His favour is life," his loving kindness "better than life." This was the pure joy of the well-beloved Son—the abiding sense of the Father's approval. Have this joy in you, and you may defy the disturbing influences of life and the bitterest maledictions of a hostile world.

II. THEIR SEPARATENESS. "Lo, the people shall dwell alone," &c. (Numbers 24:9). The Jews were an elect people ("Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people"—Exodus 19:5), chosen and separated, not as monopolizing the Divine regard, but as the instruments of a Divine purpose. They were called to be witnesses for God among the nations,—the majesty of his Being, the sanctity of his claims, the method of his government, &c.,—and to be the channels of boundless blessing to the world. The same grand distinction belongs to all whom Christ has redeemed from among men. "Ye are a chosen generation," &c. (1 Peter 2:9). He says to all his followers, "Ye are not of the world," &c. (John 15:19; John 17:16, John 17:17). This separation is—

1. Not circumstantial, but moral; lying not in the renunciation of any human interest or the rending of any natural human tie, but in distinctive qualities of spiritual character and life. In moral elevation and spiritual dignity only are they called to "dwell alone."

2. Not for the world's deprivation, but for its benefit Not to withdraw from it powers that might better be consecrated to its service, but to bring to bear upon it, in the cause of righteousness, an energy higher and diviner than its own.

III. THEIR MULTIPLICITY. "Who can count the dust," &c. The promise given to Abraham is gloriously fulfilled in God's spiritual Israel. "Thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth," &c. (Genesis 28:14). This indicates at once the grandeur of the Divine purpose and the diffusive power of the Divine life in men. On both these grounds their numbers will surely multiply till they "cover the face of all the earth." Little as we may be able to forecast the future, we know that the question, "Are there few that be saved?" will find its triumphant answer in "the great multitude which no man can number, of all nations," &c. (Revelation 7:9).

IV. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THEIR END. "Let me die the death," &c. We gather from this not only Balaam's faith in the intrinsic worth of righteousness, but also in the happy issue to which a righteous life in this world must lead as regards the life to come. Why this wish if he had no faith in a glorious immortality and in righteousness as the path to it? There is an instinct in the soul even of a bad man that leads to this conclusion, and his secret convictions and wishes will often bear witness to a diviner good of which his whole moral life is the practical denial. You must be numbered with the righteous now if you would find your place with them hereafter, and live their life if you would die their death.—W.

Numbers 24:23


We may look upon Balaam here as representing the Satanic powers that have ever been plotting and working against the kingdom of God among men, and as the unwilling prophet of their ultimate defeat. The spell of a higher Power is over him, and he cannot do the thing that he would. Looking down from "the high places of Baal" upon the tents of Israel spread Out over the plain beneath, he is constrained in spite of himself to utter only predictions of good. His magic arts are utterly baffled in presence of the Divinity that overshadows that strange people. It is a picture of what is going on through all the ages. In the triumphant host approaching the borders of the land of promise we see the ransomed Church moving on to its glorious destination, its heavenly rest; the kingdom that Christ has founded among men consummating itself, "covering the face of the whole earth." And in the failure of his enchantments we see the impotence of the devices of the powers of darkness to arrest its progress. The Satanic working has assumed different forms.

