Who can count the dust of Jacob or number even a fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous; let my end be like theirs!"
character. He could not by any stretch of the word be described as a good man; the whole narrative is little but an illustration of his duplicity, selfishness, vanity, greed of gain and glory, and utter disregard of the plain commandments of God. The position of Balaam at this particular time is also to be remembered. He has been called to curse, twice pressed to make a long journey for this special purpose; he has offered sacrifices and sought enchantments to secure it; and yet he not only fails to curse, but, more than that, is compelled to bless; and, last of all, to crown the reversal of what had been so carefully prepared for, he is heard expressing an emphatic wish that he himself might be found among this blessed people.
I. CONSIDER FOR A MOMENT THESE WORDS OF BALAAM DISCONNECTED FROM ALL THEIR ORIGINAL CIRCUMSTANCES. Consider them as placed before some one who knew neither the character nor position of Balaam as the speaker, nor the position of Israel as the nation referred to. Let him know simply that these words were spoken once upon a time, and ask him to imagine for himself the scene in which they might be fitly spoken. Whither then would his thought be turned? Would it not be to some aged believer, gradually sinking to rest, with the experience that as the outward man decayed, the inward man was renewed from day to day, and with the conviction that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord; looking forward from time into eternity, according to the familiar illustration, as being "but a going from one room into another." Such would be the view suggested by the term "righteous," and the person expressing the wish would seem to be some studious, susceptible observer, with frequent opportunities for observation, who had been impressed by the reality and the superlative worth of the experience on which he had gazed. Then let such a one as we have supposed be confronted with these original circumstances. How perplexed he would be when told that the words were spoken by such a man as Balaam appears in the narrative, and of a people that had done such things as are recorded in the Book of Numbers! These words, looked at in a particular light, might be taken as indicating deep spiritual convictions and earnest, faithful life on the part of whoever speaks them. But we are bound to look at them now in the light of Balaam's character, and in the light also of Israel's past career.
II. CONSIDER THE ACTUAL EXTENT OF BALAAM'S WISH. He wishes to die the death of the righteous. Do not be misled by the prominence of the word "righteous" into supposing that for its own sake Balaam cared about righteousness. It was not righteousness that he desired, but what he saw to be the pleasant, enviable effects of righteousness. He cared nothing about the cause if only he could get the effects. He loved the vine because it produced grapes, and the fig-tree because it produced figs, but if he could have got grapes from thorns and figs from thistles, he would have loved thorns and thistles just as well. We have God revealing to an ungodly man as much as an ungodly man can perceive of the blessedness of the righteous. Balaam was entirely out of sympathy with the purposes of God. He showed by the best of all evidence that he would have nothing to do with righteousness as a state of heart, habit of conduct, and standard in all dealings with God and men. But though Balaam did not appreciate the need of righteousness, he did appreciate happiness, and that very warmly, in his own carnal way. He saw in Israel everything a man could desire. To have Balaam uttering this wish was as emphatic a way as any God could have taken to show Balak his favour to Israel. Not only from the top of the rocks does the prophet see the separated and multitudinous people, which in itself was enough to drive Balak to unfavourable inferences, but so desirable does the state of the people appear, that Balaam cannot help wishing it were his own. God had told him at first "the people are blessed," and now, as soon as he sees them, God also makes the greatness of the blessedness sufficiently manifest even to his carnal and obscured heart.
III. THUS WE SEE THE DEEP IMPRESSION WHICH THE BLESSED LIFE OF GOD'S PEOPLE IS CAPABLE OF MAKING ON THE UNGODLY. Those who as yet have no sympathy with righteousness may have a keen desire for security, joy, and peace, and a keen perception of the fact that these somehow belong to real believers in Christ. It is a characteristic of the Scriptures, and a very notable and important one, that many of the appeals found in it are to what seem comparatively low motives. Has it not indeed been made a charge against Christian ethics that they make so much of rewards and punishments? But surely this is the very wisdom of God to draw men by inducements suitable to their low and miserable state, to promise joy to the joyless, peace to the distracted, security to the fearful, life to the dying. Certainly Christ the Saviour can do nothing for us as long as we remain impenitent, unbelieving, and unreconciled, but in his mercy he speaks first of all in the most general and sympathetic terms concerning our needs. The most comprehensive invitation the Saviour ever gave runs thus: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Not a word there of conviction of sin, wrath of God, need of righteousness, need of saving faith! Is it by accident that the first psalm begins with a reference to happiness? The sermon on the mount starts with this as the very beginning of Christ's teaching: "Men are unhappy; how can they find and keep blessedness, real happiness?" Suppose a man who has no experimental knowledge of the saving power of Christ, reading through the promises of the New Testament and the actual experiences therein recorded; suppose him to see that if words count for anything, godliness is indeed profitable for the life that now is. Would it be anything strange for such a man to say, "If righteousness brings such effects as these, then let me die the death of the righteous"? Appealing to high motives alone would be all very well if those appealed to were unfallen spirits or perfected saints; but men being what they are, God does not esteem it too great a condescension to draw them to himself by the promise of blessedness, high, peculiar, rich, and lasting.
