Numbers 22:2

I. AN INTERESTED OBSERVER OF AN IMPORTANT ACTION. "Balak saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites." The thing was worth observing in itself, that this great host of people, coming with but little notice, having no land of its own, no visible basis of operations, no military renown, should yet have crushed into ruin such powerful kings as Sihon and Og. It was not merely the conquest of one army by another; there was something decisive and very significant about the conquest. Just as in profane history some battles, such as Marathon and Salamis, Waterloo and Trafalgar, stand out like towering mountains because of the great issues connected with them, so these victories of Israel over Sihon and Og are for all generations of God's people to consider. Balak of course was interested as a neighbour, but we, living thousands of miles from the scene of these events, and thousands of years after them, should be not less interested. They concern us just as much as they concerned Balak. Distant as they are from us in time, they have to do very practically with our interests and the yet unaccomplished purposes of the ever-living God. We are too observant of trifles, the gossip of the passing day, the mere froth on the waves of time. The thing also pressed for notice. The Amorites were Moab's neighbours, and Moab had been conquered by them. If Israel then had conquered the conqueror, there was need for prompt action. So long as Israel was far away, wandering in the wilderness, with no aim in its course that could be ascertained, - that course aimless rather, so far as others could make out, - there was no feeling of alarm. But now, with Israel in its very borders, Moab feels it must do something. Yet the pressure was not of the right sort. Moab was driven to consider its position not because of dangers within, not because of idolatry and unrighteousness (chapter 25), nor that it might become a pure and noble-minded nation, but because of the selfish fear that another people close to its territory might prove hostile and destructive. Thus we allow considerations to press on us which should not have the slightest force. Where our minds should be well-nigh indifferent they are yielding and sensitive; and where they should be yielding and sensitive, indifference too often possesses them, When Jesus fed the multitude, the action pressed for notice not because the multitude appreciated the spiritual significance of the action, but they eat of the loaves and were filled. Balak did well when he noticed the victories of Israel, but very ill when he noticed them simply as bearing on the safety of his kingdom.

II. THE CONSEQUENT DISQUIETUDE OF MOAB. The Amorites had conquered Moab, but Israel had conquered the Amorites. The presumption then was that Israel, having the power, would as a matter of course advance to treat Moab in the same fashion; just as an Alexander or Napoleon goes from one conquered territory to conquer the next; just as a fire spreads from one burning house to its neighbour. It was therefore excusable for Moab to be sore afraid; but though excusable, it was not reasonable. The alarm came from knowledge of some things, mixed with ignorance of things more important. The alarm then was groundless. General as that alarm was, Moab had really nothing to fear. Its way of reasoning was utterly erroneous. If Moab had known the internal history of Israel half as well as it knew the present external appearance and recent triumphs, it would not have been alarmed because of the children of Israel, and because they were many. The children of Israel had been commanded to cherish other purposes than those of conquering Moab, and the mind of their leader was occupied with things far nobler than military success. Besides, as God had remembered the kinship of Israel and Edom, so he remembered that of Israel and Moab (Deuteronomy 2:9). Moab was afraid of the people because they were many. What a revelation of their craven and abject spirit in the past he would have had if he had seen them threatening to stone Caleb and Joshua (chapter 14). And though they were many, he would have seen that all their numbers availed nothing for success when God was not with them (Numbers 14:40-45).

III. MOAB'S CONCLUSION WITH REGARD TO HIS OWN RESOURCES. He could no more resist Israel than the grass of the field resist the mouth of the ox. This expresses his complete distrust of his own resources, and was a prudent conclusion, even if humiliating, as far as it went, and always supposing that Israel wished to play the part of the ox. The fall of Sihon had taught nothing to Og, the self-confident giant, but the fall of Sihon, and next the fall of Og, had taught Moab this at least, that in the battlefield he could do nothing against Israel. If a man refuses to go in the right path, it is not, therefore, a matter of little consequence which of the wrong paths he chooses. One may take him swiftly in the dark to the precipice; another, also downward, may afford more time and occasions for retrieval. It was a wrong, blind, useless course to send for Balaam, but at all events it was not so immediately destructive, as to rush recklessly into the field of battle against Israel. - Y.

Balak... sent messengers unto Balaam.
I. MEN IN DIFFICULTY SEEKING SUPERNATURAL HELP. "It was supposed that prophets and sorcerers had a power to curse persons and places so as to frustrate their counsels, enervate their strength, and fill them with dismay."

1. There is a measure of truth in this. Men have had power granted them to curse others (Genesis 9:25; Joshua 6:26; 2 Kings 2:24). It is probable that Balaam had this power.