I. PERSECUTION. The followers of Christ soon verified his prophetic word: "In the world ye shall have tribulation." The infant Church was nursed and cradled in the storms. It no sooner began to put forth its new-born energies than it found the forces of earth and hell arrayed against it. But what was the result? The first outbreak of hostility only brought to the minds of those feeble men, with a meaning undiscovered before, the triumphant words (Psalms 2:1-12), "Why do the heathen rage," &c. It drove them nearer to the Divine Fountain of strength. It made them doubly bold (Acts 4:23, Acts 4:30). Scattered abroad, they ‘:went everywhere preaching the word, and the hand of the Lord was with them." A prophecy was thus given of the way in which persecution would always serve the cause it meant to destroy, and God would "make the wrath of man to praise him." Ecclesiastical authority has leagued itself with the tyrannous powers of the world in this repressive work. The sanctions of religion have been invoked for the destruction of the truth. But ever to the same issue. Whatever form it takes, the persecuting spirit is always essentially Satanic; there is nothing Divine in it. And it always defeats its own end. "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." The fire that has swept over the field, consuming the growth of one year, has only enriched it and made it more prolific the next. The kingdom of Christ has rooted itself in the earth, and its Divine energies have been developed by reason of the storms that have raged against it. Not only has "no weapon formed against it prospered," but the weapon has generally recoiled on the head of him who wielded it. The Satanic enchantments have been foiled just when they seemed to reach the climax of their success, and the curses of a hostile world have turned to blessings.

II. CORRUPTING INFLUENCES WITHIN THE PALE OF THE CHURCH ITSELF. Christianity has suffered far more from foes within than ever it did from foes without. Christ has been wounded most "in the house of Ms friends." Read the history of the first three or four centuries of the Christian era if you would know to what an extent the hand of man may mar the fair and glorious work of God. They tell how Christian doctrine, worship, polity, social life gradually lost their original simplicity and purity. The traditions of Judaism, heathen philosophies and mythologies, the fascinations of a vain world, the basest impulses of our nature, all played their part in the corrupting process. The human element overbore and thrust aside the Divine, till it seemed as if Satan, baffled in the use of the extraneous persecuting powers, were about to triumph by the subtler forces of corruption and decay. But God has never left his Church to itself any more than to the will of its adversaries. In the darkest times and under the most desperate conditions the leaven of a higher life has been secretly working. Nothing is more wonderful than the way in which the interests of Christ's kingdom have been preserved, not only in spite of, but often through, the instrumentality of events and institutions that in themselves were contrary to its spirit and its laws. What are many of our modern agitations but the struggles of the religious life to east off the fetters that long have bound it, to shake itself from the dust of ages, symptoms of the vis vitoe by which nature throws off disease. Even the retrograde movements that sometimes alarm us will be found by and by to have conspired to the same end. And when the Church shall "awake, and put on her beautiful garments" of simple truth and love and power, when "the Spirit is poured out upon her from on high," then shall it be seen how utterly even these subtler Satanic "enchantments" have failed to arrest her progress towards the dominion of the earth.

III. THE ASSAULTS OF UNBELIEF. The intellectual force of the world in some of its most princely and commanding forms has ever set itself in deadly antagonism to the Church of Christ. Far be it from us to say that all who hold or teach anti-Christian doctrine are consciously inspired by the spirit of evil. But beneath the fairest aspects of aggressive unbelief we discern the Satanic aim to darken the glory that shines from heaven on human souls. It is given to "the mystery of iniquity" to pervert the genius, the learning, even the very mental integrity and honest purpose of men to its own false uses. But have these forces of unbelief ever gained a substantial victory? One would suppose, from what is often said on their side, that they were victorious along the whole line. Is it really so? Is there any one stronghold of revealed truth that they have stormed and taken? In all the battles that have been fought on the field of Christian doctrine, has any ground really been lost? Have any of the "standards" fallen? Is Christianity in any sense a defeated or even damaged cause? Nay, we rather believe that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men," and "the weakness of God is stronger than men." The camp of Israel need fear no hostile "enchantment," for "the Lord their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them."—W.


Numbers 24:10-14


He sees now clearly that there is no chance of prevailing over Israel by means of a curse, and that any further appeal to the prophet would only bring words more galling to his pride and more menacing to his position, if indeed such words could be found. Considerations of policy and prudence need no longer restrain him in speaking out all his mind to the prophet.