IV. GOD GIVES HERE THROUGH BALAAM A CLEAR INDICATION OF HOW THIS DESIRABLE BLESSEDNESS COMES. Israel is not only the happy people, but the righteous people. Righteousness brings the happiness, and is the condition and the guarantee of its continuance. Wherever there is righteousness there is an ever-living and ever-fruitful cause of blessedness. The presence of this righteousness as essential is still more clearly indicated in the next prophecy: "God hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob." That is the great difference between Israel and Moab. Moab is not without its possessions and treasures, its carnal satisfactions; Moab has much that it thinks worth fighting for; it has honours and rewards to offer Balaam such as have brought him all this way to utter, if he can, a curse against Israel. But Moab is not righteous, and the sight of its happiness will never provoke such a wish as Balaam's here.
V. THIS BRINGS US TO CONSIDER THE PECULIAR WAY IN WHICH THE WISH IS EXPRESSED. "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" This is as comprehensive a way as was possible at the time of stating the blessedness of the righteous. Life and immortality were not yet brought to light. To die the death of the righteous was a very emphatic way of indicating the present life of the righteous in all its possible extent. No matter how long that life may stretch, it is one to be desired. "The righteous goes on as far as I can see him," Balaam seems to say, "and comes to no harm." The blessedness of God's people, if only they observe the requisite conditions, is a continuous, unbroken experience: not an alternation of oases and deserts. The fluctuations in that blessedness, the flowing and ebbing tides, come from defects in ourselves. Where there is the fullness of faith, prayer, and humility there surely will be the fullness of blessedness also. Then also, when we consider what Christ has shown us by his own experience of what lies beyond death; when we consider his own personal triumph, and the definite, unhesitating way in which a blessed resurrection is assured to his followers, and an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, we see a great prophetic importance in this particular mode of expression: "Let me die the death. Balaam's wish in the very form of it, so peculiar, and we may even say at first so startling, expressed far more than he had any possible conception of. Death stands crowning with one hand the temporal life of the righteous, and with the other opening to him the pure fullness of eternity.
VI. It is very important to notice that by the reference to Israel as the righteous AN UNERRING INDICATION IS GIVEN AS TO WHERE RIGHTEOUSNESS IS TO BE FOUND. Not they who call themselves righteous, but whom God calls righteous, are the people whose death one may desire to die. The true Israelite is he who fulfils the law and the prophets, as he is called to do and made competent to do by the fullness of that Holy Spirit which is given to every one who asks for him. "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." There is a worthless and deceiving righteousness which excludes from the kingdom of heaven, though the scribes and Pharisees, its possessors, make much of it. There is also a righteousness to be hungered and thirsted after (Matthew 5). We must be careful in this matter, lest we spend money for that which is not bread, and labour for that which satisfieth not (Isaiah 55:2). God hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, for where he beholds iniquity the seed of Jacob is assuredly absent. Those who have learned the corruption and deception, the necessary ignorance and incapacity, of the unrenewed heart, and thereby been impelled to seek and enabled to find renewal, life and light from on high, and holy principles and purposes for their future course, they are the righteous. Israel born of the flesh exists but as the type. We must not limit our view by him. "Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham" (Matthew 3:9). - Y.
Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!
I. Balaam's WISH CONCERNING DEATH. He anxiously desired that he might die such a death as the righteous die.
1. Truly we commend his choice, for, in the first place, it must, at the least, be as well with the righteous man when he comes to die, as with any other man. By the righteous man we mean the man who has believed in Jesus,-and so has been covered with Christ's righteousness, and moreover, has by the power of the Holy Spirit received a new heart, so that his actions are righteous both towards God and man. A certain carping infidel, after having argued with a poor countryman who knew the faith, but who knew little else, said to him, "Well, Hodge, you really are so stupid that there is no use arguing with you. I cannot get you out of this absurd religion of yours." "Ah! well," said Hodge, "I dare say I am stupid, master, but do you know we poor people like to have two strings to our bow?" "Well," said the critic, "what do you mean by that?" "Master, I'll show you. Suppose it should all turn out as you say; suppose there is no God, and there is no hereafter, don't you see I am as well off as you are? Certainly, it will not be any worse for me than it will be for you, if we both of us get annihilated. But don't you see if it should happen to be true as I believe, what will become of you?"
2. There is this to be said for the righteous man: he goes to the death chamber with a quiet; conscience. It has been clearly ascertained that in the event of death, the mind is frequently quickened to a high degree of activity, so that it thinks more perhaps in the course of five minutes than it could have done in the course of years at other times. Persons who have been rescued from drowning, have said that they imagined themselves to have been weeks in the water, for the thoughts, the many views and visions, the long and detailed retrospect seemed to them to have required weeks, and yet the whole transpired in a few seconds. Frequently towards the last the soul travels at express speed, traversing its past life as though it rode upon the lightning. Ah! then how blessed is that man who, looking back upon the past, can see many things of which conscience can approve!
