When you are encamped against your enemies, then you shall keep yourself from every wicked thing.
The camp was to be free from:
1. Moral pollution (ver. 9).
2. Ceremonial pollution (vers. 10, 11).
3. Natural pollution (vers. 12, 13) - M. Henry.
This, because God was in its midst. He was there to work for their deliverance and for the confusion of their enemies. We are taught -
I. THAT MILITARY LIFE IS NO EXCUSE FOR LAXITY IN MORALS, OR FOR A LOWERED STANDARD OF PROPRIETY IN CONDUCT. The opposite opinion too commonly prevails. Immoralities are winked at in soldiers and sailors which would not be tolerated in ordinary society; nay, are sometimes half justified as a necessity of their situation. When public opinion is in this easy state, we cannot wonder that the individuals themselves are not very strict about their behavior. They find Acts passed, e.g. to protect them in their evil courses, and they naturally suppose that they have a kind of sanction for their immorality. Officers do not always set the men the best example. This is in every sense to be deplored. Immorality does not change its nature in the barrack-room or on the march. Rather, when "the host goes forth' we should try to put away from us "every wicked thing." Only then can we confidently expect God's presence to go with us, or look to him for aid in battle. Compare Carlyle's account of Cromwell's army ('Cromwell,' vol. 2., at end), and the "prayer-meeting" of the leaders. See also Baillie's account of the encampment of the Scotch Covenanters at Dunse Law ('Letters,' 1:211).
II. THAT PURITY IS REQUIRED IN THE CAMP OF THE CHURCH, IF HER WARFARE IS TO BE SUCCESSFULLY ACCOMPLISHED. In spiritual conflicts, above all, we must look to spiritual conditions. The Church is an army of Christ. She is organized for aggressive and defensive warfare. Her only hope of success lies in the presence of the Lord with her. But can she hope for this presence if she is not careful to maintain her internal purity? True, she has no commission to search the heart, and must be content to allow tares to mingle with the wheat (Matthew 13:24-31). But it is within her province, in the exercise of discipline, to remove obvious scandals, and by rebuke and censure, as well as by positive teaching and persuasion, to keep down worldliness, irreligion, and sensuality, when these make their appearance m her midst. She ought to pray, labor, and use her authority for the maintenance of her purity. The purer she is internally the more resistless will she be in her assaults on evil without. - J.O.
The Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing.
Here a difficult question meets us. Was there any reality whatever in Balaam's curse! Or was it altogether a harmless thing — in fact, nothing at all? If there was nothing in it, why should it have been averted Why should it be said that God "would not hearken unto Balaam"? Why not let it be pronounced? The result would have shown that there was no power or reality in it. On the other hand, it is difficult to suppose that such power could reside in a curse, especially when spoken by such a man as Balaam. One thing is certain, that God Himself never did give false prophets power to curse. Could they, then, derive it from any other quarter? Why not from Satan? No creature is absolutely independent; all are instruments in the hands of another. If through grace we have been placed in the kingdom of light, then we are instruments in the hands of God. If we are in the kingdom of darkness, we can only he instruments in the hands of Satan; a curse and not a blessing to others. Now, heathenism is one great territory of Satan's power — one chief part of his kingdom of darkness. He reigns supreme there. We believe, then, that within the sphere of his kingdom of darkness Satan has power to employ false prophets as his instruments — has power to enable them to curse, and to fulfil their curse when pronounced. The conflict here, then, was not merely one between the king of Moab and Israel, but between the kingdom of light in Israel and the kingdom of darkness in Moab and Midian. Balaam's curse would have been the utterance of the power of darkness; but he was obliged, however reluctantly, to confess his impotency before God. It was an act of Divine power when God turned the curse into a blessing. It showed His watchful care and love towards His people. And what is it that God is accomplishing now by the gift of His son and the power of His grace, but turning the curse into a blessing? Oh, there is a widespread curse, which has long been resting upon this guilty world, the curse pronounced on man's disobedience; and what makes it so awful is, that it is a righteous curse. Wherever we look we see its tokens — man doomed to a life of weary labour, suffering from different kinds of sickness, and at last seized with the irresistible hand of death; so that St. Paul says, "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." But to the children of God this three-fold curse is changed by the grace of God into a blessing. Look at the lowest element of the curse, that of labour, according to the sentence, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." How wearisome is ceaseless toil in itself! But to the true Christian how different is toil and labour! He consecrates his powers to Him who has redeemed him with His precious blood! Or look at sickness. What is it but the visible reflection of a spiritual disease within? If the image of God had not been obliterated from the soul by sin there would have been no sickness or sorrow in the world. No miracle is exerted to exempt the Christian from this trial. But its nature is changed; there is no longer any curse in it. How many can bless God for it, painful as it may have been — can bless God for His sanctifying and sustaining power — for the near communion with Jesus which they then enjoyed — for the hallowed impressions made upon their souls; and, most of all, for the manifestations of God's faithfulness and tenderness — of His power and gentleness. But of all the elements of the curse the most manifest and the most awful is death — so universal in its reign — so tremendous in its power — so mysterious in its nature. We can scarcely stand by a dying bed without the question pressing itself upon our thoughts — oh, why this convulsion? Why this distressing and humiliating close to our life here? One answer can only be given — It is because of sin. "Death passed upon all men in that all have sinned." To the Christian its sting is drawn. It is but the rending of the veil which separates his soul from the visible presence of his Redeemer.
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