Numbers Chapter Twenty-three
Balak's sacrifice, Balaam pronounces a blessing instead of a curse. (1-10) Balak's disappointment, and second sacrifice, Balaam again blesses Israel. (11-30)
Commentary on Numbers 23:1-10
With the camps of Israel full in view, Balaam ordered seven altars to be built, and a bullock and a ram to be offered on each. Oh the sottishness of superstition, to imagine that God will be at man's beck! The curse is turned into a blessing, by the overruling power of God, in love to Israel. God designed to serve his own glory by Balaam, and therefore met him. If God put a word into the mouth of Balaam, who would have defied God and Israel, surely he will not be wanting to those who desire to glorify God, and to edify his people; it shall be given what they should speak. He who opened the mouth of the ass, caused the mouth of this wicked man to speak words as contrary to the desire of his heart, as those of the ass were to the powers of the brute. The miracle was as great in the one case as in the other. Balaam pronounces Israel safe. He owns he could do no more than God suffered him to do. He pronounces them happy in their distinction from the rest of the nations. Happy in their numbers, which made them both honourable and formidable. Happy in their last end. Death is the end of all men; even the righteous must die, and it is good for us to think of this with regard to ourselves, as Balaam does here, speaking of his own death. He pronounces the righteous truly blessed, not only while they live, but when they die; which makes their death even more desirable than life itself. But there are many who desire to die the death of the righteous, but do not endeavour to live the life of the righteous; gladly would they have an end like theirs, but not a way like theirs. They would be saints in heaven, but not saints on earth. This saying of Balaam's is only a wish, not a prayer; it is a vain wish, being only a wish for the end, without any care for the means. Many seek to quiet their consciences with the promise of future amendment, or take up with some false hope, while they neglect the only way of salvation, by which a sinner can be righteous before God.
Commentary on Numbers 23:11-30
Balak was angry with Balaam. Thus a confession of God's overruling power is extorted from a wicked prophet, to the confusion of a wicked prince. A second time the curse is turned into a blessing; and this blessing is both larger and stronger than the former. Men change their minds, and break their words; but God never changes his mind, and therefore never recalls his promise. And when in Scripture he is said to repent, it does not mean any change of his mind; but only a change of his way. There was sin in Jacob, and God saw it; but there was not such as might provoke him to give them up to ruin. If the Lord sees that we trust in his mercy, and accept of his salvation; that we indulge no secret lust, and continue not in rebellion, but endeavour to serve and glorify him; we may be sure that he looks upon us as accepted in Christ, that our sins are all pardoned. Oh the wonders of providence and grace, the wonders of redeeming love, of pardoning mercy, of the new-creating Spirit! Balak had no hope of ruining Israel, and Balaam showed that he had more reason to fear being ruined by them. Since Balaam cannot say what he would have him, Balak wished him to say nothing. But though there are many devices in man's heart, God's counsels shall stand. Yet they resolve to make another attempt, though they had no promise on which to build their hopes. Let us, who have a promise that the vision at the end shall speak and not lie, continue earnest in prayer, Luke 18:1.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Numbers》
 And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams.
Build seven altars — To the true God, otherwise he would not have mentioned it to God, as an argument why he should grant his requests, as he doth, Numbers 23:4. And though Balak was averse from God and his worship, yet he would be easily overruled by Balaam, who doubtless told him that it was in vain to make an address to any other than the God of Israel, who alone was able either to bless or curse them as he pleased.
Seven — This being the solemn and usual number in sacrifices.
 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.
Stand by thy burnt-offering — As in God's presence, as one that offers thyself as well as thy sacrifices to obtain his favour.
I will go — To some solitary and convenient place, where I may prevail with God to appear to me.
Sheweth me — Reveals to me, either by word or sign.
An high place — Or, into the plain, as that word properly signifies.
 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.
His parable — That is, his oracular and prophetical speech; which he calls a parable, because of the weightiness of the matter, and the liveliness of the expressions which is usual in parables.
Jacob — The posterity of Jacob.
 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.
The rocks — Upon which I now stand.
I see him — I see the people, according to thy desire, Numbers 22:41, but cannot improve that sight to the end for which thou didst design it, to curse them.