3. Again, the righteous man, when he dies, does not lose his all. With every other man the sound of "earth to earth, dust to dust, and ashes to ashes," is the end of present seeming wealth and the beginning of eternal and real want. But the Christian is not made a bankrupt by the grave; death to him is gain. "Go," said the dying Saracen hero, Saladin, "take this winding sheet, and as soon as I expire, bear it on a lance through all the streets, and let the herald cry as he holds aloft the ensign of death, 'This is all that is left of Saladin, the conqueror of the East.'" He need not have so said if he had been a Christian, for the believer's heritage is not rent from him, but opened up to him by the rough hand of death. The world to come and all its infinite riches and blessedness are ours in the moment of departure.
4. "Let me die the death of the righteous" may well be our wish, because he dies with a good hope. Peering into eternity, with eyes marvellously strengthened, the believer frequently beholds, even while he is yet below, something of the glory which is to be revealed in him.
5. Moreover, the believer dies in the arms of a friend. I do not say in the arms of a mortal friend, for it has fallen to the lot of some Christians to be burnt at the stake; and some of them have rotted to death in dungeons; but yet every believer dies in the arms of the best of friends. Precious is communion with the Son of God, and never more so than when it is enjoyed .upon the verge of heaven.
6. Lastly, when the good man dies, he dies with honour. Who cares for the death of the wicked? A few mourning friends lament for a little time, but they almost feel it a relief within a day or two that such a one is gone. As for the righteous, when he dieth there is weeping and mourning for him. Like Stephen, devout men carry him to the sepulchre, and make great lamentation over him.
II. Balaam spoke concerning the godly man, of HIS LAST END. I do not know that this wicked prophet, whose eyes were once opened, knew anything about this latter end, as I shall interpret it; but you and I do know, and so let us use his words, if not his thoughts. God has endowed us with a spiritual nature which shall Outlive the sun, and run on coeval with eternity. Like the years of God's right hand, like the days of the Most High, has God ordained the life of souls to be. Now, I can well believe that the most of us wish that our position after death may be like that of the righteous.
1. The first consideration in death is that the spirit is disembodied. I should desire to be like a Christian in the disembodied state, because he will not be altogether in a new and strange world. Some of you have never exercised your spirits at all about the spirit-world. You have talked with thousands of people in bodies, but you have never spoken with spiritual beings; to you the realm of spirit is all unknown; but let me tell you, Christians are in the daily habit of communing with the spirit-world, by which I mean that their souls converse with God; their spirits are affected by the Holy Spirit; they have fellowship with angels, who are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them that are the heirs of salvation.
2. After the judgment is pronounced, the disembodied spirit dwells in heaven. Some of you could not be happy if you were allowed to enter that heaven. Shall I tell you why? It is a land of spirit, and you have neglected your spirit. There is a story told of a young woman who dreamed that she was in heaven unconverted, and thought she saw upon the pavement of transparent gold, multitudes of spirits dancing to the sweetest music. She stood still, unhappy, silent, and when the King said to her, "Why do you not partake in the joy?" she answered, "I cannot join in the dance, for I do not know the measure; I cannot join in the song, for I do not know the tune"; then said He in a voice of thunder, "What dost thou here?" And she thought herself cast out for ever. If you do not learn heaven's language on earth you cannot learn it in the world to come. If you are not holy you cannot be with holy saints.
3. After awhile our bodies will be raised again; the soul will re-enter the body; for Christ has not only bought the souls of His people, but their bodies too. "Awake, ye dead! awake! and come to judgment! come away!" Then up will start the bodies of the wicked. I know not in what shapes of dread they will arise, nor how they will appear. But this I know, that when the righteous shall rise they will be glorious like the Lord Jesus; they shall have all the loveliness which heaven itself can give them.
