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Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible Kelly Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Numbers 23". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ wkc/ numbers-23.html. 1860-1890.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Numbers 23". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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The successes given to the children of Israel alarmed some of their neighbours, more particularly Moab; and this gives occasion for a striking episode in the history which brought to issue as solemn a question as any raised in the book of Numbers. The sending for Balaam on the part of Balak was an altogether new element. We have had the grace of God and His provisions for the people; we have had the unbelief of the people, with chastenings and judgments, not without the renewed declarations on God's part of His surely bringing even such a people into the goodly land. Grace alone could, but grace would do it.
But there was an enemy not yet fairly brought before our eyes the power of Satan. It did not appear at first, but ere long it plays a most important part in the great transaction which now begins to open out in this chapter. Satan can take the place of an angel of light and righteousness: not invariably indeed, for he has other phases, but more especially with the people of God. On the other hand there was material for Satan to use, for the people had been notoriously faithless had dishonoured God often and grievously. The question then was, Would God maintain a people guilty of the infraction of His own law? If so, would it not be a dishonour to Himself? What could He say? or how consistently could He meet Satan? Impossible that Satan should be in reality more careful of righteousness than God Himself. Nevertheless there was no small difficulty in appearances, and such a difficulty as human wit never can solve. How sorely it must have distressed one who loved the people!
But there is one simple and sure means of solving every difficulty. We know it in all its fulness; but even before it was fully explained, known, and brought out, the principle of it was always before faith. While unbelief invariably forgets and even shuts out God, faith invariably brings Him in; and whatever may be the difficulty of unbelief, it is evident there is none whatever to God. Thus then, although the heart may not understand how God is to reconcile His own character and express word and most solemn judgment of sin with the bringing of such a people into the land of promise, where His eye rests continually, it should not wait to understand but believe. In due season it surely will understand: only it has the comfort of the understanding being spiritual, not natural, the apprehension flowing from God, and not the pretension of man to think for God, and settle how things are to be done beforehand. It is infinitely more blessed to be as it were behind Him; to follow in His wake; to have Himself showing us every step of the way; to have Him allowing a difficulty to come out in its strength, that we may see how gloriously He settles all.
This is precisely what came out in the new trial which is to be brought before us. Balak sent not merely for Midian's help, nor was it a question of the force of the world. He himself had the consciousness that there must be a power brought in superior to man; but he thought only of what he knew a power that for an adequate consideration would gratify man's lust, and allow of man's will. However the true God enters on the ground unexpectedly; for we must carefully remember that Balak had no real knowledge of God. He no more thought of Jehovah, whatever use he might make of the name of God, than king Saul honoured Him when he consulted the witch of Endor. Besides the witch herself had no thought of the real spirit of Samuel; for I need not tell you, as no doubt you are all well aware that neither man nor devil has the smallest power over the spirits of those who are either righteous or unrighteous. As for the unrighteous, they are kept in prison till the day of judgment; as for the righteous, it need not be said they are with the Lord. I say then that neither man nor devil has power to produce them. But then we must remember there is a world of spiritual powers, and man is apt to confound with God beings with powers superior to his own. These are that hidden energy which has managed to usurp the place of God with bad consciences so much the more polluting above all other evils, for it calls itself religion, and has come between the true God and the soul. Such is the source and character of all idolatry. This is its real nature before God. The outward forms are but the blind. The real power is demoniacal; it deceives and destroys.
Now these demons constantly personate whom they please. They may pretend to be the spirit of this person or that, but they are nothing of the sort; being not more than demons and nothing less. They deceive men by gratifying their distrust, lusts, and passions, and among the rest their fancy about friends and relatives, or all the while, it may be, assuming also to be God, angels, and so forth. This is what was from time to time going on then, as it had since the flood. It is no new thing, though becoming more familiar no doubt to men in these days of Christendom's decrepitude alas! days that are preparing the way for a still more awful power of Satan here below at the end of this age.
But God did not leave it to be a question of demons and deceits; for when Balak presumed to bring in that power above man to blight the prospects of His people, this at once called forth the true God. Balaam in his hypocritical way talks about consulting Jehovah. This too has always been. Those who have least to do with God often talk most flippantly about Him; and so it was of old as it is now. "God," it is written, "came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?" He was not alarmed, being accustomed to an evil spirit. He did not know but that the power which came to him was the old familiar spirit. God caught the crafty in his own net. This is just where the mighty power of God shows what He is in the face of every adversary that dared to oppose His people. So when He asked the prophet what men these were, Balaam answers, "Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me, saying, Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which covereth the face of the earth: come now, curse me them; peradventure I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out. And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed."
We shall see in the sequel how wondrous was the way of God to turn thus the very effort of Satan against himself, and to make this most wicked wretch Balaam to be unintentionally opposed to all his interests, but held in the mighty hand of God, the instrument for sealing" as far as it could be done by man, the blessing of God upon His people! "And Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes of Balak, Get you into your land; for Jehovah refuseth to give me leave to go with you." So the princes returned, and told Balak that Balaam refused to come. Balak, judging according to what man so well knows, according to his own heart and experience, sends princes more honourable than the others who came to Balaam, and they said to him, "Thus saith Balak the son of Zippor, Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from coming unto me; for 1 will promote thee unto very great honour, and I will do whatsoever thou sayest unto me: come therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people." Balaam then, partly with the cunning which seeks to make the best terms, partly also held contrary to his own thoughts by God's hand, says, "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of Jehovah my God, to do less or more. Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what Jehovah will say unto me more." But even here Balaam proves that all his talk about God was a mere pretence, and that there could be no reality of faith, or he would never have consulted again. Faith knows that God does not charge. He is not a man that he should lie, neither the son of man that he should repent.
