Balak... sent messengers unto Balaam.I. MEN IN DIFFICULTY SEEKING SUPERNATURAL HELP. "It was supposed that prophets and sorcerers had a power to curse persons and places so as to frustrate their counsels, enervate their strength, and fill them with dismay."
2. There is much error in the views under consideration. No man can curse those whom God hath blessed.
II. MAN CONSCIOUS OF SUPERNATURAL POWERS AND OF HIS SUBJECTION TO DIVINE AUTHORITY IN THE USE OF THEM. Balaam was certainly not altogether an impostor. "In his career," says Dean Stanley, "is seen that recognition of Divine inspiration outside the chosen people which the narrowness of modern times has be n so eager to deny, but which the Scriptures are always ready to acknowledge, and, by acknowledging, admit within the pale of the teachers of the Universal Church the higher spirits of every age and of every nation." But notice —
1. His consciousness of great powers.
2. His consciousness of subjection to God in the use of his powers.
3. His sin against God.
III. MAN RECEIVING A SUPERNATURAL VISITATION.
1. God's access to man's mind.
2. God's interest in man's life.
3. God's authority over man's life.
IV. MAN DEALING UNFAITHFULLY WITH A DIVINE COMMUNICATION. Balaam belonged to that still numerous class who theoretically know God, and who actually do fear Him, but whose love and fear of God are not the governing principles of their minds. They are convinced, but not converted. They would serve God, but they must serve mammon also; and in the strife between the two contending influences their lives are made bitter, and their death is perilous.
V. MEN DEALING UNFAITHFULLY AS MESSENGERS. Learn —
1. The Divine communications have never been limited to any one people, or country, or age.
2. Great goodness is not always associated with great gifts. "The illumination of the mind is by no means necessarily associated with the conversion of the heart."
3. Great gifts involve great responsibility and grave peril.
4. The temptation to covetousness is of great subtlety and strength, and assails even the most gifted natures (Luke 12:15-21).
2. God forbade them to meddle with Moab, and thereupon they, were driven to compass about to their great trouble. But this is the just judgment of God upon them that have not their peace made with Him, to be vexed in their minds with unnecessary fears (Leviticus 26:36; Deuteronomy 28:65, &c.). You see how small a noise will startle thieves and other malefactors. Whereupon it is said, Oh, wickedness, ever fearful. These are they that tremble at every crack of thunder. Their conscience is a continual scourge to them. The fear of the Lord is strength to the upright man, but fear shall be for the workers of iniquity, saith Solomon.
2. The second motive is envy. They were their kindred, and they should have rejoiced, turned to them, and by common prayer sought the appeasing of God. But bitter envy seeing God's favour to them, and mighty power among them, desireth rather their overthrow and confusion. They are motes in their eyes, rather than comforts to their hearts.
3. A third motive was suspicion. Balak, king of the Moabites, suspecteth this and that, according to his own fancy, and these imaginations and suspicions are as grand truths to him, making him cast this way and that to meet, with imagined danger, and among other ways to resolve of sending for the soothsayer, or sorcerer, Balaam. Oh, suspicion, what a mischief is it amongst men! Every man thinks his suspicion to be knowledge or little less. How many can you name that have given place to suspicion, and have not given place to error? Yet it hurteth no man more than him that hath it, whose inwards it tormenteth, whose sleep it driveth away, whose body it alters, and consumeth the heart to very powder in the end.
4. A fourth motive to this sending for Balaam was Satan's subtlety working in Balak to take that course: for it may be observed often, that when Satan seeth open fury will not serve, then he directeth to wiles and guiles, piecing out the lion's skin that is too short with the fox's tail.
(T. T. Munger.)
- The relative position of the world to the kingdom of God is substantially the same as that of Moab and Midian to Israel, now drawing near. The same enmity still remains in the world, in manifold forms; and it is the instinct of self-preservation which incites the world and its followers to do their utmost against the coming of God's kingdom among them. When force would do no good, then they resort to cunning, or to caution, that they may oppose the progress of God's cause among them in so far as it is possible; and natural enemies, such as Midian and Moab, frequently become sworn friends for a time, whenever it appears expedient to combine against the one whom both oppose. On every hand, the world looks out for allies, servants, friends; as Balak did to Balaam, she promises to bestow on you her favours and her wealth, if you but follow her behests, and make her will your own. If you refuse, as he did at the first, the world will not believe that you act but from principle — rather, she thinks that you regard self-interest; but she will give you large rewards when you but sell yourself to her. "All things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me": so spake the prince of this world to Jesus; and at every turn he modifies his voice, but still to say the same thing, in the softest tone, to all Christ's followers — nay, even to every one of His redeemed. What is it that you seek, insatiable heart — honour, or luxury, or gold? All these, if need be, may be had for almost nothing by the man whose conscience is not over scrupulous. This Balak also, like a true destroyer, rests not for an instant till he brings you where he will; and if the first attempt does not succeed, he makes a second, and a third. The world knows very well, like Balak, how to suit herself to circumstances when they change, and to attract some friends from every side. Nay, she can even, in her own time and way, be quite religious — that is, from mere policy, and ill-concealed self-interest; and if you like, she shows all possible respect for — forms. But, for your very life, ye who are striving for her praise and her reward, venture not to show that you really will obey God rather than any man! The world, if need be, will forgive you everything; but this it cannot possibly forgive — that you most earnestly believe God's Word, and give obedience to what He requires. Scarce can you show, like Balaam, that you hesitate, because the truth is much too strong for you, ere favour from the world is quite withdrawn; your name appears no longer on the list of friends, but is consigned to deep oblivion; and all the more dishonour falls on you, the greater was the honour meant for you at first. You are a most unpleasant, useless man, and quite intractable; like Balaam, you are roughly pushed aside, and told, "The Lord hath kept thee back from honour"; and then the world, instead of her intended laurel-wreath, presents you with a crown of thorns. Her love, it now appears, was nothing but fine show — her flattery, deceit. To such a world — so selfish, false, malicious, just like Balak — should you make your heart a slave?
(J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)
Numbers 22:2-24:25 we have an episode complete in itself; and all the modern critics who have studied this Scripture concur, I believe, in the conclusion that, in this place, the author or compiler of the book has inserted one of those ancient, detached or detachable, documents of which we find so many in the Pentateuch. Where and how he got it is a question not easy to answer, if, indeed, answer be possible. But, from the comparatively favourable light in which the chronicle presents the facts of Balaam's story, most of our best scholars conclude that in some way he derived it from Balaam himself. We are told (Numbers 31:8) that, together with five Midianite chiefs, Balaam was taken prisoner by the Israelites, and put to "a judicial death" after the battle had been fought and won. A judicial death implies some sort of trial. And what more natural than that Balaam should plead in his defence the inspirations he had received from Jehovah, and the long series of blessings he had pronounced on Israel when all his interests, and perhaps also all his inclinations, prompted him to curse them: Such defences, in the East, were commonly autobiographical. Even St. Paul, when called upon to plead before kings and governors, invariably told the story of his life as his best vindication. And if Balaam. called upon to plead before Moses and the elders, told the story we now read in his chronicle — what a scene was there! What a revelation his words would convey to the leaders of Israel of the kindness of God their Saviour, of the scale on which His providence works, and of the mystery in which it is wrapped to mortal eyes! So, then, God had been working for them in the mountains of Moab, and in the heart of this great diviner from the East, and they knew it not! Knew it not? nay, perhaps were full of fear and distrust, doubting whether He Himself were able to deliver them from the perils by which they were encompassed! As Balaam unfolded his tale, how their hearts must have burned within them — burned with shame as well as with thanks fulness — as they heard of interposition on their behalf of which up till now they had been ignorant, and for which at the time perchance they had not ventured to hope! Balaam may well have thought that such a story as this would plead for him more effectually than any other defence he could make. And, no doubt, it did plead for him; for we all know that it is when our hearts have been touched by some unexpected mercy that they are most easily moved to pity and forgiveness: it might even have won him absolution but for that damning sin of which nothing is said here — the infamous counsel he gave to the daughters of Midian which had deprived Israel of four-and-twenty thousand of its most serviceable and precious lives. Even with that crime full in their memories, it must have cost Moses and the elders much, one thinks, to condemn to death the man who had told them such a story as this.