III. We have to make A PRACTICAL USE OF THE WHOLE. Behold the vanity of mere desires. Balaam desired to die the death of the righteous, and yet was slain in battle fighting against those righteous men whom he envied. There is an old proverb which says, "Wishers and woulders make bad housekeepers"; and another which declares, "Wishing never filled a sack." Mere desiring to die the death of the righteous, though it may be natural, will be exceedingly unprofitable. Stop not there. Have you never heard the old classic story of those ancient Gauls who, having once drunk the sweet wines of Italy, constantly, as they smacked their lips, said one to another, "Where is Italy?" And when their leaders pointed to the gigantic Alps crowned with snow, they said, "Cannot we cross them?" Every time they tasted the wine the question was put, "Where is Italy? and cannot we reach it? This was good plain sense. So they put on their war-harness, and marched to old Rome to fight for the wines of Italy. So every time you hear of heaven, I should like you, with Gothic ardour, to say, "Where? is it? for I fain would go." And happy should I be if men here would put on the harness of the Christian, and say, "Through floods and flames for such a conquest, to drink of such wines well refined, we would fain go to the battle that we may win the victory." Oh, the folly of those who, knowing and desiring this, yet spend their strength for nought! The Roman Emperor fitted out a great expedition and sent it to conquer Britain. The valiant legionaries leaped ashore, and each man gathered a handful of shells, and went back to his barque again — that was all. Some of you are equally foolish. You are fitted by God for great endeavours and lofty enterprises, and you are gathering shells: your gold and your silver, your houses and your lands, and heaven and everlasting life you let go. Like Nero, you send to Alexandria for sand for your amusements, and send not for wheat for your starving souls. "Well," cries one, "how is heaven to be had?" It is to be had only by a personal seeking after it. I have read of one who, when drowning, saw the rainbow in the heavens. Picture him as he sinks; he looks up, and there, if he sees the many-coloured bow, he may think to himself, "There is God's covenant sign that the world shall never be drowned, and yet here I am drowning in this river." So it is with you. There is the arch of God's promise over you, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life," and yet, because you believe not in Him, you will be drowned in your sins.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Preacher's Analyst.I. THE MAN.
II. THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
III. THE WISH.
1. A good wish alone will never save the soul.
2. Even knowledge of the consequences of sin will not restrain a wicked man.
3. As wishes, knowledge, and human strength are insufficient, seek for Divine grace.
Homilist.I. RIGHTEOUS MEN DIE.
II. BAD MEN WOULD DIE LIKE THEM
1. The death of the righteous is a desirable death. No moral remorse, no terrible forebodings. Peaceful conscience. Glorious hope.
2. This desirable death is only gained by a righteous life.
Preacher's Monthly.No results are attained without the diligent application of means, and no end is reached without persistent effort.
1. With respect to earthly things this proposition needs no argument. There is nothing valuable attained without labour and patience. Is knowledge? Is wealth? Is fame? Is influence? Is dignity?
2. It is well to know, then, that the spiritual kingdom is not under one law and the material under another. God's laws traverse the whole of His creation.
3. Learn here —(1) That supine waiting for righteousness to be conveyed .to us from without is supreme foolishness. Ask, knock, seek!(2) That the spirit of work must be infused into our Christianity.(3) That we shall reap what we sow; and in proportion to our diligence in sowing.
(Preacher's Monthly.)I. THAT NO MAN OUGHT TO EXPECT, OR HOPE, TO DIE THE DEATH OF THE RIGHTEOUS, WHO WILL NOT LEAD THE LIFE OF THE RIGHTEOUS. If a thorn-bush could bring forth grapes, or a thistle figs, we should not know what was coming next: certainty, as to causes and effects, would be at an end, and our ideas would be but chaos. So likewise if a bad life could lead to a good death, or if he who would none of the holy beginnings of the righteous could come at last to an end like his, all our moral ideas would be upset, and confusion worse confounded would ensue as to our duties, the consequences of human acts, and the relation of cause to effect in the spiritual sphere. The sight of the unity and harmony of God's laws in nature leads to faith in the truth and equity of His dealings with men as moral and responsible beings; and no clear mind can help seeing the force of the analogy. Nor can this argument be shaken by any theory about the efficacy of what are commonly known as death-bed repentances. Who knows anything about the worth of such changes? Are they really changes?
II. WISHES, HOWEVER EARNEST, DO NOT OF NECESSITY BRING WITH THEM THE THING WISHED FOR. Why should the wish for eternal good have a power which no wish for temporal good possesses? If the mere wishing for what you want in this life does not give the thing wished for, how can you have, for a mere wish, the glories and rewards of the life to come?
(Morgan Dix, D. D.)
Hom. Monthly.1. The righteous life insures the happiest end — a happy future for the soul.