The people shall dwell alone — This people are of a distinct kind from others, God's peculiar people, separated from all other nations, as in religion and laws, so also in divine protection; and therefore enchantments cannot have that power against them which they have against other persons and people.
 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!
The dust — The numberless people of Jacob or Israel, who according to God's promise, are now become as the dust of the earth.
Of the righteous — Of this righteous and holy people. The sense is, they are not only happy above other nations in this life, and therefore in vain should I curse them, but they have this peculiar privilege, that they are happy after death: their happiness begins where the happiness of other people ends; and therefore I heartily wish that my soul may have its portion with theirs when I die. Was not God now again striving with him, not only for the sake of Israel, but of his own soul?
 And he answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak that which the LORD hath put in my mouth?
Must I not — Ought I not? Is it not my duty? Canst thou blame me for it?
 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.
Thou shalt not see them all — Perhaps he thought the sight of all them might discourage him, or as it did before, raise his fancy to an admiration of the multitude and felicity of the people.
 And he said unto Balak, Stand here by thy burnt offering, while I meet the LORD yonder.
While I meet the Lord — To consult him, and to receive an answer from him.
 And he took up his parable, and said, Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor:
Rise up — This word implies the diligent attention required; rouse up thyself and carefully mind what I say.
 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?
That he should lie — Break his promises made to his people for their preservation and benediction.
Repent — Change his counsels or purposes; unless he see iniquity in Jacob.
 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.
Iniquity — Not such as in the Canaanites: Such as he will punish with a curse, with utter destruction.
The Lord is with him — He hath a favour for this people, and will defend and save them.
The shout of a king — That is, such joyful and triumphant shouts as those wherewith a people congratulate the approach and presence of their King: when he appears among them upon some solemn occasion, or when he returns from battle with victory. This expression implies God's being their King and ruler, and their abundant security and confidence in him.
 God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.
Out of Egypt — Namely, by a strong hand, and in spite of all their enemies, and therefore it is in vain to seek or hope to overcome them.
He — Israel, whom God brought out of Egypt, such change of numbers being very common in the Hebrew language. The sense is, Israel is not now what he was in Egypt, a poor, weak, dispirited, unarmed people, but high and strong and invincible.
An unicorn — The word may mean either a rhinoceros, or a strong and fierce kind of wild goat. But such a creature as an unicorn, as commonly painted, has no existence in nature.
 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!
Against Jacob — Nor against any that truly believe in Christ.
What hath God wrought — How wonderful and glorious are those works which God is now about to do for Israel! These things will be a matter of discourse and admiration to all ages.
 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.
As a great Lion — As a lion rouseth up himself to fight, or to go out to the prey, so shall Israel stir up themselves to warlike attempts against their enemies.
He shall not lie down — Not rest or cease from fighting and pursuing.
 And Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor, that looketh toward Jeshimon.
Peor — An high place called Beth-peor, Deuteronomy 3:29. That is, the house or temple of Peor, because there they worshipped Baal-peor.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Numbers》
23 Chapter 23
Balak and Balaam offered on every altar.
The sacrifice of Balak and Balaam
I. Objectively this sacrifice was as perfect as the offerers could make it. Clearly they aimed at presenting a perfect offering. This is exhibited--
1. In the number of offerings. Seven was regarded as a sacred and perfect number.
2. In the victims offered. The most valuable that were used for sacrifices.
3. In the kind of offerings. They were burnt-offerings, which were presented without any reserve, being entirely consumed in honour of the Divine Being.
II. Subjectively this sacrifice was very imperfect, and even sinful. In the sentiments and motives of the offerers there was much that was erroneous and evil.
1. The sacrifice was offered with an admixture of faith and superstition.
2. The sacrifice was offered under the impression that the offering was meritorious on the part of the offerers, and placed God under an obligation to them.
3. The sacrifice was offered as a means to induce God to change His mind.
4. The sacrifice was offered with a view of obtaining permission and power to curse the people of God.
1. That the true value of sacrifice is to be looked for not in the quantity or quality of the offering, but in the spirit of the offerer.
2. Trusting in Christ Jesus for acceptance, let us present ourselves to God. “God must be worshipped with our best. A man’s best is himself; and to sacrifice this is the true sacrifice.”
3. He who has truly given himself to God will keep back nothing from Him. (W. Jones.)
How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed?