(S. Cox, D. D.)
God came unto Balaam.
I. Let me first ask attention to SOME PRELIMINARY POINTS WHICH MAY BE NOTED.
2. I would next note the generosity, the magnanimity, of all these Scripture notices. The whole story is told with a fineness of touch, a magnanimous silence, or the merest hint concerning his grosser sin, a generous concealment of all aggravating circumstances. It is in the Bible, and, so far as Church histories are concerned, probably in the Bible alone, that we find not only justice, but generosity, towards defeated rivals, generous tributes to what is good, generous veilings of what is bad.
3. I would also call attention to the fact that there is free and full acknowledgment made of the reality and the sublimity of his inspiration. It is never denied: it is unequivocally owned. And this though Balaam was a heathen, one outside the visible Church; nay, not only outside of it, but arrayed against it.
4. Mark, too, the various opinions concerning this strange man held in different ages and by different authorities in the Church. The historian of the Jews, Josephus, styles him, in strongest language, "the first (best) of the prophets of the time" — ungrudgingly regarding him as a true prophet of the true God, but with a disposition ill adapted to meet temptation. Coming down to Christian writers, we find and speaking of him as a magician and soothsayer, a prophet, indeed, but inspired of the devil; but we find and , with greater and more Scriptural liberality, more favourably interpreting his position and the source of his endowments.
II. Let us now proceed to THE ANALYSIS OF THE LIFE AND ITS STORY. Balaam would have protested against being called an enemy of God; would have insisted on being regarded as a friend. To every accuser he could have replied that he was obedient all through to God's voice, that he did not go till God gave permission, and that he was careful to yield to the prophetic power that spoke through him; yet all through he was a force against God, an opponent of the purposes of grace, and on the side that could not be either for the glory of heaven or the gain of earth. And so there are men who would feel outraged if called thieves who will, all the same, sell an article for what it is not; who would deem you mad were you to accuse them of murder, yet will help a brother on to the death of his soul; who name the name of Christ, yet are forces for the meatiness and avarice, the uncharity and unchastity, which the law cannot reach, but which are as far from the mind of Christ as is the theft or the murder which the law can.
(G. M. Grant, B. D.)
I. WE SEE IN BALAAM A MAN OF GREAT MENTAL ENDOWMENTS, OF VARIED SPIRITUAL GIFTS, AND OF EXTRAORDINARY ILLUMINATION.
II. WE SEE IN BALAAM GREAT APPARENT DEFERENCE TO THE DIVINE WILL, AN ANXIOUS SOLICITUDE TO KNOW IT, AND TO ACT ACCORDING TO IT.
III. WE HAVE IN BALAAM A MELANCHOLY INSTANCE OF AN ATTEMPT TO RECONCILE A SENSE OF DUTY TO A VICIOUS INCLINATION — TO CONFORM THE UNYIELDING RULE OF RIGHT TO THE DESIGNS OF AVARICE. This is the instructive peculiarity of his character. He knew what was right, and for many reasons he was anxious to do it. His conscience would not allow him to act in direct opposition to the will of God; but, at the same time, his heart was not wholly in God's service. Covetousness lay deep within him. How obvious the reflection that no man knows what he is until he is tried! During the hard frosts of winter it is impossible to tell what venomous insects, what noxious weeds or beautiful flowers are concealed in the earth; but let the genial showers and sunshine of spring come, and the weeds and the flowers will show themselves, and the venomous insects will come forth out of their hiding-places. So is it with men.
IV. Another remark, suggested by the character and history of Balaam, relates to THE RAPID AND FEARFUL PROGRESS OF SIN. So it was with Judas: he had not the slightest wish to injure his Lord; he wished only to obtain the thirty pieces of silver. So it has been with many ambitious monarchs: they have had no pleasure in the misery of their fellow-creatures; they have thought only of their own fame and power. So it has been with many zealous persecutors: they have no natural thirst for human blood; they have thought only of the establishment of their creed — the extension and honour of their Church. So it is with many in common life: they have no wish to injure others; but they wish to secure their own ends, and they do not hesitate to trample on those who stand in their way.
V. IN THE CHARACTER AND HISTORY OF BALAAM WE HAVE A STRIKING ILLUSTRATION OF THE DECEITFULNESS OF THE HUMAN HEART. Men will neglect the moral, and yet will attend to the ceremonial, and on this ground will think themselves clear; they will commit the greater, and yet will hesitate to commit the less, and on this ground will pronounce themselves pure; they will violate the entire spirit of the Christian law, and yet will scrupulously observe the letter of some precept or precedent, and on this ground will pronounce themselves consistent Christians.
VI. THE HISTORY OF BALAAM ILLUSTRATES SOME VERY IMPORTANT PRINCIPLES OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT. The present is a state of probation, but there is in it not a little that is retributive; and though God deals with us as a kited parent, there is often much that is judicial in His proceedings. We have a striking illustration of this in the history of Balaam. In his heart Balaam desired permission to go with the princes of Moab, because he coveted the wages of unrighteousness; and God gave him that permission. This was not an act of mercy, but of judgment. The history of Balaam illustrates another principle of the Divine government — that which is involved in the statement, "The way of transgressors is hard." This is as much in mercy as in judgment. The history of Balaam also illustrates the solemn truth, that the "wages of sin is death." "Balaam also, the son of Beer, they slew with the sword." Whatever may be the result here, the ultimate end of such a course as that which we have endeavoured to describe must be destruction.
(J. J. Davies.)
1. Mark here, then, the first, the earliest effect of cherishing any besetting sin. It is that God is served reluctantly. Sin is looked at with a longing eye. The prohibition seems hard and unreasonable.
2. Mark now the second application made by Balak, in which the unhappy prophet, who has begun by grumbling at God's will, is placed in further and severer temptation. I cannot but pity him here, as we pity many another poor slave who makes just one momentary effort to break off his chains. Or perhaps the speech with which he met the second deputation from Moab was artfully intended to enhance the value of subsequent compliance — we cannot certainly tell. But at all events he protests manfully: "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more." So also Peter valiantly protested when his Master was about to be betrayed: "Though all men should deny Thee, though I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee." Yet within a few short hours Peter had denied his Master thrice; and within a few short hours Balaam was on his way to the borders of Moab. The difference between the two cases is that Peter at once went out, wept bitterly, and received forgiveness; whereas Balaam, having started on a career of covetousness, never retraced his steps, and is set forth to us in the lurid light portrayed by St. Jude, "suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." We have seen that the first effect of besetting sin is that the Lord is served reluctantly. The next effect is that pretences are sought for its indulgence, or at least for putting ourselves in the way of it. The second time that God appears to Balaam there seems to be a permission to go, though coupled with a warning that he would say nothing but what the Lord should command. It by no means follows that because Balaam received a kind of permission to go, that his journey had the Divine approval. The Lord answers our prayers sometimes as He answered the prayers of Israel for a king, in His anger; nor is it easy for a greater curse to come upon a man than to be left to the gratification of his own selfish and sinful desires. Let us pray that God Almighty would cross our most cherished purposes, and defeat our darling projects, rather than suffer us in our own self-willed perverseness to enter upon a path in defiance of His holy will. St. Peter speaks of Balaam's going with the princes of Moab as madness and iniquity: he "was rebuked for his iniquity; the dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, forbade the madness of the prophet." And is this the man who so boldly declared that he would not turn aside from the will of God one hair's-breadth if Balak would give him his house full of silver and gold? Poor human nature! How little do even great men know themselves! How small the importance to be attached to mere profession! How are people likely to deceive themselves and to deceive others when speaking what is called their experience, but which is sometimes only a strong emotion of the moment, to be displaced or destroyed by the first attack of temptation! How often has it happened that those who make the loudest profession of their virtue, and of their love to the cause of God, are the first to succumb to covetousness or other besetting sin I And now the narrative, in opening before us a fresh scene, suggests at the same time a further view of the progress of a besetting sin. How striking is the circumstance that, although the ass, on three several occasions, saw the Angel with drawn sword standing in the way, Balaam saw Him not! God, says St. , had punished his cupidity, by according to him a permission conformable to his wicked inclination; and we see in him all the corruption of the human heart, and all the depravation of a will enslaved to a dominant lust. Other interpreters maintain that his permission to go was on the understood condition that he was not to curse Israel; and that it was because his heart, craving after the gold, was already wavering from this purpose, that the Angel of the Covenant accused him of perverseness, and having given him a striking and solemn warning, suffered him again to go forward. I confess that this view of the case commends itself to my own judgment.
