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Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary
This was the famous, or rather infamous conjuror of the East, whose awful history is so fully recorded in the book of Numbers, and whose most awful end is given to us in the 31chapter of the same book, and 8th verse. Numbers 31:8 (See also Joshua 13:22) His name, it should seem, is derived from Balel, and signifies old age. For his history, I refer the reader to Numbers 20:1-29 and the two following chapters. In relation to the character of Balaam, it will be proper for me to beg the reader's attention to what the word of God hath left upon record concerning him, in order to have a clear apprehension of the subject; comparing Scripture with Scripture, as we are commanded to do, 1 Corinthians 2:13.
It appears from the accounts given of Balaam, in the opening of his history, (Numbers 22:1, etc.) that Balak, prince of Moab, fearful of the growing power of Israel, invited this Balaam from the East, to come to Moab and to use enchantments against Israel. It should seem from the history of Egypt, in the magicians we read of in that history, that this custom of using enchantments among idolatrous nations, was very common. (Exodus 7:11) Prompted by the love of gain, Balaam readily listened to the messengers of Balak, and lodged them for the night, pretending that he would conconsult the Lord upon the subject, and go with them if permitted. But the Lord commanding him not to go, for that the people, the prince of Moab wished him to curse, were blessed; Balaam sent the messengers away, without going with them. We are not informed by what means the Lord communicated to Balaam his command: probably by a vision of the night; but, certainly, in such a way as left Balaam with full impressions on his mind, had he not heard the history of Israel before, that they were "a people blessed of the Lord."
Balak, not discouraged by Balaam's refusal, sent again to him: and the wretch, earnest to go, pretended again to ask the Lord's leave. And the sequel of this embassy from Balak was, that he arose and went. There seems to occur some little difficulty in the relation, as given in the Bible concerning Balaam's going; because it is said by the Lord, If the men come to call thee, arise and go. But the thing had been determined before by the Lord's telling Balaam, that the people were blessed. How then could he dare to tempt the Lord by any farther enquiry? and how could he presume to go forth, at the call of this idolatrous prince, to curse those whom the Lord had told him were blessed? We cannot but suppose that Balaam, coming out of the East, must have heard of Israel, and the Lord's care over them. Indeed his pretending to consult the Lord, at the first invitation of Balak, very fully proves, that he was no stranger to the history of Israel; and the Lord's bringing them out of Egypt, which all the people of the East had heard of with trembling. (Exodus 15:14, etc.) So that Balaam could not be ignorant of the Lord's love for Israel.
But what decides the infamy of Balaam's character is this, that under all the impressions that the Lord had blessed Israel, and would bless them, Balaam was still so very earnest to oblige Balak, and get his promised reward, that he set off expressly the purpose of cursing Israel; neither, as the apostle saith, did "the dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, forbidding the madness of the prophet," keep back his feet from the evil of his journey; so much did he love the wages of unrighteousness? (See 2 Peter 2:16)
I need not go through with a comment on the several interesting particulars of Balaam's tampering with his conscience while with Balak, in seeking enchantments, and in using every effort to curse God's people, while all he said and did the Lord over-ruled to make him bless them. But there is one feature in the history and character of this man, which will serve to explain the whole; and to shew, that when disappointed of all the means he had used to gratify Balak, though compelled by a power he could not resist, to bless those he wished to curse; yet he gave Balak an advice concerning Israel, by way of accomplishing their ruin, which, but for the Lord's preventing and pardoning grace, would indeed have tended to the ruin of Israel more than all Balak's arms, or Balaam's enchantments; namely, in counseling Balak to tempt Israel to come to the sacrifices, and to open an intercourse of Israel's sons with the daughters of Moab. This plan, therefore, Balak adopted; and soon after we find Israel at the feast of their infamous sacrifices. The Psalmist, speaking of this sad history, (Psalms 106:28-29) saith, "they joined themselves unto Baal-peor, and did eat the sacrifices of the dead." This Baal-peor was an obscene idol, before which image, the votaries offered the most horrid prostitution of their bodies, and wrought such abomination as would be shocking to the feelings of chastity to relate. (See Baal-peor. See Numbers 25:1-18 throughout.)
