And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.
This was a brave answer, but it was spoilt by what Balaam added: "Tarry ye here this night, that I may know what the Lord will say unto me more." As if God were likely to change His mind! The word "tarry" was a clear tampering with the voice of God. Balaam met his death at the hands of the people whom he had betrayed into sin. We may learn the following lessons from his life:—
I. The first is to beware of tampering with conscience. When we are tempted, conscience stands in the way as an adversary, flashes before us some great word of God, forbidding us to do what we were bent on doing. Well for us if we do not struggle with that angel adversary, if, at the sight of his glittering sword, we bow down and say, "I have sinned"!
II. We learn from the life of Balaam how vain are good wishes when separated from good actions. We must live the life of the righteous if we would die the death of the righteous.
"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord." But such a death must be preceded by a life "in the Lord."
R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 3rd series, p. 109.
Reference: S. Baring-Gould, One Hundred Sermon Sketches, p. 178.
Numbers 22:20-22In the story of Balaam we have a seeming contradiction. God said, "If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them," and yet "God's anger was kindled because he went." How can these things be?
I. When God sent this message to Balaam, it was not the first time that Balaam had sought an answer from God on this very subject of whether he should go or not. Something had made him fear to go and speak the bitter curse till he had learned the pleasure of God. His wishes may well be supposed to have been all in one direction; his conscience alone restrained him. In the night came a message from God: "Thou shalt not go." But Balaam persuaded himself that what was wrong yesterday might be right to-day, and that what was God's will at one time might not be God's will at another. God answered the fool according to his folly, and as the wretched man had dared to think of tampering with God, God rewarded him (if we may use the word) by tampering with him. God suffered him to "believe a lie." The lie was but the reflection of the wishes that were lording it in the heart of Balaam, and to these wishes God for a time gave him over.
II. Men are doing precisely as Balaam did every day. Temptation to self-aggrandisement of various kinds comes before us; the only condition is a course of action about the lawfulness of which we, are in doubt. We look to see if for some little swerving from the rigorous path of virtue some excuse may not be found. We ask for guidance, perchance with a divided heart, and then, if God speaks to us at all, it is a voice which speaks to a conscience that has become confused and a judgment that has suffered itself to be dispirited, and though the voice may seem to be the voice of God, it is indeed only a lie.
A. Jessopp, Norwich School Sermons, p. 149.
References: Numbers 22:20-22.—T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. vi., p. 39. Numbers 22:22-35.—Parker, vol. iii., p. 315. Numbers 22:22-36.—Expositor, 2nd series. vol. v., p. 120 Numbers 22:23.—A. Watson, Christ's Authority, and Other Sermons, p. 284. Numbers 22:26.—C. J. Vaughan, My Son, Give Me thine Heart, p. 61; Sermons/or Boys and Girls, 1880, p. 376. Numbers 22:27.—S. Baring-Gould, The Preacher's Pocket, p. 167. Numbers 22:28-30.—Expositor, 1st series, vol. i., p. 366; vol. viii., p. 397; Parker, Christian Chronicle, April 2nd and 9th, 1885; S. Greg, A Layman's Legacy, p. 244. Numbers 22:34.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 113. Numbers 22:34, Numbers 22:35.—F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 4th series, p. 34; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 316. Numbers 22:37.—Parker, vol. iv., p. 59.
Numbers 22:38The first and most general account of Balaam would be this: that he was a very eminent person in his age and country, that he was courted and gained by the enemies of Israel, that he promoted a wicked cause in a very wicked way, that he counselled the Moabites to employ their women as a means of seducing the chosen people into idolatry, and that he fell in battle in the war which ensued. Yet when we look into Balaam's history closely, we shall find points of character which may well interest those who do not consider his beginning and his end.
I. He was blessed with God's especial favour. Not only had he the grant of inspiration and the knowledge of God's will, an insight into the truths of morality clear and enlarged, such as we Christians cannot surpass, but he was even admitted to conscious intercourse with God, such as we Christians have not.
II. Balaam was, in the ordinary sense of the word, a very conscientious man. He prayed before taking a new step. He strictly obeyed the commands of God. He said and he did; he acted according to his professions. He showed no inconsistency in word or deed.
III. The strange thing is that while he so spoke and acted, he seemed as in one sense to be in God's favour, so in another and higher to be under His displeasure. Balaam obeyed God from a sense of its being right to do so, but not from a desire to please Him, not from fear and love. His endeavour was, not to please God, but to please self without displeasing God, to pursue his own ends as far as was consistent with his duty. Hence he was not content with ascertaining God's will; he attempted to change it. His asking twice was tempting God. As a punishment God gave him leave to ally himself with His enemies and take part against His people.
IV. The following reflections are suggested by the history of Balaam: (1) We see how little we can depend in judging of right and wrong on the apparent excellence and high character of individuals. (2) We sin without being aware of it, yet wrath is abroad and in our paths. (3) When we have begun an evil course, we cannot retrace our steps. (4) God gives us warnings now and then, but does not repeat them. Balaam's sin consisted in not acting on what was told him once for all.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. iv., p. 18; also Selection from the same, p. 319.
References: Num 22—Parker, vol. iii., p. 303. Num 22-24.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 353; Parker, vol. iii., pp. 322, 331. Num 22-25.—W. M. Taylor, Moses the Lawgiver, p. 388; J. Monro Gibson, The Mosaic Era, p. 295. Numbers 23:1-26.—Expositor, 2nd series, vol. v., p. 199.
And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.
And Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field. And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time.
He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me:
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.
And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came unto Balaam, and spake unto him the words of Balak.
And he said unto them, Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the LORD shall speak unto me: and the princes of Moab abode with Balaam.
And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?
And Balaam said unto God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me, saying,
Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which covereth the face of the earth: come now, curse me them; peradventure I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out.
And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.
And Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes of Balak, Get you into your land: for the LORD refuseth to give me leave to go with you.
And the princes of Moab rose up, and they went unto Balak, and said, Balaam refuseth to come with us.
And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.
And they came to Balaam, and said to him, Thus saith Balak the son of Zippor, Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from coming unto me:
For I will promote thee unto very great honour, and I will do whatsoever thou sayest unto me: come therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people.
And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more.
Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will say unto me more.
And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do.
And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.
And God's anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.
And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.
But the angel of the LORD stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side.
And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam's foot against the wall: and he smote her again.
And the angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.
And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam's anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.
And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?
And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.
And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? And he said, Nay.
Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.
And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me:
And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive.
And Balaam said unto the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.
And the angel of the LORD said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.
And when Balak heard that Balaam was come, he went out to meet him unto a city of Moab, which is in the border of Arnon, which is in the utmost coast.
And Balak said unto Balaam, Did I not earnestly send unto thee to call thee? wherefore camest thou not unto me? am I not able indeed to promote thee to honour?
And Balaam said unto Balak, Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say any thing? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak.
And Balaam went with Balak, and they came unto Kirjathhuzoth.
And Balak offered oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes that were with him.
And it came to pass on the morrow, that Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into the high places of Baal, that thence he might see the utmost part of the people.