1. An outbreak of selfish wrath. Balaam indeed did not deserve much sympathy, seeing how he had played into Balak's hands from the very beginning. But if he had deserved sympathy ever so much, he would not have met with it. Balak has eyes, heart, and recollection for nothing but his own disappointment. He has no real sympathetic regard for Balaam, no consideration for one who is far from home, and whose professional reputation all around will be sadly damaged by this failure on a critical occasion. Wicked men in the hour of disaster show small consideration for their accomplices. Those in whose hearts the temptation of some great reward for evil-doing is beginning to prevail should consider that if they fail they will meet with scant mercy or excuse. When the Balaks of the world get a Balaam into their bands, they look on him just as a tool. If the tool does its work as they want it, well and good; keep it carefully for further use; but if it turns out a failure, fling it without more ado on the dunghill. Balak acts here towards Balaam just as he might be expected to act.

2. He lays the whole blame on Balaam. He does not consider that the evil purposes of his own heart must needs be frustrated. Three prophecies, full of solemn and weighty matter, uttered in his hearing, have not made him in the slightest degree conscious of the folly and iniquity of his project. He sees indeed that the project must fail, but is blind as a bat to the real reason of the failure. All that he has heard concerning Jehovah, his character, his past dealings with Israel, and his purposes for them, has not impressed him one whit, save with the fact that somehow, he cannot get his own way. His curse project has ended in a huge, humiliating, exasperating failure, and Balaam must bear the blame of it. Wicked men cannot be got to give Heaven credit for all its timely and irresistible interferences with their darling schemes. The fault in Balak's angry eye rested with Balaam, and with him alone. "The Lord hath kept thee back from honour." A true word indeed, but not applicable in the way in which Balak intended it. The Lord had kept Balaam back from honour, but not from the paltry honour which Balak would have conferred on him. The lesson for us is, that whenever any selfish plan of ours fails, we should not, like this blind, besotted king, go laying blame elsewhere, as if it would exonerate ourselves. Balaam of course was to blame, grievously to blame, a great deal more than Balak, seeing he sinned against greater light. But we must not let the grievous and conspicuous faults of others cast our own into the shade. We are at the best very poor judges of the transgressions of our fellow-men. When we fail in anything, it is far the wisest, kindest, and most profitable course to give diligent heed to such causes of failure as are in our own heart. Whatever disappointments may come to us in life, we shall never fail in anything of real importance if only we keep our own hearts right with God.

II. BALAK'S VAIN ATTEMPT TO GET PROMPT RIDDANCE OF THE PROPHET. He thinks it is enough to say, "Stop." But as he was not able to make Balaam speak what he wanted and when he wanted, so neither is he able to make Balaam cease when the Lord's message is on his lips. God opened Balaam's mouth, and it is not for Balak to close it. Before Balak is left, his impotence shall be manifested in the completest possible way. He had been the thoughtless and unwitting means of turning on the stream of glorious prophecy, and now he finds he cannot stop that stream at will. Jehovah did not seek this occasion, but when it is furnished he deems it well to avail himself of it to the full. And now Balak finds that, whether he will or not, he must listen to the doom of his own people, expressly and clearly announced. Learn that when you begin the headstrong course of making everything on earth—and perhaps, after Balak's fashion, in heaven as well—subservient to self, you cannot stop whenever the consequences begin to get troublesome. Balak said, "Let my will be done, not because it is right, but because it is mine," and he was not contented with a refusal, once or even twice. He must have it a third time, and then he finds that the choice is no longer under his control. Let us choose wisely while we are able to choose.—Y.

Numbers 24:15-25


The final prophecy, unsolicited by Balak, which indeed he would have been glad to stop, goes far beyond the concerns of his kingdom and his reign. It stretches over an ever-widening extent of space and time. As long as there is any Moab kind of nation to be destroyed, Israel must continue to prevail'. The kingdoms of this world not only will become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, but no other conclusion is easily conceivable. The power by which Israel conquers one enemy enables it to conquer all; and the disposition which leads it against one enemy must lead it against all. It will again and again be attacked, and must defend where it is attacked. It must expand by the ever-strengthening life within. The more it grows, the more room it will require, until at last the kingdoms of the world become its own. Notice—