Ignorant of God, Balaam thus detains the messengers; for his heart dearly loved the proffered honour and emolument. He bids them wait that he might consult Jehovah again. Here again he falls into the trap of his own covetousness; for "God came to Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up and go with them." Not that this was the course of His holy will; it was God dealing with the froward according to his frowardness. This He does if there is not faith in his mind, and along with it a single eye; He permits that a man shall follow his own blind devices. This is righteous; and God accordingly so deals with Balaam. Where He sees integrity, He graciously . meets the trembling heart and the hesitating mind. But it was no question of hesitation with Balaam. There was self-will, and this too in the face of the glorious expression of God's will. At bottom he makes nothing of God or His word. He had been distinctly told that he was not to curse the people, but to bless them; yet he waits with no other object than, if it were possible, to curse those whom God bade him bless. There was not a particle of faith, nor of the fear of God. Accordingly God now gives him up to his own devices. If he will join an idol, let him alone, as he would not be warned. That this is the true moral is made most plain; because it is said that, when Balaam rises in the morning, and saddles his ass, and goes with the princes of Moab, "God's anger was kindled." Clearly therefore, though God had told the man that was ignorant to be ignorant, and the man that was self-willed to go and do his own will, there was an expressed and solemn warning to the prophet that he was flying in the face of God. (Compare verses 12 and 22)
Then follows that incident of which the New Testament takes notice in 2 Peter 2:1-22, which I trust no one here will ever allow the smallest breath of suspicion to sully. In truth the means employed were, as always, exactly suited in divine wisdom to the case. I grant you it is not a usual thing for God to make a dumb ass speak; but were these circumstances usual? Was there not something awfully humiliating in such a brute being the rebuker of the guilty prophet? But this very fact was most significant that it was an ass which rebuked a man not wanting in natural intelligence, and soon the vessel of the most beautiful declarations on God's part, but not before the brute that he rode warned him of his folly and sin. On this I need not dilate.
The prophet then was permitted to know in the fullest possible manner, from the angel of Jehovah himself, wherefore it was that all these obstructions were put in his way. How gracious of God thus to make a man who was hurrying on to destruction pause and think, if anything could rouse him! But no, he was committed to wicked ways. Lawlessness must pursue its miserable course to an end no less miserable.
However he goes and he meets with Balak, who takes him to Kirjath-Huzoth. "And Balak offered oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes that were with him. And it came to pass on the morrow, that Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into the high places of Baal, that thence he might see the utmost part of the people." (Numbers 22:40-41) "And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams. And Balak did as Balaam had spoken; and Balak and Balaam offered on every altar a bullock and a ram. And Balaam said unto Balak, Stand by thy burnt-offering, and I will go: peradventure Jehovah will come to meet me: and whatsoever He showeth me I will tell thee. And he went to an high place." And there again Elohim* meets Balaam, when he says, "I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered upon every altar a bullock and a ram. And Jehovah put a word in Balaam's mouth, and said, Return unto Balak, and thus thou shalt speak." (Numbers 23:1-5)
*The use of Elohim and Jehovah here is very notable, as absurd on the document hypothesis as instructive to the believer in the unity of the book and in the divine inspiration of its writer. This is immensely confirmed by Balaam's use of Elion (Most High) and Shaddai (Almighty) in his last two prophecies (Numbers 24:1-25) when he did not seek enchantments. Are we to fall back on the clumsy device of one, two, or more writers to account for these divine titles, instead of seeking their motive in internal considerations?
And wonderful is the word that was spoken. "Come, curse me Jacob." When he takes up his parable he says, "Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel." This was the word of Balak to him. He replied, "How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom Jehovah hath not defied? For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" That is, he states in the most explicit manner the great and certainly fundamental privilege of Israel that they were a nation called out to be alone with and for Jehovah. This is the basis of all their blessing. They were unlike all the rest of the world in this, that they were set apart to be with Jehovah, the true Elohim.
Afterwards comes another message; for this is comparatively abstract, and the further demand of Balak brings out successively with ever-increasing clearness the special blessedness of the people, as far as God was pleased to make it known.* He does not say whom he is to meet; and it seems to me that the true force of the verse is best reached by leaving it in the vague mystery which such an elliptical phrase conveys. Balaam knew well whom he was used to meet. At the least he could not but have suspicions, for there never is a person who honours a demon as the true God that has peaceful confidence of heart. Is it possible to confide in a demon? There may be perhaps a hazy dim idea which people do not like thoroughly to grasp or understand. That is in substance what natural religion or superstition amounts to. They leave souls always at a distance from God, with a sort of striving and searching after God, but in fact under some delusion of the adversary. In Balaam's case there was even more than this, because he was tampering continually with secret power in order to gain influence over others, but as deliberately against God's people as for himself.