3. But whichever view you adopt, the blindness of this perverse prophet is equally monitory. He appears before us a type of those well-instructed sinners whom every one except themselves sees to be running to their own ruin, blinded by the fascination of covetousness or some other master sin. After this Balaam is given up to his own heart's lust — the last and most terrific result, in this life, of the indulgence of besetting sin. "Go with the men," the Lord says to him, giving him up to his own heart's lusts, which he followed to his destruction. "Go with the men" — when neither the first words of God who forbade him, nor the signs and dangers which met him by the way, could turn his heart or deliver him from his error, the Lord bids him to go on — as Jarchi, the Jew, well paraphrases the words — "Go with the men, for thy portion is with them, and thine end to perish out of the world."
(L. H. Wiseman.)
Joshua 13:22). But he was more than a mere soothsayer. He had certainly, for one thing, a very full knowledge of the character of God. Thus, he again and again employs, in speaking of God, that covenant name "Jehovah" (Numbers 22:8, 13, 18, 19; Numbers 23:3, 8, 12, 21, 26; chap. Numbers 24:1, 6, 13), by which He was specially made known to Israel (Exodus 6:2, 3). And such terms as, "the Lord my God" (Numbers 22:18); the "Almighty" (Numbers 24:4); "the most High" (Numbers 24:16), also occur in the course of his utterances, implying, by the variety of expression so easily adopted, a very much wider acquaintance with the Divine character than is commonly supposed to belong ,to ordinary heathens. Nor was the knowledge which Balaam possessed of the character of God a merely verbal or speculative knowledge. It is manifest that he stood in certain intimate personal relations with Jehovah. He speaks of the Lord as "the Lord his God" (Numbers 22:18); and the whole tenor of his intercourse with Jehovah, on this occasion, implies a previous acquaintance with God — such an acquaintance with God, indeed, as almost presupposes previous immediate communications between God and himself. And it may have been, that his extraordinary reputation as a prophet had arisen from the fact that God had, from time to time, "put words into his mouth," which he had spoken, and which had also come to pass. Nor is there wanting in the character of Balaam a certain tone of high religious feeling also. He has the profoundest reverence for the authority and word of God. The word that God putteth into his mouth, that will he speak! Nay, nor would he, though Balak should give him his house full of silver and gold, go beyond the word of the Lord, &c. Nor must we deny to Balaam a certain personal and spiritual sympathy with the truths he uttered in God's name. (See Numbers 23:10; Numbers 24:23.) "He, too, is borne away, at least for a time, by the grandeur of the announcements he is making. There is that in him which reaches out with a true, although too transient, yearning after the coming triumphs of the people and kingdom of God." We must not paint this portrait wholly black. An honest and a truthful man; an independent and (in a certain sense) high-minded man; a Godfearing and religious man: such is Balaam, the son of Beer, of Pethor, on one side of his character. And yet he is a bad man, despite his many virtues, and a man who finally perished miserably with the enemies of God's people. A strange phenomenon, indeed, this Balaam! a heathen soothsayer and an inspired servant of the Lord; a man full of richest endowments, animated by many very noble impulses, uttering the most exalted sentiments; and yet a man whose heart was rotten at the core, whose life is only written as a warning against sin, whose death was an unmitigated tragedy.
I. WE SEE HERE, IN THE FACT OF BALAAM'S INSPIRATION, ALTHOUGH HE WAS A HEATHEN SOOTHSAYER, AN EVIDENCE AND WITNESS TO THE WIDER RELATIONS THAT GOD HOLDS WITH MAN THAN IS SOMETIMES SUPPOSED. The fact is, it hath pleased God, for His own most wise and gracious purposes, gradually and slowly to mature His final plan of mercy for the world in Jesus Christ; and, with a view to its completeness and maturity, to confine it, at the first, within restricted lines of influence. But it is a monstrous, heathen notion to suppose that all the while this final plan of mercy was in course of development, the great, wide world, without the parallels in which it moved, was utterly neglected and forsaken of its God. No! the world was also being educated, in its way, as well as the Church: educated on a humbler method, and with more "rudimentary" instruction, but educated; and educated of God. Two lines of culture, then, have been going on in the world, side by side, under the providential direction of the Most High God, and with a view to the ultimate salvation of the world. A primary and rudimentary culture, under what Paul calls the "elements of the world," consisting of the ordinary course of Providence, with occasional interpositions of sovereign grace and special instances of inspiration; and a systematic and formal culture for a selected portion of the human family, under the written law of God, with constant interpositions of sovereign grace, and almost constant inspiration.
II. THAT, IN DEALING WITH MEN BY HIS SPIRIT, THE LORD HAS REGARD TO THE MORAL AND SPIRITUAL STANDPOINT AT WHICH EACH MAN MAY BE FOUND. Balaam is a soothsayer, and yet he is inspired of God! Balaam seeks the Lord by means of enchantments, and yet the Lord does not refuse to come to him, but responds to his appeal again and again I But, then, it is to be considered that Balaam was a heathen, and that he had been brought up in the midst of the practice of divination, if he had not, indeed, inherited his position as a diviner from his father. It was plainly one thing for such a man as Balaam to employ enchantment, and quite another for an Israelite to do so. For to Israel, if I may so speak, was given a diviner augury — in God's law, and in God's presence in their midst; and so to them the use of all these heathen arts was absolutely interdicted (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). But, as the art of divination was the highest point to which the heathen world had been able to attain in their pursuit of the unseen, so God condescended to meet Balaam, at that special point of spiritual culture, that He might lead him thenceforth to higher forms of truth and nobler modes of worship.
III. HOW BROAD IS THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN SPIRITUAL ENDOWMENTS AND SPIRITUAL CHARACTER. Balaam was both an inspired man, and also, at the same time, a very wicked man. He gave expression to the noblest sentiments, and yet performed the basest deeds. See, then, how little mere endowments, even of the highest kind, can do for us; how widely separated from each other are gifts and graces. The gifts which we receive from God are, in reality, no proper part of us, until we make them ours by a light use of them. And our character is measured, not so much by the number of talents we have received, as by the fidelity we have exhibited in the employment of the talents we have. It by no means follows because we have spiritual faculties that we are spiritual men. These faculties are given to us beforehand to aid our usefulness, if we become spiritual men, and in the hope, as one may say, that we shall become spiritual men. But, for all our gifts, we may still be "in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." It is quite possible for divinely-bestowed gifts to miss their object and intention!
I. In the first place observe THAT THERE IS NO TIME OF MAN'S LIFE WHEREIN HE MAY NOT BE TEMPTED, or may not be in danger of falling off from God and goodness; which should be AN ARGUMENT TO US FOR CONSTANT CARE AND WATCHFULNESS OVER OURSELVES. Even those whom God hath favoured in a very particular manner, and with heavenly gifts and graces, are no more secure than others, if they take not proportionable care.
