Numbers 22:6
Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land: for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.
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(6) Curse me this people.—Balak undoubtedly believed in the efficacy of Balaam’s magical incantations. It is deserving of observation, moreover, that, as has been remarked by Keil (in loc.), “it is frequently celebrated as a great favour displayed towards Israel that the Lord did not hearken to Balaam, but turned the curse into a blessing” (Deuteronomy 23:5; Joshua 24:10; Nehemiah 13:2).



Numbers 22:5

Give a general outline of the history. See Bishop Butler’s great sermon.

I. How much knowledge and love of good there may be in a bad man.

Balaam was a prophet:

{a} He knew something of the divine character,

{b} He knew what righteousness was {Micah 5:8}.

{c} He knew of a future state, and longed for ‘the last end of the righteous.’

He would not break the law of God, and curse by word of mouth:

But yet for all that he wanted to curse. He wanted to do the wrong thing, and that made him bad. And when he durst not do it in one way, he did it in another.

So he is a picture of the universal blending and mixture that there is even in bad men.

It is not knowledge that makes a man good.

It is not aspirations after righteousness. These dwell more or less in all souls.

It is not desire ‘to go to heaven’-everybody has that desire.

Perfectly vicious men are devils. There is always the blending.

Many of us are trusting to these vagrant wishes, but my friends, it is not what a man would sometimes like, but what the whole set and tenor of his life tends towards, that makes him. There may be plenty of backwater eddies and cross-currents in the sea, but the tide goes on all the same.

‘All these fancies and their whole array

One cunning bosom sin blows quite away,’

‘Let no man deceive you; he that doeth righteousness is righteous.’

Do not trust your convictions; they are powerless in the fight.

II. How men may deceive themselves about their condition, or the self-illusions and compromises of sin.

These convictions will never, by themselves, keep a man from evil, but they may lead men to try to compromise, just as Balaam did. He would go, but he would not, for the life of him, curse; and he evidently thought that he was a hero in firmness and a martyr to duty.

He would not curse in words, but he did it in another way-by means of Baal-peor.

So we find men making compromises between duty and inclination; keeping the letter and breaking the spirit; obeying in some respects and indemnifying themselves for their obedience by their disobedience in others; very devout, attentive to all religious observances, and yet sinning on. And we find such men playing tricks upon themselves, and really deluding themselves into the idea that they are very good men!

This is the great characteristic of sin, its deceitfulness. It always comes as an ‘angel of light,’ like some of those weird stories in which we read about a strange guest at a banquet who discloses a skeleton below the wedding garment!

‘Father of lies.’ ‘Nihil imbecillius denudato diabolo.’ The more one sins, the less capable he becomes of discerning evil. Conscience becomes sophisticated, and it is always possible to refine away its judgments.

‘By reason of use have their senses exercised to discern.’ ‘Take heed lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.’

III. The absurdity and unreasonableness of unrighteousness.

We look at Balaam, and think, how could a man purpose anything so foolish as to go on seeking for an opportunity to break a law which he knew to be irrevocable!

Yet what did he do but what every sinner does?

All sin is the breach of law which at the very moment of breaking is known to be imperative.

All sin is thus the overbearing of conscience, or the sophistication of conscience, and all sin is the incurring voluntarily of consequences which at the moment are or might be known to be certain, and far overbalancing any fancied ‘wages of unrighteousness.’

Thus all sin is the overbearing of reason or the sophisticating of reason by passion. Men know the absurdity of sin, and yet men will go on sinning. ‘A rogue is a roundabout fool.’ All wrongdoing is a mighty blunder. It is only righteousness which is congruous with a man’s reason, with a man’s conscience, with a man’s highest happiness. ‘The fear of the Lord,’ that is wisdom.

IV. The wages of unrighteousness.

How Balaam’s experiment ended-his death. He tried to make the ‘best of both worlds,’ so he ran with the hare and hunted with the hounds, and this was how it ended, as it always does, as it always will. How death ends all the illusions, sternly breaks down all the compromises, reveals all the absurdities!

Men are one thing or the other. Learn, then, the lesson that no gifts, no talents, no convictions, no aspirations will avail.

Let this sad figure which looks out upon us with grey streaming hair and uplifted hands from beside the altar on Pisgah speak to us.

How near the haven it is possible to be cast away! Like Bunyan’s way to hell from near the gate of the celestial city.