2. There is much error in the views under consideration. No man can curse those whom God hath blessed.

II. MAN CONSCIOUS OF SUPERNATURAL POWERS AND OF HIS SUBJECTION TO DIVINE AUTHORITY IN THE USE OF THEM. Balaam was certainly not altogether an impostor. "In his career," says Dean Stanley, "is seen that recognition of Divine inspiration outside the chosen people which the narrowness of modern times has be n so eager to deny, but which the Scriptures are always ready to acknowledge, and, by acknowledging, admit within the pale of the teachers of the Universal Church the higher spirits of every age and of every nation." But notice —

1. His consciousness of great powers.

2. His consciousness of subjection to God in the use of his powers.

3. His sin against God.


1. God's access to man's mind.

2. God's interest in man's life.

3. God's authority over man's life.

IV. MAN DEALING UNFAITHFULLY WITH A DIVINE COMMUNICATION. Balaam belonged to that still numerous class who theoretically know God, and who actually do fear Him, but whose love and fear of God are not the governing principles of their minds. They are convinced, but not converted. They would serve God, but they must serve mammon also; and in the strife between the two contending influences their lives are made bitter, and their death is perilous.


1. The Divine communications have never been limited to any one people, or country, or age.

2. Great goodness is not always associated with great gifts. "The illumination of the mind is by no means necessarily associated with the conversion of the heart."

3. Great gifts involve great responsibility and grave peril.

4. The temptation to covetousness is of great subtlety and strength, and assails even the most gifted natures (Luke 12:15-21).

(W. Jones.)

The first motive is fear, yet in Deuteronomy

2. God forbade them to meddle with Moab, and thereupon they, were driven to compass about to their great trouble. But this is the just judgment of God upon them that have not their peace made with Him, to be vexed in their minds with unnecessary fears (Leviticus 26:36; Deuteronomy 28:65, &c.). You see how small a noise will startle thieves and other malefactors. Whereupon it is said, Oh, wickedness, ever fearful. These are they that tremble at every crack of thunder. Their conscience is a continual scourge to them. The fear of the Lord is strength to the upright man, but fear shall be for the workers of iniquity, saith Solomon.

2. The second motive is envy. They were their kindred, and they should have rejoiced, turned to them, and by common prayer sought the appeasing of God. But bitter envy seeing God's favour to them, and mighty power among them, desireth rather their overthrow and confusion. They are motes in their eyes, rather than comforts to their hearts.

3. A third motive was suspicion. Balak, king of the Moabites, suspecteth this and that, according to his own fancy, and these imaginations and suspicions are as grand truths to him, making him cast this way and that to meet, with imagined danger, and among other ways to resolve of sending for the soothsayer, or sorcerer, Balaam. Oh, suspicion, what a mischief is it amongst men! Every man thinks his suspicion to be knowledge or little less. How many can you name that have given place to suspicion, and have not given place to error? Yet it hurteth no man more than him that hath it, whose inwards it tormenteth, whose sleep it driveth away, whose body it alters, and consumeth the heart to very powder in the end.

4. A fourth motive to this sending for Balaam was Satan's subtlety working in Balak to take that course: for it may be observed often, that when Satan seeth open fury will not serve, then he directeth to wiles and guiles, piecing out the lion's skin that is too short with the fox's tail.

(Bp. Babington.)

The Israelites, toughened physically and morally by their long sojourn in the desert, and now well consolidated into a nation, are beginning to emerge from their southern retreat, and to betray their designs upon the regions bordering on the Jordan. They have met and defeated the desert tribes, and are now threatening Moab, which lies in their way. Balak, king of Moab, undertakes the defence of his territory, and, like a wise general, studies and adopts the tactics of his successful enemy. He has learned that the Israelites are led by Moses, a prophet of Jehovah, and that his prayers in the battle against Amalek secured the victory. He will see what of the same sort he can do on his side. Hundreds of miles away, near the head waters of the Euphrates, there lived another prophet of Jehovah, whose reputation filled the whole region. It does not concern us whether his gifts were on one side or the other of the line called supernatural; whether his sagacity was merely extraordinary or was clarified by special, Divine light. It is enough for us that he was great, keen and lofty in his vision, comprehensive in his judgment, that he had a high sense of his prophetic function, and was at first a man of integrity. Balak sends for him. The Israelites have a prophet; he will have a prophet. He sees in the battles hitherto fought a weight not belonging to the battalions, a spiritual force that won the victory; he will employ that force on his side. Moses is a prophet of Jehovah; his prophet also shall be Jehovah's. A. very shrewd man is this Balak. Holding to the Oriental custom of devoting an enemy to destruction before battle, he will match his enemy even in this respect as nearly as possible. That a prophet should be found outside the Hebrew nation is simply an indication that God has witnesses in all nations; it denies the theory that would confine all light and inspiration to one chosen people. That Balaam comes from the ancient home of Abraham hints the possibility of a still lingering monotheism in that region. Though so remote, he probably knew all about the Israelites: their history from the patriarchs down, their exodus from Egypt, their religion, their development under the guiding hand of Moses, their power in battle, and the resistless energy with which they were slowly moving up from the desert with their eyes on the rich slopes of Palestine, He doubtless knew that this was not only a migration of a detached people, such as was now often occurring in Asia, but a migration inspired by a religion somewhat in keeping with his own. These Israelites were not his enemies, and he could not readily be made to treat them as such. When the messengers of Balak come to him with their hands full of rewards, asking him to go and curse Israel, he weighs the matter well, devotes a whole night to it, carries it to God in the simplicity of a good conscience, and refuses to go. So far he seems a true man, acting from considerations of mingled wisdom and inspiration. The messengers retrace their long journey, but Balak sends again by more honourable men and doubtless with larger gifts. He is a shrewd man, and knows what sort of a thing is the human heart. He sends not only gifts, but promises of promotion to great honour, and all by the hands of princes — a triple temptation: flattery, riches, place. How often does any man resist their united voice? Often enough he resists one of them; flattery cannot seduce him, nor money buy him, nor ambition deflect him, but when all unite-flattery dropping its sweet words into the ear, gold glittering before the eye, and ambition weaving its crown before the imagination — who stands out against these when they unite to a definite end? They had their common way with Balaam, hut not at once. Such men do not go headlong and wholly over to the bad side in a moment. The undoing of a strong character is something like its upbuilding, a process of time and degree.