We should not have known that it was from the advice of Balaam, the Moabites enticed Israel to sin, in the matter of Baal-peor, had not the Holy Ghost graciously informed us of it, in his holy word. But, if the reader will turn to the second chapter of Revelations, and read the fourteenth verse, there the whole matter is explained. (See also Numbers 31:15-16)
The awful termination of the life of Balaam is just as might be expected. I refer the reader to the Scripture account of it. (Numbers 31:8) How Balaam came to be amongst the Midianites when the Lord's judgments overtook them, is not said; for we are told, in the former history, (Numbers 24:25) that he rose up and went unto his place. Probably, he returned afterwards to live with the Midianites, to see if he might be farther helpful to them by his enchantments. And, perhaps, as Balak had promised to reward him with very great honours, he might have quitted his home, in the east of Aram, to be made a prince among the Midianites. But be this as it may, here he was, by the overruling power and providence of God, when Moab and Midian were destroyed; and fell with, them, unpitied, and with infamy on his name for ever.
We must not close our view of Balaam, without a short observation of the awfulness of such a character. When we read the many blessed things which the Lord, as he had graciously said, compelled Balaam to utter concerning his Israel, "the word that I shall speak unto thee, (said the Lord) that thou shalt speak." (Numbers 22:20-35) When we hear this impious man's confession, that "he had heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the Most High; had seen the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open." (Numbers 24:15-16) When we hear such things dropping from his lips, and in the same moment hiring himself out for the honours of this world, as an enchanter, to curse the people of God, whom God had told him were blessed; what an awful picture doth this afford of human depravity! Many of God's dear children, from mistaken views of such characters, have been frequently tempted to call in question their own sincerity, and to fear, lest like Balaam, they should be found apostates in the end. But all this from the misapprehension of things, and not from the smallest likeness between their circumstances and Balaam's. There may be, and indeed there often is, a natural apprehension which natural men often have, concerning divine things, where there is no one work of the Lord upon the heart. Men, by reading, or by hearing, may acquire great knowledge in the truths of God, so as to speak and discourse, as Balaam did very sweetly on the subject; but whose souls never felt any love of God, nor desire of salvation. This is head knowledge, not heart influence. This is all nature, not grace. Devils know more, in point of doctrine and the truths of Jesus, to their eternal sorrow, than many of God's dear children do, to their eternal joy, while here below. Witness what they said, Luke 4:41. at a time when his people were, many of them, ignorant of him. How shall we mark the difference? The thing is very easy, under the blessed Spirits teaching; "when the Spirit witnesseth to our spirits that we are his children." There is a pleasure, a delight, an holy joy, in the soul of the regenerated, in the view of Christ and his salvation. Not all the riches of the earth would tempt such to curse the people of God, or even to hear the people of God cursed, but with the utmost indignation. In their darkest hours, and under the dullest of their frames, there is still a secret desire within to the love of Jesus, and the remembrance of his name, (Isaiah 26:9) And while such as Balaam write their own mittimus for everlasting misery, as in those soul-piercing words, when speaking of Christ, "I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not nigh;" (Numbers 24:17) the hope and expectation of the poorest and humblest child of God is expressed in those sweet words, "As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness." (Psalms 17:15)
There is one thing more I wish to drop a word of observation upon, respecting the history of Balaam. The reader will, probably, anticipate the circumstance to which I refer; namely, the conversation which Balaam held with his ass. I do not hesitate to say, that I wholly agree with St. Austin, and accept the fact simply as it is related, and believe it to have been a miracle of the Lord's. I form my opinion on the authority of the Holy Ghost, who, by his servant the apostle Peter, expressly saith, that "the dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, forbad the madness of the prophet." (2 Peter 2:16) The occasion was as extraordinary and interesting, as the event of the animal being so commissioned to reprove; and for such an occasion, as in numberless other instances in life, the ordinary appointments in the Lord's providences may be well supposed to be superseded. The only, or at least, the most striking circumstance in the whole relation is, the loss of the wonderful event on Balaam's mind, that he should have been so addressed, and give such an answer, and yet persist in his iniquitous journey. But even here again, similar effects on the minds of sinners, in every age, are continually produced, and the end is the same. What conviction was frequently wrought upon the minds of the Jews, when beholding the miracles of Christ. But yet, what lasting effect did that conviction ultimately produce! He who well knew the human heart, void of sovereign grace, hath left it upon record as an unerring conclusion, that where the word of God is despised and set at nought, no higher evidences, even of miracles, will succeed: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither would they be persuaded, though one should rise from the dead." (Luke 16:31)
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Hawker, Robert D.D. Entry for 'Balaam'. Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance and Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/pmd/b/balaam.html. London. 1828.
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29