II. Observe HOW DANGEROUS A THING IT IS SO MUCH AS TO ATTEND OR LISTEN TO THE CHARMS OF WEALTH AND HONOUR. For a gift will sometimes blind the wise, and a bribe will beguile their hearts. Balaam looked too much upon the golden presents, and was too sensibly struck with the sound of honour and preferments; which made him the less consider upon how slippery ground he stood, and how dangerous an affair that was to concern himself in.
III. Observe, that when God sees men leaning too far to ambitious or covetous desires, and not wise enough to take such gentle hints as might be sufficient to call them back, HE THEN LEAVES THEM TO PURSUE THEIR OWN HEARTS' LUSTS, AND LETS THEM FOLLOW THEIR OWN IMAGINATION.
IV. Observe next, HOW FOOLISH A PART A MAN ACTS, and how he exposes himself to contempt and scorn, as well as danger, WHEN HE TAKES UPON HIM TO FOLLOW HIS OWN WAY AND HUMOUR, AND WILL NOT HAVE GOD FOR HIS GUIDE.
V. Observe, further, that when once willful men have run such lengths in opposition to the will of Heaven, GOD THEN GIVES THEM UP TO A REPROBATE MIND, AND LETS THEM FALL FROM ONE DEGREE OF WICKEDNESS TO ANOTHER. So it was in Balaam.
VI. One thing more we may observe from his history, which is this: THAT THE SPIRIT OF GOD MAY SOMETIMES VOUCHSAFE TO COME UPON A VERY WICKED MAN (so far as concerns the extraordinary gifts) WITHOUT REFORMING OR INFLUENCING THE SAME MAN AS TO HIS LIFE AND MORALS, in the way of ordinary operation. These two things are very distinct, and may often be separate, as in Balaam at that time, and in Judas afterwards.
(D. Waterland, D. D.)
I. THE PIETY OF BALAAM.
1. The spiritual enlightenment of Balaam evinces his piety.
2. Balaam's piety is seen in his distinctly recognising the supreme authority of the will of God.
3. The piety of Balaam was manifested in his obedience to the will of God.
II. THE APOSTASY OF BALAAM.
1. The means through which Balaam was induced to apostatise must not be overlooked. He was enticed by worldly wealth and distinction. Principle is surrendered, honour lost, the soul itself bartered for the wages of unrighteousness. Such was "the error of Balaam." And who knows not that by this very means multitudes have been seduced from their integrity, and lost for ever? Like the fabled Atalanta, while they were running well, the golden apple was thrown at their feet, tempting them; and stooping from their high principles to take it up, they have lost the race.
2. Mark the progress of Balaam's apostasy. First, we notice the indulgence of evil desire — desire for gain and honour, which could only be obtained by wrongdoing; his heart goes after covetousness. Next he tampers with temptation. The reiterated overtures of Balak should have been indignantly rejected. Why are these ambassadors received even a second time? Why another and another audience granted to them? Alas! he is fascinated by the very means of his ruin: like a silly fish, he is playing about the bait. Then, how he struggles with conscience! Guard against the beginnings of evil. If the downward career of apostasy be once commenced, whither thou mayest be hurried, to what depths of degradation thou mayest fall, God only knows. Like the swine of the Gadarenes, thou mayest be driven onward, literally possessed by the devil, until plunged into the abyss below. Oh bow deeply have some fallen I from small beginnings degenerating to the darkest crimes — crimes which are a loathing and an abhorrence. "Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?" — but, as a quaint writer saith, "the dog did it." We may start from the line of rectitude at a very small angle, the divergence becoming gradually wider and wider, till we are as far from righteousness as hell is from heaven.
3. Consider the checks which presented themselves in the way of Balaam's apostasy, but which he obstinately resisted and overtrod. What pains the gracious Lord taketh to prevent our self-destruction I To the truth of this every backslider is witness. How powerful an obstacle is conscience, which ever and anon raiseth its voice, and will be heard, like the voice of the Lord which thundereth! Death, too, like a spectre from the invisible world, again and again obtrudes it elf on the apostate's guilty soul. Dumb things have a voice to him that hath ears to hear, rebuking our madness.
4. Contemplate the issue of Balaam's apostasy. It entailed immense mischief upon others. Through him thousands of the Lord's people perished. At the same time his fall issued in woeful disappointment to himself.
What men are these with thee?
(1) (2) (3) (4) I. AN INDICATION OF THE DIVINE SOLICITUDE FOR THE WELL-BEING OF MAN. II. AN INDICATION OF THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR COMPANIONSHIPS. 1. Our associates indicate our character. "A man is known by the company which he keeps." 2. Our associates influence our character. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed." III. AN INDICATION OF OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD FOR OUR COMPANIONSHIPS. IV. AN INDICATION OF THE DANGER OF DALLYING WITH TEMPTATION. (W. Jones.)
(2) (3) (4) I. AN INDICATION OF THE DIVINE SOLICITUDE FOR THE WELL-BEING OF MAN. II. AN INDICATION OF THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR COMPANIONSHIPS. 1. Our associates indicate our character. "A man is known by the company which he keeps." 2. Our associates influence our character. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed." III. AN INDICATION OF OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD FOR OUR COMPANIONSHIPS. IV. AN INDICATION OF THE DANGER OF DALLYING WITH TEMPTATION. (W. Jones.)
(3) (4) I. AN INDICATION OF THE DIVINE SOLICITUDE FOR THE WELL-BEING OF MAN. II. AN INDICATION OF THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR COMPANIONSHIPS. 1. Our associates indicate our character. "A man is known by the company which he keeps." 2. Our associates influence our character. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed." III. AN INDICATION OF OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD FOR OUR COMPANIONSHIPS. IV. AN INDICATION OF THE DANGER OF DALLYING WITH TEMPTATION. (W. Jones.)
I. AN INDICATION OF THE DIVINE SOLICITUDE FOR THE WELL-BEING OF MAN. II. AN INDICATION OF THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR COMPANIONSHIPS. 1. Our associates indicate our character. "A man is known by the company which he keeps." III. AN INDICATION OF OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD FOR OUR COMPANIONSHIPS. IV. AN INDICATION OF THE DANGER OF DALLYING WITH TEMPTATION. (W. Jones.)
I. AN INDICATION OF THE DIVINE SOLICITUDE FOR THE WELL-BEING OF MAN.
II. AN INDICATION OF THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR COMPANIONSHIPS.
1. Our associates indicate our character. "A man is known by the company which he keeps."
III. AN INDICATION OF OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD FOR OUR COMPANIONSHIPS.
IV. AN INDICATION OF THE DANGER OF DALLYING WITH TEMPTATION.
( W. Gurnall..)
The Lord refuseth to give me leave
If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them.
(T. T. Manger.)
Job 11:14). And in Ezekiel God says, if a man comes to inquire of Him with idols in his heart, and setting the stumbling-block of his iniquity before his face, He will answer him according to his idols, he will be taken in his own heart. "If that prophet be deceived," it is added in very remarkable words, "I the Lord have deceived him, and I will punish him" (Ezekiel 14:4, 5, 9). But yet in this case God does not give us up altogether. As when Israel asked for a king, He gave indeed what they desired — but He expostulated, He warned, He sent them a token of His displeasure. So will He show us by His Providence that He is displeased with us; in the way that we go, His angel with the sword in his hand will meet us, i.e., some calamity, some accident, some grief, is sure to cross our way to remind us from God that the way that we are going is not the way of holiness or of peace. And these are all calls from God, not at all the less so because when a man's eyes are blinded with worldly business and covetousness he does not see them to be such.
(Isaac Williams, B. D.)
