And when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments…
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: And when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness.