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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Numbers 24

 

 

Verses 1-9

Numbers 24:1-9

He set his face toward the wilderness.

The face set toward the wilderness

Evidently there is a change at this point in Balaam’s method. Hitherto he has played the soothsayer. At last he confesses himself vanquished, and instead of renewing the practices of his magic science, awaits, with eye fixed upon the waste distant desert, a revelation different in kind from any that have gone before it. It was a turning-point in his strange history. Not the first, nor the greatest, yet real, and, would he have had it so, saving. He has learned the helplessness of man striving with his Maker. He has learned the futility of approaching the God of truth with a lie in the right hand. He has learned that to “set the face toward the wilderness” is the one hope and wisdom of inquiring man; to look away from enchantments; to look away from courts and crowds, from pleasures and businesses; to look away from types and forms, and to fix the earnest gaze upon that solitude of earth and heaven which is the presence of the soul in the presence of God. The crisis was lost, we know, upon Balaam. The dreams of avarice and of worldliness prevailed in him, even over the open vision. We cannot alter his destiny; let us learn something from this incident.

1. There is in all of us a strange reluctance to the thing here described--this setting of the face toward the wilderness where God is alone. I might say many things to you of the ministerial man--the man, I mean, whose office it is to communicate with God for the edification of His people. How often, when this ministry, the Church’s prophesying, is to be, exercised, does the indolent, the half-hearted, the perfunctory minister run to his “enchantments”; to his books and to his manuscripts, to his commentaries; to the old “bakemeats,” his own or another’s, which have done duty before, and can be made “coldly to furnish forth” another “table”! How often--to change the illustration--does the abler, the more ingenious, the more eloquent minister betake himself to his task of preparation for preaching by a mustering of his own gifts of argument, of rhetoric, of pathos and persuasiveness, as the enchantments by which he is to bring God into these hearts I How often does a man--to use the prophet’s strange but expressive metaphor--“sacrifice to his net, and burn incense to his drag”; pay the homage of a gratified vanity to his own performance, count instead of weighing his hearers, and set down all to his own credit in prophesying, of which he should rather say to himself in deepest self-humiliation, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?”

2. Yet think not that the Balaams of this age are all prophets, or that the warning is only for the professional teacher. I seem to see a place for it in these lives which minister and people live in common. How often, in the anxious questionings which life brings to all of us--at those dubious turnings which compel decision, and cannot be decided upon twice over--is the temptation powerfully present to seek for some “enchantment” of discrimination between the wrong for us and the right! Who has not made advice such an “enchantment”? “In the multitude of counsellors there is safety”; but then the counsellors must be well chosen, must be honestly sought, must be diligently informed, must be faithfully followed.

3. I would add a word upon the application of the text not to the life, but to the soul. Side by side with a bold scepticism which simply passes by the gospel on the other side there is also an anxiety, a curiosity, to hear, which secures an audience wheresoever there is a preacher, which stimulates all manner of agencies for bringing home the gospel. In the same degree the warning is more urgent, that we confound not, in these highest matters, the “enchantments” and the “wilderness.” Who feels not in himself the easiness of listening and the difficulty of praying? Who is not conscious of the temptation to compound for inward torpor by outward bustle, and to make a multiplication of services and communions an apology for neglect and shameful sloth in the nearer and more intimate converse between the soul and its God? (Dean Vaughan.)

Balaam . . . the man whose eyes are open.

Balaam--the open eye

An open eye is a rare thing even in the matters of common experience. They are the few who can see clearly the things which God has set round them in their daily paths. Men of science tell us that it is difficult to meet with a competent observer of even the simplest and most familiar phenomena. Lawyers complain that a good witness, who can tell what he knows, and only what he knows, is as rare. It is supposed by experienced persons that a fact is just the most difficult thing in the world to get at, so few walk with their eyes open and care to make themselves simply conductors of truth. We see things through mists which take the colours of prejudice or passion, and it is but a vague outline of them which meets our sight. “Lord, that our eyes may be opened,” is a prayer full of meaning for all of us as we move amidst the realities of our daily lives. In the higher sphere of the being the open eye is rarer still. The realities in that region are solemn things to look upon. There is something awful in their grandeur, and even in their beauty. A man needs courage and faith to face them as they are.

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

II. Balaam’s is at the same time a character of singular perplexity. He had both the open eye and the itching palm. And this condition is far from rare. Splendid endowments are often mated with moral narrowness or feebleness. With many of these men of insight, men with the seer’s power, there is a flaw in the thoroughness somewhere. But then these men, when their genius possesses them, rise above the sphere of their humiliation; the temptations which ensnare them snap like the withes of Samson; they see clearly, and declare with the freedom and the force of prophets the things which have been shown to them by the Lord. Lord Bacon may have been capable of very poor ambitions, very grovelling thoughts and actions; but when his genius possessed him, when he loosed his splendid faculty in the quest of truth, the simplest fact became sacred to him; he would not have dared to misrepresent or to tamper with what he saw for worlds. It was thus with Balaam. On the lower level of his life he was grovelling; but when God took possession of his genius he yielded it readily, and then he was true as steel to the vision.

III. The man whose eyes were open saw some things with startling clearness. Some words of his ring out like trumpet notes through the field of life’s battle; they are conceived with a vividness and expressed with a force which makes them prophetic for all ages; we hear from his lips the words of God.

1. The only word which a man can say with power is truth. The word that God also saith, that shall stand (Numbers 22:38). The counsellor who knows the Divine plan is the man who has power. The position of the Jews among the nations, and the influence which they wielded, which is popularly much under-estimated, rested wholly on the fact that they knew as no other nation knew the Divine counsels, they held the key to the mystery of all these worlds. Balaam saw that the trickster and liar is impotent. Laocoon, locked in the serpent wreaths, wrestling madly, but with the death agony in his face, is not more powerless than the monger of falsehood to escape his doom. The gain is there, it is always there; you can have it if you like by cheating and lying. Balaam saw it, and there was that within him which longed for it. But his eye was open; he dared not touch it. He saw the pure folly as well as the shame of dreaming of it, of thinking that anything but truth, right, and the blessing of God can stand a man in any stead in life, in death, and in the great court of Heaven.

2. He saw with that open eye that the man who stands with God stands absolutely beyond the reach of harm (Numbers 23:23).

3. There was a third thing that Balaam saw. The man whom God blesses is blessed; the man whom God curses is cursed, absolutely and for ever. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob.--

The prosperity of the Church

With great admiration he beginneth to declare the future prosperity of that people, and doth it by six similitudes.

1. As the valleys are they stretched forth, or as the rivers say some, which coming from one head spread themselves into great broad waters, so this people having sprung from Jacob, one patriarch, hath spread into this multitude, and yet further shall spread into many more.

2. “As gardens by the river’s side.” Such gardens are watered so by the rivers as if the heat be never so great, yet they are not burned up. So shall this people in all adversities and dangers be preserved by the power and blessing of God till the coming of the Messiah, and overcome by no assaults of Satan and his instruments.

3. “As the trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted.”

4. “As the cedar trees beside the waters,” which, growing to a great height, notably show how this people with their offspring should wonderfully grow with their virtue and famous acts, getting a great name in the world.

5. “The water droppeth out of his bucket”; that is, as such water floweth abroad, so shall this people abound with the water of heavenly doctrine and wisdom, and from them be spread to other nations plentifully, according to that “Out of Sion shall a law go, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

6. “His seed shall be in many waters.” As seed that is cast into a field well watered soon springeth and beareth fruit, so this people. These are the prophetical resemblances of this people Israel, which do still declare unto us the flourishing and happy state of God’s Church, whatsoever worldly men conceive and think. The Church is the tabernacle of God, wherein He dwelleth, and familiarly with His chosen as with His domestics and household servants converseth, providing things necessary both for this life and that to come. The Church is that little river which spreadeth itself far and wide throughout the world. The Church is that well-watered garden, set with sweet trees casting forth the fragrant smell of life, of the knowledge of God and of virtue, whereof Solomon in his Canticles: “My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, as a spring shut up, and a fountain sealed up.” The Church is that shadow that yieldeth comfortable cooling, in the sense and feeling of God’s wrath to sin. It is that cedar planted by the water-side, and growing so high, whereof the prophet in the Psalm: “The righteous shall flourish like a palm-tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Such as be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in their age; they shall be fat and flourishing,” &c. The Church is that bucket, containing doctrine of life, and dropping it out to the comfort of souls. Finally, that seed shall live again in the life to come, and for ever spring and flourish. (Bp. Babington.)