Balaam’s first parable; or, the blessedness of the people of God
Balaam’s declaration of the happiness of Israel sets forth the blessedness of the people of God.
I. It is placed beyond the power of their enemies.
II. It consists in their separation from the ungodly. In three respects were the Israelites separated from other nations.
1. Politically they were independent of them.
2. Morally they were separated from them.
3. By the possession of peculiar privileges they were separated from them.
III. It consists also is their vast numbers.
1. Unlimited as regards time.
2. Unlimited as regards place.
3. Unlimited as regards race or class.
IV. It consists also in righteousness of character.
V. It is in some respects desired even by the ungodly. (W. Jones.)
Balaam’s eulogy on Israel
1. He pronounceth them safe, and out of the reach of his envenomed darts.
(a) The weakness and impotency of his magic skill, for which others valued him so much, and doubtless he valued himself no less. He was the most celebrated man of that profession, and yet owns himself baffled. God had warned the Israelites not to use divination (Leviticus 19:31), and this providence gave them a reason for that law by showing them the weakness and folly of it. As they had seen the magicians of Egypt befooled, so here the great conjuror of the East (Isaiah 47:12-14).
(b) It is a confession of the sovereignty and dominion of the Divine power. He owns that he could do no more than God would suffer him to do; for God could overrule all his purposes and turn his counsels headlong.
(c) It is a confession of the inviolable security of the people of God.
1. God’s Israel are owned and blessed of Him. He has not cursed them, for they are delivered from the curse of the law; He has not abandoned them, though mean and vile.
2. Those that have the good-will of heaven have the ill-will of hell; the serpent and his seed have an enmity to them.
3. Though the enemies of God’s people may prevail far against them, yet they cannot curse them: that is, they cannot do them any real mischief, much less a ruining mischief, for they cannot separate them from the love of God (Romans 8:39).
2. He pronounceth them happy--in three things.
(a) Of the dust of Jacob, i.e., the people of Jacob, concerning whom it was foretold that they should be as the dust for number (Genesis 28:14). Thus he owns the fulfilling of the promise made to the fathers, and expects that it should be yet further accomplished.
(b) Of the fourth part of Israel; alluding to the form of their camp which was cast into four squadrons under four standards. Note, God’s Israel is a very great body; His spiritual Israel is so, and they will appear to be so, when they shall all be gathered together unto Him in the great day (Revelation 7:9).
(a) It is taken for granted that death is the end of all men; the righteous themselves must die; and it is good for each of us to think of this with application, as Balaam himself doth here, speaking of his own death.
(b) He goes upon the supposition of the soul’s immortality, and a different state on the other side death, to which this is a noble testimony, and an evidence of its being anciently known and believed. For how could the death of the righteous be more desirable than the death of the wicked upon any other account, but that of a happiness in another world, since in the manner and circumstances of dying we see all things come alike to all?
(c) He pronounceth the righteous truly blessed, not only while they live, but when they die; which makes their death not only more desirable than the death of others, but even more desirable than life itself; for in that sense his wish may be taken. Not only when I do die, let me die the death of the righteous; but I could even now be willing to die, on that condition that I might die the death of the righteous and take my end this moment provided it might be like his. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
The distinctive character of God’s people
I. The twofold question proposed.
1. “How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed?” This supposes that God had blessed Israel. To be blessed of the Lord is all that a man can desire. But who are they that are blessed of God?
2. “How shall I defy, whom the Lord hath not defied?” The idea refers to warfare (1 Samuel 17:45). God’s spiritual Israel, whose names are in the Book of Life, are they whom God hath not defied, that is, He hath made them more than conquerors through Him that loved them. And, in order to see this, we must look upon them as being in Christ, their Covenant Head, from all eternity. So that, just as He came off more than conqueror over all His spiritual foes, so shall they.
II. Notice how conspicuous Israel is in the eyes of God.
1. “For from the top of the rocks I see him.” We may regard God as saying this of His people, chosen in Christ.
