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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Numbers 24

 

 

Verse 5

DISCOURSE: 175

BALAAM’S THIRD ATTEMPT TO CURSE ISRAEL

Numbers 24:5; Numbers 24:9. How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! — — — Blessed is he that blesseth thee; and cursed is he that curseth thee.

IF there were no other instance than that before us, we could never doubt the influence of God over all his creatures. Balaam had shewn strongly enough his desire to curse Israel; but had been twice constrained to speak the words which God had put into his mouth. On this third occasion, he saw that it was in vain to use enchantments; and therefore he laid them all aside; and gave himself up, without any further resistance, to declare whatever God should say unto him.

His preface is usually represented as a pompous recital of his own peculiar privileges and attainments: but it is rather a relation of the circumstances that occurred whilst he was on his way to Balak. He speaks of himself as “the man whose eyes were shut,” (so it should be read; and so it is read in the margin of our Bibles:) and who “had a vision of the Almighty, falling, but having his eyes open:” (the words, “into a trance,” are printed in italics, to shew that they are inserted by the translators, and are not in the original:) his ass fell, and he fell also; and then his eyes were opened, to sec the angel; whom, though his ass had seen, he had not till then been enabled to behold. On a view of the orderly manner in which the Israelites were encamped, he expressed his admiration of them; and then, in the concluding words of our text declared the irreversible decree of God respecting them: “Blessed, &c. &c.”

We shall consider these words,

I. In reference to the Jewish nation—

To them, in their primary sense, the words must certainly refer. But, when we read such a solemn declaration respecting them, we are naturally led to ask,

1. How can we account for it?

[Was there any peculiar merit in them, that had induced Jehovah so wonderfully to signalize them with his favour? No: they were a stiff-necked people from first to last. But God had “chosen them for himself to he a peculiar people:” and had pledged himself to fulfil to them all the promises, which he had made to Abraham respecting them. Whoever therefore should set himself against that people, would he endeavouring to thwart the divine counsels; whilst every one who should promote the prosperity of Zion, would, in fact, advance the designs of God. No wonder therefore that God pronounced a blessing or a curse on all, according as they co-operated with him, or opposed his will.]

2. How was it fulfilled?

[In addition to all that has been stated on the two former occasions, we are here led to contemplate the prosperity of Israel under the images of a verdant valley, a well-watered garden, and fragrant or stately trees: they are further spoken of as marvellously enriched, prolific, powerful. But we may particularly notice the discrimination made between the Gibeonites and all the other nations of Canaan. These, because they made a league with Joshua, were spared, protected, and preserved; whilst all the others, without exception, were destroyed [Note: Joshua 9:25-27; Joshua 10:1-11.]. And, many hundred years afterwards, when Saul had broken the covenant with them, and had sought to destroy them, God avenged their cause by a famine during three successive years, and caused the injustice of Saul to be punished in the destruction of almost all his family [Note: 2 Samuel 21:1-9.]. When at last the Israelites had provoked God utterly to abandon them, they became weak as others, and were left, as at this day, to experience all the evils, which, as God’s instruments, they themselves had inflicted upon other nations.]

The declaration in our text must further be considered,

II. In reference to the spiritual Israel—

If only we reflect, that this declaration was a repetition of the promise made to Abraham and to Jacob, its application to the spiritual seed of Abraham will be obvious and undeniable [Note: Genesis 12:3; Genesis 27:29.]. Let us consider then,

1. What is implied in this declaration—

[It does not relate to temporal benefits or evils, but to those which are spiritual and eternal — — — And it shall assuredly be fulfilled to men in its utmost extent, according as they shall be found to have loved and aided the true Israelites, or to have hated and opposed them [Note: Isaiah 54:15-17; Isaiah 60:14; Isaiah 65:13-14.] — — — Divine Providence even in this world may be expected to put a difference between the friends and enemies of Zion [Note: Psalms 122:6; Psalms 129:5-8.]: but, if none be visible in this world, it shall be made visible enough in the world to come [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7.].]

2. On what ground we may expect its accomplishment—

[The circumstance of its being uttered by the voice of inspiration, is a pledge of its accomplishment. It may appear strange indeed that God should interest himself to such an extent in behalf of his believing people: but there are two grounds on which we may be well assured that he will do so: the one is, that he considers our conduct towards his Church, as a criterion of our true character [Note: Luke 2:34-35; 1 Peter 2:6-8.]; and the other is, that he identifies himself with his Church, accounting every thing which is done to them, as done to himself [Note: Whether good, Matthew 25:40 or evil, Zechariah 2:8; Acts 9:4-5.]. Realize these thoughts, and all doubt respecting the accomplishment of the declaration will vanish for ever.]