Balaam’s third parable: the glory of the people of God

I. The preparation of the prophet to declare the Divine will.

1. Balaam renounces the search for auguries.

2. He beholds the encampment of Israel.

3. He is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

4. He hears Divine words and sees Divine visions.

II. The declaration by the prophet of Israel’s glory.

1. Their beautiful appearance.

(a) Of order.

(b) Of culture and fertility.

2. Their prosperous condition.

3. Their exalted position.

4. Their conquering power.

Balaam’s third parable

Seen from the top of the rocks, everything about Israel is perfection. Had we been down in the valley, and looked into them from an earthly standpoint, we should have seen deformity enough. But from God’s presence everything is changed. But mark the figures under which this beauty is described. “As valleys are they spread forth.” These are the valleys watered by the river; these are the people of God, made beautiful by the refreshing streams of living water which flow down from the throne of God. Not yet are they as watered “valleys,” but as “gardens by the river’s side.” This is a richer description still. They are the garden of the Lord. They are the plants planted by the Father. They have been taken out of the world--transplanted--and are now to “bring forth much fruit.” The streams from “the river of God” find their way to the roots of their spiritual life; and thus they become fruitful. Jesus is the source of their life and their fruitfulness. And in all this we see growth--“as the valleys are they spread forth; as gardens by the river’s side.” The entire figure implies sanctification--growth in grace. There will always be three kinds of growth where the soul is really abiding in Jesus. There will be the outward growth as the “lily”--the life before men; the hidden growth as the “roots” of Lebanon--the life before God; and the relation toward men as the “branches spreading,” the influence which they cast around. But the figure grows in richness: “as trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted.” The aloe tree was highly valued on account of its fragrance, and it was the tree from which the incense was prepared. Thus the believer abiding in Jesus is a “ sweet savour” of Christ. The fragrance of that blessed One is diffused far and wide through him. He is beautiful with the beauty which the Lord puts upon him. His “scent is as the wine of Lebanon.” And to what cause is all this fragrance due? To the “Lord’s planting.” There is one more step in advance in the spiritual life in this verse: “as cedar trees beside the waters.” As the “lily” and “trees of Lebanon” in the passage, in Hosea, so here. The growth of the believer is brought before us under the loftiness of the cedar tree, its luxuriance, and the durability of its wood. Now, having noticed what the people of God are as seen in Jesus, let us mark their testimony. “He shall pour the water out of his buckets.” The people of God are personified, as a man carrying two pails overflowing with water. A bucket or vessel is empty. It can give nothing. It can only receive. The “buckets” are the “empty vessels” to be filled with “living water” by the Holy Ghost. Like the two pails on a man’s shoulder which are filled to the brim, he cannot move a step without the water overflowing. So with the believer abiding in Jesus. He is the empty vessel filled by the Holy Ghost. He cannot move a step without making that influence felt. There will be a trail of living water in his path--a track of light in every step of the way. And oh, what empty places there are within us and around us! Within us--desires, affections, longings, hopes, aims, plans; without us--home, duties, efforts, a weeping Church, and a dying world. Oh, that these “buckets” were filled with the “living water”! Then would gladness be written as with a sunbeam on every brow, and sunshine light up every heart. “His seed shall be in many waters.” This is the effect of the outpoured water from the buckets of the believer’s soul. He is made a blessing on every side. “His king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.” Christ the King of the Jews is to be “higher” than all the kings of this world; and Christ’s kingdom “exalted” above all other kingdoms. All this glory is then traced to the first great act of redemption “God brought him forth out of Egypt.” Thus deliverance from Egypt and future glory are linked together. “He hath as it were the strength of the buffalo.” Here is the power of God abiding with, and resting upon, those whom He has redeemed. Then follows, in connection with their redemption from Egypt, that final triumph and glory. “He shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.” This is the foretold destruction mentioned in the New Testament, which awaits all the enemies of the Lord at His coming. But in the meantime the attitude of the Church of Christ is one of expectation. Her attitude is not one of judgment yet, but one of grace. This is strikingly brought before us in the next clause; “he couched, he lay down as a lion.” The “couching” of the lion is always the attitude of expectation--looking forward to the moment when he shall spring upon his prey. “Lying down” indicates rest. The believer now rests in Jesus, and awaits His return. In the meantime blessing is his portion--“blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee.” And we notice how the blessing culminates here. The first was, “How shall I curse, or how shall I defy?” After it was, “He hath blessed, and I cannot reverse it.” Lastly, it is “Blessed is he that blesseth thee.” This last form in which Balaam expresses himself shows us God’s estimate of His people Israel. “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye.” (F. Whitfield, M. A.)

Sermon at reopening of a church

I. Let us attempt to justify and elucidate this sacred exclamation. The language is proper.

1. On account of the author of their construction.

2. The beneficial effect of their institution.

3. The pleasantness of their unity.

4. The joys of their fellowships.

5. Their perpetuity, and the certainty of their increase.

II. What ought to be the effects produced upon us by such a survey of the assemblies of the people of God. We should--

1. Cherish a spirit of gratitude for the establishment and increase of these tents of God.

2. Shun all that would impair, and diligently maintain all that would secure the blessing.

3. Endeavour to increase the number of those who frequent the tabernacles, and dwell in the tents of Jacob. Imitate the tribes when ambulating in the wilderness. Remember that you are surrounded by those who have no hope. Tell them plainly that you are pilgrims and strangers. Inform them of the privileges you enjoy by the way; of the manna which drops by your door; of the streams which flow from the rock Christ; of the light which guides your feet; of the cloud which screens you from temptation; of the victories you obtain over your foes; of the prospect you have of passing through Jordan safely; and of the rich land of promise which you are shortly about to enter. Press on them not to linger.

4. Anticipate the time when your tents will be struck, and all the ransomed tribes assemble in the tabernacle above. These tents of the Israelites were valuable as they traversed the sands of Arabia; but they left them when they entered on the rest which their prophets had predicted, and their poets sung. And what are our temples? They are only preparatory for the enjoyments of the Canaan above. May it be your privilege to join the tribes of the redeemed as they go up to Zion with everlasting joy upon their heads! (J. Clayton, M. A.)


Verses 1-9

Numbers 24:1-9

He set his face toward the wilderness.

The face set toward the wilderness

Evidently there is a change at this point in Balaam’s method. Hitherto he has played the soothsayer. At last he confesses himself vanquished, and instead of renewing the practices of his magic science, awaits, with eye fixed upon the waste distant desert, a revelation different in kind from any that have gone before it. It was a turning-point in his strange history. Not the first, nor the greatest, yet real, and, would he have had it so, saving. He has learned the helplessness of man striving with his Maker. He has learned the futility of approaching the God of truth with a lie in the right hand. He has learned that to “set the face toward the wilderness” is the one hope and wisdom of inquiring man; to look away from enchantments; to look away from courts and crowds, from pleasures and businesses; to look away from types and forms, and to fix the earnest gaze upon that solitude of earth and heaven which is the presence of the soul in the presence of God. The crisis was lost, we know, upon Balaam. The dreams of avarice and of worldliness prevailed in him, even over the open vision. We cannot alter his destiny; let us learn something from this incident.

1. There is in all of us a strange reluctance to the thing here described--this setting of the face toward the wilderness where God is alone. I might say many things to you of the ministerial man--the man, I mean, whose office it is to communicate with God for the edification of His people. How often, when this ministry, the Church’s prophesying, is to be, exercised, does the indolent, the half-hearted, the perfunctory minister run to his “enchantments”; to his books and to his manuscripts, to his commentaries; to the old “bakemeats,” his own or another’s, which have done duty before, and can be made “coldly to furnish forth” another “table”! How often--to change the illustration--does the abler, the more ingenious, the more eloquent minister betake himself to his task of preparation for preaching by a mustering of his own gifts of argument, of rhetoric, of pathos and persuasiveness, as the enchantments by which he is to bring God into these hearts I How often does a man--to use the prophet’s strange but expressive metaphor--“sacrifice to his net, and burn incense to his drag”; pay the homage of a gratified vanity to his own performance, count instead of weighing his hearers, and set down all to his own credit in prophesying, of which he should rather say to himself in deepest self-humiliation, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?”

