Numbers 24:1
And when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not resort to sorcery as on previous occasions, but he turned his face toward the wilderness.
Balaam -- the Open EyeJ. B. Brown, B. A.Numbers 24:1-9
Balaam - the Third ParableJ. Waite Numbers 24:1-9
Balaam's Third ParableF. Whitfield, M. A.Numbers 24:1-9
Balaam's Third Parable: the Glory of the People of GodW. Jones.Numbers 24:1-9
Sermon At Reopening of a ChurchJ. Clayton, M. A.Numbers 24:1-9
The Face Set Toward the WildernessDean Vaughan.Numbers 24:1-9
The Prosperity of the ChurchBp. Babington.Numbers 24:1-9
This passage marks the period at which Balaam becomes finally convinced that it is vain for him to attempt to satisfy Balak, or to carry out the baser promptings of his own heart. He confesses his defeat. gives up his enchantments, "sets his face towards the wilderness" where the camp of Israel lay, and utters the words that God puts into his mouth. But still his spirit is not subdued, for, as we learn from verse 14, instead of casting in his lot, as he might have done, with the chosen nation, he resolves in spite of all to go back to his own people and his old ways. Combining these two features of his case, we see how a man may "approve the right and follow the wrong." It affords a striking example of

(1) true convictions followed by

(2) a false and fatal determination.

I. TRUE CONVICTIONS. Though it was by the constraint of a higher Power that Balaam uttered these words of benediction, we must regard them also as being, to a great extent, the result of his own intuitions, symptoms of the struggling of better thought and feeling within him. He was not the mere senseless medium of the spirit of prophecy. Unwillingly, but not altogether unwittingly, was he made the organ of a Divine inspiration. A bad man may utter words that are good and true, and may often be compelled by the force of outward testimony, or of the inward witness of his own conscience, to do honour to that in others which condemns himself. There are chiefly three characteristics here which find their higher counterpart in the spiritual Israel, and which her enemies, like Balaam, have often been constrained to confess.

1. Beauty. How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob! Rich valleys, stuffing gardens, lign-aloes and cedars planted beside the water-courses, are, to the poetic imagination of the seer, the fitting images of their goodly array. But what is the beauty that captivates the eye compared with that which appeals to the sensibility of the soul? All outward forms of loveliness are but the shadow and reflection of the Diviner beauties of holiness, the spiritual glory of truth, purity, goodness - the "adorning of the hidden man of the heart in that which is not corruptible." The richest Oriental imagery can but feebly represent the changing phases of this beauty. And many a man has felt the charm of it, and yet been utterly destitute of that sympathy of spirit that would move him to make it his own. It compels his admiration, but does not win his love.

2. World-wide fruitfulness. "He shall pour the water out of his buckets," &c. - the image of abundant, far-reaching beneficence. The promise to Abraham was fulfilled: "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 22:16, 17). The benefits the seed of Abraham conferred upon the human race did but foreshadow those of Christianity. It is the "light of the world," the "salt of the earth," carrying the stream of a new life over all lands, diffusing a healing influence through all the waters. Its adversaries know this, and are often constrained in spite of themselves to acknowledge it. They are themselves living witnesses to its truth, for they owe to Christianity the very culture, the spiritual force, the social advantages, the literary facilities, &e, that they turn as weapons against it.

3. Victorious power. The triumphant way in which God led forth his people out of Egypt was prophetic of the power that should always overshadow them and dwell among them; often a latent, slumbering strength like that of a crouching or sleeping lion, but irresistible when once it rouses itself to withstand their foes. Such power dwells ever in the redeemed Church. "God is in the midst of her," &c. (Psalm 46:5). "The weapons of our warfare," &c. (2 Corinthians 10:4). Nothing so strong and invincible as truth and goodness. The light must triumph over the darkness. The kingdom of Christ is a "kingdom that cannot be moved," and many a man whose heart has had no kind of sympathy with the cause of that kingdom has been unable to suppress the secret conviction that it will surely win its way, till it shall have vanquished all its enemies and covered the face of the whole earth.