Balaam said, ‘Let me die the death of the righteous!’ and his death was thus:-’Balaam they slew with the sword,’ and his epitaph is ‘Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness,’ got them, and perished!

Numbers 22:6. Curse me this people — Agreeably to a superstitious opinion which prevailed in ancient times, that some men were so much in favour with the gods, that by prayers or imprecations they were able to prosper or blast the designs, not only of particular persons, but of whole armies. Among the worshippers of the true God, the blessings or imprecations of the inspired prophets were, indeed, very justly to be regarded, as being proper predictions of prosperity or disaster; see Genesis 49:1-2; and

2 Kings 2:24. But it is certain that false prophets, or the worshippers of idols, having no intercourse with God, who alone presides over futurity, but relying only upon delusive and diabolical arts, were mere pretenders to that privilege, which the truly inspired prophets enjoyed.

22:1-14 The king of Moab formed a plan to get the people of Israel cursed; that is, to set God against them, who had hitherto fought for them. He had a false notion, that if he could get some prophet to pray for evil upon them, and to pronounce a blessing upon himself and his forces, that then he should be able to deal with them. None had so great a reputation as Balaam; and Balak will employ him, though he send a great way for him. It is not known whether the Lord had ever spoken to Balaam, or by him, before this; though it is probable he had, and it is certain he did afterwards. Yet we have abundant proof that he lived and died a wicked man, an enemy to God and his people. And the curse shall not come upon us if there is not a cause, even though men utter it. To prevail with Balaam, they took the wages of unrighteousness, but God laid restraint upon Balaam, forbidding him to curse Israel. Balaam was no stranger to Israel's cause; so that he ought to have answered the messengers at once, that he would never curse a people whom God had blessed; but he takes a night's time to consider what he should do. When we parley with temptations, we are in great danger of being overcome. Balaam was not faithful in returning God's answer to the messengers. Those are a fair mark for Satan's temptation, who lessen Divine restraints; as if to go against God's law were only to go without his leave. The messengers also are not faithful in returning Balaam's answer to Balak. Thus many are abused by the flatteries of those about them, and are prevented from seeing their own faults and follies.Balaam the son of Beor was from the first a worshipper in some sort of the true God; and had learned some elements of pure and true religion in his home in the far East, the cradle of the ancestors of Israel. But though prophesying, doubtless even before the ambassadors of Balak came to him, in the name of the true God, yet prophecy was still to him as before a mere business, not a religion. The summons of Balak proved to be a crisis in his career: and he failed under the trial. When the gold and honors of Balak seemed to be finally lost, he became reckless and desperate; and, as if in defiance, counseled the evil stratagem by which he hoped to compass indirectly that ruin of God's people which he had been withheld from working otherwise. He thus, like Judas and Ahithophel, set in motion a train of events which involved his own destruction.

The name Balaam signifies "destroyer," or "glutton," and is in part identical with "Bela, son of Beor," the first king of Edom Genesis 36:32. The name "Beor" ("to burn up") is that of the father, or possibly ancestor, of the prophet.

Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people - Rather, Pethor which was ... land. Pethor (Pitru, Assyrian) was on the river Sagura (modern: Sajur) near its junction with the Euphrates.

6. Come … curse me this people—Among the heathen an opinion prevailed that prayers for evil or curses would be heard by the unseen powers as well as prayers for good, when offered by a prophet or priest and accompanied by the use of certain rites. Many examples are found in the histories of the Greeks and Romans of whole armies being devoted to destruction, and they occur among the natives of India and other heathen countries still. In the Burmese war, magicians were employed to curse the British troops. Curse me this people, i.e. curse them for my sake and benefit; use thy utmost power, which thou hast with thy gods or infernal spirits, to blast and ruin them.

That we may smite them; thou by thy magical imprecations, and I by my sword joined with them. He had some experience of, or, at least, a great confidence in, Balaam’s skill and power in these matters.