2. Yet think not that the Balaams of this age are all prophets, or that the warning is only for the professional teacher. I seem to see a place for it in these lives which minister and people live in common. How often, in the anxious questionings which life brings to all of us--at those dubious turnings which compel decision, and cannot be decided upon twice over--is the temptation powerfully present to seek for some “enchantment” of discrimination between the wrong for us and the right! Who has not made advice such an “enchantment”? “In the multitude of counsellors there is safety”; but then the counsellors must be well chosen, must be honestly sought, must be diligently informed, must be faithfully followed.

3. I would add a word upon the application of the text not to the life, but to the soul. Side by side with a bold scepticism which simply passes by the gospel on the other side there is also an anxiety, a curiosity, to hear, which secures an audience wheresoever there is a preacher, which stimulates all manner of agencies for bringing home the gospel. In the same degree the warning is more urgent, that we confound not, in these highest matters, the “enchantments” and the “wilderness.” Who feels not in himself the easiness of listening and the difficulty of praying? Who is not conscious of the temptation to compound for inward torpor by outward bustle, and to make a multiplication of services and communions an apology for neglect and shameful sloth in the nearer and more intimate converse between the soul and its God? (Dean Vaughan.)

Balaam . . . the man whose eyes are open.

Balaam--the open eye

An open eye is a rare thing even in the matters of common experience. They are the few who can see clearly the things which God has set round them in their daily paths. Men of science tell us that it is difficult to meet with a competent observer of even the simplest and most familiar phenomena. Lawyers complain that a good witness, who can tell what he knows, and only what he knows, is as rare. It is supposed by experienced persons that a fact is just the most difficult thing in the world to get at, so few walk with their eyes open and care to make themselves simply conductors of truth. We see things through mists which take the colours of prejudice or passion, and it is but a vague outline of them which meets our sight. “Lord, that our eyes may be opened,” is a prayer full of meaning for all of us as we move amidst the realities of our daily lives. In the higher sphere of the being the open eye is rarer still. The realities in that region are solemn things to look upon. There is something awful in their grandeur, and even in their beauty. A man needs courage and faith to face them as they are.

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

II. Balaam’s is at the same time a character of singular perplexity. He had both the open eye and the itching palm. And this condition is far from rare. Splendid endowments are often mated with moral narrowness or feebleness. With many of these men of insight, men with the seer’s power, there is a flaw in the thoroughness somewhere. But then these men, when their genius possesses them, rise above the sphere of their humiliation; the temptations which ensnare them snap like the withes of Samson; they see clearly, and declare with the freedom and the force of prophets the things which have been shown to them by the Lord. Lord Bacon may have been capable of very poor ambitions, very grovelling thoughts and actions; but when his genius possessed him, when he loosed his splendid faculty in the quest of truth, the simplest fact became sacred to him; he would not have dared to misrepresent or to tamper with what he saw for worlds. It was thus with Balaam. On the lower level of his life he was grovelling; but when God took possession of his genius he yielded it readily, and then he was true as steel to the vision.

III. The man whose eyes were open saw some things with startling clearness. Some words of his ring out like trumpet notes through the field of life’s battle; they are conceived with a vividness and expressed with a force which makes them prophetic for all ages; we hear from his lips the words of God.

1. The only word which a man can say with power is truth. The word that God also saith, that shall stand (Numbers 22:38). The counsellor who knows the Divine plan is the man who has power. The position of the Jews among the nations, and the influence which they wielded, which is popularly much under-estimated, rested wholly on the fact that they knew as no other nation knew the Divine counsels, they held the key to the mystery of all these worlds. Balaam saw that the trickster and liar is impotent. Laocoon, locked in the serpent wreaths, wrestling madly, but with the death agony in his face, is not more powerless than the monger of falsehood to escape his doom. The gain is there, it is always there; you can have it if you like by cheating and lying. Balaam saw it, and there was that within him which longed for it. But his eye was open; he dared not touch it. He saw the pure folly as well as the shame of dreaming of it, of thinking that anything but truth, right, and the blessing of God can stand a man in any stead in life, in death, and in the great court of Heaven.

2. He saw with that open eye that the man who stands with God stands absolutely beyond the reach of harm (Numbers 23:23).

3. There was a third thing that Balaam saw. The man whom God blesses is blessed; the man whom God curses is cursed, absolutely and for ever. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob.--

The prosperity of the Church

With great admiration he beginneth to declare the future prosperity of that people, and doth it by six similitudes.

1. As the valleys are they stretched forth, or as the rivers say some, which coming from one head spread themselves into great broad waters, so this people having sprung from Jacob, one patriarch, hath spread into this multitude, and yet further shall spread into many more.

2. “As gardens by the river’s side.” Such gardens are watered so by the rivers as if the heat be never so great, yet they are not burned up. So shall this people in all adversities and dangers be preserved by the power and blessing of God till the coming of the Messiah, and overcome by no assaults of Satan and his instruments.

3. “As the trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted.”

4. “As the cedar trees beside the waters,” which, growing to a great height, notably show how this people with their offspring should wonderfully grow with their virtue and famous acts, getting a great name in the world.

5. “The water droppeth out of his bucket”; that is, as such water floweth abroad, so shall this people abound with the water of heavenly doctrine and wisdom, and from them be spread to other nations plentifully, according to that “Out of Sion shall a law go, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

6. “His seed shall be in many waters.” As seed that is cast into a field well watered soon springeth and beareth fruit, so this people. These are the prophetical resemblances of this people Israel, which do still declare unto us the flourishing and happy state of God’s Church, whatsoever worldly men conceive and think. The Church is the tabernacle of God, wherein He dwelleth, and familiarly with His chosen as with His domestics and household servants converseth, providing things necessary both for this life and that to come. The Church is that little river which spreadeth itself far and wide throughout the world. The Church is that well-watered garden, set with sweet trees casting forth the fragrant smell of life, of the knowledge of God and of virtue, whereof Solomon in his Canticles: “My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, as a spring shut up, and a fountain sealed up.” The Church is that shadow that yieldeth comfortable cooling, in the sense and feeling of God’s wrath to sin. It is that cedar planted by the water-side, and growing so high, whereof the prophet in the Psalm: “The righteous shall flourish like a palm-tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Such as be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in their age; they shall be fat and flourishing,” &c. The Church is that bucket, containing doctrine of life, and dropping it out to the comfort of souls. Finally, that seed shall live again in the life to come, and for ever spring and flourish. (Bp. Babington.)

Balaam’s third parable: the glory of the people of God

I. The preparation of the prophet to declare the Divine will.

1. Balaam renounces the search for auguries.

2. He beholds the encampment of Israel.

3. He is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

4. He hears Divine words and sees Divine visions.

II. The declaration by the prophet of Israel’s glory.

1. Their beautiful appearance.

(a) Of order.

(b) Of culture and fertility.