I. THE ADVANCE IN THIS PROPHECY UPON THE PRECEDING ONE, AS SHOWN BY THE DIFFERENT FIGURE EMPLOYED. The lion destroys, and that most effectually, but he can do nothing more than destroy. The horse or the ox will draw the cart, and thus serve constructive purposes. Even the tiniest bird can build its compact and symmetrical nest, but the lion can do nothing save destroy. You may cage it and curb its savage propensities a little, but it is not tamed; the lion-nature is there, and the smallest taste of blood will cause it to burst forth in all its fury. The lion being thus a destroyer, and nothing but a destroyer, it is needful to present Israel as able to do more—able to destroy in order that there may be room for the construction of something more worthy to endure. It does not become God to stay the current of prophecy with a menace of dreadful destruction as the last word, and so he makes Balaam to speak of the star and the scepter. The lion, as it rages about, can make a solitude; it can take away wickedness by taking away all wicked men; but a solitude is not a kingdom. The true kingdom of God is only gained when he gets willing hearts. The destruction which is spoken of with such energy and almost fierceness of illustration is for the purpose of completely taking away the evil out of human society, so that only the good may remain to serve and glorify the Maker of mankind.

II. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STAR, AS INDICATING THE METHOD IN WHICH GOD WILL WORK TO CONQUER EVIL AND ESTABLISH GOOD. The star, it is said, is mentioned here as the symbol of governing power, according to the astrological notions of antiquity. It is further said that the joining of the scepter with the star shows that authority and supremacy are the main things to be indicated by the mention of the star. Certainly the prophecy is full of the idea of supremacy and authority; but if this idea was the only thing to be considered, the mention of the scepter would be enough. The star is a symbol of power, but it is also a symbol of many great realities besides. Let us ask not only why the scepter is joined with the star, but why the star is joined with the scepter. The very first thing that a star indicates is light. God will establish his rule by sending the Star out of Jacob to rise in the darkness. Christ, the fulfillment of the star, has come a light into the world, a rival to-existent lights, and destined to outshine them all. He is a light ever protesting against the darkness, not comprehended by it, not swallowed up and lost in it. Rejoice in this, that the Star out of Jacob is inaccessible to the meddling of those who hate its inconvenient revelations. Christ comes to destroy, and at the same time to construct by letting light in upon all dark, idolatrous chambers and all self-deceiving hearts. The light is from him who knows what is in man, his wickedness, his weakness, and his wants. He brings reality where others only bring appearance. He brings truth where they, even in their very sincerity, bring error. There is no room for a Balaam in his kingdom. The Demas who makes a few steps within soon retreats from a light far too trying for the darkness of his heart. Notice, further, that the light of the star is in some respects more significant of the work of Christ than would be the light of the sun. We must have a figure which will keep before us both the light and the darkness. To us, individually, Christ may be as the sun, filling our hearts with light. We know, alas, that he is far from being a sun to many. Their light is still darkness, but the Star of Bethlehem shines in the firmament, waiting for the hour when in humility they may betake themselves to it. After all the search for truth, and whatever knowledge may be gained, there is still the sense of incompleteness; the knowledge stops with the intellect; it does not find its way to enlighten and comfort the whole heart. We can by no means dispense with the Star out of Jacob, the Star that shines from every page of the Scriptures.

III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SCEPTRE, AS INDICATING THE REALITY OF THE DOMINION. The scepter is that of Christ's truth, wielded with all the power of God's Holy Spirit. We must have much assurance, not only of the illumination that comes from Christ, but of the consequent actual illumination in accepting human hearts.