(T. T. Munger.)

- The relative position of the world to the kingdom of God is substantially the same as that of Moab and Midian to Israel, now drawing near. The same enmity still remains in the world, in manifold forms; and it is the instinct of self-preservation which incites the world and its followers to do their utmost against the coming of God's kingdom among them. When force would do no good, then they resort to cunning, or to caution, that they may oppose the progress of God's cause among them in so far as it is possible; and natural enemies, such as Midian and Moab, frequently become sworn friends for a time, whenever it appears expedient to combine against the one whom both oppose. On every hand, the world looks out for allies, servants, friends; as Balak did to Balaam, she promises to bestow on you her favours and her wealth, if you but follow her behests, and make her will your own. If you refuse, as he did at the first, the world will not believe that you act but from principle — rather, she thinks that you regard self-interest; but she will give you large rewards when you but sell yourself to her. "All things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me": so spake the prince of this world to Jesus; and at every turn he modifies his voice, but still to say the same thing, in the softest tone, to all Christ's followers — nay, even to every one of His redeemed. What is it that you seek, insatiable heart — honour, or luxury, or gold? All these, if need be, may be had for almost nothing by the man whose conscience is not over scrupulous. This Balak also, like a true destroyer, rests not for an instant till he brings you where he will; and if the first attempt does not succeed, he makes a second, and a third. The world knows very well, like Balak, how to suit herself to circumstances when they change, and to attract some friends from every side. Nay, she can even, in her own time and way, be quite religious — that is, from mere policy, and ill-concealed self-interest; and if you like, she shows all possible respect for — forms. But, for your very life, ye who are striving for her praise and her reward, venture not to show that you really will obey God rather than any man! The world, if need be, will forgive you everything; but this it cannot possibly forgive — that you most earnestly believe God's Word, and give obedience to what He requires. Scarce can you show, like Balaam, that you hesitate, because the truth is much too strong for you, ere favour from the world is quite withdrawn; your name appears no longer on the list of friends, but is consigned to deep oblivion; and all the more dishonour falls on you, the greater was the honour meant for you at first. You are a most unpleasant, useless man, and quite intractable; like Balaam, you are roughly pushed aside, and told, "The Lord hath kept thee back from honour"; and then the world, instead of her intended laurel-wreath, presents you with a crown of thorns. Her love, it now appears, was nothing but fine show — her flattery, deceit. To such a world — so selfish, false, malicious, just like Balak — should you make your heart a slave?

(J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)

Every reader of this book must have observed that in Numbers 22:2-24:25 we have an episode complete in itself; and all the modern critics who have studied this Scripture concur, I believe, in the conclusion that, in this place, the author or compiler of the book has inserted one of those ancient, detached or detachable, documents of which we find so many in the Pentateuch. Where and how he got it is a question not easy to answer, if, indeed, answer be possible. But, from the comparatively favourable light in which the chronicle presents the facts of Balaam's story, most of our best scholars conclude that in some way he derived it from Balaam himself. We are told (Numbers 31:8) that, together with five Midianite chiefs, Balaam was taken prisoner by the Israelites, and put to "a judicial death" after the battle had been fought and won. A judicial death implies some sort of trial. And what more natural than that Balaam should plead in his defence the inspirations he had received from Jehovah, and the long series of blessings he had pronounced on Israel when all his interests, and perhaps also all his inclinations, prompted him to curse them: Such defences, in the East, were commonly autobiographical. Even St. Paul, when called upon to plead before kings and governors, invariably told the story of his life as his best vindication. And if Balaam. called upon to plead before Moses and the elders, told the story we now read in his chronicle — what a scene was there! What a revelation his words would convey to the leaders of Israel of the kindness of God their Saviour, of the scale on which His providence works, and of the mystery in which it is wrapped to mortal eyes! So, then, God had been working for them in the mountains of Moab, and in the heart of this great diviner from the East, and they knew it not! Knew it not? nay, perhaps were full of fear and distrust, doubting whether He Himself were able to deliver them from the perils by which they were encompassed! As Balaam unfolded his tale, how their hearts must have burned within them — burned with shame as well as with thanks fulness — as they heard of interposition on their behalf of which up till now they had been ignorant, and for which at the time perchance they had not ventured to hope! Balaam may well have thought that such a story as this would plead for him more effectually than any other defence he could make. And, no doubt, it did plead for him; for we all know that it is when our hearts have been touched by some unexpected mercy that they are most easily moved to pity and forgiveness: it might even have won him absolution but for that damning sin of which nothing is said here — the infamous counsel he gave to the daughters of Midian which had deprived Israel of four-and-twenty thousand of its most serviceable and precious lives. Even with that crime full in their memories, it must have cost Moses and the elders much, one thinks, to condemn to death the man who had told them such a story as this.