II. A FALSE AND FATAL DETERMINATION. "And now, behold, I go unto my people" (verse 14). He returns to his former ways, plunges again into the darkness and foulness of idolatrous Mesopotamia, having first, it would appear, counseled Balak as to how he might corrupt with carnal fascinations the people whom it was vain for him to "curse" (see chapter Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14), and at last is slain with the sword among the Midianites (chapter 31:8; Joshua 13:22). Learn -

1. How powerless are the clearest perceptions of the truth in the ease of one whose heart is thoroughly set in him to do evil. There are those who "hold the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). "They profess that they know God, but in works they deny him" (Titus 1:16).

2. How there is often a deeper fall into the degradation of sin when such an one has been uplifted for a while by the vision and the dream of a better life. "The last state of that man is worse than the first" (Matthew 12:45). "For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness," &c. (2 Peter 2:21, 22). - W.

He set his face toward the wilderness.
Evidently there is a change at this point in Balaam's method. Hitherto he has played the soothsayer. At last he confesses himself vanquished, and instead of renewing the practices of his magic science, awaits, with eye fixed upon the waste distant desert, a revelation different in kind from any that have gone before it. It was a turning-point in his strange history. Not the first, nor the greatest, yet real, and, would he have had it so, saving. He has learned the helplessness of man striving with his Maker. He has learned the futility of approaching the God of truth with a lie in the right hand. He has learned that to "set the face toward the wilderness" is the one hope and wisdom of inquiring man; to look away from enchantments; to look away from courts and crowds, from pleasures and businesses; to look away from types and forms, and to fix the earnest gaze upon that solitude of earth and heaven which is the presence of the soul in the presence of God. The crisis was lost, we know, upon Balaam. The dreams of avarice and of worldliness prevailed in him, even over the open vision. We cannot alter his destiny; let us learn something from this incident.

1. There is in all of us a strange reluctance to the thing here described — this setting of the face toward the wilderness where God is alone. I might say many things to you of the ministerial man — the man, I mean, whose office it is to communicate with God for the edification of His people. How often, when this ministry, the Church's prophesying, is to be, exercised, does the indolent, the half-hearted, the perfunctory minister run to his "enchantments"; to his books and to his manuscripts, to his commentaries; to the old "bakemeats," his own or another's, which have done duty before, and can be made "coldly to furnish forth" another "table"! How often — to change the illustration — does the abler, the more ingenious, the more eloquent minister betake himself to his task of preparation for preaching by a mustering of his own gifts of argument, of rhetoric, of pathos and persuasiveness, as the enchantments by which he is to bring God into these hearts I How often does a man — to use the prophet's strange but expressive metaphor — "sacrifice to his net, and burn incense to his drag"; pay the homage of a gratified vanity to his own performance, count instead of weighing his hearers, and set down all to his own credit in prophesying, of which he should rather say to himself in deepest self-humiliation, "What hast thou that thou didst not receive?"

2. Yet think not that the Balaams of this age are all prophets, or that the warning is only for the professional teacher. I seem to see a place for it in these lives which minister and people live in common. How often, in the anxious questionings which life brings to all of us — at those dubious turnings which compel decision, and cannot be decided upon twice over — is the temptation powerfully present to seek for some "enchantment" of discrimination between the wrong for us and the right! Who has not made advice such an "enchantment"? "In the multitude of counsellors there is safety"; but then the counsellors must be well chosen, must be honestly sought, must be diligently informed, must be faithfully followed.

3. I would add a word upon the application of the text not to the life, but to the soul. Side by side with a bold scepticism which simply passes by the gospel on the other side there is also an anxiety, a curiosity, to hear, which secures an audience wheresoever there is a preacher, which stimulates all manner of agencies for bringing home the gospel. In the same degree the warning is more urgent, that we confound not, in these highest matters, the "enchantments" and the "wilderness." Who feels not in himself the easiness of listening and the difficulty of praying? Who is not conscious of the temptation to compound for inward torpor by outward bustle, and to make a multiplication of services and communions an apology for neglect and shameful sloth in the nearer and more intimate converse between the soul and its God?