We must ever be ready in our approaches to God to say, "Thine is the kingdom and the power. Thine is not only the rightful authority, but also the actual authority." What is a more offensive sight than a merely nominal submission to Christ? How soon it becomes evident to the discerning eye that there is an utter want of harmony! Those who are really Christ's subjects soon justify their loyalty by the commotion they make among the accepted customs and traditions of the world. There is a sense in which they may covet often to hear the word, "They that have turned the world upside down have come hither also." As we read the acts of the Apostles, we feel that there was not only a new teaching being diffused among men, but, above all things, a new power. It was not only fresh thought they brought to men, but a new and gladdening life.

IV. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MANY NATIONS REFERRED TO, AS INDICATING THE EXTENT AND COMPLETENESS OF THE DOMINION. The details connected with each nation have of course their peculiar significance, but the significance of the details is not quite so clear as that of the great common element which runs through them all. All the details point forward to a time when the Star out of Jacob shall outshine the star out of every other nation, when the Scepter out of Israel shall break every other scepter. The kingdoms of the world are to fall—the kingdoms of mammon, of pleasure, of unbelief in Christ, of science falsely so called, of rationalism, of atheism, of individual self-assertion. These are kingdoms that now stretch their authority far and wide, in all continents, and in all ranks of men, and many are subjects of more than one of the kingdoms. In the kingdoms of this world it is largely true that there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female. The Star out of Jacob then has a large work to do in subduing and transforming the many and mighty kingdoms of this world. And all the glorious burden of prophecy heaves and swells with the emphatic assurance that he will do it. The day is to come when we shall all learn that to be king over one's own nature is more than to sway the most populous and wealthy territory among men. Then indeed will the description," King of kings, and Lord of lords," fully apply, when God in Christ Jesus reigns over kings and lords such as these. The cry concerning man will no longer be,

"Lord of himself, that heritage of woe!"

but, lord of a heritage reclaimed, purified, and made docile by the work of Jesus as he inspires in the breast every loving, righteous, and truthful motive.—Y.


Numbers 24:1-9


This passage marks the period at which Balaam becomes finally convinced that it is vain for him to attempt to satisfy Balak, or to carry out the baser promptings of his own heart. He confesses his defeat. gives up his enchantments, "sets his face towards the wilderness" where the camp of Israel lay, and utters the words that God puts into his mouth. But still his spirit is not subdued, for, as we learn from Numbers 24:14, instead of casting in his lot, as he might have done, with the chosen nation, he resolves in spite of all to go back to his own people and his old ways. Combining these two features of his case, we see how a man may "approve the right and follow the wrong." It affords a striking example of

(1) true convictions followed by

(2) a false and fatal determination.

I. TRUE CONVICTIONS. Though it was by the constraint of a higher Power that Balaam uttered these words of benediction, we must regard them also as being, to a great extent, the result of his own intuitions, symptoms of the struggling of better thought and feeling within him. He was not the mere senseless medium of the spirit of prophecy. Unwillingly, but not altogether unwittingly, was he made the organ of a Divine inspiration. A bad man may utter words that are good and true, and may often be compelled by the force of outward testimony, or of the inward witness of his own conscience, to do honour to that in others which condemns himself. There are chiefly three characteristics here which find their higher counterpart in the spiritual Israel, and which her enemies, like Balaam, have often been constrained to confess.

1. Beauty. How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob! Rich valleys, stuffing gardens, lign-aloes and cedars planted beside the water-courses, are, to the poetic imagination of the seer, the fitting images of their goodly array. But what is the beauty that captivates the eye compared with that which appeals to the sensibility of the soul? All outward forms of loveliness are but the shadow and reflection of the Diviner beauties of holiness, the spiritual glory of truth, purity, goodness—the "adorning of the hidden man of the heart in that which is not corruptible." The richest Oriental imagery can but feebly represent the changing phases of this beauty. And many a man has felt the charm of it, and yet been utterly destitute of that sympathy of spirit that would move him to make it his own. It compels his admiration, but does not win his love.