2. To end well our life is a noble ambition.
3. Let us cultivate this desire, for it will fashion our lives, if it be a strong and constant motive.
(Hom. Monthly.)i.e., the righteousness which God will accept. Balak demands, "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before Him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression; the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" Balaam answers them, "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" Here is a good man expressly characterised, as distinct from a dishonest and superstitious man. No words can more strongly exclude dishonesty and falseness of heart than "doing justice" and "loving mercy"; and both these, as well as "walking humbly with God," are put in opposition to those ceremonial methods of recommendation which Balak hoped might have served the turn. From hence appears what he meant by the righteous whose death he desires to die. The object we have now before us is the most astonishing in the world: a very wicked man, under a deep sense of God and religion, persisting still in his wickedness, and preferring the wages of unrighteousness, even when he had before him a lively view of death, and that approaching period of his days which should deprive him of all those advantages for which he was prostituting himself; and likewise a prospect, whether certain or uncertain, of a future state of retribution: all this joined with an explicit ardent wish that, when he was to leave this world, he might be in the condition of a righteous man. What inconsistency, what perplexity is here! With what different views of things, with what contradictory principles of action, must such a mind be torn and distracted! And yet, strange as it may appear, it is not altogether an uncommon one: nay, with some small alterations, and put a little lower, it is applicable to a very considerable part of the world. For if the reasonable choice be seen and acknowledged, and yet men make the unreasonable one, is not this the same contradiction, that very inconsistency which appeared so unaccountable? To give some little opening to such characters and behaviour, it is to be observed in general that there is no account to be given in the way of reason of men's so strong attachments to the present world: our hopes and fears and pursuits are in degrees beyond all proportion to the known value of the things they respect. This may be said without taking into consideration religion and a future state; and when these are considered, the disproportion is infinitely heightened. Now, when men go against their reason, and contradict a more important interest at a distance for one nearer, though of less consideration, if this be the whole of the case, all that can be said is that strong passions, some kind of brute force within, prevails over the principle of rationality. However, if this be with a clear, full, and distinct view of the truth of things, then it is doing the utmost violence to themselves, acting in the most palpable contradiction to their very nature. But if there be any such thing in mankind as putting halfdeceits upon themselves, which there plainly is, either by avoiding reflection, or (if they do reflect) by religious eqivocation, subterfuges, and palliating matters to themselves, by these means conscience may be laid asleep, and they may go on in a course of wickedness with less disturbance. All the various turns, doubles, and intricacies in a dishonest heart cannot be unfolded or laid open; but that there is somewhat of that kind is manifest, be it to be called self-deceit or by any other name. To bring these observations home to ourselves: it is too evident that many persons allow themselves in very unjustifiable courses, who yet make great pretences to religion, not to deceive the world — none can be so weak as to think this will pass in our age — but from principles, hopes, and fears respecting God and a future state, and go on thus with a sort of tranquillity and quiet of mind. This cannot be upon a thorough consideration and full resolution that the pleasures and advantages they propose are to be pursued at all hazards, against reason, against the law of God, and though everlasting destruction is to be the consequence. This would be doing too great violence upon themselves. No, they are for making a composition with the Almighty. These of His commands they will obey; but as to others, why, they will make all the atonements in their power — the ambitious, the covetous, the dissolute man, each in a way which shall not contradict his respective pursuit. Besides these, there are also persons who, from a more just way of considering things, see the infinite absurdity of this, of substituting sacrifice instead of obedience; there are persons far enough from superstition, and not without some real sense of God and religion upon their minds, who yet are guilty of most unjustifiable practices, and go on with great coolness and command over themselves. The same dishonesty and unsoundness of heart discovers itself in these another way. In all common ordinary cases we see intuitively at first view what is our duty, what is the honest part. This is the ground of the observation that the first thought is often the best. In these cases doubt and deliberation is itself dishonesty, as it was in Balaam upon the second message. That which is called considering what is our duty in a particular case is very often nothing but endeavouring to explain it away. Thus those courses which, if men would fairly attend to the dictates of their own consciences, they would see to be corruption, excess, oppression, uncharitableness; these are refined upon — things were so and so circumstantiated — great difficulties are raised about fixing bounds and degrees, and thus every moral obligation whatever may be evaded. That great numbers are in this way of deceiving themselves is certain. There is scarce a man in the world who has entirely got over all regards, hopes, and fears concerning God and a future state; and these apprehensions in the generality, bad as we are, prevail in considerable degrees: yet men will and can be wicked, with calmness and thought; we see they are. There must therefore be some method of making it sit a little easy upon their minds, which in the superstitious is those indulgences and atonements before mentioned, and this self-deceit of another kind in persons of another character. And both these proceed from a certain unfairness of mind, a peculiar inward dishonesty, the direct contrary to that simplicity which our Saviour recommends, under the notion of becoming little children, as a necessary qualification for our entering into the kingdom of heaven. But to conclude: How much soever men differ in the course of life they prefer, and in their ways of palliating and excusing their vices to themselves, yet all agree in the one thing, desiring to die the death of the righteous. This is surely remarkable. The observation may be extended further, and put thus: Even without determining what that is which we call guilt or innocence, there is no man but would choose, after having had the pleasure or advantage of a vicious action, to be free of the guilt of it, to be in the state of an innocent man. This shows at least the disturbance and implicit dissatisfaction in vice. If we inquire into the grounds of it, we shall find it proceeds partly from an immediate sense of having done evil, and partly from an apprehension that this inward sense shall one time or another be seconded by a higher judgment, upon which our whole being depends. As we are reasonable creatures, and have any regard to ourselves, we ought to lay these things plainly and honestly before our mind, and upon this act as you please, as you think most fit; make that choice and prefer that course of life which you can justify to yourselves, and which sits most easy upon your own mind. And the result of the whole can be nothing else but that with simplicity and fairness we keep innocency, and take heed unto the thing that is right, for this alone shall bring a man peace at the last.
