And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams.
The subject of prophecy is one which certainly ought not to be altogether neglected. If it were only for the sake of the many appeals made to it by our Lord and His Apostles, it would have a just claim on our attention.
I. It is a very misleading notion of prophecy if we regard it as an anticipation of history. History, in our common sense of the term, is busy with particular nations, times, places, actions, and even persons. If, in this sense, prophecy were a history written beforehand, it would alter the very condition of humanity, by removing from us our uncertainty as to the future; it would make us acquainted with those times and seasons which the Father hath put in His own power.
II. What history does not and cannot do, that prophecy does, and for that very reason it is very different from history. Prophecy fixes our attention on principles, on good and evil, on truth and falsehood, on God and on His enemy. Prophecy is God's voice, speaking to us respecting the issue in all time of that great struggle which is the real interest of human life, the struggle between good and evil. Beset as we are by evil within us and without, it is the natural and earnest question of the human mind, What shall be the end at last? And the answer is given by prophecy that it shall be well at last, that there shall be a time when good shall perfectly triumph.
III. Thus, as in the text, Balak, king of the Moabites, calls upon Balaam the prophet to curse Israel. This is the history: on the one hand there was one people; on the other there was another. Mere history can find no difficulty in determining that the highest good to unborn generations of the human race was involved in the preservation of Israel. It is the comparative good and evil which history can discern in the two nations which determines their respective characters as the representatives at that time and place of that real good and evil whose contest is the enduring subject of prophecy.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. vi., p. 333.
Reference: Numbers 23:9.—J. Hamilton, Works, vol. v., pp. 281, 292; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 232.
Numbers 23:10This is a thought in which all the world would agree, if they could speak out their real feelings. Those who are most backward and unwilling to lead the life of the righteous man—even they would wish to die the righteous man's death.
I. By the death of the righteous is not meant merely a happy end, but any circumstances of death whatever after a holy and obedient life. The worst death of those who are accounted righteous before God is better than the best and easiest death of an unrighteous person.
II. Nothing can exceed the apparent truth and piety of Balaam's thoughts concerning death. Yet at the time he uttered them he was about the devil's work, doing all he could to corrupt souls, and make God and man enemies to each other, for the sake of a little filthy lucre. His words have passed into a kind of proverb, as describing a happy death. His own death was perhaps the most miserable of all that are recorded in the Old Testament.
III. Let no man, therefore, deceive himself, nor imagine that all is as yet tolerably right between him and his God, because he feels his heart warm at devout expressions like this of Balaam; because, when he thinks of it, he would wish to die the death of the righteous. Do not rest satisfied with anything short of consistent Christian practice. Other ways may make you comfortable for a time, but this will bring a man peace at the last.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to Tracts for the Times, vol. iv., p. 63.
I. Balaam was half converted, and so he was not converted at all. He would not wholly part with his besetting sin, and so it mastered him and destroyed him. He would not serve God more than he thought he need, and so he ended in deadly opposition to God, disserving God as greatly as he could, and seducing others from His service, and so soon as he had finished his work of evil losing his life and his soul.
II. What the direct warnings or inspirations of God were to Balaam, that God's voice in His word and in our consciences is to us. The special sin of Balaam was that he indulged and fed with his heart's blood one darling passion (covetousness), and that, not daring or wishing to go against the direct command of God, he tried in every way he could to evade it. While our soul keeps back one thing, while we are contriving in one thing to cheat our conscience and hold back part of the price from God, all is but Balaam-service; we are as yet none of His.
E. B. Pusey, Lenten Sermons, p. 69.
References: Numbers 23:10.—F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 4th series, p. 42; H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii., p. 218; T. T. Munger, The Appeal to Life, p. 109; M. Dix, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, p. 1; Sermons for the Christian Seasons, 1st series, vol. ii., p. 493; C. C. Bartholomew, Sermons chiefly Practical, p. 1; E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, 1st series, p. 210; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii, No. 746; New Manual of Sunday-school Addresses, p. 258; C. J. Vaughan, Harrow Sermons, 2nd series, p. 247; E. Bickersteth, Oxford Lent Sermons, 1858, No. 11; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. viii., p. 218, and vol. xii., p. 221; G. Calthrop, Pulpit Recollections, p. 42; S. Leathes, Truth and Life, p. 86; R. Heber, Parish Sermons, p. 354; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 335, and vol. vii., p. 290; Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 2nd series, p. 17; I. Williams, Characters of the Old Testament, p. 126.
Numbers 23:11-12I. Balaam is a heathen prophet; he is certainly not produced as a favourable specimen of one. In the New Testament he is represented as the very type of false and evil teachers. Yet the teaching of Balaam is not ascribed to an evil spirit, but to God; he is not treated as a mere pretender to powers which were not his; his knowledge and foresight are acknowledged as real.
II. How then was Balaam a false prophet? His predictions were confirmed; what he spoke of the goodly tents of Israel was fulfilled more perfectly than he dreamed; the star which he saw in his vision did actually arise and shine upon Gentiles as well as Hebrews. That test of truth the prophet Balaam could well endure. But a man may be false though all his words are true, though he has gifts and endowments of the highest order, though these gifts and endowments proceed, as all proceed, from God.
