Numbers 23
Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams.
Sacrifice Without Obedience

Numbers 23:4

Balaam wished to serve his own ends, and yet, if possible, to please God. He has prepared seven altars, etc.; will not God be appeased and accept his service, and be won over to his side? This is the kind of attempt that many people make.

I. Perfect Orthodoxy in place of Humble Christian Graces.—Balaam is particular as to the number. The number seven, sacred and complete. Nothing has been omitted. But might we not say that the very elaborateness and completeness are suspicious and dangerous? So much thought expended on the tithing of mint and cummin left little for the weightier matters of the law; designedly turned itself away from these weightier matters. There is always a danger of proud, conceited orthodoxy and scrupulous ceremonial.

II. Great Efforts in place of Constant Dutifulness.—The seven bullocks and rams rather than the daily offering of devoted service. But the Christian life is a walk, not an occasional race or flight. Every day brings its new duty, every relation of life has its own claims. Wait continually on Christ, and ask, 'Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?'

III. A Complacent Looking Back upon the Past.—'I have prepared seven altars and have offered,' etc I was converted at such a time. Are they always the best Christians who are sure of the very date of their conversion? It is doubtful. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, or a bad tree good fruit. Let not the Christian rest on past services, however great, that he may have rendered to Christ and his fellow-men. The question is not, How many and how high altars have you reared in the past, and how many and how noble victims have you laid upon them? but, What offerings of love and service are you now ready to bring to Him Who gave His life for you?

References.—XXIII. 10.—A. G. Mortimer, Studies in Holy Scripture, p. 71; see also Lenten Preaching, p. 159. Morgan Dix, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, p. 1. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons for Daily Life, p. 358. C. Parsons Reichel, Sermons, p. 27. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 218. Barlow, Rays from the Sun of Righteousness, p. 213. T. M'Crie, Sermons, p. 235. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 746. XXIII. 10; XXXI. 8.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy ScriptureExodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, p. 371. XXIII. 13.—Phillips Brooks, The Mystery of Iniquity, p. 208. XXIII. 21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1709. C. W. Stubbs, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. 1901, p. 1.

The Living Christ

Numbers 23:23

To every age our Father who is in heaven, and to whom all times are alike, proportions the evidence and the Divine helps to the needs and circumstances of His children. The one thing perpetually to remember is this, that in all cases, and in all circumstances, and in all times, the walk must be by faith and not by sight.

I. The particular application of this principle which I ask you to consider, is in looking round on the world in which we are moving to see the influence and the power of our spiritual and invisible King. The actual effect of the faith of Christ about us is the evidence which is the most immediate support of our own belief. Still greater weight has the evidence of our own conscience. And here it is that I wish particularly that we should remind ourselves of the rule that while we may justly expect a reasonable confirmation of our hopes from the signs of the hand of God about us, we have no right to look for demonstration. It is because they look for demonstration that so many are disappointed. The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Many thoughtful men who have not grasped this principle weary and vex themselves if they find any movement or tendency or practice or fact amongst a people nominally Christian which is contrary to the teaching of our King. And so, as they have been looking in the wrong direction, Christ has seemed to them very far off Fallacies have been the food of their hopes. Far from any promise existing that the world as the world would love Christ and be obedient to Him, we are taught the very reverse. And far from promising or predicting any special or exclusive blessing on public movements, or policies, or legislation, or on what is called social progress, our Lord has most distinctly warned us that His kingdom was in no sense of this world, but that the only revolution, or change, or dominion which He wished to create, and from which He would expect any benefit, was in the secret heart of the individual.

II. The kingdom of heaven is within us. That which is the substance of religion, its hopes and consolations, its intermixture with the thoughts by day and by night, the devotion of the heart, the control of the appetite, the steady direction of the will to the commands of God, is necessarily invisible. Yet upon these depend the virtue and the happiness of millions. This cause renders the representations of history with respect to religion defective and fallacious in a greater degree than they are upon any other subject. Religion operates most upon those of whom history knows least.

III. But there is this further. The Christian religion does also act on public wages and institutions, even though it is by an operation which is only secondary and indirect. Christianity is not a code of civil law. It can only reach institutions through private character. Little as legislation can do, still it is of immeasurable consequence that for the most part our laws have had a Christian and not an unchristian spirit and moulding.

—W. M. Sinclair, Christ and Our Times, p. 105.

Illustration.—Well has it been said by a Socialist writer, Cabet: 'If Christianity had been interpreted and applied in the spirit of Jesus Christ, if it had been well known and faithfully practised by the numerous portions of Christians who are animated by a sincere piety, and who have only need to know truth well to follow it, then this Christianity, its morals, its philosophy, its precepts, would have sufficed, and would still suffice, to establish a perfect society and political organization, to deliver humanity from the evil which weighs it down, and to assure the happiness of the human race on the earth.'

—W. M. Sinclair, Christ and Our Times, p. 115.

Numbers 23:23

This was John Wesley's text when he laid the foundation-stone of City Road Chapel, London, in 1777.

References.—XXIII. 23.—P. H. Hall, The Brotherhood of Man, p. 37. XXIII. 26-27.—Marcus Dods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 10. XXIV. 5.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 218.

And Balak did as Balaam had spoken; and Balak and Balaam offered on every altar a bullock and a ram.
And Balaam said unto Balak, Stand by thy burnt offering, and I will go: peradventure the LORD will come to meet me: and whatsoever he sheweth me I will tell thee. And he went to an high place.
And God met Balaam: and he said unto him, I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered upon every altar a bullock and a ram.
And the LORD put a word in Balaam's mouth, and said, Return unto Balak, and thus thou shalt speak.
And he returned unto him, and, lo, he stood by his burnt sacrifice, he, and all the princes of Moab.
And he took up his parable, and said, Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel.
How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the LORD hath not defied?
For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.
Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!
And Balak said unto Balaam, What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether.
And he answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak that which the LORD hath put in my mouth?
And Balak said unto him, Come, I pray thee, with me unto another place, from whence thou mayest see them: thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all: and curse me them from thence.
And he brought him into the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.
And he said unto Balak, Stand here by thy burnt offering, while I meet the LORD yonder.
And the LORD met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, Go again unto Balak, and say thus.
And when he came to him, behold, he stood by his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him. And Balak said unto him, What hath the LORD spoken?
And he took up his parable, and said, Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor:
God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.
He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.
God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.
Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!
Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.
And Balak said unto Balaam, Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all.
But Balaam answered and said unto Balak, Told not I thee, saying, All that the LORD speaketh, that I must do?
And Balak said unto Balaam, Come, I pray thee, I will bring thee unto another place; peradventure it will please God that thou mayest curse me them from thence.
And Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor, that looketh toward Jeshimon.
And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams.
And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.
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