*We must carefully remember that the word "Jehovah," printed in italics, has no right to a place in verse 16. "And he said unto Balak, Stand here by thy burnt-offering while I meet yonder."
Where was anything of God? anything that could satisfy an upright conscience? However Jehovah does meet Balaam. Doubtless that was the reason why our translators put in "Jehovah" They judged that because Jehovah met him, he must have gone to meet Jehovah; whereas he only used the words "to meet," perhaps unwilling to tell out his wonted source of help. But Jehovah gives him a new word, and a word that goes far beyond the first. "Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor: Elohim is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" The language is in the finest style of Hebrew poetry.
Now we have the people of God the object of distinct communications from God. It is not only that they have Elohim as the One to whom they belong, and to whom they are severed apart from all other nations; but now He speaks to them, He communicates, He opens His mind and heart to them; and what is its purport? "Behold," says he, "I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it. He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: Jehovah his Elohim is with him, and the shout of a King is among them. Elohim brought them out of Egypt." The bold figures that are used and the allusions are all in the strictest connection with the fresh blessing. It is not merely separative grace, but distinct justification set forth.
It is only on the ground of the grace which justifies that God could call them according to that which was not, seeing them even now what He would make them to be through the Saviour. This is what is before His mind. It is plain that justification is altogether impossible for sinners, unless there be the blotting out of what they are, and the bringing in what they are not. How can these things be? It is through another alone that there can be justification. Thus only God "hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob." It is not that He denies it; nor that there was no iniquity on their part, for indeed there was. "Neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel." It is a question of what He looks at. "Jehovah his Elohim is with him, and the shout of a King is among them."
Of course the time was not yet come to develop how this could be. Not till long after was the mighty work done by which alone it is possible; but we have the bold announcement, as far as it would have been proper to have expressed it by the lips of one that was an utter stranger to all in race as in heart; and we have it so much the more gloriously expressed, because it is simply given in its great principle by one who could see the ineffable blessedness of it without knowing in the least the experience of its comfort for his own soul. In God's wisdom he was just the man to declare even to the enemy that it is entirely a question of what He has wrought, not in any way of Israel's doings or deserts. "Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel; according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought! Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion; he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain." (Compare Numbers 24:9)
Balak was incensed; nevertheless he resolves to try another time. "And when Balaam saw that it pleased Jehovah," we are told in the beginning ofNumbers 24:1-25; Numbers 24:1-25, "he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments." This again entirely confirms the remark that was made in the previous chapter as to what he went to meet. "He went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes; and the spirit of God came upon him." Thus when we have any object completely cleared before God from all question of sin, it is not His way to rest there. As we know, for the Christian there follows freedom, entirely apart from what he was, to enter into positive enjoyment both of the place of blessing in which he stands, and of God Himself now truly known in Christ. Justification is always a taking account of what we were, though a bringing us out of it; but when that is seen in its completeness, then we can go out into all the ways of God's grace. And so it is here. The new word of Jehovah has another character, and is introduced therefore in a manner such as to mark its entire distinctness from the previous words given to the prophet.
"And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are opened hath said: he hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!" It is the manifest preciousness of the place of Israel which drew out from his mouth at any rate (I do not say from his heart) the expression of the beauteous and goodly estate of the people. "As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lign-aloes which Jehovah hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters. He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brought him forth out of Egypt." In both cases, you will observe, whether it is the comparatively negative side of justification, or the positive side of rich and joyous blessing with which the people are endowed of God, we have their bringing out of Egypt.
Another thought is striking. Balaam does not refer to what they were to be made in Canaan, but what God saw them to be nay, what he himself was permitted to see them to be while they were in the wilderness. It is a wonderfully lovely picture therefore of what grace does for the Christian and the church now. For in virtue of redemption and Christ's entrance into heavenly glory, and of the Holy Ghost sent down, in spite of all that is in this world, in spite of what has been justly designated the ruined state of the church here below, we are entitled always to take delight in the real beauty of God's children and assembly even now. No doubt it is a vision only for faith; but it is a vision not for eyes shut, but for eyes open, as it is said here. Certainly, it is no illusion, no heated human imagination of what they are going to be. It is what God sees, and delights to give us to see by faith, in His people here below. Of course it was Israel, but the same principle is just as true; I need not say, and really with yet greater force, in the case of the Christian.
The still stronger terms, in the earlier vision of Numbers 24:1-25, which Balaam uses in speaking of the power with which God would invest them, bring Balak's anger to a head; and he smites his hands together, and says, "I called thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them these three times." We must remember that in all this Balaam was no more able to resist the power of God which wrought on and by him than Balaam's ass could hold its peace before. We must not suppose that there was the smallest measure of real sympathy with what God was doing. The whole transaction was one of God's power, in spite of all that could be done against His people, and this because God would confound the enemy which resorted to Satan's power in order to bring a. curse on Israel. This it was to which God in sovereign grace responded in so grand an expression of their blessedness, and from a quarter so unlooked for.
But one supreme effort remains as far as cursing is concerned. Accordingly Balak tells Balaam now to begone, taunting him with the honour and wealth he had meant to give, from which Jehovah, he adds, had kept him back. But the prophet seems neither won by desire for his bribes, nor afraid of the king's power. "If Balak," says he, ''would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the commandment of Jehovah, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; but what Jehovah saith, that will I speak. And now, behold, I go unto my people: come therefore, and I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days." It really embraces the end of this age.