2. Their prosperous condition.

3. Their exalted position.

4. Their conquering power.

Balaam’s third parable

Seen from the top of the rocks, everything about Israel is perfection. Had we been down in the valley, and looked into them from an earthly standpoint, we should have seen deformity enough. But from God’s presence everything is changed. But mark the figures under which this beauty is described. “As valleys are they spread forth.” These are the valleys watered by the river; these are the people of God, made beautiful by the refreshing streams of living water which flow down from the throne of God. Not yet are they as watered “valleys,” but as “gardens by the river’s side.” This is a richer description still. They are the garden of the Lord. They are the plants planted by the Father. They have been taken out of the world--transplanted--and are now to “bring forth much fruit.” The streams from “the river of God” find their way to the roots of their spiritual life; and thus they become fruitful. Jesus is the source of their life and their fruitfulness. And in all this we see growth--“as the valleys are they spread forth; as gardens by the river’s side.” The entire figure implies sanctification--growth in grace. There will always be three kinds of growth where the soul is really abiding in Jesus. There will be the outward growth as the “lily”--the life before men; the hidden growth as the “roots” of Lebanon--the life before God; and the relation toward men as the “branches spreading,” the influence which they cast around. But the figure grows in richness: “as trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted.” The aloe tree was highly valued on account of its fragrance, and it was the tree from which the incense was prepared. Thus the believer abiding in Jesus is a “ sweet savour” of Christ. The fragrance of that blessed One is diffused far and wide through him. He is beautiful with the beauty which the Lord puts upon him. His “scent is as the wine of Lebanon.” And to what cause is all this fragrance due? To the “Lord’s planting.” There is one more step in advance in the spiritual life in this verse: “as cedar trees beside the waters.” As the “lily” and “trees of Lebanon” in the passage, in Hosea, so here. The growth of the believer is brought before us under the loftiness of the cedar tree, its luxuriance, and the durability of its wood. Now, having noticed what the people of God are as seen in Jesus, let us mark their testimony. “He shall pour the water out of his buckets.” The people of God are personified, as a man carrying two pails overflowing with water. A bucket or vessel is empty. It can give nothing. It can only receive. The “buckets” are the “empty vessels” to be filled with “living water” by the Holy Ghost. Like the two pails on a man’s shoulder which are filled to the brim, he cannot move a step without the water overflowing. So with the believer abiding in Jesus. He is the empty vessel filled by the Holy Ghost. He cannot move a step without making that influence felt. There will be a trail of living water in his path--a track of light in every step of the way. And oh, what empty places there are within us and around us! Within us--desires, affections, longings, hopes, aims, plans; without us--home, duties, efforts, a weeping Church, and a dying world. Oh, that these “buckets” were filled with the “living water”! Then would gladness be written as with a sunbeam on every brow, and sunshine light up every heart. “His seed shall be in many waters.” This is the effect of the outpoured water from the buckets of the believer’s soul. He is made a blessing on every side. “His king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.” Christ the King of the Jews is to be “higher” than all the kings of this world; and Christ’s kingdom “exalted” above all other kingdoms. All this glory is then traced to the first great act of redemption “God brought him forth out of Egypt.” Thus deliverance from Egypt and future glory are linked together. “He hath as it were the strength of the buffalo.” Here is the power of God abiding with, and resting upon, those whom He has redeemed. Then follows, in connection with their redemption from Egypt, that final triumph and glory. “He shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.” This is the foretold destruction mentioned in the New Testament, which awaits all the enemies of the Lord at His coming. But in the meantime the attitude of the Church of Christ is one of expectation. Her attitude is not one of judgment yet, but one of grace. This is strikingly brought before us in the next clause; “he couched, he lay down as a lion.” The “couching” of the lion is always the attitude of expectation--looking forward to the moment when he shall spring upon his prey. “Lying down” indicates rest. The believer now rests in Jesus, and awaits His return. In the meantime blessing is his portion--“blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee.” And we notice how the blessing culminates here. The first was, “How shall I curse, or how shall I defy?” After it was, “He hath blessed, and I cannot reverse it.” Lastly, it is “Blessed is he that blesseth thee.” This last form in which Balaam expresses himself shows us God’s estimate of His people Israel. “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye.” (F. Whitfield, M. A.)

Sermon at reopening of a church

I. Let us attempt to justify and elucidate this sacred exclamation. The language is proper.

1. On account of the author of their construction.

2. The beneficial effect of their institution.

3. The pleasantness of their unity.

4. The joys of their fellowships.

5. Their perpetuity, and the certainty of their increase.

II. What ought to be the effects produced upon us by such a survey of the assemblies of the people of God. We should--

1. Cherish a spirit of gratitude for the establishment and increase of these tents of God.

2. Shun all that would impair, and diligently maintain all that would secure the blessing.

3. Endeavour to increase the number of those who frequent the tabernacles, and dwell in the tents of Jacob. Imitate the tribes when ambulating in the wilderness. Remember that you are surrounded by those who have no hope. Tell them plainly that you are pilgrims and strangers. Inform them of the privileges you enjoy by the way; of the manna which drops by your door; of the streams which flow from the rock Christ; of the light which guides your feet; of the cloud which screens you from temptation; of the victories you obtain over your foes; of the prospect you have of passing through Jordan safely; and of the rich land of promise which you are shortly about to enter. Press on them not to linger.

4. Anticipate the time when your tents will be struck, and all the ransomed tribes assemble in the tabernacle above. These tents of the Israelites were valuable as they traversed the sands of Arabia; but they left them when they entered on the rest which their prophets had predicted, and their poets sung. And what are our temples? They are only preparatory for the enjoyments of the Canaan above. May it be your privilege to join the tribes of the redeemed as they go up to Zion with everlasting joy upon their heads! (J. Clayton, M. A.)


Verse 9

Numbers 24:9

Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee.

God will be merciful to such as be merciful to the Church

God will bless those that do good to His people, they shall not lose their labour that favour the Church, but such as are enemies unto them shall find God an enemy unto them. We see how God blessed the house of Laban for Jacob’s sake (Genesis 30:27); and the house of Potiphar for Joseph’s sake (Genesis 39:3). Rahab, the harlot, receiving the spies and preferring their life before her own life, was herself saved from the common destruction. The widow of Sarepta giving hospitality to Elijah, and offering him part of that poor pittance which was left her and her son in those days of drought, was with all her family miraculously sustained in the famine, continuing three years and six months (1 Kings 17:10). The Shunamite receiving the prophet Elisha, making him a chamber, providing all necessaries for him. She showed some mercy, but received more mercy; she ministered comfort to the prophet, but herself received more comfort.

1. First, God will honour all those that honour Him, He will despise all those that despise Him. This is the gracious promise that is gone out of His own mouth, which He cannot but verify, for He is not as man that He should lie; He is not as the son of man that He should deceive. This is it which the Lord spake by the mouth and ministry of Samuel concerning Eli and his house (1 Samuel 2:30). And, therefore, they shall prosper that love the Church (Psalms 122:1-9).

2. Secondly, God hath appointed it to be the end of our obedience; our mercy to others shall procure mercy upon ourselves. This the apostle setteth down (Romans 2:10).

3. Thirdly, mercy, a notable fruit of love received, kindleth the hearts, and inflameth the affections of God’s people, both to praise God for them, and to pray unto God for them that have been helpful and serviceable to the Church.

The uses follow--

1. First, from hence we have the confirmation of another holy truth in our Christian religion, that merciful, liberal, and kind men, shall be surely blessed.

2. Secondly, it is our duty to love God’s people, seeing such as favour them do fare the better for them.

3. Thirdly, hereby we are warned to exhort one another to this duty, and by all means to provoke one another to mercy, in regard of the great recompense of reward that is laid up for merciful men.

4. Lastly, this doctrine is both a great encouragement unto us in well doing and a great comfort in all adversities. (W. Attersoll.)


Verses 10-19

Numbers 24:10-19

Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam.

Balaam and Balak

I. The cause of Balak’s anger. That Balaam had not fulfilled the terms of his contract (Numbers 24:10-11).

1. Consider the reason and nature of the contract. Urgency of case. Great reputation of Balaam.

2. Consider the position and reputation of Balaam.

3. Consider how Balaam had failed in his contract (Numbers 23:1-30; Numbers 24:1-9).

II. Balaam’s self-justifying answer (Numbers 24:12-13).

1. Was it true? Yes (Numbers 22:13-18).

2. If true, why did he leave home? He loved money (2 Peter 2:15).

3. If God Commanded him to go (Numbers 22:20), why was he blamed for going (Numbers 22:22)?

III. Balaam’s parable (Numbers 24:14-19).

1. The situation.

2. The parable.

(a) The prophet sees Him in person.

(b) He is able to distinguish His nationality.

(c) He sees Him as a mighty conqueror.