Homilist.I. THE INFLUENCE OF A BAD MAN UPON SOCIETY.
1. A man's influence in this world is no proof of his moral worth. The millions of all ages readily accede to the claims of the pretender, however lofty; and the more lofty the better, if the claimant can manage to keep his countenance while the admiring dupes look on.
2. Society, in relation to true intelligence and right sympathy, is in a very lamentable state. A true education, involving the harmonious unfolding of the feeling as well as knowing faculties of the soul, will make a man a "discerner of spirits."
3. The high probability of a future retributive economy. Does not the mutual relation between empty pretenders and the ignorant victims of all ages predict a reckoning day, and cry out for a judgment?
II. THE INFLUENCE OF THE GREAT GOD UPON A BAD MAN (ver. 18).
1. God does exert a spiritual influence over the minds of bad men.
2. The spiritual influence He exerts over the minds of bad men is of a restraining character.
(1) (2) 3. God's restraining influence upon a bad man is for the good of society. (Homilist.)
(2) 3. God's restraining influence upon a bad man is for the good of society. (Homilist.)
3. God's restraining influence upon a bad man is for the good of society.
I. THE REPETITION WITH INCREASED FORCE OF THE REQUEST OF BALAK TO BALAAM.
1. The embassage was more influential.
2. The message was more urgent.
3. The inducements were stronger.Learn: that temptations which have been declined half-heartedly are presented again, and with greater force. The manner of Balaam's dismissal of the former messengers prepared the way for a repetition of their mission.
II. THE REPETITION UNDER AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCES OF GUILTY DELAY BY BALAAM.
1. He had been challenged by God as to the presence of the former messengers.
2. He had already been prohibited from complying with the request of Balak.
3. He himself felt arid plainly declared that he was bound by the word of the Lord in the matter.
III. THE REPETITION OF THE DIVINE VISIT TO BALAAM.
1. The permission granted.
2. The condition enforced.
IV. THE SETTING OUT OF BALAAM ON THE JOURNEY.
2 Peter 3:15). There are two most solemn lessons which this ought to rivet on our hearts. First, we see the amazing power and awful effects of one besetting sin. We see how it perverts the will, how it keeps the heart from resting on the plain word of God — how it leads to neglect, yea, not even to know, the day of visitation — and how it hurries the soul onward, blinded and debased, to a point at which at first it would have shuddered. The other lesson is the deceitfulness of the human heart. Its wishes may be quite opposite to its most solemn professions; and at the very moment when it seems to be guided by the will of God it may be following some device or desire of its own. To what earnest self-inspection should this character lead us, lest our hearts, too, should be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin — lest, satisfied with a decided profession, we forget that God is the searcher of the heart, and that He deals and will deal with us, not according to what we profess to be, but according to what we are, according to the real state of our hearts.
I. PERVERSION OF GREAT GIFTS.
1. By turning them to purposes of self-aggrandisement. Balak struck the keynote of his character when he said, "Am I not able to promote thee unto honour?" Herein, then, lies the first perversion of glorious gifts: that Balaam sought not God's honour, but his own.
2. By making those gifts subservient to his own greed.
II. PERVERSION OF CONSCIENCE.
1. The first intimation we have of the fact that Balaam was tampering with his conscience, is in his second appeal to God. There is nothing like the first glance we get at duty, before there has been any special pleading of our affections or inclinations. Duty is never uncertain at first. It is only after we have got involved in the sophistries of wishing that things were otherwise than they are that it seems indistinct. Considering a duty is often only explaining it away. Deliberation is often only dishonesty. God's guidance is plain, when we are true.
2. The second stage is a state of hideous contradictions: God permits Balaam to go, and then is angry with him for going. There is nothing here which cannot be interpreted by bitter experience. We must not explain it away by saying that these were only the alternations of Balaam's own mind. They were; but they were the alternations of a mind with which God was expostulating, and to which God appeared differently at different times; the horrible mazes and inconsistencies of a spirit which contradicts itself, and strives to disobey the God whom yet it feels and acknowledges. To such a state of mind God becomes a contradiction. "With the forward" — oh, how true! - "Thou wilt show Thyself froward."
3. We notice next the evidences in him of a disordered mind and heart. It is a strange, sad picture. The first man in the land, gifted beyond most others, conscious of great mental power, going on to splendid prospects, yet with hopelessness and misery working at his heart. Who would have envied Balaam if he could have seen all the hell that was working at his heart?
4. Lastly, let us consider the impossibility under such circumstances of going back. Balaam offers to go back. The angel says, "Go on." There was yet one hope for him, to be true, to utter God's wolds careless of the consequences; but he who had been false so long, how should he be true? It was too late. In the ardour of youth you have made perhaps a wrong choice, or chosen an unfit profession, or suffered yourself weakly and passively to be drifted into a false course of action, and now, in spite of yourself, you feel there is no going back. To many minds, such a lot comes as with the mysterious force of a destiny. They see themselves driven, and forget that they put themselves in the way of the stream that drives them. They excuse their own acts as if they were coerced. They struggle now and then faintly, as Balaam did — try to go back — cannot — and at last sink passively in the mighty current that floats them on to wrong. And thenceforth to them all God's intimations will come unnaturally. His voice will sound as that of an angel against them in the way. Spectral lights will gleam, only to show a quagmire from which there is no path of extrication.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
I. BALAAM WAS BLESSED WITH GOD'S ESPECIAL FAVOUR.
1. He had the grant of inspiration.
2. The knowledge of God's will.
3. An insight into the truths of morality, clear and enlarged, such as we Christians even cannot surpass.
4. He was admitted to conscious intercourse with God, such as even Christians have not.
II. BALAAM WAS A VERY CONSCIENTIOUS MAN.
1. When sought by Balak he prayed to God for direction.
2. When forbidden to go, he refused to go.
3. Only when God gave him leave did he go.
4. And when he was come to Balak he strictly adhered to God's orders. Balaam was certainly high-principled, honourable, conscientious. He said, and he did; he professed, and he acted according to his professions.
III. Yet, while in one sense in God's favour, HE WAS IN ANOTHER AND HIGHER SENSE UNDER GOD'S DISPLEASURE. He was displeasing to God amid his many excellences. So that, in Balaam's history, we seem to have the following remarkable case — i.e., remarkable according to our customary judgment of things — a man Divinely favoured, visited, influenced, guided, protected, eminently honoured, illuminated — a man possessed of an enlightened sense of duty, and of moral and religious acquirements, educated, high-minded, conscientious, honourable, firm; and yet on the side of God's enemies, personally under God's displeasure, and in the end (if we go on to that) the direct instrument of Satan, and having his portion with the unbelievers. This surely is most fearful to every one of us — the more fearful the more we are conscious to ourselves in the main of purity of intention in what we do, and conscientious adherence to our sense of duty.
IV. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS STARTLING EXHIBITION OF GOD'S WAYS?
1. It is possible to be generally conscientious, or what the world calls honourable and high-principled, yet to be destitute of that religious fear and strictness which God calls conscientiousness, but which the world calls superstition or narrowness of mind.
2. God gave Balaam leave to go to Balak, and then was angry with him for going, because his asking twice was tempting God. God is a jealous God. We may not safely intrude upon Him, and make free with Him.Concluding lessons:
1. We see how little we can depend, in judging of right and wrong, on the apparent excellence and high character of individuals.
2. Observe the wonderful secret providence of God, while all things seem to go on according to the course of this world.
3. When we have begun an evil course we cannot retrace our steps.
4. God gives us warnings now and then, but does not repeat them. Balaam's sin consisted in not acting upon what was told him once for all. Beware of trifling with conscience. May He give you grace so to hear as you will wish to have heard when life is over — to hear in a practical way, with a desire to profit — to learn God's will and to do it!
(J. H. Newman, D. D.)
(C. Kingsley, M. A.)