Thus in the face of the king's threats, of what might have seemed to be his own interests, Balaam after all was compelled to give another and a conclusive word from Jehovah, and this without going to meet . . . or Jehovah's meeting him. It is what He said and commanded. Here there is not only the title of Shaddai (Almighty), as in the former prophecy, but of Elion (the Most High), who would dispose of the world as He pleased in view of His purposed judgment of the earth of and for His people; and here the prophet speaks unasked of the king. It is Jehovah all through, though care is taken to show that He is Elohim, and in suited connection Shaddai and Elion. "And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said: he hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh." Solemn words these which pronounce the man's own condemnation of his own soul. How little it was a question of will or heart! "I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city."
Even when he looks at Amalek too, he goes farther and pronounces the sure doom of those that had assailed the people in the wilderness. "Amalek was the first of the nations, but his latter end shall be that he perish for ever." Then, looking on the Kenites, he says, "Strong is thy dwelling-place, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock. Nevertheless the Kenite shall be wasted, until Asshur shall carry thee away captive." But what about victorious Asshur? '` And he took up his parable, and said, Alas, who shall live when God doeth this! And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim, and shall afflict Asshur." Thus it does not matter whether it be western powers or eastern, whether the adversaries be many or few, with what resources nor from what quarter. Amalek may be the first of nations, and Asshur bid fair to be last; yet affliction comes to Asshur and Eber; "and he also shall perish for ever." It is the day of Immanuel, not of David or the Maccabees. Jehovah alone shall be exalted in that day.
Thus the intended curse of Balaam was turned into the most magnificent utterance of blessing ever pronounced on the people of God, stretching down to the latter days when Israel shall be exalted under the Most High God, the possessor of heaven and earth.
Who would not trust such a God, and such revelations of His mind and will? Who would not have confidence in the One who turns the bitterest and most subtle of enemies only the more powerfully to prove what God's people are to Himself, and how vain the efforts of their worst foes?
In Numbers 25:1-18 we see a very different state of things among men, but the same God over all. Snares are set by Moab under Balaam's counsel, yet all their subtlety could not turn God from Israel. Balaam (as we know, although it be not explained here but elsewhere) gives the enemy his cunning advice, and all at first goes on successfully. If he could not turn God from Israel, could he not turn Israel from God? Midianitish women become the instrument of seduction. This sorrowful occasion brings out now, not God causing an enemy to manifest what He is for His people, but Phinehas the priest roused with holy indignation, and executing judgment on the guilty pair in the face of a plague which fell on the people in these very circumstances. Phinehas accordingly has the covenant of an everlasting priesthood secured to him and to his seed because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.
There is after this (Numbers 26:1-65) a fresh numbering of the men of Israel in view of going to war. They were now on the borders of the holy land; and the same grace of God which took account of every one of His people when they entered the wilderness gives evidence that His love was unabated, and His personal interest the same to the end. There was all that could have turned Him aside, had it been possible. Without this there would have been merely the taking in the people as a whole; but here He gives this witness of what they were, every one of them, to Himself; for He loves to convince His people of His unwavering love, spite of failure on their part.
There is only one remark that I need make now on the persons that are enumerated here, but it is one of great interest, as it appears to me. The most solemn judgment recorded in the book of Numbers was that of Korah with his company in the awful scene where Jehovah created a new thing, and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up alive. The children of Dathan, Abiram, and the rest, were all swallowed up; but, wonderful to say, there was an exemption. Where was it? some particularly faithful person, who had the unhappiness to be nearly associated with them? Not at all. The exception of grace was in the household of the very worst of them. The people who deserved least of all, as man would have thought, to be exempted from destruction were precisely those for whom God did reserve this special grace the sons of Korah! of Korah the leader and organiser of the apostasy, from his position as well as in his conduct, above all others most guilty! The sons of Korah were the objects of a most singular deliverance. Is not this the true grace of God? It is the same God whom we now know, the same God from first to last. Grace is no new thing with Him; but where can you find a finer sample of its power and superiority to all circumstances than in the distinguishing grace that saved from destruction the children of gainsaying Korah, the most infamous of those who had conspired against the types of Christ's royalty and priesthood; namely, Moses and Aaron? Nothing can be more explicit than the information here: "The earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up together with Korah, when that company died, what time the fire devoured two hundred and fifty men: and they became a sign. Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not."
Further, this is, I think, an important key to the book of Psalms. Every attentive reader will have noticed that the second of the five divisions of the Psalms gives us at its beginning psalms entitled, "For the sons of Korah." (Psalms 42:1-11; Psalms 43:1-5; Psalms 44:1-26; Psalms 45:1-17; Psalms 46:1-11; Psalms 47:1-9; Psalms 48:1-14; Psalms 49:1-20)* These mean the descendants of the men in question. And who were so fit to have such psalms and songs as the sons of Korah? What state does the second book of Psalms suppose? Assuredly as a whole days of future apostasy and the sorest trouble that the Jews will ever pass through. It is the last and greatest tribulation. It is the time when the mass of the nation will have completely cast off the true God and rejected His grace will have abandoned His truth, and lost themselves in losing it. To this fiery trial it is that these psalms apply. And no doubt what was at the beginning of their history will be re-enacted, and more, at the end. In the midst of a condition guilty indeed, and in the nearest connection with those most guilty, God will reserve a remnant not more surely the children of Korah in the wilderness than a band not unworthy of the name, and witnesses of no less grace from God in the last crisis. These psalms will be suited for those morally in similar circumstances, and delivered by the very same grace of God. Thus, we see, whether it be law or psalms or prophets, whether it be the gospel or the kingdom then, it is with the God of all grace that we have to do.