Lessons:

1. God intrusts superior talents to men who may abuse them.

2. One besetting sin may be enough to dim the most splendid abilities and destroy the most brilliant reputation.

3. Balaam’s failure to curse Israel is a significant type of the fact that he whom God hath blessed can no man curse. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

Spake I not also to thy messengers.--

Worldly profit should not withdraw us from Christian duties

Matters of profit must not carry us beyond our calling, we must not pursue them when we have no warrant to desire them. A notable example hereof we have in Gideon, he had a kingdom offered unto him; for the men of Israel said unto him, “Reign thou over us, both thou and thy son, and thy son’s son.” He saw no calling from God and therefore refused it, and betook himself to a private life, saying ( 8:22-23). The like we see in our Saviour Christ, He refused to be made a temporal king (John 6:15). We see the disciples of Christ left all, and neglected the service of themselves, and the seeking of their own benefit for the service of God (Matthew 19:27). Whereby we see that albeit profits be in time and place to be looked after, yet we must all look to have our warrant in seeking for them. The reasons remain to be considered, to enforce this truth, and to gain our affections to the embracing of it.

1. For, first, by too much following the profits of this life, we may lose a greater profit. If we should win the world, and lose our souls; if we should catch the riches of this life, and crack ,the peace of a good conscience, it would prove in the end a small gain unto us.

2. Secondly, the things of this life serve only for a season. The hope that we have is this--we look for a kingdom. We cannot have a heaven in this life, and another in the life to come.

The uses come now to be stood upon.

1. First, we see it is a dangerous bait to be in love with the world.

2. Secondly, we see that our own private respects are not the chief things that we must respect, but seek a sanctified use of the blessings of this life, and a warrant to our consciences for the right using of them. These blessings of God become curses unto us unless we use them lawfully.

3. Lastly, this doctrine serveth to reprove those that esteem earthly things above heavenly, and mind their profits more than their salvation. These invert the course of nature and turn all things upside down, they set the earth above the heavens, and thrust down the heavens beneath the earth. This is like that confusion and disorder which the wise man speaketh of (Ecclesiastes 10:6-7). (W. Attersoll.)


Verses 10-25

Verses 17-19

Numbers 24:17-19

I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh.

Balaam’s vision

As I read these words I seem to look on the scene described. What do I see? I see the top of a wild mountain range, and I see altars smoking with sacrifices. Hard by stands Balak, with many slaves bearing costly gifts, gold, and precious stones, and spices, and garments. A little apart is Balaam, that “strange mixture of a man.” And now, as he gazes from the high places of Baal, and the altars of idolatry, he sees far below Israel abiding in their tents. There are the banners of the different tribes waving in the wind; the eyes of Balaam are opened, and he recalls the past of Israel’s history, and he foresees the future. And now, as we turn aside from this unwilling prophet who utters a blessing, in every word of which there was breathed a curse, what lessons are there for us of to-day.

1. First, we learn the awful danger of trifling with conscience, the whisper of the Holy Spirit within us. Balaam knew what was right, yet desired to do wrong.

2. We learn, too, the sin of trying to make a bargain, or compromise, with God. Hundreds of people are trying to do this, endeavouring to serve God a little, and the world a good deal. They profess to obey God, but only in the matters which they choose.

3. We learn, also, from the story of Balaam’s sin, never to neglect a plain duty for the sake of earthly gain. (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)

Two ways of seeing Christ

Commentators have differed as to the way of explaining the pronoun “him,” some referring it to Israel. We need scarcely say that we agree with those who refer to Him who is Jacob’s star and sceptre. False as his heart was, the seer saw Him in the spirit of prophecy, and felt that a time would come when he would actually see Him. But the time when Jacob’s Star would arise was not come, it was distant, and so he adds, “but not now; I shall behold Him, but not nigh.” This seems to be the obvious meaning of the words. But if you look at them in connection with Balaam’s state of mind, do they not contain a deeper and more awful meaning? Are they not prophetic of himself, as well as of Christ?--of his own awful end, as well as of Israel’s great destiny? “I shall see Him!” Yes, when He comes again; but does he express hope that he will share in the Redeemer’s glory and Israel’s blessedness? No, there is no word of hope, no expression of desire, as in the words of Job, “For I know that my Redeemer liveth,” &c. “My Redeemer!” says the afflicted saint, with an appropriating faith; “whom I shall see for myself,” he adds, in hallowed longing; but all that the “unrighteous” prophet could say was, “I shall behold Him, but not nigh.” In what spirit do we think of that day of which these men speak? All of us, without any exception, will see Christ. “Every eye shall see Him.” But how shall we see Him--nigh, or afar off? Like Job, or like Balaam? Has it been given us to say with the first, “My Redeemer--mine, for He died for me”? Or do we feel--must we feel, that we have no part in His salvation; and that when we see Him, it may be “afar off.” (G. Wagner.)

A Star out of Jacob.

Balaam’s prophecy of Christ as Star and Sceptre

Balaam, moved by the Spirit, sets forth Jesus in this prophecy in a twofold character--as the Giver of light, and as exercising kingly power.

I. First, as the giver of light: “There shall come a Star out of Jacob.” We all know that the Redeemer is more than once compared in Scripture to the sun (Malachi 4:2; Luke 1:78). It is not, perhaps, quite so easy to see why Christ is compared to a “star”; for as the stars shine with a borrowed light, they seem more suited to be illustrations of the followers of Jesus than of the Saviour Himself. And so they are used in Revelation 1:20 of ministers: “The seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches”; and by St. Paul of all Christians (Philippians 2:14). Applied to Christ, it may be to teach us how Jesus shines through all the long night of the Church’s sorrows. The sun dissipates darkness; where it shines, darkness ceases. It is so with the rule of sin. Into whatever heart Christ shines, there the power of sin is broken. The star gives light without dissipating darkness. It guides the wanderer’s feet. So Jesus gives light in the night of affliction. He does not altogether remove it, nor exempt His people from suffering. But they are not left in utter darkness. There is a star in the heavens above, so bright that it can penetrate the darkest cloud, and gladden with its light the loneliness of sorrow. But St. John teaches us something more about this star when he records the words of the glorified Redeemer, “I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning Star” (Revelation 22:16). And why the morning star? The morning star is the last to disappear. It still continues to shine when the rays of the sun have overwhelmed every other light; and thus it is a beautiful emblem of Christ. Is Christ Jesus your Star, your morning Star? Is it to His light that you look? And if any earthborn cloud interrupts His light from your soul, do you look through the cloud, and wait, not impatiently, but earnestly, for its removal? Those false lights with which we encompass ourselves, the sparks of our own kindling, will certainly all go out, and great will be the consternation of those who will then be left in darkness. But if you are looking to Jesus, guided by His light, then your path will get brighter and brighter, until it ends in the perfect light of His presence, a height to which no cloud can rise. But there is one thing more that we must notice with regard to this Star. Balaam tells us the point from whence he saw it arise. “There shall come,” he says, “a Star out of Jacob.” This points us to the humanity of Jesus. All the brightness of the Godhead came to us through the humanity of Jesus.

II. But let us pass on to the second part, the kingly office of our Redeemer: “And a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel.” It may be thought, perhaps, in consequence of the words that follow, “and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth,” that this prophecy was fulfilled in the time of David, when the boundaries of Israel were so much enlarged, and their enemies overcome. But we ought to remember that just as the prophets and priests of Israel were types of Jesus as Prophet and Priest, so were its kings types of Him who was and is a King of kings. Jesus was a King in the days of His suffering on earth. It was under the direction of God’s providence that Pilate, though he meant it not so, wrote the title, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The sceptre was in His hand; but He did not then put forth His great power and reign. His kingly office was held for a time in abeyance. True it is that Christ does reign. He reigns in the hearts of His willing people, and over a reluctant world. But this is the time of His patience and long-suffering. The hour is not yet come for the full manifestation of His kingly office and power. Does He reign in our hearts, destroying and keeping under our spiritual enemies?