(By. Butler.)I. WHAT DOES IT MEAN? He knew that he must die, and that after death he must live for ever. He had seen men die; he had seen the men of Aram, and Midian, and Moab die; and he bad seen the mourners sorrow for them as those who had no hope. He would not die their death. He had at least heard of other deaths, for he evidently knew much of Israel's history. He had heard of the deaths of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in other days; and, it may be, he had heard of Aaron's death on Mount Her just a short time before; and he knew how the righteous die. But the words mean more than this, for he speaks not merely of death, but of something beyond death — the last cad of the righteous. There is no repetition of the other. There is a parallelism indeed, but it is an ascending one; this second part containing more than the first; and by "last end" the seer meant resurrection — a truth far more widely known, at least among the nations in any way linked with patriarchal traditions, than is generally admitted. Balaam's prayer was, "Let me share the death of the righteous; and let me share his resurrection too." How comprehensive!
II. WHAT STATE OF FEELING DOES IT INDICATE? Sick at heart, and weary of the hollowness of his own heathenism, and all that it could give him, he cries aloud from the depths of a dissatisfied heart, "Let me die the death of the righteous." Disappointed and sorrowful, he sees the eternal brightness in the distance, with all its attraction, and in the bitterness of his spirit cries out, "Would God that I were there!" The feeling soon passes off, but while it lasts it is real. But, with all its reality, it leads to nothing. Balaam's wish is a very common one, both in its nature and in its fruitlessness. Sometimes it is a mere passing wish, called up by vexation and weariness; at other times it is a deep-breathed prayer; but in both cases it is too often ineffective, leading to nothing. Men, young as well as old, get tired of life, sick of the world and its vanities. They see that none of its pleasures can last. When it has done all it can, it still leaves them with a troubled conscience, an aching head, and an empty heart. In too many cases this desire is transient and sentimental. It leads to no action, no result. It vanishes like a bright rainbow from a dark cloud, and there is no change. Is it to be so with you? If hungry, a wish won't give you bread; or, if thirsty, a wish won't quench your thirst; or, if suffering, a wish won't soothe your pain; or, if dying, a wish won't bring back health into your pale cheek and faded eye. Yet a wish may be a good beginning. All fruit begins with buds and blossoms; and though these often come to nought, yet sometimes they end in much. That wish may be the beginning of your eternal life. It may lead to much; oh, let it lead you on!
(H. Bonar, D. D.)
1. The highest knowledge of Divine things does not ensure salvation; one who knows what it is may fail of its light, peace, and final reward.
2. In all men this law of righteousness is found, as well as the consciousness that, if followed, it will lead to good.
3. All opposition to the Church or kingdom of God must fail, because the Church is founded on that law of righteousness or right which is the law of being and the very essence of God.
4. Death and its connection with righteousness, or what it opens to the righteous.
(J. M. Hoppin, D. D.)
(A. P. Peabody.)
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
I. WHICH ARISES THIS DESIRE? I believe it arises from the conviction that those things on which we place our affections in this life are not such as will afford peace in the hour of death. They who are most blindly attached to the god of this world are among the readiest to confess the transitory nature of present things, and their utter inability to afford comfort at the last. You desire to "die the death of the righteous"; are you, then, resting your confidence on Jesus Christ as chief, and deriving happiness from other things, only as He shall be pleased to give them you? Do you look upon the world as something which must soon be left behind, and which will not, as your friends, exist in another state?
II. WHAT THAT DEATH IS, AND WHEREFORE DESIRABLE. The death-chamber of the confirmed saint of God is a scene eloquent to all who have ever beheld it. It reveals the assured faithfulness of God's promises, and shows the firm foundation of their hopes, who have made those promises the rock of their salvation. The righteous is not without bodily anguish at his last end. He knows by experience the sorrows and sufferings that are the lot of man; but he knows that his Saviour has endured them too, and it is but fitting the disciple should walk in the steps of his heavenly Master. But how tranquil is his mind amid them all, as he draws near to the last moment of his earthly career! At that hour, when the false hopes of the wicked are shaken and proved worthless, then the hopes of the righteous are increasing in brightness. The dying Christian has his times of temptation when "the swellings of Jordan" rise up around his soul. Satan sometimes is allowed to buffet him sorely. Yet "as thy day is, so thy strength shall be." And hence, amid all his depression, amid all his conflicts, as the shinings of God's love fall upon his sinking soul, his courage revives, and he can rejoice with a joy unspeakable and full of glory. The stronger his faith, the brighter are his hopes, and therefore the higher and more heavenly his joys. What says He on this subject? "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee." "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me." "If a man keep My saying, he shall never taste of death." "Them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him." "O death! I will be thy plague! O grave! I will be thy destruction!" "Right precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." These are the promises which lie thickly scattered in the pages of God's own blessed Word. Thus you have a faint idea of what the death of the righteous is — full of faith, deep confidence, and heavenly peace. Are you anxious to realise it for yourselves? well ye rosy be. How, then, is it to be gained? Not by putting off the work of salvation to the last. Though you desire the peaceful end of the righteous, are not some of you deluding yourselves in this way? Oh! what folly! How know you that your death will come preceded by a long sickness or affliction as your warning?