1. Firstly, there are some people who make a boast, as it were, of having what I may call a loose or easy conscience. They think it a sign of intellectual light to be free from conscientious scruples. They say, "Oh, yes, no doubt there was a time when it was thought wrong to touch or to read newspapers and secular books on Sundays, or to go to a theatre, or to participate in dancing or card-playing or any such thing; but these were Puritan days, and we have outlived them, we have learned to laugh at them, we do nowadays pretty much as we like." This is the sort of language which is often heard in the world. Now what I say to you about it shall be simple common sense. I agree to some extent with the people who so speak. It is a mistake, I think, to multiply the number of sins. There are so many things which are wrong in the world, and it is so hard for most of us to keep from doing them, that I should say we make a mistake if we involuntarily add to the number of things which we may not do. Only forgive my saying that, if one must make a mistake, then it is better to err on the side of abstaining from good than on the side of running heedlessly into wrong. It is better to have a weak conscience than a wicked one. Do not you think that for one person who violates the Sunday from a religious motive, there are twenty who violate it because they do not care for religion at all? And is it not likely — ah! how likely — that, if we are not careful to cherish the means of grace and of religious practice, if we do not go to church and to the Holy Communion, we shall gradually sink into a worldly way of looking at things, and our religion will die away altogether?
2. Again, let me impress upon you that your conscience is plastic; you are always forming it, always making it better or worse. If you listen to it when it speaks, it speaks more plainly; if you neglect it, it will simply cease to speak. Ought it not to be your prayer, your daily effort, to see good and evil as God sees them? For, believe me, I am telling you what I know, when you grow up and go out into the world, you will hear people saying of even the vilest sins, "What does it matter? I do not see the wrong of it." There is a blindness of the soul as well as of the body; and although the blinded soul cannot behold the Sun of Righteousness, the Sun is shining in the heaven all the same.
3. Lastly, follow your conscience, and it shall lead you to God. Believe me, the only way to get more spiritual light is to live according to the light you have. It may be only a ray that breaks athwart the darkness; make the most of it, and some day you shall have more. There may be hereafter only one duty which is clear to you, only one friend or kinsman whom you can help, only one boy whom you can keep from evil, only one piece of work which you alone can do. Well, do that. Try to accomplish that one object. Try to save just that one human soul. Gradually, it may be after many a day, the clouds will break. You will know more of God's will. He will seem nearer to you. His voice will sound more clearly in your soul. You shall enter into that Divine peace which the world may neither give nor take away.
(J. E. C. Welldon, M. A.)
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
(T. T. Munger.)
(A. Jessopp, M. A.)
S. S. Chronicle.Many a promising youth has been ruined because he did not know how to say "No." There are many people who say "No," but so faintly that there seems a "Yes " in it, so that it only invites further persuasion. Many a man, tempted by appetite within, and by companions without, says "No" feebly and faintly. His "No" has a "Yes" in it. A lad was coming along the street one day with a young man who lived near him who was somewhat excited by strong drink, and after walking along awhile with his companion he drew a bottle from his pocket, and said, "Have some? Well, hand it over," replied the lad. The bottle was passed to him, and raising it aloft he hurled it with a crash against the stone wall, and turning to his astonished companion, he said, "Don't you ever put a bottle to my lips again." The young man was inclined to be irritated, but he had sense enough to retain his anger. The lad's "No" had not any "Yes" in it There are scores of young men who need the decision which this lad had.
(S. S. Chronicle.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
Christian Age.A steamboat going at full speed approached a bridge. The pilot saw that the draw was not open, and rang his bell to have the engines reversed. There was ample time to bring the vessel to a stand, if the signal had been obeyed. But, in spite of it, the boat went crashing through the bridge, causing great, damage and much peril, though, as it happened, no actual loss of life. It was found afterwards that the bell-wire was broken, so that the bell did not ring in the engineer's room. Something like this often happens to that safeguard of our soul which we call conscience. It gets disordered in one way or another and doesn't work. A danger is perceived. We see plainly the course we ought to take. Conscience warns us that we are on the wrong road. Why don't we stop, and turn into the way we know is safe? Because conscience has lost its power. In the engine-room of our ship of life, where Will presides, the voice of conscience is unheard, or, if heard at all, is unheeded. Instead of being a recognised and regarded imperative, as it ought to be, it has become impotent. The instinct that tells us to do what is right and to shun what is wrong is one of the highest faculties of the human soul. Like all our powers, both of mind and body, it may be blunted and withered and deadened until it is practically lost. Youth is the time to watch against and avert this awful disaster. We cannot too carefully cherish the first and quick sensitiveness which gives to conscience its proper mastery, and causes it to be obeyed as God's own voice speaking in the heart of man.
American S. S. Times.Parallels to the case of Balaam are not difficult to find. Cardinal Wolsey, dispensing ecclesiastical ban and blessing, at the mandate of Henry the Eighth; Richelieu and Mazarin, each betraying his churchly trust for the sake of political power — are well-known instances. Contrast with these s stern arraignment of , an account of which will be found in any good ecclesiastical history. The schoolboy who sneers at religion, hoping to gain thereby the favour of his companions, is unconsciously following in the footsteps of Balaam. The demons gave good testimony to Christ (Luke 8:28, 29) and to His apostles (Acts 19:15), but that did not render them any the less demons. So Balaam, himself a wicked man, prophesied of the coming Messiah. Compare the case of Caiaphas the high priest (John 11:50, 51). Recall Christ's description of the judgment, where many who have prophesied the truth in His name will be told that they are none of His (Matthew 7:22, 23). Balaam fell, though his eyes were open.
(American S. S. Times.)
God's anger was kindled because he went. —
(F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
(S. Cox, D. D.)
(S. Cox, D. D.)
Genesis 32:24). That man, also, was the angel of the Lord (Hosea 12:4), come forth to withstand Jacob in his crooked ways, until Jacob should surrender them, and win a blessing from his adversary. And so God was, by His angel, opposing Balaam's evil way, until he should abandon it, and thus be blessed of God (Numbers 22:32). And see, in this symbolic action of the angel of the Lord, how the resistances of God to evil thicken on us in our sinful paths. At first the ass swerves only from the beaten track; then she injures Balaam's foot; then she falls down under him. And is not this a picture, to the very life, of things that happen every day to evil-doers? They find instruments and agencies, on which they have implicitly relied, betraying them or failing them. They find themselves injured or maimed in their endeavours to press forward in their mad career. And suddenly life perfectly breaks down with them, and leaves them prostrate on the earth. And is not Balaam's blindness to the angel of the Lord a picture of the blindness to the course of Providence which evil-doers not unfrequently display? Things which one would think must cause reflection, come and go without exciting even notice. Bent on their own self-willed career, they are completely blind to all besides, till presently disaster overtakes them, and they narrowly escape destruction. And does not the insensate rage of Balaam fitly typify the wrath and anger that we feel at all the opposition we encounter in an evil way? What savage thoughts breed in our hearts, and cruel words breathe from our lips, in moments such as these! We are ready to destroy the very things that serve us; aye, the very things that save us! Balaam would have slain his ass, though she had served him many years, and though she now preserved his life by her sagacity. Brethren, let us rather be thankful for the oppositions of the angel of the Lord, when we are in an evil way; for these opposing providences are designed for our salvation and deliverance.
1. Here is God's displeasure against Balaam for undertaking this journey, God's "anger was kindled because he went" (ver. 22). Note —(1) The sin of sinners is not to be thought the less provoking to God for His permitting it. We must not think that because God doth not by His providence restrain men from sin, therefore He approves of it; or that it is therefore net hateful to Him; He suffers sin, and yet is angry at it.(2) Nothing is more displeasing to God than malicious designs against His people; he that touches them touches the apple of His eye.