(Dean Vaughan.)

Balaam... the man whose eyes are open. —
An open eye is a rare thing even in the matters of common experience. They are the few who can see clearly the things which God has set round them in their daily paths. Men of science tell us that it is difficult to meet with a competent observer of even the simplest and most familiar phenomena. Lawyers complain that a good witness, who can tell what he knows, and only what he knows, is as rare. It is supposed by experienced persons that a fact is just the most difficult thing in the world to get at, so few walk with their eyes open and care to make themselves simply conductors of truth. We see things through mists which take the colours of prejudice or passion, and it is but a vague outline of them which meets our sight. "Lord, that our eyes may be opened," is a prayer full of meaning for all of us as we move amidst the realities of our daily lives. In the higher sphere of the being the open eye is rarer still. The realities in that region are solemn things to look upon. There is something awful in their grandeur, and even in their beauty. A man needs courage and faith to face them as they are.

I. Balaam was A MAN WHOSE EYE WAS OPEN IN HIS DAY. He was a man of splendid natural genius. We puzzle over the definition of genius; but perhaps it is only the open eye, the power to see things simply as they are. In every sphere of man's intellectual activity the man of genius is the seer.

II. Balaam's is at the same time A CHARACTER OF SINGULAR PERPLEXITY. He had both the open eye and the itching palm. And this condition is far from rare. Splendid endowments are often mated with moral narrowness or feebleness. With many of these men of insight, men with the seer's power, there is a flaw in the thoroughness somewhere. But then these men, when their genius possesses them, rise above the sphere of their humiliation; the temptations which ensnare them snap like the withes of Samson; they see clearly, and declare with the freedom and the force of prophets the things which have been shown to them by the Lord. Lord Bacon may have been capable of very poor ambitions, very grovelling thoughts and actions; but when his genius possessed him, when he loosed his splendid faculty in the quest of truth, the simplest fact became sacred to him; he would not have dared to misrepresent or to tamper with what he saw for worlds. It was thus with Balaam. On the lower level of his life he was grovelling; but when God took possession of his genius he yielded it readily, and then he was true as steel to the vision.

III. THE MAN WHOSE EYES WERE OPEN SAW SOME THINGS WITH STARTLING CLEARNESS. Some words of his ring out like trumpet notes through the field of life's battle; they are conceived with a vividness and expressed with a force which makes them prophetic for all ages; we hear from his lips the words of God.

1. The only word which a man can say with power is truth. The word that God also saith, that shall stand (Numbers 22:38). The counsellor who knows the Divine plan is the man who has power. The position of the Jews among the nations, and the influence which they wielded, which is popularly much under-estimated, rested wholly on the fact that they knew as no other nation knew the Divine counsels, they held the key to the mystery of all these worlds. Balaam saw that the trickster and liar is impotent. Laocoon, locked in the serpent wreaths, wrestling madly, but with the death agony in his face, is not more powerless than the monger of falsehood to escape his doom. The gain is there, it is always there; you can have it if you like by cheating and lying. Balaam saw it, and there was that within him which longed for it. But his eye was open; he dared not touch it. He saw the pure folly as well as the shame of dreaming of it, of thinking that anything but truth, right, and the blessing of God can stand a man in any stead in life, in death, and in the great court of Heaven.

2. He saw with that open eye that the man who stands with God stands absolutely beyond the reach of harm (Numbers 23:23).

3. There was a third thing that Balaam saw. The man whom God blesses is blessed; the man whom God curses is cursed, absolutely and for ever.

(J. B. Brown, B. A.)

How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob.
With great admiration he beginneth to declare the future prosperity of that people, and doth it by six similitudes.

1. As the valleys are they stretched forth, or as the rivers say some, which coming from one head spread themselves into great broad waters, so this people having sprung from Jacob, one patriarch, hath spread into this multitude, and yet further shall spread into many more.

