The Third Prophecy
Numbers 23:27-24:14
And Balak said to Balaam, Come, I pray you, I will bring you to another place…


1. With regard to Balak. After hearing the second prophecy, and especially its menacing conclusion, he is naturally much irritated. It is bad enough to have been disappointed even once, but kings like worse to have threatening added to disappointment, and at first Balak makes as if he would have nothing more said on the subject, one way or another. If Balaam cannot curse the people, neither shall he bless them. But becoming a little calmer, Balak determines to try a third time, and from a still different place; so little did he need the solemn assertion of God's unchangeable purposes to which his attention had been specially called. The conduct of Balak is a warning to us to keep our hearts right at all times with regard to the reception of Divine truth. Truths stated very clearly and emphatically, and in critical circumstances, may yet be utterly neglected. That which is necessary to be known will, we may be quite sure, have a clearness corresponding to the necessity. However clear and simple statements are in themselves, they must needs be as idle breath if we refuse to give humble and diligent attention to them.

2. With regard to Balaam. He no longer goes out seeking for enchantments, although be still clings to the inevitable sacrifices. This forsaking of the enchantments and clinging to the sacrifices, is it not a sort of testimony out of the very depths and obscurities of heathenism that God cannot be approached without something in the way of vicarious suffering? Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel. It had taken him a long time and caused him a great deal of trouble to see this, and yet the sequel proves (Numbers 31:8, 16) that, after all, seeing, he did not perceive, and hearing, he did not understand. Nevertheless, at this time he saw sufficient to convince him how vain were Balak's hopes of a curse from Jehovah. If Israel was to be overthrown, it was not in that way. Observe that in uttering this prophecy Balaam is thrown into a higher state of receptivity than before. When Balak refused to be satisfied with the first prophecy, he got a second one, specially addressed to himself, and fuller; more indicative of Israel's resources, varied, ample, and unfailing as they were for every possible need. But now he does not so much get a prophecy fuller in itself; it is rather a clearer proof that Balaam is indeed employed by God as a prophet. He is thrown into an ecstatic state, His eyes are closed to the outward world, but the mind's eye is opened, and a picture, first beautiful, and then terrible, is presented to his vision. We see from this how much God can do in controlling the powers of carnal and unsympathizing men. God not only puts his own words into Balaam's lying lips, but he makes him see such visions as were customarily confined to men who were spiritually fit for them. Balaam doubtless, looking away into the distance of time from the present encampment of Israel in Moab to their future life in Canaan, would rather have seen ruin, confusion, and desolation - something to rejoice the heart of his employer, and bring to himself the promised rewards. But he could only see what God showed him. If then God held this ungodly Balaam in such control, what may not his power be over those who submit to him with all their hearts? There is a sort of proportion in the matter. As the unwilling Balaam is to the completely submissive believer, so what God did to Balaam is to what God will do for such a believer. The more you give to God for working on, the more, by consequence, he will give to you in return. Yield yourselves to God, that he may not only work through you by his mighty power, but in you and for you according to the purpose of his love and the riches of his grace. The sad reflection is that Balaam allowed himself to be an evidence of the power, but not the grace; allowed God's blessings to go through him, yet, in spite of his own expressed wish, made no attempt to keep blessings for himself.

II. THE PROPHECY ITSELF. Here are set before us two pictures, as it were, a beautiful one and a terrible one. Picture the first. A spectator in an ordinary state of mind, looking down with his natural vision on the Israelite camp, sees long ranges of tents, set in four divisions, and at a reverent distance from the tabernacle in the midst of them. The people dwelt "not in stately palaces, but in coarse and homely tents, and those, no doubt, sadly weather-beaten." But Balaam in his ecstasy, when the Spirit of God came upon him, looked upon a more attractive and respiring scene. What he gazed upon at first was indeed these rows of tents, but, just as if in a dissolving view, they faded away before his eyes, and in place of them, valleys, gardens by the river-side, aloes of Jehovah's planting, and cedars beside the waters were spread out before him. Everything is suggestive of quiet, steady prosperity, of fruitfulness, peace, and beauty. This is the internal life of the Church of Christ, when his people are living to the extent of their privileges. This is the difference between the external appearance and the inward life and experience, Just at that moment when the lot of the Christian looks least attractive to the casual and uninstructed glance, it may be rich in all the great elements of true blessedness. The position of the Christian in this world is not seldom like that of the kernel within the shell: outside, the rough, repulsive, unpromising shell; inside, the precious kernel, with "the promise and potency" in it of a tree like that from which it was taken. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit" (1 Corinthians 2:9, 10). And thus it is here. It was not possible for Balaam to describe the blessed circumstances of Israel in direct language. He had to fall back on the comparison to certain visible things, such things as would raise in the mind of a dweller in Moab or Canaan, or anywhere round about, a picture of the highest satisfaction and success. Picture the second. The first picture is beautiful, and very beautiful; it is Eden raised in the waste wilderness. The second picture is terrible, and very terrible; yet what else could be expected? If Balak will go on presumptuously defying the sacred and beloved people of God, undeterred by the menaces to which he has already listened, then those menaces must be repeated with all the force and thoroughness of expression that can be thrown into them. The sudden transition from such a peaceful, beautiful scene as goes before heightens the effect, and probably was meant to do so. On one side is Israel engaged in tilling, the garden, the work to which man was set apart in the first days of innocence, watering his far-spread crops and enjoying his fragrant aloes and his cedars; on the other side is Israel the Destroyer, emphatically the Destroyer. The qualities of no one animal, however destructive, are sufficiently expressive to set him forth. Fierce, furious, strong, resistless as the lion is, the lion by himself is not enough to show forth Israel, and you must add the unicorn; and there you are invited to gaze on this unicorn-lion, strong in power, thorough in execution, leaving not one of his enemies unsubdued and undestroyed. Let Balak well understand that Israel, under the good hand of God, is climbing to the highest eminence among the nations. The repetition of the references to the unicorn and the lion shows how important the references are, and how needful it is to let the mind of the Christian dwell encouragingly on them. Balak sets forth the intolerant and suspicious spirit of the world in all its kingdoms; and the world does not heed prophecies; it does not take them to heart, else it would cease to be the world. These prophecies, though they were first spoken by a Balaam and listened to by a Balak, were meant in due course to reach, guide, assure, and comfort Israel. If there are times when we are tempted to fear the world, with its designs, its resources, and the might of its fascinating spirit, then we shall do well to recollect that, by a double and enlarged assurance, God reckons his Church to have the strength of the unicorn and the spirit of the lion, utterly to subdue and destroy all those kingdoms of the world which, to keep up the figure, are considered as the natural prey of the Church. - Y.

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: Balak said to Balaam, "Come now, I will take you to another place; perhaps it will please God that you may curse me them from there."

Balaam - the Second Parable
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