2. The way God took to let Balaam know His displeasure against him. An angel stood in the way for an adversary. Now God fulfilled His promise to Israel, "I will be an enemy to thine enemies" (Exodus 23:22). The holy angels are adversaries to sin, and perhaps are employed more than we are aware of in preventing it, particularly in opposing those that have any ill designs against God's Church and people, for whom Michael, our prince, stands up (Daniel 12:1; Daniel 10:21). What a comfort is this to all that wish well to the Israel of God, that He never suffers wicked men to form any attempt against them, but He sends His holy angels forth to break the attempts, and secure His little ones! This angel was an adversary to Balaam, because Balaam counted him his adversary; otherwise those are really our best friends, and we are so to reckon them that stop our progress in a sinful way. The angel stood with his sword drawn (ver. 23), a flaming sword, like that in the hands of the cherub (Genesis 3:24), turning every way. Note, the holy angels are at war with those with whom God is angry, for they are the ministers of His justice. Balaam has notice given him of God's displeasure —
3. By the ass, and that did not startle him. "The ass saw the angel" (ver. 23). How vainly did Balaam boast that he was a man whose eyes were open, and that he saw "the vision of the Almighty" (Numbers 24:3, 4), when the ass he rode on saw more than he did, his eyes being blinded with covetousness and ambition, and dazzled with the rewards of divination! Note, many have God against them, and His holy angels, but are not aware of it.
4. Balaam at length had notice of God's displeasure by the angel, and that did startle him. When God opened his eyes he "saw the angel" (ver. 31), and then he himself "fell flat upon his face," in reverence of that glorious messenger, and in fear of the sword he saw in his hand. God has many ways of breaking and bringing down the hard and unhumbled heart.(1) The angel reproved him for his outrageousness: "Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass?" (vers. 32, 33). Whether we consider it or no, it is certain God will call us to account for the abuses done to His creatures. Note, when our eyes are opened we shall see what danger we are in, in a sinful way; and how much it was for our advantage to be crossed in it, and what fools we were to quarrel with our crosses which helped to save our lives.(2) Balaam then seemed to relent, "I have sinned" (ver. 34); sinned in undertaking this journey, sinned in pushing on so violently; but he excuses it with this, that he saw not the angel, but now he did see him he was willing to go back again. That which was displeasing to God was not so much his going, as his going with a malicious design against Israel, and a secret hope, that notwithstanding the proviso with which his permission was clogged, he might prevail to curse them, and so gratify Balak, and get preferment under him. Now this wickedness of his heart it doth not appear that he is sensible of, or willing to own; but if he finds he cannot go forward, he will be content (since there is no remedy) to go back. Here is no sign that his heart is turned, but if his hands be tied he cannot help it. Thus many leave their sins, only because their sins have left them. There seems to be a reformation of the life, but what will that avail if there be no renovation of the heart?
5. The angel, however, continued his permission, "Go with the men" (ver. 35). Go, if thou hast a mind to be made a fool of, and to be made ashamed before Balak, and all the princes of Moab. "Go, but the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak," whether thou wilt or no. For this seems not to be a precept, but a prediction of the event, that he should not only not be able to curse Israel, but he should be forced to bless them; which would be more for the glory of God, and his own confusion, than if he had turned back. Thus God gave him fair warning, but he would not take it; he went with the princes of Balak. For the iniquity of Balaam's covetousness God was "wroth and smote him," but he "went on frowardly" (Isaiah 57:17).
( Matthew Henry, D. D..)
I. THE FORMS OF RESTRAINT FROM SIN.
1. They appear in external appliances. The revealed Word of God stands in the way as a hindrance to what is wrong, and a guide to good-will to man and obedience to the Lord, if only fairly consulted.
2. In addresses to the understanding. The remembrance of some words of God, or the words of some man, overheard or directly spoken to you, may be the means of placing in light some dark feature of thought, or some evil action.
3. In stirrings of conscience. These are graduated from an almost insuperable prohibition to the scarcely perceptible whisper of doubt.
4. In excite-merits of the emotions. Each pang of remorse, and each thrill of fear, utter, in different forms, "Keep back from sin."
II. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF RESTRAINTS FROM SIN.
1. They are frequent.
2. They are progressive. If being turned aside will not induce a retreat, there will be a crushing of the foot.
3. They are near, though oft unnoticed.
(D. G. Watt, M. A.)
(J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)
1. In looking at this passage we must make every allowance for the difference between those times and ours. I do not know any valid reason why God in the accomplishment of His infinitely wise designs might not employ the means here described, and miraculously impart to the ass the organs of articulation, and a knowledge of their use.
2. After the most close and candid attention, however, which I have been able to give to the subject, I am led to the conclusion that the occurrence here related was a dream, or vision, which took place on the night previous to his journey. He knew that he was doing wrong; for, although he had permission to go, yet it was not permitted him to do so with the wicked design which he cherished in his heart — that of cursing the people. On this account his guilty conscience tormented him, and, in his sleep, vividly presented to his mind the scene here recorded. At the end of ver. 35 (after the scene is finished) the words, "So Balaam went with the princes of Balak," seem to refer to his setting out on his journey.
3. There is one objection which may be urged to this view. St. Peter says, "The dumb ass," &c. To this it may be replied, that the occurrence, though happening only in a dream, appeared as real to the mind of the prophet as though it had actually taken place, and was designed to have all the force and effect of a real transaction.
4. In favour of the hypothesis the reasons are, I think, numerous and satisfactory.(1) In the prophecies many accounts of visions are given which are not formally introduced as such (Isaiah 6.).(2) Balaam expressed no surprise at being addressed by the animal. In dreaming we feel no surprise at the most astonishing occurrences.(3) The narrative of this transaction appears to intimate that the prophet was nearly alone: "two servants were with him." In his real journey, however, he was accompanied by the princes of Moab, who had, no doubt, a great number of attendants.(4) He had received permission to go, whereas, in this account, the angel appears angry with him for going in compliance with that permission. Strong presumptive proof that the workings of a guilty conscience wrought on his mind during sleep, and produced a vivid dream or vision.(5) In chap. Numbers 23 it is repeatedly said, "He hath said which heard the words of God, which saw the visions of the Almighty; falling into a trance, but having his eyes open." May not this refer to the "vision," or "trance," or dream, of which we have been speaking?
(J. P. Smith, LL. D.)
I. THE LESSONS IT TAUGHT BALAAM.
1. It convinced him of spiritual blindness.
2. It taught absolute submission to God.
II. LESSONS TO US.
1. We often go on wrong errands, or on right errands in a wrong spirit.
2. God cheeks us in His providence and in love to our souls. Illness; raising up of insuperable difficulties; falling off of friends; superior success to rivals, &c.
3. We are apt to fret and be angry at the instruments of our disappointment. We cast our spite and blame on second causes.
4. We should seek spiritual enlightenment to see that it is God's doing. Be not angry and resentful, but give yourselves to prayer; else, like Balaam, you will not see it is God who opposes you (ver. 34).
5. We can only be permitted to go forward when we are brought to a state of perfect subjection to God. Two things are here included — a perfect purity of motive and freedom from worldly self-seeking, and an entire acquiescence in whatever God appoints, desires, or does.
(T. G. Horton.)
1. It lies quite within our experience that we do get our own way, and yet have a sense of burning and judgment, of opposition and anger all the time. Men forget that there is a time when they need not ask the Lord any questions. Never trouble the Lord to knew whether you cannot do just a little wrong; He is not to be called upon in relation to business of that kind. He does not pray who palters with moral distinctions, who wants to make compromises, who is anxious to find some little crevice or opening through which he can pass into the land of his own desire.