2. World-wide fruitfulness. "He shall pour the water out of his buckets," &c.—the image of abundant, far-reaching beneficence. The promise to Abraham was fulfilled: "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 22:16, Genesis 22:17). The benefits the seed of Abraham conferred upon the human race did but foreshadow those of Christianity. It is the "light of the world," the "salt of the earth," carrying the stream of a new life over all lands, diffusing a healing influence through all the waters. Its adversaries know this, and are often constrained in spite of themselves to acknowledge it. They are themselves living witnesses to its truth, for they owe to Christianity the very culture, the spiritual force, the social advantages, the literary facilities, &e, that they turn as weapons against it.

3. Victorious power. The triumphant way in which God led forth his people out of Egypt was prophetic of the power that should always overshadow them and dwell among them; often a latent, slumbering strength like that of a crouching or sleeping lion, but irresistible when once it rouses itself to withstand their foes. Such power dwells ever in the redeemed Church. "God is in the midst of her," &c. (Psalms 46:5). "The weapons of our warfare," &c. (2 Corinthians 10:4). Nothing so strong and invincible as truth and goodness. The light must triumph over the darkness. The kingdom of Christ is a "kingdom that cannot be moved," and many a man whose heart has had no kind of sympathy with the cause of that kingdom has been unable to suppress the secret conviction that it will surely win its way, till it shall have vanquished all its enemies and covered the face of the whole earth.

II. A FALSE AND FATAL DETERMINATION. "And now, behold, I go unto my people" (Numbers 24:14). He returns to his former ways, plunges again into the darkness and foulness of idolatrous Mesopotamia, having first, it would appear, counseled Balak as to how he might corrupt with carnal fascinations the people whom it was vain for him to "curse" (see Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14), and at last is slain with the sword among the Midianites (Numbers 31:8; Joshua 13:22). Learn—

1. How powerless are the clearest perceptions of the truth in the ease of one whose heart is thoroughly set in him to do evil. There are those who "hold the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). "They profess that they know God, hut in works they deny him" (Titus 1:16).

2. How there is often a deeper fall into the degradation of sin when such an one has been uplifted for a while by the vision and the dream of a better life. "The last state of that man is worse than the first" (Matthew 12:45). "For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness," &c. (2 Peter 2:21, 2 Peter 2:22).—W.

Numbers 24:17


Balaam appears before us here as one who "seeing, sees not. His "eyes are open," but he has no real vision of the eternal truth of things. He has a "knowledge of the Most High," but not that which consists in living sympathy with his character and will and law. He recognizes the blessedness of the ransomed people, but has no personal share in that blessedness. He discerns the bright visions of the future, the rising of Jacob's Star, the gleam of the royal Scepter that shall rule the world, the coming of the world's redeeming Lord, but he sees him only from afar. Not "now," not "nigh," does he behold him; not with a vivid, quickening, self-appropriating consciousness; not as the light, the hope, the life, the eternal joy of his own soul. It is a moral portraiture, a type of spiritual condition and personal character, with which we are only too familiar. The faith of many is thus destitute of efficient saving power. "It is dead, being alone." Their religious perceptions are thus divorced from religious life. They have just such a formal, ideal acquaintance with God, without any of that immediate personal fellowship with hint which renews their moral nature after his likeness. They walk in the embrace of his presence, but their "eyes are holden that they should not know him." So near is He, and yet so far; so clearly revealed, and yet so darkly hidden; so familiar, and yet so strange.