*Some few follow in book 3 (Psalms 84:1-12; Psalms 85:1-13; Psalms 86:1-17; Psalms 87:1-7; Psalms 88:1-18)
To the end of this chapter the account is given of the numbering.
In the next chapter (Numbers 27:1-23) there is an incident of considerable interest which illustrates the tender thoughtfulness of God. "Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph: and these are the names of his daughters; Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against Jehovah in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son?" There was no son left. This was a case which had not yet arisen; but as we see the daughters of Zelophehad counted on God, and not in vain. It is impossible for God to be like poor man, who says, "You expect more good than I am prepared to bestow." God could not make such an answer. He always gives more. Whatever may be the petition of faith, the answer of grace never fails to go beyond it. And so the daughters of Zelophehad have their place secured to them in the goodness of God, though outside the usual routine of law.
Further, Jehovah after this intimates to Moses to ascend Mount Abarim and see the land, and he is to be gathered to his people. This leads also to the appointment of another. There is this to be noticed in the appointment of Joshua, that he no less than Moses is a type of Christ, but with a distinct difference between the two. Joshua sets forth the Captain of Salvation, and this answers to Christ; but it is no longer Christ after the flesh: He is not viewed as a Jewish Messiah, blessed as this may be. For Christ is a great deal more than Messiah. After His rejection on the earth, when it was no longer a question of presentation to Israel as their King, Christ then acts in the power of the Holy Ghost, being no more present in a bodily manner. Joshua represents this. It is Christ, no doubt, but Christ acting in the power of the Spirit, not Christ in flesh connected with the promises and the hopes of Israel. This type is what we see here; it is developed in detail elsewhere. But even one feature should not be passed by. When Moses was leading the people, he acted alone; but when Joshua leads them, it is said, "He shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before Jehovah." How does this apply to Christ? It might seem a difficulty, but in reality it confirms the application which has just been made; because we know that, while the people are led to take possession of the holy land, their privilege now is to cross the Jordan, and enter into those blessings with which they are blessed in heavenly places. Observe then here is the connection of Christ acting thus by the Spirit with His position as Priest. At the very same time that we are entering into our heavenly blessings by the power of the Spirit, we also have Christ as Priest in the presence of God. With Moses we find no such state of things. He was never told to stand before the priest. Aaron might speak rather than Moses, for he could speak well. Other duties he discharged, but nothing at all answering to this: so admirably does God watch over and shape and fashion all these types to impress the full truth on our souls. In Christ's case, of course He was Himself head of the church, to work by the Spirit of God in us; but besides He is the great High Priest. He unites the two functions. They must necessarily be two different individuals in the type, but the great Antitype combines them.
In Numbers 28:1-31; Numbers 29:1-40 we have a somewhat difficult and certainly a very different exposé of the feasts and sacrifices from that which we found elsewhere. But all is easy to those who bear in mind the distinctive theme of the book. It is not merely, as was noticed, pilgrimage through the wilderness. This it is, but it comprises the earth also. In short the earth is the scene; and to us the wilderness. But the earth will not be always the wilderness. This is an important remark to make in order to understand Numbers. For there is a time coming when that which is now a wilderness will no doubt still be the earth for the people of God on it, but it will be no longer the chequered place of trial and sorrow which it is now. If we hold fast this fact, the application of these two chapters will be rendered more easy.
First of all we have the general offering. There is the sweet savour of Christ arising continually, in which God regards his people on the earth. It is the Lamb of God who invests all that are His with His own acceptance before God. This is what was meant by the daily lambs, but there is much more than this. It is said, "And on the sabbath-day two lambs of the first year without spot, and two-tenth deals of dour for a meat-offering." This clearly goes on to the rest of God of which the sabbath is always the well-known figure. When it comes, the only difference will be that the testimony to the value of Christ will be more widely spread and fuller. God will never fail in causing the testimony to Christ's sweet savour to rise before Him. Christianity has brought it out in its very depths; but then it is a thing only known to the believer on the one hand, and to God on the other. But when the sabbath dawns on the earth, the true sabbath of Jehovah in all its meaning, there will be a public witness of it all over the world that cannot be mistaken. This seems referred to in the doubling of the lamb. It is the idea of the rest of God contrasted with the time of working which precedes the rest (as, e.g., in the present time). "There remaineth therefore a rest (or a sabbath-keeping) for the people of God." The time of the true rest is not yet come. Observe, it does not mean the rest we have got for our souls by faith. We must always guard against that common misapprehension. It is quite true that we have rest now in Christ for the conscience and the heart; but this is not the meaning of Heb. iv. It is rather the rest of glory for the people of God and for the world, when there will be this diffused testimony.