2. Men are stopped in certain courses without being able to tell the reason why. That also is matter of experience. The wind seems to be a wall before us; the road looks quite open, and yet we can make no progress in it. The business stands still; we have risen at the same hour in the morning, carried out the usual arrangements, been apparently on the alert all the time, and yet not one inch farther are we permitted to go. Suppose we have no God, no altar, no Church limitations, no ghostly ministry exerting itself upon our life and frightening us with superstition and spectre — we are healthy reasoners, downright robust rationalists — men who can take things up and set them down, square-headed men — yet there is the fact, that even we, such able-bodied rationalists, such healthy souls that any society would insure us on the slightest inquiry — there we are, puzzled, mystified, perplexed, distracted.
3. It also lies within the region of experience that men are rebuked by dumb animals. That is odd, but it is true. The whole Scripture is charged with that statement, and so charged with it as to amount to a practical philosophy in daily life: "But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee." "The stork in heaven knoweth her appointed times." "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib." "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise." Dumb creatures are continually teaching us. They keep law with wondrous obedience. The poorest brutes are really very faithful to the rude legislation under which they live. In temperance, in acceptance of discipline, in docility, I know not any beast that is ever used by man that may not teach some men, very distinctly, helpful and useful lessons.
4. Then, again, it does lie within our cognition that men do blame second causes for want of success. Balaam blamed the ass. That is what we are always doing. There is nothing exceptional in this conduct of the soothsayer. We want to get on — it is the beast that will not go. Who ever thought that an angel was confronting him — that a distinct ghostly purpose was against him?
5. Does it not also lie within the range of our experience that men do want to get back sometimes but are driven forward? Did not Balaam want to return when he said, "If it displease Thee, I will get me back again"? We cannot. Life is not a little trick, measurable by such terms, h man cannot make a fool of himself, and instantly turn round as if nothing had happened; we cannot drive a nail into a tree and take it out without leaving a wound behind. Conduct is of greater consequence than we imagine. Humanity is a sublime mystery, as well as God; and there is no way backward, unless it be in consent with the Mind that constructed and that rules creation.
6. But there is a difficulty about the dumb ass rebuking the perverse prophet. So there is. I would be dismayed by it if I were not overwhelmed by greater miracles still. This has come to be but a small thing — a very momentary wonder — as compared with more astounding circumstances. A. more wonderful thing than that an ass should speak is that a man should forget God. The miracles of a physical and historical kind may admit of postponement as to their consideration; but that men should have forgotten God, and insulted law, and done unrighteously — these are mysteries which must not be delayed in their explanation and settlement.
7. So we come again and again to the great practical inquiry — Being on the wrong road, how shall we get back? There is no answer in man. If Balaam could have retraced his steps, put up his ass in the stable and gone about his business as if nothing had occurred, it would have been but a paper universe. That he could not do so, that he was under the pressure of mightier forces, indicates that the universe is itself a tragedy, and that the explanation of every character, every incident, and every flush of colour, must be left for another time, when the light is stronger and the duration is assured. Meanwhile, we can pray, we can look up, we can say, each for himself, "I have sinned."
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I. THE HISTORIC CHARACTER OF THE MIRACLE HERE RECORDED.
II. THE MIRACLE ITSELF.
III. THE OBJECT OF THE MIRACLE.
1. It was calculated to humble him in relation to a gift of God upon which he probably prided himself. It is likely he was an eloquent man. He would now see that God could endow a brute with the gift of speech.
2. He would also see that an ass could discern a messenger from heaven, where he, blinded by his desire for gain, could see nothing but empty space.
3. He might also have learned that all speech was under Divine control, and that he would be able to utter only such words as God would permit.
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
(T. T. Munger.)
1. Of having cruelly wronged the innocent creature who had saved him from the sword.
2. Of having failed at his strongest point and lost the "open eye " of which he was wont to boast; and —
3. Of not being as true to his Master in heaven, despite his loud professions of loyalty and obedience, as she had been to her master on earth. If no rebuke could be more severe and humbling, none surely could have been more kind and merciful. For if men are not to be held back from evil by an angel, is it not well that they should be held back even by an ass? If the gentler strokes of correction fail, is it not well that they should be followed by severer and more effectual strokes? If appeals to our higher nature do not suffice to arrest us, is it not well that we should be arrested by appeals to our lower nature?
(S. Cox, D. D.)
St. Francis an enthusiastic love of birds; and to come to modern days, in the letters of Bishop Thirlwall, thought to be a man of giant intellect, we read that often he could not sleep at night, because he was haunted by some story of cruelty to animals which he had heard, whilst the writings of Sir Arthur Helps, the most charming essayist of our age, tells us that he would not live his life over again, if the chance was offered, for he had suffered so much from indignation and sympathy with the sufferings of animals. Often cruelty arises from thoughtlessness. Children do not reflect on what they are doing, and it is the duty of all persons to teach, in every way, humanity and kind feeling to the animals around us. A disposition which practises cruelty towards animals will not stop there, for it is only a training for the bad treatment of human beings. It was remarked of Domitian, the cruel Emperor of Rome, that he spent his leisure moments in killing flies. Who can doubt but that it was the horrible taste for wild beast fights that led to the still more horrible conflicts of gladiators in the Roman amphitheatres? And so, too, in Spain, the savage excitement of the populace in the bull fights led even religious men to witness unmoved the auto-da-es of the Inquisition. Ever should we recollect that these creatures belong to God, constructed by His wondrous skill, watched over by His gracious care, and not to be ill-treated or tormented without incurring His vengeance. A boy was once teasing a poor kitten. "Don't!" said his little sister, "it is God's kitten." Her remark fell upon the ear of her father, a careless drunkard, as he was turning out of the door, and like an arrow from a bow there struck into his conscience the thought, "If this little creature belongs to God, how much more a soul like mine!" And the arrow of conviction lodged in his heart, and gave him no rest till he entered on a better life, as belonging to God. Let us, then, strive to make all God's creatures around us as happy as we can, find in them loving friends and companions, and thank God for giving us the animals as our humble friends and loyal servants; ever remembering, as a forcible preacher has said, "There is no sin that will sink a soul so low in hell as cruelty to helpless creatures."
(J. W. Hardman, LL. D.)
I have sinned.
(James Vaughan, M. A.)
Balaam went with Balak.
1. Balak speaks of it with confidence, not doubting but to gain his point now Balaam was come. In expectation of this he went out to meet him, even to the utmost border of his country (ver. 36); partly to gratify his own impatient desire to see one he had such great expectations from, and partly to do honour to Balaam, and so to engage him with his utmost power to serve him. See what respect heathen princes paid to those that had but the name of prophets, and how welcome one was that came with his mouth full of curses. What a shame is it, then, that the ambassadors of Christ are so little respected by most, and that they are so coldly entertained who bring tidings of peace and blessing! Note, promotion to honour is a very tempting bait to many people; and it were well if we would be drawn into the service of God by the honour He sets before us. Why do we delay to come unto, Him? Is not He able to promote us to honour?
2. Balaam speaks doubtfully of the issue, and bids Balak not depend too much upon him. "Have I now any power at all to say anything?" (ver. 38). I am come, but what the nearer am I? Gladly would I curse Israel; but I must not, I cannot, God will not suffer me. He seems to speak with vexation at the hook in his nose, and the bridle in his jaws; such as Sennacherib was tied up with (Isaiah 37:29).
3. They address themselves with all speed to the business; Balaam is nobly entertained overnight, a sacrifice of thanksgiving is offered to the gods of Moab for the safe arrival of this welcome guest, and he is treated with a feast upon the sacrifice (ver. 40); and the next morning, that no time might be lost, Balak takes Balaam in his chariot to the high places of his kingdom, not only because their holiness (such as it was), he thought, might give some advantage to his divinations, but their height might give him a convenient prospect of the camp of Israel, which was to be the mark at which he must shoot his envenomed arrows. And now Balaam is really as solicitous to please Balak as ever he pretended to be to please God. See what need we have to pray every day, "Our Father in heaven, lead us not into temptation."
( Matthew Henry, D. D..).