Come now, therefore, I pray thee,.... To my country, city, and court:

curse me this people; by imprecations on them; and which being attended with various rites and ceremonies, brought calamities on persons, which men of Balaam's character were supposed to have power to do:

for they are too mighty for me; to oppose and subdue by force of arms; and therefore was obliged to have recourse to such arts and methods he was master of; suggesting, that he was able to do more by his divinations than could be effected by an army of men:

peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land; there is hope, by taking such measures, that they may be prevailed over and conquered; and that, together with your curses, and my army, we may be able to smite them, and destroy them; you with your tongue, and I and my people with the sword, and so drive them quite out of the land, and get a clear riddance of them:

for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed; so high an opinion had the king of Moab of this soothsayer and diviner, from the report he had had of the mighty feats done by him; as, that those for whom he asked for blessings from heaven had them, and those on whom he imprecated evils, they came upon them; and this was a prevailing custom among the Heathens in later times, and particularly the Romans; not only to endeavour to get the gods of the people from them they were at war with, and whose cities they besieged, praying that they would leave such places, cities, and their temples; but also wished evils to cities and armies, and prayed the gods to fill them with flight, fear, and terror, and that such evils might come upon them, which had on others (d).

(d) Vid. Macrob. Saturnal. l. 3. c. 9.

Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land: for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.
Verse 6. - I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed. This was the language of flattery intended to secure the prophet's services. No doubt, however, Balak, like other heathens, had a profound though capricious belief in the real effect of curses and anathemas pronounced by men who had private intercourse and influence with the unseen powers. That error, like most superstitions, was the perversion of a truth; there are both benedictions and censures which, uttered by human lips, carry with them the sanction and enforcement of Heaven. The error of antiquity lay in ignorance or forgetfulness that, as water cannot rise higher than its source, so neither blessing nor cursing can possibly take any effect beyond the will and purpose of the Father of our souls. Balaam knew this, but it was perhaps his misfortune to have been trained from childhood to maintain his position and his wealth by trading upon the superstitions of his neighbours. Numbers 22:6Balak sent messengers to Balaam to Pethor in Mesopotamia. The town of Pethor, or Pethora (Φαθοῦρα, lxx), is unknown. There is something very uncertain in Knobel's supposition, that it is connected with Φαθοῦσαι, a place to the south of Circessium (Zozim. iii. 14), and with the Βέθαννα mentioned by Ptolemy, v. 18, 6, and that these are the same as Anah, Ἀναθώ, "Anatha (Ammian. Marcell. xxiv. 1, 6). And the conjecture that the name is derived from פּתר, to interpret dreams (Genesis 41:8), and marks the place as a seat of the possessors of secret arts, is also more than doubtful, since פּשׁר corresponds to פּתר in Aramaean; although there can be no doubt that Pethor may have been a noted seat of Babylonian magi, since these wise men were accustomed to congregate in particular localities (cf. Strabo, xvi. 1, 6, and Mnter Relig. der Babyl. p. 86). Balak desired Balaam to come and curse the people of Israel, who had come out of Egypt, and were so numerous that they covered the eye of the earth (see Exodus 10:5), i.e., the whole face of the land, and sat down (were encamped) opposite to him; that he might then perhaps be able to smite them and drive them out of the land. On ארה for אר, the imperative of ארר, see Ewald, 228, b. - "For I know that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed." Balak believed, in common with the whole of the ancient world, in the real power and operation of the curses, anathemas, and incantations pronounced by priests, soothsayers, and goetae. And there was a truth at the foundation of this belief, however it may have been perverted by heathenism into phantasy and superstition. When God endows a man with supernatural powers of His word and Spirit, he also confers upon him the power of working upon others in a supernatural way. Man, in fact, by virtue of the real connection between his spirit and the higher spiritual world, is able to appropriate to himself supernatural powers, and make them subservient to the purpose of sin and wickedness, so as to practise magic and witchcraft with them, arts which we cannot pronounce either mere delusion or pure superstition, since the scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments speak of witchcraft, and condemn it as a real power of evil and of the kingdom of darkness. Even in the narrative itself, the power of Balaam to bless and to curse is admitted; and, in addition to this, it is frequently celebrated as a great favour displayed towards Israel, that the Lord did not hearken to Balaam, but turned the curse into a blessing (Deuteronomy 23:5; Joshua 24:10; Micah 6:3; Nehemiah 13:2). This power of Balaam is not therefore traced, it is true, to the might of heathen deities, but to the might of Jehovah, whose name Balaam confessed; but yet the possibility is assumed of his curse doing actual, and not merely imaginary, harm to the Israelites. Moreover, the course of the history shows that in his heart Balaam was very much inclined to fulfil the desire of the king of the Moabites, and that this subjective inclination of his was overpowered by the objective might of the Spirit of Jehovah.
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