Learn,

1. The importance of ascertaining our true character—

[If we truly “love him that begat, we shall also love those who are begotten of him [Note: 1 John 5:1.].” Let us bring ourselves to this test, and carefully judge ourselves as in the presence of God.]

2. The blessedness of being Israelites indeed—

[If God be so interested about you as to deal with men according to their conduct towards you, what blessings may not you yourselves expect at his hands? — — —]


Verse 9

DISCOURSE: 175

BALAAM’S THIRD ATTEMPT TO CURSE ISRAEL

Numbers 24:5; Numbers 24:9. How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! — — — Blessed is he that blesseth thee; and cursed is he that curseth thee.

IF there were no other instance than that before us, we could never doubt the influence of God over all his creatures. Balaam had shewn strongly enough his desire to curse Israel; but had been twice constrained to speak the words which God had put into his mouth. On this third occasion, he saw that it was in vain to use enchantments; and therefore he laid them all aside; and gave himself up, without any further resistance, to declare whatever God should say unto him.

His preface is usually represented as a pompous recital of his own peculiar privileges and attainments: but it is rather a relation of the circumstances that occurred whilst he was on his way to Balak. He speaks of himself as “the man whose eyes were shut,” (so it should be read; and so it is read in the margin of our Bibles:) and who “had a vision of the Almighty, falling, but having his eyes open:” (the words, “into a trance,” are printed in italics, to shew that they are inserted by the translators, and are not in the original:) his ass fell, and he fell also; and then his eyes were opened, to sec the angel; whom, though his ass had seen, he had not till then been enabled to behold. On a view of the orderly manner in which the Israelites were encamped, he expressed his admiration of them; and then, in the concluding words of our text declared the irreversible decree of God respecting them: “Blessed, &c. &c.”

We shall consider these words,

I. In reference to the Jewish nation—

To them, in their primary sense, the words must certainly refer. But, when we read such a solemn declaration respecting them, we are naturally led to ask,

1. How can we account for it?

[Was there any peculiar merit in them, that had induced Jehovah so wonderfully to signalize them with his favour? No: they were a stiff-necked people from first to last. But God had “chosen them for himself to he a peculiar people:” and had pledged himself to fulfil to them all the promises, which he had made to Abraham respecting them. Whoever therefore should set himself against that people, would he endeavouring to thwart the divine counsels; whilst every one who should promote the prosperity of Zion, would, in fact, advance the designs of God. No wonder therefore that God pronounced a blessing or a curse on all, according as they co-operated with him, or opposed his will.]

2. How was it fulfilled?

[In addition to all that has been stated on the two former occasions, we are here led to contemplate the prosperity of Israel under the images of a verdant valley, a well-watered garden, and fragrant or stately trees: they are further spoken of as marvellously enriched, prolific, powerful. But we may particularly notice the discrimination made between the Gibeonites and all the other nations of Canaan. These, because they made a league with Joshua, were spared, protected, and preserved; whilst all the others, without exception, were destroyed [Note: Joshua 9:25-27; Joshua 10:1-11.]. And, many hundred years afterwards, when Saul had broken the covenant with them, and had sought to destroy them, God avenged their cause by a famine during three successive years, and caused the injustice of Saul to be punished in the destruction of almost all his family [Note: 2 Samuel 21:1-9.]. When at last the Israelites had provoked God utterly to abandon them, they became weak as others, and were left, as at this day, to experience all the evils, which, as God’s instruments, they themselves had inflicted upon other nations.]

The declaration in our text must further be considered,

II. In reference to the spiritual Israel—

If only we reflect, that this declaration was a repetition of the promise made to Abraham and to Jacob, its application to the spiritual seed of Abraham will be obvious and undeniable [Note: Genesis 12:3; Genesis 27:29.]. Let us consider then,

1. What is implied in this declaration—

[It does not relate to temporal benefits or evils, but to those which are spiritual and eternal — — — And it shall assuredly be fulfilled to men in its utmost extent, according as they shall be found to have loved and aided the true Israelites, or to have hated and opposed them [Note: Isaiah 54:15-17; Isaiah 60:14; Isaiah 65:13-14.] — — — Divine Providence even in this world may be expected to put a difference between the friends and enemies of Zion [Note: Psalms 122:6; Psalms 129:5-8.]: but, if none be visible in this world, it shall be made visible enough in the world to come [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7.].]