III. But there is one point more in our text which we must not leave unnoticed, and that is, the consequence of the coming of the Star, and rising of the Sceptre--a power given to Israel to overcome his enemies. Those enemies are described, not generally, but very minutely. Moab is mentioned first, because, headed by Balak, the Moabites were then endeavouring to destroy Israel. The expression, “Smite the corners (or sides) of Moab,” signifies an entire destruction, perpetrated along the whole compass of its dominions. The next expression, “The children of Sheth,” has puzzled commentators. Some have taken it as a proper name, to designate one of Adam’s sons; but it is impossible to extract any good meaning from it if so understood. The Hebrew word has, however, lately been shown to be the contracted form of another word which signifies “tumult”; and this is strongly confirmed by a reference to a remarkable prophecy of Jeremiah concerning Moab, in which we can scarcely fail to observe an allusion to this prophecy of Balaam (Jeremiah 48:42). The enemies of Israel were called the children of tumult, because they were ever restless; restless in themselves, because they knew not Israel’s God, and restless as neighbours, because they would give Israel no peace. Next to Moab, Edom is mentioned. Then follow predictions of judgments on Amalek, Israel’s first enemy, on the Kenites, strong as they seemed to be in their mountain-passes, on Asshur and Eber; and so terrible did these judgments appear to the seer, that he could not help exclaiming, “Alas I who shall live when God doeth this?” But all these are but typical of the greater enemies with which we have to contend. The “sons of tumult” encompass us about. Satan, knowing that his time is short, is ever busy. The world, so restless because it knows not Christ, pours in its influences upon us. The old man within us, though crucified, is ever struggling for victory. And Under these influences our very relatives and friends may hinder us on our way, just as Edom did Israel. What must we do to overcome? We must fix our eye upon Jacob’s Star, the bright morning Star. We must cling to the sceptre of Jesus. Remember that the enemies of God’s people are already doomed to destruction. Yet a little while, and if you are Christ’s, Satan will be bruised under your feet. The world will not attract or frighten you. The old man will not struggle and weary you. (G. Wagner.)

The Star of Jacob

Our Lord, then, is compared to a star, and we shall have seven reasons to assign for this.

I. He is called a star as the symbol of government. You will observe how evidently it is connected with a sceptre and with a conqueror. Jacob was to be blessed with a valiant leader who should become a triumphant sovereign. Very frequently in oriental literature their great men, and especially their great deliverers, are called stars. Behold, then, our Lord Jesus Christ as the Star of Jacob. He is the Captain of His people, the Leader of the Lord’s hosts, the King in Jeshurun, God over all, glorious and blessed for ever!

1. We may say of Jesus in this respect that He has an authority which He has inherited by right. He made all things, and by Him all things consist. It is but just that He should rule over all things.

2. Our Lord as a star has an authority which He has valiantly won. Wherever Christ is King He has had a great and a stern fight for it.

3. This kingdom of Christ, wherever it is, is most beneficent. Wherever this star of government shines, its rays scatter blessing. Jesus is no tyrant. He rules not by oppression. The force He uses is the force of love.

II. The star is the image of brightness. Our Lord Jesus Christ is brightness itself. The star is but a poor setting forth of Ills ineffable splendour. As Mediator, exalted on high, enjoying the reward of His pains, He is bright indeed.

1. Observe, that our Lord as a star is a bright particular star in the matter of holiness. In Him was no sin.

2. As a star, He shines also with the light of knowledge. Moses was, as it were, but a mist, but Christ is the Prophet of light. “The law was given by Moses”--a thing of types, and shadows--“but grace and truth come by Jesus Christ.” If any man be taught in the things of God, he must derive his light from the Star of Bethlehem.

III. Thirdly, our Lord is compared to a star to bring out the fact that He is the pattern of constancy. Ten thousand changes have been wrought since the world began, but the stars have not changed. There they remain. So with our Lord Jesus. He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. What the prophets and apostles saw in Him, we can see in Him, and what He was to them, that He is to us, and shall be to generations yet unborn. Hundreds of us may be looking at the same star at the same time without knowing it. There is a meeting-place for many eyes. We may be drifted, some of us, to Australia, or to Canada, or to the United States, or we may be sailing across the great deep, but we shall see the stars there. It is true that on the other side of the world we shall see another set of stars, but the stars themselves are always still the same. As far as we in this atmosphere are concerned, we shall look upon some star. So, wherever we may be, we look to the same Christ. Jesus Christ is still the same, the same to all His people, the same in all places, the same for ever and ever. Well, therefore, may He be compared to those bright stars that shine now as they did of old and change not.

IV. In the fourth place, we may trace this comparison of our Lord to a star as the fountain of influence. The old astrologers used to believe very strongly in the influence of the stars upon men’s minds. But whether there be an influence in the stars or not, as touching this world, I know there is great influence in Christ Jesus. He is the fountain of all holy influences among the sons of men. Where this star shines upon the graves of men who are dead in sin they begin to live. Where the beam of this star shines upon poor imprisoned spirits, their chains drop off, the captive leaps to lose his chains. When this star shines upon the backslider, he begins to mend his ways, and to follow, like the eastern sages, its light till he finds his Saviour once more.

V. In the fifth place, the Lord Jesus Christ may be compared to a star as a source of guidance. There are some of the stars that are extremely useful to sailors. I scarcely know how else the great wide sea would be navigated, especially if it were not for the Polar Star. Jesus is the Polar Star to us.

VI. Our Lord is compared to a star, safely, as the object of wonder. We used to think when we were little ones that the stars were holes pricked in the skies, through which the light of heaven shone, or that they were little pieces of gold-dust that God had strewn about. We do not think so now; we understand that they are much greater than they look to be. So, when we were carnal, and did not know King Jesus, we esteemed Him to be very much like anybody else, but now we begin to know Him, we find out that He is much greater, infinitely greater than we thought He was. And as we grow in grace, we find Him to be more glorious still.

VII. Our Lord is compared to a star, as lie is the herald of glory. The bright and morning star foretells that the sun is on its way to gladden the earth with its light. Wherever Jesus comes lie is a great prophet of good. Let Him come into a heart, and, as soon as He appears, you may rest assured that there is a life of eternity and joy to come. Let Jesus Christ come into a family, and what changes He makes there. Let Him be preached with power in any town or city, and what a herald of good things He is there. To the whole world Christ has proclaimed glad tidings. His coming has been fraught with benedictions to the sons of men. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Balaam’s prophecy

I. Christ’s predicted human ancestry. “Out of Jacob,” &c. He was the “Lord from heaven”; but He came through the lowly door of human birth.

1. His ancestry was chosen by God. That there was a fitness we cannot doubt; what it consisted in we do not know.

2. Its destinies were guided by God with a view to this great consummation. This explains many a dark passage in Israel’s history. So when we can view God’s leading of us from the result, all will be clear.

3. It was a lowly ancestry. Contrast with the great ancient powers.

4. It was by no means a pure and worthy ancestry. The clean came out of an unclean. Endless hope for man in that.

II. The twofold representation of Christ’s reign.

1. A Star. In its guidance.

2. A Sceptre.

The Star of Jacob and the Sceptre of Israel

I. The Star of Jacob or Israel.

1. Christ is a Star to give Divine light and guidance to the soul.

2. Christ is a Star of glory for His Church, and of conquest over all His foes.

II. Christ is the Sceptre of Israel, or of the Church of God. The sceptre is the emblem in all realms and ages of royal authority. Now Christ holds the sceptre of royal power in two ways.

1. As the Divine Lawgiver and Ruler of His Church for government.

2. For victory and eternal glory. (J. G. Angley, M. A.)

Balaam and the Star of Jacob

I. The deliverer of this prophecy.

II. The person foretold in this prophecy.

1. A star may be conceived an apt emblem of Jesus, from the loftiness and dignity of its position. Lofty as is the sphere of the common star, infinitely loftier is the mediatorial range of the circuit of Christ, the Star of Bethlehem. In His course as a Saviour, He completely overtops with His excellency all length, and breadth, and depth, and height--all time--all eternity.

2. A star, also, is an apt emblem of Jesus, inasmuch as it helps to relieve the monotonous aspect of the gloom of night with its brilliant presence. How undefined would be the face of night without the stars! It is the constant twinklings that are emitted from the various groups of stars above our heads which convert the dulness of night into positive cheerfulness. And is not Jesus the Star that gilds the dark night of affliction with the blessings of His spiritual presence?

3. How wonderful is it that He generally reserves the disclosure of His unsearchable ways to His chosen until the darkest hour of the night of tribulation! But Jesus, also, is aptly represented under the figure of a star, as being set forth to the world at large as a sign from heaven. To some He shines far off, as the star of better days to come; to more as the star of ill omen and wrath from on high to them that are disobedient and care not for the truth.