(R. Allen, B. A.)1. From the clearness of his views. Wise unto salvation.
2. From the strength of his faith.
3. From the firmness of his trust. Assurance that a mansion is prepared for him, and that a merciful Saviour will welcome him to glory and immortality.
4. From the slightness of the hold which this world has on him.
5. From the familiarity with which the consistent follower of the Lord regards a state of future existence.
(W. H. Marriott.)I. THE RIGHTEOUS DIE, AND IN THE SAME MANNER OUTWARDLY AS THE WICKED DO. For Christ, in His first coming, came not to redeem our bodies from death, but our souls from damnation. His second coming shall be to redeem our bodies from corruption into a "glorious liberty." Therefore wise men die as well as fools.
Use 1. It should enforce this excellent duty, that considering we have no long continuance here, therefore, while we are here, to do that wherefore we come into the world.
Use 2. And let it enforce moderation to all earthly things.
II. THE ESTATE OF THE SOUL CONTINUES AFTER DEATH. For here he wisheth to die the death of the righteous, not for any excellency in death, but in regard of the continuance of the soul after death.
Reason 1. And it discovers, indeed, that it hath a distinct life and excellency in itself, by reason that it thwarts the desires of the beady when it is in the body.
Reason 2. And we see ofttimes, when the outward man is weak, as in sickness, &c., then the understanding, will, and affections, the inward man, is most sublime, and rapt unto heaven, and is most wise.
III. THERE IS A WIDE, BROAD DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE DEATH OF THE GODLY AND OF THE WICKED. In their death they are —
1. Happy in their disposition. What is the disposition of a holy man at his end? His disposition is by faith to give himself to God, by which faith he dies in obedience; he carries himself fruitfully and comfortably in his end. And ofttimes the nearer he is to happiness, the more he lays about him to be fruitful.
2. Besides his disposition, he is happy in condition; for death is a sweet close. God and he meet; grace and glory meet; he is in heaven, as it were, before his time. What is death to him? The end of all misery, of all sin of body and soul. It is the beginning of all true happiness in both.
3. And blessed after death especially; for then we know they are in heaven, waiting for the resurrection of the body. There is a blessed change of all; for after death we have a better place, better company, better employment; all is for the better.
IV. EVEN A WICKED MAN, A WRETCHED WORLDLING, MAY SEE THIS; HE MAY KNOW THIS HAPPINESS OF GOD'S PEOPLE IN DEATH, and for ever, and yet notwithstanding may continue a cursed wretch. Use
1. Seeing this is so, it should teach us that we refuse not all that ill men say; they may have good apprehensions, and give good counsel. Use
2. It should stir us up to go beyond wicked men. Shall we not go so far as those go that shall never come to heaven? Let us therefore consider a little wherein the difference of these desires is, the desires that a Balaam may have, and the desires of a sound Christian, wherein the desires of a wicked man are failing.(1) These desires, first of all, they were but flashes: for we never read that he had them long. These enlightenings are not constant.(2) Again, this desire of this wretched man, it was not from an inward principle, an inward taste that he had of the good estate of God's children, but from an objective admiration of somewhat that was offered to his conceit by the Holy Ghost at this time.(3) Again, in the third place, this desire of the happiness of the estate of God's children, it was not working and operative, but an uneffectual desire.(4) Where desires are in truth, the party that cherisheth those desires will be willing to have all help from others to have his desire accomplished.(5) Again, true desires of grace, they are growing desires. Though they be little in the beginning, as springs are, yet as the springs grow, so do the waters that come from them. So these desires, they grow more and more still. The desires of a blessed soul, they are never satisfied till it come to heaven.(6) And then they are desires that will not be stilled. Desires, I confess, are the best character to know a Christian; for works may be hypocritical, desires are natural. Therefore we ought to consider our desires, what they are, whether true or no; for the first thing that issues: from the soul are desires and thoughts. Thoughts stir up desires. This inward immediate stirring of the soul discovers the truth of the soul better than outward things.(7) Whether we desire holiness, and the restoration of the image of God, the new creature, and to have victory against our corruptions. Balaam desired happiness, but he desired not the image of God upon his soul; for then he would not have been carried with a covetous devil against all means. No; his desire was after a glimpse of God's children's glory only. A wicked man can never desire to be in heaven as he should be; for how should he desire to be in heaven? to be freed from sin, that he may praise God and love God; that there may be no combat between the flesh and the spirit. Can he wish this? No. His happiness is as a swine to wallow in the mire, and he desires to enjoy sensible delights.