2. On what ground we may expect its accomplishment—

[The circumstance of its being uttered by the voice of inspiration, is a pledge of its accomplishment. It may appear strange indeed that God should interest himself to such an extent in behalf of his believing people: but there are two grounds on which we may be well assured that he will do so: the one is, that he considers our conduct towards his Church, as a criterion of our true character [Note: Luke 2:34-35; 1 Peter 2:6-8.]; and the other is, that he identifies himself with his Church, accounting every thing which is done to them, as done to himself [Note: Whether good, Matthew 25:40 or evil, Zechariah 2:8; Acts 9:4-5.]. Realize these thoughts, and all doubt respecting the accomplishment of the declaration will vanish for ever.]

Learn,

1. The importance of ascertaining our true character—

[If we truly “love him that begat, we shall also love those who are begotten of him [Note: 1 John 5:1.].” Let us bring ourselves to this test, and carefully judge ourselves as in the presence of God.]

2. The blessedness of being Israelites indeed—

[If God be so interested about you as to deal with men according to their conduct towards you, what blessings may not you yourselves expect at his hands? — — —]


Verses 15-17

DISCOURSE: 176

CHRIST THE STAR SPOKEN OF BY BALAAM

Numbers 24:15-17. 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, who heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the Most High, who 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: 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.

IT has pleased God on various occasions to make known his will to persons of a very unworthy character; and to shew that his ways and thoughts are not regulated by the vain maxims of human wisdom. He proclaimed to Ahaz the conception of our Emmanuel in the womb of a virgin. To Nebuchadnezzar he revealed the successive destruction of the four great monarchies, and the erection of the Messiah’s kingdom on the ruins of them all. Thus, in the passage before us, we are informed, that he declared to Balaam not only his purposes respecting Israel and the nations that surrounded them, but the advent of that glorious person, who, as a star should enlighten, and as a prince should govern, the whole world.

Let us consider,

I. The prophecy—

The introduction to this prophecy is not unworthy of our notice—

[It seems very strongly to characterize the person who delivered it. When prophecies have been delivered by pious men, they have either been introduced with a plain declaration, “Thus saith the Lord;” or the prefatory observations have been calculated to exalt and glorify God. But Balaam’s prediction is ushered in with a pompous exhibition of his own attainments, intended, as it should seem, to wrest from Balak that respect and honour, which he had failed to procure by his preceding prophecies [Note: There is some little obscurity in the passage, occasioned by the translation. The words “whose eyes are open,” in ver. 15 should be, “whose eyes were shut;” and the words “in a trance,” which are printed in italics, should not have been inserted. The former refers to his not seeing the angel, when the ass saw him; and the latter to his falling flat on his face when the angel discovered himself to him. See Numbers 22:27-31.].

It shews us too, in a very awful and convincing light, how much knowledge we may possess, while yet we are utterly destitute of converting grace. The most highly favoured of God’s servants from the beginning of the world had not delivered a clearer prophecy of Christ than that which was uttered by Balaam on this occasion. Nor is it improbable that the expectation which obtained throughout the East, that a prince should arise out of Judea and rule the whole world, was occasioned very much by this prophecy. It is remarkable that the Eastern Magi no sooner saw the supernatural star, than they concluded that this Prince was born, and came immediately to Judea to inquire, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? Yet where shall we find a baser character than Balaam’s? Having considerable knowledge of the true God, he still continued to use enchantments as a magician. He was so covetous that he “ran greedily after a reward,” and preferred “the wages of unrighteousness” to every consideration, either of duty to God or of love to man [Note: Jude, ver. 11; 2 Peter 2:15-16.]. His hypocrisy was conspicuous from first to last; for in the midst of all his high professions of regard to the will and word of God, he laboured to the utmost to counteract the designs of God, and to reverse his decrees. More murderous purposes never were entertained in the heart of man; for it was his most earnest desire to curse all the people of God, and to consign them over to destruction by the sword of their enemies. His last act especially was truly diabolical: when he found he could not prevail to destroy their bodies, he taught their enemies how to tempt them and to destroy their souls [Note: Revelation 2:14.]. After comparing his character with his professions and attainments in divine knowledge, what shall we say? Shall we not tremble for ourselves, lest we should rest in a speculative knowledge of Christ, and fail, after all, of obtaining any saving interest in him? We are elsewhere informed that we may have the gifts of prophecy, of tongues, and of a miraculous faith, and yet be only as sounding brass, or tinkling cymbals [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.]. And our Lord assures us that many will in the last day plead the miraculous works that they have performed, but be dismissed with this humiliating answer, Depart from me, I never knew you [Note: Matthew 7:22-23.]. Even Judas himself was not, in respect of gifts, behind the very chiefest Apostles. Let us then never value ourselves on any discoveries of divine truth, unless we have suitable affections and a correspondent practice.]