Then comes "the beginnings of your months." This is peculiar to Numbers, being found in no other book of the Pentateuch. The reason seems to be that it is essentially bound up with the wilderness types of Israel their experiences and changes as a people on earth "In the beginnings of your months," that is, at the new moon, when there was the shining forth again of that which had waned away. Such a type in no way suits the church which is called during Israel's darkness after the light waned and before it shines again. "And in the beginnings of your months ye shall offer a burnt-offering unto Jehovah; two young bullocks, and one ram, seven lambs of the first year without spot," with their appropriate meat-offerings and drink-offerings. There is represented here the largest form of setting forth Christ offered to God in the bullock, with the idea of energy of devotedness to God, and this too in that adequacy of testimony which "two" represents. The sheep or the lower forms indicate, I suppose, Christ appreciated after a less measure. The bullock is the fullest appreciation of Christ. Those that had so long despised Him will now acknowledge Him with so much the greater fervour because of their former slight. The Lord graciously takes notice of this. The ram is a type of Christ as an offering of consecration to God; here it is but a feeble testimony "one ram." The "seven lambs" mean the completeness of Christ's sweet savour before God. There is also, as we know, the necessary sin-offering.
But now we come to the feasts. On the fourteenth day of the first month the passover is noticed, where we have, as it is said, two young bullocks, just the same provision as was laid down for the beginning of months, the new moons. Further, in the case of the feast of weeks, "in the day of the first-fruits, when ye bring a new meat-offering unto Jehovah" (the Pentecostal offering), there is a similar type. "After your weeks be out, ye shall have a holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work: but ye shall offer the burnt-offering for a sweet savour unto Jehovah; two young bullocks, one ram, and seven lambs of the first year."
What brings out the truth more distinctly is the change we find in coming down to the seventh month. This is the acknowledged type of what distinctively concerns Israel Israel summoned and brought into the blessing of God. Here we see the difference very marked; for there is claimed but "one young bullock, one ram, and seven lambs of the first year without blemish" It lacks the fulness of testimony to grace which went out to the Gentile as well as the Jew. It is but a single witness to the grace that God is about to display to His people Israel. It may include the largest form of appreciation, but still it is only a partial witness of grace. There is but one young bullock not the two found in the previous case. So again the atonement-day has just the same figure: "Ye shall have on the tenth day of this seventh month an holy convocation; and ye shall afflict your souls: ye shall not do any work therein: but ye shall offer a burnt-offering unto the Lord for a sweet savour; one young bullock, one ram, and seven lambs of the first year."
But after a few days there is a very different type brought before us. "On the fifteenth day of the seventh month ye shall have an holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work, and ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days: and ye shall offer a burnt-offering, a sacrifice made by fire, of a sweet savour unto Jehovah; thirteen young bullocks." Now surely this is very noticeable. Why such a change? There is nothing like it before. It is only when we come to the feast of tabernacles that this sudden change appears. Before this we hear in certain circumstances of two bullocks or one bullock: here there are thirteen. Why thirteen? Was this not intended to exercise our spiritual thought as to the truth of God? Are we not to infer that it is the all but fullest expression of Christ known on the earth? It is no longer the preparatory dealings. The first and the tenth days of the month mean the preparatory ways of God to bring the Jewish people back to their position of witnessing to the glory of Christ in the millennium. But now they are in that position not in the preliminary processes, so to speak, with God gradually leading them on. Hence now we read, "Ye shall offer a burnt-offering, a sacrifice made by fire, of a sweet savour unto Jehovah; thirteen young bullocks, two rams, and fourteen lambs of the first year." The thirteen seems to signify that it is all but complete, and the fullest form of expressing this; for clearly two sevens would be the fullest expression of it. Thirteen is only short of this; the figure approaches completeness to the utmost. Such is the type of the millennium among the feasts. The millennium may not be perfection, but it will be indefinitely near it.
This feast gives us a true notion of that great day. It is false that there will be no sin in the coming age. At the same time sin will be quite exceptional. There will be a large effect produced in honour of the work of the Lord Jesus. The reconciliation of all things according to Christ and by His cross will be displayed in a manner only not complete. This is what is represented by the feast here.
But in the details of this feast there is evidence given of another striking fact. It would appear that there is not preserved adequately the sense of the Lord's grace throughout the millennium. Alas! that age will exhibit symptoms of decline, as we know from elsewhere that at the end of it there will be a vast outburst of rebellion when Satan is let loose for a space. There has been but one faithful witness. Even in the millennium, when Satan no longer tempts, the solemn fact will be found that there is no sustainment of the power of testimony with which they began. Hence, as we find, this feast represents the whole scene of the millennial day. It is said that on the next day, the second day, "Ye shall offer twelve young bullocks;" and again on the third day eleven bullocks; and again on the fourth day ten bullocks; and on the fifth day nine bullocks, and so decreasing. Surely all this not only has meaning, but the meaning points to the fact that there will not be the sustainment of the same devotedness as at the first. Nevertheless the purpose of God never fails. Hence therefore we find that on the eighth day "Ye shall offer a burnt-offering, a sacrifice made by fire, of a sweet savour unto Jehovah, one bullock, one ram, and seven lambs." The eighth day brings us here no more than a single witness, indicating what was outside the earth. It might seem extraordinary at first sight that the eighth day should be less than the seven days. During the seven days the number never came down so low as to one bullock. But the reason seems to be this, that in Numbers we have the testimony and service of Christ on earth, and consequently no more than a witness to what is outside and above the earth. It points to another and heavenly scene, which was not properly the subject of the book. It is therefore but a solitary witness to heavenly things, not their introduction in power.