(S. Cox, D. D.)

God came unto Balaam.
In Balaam we have one of the most mysterious, in some respects one of the most puzzling, contradictory, and tragical of the characters of Holy Writ; withal one of the most instructive and interesting. He is complex; multiform in his mental and spiritual conformation, many-sided in his mental and spiritual manifestations. One man appears at one time; another and vastly different at another. You despair of catching and fixing the permanent man.

I. Let me first ask attention to SOME PRELIMINARY POINTS WHICH MAY BE NOTED.

1. The materials on which our knowledge of him is based are chiefly contained in four passages of Scripture (Numbers 22.-24.; Micah 6:5-8; 2 Peter 2:12-16; Numbers 31:1.).

2. I would next note the generosity, the magnanimity, of all these Scripture notices. The whole story is told with a fineness of touch, a magnanimous silence, or the merest hint concerning his grosser sin, a generous concealment of all aggravating circumstances. It is in the Bible, and, so far as Church histories are concerned, probably in the Bible alone, that we find not only justice, but generosity, towards defeated rivals, generous tributes to what is good, generous veilings of what is bad.

3. I would also call attention to the fact that there is free and full acknowledgment made of the reality and the sublimity of his inspiration. It is never denied: it is unequivocally owned. And this though Balaam was a heathen, one outside the visible Church; nay, not only outside of it, but arrayed against it.

4. Mark, too, the various opinions concerning this strange man held in different ages and by different authorities in the Church. The historian of the Jews, Josephus, styles him, in strongest language, "the first (best) of the prophets of the time" — ungrudgingly regarding him as a true prophet of the true God, but with a disposition ill adapted to meet temptation. Coming down to Christian writers, we find and speaking of him as a magician and soothsayer, a prophet, indeed, but inspired of the devil; but we find and , with greater and more Scriptural liberality, more favourably interpreting his position and the source of his endowments.

II. Let us now proceed to THE ANALYSIS OF THE LIFE AND ITS STORY. Balaam would have protested against being called an enemy of God; would have insisted on being regarded as a friend. To every accuser he could have replied that he was obedient all through to God's voice, that he did not go till God gave permission, and that he was careful to yield to the prophetic power that spoke through him; yet all through he was a force against God, an opponent of the purposes of grace, and on the side that could not be either for the glory of heaven or the gain of earth. And so there are men who would feel outraged if called thieves who will, all the same, sell an article for what it is not; who would deem you mad were you to accuse them of murder, yet will help a brother on to the death of his soul; who name the name of Christ, yet are forces for the meatiness and avarice, the uncharity and unchastity, which the law cannot reach, but which are as far from the mind of Christ as is the theft or the murder which the law can.

(G. M. Grant, B. D.)

It is common to speak of Balaam as a wicked man, to censure him as utterly devoid of principle, as completely abandoned to the dominion of evil, especially of avarice. And we have the highest authority for regarding him as a wicked man: he loved the wages of unrighteousness. But when we conceive of Balaam as a wicked man simply, we have by no means a just conception of his real character. He was not under the entire dominion of any evil principle or habit whatever. There is in him a wonderful admixture of good and evil; a combination of elements the most opposite.



III. WE HAVE IN BALAAM A MELANCHOLY INSTANCE OF AN ATTEMPT TO RECONCILE A SENSE OF DUTY TO A VICIOUS INCLINATION — TO CONFORM THE UNYIELDING RULE OF RIGHT TO THE DESIGNS OF AVARICE. This is the instructive peculiarity of his character. He knew what was right, and for many reasons he was anxious to do it. His conscience would not allow him to act in direct opposition to the will of God; but, at the same time, his heart was not wholly in God's service. Covetousness lay deep within him. How obvious the reflection that no man knows what he is until he is tried! During the hard frosts of winter it is impossible to tell what venomous insects, what noxious weeds or beautiful flowers are concealed in the earth; but let the genial showers and sunshine of spring come, and the weeds and the flowers will show themselves, and the venomous insects will come forth out of their hiding-places. So is it with men.

IV. Another remark, suggested by the character and history of Balaam, relates to THE RAPID AND FEARFUL PROGRESS OF SIN. So it was with Judas: he had not the slightest wish to injure his Lord; he wished only to obtain the thirty pieces of silver. So it has been with many ambitious monarchs: they have had no pleasure in the misery of their fellow-creatures; they have thought only of their own fame and power. So it has been with many zealous persecutors: they have no natural thirst for human blood; they have thought only of the establishment of their creed — the extension and honour of their Church. So it is with many in common life: they have no wish to injure others; but they wish to secure their own ends, and they do not hesitate to trample on those who stand in their way.