I. This is seen in THE INSENSIBILITY OF MEN TO THE DIVINER MEANING OF NATURE. The material universe exists for spiritual ends. God has surrounded his intelligent creatures with all the affluence and glory of it in order to reveal himself to them and attract their thought and affection to himself. "The invisible things of him from the beginning of the world are clearly seen," &c. (Romans 1:20). But how dead are men often to Divine impressions! They hear no voice and feel no influence from God coming to them through his works. They know none but the lower uses of nature, and never dream of entering through it into communion with Him who inspires it with the energy of his presence. Tribes whose life is nursed and cradled in the fairest regions of the earth are often mentally the darkest and morally the most depraved. The worst forms of heathenism have been found in those parts of the world where the Creator has most lavished the tokens of his glorious beneficence. The sweet associations of rural and pastoral life in a Christian land like ours are connected less than we should expect them to be with quickness of spiritual perception and tenderness of spiritual sensibility. Stranger still that men whose souls are most keenly alive to all the beauty of the world, and with whom it is an all-absorbing passion to search out its wonders and drink in its poetic inspirations, should fail, as they so often do, to discern in it a living God. Physical science is to many as a gorgeous veil that darkly hides him. rather than the glass through which the beams of his glory fall upon them, the radiant pathway by which they climb up to his throne. Their eyes are wondrously "open;" they have a "knowledge of the Most High" in the forms and modes of his working such as few attain to; "visions of the Almighty" in the glorious heavens above and the teeming earth beneath pass continually before them, and yet they see and feel and know him not. How different such a case from that of Job: "O that I knew where I might find him!" &c. (Job 23:1-10). There you have the passionate outbreathing of a soul that is hungering and thirsting after a God that "hideth himself." Here you have God urging, pressing upon men the signals and proofs of his presence without effect. There is no blindness darker and sadder than that of those who boast that their "eyes are open," and yet, in a glorious world like this, can find no living God.

II. It is seen in THE INDISPOSITION OF MEN TO RECOGNISE THE VOICE OF GOD IN HOLY SCRIPTURE. To know that the Bible is a revelation of truth from God, and to know God as he reveals himself in the Bible, are two widely different things. There are those to whom revelation is as a Divine voice uttered long ago, but "not now;" a voice coming down to them through the ages as in distant echo, but not instant and near. To them these old records may be sacred, venerable, worthy to be preserved and defended, but in no sense are they a channel of direct personal communication between the living God and our living souls; "inspired'' once, but not instinct with the spirit of inspiration now. No wonder the word is powerless and fruitless under such conditions. It is of no use to tell men that the Scriptures are "inspired" if they don't feel God to be in them. dealing as a personal Spirit with their spirits to draw them into fellowship with himself. A new kind of consciousness is awakened, a new order of effects produced, when once a man begins to feel that the written word is the living voice of God to his own soul. He cannot despise it then. It carries with it an authority that needs no extraneous authority to support it—the true "demonstration of the Spirit." Apart from this, the soul in presence of all these Divine revelations is like one under the influence of some powerful anaesthetic, receiving impressions on the outward sense of all that is going on around him, but conscious of nothing. The "eyes are open," but there is no living, spiritual realization. "They seeing, see not, and hearing, hear not, neither do they understand" (Matthew 13:13; Joh 12:40; 2 Corinthians 4:3, 2 Corinthians 4:4).

III. It is seen in THE PURELY IDEAL RELATION IN WHICH MEN TOO OFTEN STAND TOWARDS CHRIST. By multitudes Christ is seen, as it were, "afar off." He is to them but as the vision of a dream, a vague, distant abstraction, a mere historic figure, the central actor in a tragical historic drama. They have never entered into any kind of personal relation with him, have never bowed before him in heart-broken penitence, adoring wonder, childlike trustfulness, grateful, self-surrendering love. "Virtue" has never gone forth out of him to heal the disease of their souls, because they have not yet "touched him." There is a wide distinction between the knowledge that comes by mere hearsay and that which comes by personal converse, between a distant vision and the living "touch." Though faith be in great part blind and unintelligent, yet if there is the quick sensibility of life in it, it is better than all the clear, unclouded vision of an eye that is no real inlet to the soul. There is a future manifestation of Christ. "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him" (Revelation 1:7). What shall be the relation in which we stand towards him then? There are those whose eyes will then be opened as they never were before. Shall it be only to have them closed again in everlasting night, "consumed with the brightness of his appearing"? You must be in living fellowship with Christ now if you would look with joy upon him when he comes in his "power and great glory."—W.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Numbers 24". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/numbers-24.html. 1897.
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