III. You will not find that Isaiah is true and Balaam false because the one received communications from God and the other did not, nor because Isaiah belonged to the covenant people and Balaam did not. But you will find that Isaiah lived for his people, and not for himself; that he did not value himself upon his gifts, or upon his holiness, or upon anything whatsoever that belonged to him as an individual. The certainty, under every possible discouragement and conflict, that the righteous God would prevail over all that was unrighteous in the universe, the willingness to be made an instrument in carrying out God's purposes, let what would come of him or his character—this is the sign of the true prophet; this is what separates him from the solitary self-seeker, who shrank from the thought of God appearing to set the world right, who only wished when his wishes were purest that he might die the death of the righteous.
F. D. Maurice, Patriarchs and Lawgivers of the Old Testament, p. 221.
References: Numbers 23:19.—C. Kingsley, The Gospel of the Pentateuch, p. 172; H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2640.
Numbers 23:21There are three special thoughts which come to us in connection with this text.
I. The first is, the absolute need, if the army of the Lord is to conquer, of the presence of the Lord and of the realisation of His presence by those who are called by His name, and wear His armour, and wield His weapons. It pleases the Lord to let us fight His battles, to give us His armour and His weapons, and to inspire us with His courage, and to fill our enemies with His terror. We have no power except it be given us by Him; we can drive out no darkness of heathenism except the Lord be with us. We want more of our own battle-cry, the "shout of our King," telling of His actual presence with His host.
II. It is also necessary to realise the essential unity of the Church of Christ, of the army of the living God. We should pray and work, and earnestly desire that all the people of the Lord may be one. If we want a reason for the little progress made in the conquest of the world of heathenism for the Lord of life and glory, if we want to account for the dark and darkening fringe of sin, and misery, and unbelief within the borders of our own land, we can find cause enough for these things in our failure to realise and to work and pray for the ideal of the essential unity of the Church of Christ.
III. Our text inspires us with hope. There is no greater need for us, as individuals or as a united body, than hope. And how can we be otherwise than full of hope when we call to mind that the promise is for us, "The shout of a King is among them"? There is hope for ourselves, and hope for others. Life passes on; friends pass away; strength for effort grows less; unavailing efforts stretch out behind us in a long, increasing line, like wounded men falling down to die in the terrible retreat; but still there is hope—hope that will grow and increase, and come daily nearer to its accomplishment. "The shout of a King is among us," and we cannot be moving on to ultimate defeat. There is a battle, terrible enough, to fight; but victory is the end, not defeat.
E. T. Leeke, The Cambridge Review, Nov. 12th, 1884.
References: Numbers 23:21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1709. Numbers 23:23.—Dawson Burns, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 65; J. Burns, Sketches of Sermons on Missions, p. 130; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xiv., p. 205; J. Keble, Sermons Academical and Occasional, p. 232.
Numbers 23:26I. With all the favourable traits which may be noticed in the character of Balaam, the features of his besetting sin are plainly marked. The power of money over him seems to have been known, and so when he refused to come Balak hoped to overcome his scruples by the bribe of great promotion. And the prophet's conduct well justified these expectations. He feared God so far that he dared not rebel directly against His will; but he was so much in love with the world's gauds and honours and wealth, that he was ever trying to humour his conscience to bend the line of right to the line of seeming interest. He thought to secure this world and the next; he lost both: he had too much truth to secure the rewards of Balak; he had too little truth to escape the wrath of God.
II. The lesson to be learned from such a character is surely plain for us. Balaam's character is that of the half-hearted Christian. He makes a partial and unwilling sacrifice. He is, like Balaam, an uncertain, irresolute, wavering man, with many better principles and feelings, but with an undergrowth of evil which he will not utterly root out.
III. From the history of Balaam we learn: (1) the importance to each one of us of being indeed earnest Christians, of giving to God our hearts and our affections; (2) the importance of striving to subdue wholly every separate sin to which we are tempted; (3) the great need we have of seeking earnestly from God the gift of a sincere heart.
S. Wilberforce, Sermons, p. 169.
References: 23:27-24:14.—Expositor, 2nd series, vol. v., p. 245. Num 23—Expositor, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 445.
And Balak did as Balaam had spoken; and Balak and Balaam offered on every altar a bullock and a ram.
And Balaam said unto Balak, Stand by thy burnt offering, and I will go: peradventure the LORD will come to meet me: and whatsoever he sheweth me I will tell thee. And he went to an high place.
And God met Balaam: and he said unto him, I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered upon every altar a bullock and a ram.
And the LORD put a word in Balaam's mouth, and said, Return unto Balak, and thus thou shalt speak.
And he returned unto him, and, lo, he stood by his burnt sacrifice, he, and all the princes of Moab.
And he took up his parable, and said, Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel.
How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the LORD hath not defied?
For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.
Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!
And Balak said unto Balaam, What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether.
And he answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak that which the LORD hath put in my mouth?
And Balak said unto him, Come, I pray thee, with me unto another place, from whence thou mayest see them: thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all: and curse me them from thence.
And he brought him into the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.
And he said unto Balak, Stand here by thy burnt offering, while I meet the LORD yonder.
And the LORD met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, Go again unto Balak, and say thus.
And when he came to him, behold, he stood by his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him. And Balak said unto him, What hath the LORD spoken?
And he took up his parable, and said, Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor:
God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.
He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.
God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.
Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!
Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.
And Balak said unto Balaam, Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all.
But Balaam answered and said unto Balak, Told not I thee, saying, All that the LORD speaketh, that I must do?
And Balak said unto Balaam, Come, I pray thee, I will bring thee unto another place; peradventure it will please God that thou mayest curse me them from thence.
And Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor, that looketh toward Jeshimon.
And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams.
And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.