V. IN THE CHARACTER AND HISTORY OF BALAAM WE HAVE A STRIKING ILLUSTRATION OF THE DECEITFULNESS OF THE HUMAN HEART. Men will neglect the moral, and yet will attend to the ceremonial, and on this ground will think themselves clear; they will commit the greater, and yet will hesitate to commit the less, and on this ground will pronounce themselves pure; they will violate the entire spirit of the Christian law, and yet will scrupulously observe the letter of some precept or precedent, and on this ground will pronounce themselves consistent Christians.

VI. THE HISTORY OF BALAAM ILLUSTRATES SOME VERY IMPORTANT PRINCIPLES OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT. The present is a state of probation, but there is in it not a little that is retributive; and though God deals with us as a kited parent, there is often much that is judicial in His proceedings. We have a striking illustration of this in the history of Balaam. In his heart Balaam desired permission to go with the princes of Moab, because he coveted the wages of unrighteousness; and God gave him that permission. This was not an act of mercy, but of judgment. The history of Balaam illustrates another principle of the Divine government — that which is involved in the statement, "The way of transgressors is hard." This is as much in mercy as in judgment. The history of Balaam also illustrates the solemn truth, that the "wages of sin is death." "Balaam also, the son of Beer, they slew with the sword." Whatever may be the result here, the ultimate end of such a course as that which we have endeavoured to describe must be destruction.

(J. J. Davies.)

Balaam is one of those instances which meet us in Scripture of persons dwelling, to a certain extent, in the gloom of heathenish practices, while preserving at the same time a certain knowledge of the one true God. He was endowed with a greater than ordinary knowledge of God; he had the intuition of truth, and could see into the life of things; he was, in fact, a poet and a prophet. Moreover, he confessed that all these superior advantages were not his own, but derived from God, and were His gift. Thus, doubtless, he had won for himself among his contemporaries a high reputation not only for wisdom and knowledge, but also for sanctity. And although his sanctity comes to very little in the end, when his besetting sin overmastered him, yet it may be readily understood that, judged by the standards which prevailed among the heathen nomad tribe which sent for him to curse the nation of Israel, he would appear to be an eminently holy man, so much so that, as Balak said to him at their first interview, "I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and that he whom thou cursest is cursed." But then, it may be asked, if Balaam was looked upon as a holy man and as a worshipper of Jehovah, how came Balak to send for him and to offer him vast rewards to curse the people of Jehovah? The answer is, that it was not uncommon among those heathen nations — nor is the practice even now unknown among pagan tribes — to offer sacrifices to the gods of the enemy to propitiate them to themselves. The ancient Romans repeatedly did this. Doubtless there were many professed enchanters and soothsayers in the land of Moab; but king Balak — perhaps having previously tried these without success — may have preferred sending five hundred miles for a renowned prophet who had the reputation of more than mortal wisdom and power, who was also a worshipper of Jehovah, and who might for that reason be all the more likely to propitiate His anger, or to turn Him against that strange people which had "come out of Egypt," and now, marching with unearthly tokens along the desert, had pitched their tents within sight of the strongholds where Balak had his habitation. Consider now the first message which the renowned soothsayer received from the terrified king. Clearly he wished to go, and was disappointed and chagrined at being prevented. But why should he feel any disappointment? We might have been at a loss to know, had it not been for the ray of inspired light shed upon the whole narrative by a single line from the pen of the Apostle Peter. That apostle tells us that "he loved the wages of unrighteousness." He did not particularly like the work, but he loved the wages. Like many another covetous soul, if he could have grasped the wages without doing the devil's work, he would have preferred it; and he loved the wages so well that, although he at first refused to go, yet presently we find him venturing on the work for the sake of getting the pay.

1. Mark here, then, the first, the earliest effect of cherishing any besetting sin. It is that God is served reluctantly. Sin is looked at with a longing eye. The prohibition seems hard and unreasonable.