III. The purport of this prophecy. (R. Jones, B. A.)

Balaam’s vision

It is evident that the star and the sceptre are to be taken as emblems or types of some prince or warrior; for it is a living form which Balaam first represents himself as beholding, though he immediately proceeds to describe the being under images drawn from the inanimate creation. And that the star and sceptre did but figure some illustrious person is yet more clear from what instantly follows, seeing that the deeds of a conqueror are ascribed to him by the prophet--“and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.” The successes of this potentate are then more fully stated - “And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies.” And the prophecy, so far as we are now to consider it, is shut up in the declaration, that the warrior figured by the star and the sceptre should not be alone in his conflict, but should be associated with the people from whom he was to arise, “Israel shall do valiantly.” And who, think ye, is this leader or prince to represent? The first opinion is, that it was David whom Balaam foresaw and foretold; the second, that it was Christ. And these opinions may both be correct. It is very common for prophecies to have a double fulfilment. The first when they are taken in a somewhat restricted sense; the second when they are taken in their largest sense. And this is peculiarly the case when an individual is himself the type of a more illustrious; and when therefore it may naturally be expected that his actions serve also as predictions of those of his antitype. Now it is not necessary that we Should show you that a king such as David might be fitly represented under the emblem of a star and a sceptre. This at least will be immediately admitted in regard of the sceptre; for the sceptre being that which a king holds and sways, suggests necessarily the idea of a royal ruler or potentate. And if we cannot affirm quite the same of the star, we know that, in the imagery of Scripture, stars are put for the leading men of a country--those most conspicuous in the political firmament: so that when great convulsions are to be delineated--those agitations of society which confound all orders and ranks--it is by such emblems as that of the stars falling from the heavens that the overthrow of princes and grandees was commonly represented. We turn then to the things said to be done by the being thus figuratively described; and in these we may certainly recognise the actions of David. It is affirmed of the predicted king that he shall “smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth”; Sheth (according to the best interpreters) having been the name of a great Moabitish prince. This affirmation (if Moab be literally understood) requires that the ruler of Israel should lay waste the country in which Balaam then stood; and so far the prediction was undoubtedly accomplished by David. For you read in the Second Book of Samuel--“David smote Moab, and he measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive: and so the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts.” It is next said “Edom shall be a possession”; and you find it stated of David in the very chapter from which we have just quoted, “David put garrisons in Syria of Damascus; and the Syrians became servants.” As to what follows--“Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies”--it seems to be only a repetition of the former clause; for Seir was the name given to some parts of the country of the Edomites. So that the prophecy--a prophecy verified by the historical facts already adduced, is that David’s occupation of the land would be so complete that he should have possession of its fastnesses and heights. We need scarcely add that the remaining words of the text, “Israel shall do valiantly,” apply thoroughly to the people over whom David ruled; for the nation became eminently warlike under so illustrious a leader, and distinguished itself by courage in the field. And thus we may fairly say that if David were represented by the star and the sceptre, his registered actions and achievements correspond with sufficient accuracy to the prophetic delineation. But we doubt whether this accomplishment of the prophecy can seem to any of you commensurate with the grandeur of the diction with which it is conveyed. We thus bring you to the most important part of our subject. We are to apply the prophecy to Christ, and examine whether there be not a special fitness in the emblems of the star and the sceptre, when considered as designating the Redeemer; and whether the smiting of Moab and Edom do not aptly represent His victories and His triumphs. Indeed, so usual was it to associate the promised Christ with a star, or to take the star as His emblem, that we read of an impostor in the days of the emperor Adrian, wishing to pass himself off for the Messiah, assumed a title which signifies The Son of the Star; meaning thereby to announce himself as the star which Balaam had seen afar off. But admitting that the emblem of the star is employed in designating Christ, is there any special appropriateness in such an emblem? We reply at once that everything which has to do with light may fitly be taken as an image of Christ. There is nothing which so fitly represents the moral condition of the world when Christ appeared on earth as darkness. His office cannot be better represented than when He is exhibited under figures derived from the nature and the agency of light. But yet, why describe Him as a star, which does little towards irradiating a benighted creation? Why not rather take the sun as His emblem? He will be a sun to His Church throughout the heavenly states: but He is only as a star during the existing dispensation. And may not this, indeed, be most truly affirmed of a state in which at best “we see through a glass darkly,” and can “know but in part”? The night is yet upon us, though that night may be far spent; but it is no longer the starless night which it was ere the Redeemer brought life and immortality to light by His gospel. A star--a morning star has occupied our horizon, and the tempest-tossed barque, in danger of everlasting shipwreck, may steer itself by the light of that star to the haven where it would be, and where there is to be no more night, though no more sun. Christianity, as set up in the world, is but in its twilight. The night is still unbroken over a vast portion of our globe; and even where revelation has been received, we must rather speak of streaks like those on the eastern sky, whose gold and purple prophesy of morning, than those rich full lustres which flood creation when the sun has reached the zenith. On every account, therefore, is our Redeemer fitly emblemed by the figure which He applied to Himself--the emblem of the bright and morning star. And surely we need not say much to prove to you that the emblem of the sceptre is equally appropriate. You know that in Christ are combined the offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. But admitting the appropriateness of the emblems thus given to Christ, we have yet to examine whether the predicted actions were such as to be ascribed to the Redeemer. We have already shown you that if Moab and Edom are to be literally taken--that if they designate countries anciently so called--there are recorded events in the annals of the Jews which may be fairly considered as having accomplished the prediction. Now this is, of course, upon the supposition that the star and the sceptre represent David or some other Jewish prince, and will not hold when Christ is regarded as the subject of the prophecy. We need not say that Christ never ]aid waste the literal Moab and Edom; and we may add that there is nothing in Scripture to lead us to suppose that the countries formerly so called are hereafter to be specially visited by His vengeance. But you cannot be ignorant that it is common in the Bible to take a name which has belonged to some great foe of God, and to use it of others whose wickedness is their only connection with the parties originally so called. Edom and Moab are the names which prophecy gives to the enemies of the Church, who are to perish beneath the judgments with which that sun shall be saturated, when every baser light is to be lost in the star, and every other empire in that of the sceptre. And, therefore: in predicting the desolation of Moab and Edom, Balaam may be regarded as predicting the final overthrow of all the power of anti-christ, that a clear scene may be swept for the erection of the kingdom of Christ and His saints. The sign of the Son of Man is yet to be seen in the heavens, where it was beheld by Balaam, from the summit of Peor. I know not what that sign shall be; perhaps again the star--fearful meteor!--like that which hung over the fated Jerusalem, boding its destruction; perhaps again the sceptre--brilliant constellation!--burning with majesty and betokening the extinction of all meaner royalty; perhaps the Cross, as it appeared to the Roman--aye, when he was taught to know the God of battles, and to place Christianity upon the throne of the Caesars. But whatever the sign, the Being whose emblazonry it exhibits, shall come to deal out a long-delayed vengeance on tribes that have refused to walk in His light and submit to His rule. Now it is to be observed that though we have thus referred the close of the prediction to the close of the existing dispensation, there has been from the first and there still is a partial accomplishment of all that Balaam announced. There is evidently a great mixture in the prophecy. It is a prophecy of illumination, of dominion, of destruction, and all these are to be traced ever since Christ revealed Himself to man. There have been always those in whose hearts the day star has risen--always those who have yielded themselves as willing subjects to the Mediator--always the Moabite and the Edomite who have defied His authority, or sunk beneath His vengeance. So that however the grand fulfilment is yet to be expected in the complete triumph of Christianity and the overthrow of all the foes of the Church, enough is continually occurring to prove that the prediction sketched the whole period of the present dispensation. Throughout this whole period the words have been fulfilled, “Israel shall do valiantly.” Israel has borne up bravely against incessant assault, and supported from on high has been successful in withstanding the armies of the aliens. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

A new star

Professor Henry, of Washington, discovered a new star, and the tidings sped by submarine telegraph, and all the observatories of Europe are watching for that new star. Oh, hearer, looking out through the darkness of thy soul to-night, canst thou see a bright light beaming on thee? “Where?” you say, “where? how can I find it?” Look along by the line of the Cross of the Son of God. Do you not see it trembling with all tenderness and beaming with all hope? It is the Star of Bethlehem. (T. de Witt Talmage.)