( R. Sibbes, D. D.)
Essex Remembrancer.I. THAT DEATH IS THE APPOINTED LOT OF ALL MEN.
II. THAT THE RIGHTEOUS POSSESS ADVANTAGES IN DEATH UNKNOWN TO ALL OTHERS.
1. Generally peaceful.
2. Sometimes triumphant.
3. Always safe.
III. THE PERSUASION THAT THE RIGHTEOUS POSSESS ADVANTAGES IN DEATH UNKNOWN TO ALL OTHERS, LEANS MANY TO ADOPT THE EXCLAMATION IN THE TEXT.
1. It is adopted by the trembling inquirer who has just perceived the necessity and value of true religion.
2. It is adopted by the decided Christian, whose eye is directed to the end of his course.
3. It is the language of those who partially feel the value of religion, but whose hearts are undecided before God.
4. It is the language of the openly wicked and profane. They live as sinners, but they would die as saints.
(Essex Remembrancer.)1. Balaam teaches us the uselessness, I may say the danger, of conviction without repentance, of a knowledge of what is right without an earnest pursuit of holiness.
2. And this comes nearly to the same thing as saying, that Balaam's history shows us the need of practical piety, sacrificing ourselves to God, body and soul, while we have something worthy of being sacrificed; curbing our desires and passions before they die out of themselves; living a life of obedience and submission while yet the temptation of the world is strong to follow a quite different course. What is the use of a man sighing for the death of the righteous? The death is in general like the life. A far wiser prayer than Balaam's would be this: "Give me grace to lead the life of the righteous, and let all the prime of my health and faculties be consecrated to Thee, O Lord."
3. Lastly, the death of Balaam shows us in a very striking manner the uselessness of such religious aspirations as that in which he indulged. Balaam's worst sins were committed after he had uttered the pious prayer of the text, and his end was miserable. Beware lest any of you be in like manner tempted to evil; you may see the excellence of religion; you may be even led to utter high aspirations for the rest, which remains for the people of God; but it is only a diligent walking in God s ways, a constant battle against self and sin and impurity and worldly lusts and the like, a constant serving of God in all things which He Himself has commanded, which can ensure you against making shipwreck of your faith.
(Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)I. IT IS VERY EVIDENT THAT THE RULING PASSION OF BALAAM WAS COVETOUSNESS.
II. But I wish you, further, to CONSIDER BALAAM AS THE POSSESSOR OF EXTRAORDINARY GIFTS.
III. But, lastly, we must CONSIDER BALAAM AS INFLUENCED BY STRONG RELIGIOUS CONVICTIONS. We mark them in his anxiety to ask counsel of God — in his confession of sin when withstood by the angel — in his steady determination to obey the letter of the command — and in the impassioned wish of my text, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his." Now we must not suppose that in all this Balaam was altogether insincere. His whole aim was to try to reconcile his wickedness with his duty; nevertheless, there were times when the better nature struggled hard within him. And is not this just the case of thousands in every age? Are there not many who, when under the influence of an awakened conscience, can melt into tears at the remembrance of past sins and negligences — who feel a momentary desire of attaining heaven? They are borne away by the fervour of the moment, and fancy themselves in earnest. The natural man has been wrought upon, and, for the time, you might fancy him spiritual; but the trance is over, and he is natural still. Beware, then, how you trust to occasional thoughts and feelings. All men, whatever their present life may be, agree in the desire of attaining heaven at the last. And here is the deceptive thing — that the wish for conversion may be mistaken for the act of conversion; the appearance of devotion for the reality of devotion; the elevated thought, the momentary aspiration, for the real abiding work of the Spirit of the Lord. Oh! then, for the grace to make these impressions permanent, so that they may lead onwards to greater watchfulness, more earnest prayer, and more honest strivings against the besetting sin.
(E. Bickersteth, M. A.)
(Morgan Dix, D. D.)— A Roman Catholic seeing a Protestant die in peace and triumph, is reported to have said, "If this be heresy, it makes a soft pillow to die on."
(Keenig's Life of Dr. Simpson.)
Last words of Ward Beeeher's last sermon.We are all marching thither. We are going home. Men shiver at the idea that they are going to die; but this world is only a nest. We are scarcely hatched out of it here. We do not know ourselves. We have strange feelings that do not interpret themselves. The mortal in us is crying out for the immortal. As in the night the child, waking with some vague and nameless terror, cries out to express its fears and dreads, and its cry is interpreted in the mother's heart, who runs to the child and lays her hand upon it and quiets it to sleep again, so do you not suppose that the ear of God hears our disturbances and trials and tribulations in life? Do you not suppose that He who is goodness itself cares for you? Do you suppose that He whose royal name is Love has less sympathy for you than a mother has for her babe? Let the world rock. If the foot of God is on the cradle, fear not. Look up, take courage, hope and hope to the end.
(Last words of Ward Beeeher's last sermon.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
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