2. Mark now the second application made by Balak, in which the unhappy prophet, who has begun by grumbling at God's will, is placed in further and severer temptation. I cannot but pity him here, as we pity many another poor slave who makes just one momentary effort to break off his chains. Or perhaps the speech with which he met the second deputation from Moab was artfully intended to enhance the value of subsequent compliance — we cannot certainly tell. But at all events he protests manfully: "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." So also Peter valiantly protested when his Master was about to be betrayed: "Though all men should deny Thee, though I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee." Yet within a few short hours Peter had denied his Master thrice; and within a few short hours Balaam was on his way to the borders of Moab. The difference between the two cases is that Peter at once went out, wept bitterly, and received forgiveness; whereas Balaam, having started on a career of covetousness, never retraced his steps, and is set forth to us in the lurid light portrayed by St. Jude, "suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." We have seen that the first effect of besetting sin is that the Lord is served reluctantly. The next effect is that pretences are sought for its indulgence, or at least for putting ourselves in the way of it. The second time that God appears to Balaam there seems to be a permission to go, though coupled with a warning that he would say nothing but what the Lord should command. It by no means follows that because Balaam received a kind of permission to go, that his journey had the Divine approval. The Lord answers our prayers sometimes as He answered the prayers of Israel for a king, in His anger; nor is it easy for a greater curse to come upon a man than to be left to the gratification of his own selfish and sinful desires. Let us pray that God Almighty would cross our most cherished purposes, and defeat our darling projects, rather than suffer us in our own self-willed perverseness to enter upon a path in defiance of His holy will. St. Peter speaks of Balaam's going with the princes of Moab as madness and iniquity: he "was rebuked for his iniquity; the dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, forbade the madness of the prophet." And is this the man who so boldly declared that he would not turn aside from the will of God one hair's-breadth if Balak would give him his house full of silver and gold? Poor human nature! How little do even great men know themselves! How small the importance to be attached to mere profession! How are people likely to deceive themselves and to deceive others when speaking what is called their experience, but which is sometimes only a strong emotion of the moment, to be displaced or destroyed by the first attack of temptation! How often has it happened that those who make the loudest profession of their virtue, and of their love to the cause of God, are the first to succumb to covetousness or other besetting sin I And now the narrative, in opening before us a fresh scene, suggests at the same time a further view of the progress of a besetting sin. How striking is the circumstance that, although the ass, on three several occasions, saw the Angel with drawn sword standing in the way, Balaam saw Him not! God, says St. , had punished his cupidity, by according to him a permission conformable to his wicked inclination; and we see in him all the corruption of the human heart, and all the depravation of a will enslaved to a dominant lust. Other interpreters maintain that his permission to go was on the understood condition that he was not to curse Israel; and that it was because his heart, craving after the gold, was already wavering from this purpose, that the Angel of the Covenant accused him of perverseness, and having given him a striking and solemn warning, suffered him again to go forward. I confess that this view of the case commends itself to my own judgment.

3. But whichever view you adopt, the blindness of this perverse prophet is equally monitory. He appears before us a type of those well-instructed sinners whom every one except themselves sees to be running to their own ruin, blinded by the fascination of covetousness or some other master sin. After this Balaam is given up to his own heart's lust — the last and most terrific result, in this life, of the indulgence of besetting sin. "Go with the men," the Lord says to him, giving him up to his own heart's lusts, which he followed to his destruction. "Go with the men" — when neither the first words of God who forbade him, nor the signs and dangers which met him by the way, could turn his heart or deliver him from his error, the Lord bids him to go on — as Jarchi, the Jew, well paraphrases the words — "Go with the men, for thy portion is with them, and thine end to perish out of the world."

(L. H. Wiseman.)

Balaam was certainly a heathen soothsayer and diviner (Joshua 13:22). But he was more than a mere soothsayer. He had certainly, for one thing, a very full knowledge of the character of God. Thus, he again and again employs, in speaking of God, that covenant name "Jehovah" (Numbers 22:8, 13, 18, 19; Numbers 23:3, 8, 12, 21, 26; chap. Numbers 24:1, 6, 13), by which He was specially made known to Israel (Exodus 6:2, 3). And such terms as, "the Lord my God" (Numbers 22:18); the "Almighty" (Numbers 24:4); "the most High" (Numbers 24:16), also occur in the course of his utterances, implying, by the variety of expression so easily adopted, a very much wider acquaintance with the Divine character than is commonly supposed to belong ,to ordinary heathens. Nor was the knowledge which Balaam possessed of the character of God a merely verbal or speculative knowledge. It is manifest that he stood in certain intimate personal relations with Jehovah. He speaks of the Lord as "the Lord his God" (Numbers 22:18); and the whole tenor of his intercourse with Jehovah, on this occasion, implies a previous acquaintance with God — such an acquaintance with God, indeed, as almost presupposes previous immediate communications between God and himself. And it may have been, that his extraordinary reputation as a prophet had arisen from the fact that God had, from time to time, "put words into his mouth," which he had spoken, and which had also come to pass. Nor is there wanting in the character of Balaam a certain tone of high religious feeling also. He has the profoundest reverence for the authority and word of God. The word that God putteth into his mouth, that will he speak! Nay, nor would he, though Balak should give him his house full of silver and gold, go beyond the word of the Lord, &c. Nor must we deny to Balaam a certain personal and spiritual sympathy with the truths he uttered in God's name. (See Numbers 23:10; Numbers 24:23.) "He, too, is borne away, at least for a time, by the grandeur of the announcements he is making. There is that in him which reaches out with a true, although too transient, yearning after the coming triumphs of the people and kingdom of God." We must not paint this portrait wholly black. An honest and a truthful man; an independent and (in a certain sense) high-minded man; a Godfearing and religious man: such is Balaam, the son of Beer, of Pethor, on one side of his character. And yet he is a bad man, despite his many virtues, and a man who finally perished miserably with the enemies of God's people. A strange phenomenon, indeed, this Balaam! a heathen soothsayer and an inspired servant of the Lord; a man full of richest endowments, animated by many very noble impulses, uttering the most exalted sentiments; and yet a man whose heart was rotten at the core, whose life is only written as a warning against sin, whose death was an unmitigated tragedy.