The prophecy itself is deserving of particular attention—

[In its primary sense it must be understood in reference to David. The immediate intention of Balaam was, to inform Balak “what the Israelites should do unto his people in the latter days.” Accordingly he declares that one, like a star for brightness, should arise from among the Jews at a distant period, to sway the Jewish sceptre, and to destroy the kingdoms of Edom and Moab. This was fulfilled in David, who subjugated the Moabites, and slew every male in Edom [Note: 2 Samuel 8:2; 2 Samuel 8:14; Psalms 60:8; 1 Kings 11:15-16.].

But there can be no doubt of its ultimately referring to Christ himself. Christ is called in Scripture “the Day-star,” “the bright and morning Star;” nor did ever any one arise with splendour comparable to his. He too sat upon the throne of his father David, and exercised unlimited dominion. The children of Edom and Moab may be justly considered as representing the enemies of his Church and people. These he subdues and will finally destroy; not one shall live before him: “he will reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” Doubts have arisen whether by “Sheth” we are to understand that son of Adam, whose posterity alone survived the flood; or some person or place of eminence in Moab; (which on the whole is the more probable) but in both senses the prediction was equally fulfilled in Christ, who “has the heathen for his inheritance and the utmost ends of the earth for his possession.” Him then did Balaam see, as Abraham also had seen four hundred years before, but not, alas! with Abraham’s joyful hope. Of his victorious career he spake, saying, “I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not nigh.”]

Having ascertained the import of the prophecy, let us consider,

II. The improvement to be made of it—

1. Let us be thankful for its accomplishment—

[We have not to look forward at the distance of fifteen centuries; nor yet to travel, like the Eastern Magi, through trackless deserts, to behold the Lord. We see him “now;” we behold him “nigh.” We have not to go up to heaven, to bring him down, or to go down into the deep, to bring him up. No: he is nigh unto us, even in the word of faith which we have both in our hands and our hearts [Note: Romans 10:6-8.]. Truly he is not only arisen on our benighted world, but, if it be not our own fault, “he is arisen in our very hearts [Note: 2 Peter 1:19.],” so that “we behold his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of his Father, full of grace and truth [Note: John 1:14.].”

We see his “dominion” already established in the world [Note: ver. 19.]. From the hour in which he sent down his Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost even to the present moment, has his kingdom been extending over the face of the earth: and the hour is fast approaching when “all kings shall fall down before him, and all nations shall serve him [Note: Psalms 72:3-11.],” and “all the kingdoms of the world become his undivided empire.” May I not say too that even in the hearts of many here present he has set up his throne? Yes, and I hope that in due season “he will bruise Satan himself under our feet,” and “bring every thought into captivity” to his holy will. If we then be not thankful, methinks “the very stones will cry out againt us.”]

2. Let us receive the Lord under the very characters by which he is here revealed—

[Let us give up ourselves willingly to his guidance, and not regard any difficulties we may encounter in our way. Truly we may see our way traced out with accuracy in his blessed word, the way which he himself trod when he was upon earth. It is impossible to miss our end, if only we follow his steps.

Let us also surrender up ourselves to him in a way of holy obedience, knowing no will but his, and doing it without reserve. Under him we ourselves also are to fight: and if we “do valiantly [Note: ver. 18.]” we have nothing to fear: for “through his strength we can do all things [Note: Philippians 4:13.].” You have seen how Edom and Moab fell before David, and how Christ’s “sceptre” has prevailed over the great enemy of our salvation. And so shall “all enemies be put both under his feet,” and under ours, till, having overcome like him, we be exalted to his throne for ever and ever.

See Israel at the time of Balaam’s prophecy. They were altogether unused to war; yet did they vanquish all the kingdoms of Canaan. And so shall we, though weak as “worms, thresh the mountains” before us [Note: Isaiah 41:14-15.], and be “more than conquerors through him that loved us.” In vain shall any attempt to “curse us:” for “there is no enchantment against Jacob, nor any divination against Israel:” and to all eternity shall we, as monuments of our Redeemer’s love, be occupied with adoring gratitude, each exclaiming for himself, and all uniting in that overwhelming sentiment, “What hath God wrought [Note: Numbers 23:23.]!”

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Numbers 24:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/numbers-24.html. 1832.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
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