2. "As gardens by the river's side." Such gardens are watered so by the rivers as if the heat be never so great, yet they are not burned up. So shall this people in all adversities and dangers be preserved by the power and blessing of God till the coming of the Messiah, and overcome by no assaults of Satan and his instruments.

3. "As the trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted."

4. "As the cedar trees beside the waters," which, growing to a great height, notably show how this people with their offspring should wonderfully grow with their virtue and famous acts, getting a great name in the world.

5. "The water droppeth out of his bucket"; that is, as such water floweth abroad, so shall this people abound with the water of heavenly doctrine and wisdom, and from them be spread to other nations plentifully, according to that "Out of Sion shall a law go, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."

6. "His seed shall be in many waters." As seed that is cast into a field well watered soon springeth and beareth fruit, so this people. These are the prophetical resemblances of this people Israel, which do still declare unto us the flourishing and happy state of God's Church, whatsoever worldly men conceive and think. The Church is the tabernacle of God, wherein He dwelleth, and familiarly with His chosen as with His domestics and household servants converseth, providing things necessary both for this life and that to come. The Church is that little river which spreadeth itself far and wide throughout the world. The Church is that well-watered garden, set with sweet trees casting forth the fragrant smell of life, of the knowledge of God and of virtue, whereof Solomon in his Canticles: "My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, as a spring shut up, and a fountain sealed up." The Church is that shadow that yieldeth comfortable cooling, in the sense and feeling of God's wrath to sin. It is that cedar planted by the water-side, and growing so high, whereof the prophet in the Psalm: "The righteous shall flourish like a palm-tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Such as be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in their age; they shall be fat and flourishing," &c. The Church is that bucket, containing doctrine of life, and dropping it out to the comfort of souls. Finally, that seed shall live again in the life to come, and for ever spring and flourish.

(Bp. Babington.)


1. Balaam renounces the search for auguries.

2. He beholds the encampment of Israel.

3. He is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

4. He hears Divine words and sees Divine visions.


1. Their beautiful appearance.

(1)Beauty —
(a) Of order.
(b) Of culture and fertility.



2. Their prosperous condition.

3. Their exalted position.

4. Their conquering power.

(1)Great strength.

(2)Great conquests.

(3)Great security.

(4)Great influence.

(W. Jones.)