In Numbers 30:1-16 there is another and a very different exhibition of the truth of God. It is a question of divers relationships. Here we meet with a very blessed principle. The order of relationship depends on the one to whom we are related. It is He that governs, It is not God's arrangement in these matters to rest the weight on the weaker one, who is in the place of responsibility, but on the higher, who is expected to have strength and wisdom.
The first case of which we read in the chapter is, "If a man vow a vow unto Jehovah, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.'' Do we not know who this is? We know the One who never needs to recall a word: indeed, there is none other. His word stands; we can trust it without fear.
But it is not so with the woman, the weaker vessel. "If a woman also vow a vow unto Jehovah, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father's house in her youth; and her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her: then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand." This is our position, as it was that of Israel. They held the place of the woman according to the type of this chapter, as the man was Jehovah-Messiah, no doubt, in its full import. But it was Jehovah that spoke, and His words stood; Jehovah-Messiah was the unfailing One of Israel. Many a rash word they said; many a foolish vow they made. How did He treat all? In two ways. He acted in the power of His own grace, and therefore disallowed what was wrong, not binding the foolish vow on her who spoke so unadvisedly with her lips. He allowed her words to pass away, to be broken, to have no binding efficacy. How gracious is the Lord! On the other hand, dealing in His governmental wisdom, He might allow the foolish to prove her own folly; and so He did. This too has been true of Israel. He has permitted that His people should feel the consequences of what they said in their pride. But assuredly the day is coming when He will act in the fulness of His grace, and all that is foolish will be as unheard, unregistered, and blotted out for ever.
The same thing is true, viewed in another relationship. Supposing it was not a father with a child, but a husband (verses 6-8): in this case all depended on the husband. How perfectly this applies, whether you look at Israel or the church, need not be enlarged on. All our blessedness depends upon Him to whom we belong. At the same time in His government He may allow us to feel our own want of wisdom and of waiting upon Him.
On the other hand, where we hear of a widow or one divorced, plainly either is a person out of relationship, and there all stands (verse 9). But this is not the relation of the Christian or of the church, if we believe the scriptures. Israel may be a widow, and may be viewed as divorced too, but never the church, the bride of Christ. For us we know the marriage is yet future; and such is the way in which scripture views it. Thus you see the power of full grace remains in the hands of our Bridegroom. We have the position of children, and our Father therefore acts in the fulness of His love. We have the place of being the bride, but not yet married. It rests in His hands to use in perfect grace. It is not so with Israel. Therefore, we find another case of twofold dealing on Jehovah's part a severity on the one hand which does not forget their folly, but judges it; and on the other hand full mercy in remitting according to His own love. Jehovah, as He has executed the one, will assuredly display the other.
In Numbers 31:1-54, on which I may say but very few words, we have a blessed principle already alluded to briefly, but now acted on. We saw that Balaam could not separate God from Israel. We saw that he did in fact separate to a certain extent Israel from God. God could not allow His servant to pass away before he saw this disgrace completely blotted out. How was this done? "Avenge," says Jehovah, "the children of Israel of the Midianites, afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people." It would not have suited the grace of God towards His servant to leave a painful thought on his heart now that he was about to be gathered to his fathers or fall asleep. "And Moses spake unto the people, saying, Arm some of yourselves unto the war, and let them go against the Midianites and avenge Jehovah of Midian." Is not this perfection? When Jehovah spoke, He told His servant to avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites; but when Moses spoke, he told them to avenge Jehovah of the Midianites. How exactly Jehovah secures His own glory, and in grace to His people! Jehovah thought of the children of Israel, and the children of Israel would think of Jehovah. It was one common interest Jehovah and Israel had at heart one and the same thing. This indeed was the true and mighty grace of God, altogether reversing what the sin of man was seen to have accomplished. As they fell under the power of the snare, it might have seemed that they must be separated from Jehovah. But no; the link must be riveted, never to be broken.
Accordingly the expedition did not require any great force: it was no question of having all Israel marshalled now. A small body would suffice. It must be a select company, not the bravest chosen as such, but some of every tribe must have part in it. It is a question of avenging Jehovah of the Midianites, and the tribes would share it between them equally. Anything that would tend to bring in Israel as a whole would defeat this identification with His name by giving prominence to them, even if it did not wear the look of national feeling or personal vengeance. Neither must be now; all must be done holily in His name. It must be Jehovah's vengeance. Accordingly therefore it is ordered after a sacred fashion, as well as with a select band from each tribe. "So there were delivered out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand of every tribe, twelve thousand armed for war" a small body comparatively to deal with a formidable people. "And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand of every tribe, them and" whom? A captain? some chosen captain? Joshua? No; "Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow in his hand." The leader must be holy, and with no lack of holy instruments. The trumpets must be there for Jehovah's ears as well as Israel's. The result could not be doubted; and at once the issue of the fight is brought before us.