I. WE SEE HERE, IN THE FACT OF BALAAM'S INSPIRATION, ALTHOUGH HE WAS A HEATHEN SOOTHSAYER, AN EVIDENCE AND WITNESS TO THE WIDER RELATIONS THAT GOD HOLDS WITH MAN THAN IS SOMETIMES SUPPOSED. The fact is, it hath pleased God, for His own most wise and gracious purposes, gradually and slowly to mature His final plan of mercy for the world in Jesus Christ; and, with a view to its completeness and maturity, to confine it, at the first, within restricted lines of influence. But it is a monstrous, heathen notion to suppose that all the while this final plan of mercy was in course of development, the great, wide world, without the parallels in which it moved, was utterly neglected and forsaken of its God. No! the world was also being educated, in its way, as well as the Church: educated on a humbler method, and with more "rudimentary" instruction, but educated; and educated of God. Two lines of culture, then, have been going on in the world, side by side, under the providential direction of the Most High God, and with a view to the ultimate salvation of the world. A primary and rudimentary culture, under what Paul calls the "elements of the world," consisting of the ordinary course of Providence, with occasional interpositions of sovereign grace and special instances of inspiration; and a systematic and formal culture for a selected portion of the human family, under the written law of God, with constant interpositions of sovereign grace, and almost constant inspiration.

II. THAT, IN DEALING WITH MEN BY HIS SPIRIT, THE LORD HAS REGARD TO THE MORAL AND SPIRITUAL STANDPOINT AT WHICH EACH MAN MAY BE FOUND. Balaam is a soothsayer, and yet he is inspired of God! Balaam seeks the Lord by means of enchantments, and yet the Lord does not refuse to come to him, but responds to his appeal again and again I But, then, it is to be considered that Balaam was a heathen, and that he had been brought up in the midst of the practice of divination, if he had not, indeed, inherited his position as a diviner from his father. It was plainly one thing for such a man as Balaam to employ enchantment, and quite another for an Israelite to do so. For to Israel, if I may so speak, was given a diviner augury — in God's law, and in God's presence in their midst; and so to them the use of all these heathen arts was absolutely interdicted (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). But, as the art of divination was the highest point to which the heathen world had been able to attain in their pursuit of the unseen, so God condescended to meet Balaam, at that special point of spiritual culture, that He might lead him thenceforth to higher forms of truth and nobler modes of worship.

III. HOW BROAD IS THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN SPIRITUAL ENDOWMENTS AND SPIRITUAL CHARACTER. Balaam was both an inspired man, and also, at the same time, a very wicked man. He gave expression to the noblest sentiments, and yet performed the basest deeds. See, then, how little mere endowments, even of the highest kind, can do for us; how widely separated from each other are gifts and graces. The gifts which we receive from God are, in reality, no proper part of us, until we make them ours by a light use of them. And our character is measured, not so much by the number of talents we have received, as by the fidelity we have exhibited in the employment of the talents we have. It by no means follows because we have spiritual faculties that we are spiritual men. These faculties are given to us beforehand to aid our usefulness, if we become spiritual men, and in the hope, as one may say, that we shall become spiritual men. But, for all our gifts, we may still be "in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." It is quite possible for divinely-bestowed gifts to miss their object and intention!

(W. Roberts.)

I. In the first place observe THAT THERE IS NO TIME OF MAN'S LIFE WHEREIN HE MAY NOT BE TEMPTED, or may not be in danger of falling off from God and goodness; which should be AN ARGUMENT TO US FOR CONSTANT CARE AND WATCHFULNESS OVER OURSELVES. Even those whom God hath favoured in a very particular manner, and with heavenly gifts and graces, are no more secure than others, if they take not proportionable care.

II. Observe HOW DANGEROUS A THING IT IS SO MUCH AS TO ATTEND OR LISTEN TO THE CHARMS OF WEALTH AND HONOUR. For a gift will sometimes blind the wise, and a bribe will beguile their hearts. Balaam looked too much upon the golden presents, and was too sensibly struck with the sound of honour and preferments; which made him the less consider upon how slippery ground he stood, and how dangerous an affair that was to concern himself in.

III. Observe, that when God sees men leaning too far to ambitious or covetous desires, and not wise enough to take such gentle hints as might be sufficient to call them back, HE THEN LEAVES THEM TO PURSUE THEIR OWN HEARTS' LUSTS, AND LETS THEM FOLLOW THEIR OWN IMAGINATION.

IV. Observe next, HOW FOOLISH A PART A MAN ACTS, and how he exposes himself to contempt and scorn, as well as danger, WHEN HE TAKES UPON HIM TO FOLLOW HIS OWN WAY AND HUMOUR, AND WILL NOT HAVE GOD FOR HIS GUIDE.

V. Observe, further, that when once willful men have run such lengths in opposition to the will of Heaven, GOD THEN GIVES THEM UP TO A REPROBATE MIND, AND LETS THEM FALL FROM ONE DEGREE OF WICKEDNESS TO ANOTHER. So it was in Balaam.

VI. One thing more we may observe from his history, which is this: THAT THE SPIRIT OF GOD MAY SOMETIMES VOUCHSAFE TO COME UPON A VERY WICKED MAN (so far as concerns the extraordinary gifts) WITHOUT REFORMING OR INFLUENCING THE SAME MAN AS TO HIS LIFE AND MORALS, in the way of ordinary operation. These two things are very distinct, and may often be separate, as in Balaam at that time, and in Judas afterwards.