Seen from the top of the rocks, everything about Israel is perfection. Had we been down in the valley, and looked into them from an earthly standpoint, we should have seen deformity enough. But from God's presence everything is changed. But mark the figures under which this beauty is described. "As valleys are they spread forth." These are the valleys watered by the river; these are the people of God, made beautiful by the refreshing streams of living water which flow down from the throne of God. Not yet are they as watered "valleys," but as "gardens by the river's side." This is a richer description still. They are the garden of the Lord. They are the plants planted by the Father. They have been taken out of the world — transplanted — and are now to "bring forth much fruit." The streams from "the river of God" find their way to the roots of their spiritual life; and thus they become fruitful. Jesus is the source of their life and their fruitfulness. And in all this we see growth — "as the valleys are they spread forth; as gardens by the river's side." The entire figure implies sanctification — growth in grace. There will always be three kinds of growth where the soul is really abiding in Jesus. There will be the outward growth as the "lily" — the life before men; the hidden growth as the "roots" of Lebanon — the life before God; and the relation toward men as the "branches spreading," the influence which they cast around. But the figure grows in richness: "as trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted." The aloe tree was highly valued on account of its fragrance, and it was the tree from which the incense was prepared. Thus the believer abiding in Jesus is a " sweet savour" of Christ. The fragrance of that blessed One is diffused far and wide through him. He is beautiful with the beauty which the Lord puts upon him. His "scent is as the wine of Lebanon." And to what cause is all this fragrance due? To the "Lord's planting." There is one more step in advance in the spiritual life in this verse: "as cedar trees beside the waters." As the "lily" and "trees of Lebanon" in the passage, in Hosea, so here. The growth of the believer is brought before us under the loftiness of the cedar tree, its luxuriance, and the durability of its wood. Now, having noticed what the people of God are as seen in Jesus, let us mark their testimony. "He shall pour the water out of his buckets." The people of God are personified, as a man carrying two pails overflowing with water. A bucket or vessel is empty. It can give nothing. It can only receive. The "buckets" are the "empty vessels" to be filled with "living water" by the Holy Ghost. Like the two pails on a man's shoulder which are filled to the brim, he cannot move a step without the water overflowing. So with the believer abiding in Jesus. He is the empty vessel filled by the Holy Ghost. He cannot move a step without making that influence felt. There will be a trail of living water in his path — a track of light in every step of the way. And oh, what empty places there are within us and around us! Within us — desires, affections, longings, hopes, aims, plans; without us — home, duties, efforts, a weeping Church, and a dying world. Oh, that these "buckets" were filled with the "living water"! Then would gladness be written as with a sunbeam on every brow, and sunshine light up every heart. "His seed shall be in many waters." This is the effect of the outpoured water from the buckets of the believer's soul. He is made a blessing on every side. "His king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted." Christ the King of the Jews is to be "higher" than all the kings of this world; and Christ's kingdom "exalted" above all other kingdoms. All this glory is then traced to the first great act of redemption "God brought him forth out of Egypt." Thus deliverance from Egypt and future glory are linked together. "He hath as it were the strength of the buffalo." Here is the power of God abiding with, and resting upon, those whom He has redeemed. Then follows, in connection with their redemption from Egypt, that final triumph and glory. "He shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows." This is the foretold destruction mentioned in the New Testament, which awaits all the enemies of the Lord at His coming. But in the meantime the attitude of the Church of Christ is one of expectation. Her attitude is not one of judgment yet, but one of grace. This is strikingly brought before us in the next clause; "he couched, he lay down as a lion." The "couching" of the lion is always the attitude of expectation — looking forward to the moment when he shall spring upon his prey. "Lying down" indicates rest. The believer now rests in Jesus, and awaits His return. In the meantime blessing is his portion — "blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee." And we notice how the blessing culminates here. The first was, "How shall I curse, or how shall I defy?" After it was, "He hath blessed, and I cannot reverse it." Lastly, it is "Blessed is he that blesseth thee." This last form in which Balaam expresses himself shows us God's estimate of His people Israel. "He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye."

(F. Whitfield, M. A.)


1. On account of the author of their construction.

2. The beneficial effect of their institution.

3. The pleasantness of their unity.

4. The joys of their fellowships.

5. Their perpetuity, and the certainty of their increase.


1. Cherish a spirit of gratitude for the establishment and increase of these tents of God.

2. Shun all that would impair, and diligently maintain all that would secure the blessing.(1) Guard against lukewarmness, as that which would deface the beauty of ordinances, and rob us of the advantages we might receive from their celebration.(2) Take care of holding the truth in unrighteousness.(3) Be cautious not to violate the true spirit of love.(4) Preserve the vigour of wholesome, salutary discipline; so that the testimony may be borne you from on high, "I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience," &c.(5) Follow up all with importunate prayer. "Peace be within thy walls, &c. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem," &c.

3. Endeavour to increase the number of those who frequent the tabernacles, and dwell in the tents of Jacob. Imitate the tribes when ambulating in the wilderness. Remember that you are surrounded by those who have no hope. Tell them plainly that you are pilgrims and strangers. Inform them of the privileges you enjoy by the way; of the manna which drops by your door; of the streams which flow from the rock Christ; of the light which guides your feet; of the cloud which screens you from temptation; of the victories you obtain over your foes; of the prospect you have of passing through Jordan safely; and of the rich land of promise which you are shortly about to enter. Press on them not to linger.

4. Anticipate the time when your tents will be struck, and all the ransomed tribes assemble in the tabernacle above. These tents of the Israelites were valuable as they traversed the sands of Arabia; but they left them when they entered on the rest which their prophets had predicted, and their poets sung. And what are our temples? They are only preparatory for the enjoyments of the Canaan above. May it be your privilege to join the tribes of the redeemed as they go up to Zion with everlasting joy upon their heads!

(J. Clayton, M. A.)

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