Further, we see that Jehovah lays down most wholesome principles as to the division of the spoil. A certain reserve is made. The principle is this, that nothing could be used by Israel which did not go through the fire. All for them must pass through the scrutinizing judgment of God. Besides, the people who had not fought were to have their share as well as those who had. It was reserved for David to decide that they must all share alike. This ordinance awaited another day. But here it was not according to the full grace of that day. It was a season of goodness, and nothing more.
From the next chapter (Numbers 32:1-42) it would seem that this very victory suggested a hasty thought to the heads of some tribes of Israel. They liked uncommonly the land that was conquered, and desired to remain on the wrong side of the Jordan. Moses was grieved at this. Nevertheless, after consulting, he yields to them; only he insists that they must help their brethren. Meanwhile whatever may be the allotment that they had chosen for themselves (and certainly they must prove how unwise it is to choose thus, instead of accepting Jehovah's choice), they must none the less share the conflicts of the people in Canaan.
Numbers 33:1-56 testifies to another and beautiful truth, Jehovah's remembrance of all the past, of all our journeyings, of all the scenes of difficulty through our weakness, and even worse occasionally too, of solemn judgments. And here we have it rehearsed. It was good to think of His ways with them, good for those who were about to enter on a new scene to look back on every step of the journey. It is thus far from being an unimportant chapter, or, as it might seem to the superficia1, a mere dry list of names. There is no part of scripture which has not a divine as well as moral purpose in it.
The next chapter (Numbers 34:1-29) presents the persons that were to divide the inheritance. This introduces inNumbers 35:1-34; Numbers 35:1-34 the singular institution of Levitical cities, some of which were reserved for such as might have been guilty of shedding blood. If done with malice prepense, there could be no shelter for the perpetrator in such an asylum. They could serve only as a prison whence he must be taken and judged in due time. But there were many cases in which death might ensue where there was no malice. On the one hand God would not make light of the bloodshed; on the other He would not merge the guiltless in the class of murderers.
The chapter then sets forth in a vivid manner what was ever before God's own eyes the coming act of blood-guiltiness, and the divine dealings with Israel in respect of it. I need not say many words as to this. Israel have stained themselves with blood, and stand charged before God with the slaying of their own Messiah. The grace of God acts, and the judgment of God also. Both are true, and both true of Israel. As there were those that have slain Him willingly, so they have borne their judgment and will yet more. But there were those for whom grace pleaded, and assuredly not without an answer; for the very One whose blood was shed cried to God from the cross in intercession for them: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." How mighty and how wondrous the reckoning of grace! To this the Spirit of God answered when He led Peter to say, "I know that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers." And thus there were those who found not only shelter, but having found it are there kept of God. Nay, more: in a certain providential sense it applies even to those not brought out of the place of the Jew into that of the Christian, which last does not appear here; for He would not have the membership of Christ's body thus anticipated.
But we have an important type of the Jew's place on earth. The man who was sheltered in the city of refuge, because of the stain of blood, who instead of being put to death for it found a temporary sojourn there, looked forward to the time when he might return. This limitation to his stay is given here. It only occurs in the book of Numbers. The slayer (it is said) "shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil. But if the slayer shall at any time come without the border of the city of his refuge, whither he was fled; and the revenger of blood find him without the borders of the city of his refuge, and the revenger of blood kill the slayer; he shall not be guilty of blood: because he should have remained in the city of his refuge until the death of the high priest; but after the death of the high priest the slayer shall return into the land of his possession "
This remains for Israel. That people is the slayer of blood now in the city of refuge. As long as Christ is exercising His priesthood according to the type here spoken of, as long as He is the anointed Priest who "ever liveth to make intercession" in the presence of God, so long the slayer must remain out of the land of his possession. The Jew will never return as accredited of God while Christ carries on His priesthood as now within the rent veil on high. But we know well that our Lord Jesus is coming back again. We know therefore that He is going to terminate the form* in which He now exercises His priesthood, which is typically represented by the death of the high priest that was anointed with oil. The death of the actual high priest of that day typifies the close of that character of priesthood in which our Lord now acts.
*Hebrews 7:24 might seem to clash with this; but it is not so really for as no one questions that Christ continues for ever, so the apostle asserts that His priesthood cannot be transferred, like the Aaronical one, from father to son. He has the priesthood intransmissible ( ἀπαράβατον ). It is a denial of successional transfer, not of change of form according to His grace and wisdom in the age to come.
Thus it is that, when the Lord will no longer be fulfilling the type of Aaron within the veil, when He will come forth as the great Melchisedek, there will be not a new ground but a new form and character of His priesthood, no longer as now intercession founded on blood only, but what corresponds with the bringing forth of bread and wine, as the priest of the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth (the millennial name of God). When that day comes, the slayer will then no longer require to be protected in the city of refuge, but return to the land of his inheritance.
In Numbers 36:1-13 we have a further point which winds up the account of the daughters of Zelophehad. As the former notice honoured their faith, so this acts as a guard, and stamps order on the matter, securing the glory of God but avoiding confusion among men; for the tribes of Israel must be duly kept. On the one hand it was according to God's goodness that the daughters should inherit if there were no son; on the other hand it could not be permitted that the inheritance should pass out of the tribe of their fathers. This was provided against here as the other was before. Thus the whole book abounds from first to last with the reiterated, continual, and perfect proof of God's loving care for His people on the earth.