Variety of representation of God

The Bible sets us an example of fashioning for ourselves a personal God to suit our need. When I find Paul using figures to represent to himself God, as his wants required Him, I know that I may do the same thing. When I want love, I may make God my tender and loving father or sister, or mother. When I want pity, I may make Him a Being of unfailing and boundless pity. When I want courage, He is my lion; when I want light and cheer, He is my bright and morning star--my God alert, my sun, my bread, my wine. We may imagine Him everything that is to us good and beautiful, tender and true, and know that we are not cheating ourselves by vain fancies, but have only touched the extreme outer edge of the ever-blessed reality. There may be dangers in this freedom and variety of our representation of our God; but there are dangers in all forms of our thought of Him, and in none half so much as in having no realisation of Him at all, in considering Him an abstraction of all the omnis. Thinking of Him thus, none can ever love Him, or walk with Him. (H. W. Beecher.)

Seeing the star

This one thing I have noticed in everybody--the moment they come to a clear apprehension of the love of Christ, they turn right about upon the minister, or upon the Christians who have been labouring, perhaps for years, to bring them to that very point, and say, “Why didn’t you tell us this before?” Why, it’s what we’ve been always telling them. I think that trying to point a man to the love of Jesus is like trying to show one a star that has just come out, the only star in the whole cloudy sky. “I can see no star, says the man.” “Where is it?” “Why, there; don’t you see?” But the man shakes his head; he can see nothing. But by and by, after long looking, he catches sight of the star; and now he can see nothing else for gazing at it. He wonders that he had not seen it before. Just so it is with the soul that is gazing after the Star of Bethlehem. Nothing in the world seems so hidden, so complex, so perplexing, as this thing, until it is once seen by the heart, and then, oh, there never was anything that ever was thought of that is so clear, so simple, so transcendently glorious! And men marvel that the whole world does not see and feel as they do. (H. W. Beecher.)

Death the crown of life

Our text may be considered either as a plaint, a sigh, or a song--a dirge winding to a march. There are, in reality, three questions interlinked in this passage. It is a question of studious curiosity. What kind of a race will then inhabit the earth? Men are naturally inquisitive to know who are to be their successors. Why not? They are to be the heirs in turn of our heritage; the tenants who are to move in as we move out; to enjoy our repairs, and to do, in turn, their own repairing for those who shall follow them. Who are they? The question deepens into a sigh. Here we go! just as we begin to take on the meaning of things about us ; scarce sooner found than lost. But what of that which is to transpire long after all these are past? Some one will tread the path that I am treading! Some one will saunter in the grove where I now linger! Some one will loiter to enjoy the landscape which now feeds me with its soft beauty! Some one will scent the fragrance of these laughing flowers! Some one will be soothed and hushed by the melody of the rippling stream! Some one will look beseechingly up into the face of the twinkling stars! Some one will cry out with unutterable longing, as we now cry, “Alas! who shall live when God doeth this?” We are baffled at the grave. We put our eyes close to the bars, but we cannot see. Death is the crown of life; and yet it is not the triumph of man over time, but of time over man. We leave the world behind us. Do lasting slumbers hold us? Is there no more of us when we are gone? When the reduplicated forces of the earth shall be put under command; when man shall sit in plumed victory over the opposing energies of nature; when the sword shall be beaten into a ploughshare, and the spear into a pruning-hook; when old hoary tyrannies and rusty wrongs shall be entombed for ever; when health shall mantle the cheek, and happiness shall festoon the fireside; when man shall keep faith with his fellow-man, and worship and adore his Maker--shall I live then? The thought gladdens, but it maddens as well. The scepticism that would console me with the thought that death is but a momentary pang; that I shall sleep in death’s dateless night; that all these struggles shall have come to their rest; ah! this scepticism is but a miserable comforter after all. Shall I be shut out from my share in history? shut out from my right to know? It is voiced in another shape: “If a man die, shall he live again?” God has provided a way by which His people may be released, and yet view this earth in all its perfected beauty and glory. Only the wisdom of God could compass this. The resurrection solves this mighty problem. All who labour shall see the reward of their labour. The sower shall be partaker of the fruit. Every journeyman who worked wearily upon the temple, shall be present when the topstone is lifted to its place. Fall in, and catch up the anthem to the King of kings! Fall in, and live for ever. Follow Christ, and shout victory. Presently time shall have halted from its confused scramble, and God’s finished workmanship shall have been taken from the loom, and the tapestry shall be revealed in all its beauty and perfection--the pattern will be complete. Then shall we learn that when we die we do not die out; that death is not death ; that to die is not to die, but to blossom into life. (H. S. Carpenter, D. D.)


Verse 25

Numbers 24:25

Balaam rose up, and went, and returned to his place: and Balak also went his way.

The parting of Balaam and Balak: the separations of life

I. Balaam and Balak parted, having utterly failed in their designs.

II. They parted with characters considerably modified by their association with each other.

III. They parted, but not for ever. Those who have been associated in this present life will meet again in the great hereafter. Tempter and tempted, oppressor and oppressed, companions in evil designs and companions in noble enterprises--all will meet again. (W. Jones.)

The desires of evil men against the Church come to nothing

God disappointeth the policies of the ungodly against the Church; so that how cunningly soever they are contrived, He bloweth them away as with the wind, and He melteth them as wax with the fire. Many rest in vain hope, and put confidence in deceitful things. The Egyptians had a purpose to kill all the males of the Israelites, but see how wide they shot, and how far they missed (Exodus 1:12). The enemies of Christ say in the pride of their hearts, “Let us break their bands, and cast their cords from us; yet He that sitteth in the heaven laugheth them to scorn, and giveth to His Son the heathen for a possession” (Psalms 2:3). Hereunto cometh the saying of the prophet (Psalms 7:14). When Christ had preached the gospel at Nazareth, they were filled with such wrath against Him that they rose up and thrust Him out of the city, and led Him even unto the top of the hill, whereon their city was built, that they might cast Him down headlong; but He passed through the midst of them and went His way (Luke 4:30). So we read in the Acts of the Apostles that certain Jews made an assembly, and bound themselves with a curse, saying, “That they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul” (Acts 23:22). But they were disappointed, and their purpose, though closely contrived, was utterly disannulled. The reasons will make this truth more apparent.

1. If we consider this essential property of God that He is full of justice, He will reward as our works are. If we rest in vain and wicked practices He will not hold His peace, but throw down that which we build up, and He will disappoint that which we hope for.

2. The expectation of the wicked is vanity, because they can give no comfort or assurance.

The uses are next to be considered, as they arise from this doctrine.

1. We may conclude from hence the unhappy estate of them that have only eyes of flesh, to rest on things which they see with their fleshly eyes. If we regard and receive only present blessings, they are of small moment. If, then, we wait on lying vanities and forsake God, our strength and salvation, we are unhappy and most miserable.

2. We learn that no wisdom, be it never so deep; no understanding, be it never so politic; no counsel, be it never so prudent; no subtilty, be it never so hidden, shall overthrow the purpose of God, or prevail against His truth, or hinder the execution of His will. For His infinite wisdom is able to overmatch all the wisdom that is in the creatures, and to prevent whatsoever devices they have set abroach.

3. Let us not rely on vain things, for then all our expectations shall be in vain. Who is so simple, that to stay him up from danger would rest on the web of a spider, or the staff of a reed, or the strength of a rush? All the devices of men, the power of princes, the courage of horses, the help of creatures, are as a broken weapon to defend us, and unserviceable to deliver us. This the prophet teacheth us (Psalms 146:3-5).

4. When we see the enemies conspire against the Church, let us, from this consideration of the vain confidence of the wicked, take occasion to comfort ourselves and to cheer up our hearts; all their expectation shall turn into smoke. Let them gather themselves together, and take crafty counsel one with another; He that ruleth in heaven shall scorn at their inventions, and frustrate them of their mischievous purposes.

5. Seeing all evil inventions and devices of the devil are disappointed, let us not stand in fear of any attempts made against us by his instruments. The enemies of the Church had hired a sorcerer and conjurer to waste and weaken them, yet we see his enchantments are defeated and come to nothing. (W. Attersoll.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 24:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/numbers-24.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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Tuesday, January 28th, 2020
the Third Week after Epiphany
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