Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous…
From first to last one thing appears uppermost in this history — Balaam's self; the honour of Balaam as a true prophet — therefore he will not lie; the wealth of Balaam — therefore the Israelites must be sacrificed. Nay, more, even in his sublimest vision his egotism breaks out. In the sight of God's Israel he cries, "Let me die the death of the righteous"; in anticipation of the glories of the eternal advent, "I shall behold Him, but not nigh." He sees the vision of a kingdom, a Church, a chosen people, a triumph of righteousness. In such anticipations, the nobler prophets broke out into strains in which their own personality was forgotten. Moses, when he thought that God would destroy His people, prays in agony, "Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book." Paul speaks in impassioned words, "I have continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites." But Balaam's chief feeling seems to be, "How will all this advance me?" And the magnificence of the prophecy is thus marred by a chord of melancholy and diseased egotism. Not for one moment — even in those moments when uninspired men gladly forget themselves; men who have devoted themselves to a monarchy or dreamed of a republic in sublime self-abnegation — can Balaam forget himself in God's cause. Observe, then, desire for personal salvation is not religion. It may go with it, but it is not religion. Anxiety for the state of one's own soul is not the healthiest or best symptom. Of course every one wishes, "Let me die the death of the righteous." But it is one thing to wish to be saved, another to wish God's right to triumph; one thing to wish to die safe, another to wish to live holily. Nay, not only is this desire for personal salvation not religion, but if soured, it passes into hatred of the good. Balaam's feeling became spite against the people who are to be blessed when he is not blessed. He indulges a wish that good may not prosper, because personal interests are mixed up with the failure of good.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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!