(D. Waterland, D. D.)


1. The spiritual enlightenment of Balaam evinces his piety.

2. Balaam's piety is seen in his distinctly recognising the supreme authority of the will of God.

3. The piety of Balaam was manifested in his obedience to the will of God.


1. The means through which Balaam was induced to apostatise must not be overlooked. He was enticed by worldly wealth and distinction. Principle is surrendered, honour lost, the soul itself bartered for the wages of unrighteousness. Such was "the error of Balaam." And who knows not that by this very means multitudes have been seduced from their integrity, and lost for ever? Like the fabled Atalanta, while they were running well, the golden apple was thrown at their feet, tempting them; and stooping from their high principles to take it up, they have lost the race.

2. Mark the progress of Balaam's apostasy. First, we notice the indulgence of evil desire — desire for gain and honour, which could only be obtained by wrongdoing; his heart goes after covetousness. Next he tampers with temptation. The reiterated overtures of Balak should have been indignantly rejected. Why are these ambassadors received even a second time? Why another and another audience granted to them? Alas! he is fascinated by the very means of his ruin: like a silly fish, he is playing about the bait. Then, how he struggles with conscience! Guard against the beginnings of evil. If the downward career of apostasy be once commenced, whither thou mayest be hurried, to what depths of degradation thou mayest fall, God only knows. Like the swine of the Gadarenes, thou mayest be driven onward, literally possessed by the devil, until plunged into the abyss below. Oh bow deeply have some fallen I from small beginnings degenerating to the darkest crimes — crimes which are a loathing and an abhorrence. "Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?" — but, as a quaint writer saith, "the dog did it." We may start from the line of rectitude at a very small angle, the divergence becoming gradually wider and wider, till we are as far from righteousness as hell is from heaven.

3. Consider the checks which presented themselves in the way of Balaam's apostasy, but which he obstinately resisted and overtrod. What pains the gracious Lord taketh to prevent our self-destruction I To the truth of this every backslider is witness. How powerful an obstacle is conscience, which ever and anon raiseth its voice, and will be heard, like the voice of the Lord which thundereth! Death, too, like a spectre from the invisible world, again and again obtrudes it elf on the apostate's guilty soul. Dumb things have a voice to him that hath ears to hear, rebuking our madness.

4. Contemplate the issue of Balaam's apostasy. It entailed immense mischief upon others. Through him thousands of the Lord's people perished. At the same time his fall issued in woeful disappointment to himself.

(J. Heaton.)

What men are these with thee?
This question was designed to awaken "the slumbering conscience of Balaam, to lead him to reflect upon the proposal which the men had made, and to break the force of his sinful inclination." God addresses the same question to the young who are forming dangerous associations, to Christians who take pleasure in worldly society, &c. He urges this solemn inquiry

(1)by the voice of conscience;

(2)by the preaching of His truth;

(3)by the exhortations and admonitions of His Word; and

(4)by the remonstrances of His Spirit.This inquiry indicates the Divine concern as to human companionships. We may regard this concern as —



1. Our associates indicate our character. "A man is known by the company which he keeps."

2. Our associates influence our character. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed."



(W. Jones.)

Flee unholy company as baneful to the power of godliness. Be but as careful for thy soul as thou wouldst be for thy body. Durst thou drink in the same cup, or sit in the same chair, with one that hath an infectious disease? And is not sin as catching a disease as the plague itself? Of all trades, it would not do well to have the collier and the fuller live together; what one cleanseth, the other will blacken and defile. Thou canst not be long among unholy ones but thou wilt hazard the defiling of thy soul, which the Holy Spirit hath made pure.

( W. Gurnall..)

The Lord refuseth to give me leave
Whence this mingled petulance and feebleness? Plainly Balaam wants to go with the princes of Balak, and he is irritated that he cannot go; and so, first of all, he vents his spleen upon the men who were the innocent occasion of his disappointment. And yet, in the midst of all his anger, he cannot bring himself to utter such decisive words as shall foreclose for ever the prospects of advancement opened up to him by Balak. There can be no mistaking the spirit of this language. It is at once both insolent and hesitating; it is abrupt, and yet circuitous. There are deeply agitating influences at work upon the mind of him who, yesterday, a master of wise speech and full of graceful hospitality, can say to inoffensive guests, "Get you into your own land; for the Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you." Here, then, we first catch sight of Balaam's weakness and infirmity. The prospect of emolument in the discharge of his prophetic office had excited his cupidity. When he first saw the rewards of divination he was, perhaps, scarcely conscious of their influence upon his mind. So long as the question of his going with the men was undecided, he betrayed no agitation on the subject; but now that these rewards were passing out of his reach — now that he was absolutely forbidden to do anything that would secure them, a passionate desire to be possessed of them was stirred within his breast, and unmistakably betrayed itself in his behaviour towards the men to whom he had promised to communicate the answer of the Lord.

(W. Roberts.)

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