2. From the hills I behold him.
III. The distinctiveness of Israel from the world. “Lo, the people shall dwell alone,” &c. God’s regenerated blood-bought people, as a spiritual fact, live alone. True, they are in the world, perform its duties, and are reckoned among the nations, but they are not of the world (John 15:19). As soon as God calls them in His grace, puts His Spirit in them, and makes them new creatures in Christ Jesus, from that time they may be said to live alone. For, let a regenerated person live in the same house in which are a number of unregenerate persons, his own relatives, he lives alone, for he has desires and feelings and spiritual sympathies different from theirs. His dwelling-place is on high; he walks with God in the light of the living; the Spirit of God draws his affections upwards, so that he may be said to live alone, so far as outward society goes. Yet he is not alone, for he has the presence of God with him. (J. J. Eastmead.)
The people shall dwell alone.--
Israel dwelling alone
I. The exact fulfilment of this ancient prediction, in every different age constitutes one of the most astonishing features of Jewish history.
1. Travellers have related that the deep red waters of the Rhone, flowing into the Lake of Geneva, may afterwards be traced for miles and miles; the dark, turbid stream of the river still refusing to mingle with the clear waters of the lake. And thus it is, and ever has been, with the Jews. Like that river they have in every age continued a distinct people, and this too amidst circumstances which, it might have been thought, must have inevitably broken down every middle wall of partition between them and others.
2. And there is yet another consideration. It is without a parallel in the history of the world. In every case where even the most discordant elements have been thrown together, they have imperceptibly blended in the course of ages.
II. Some of the improving reflections which it may be intended that we should derive from the prophecy.
1. There is a national use to be made of this prediction of Balaam. What is literally true of Israel is spiritually true of England. We, as a people, may be said to be “dwelling alone.” In regard to our mercies, our privileges, and our blessings, how much have we received above all other people under heaven! No slavery tolerated amongst us--law for the poorest--protection for the weakest, and the homes of England bright and happy--such as are found nowhere else. And above all the rest, the greatness of our religious privileges.
2. But, from the national, let us turn to the individual application of the prophecy. Let us admonish you that there is an important sense in which every Christian must “dwell alone.” You cannot follow Christ and yet be like other men. (H. Hutton, M. A.)
The true Israel dwelling alone, and not reckoned among the nations
This text is a prophecy, and hath more steps towards its accomplishment than one. The prosperity and distinction of a far more illustrious family than the house of Israel are intended here: While, therefore, the literal Israel are the type, the prophecy is to be applied to the saints of God in every age as the antitype.
I. Specify some circumstances in the history of Israel, strongly typical of the people of God in all ages. In this view, the history of Israel becomes an instructive emblem of the original state, deliverance, pilgrimage, and happy rest of the ransomed of the Lord.
II. Specify some of the peculiarities which distinguish them from the rest of the world. My text represents them as a distinct incorporated society. They are a people--a people dwelling--a people dwelling alone--and a people who shall not be reckoned among the nations. They are a distinct people, as to their extraction, as to their language, as to their privileges, as to their objects of pursuit, as to their manners, as to their allies, as to their sorrows, and as to their joys.
III. Point out whence it is that the redeemed of the Lord are such a singular people. “They shall not be reckoned among the nations.” Literally has this prediction been accomplished in the history of the posterity of Jacob. Understanding the prediction in relation to God’s redeemed people, I have these four particulars to adduce, in accounting for this singularity. They are not reckoned among the nations.
1. Because they were ordained to this distinction in the electing purpose.
2. Because they were consecrated to this singularity by the blood of the Surety.
3. Because they are disposed by the grace of God to choose this distinction for themselves.
4. Because natural men possess no inclination to submit to their restrictions. Upon a review of all that has been said do not you perceive--
An appeal in behalf of the Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews
How awful is the contrast in this history between the mind of God and the designs and wishes of man! And I am disposed to think that such a reference will lead us to the conclusion that the conduct of men in all ages has borne a resemblance to that of the king of Moab in this particular instance; and that the people whom God has especially distinguished and blessed has been singularly the object of the contempt or cruelty of man.
I. In the first place, we are to examine the contrast in different ages between the designs of God and the conduct of man towards the people of Israel.
1. And here it is scarcely necessary to observe that the persecution of the Jews on their journey to the promised land was not confined to the instance recorded in the text. The Egyptian persecution, for instance, has scarcely any parallel in history.
2. But let us pass on to another period. It pleased God, in a most singular manner, to stir up the mind of Cyrus to rebuild the temple of Jerusalem. But no sooner was the merciful design developed, than the hostility of man discovered itself. The books in which the history of the rebuilding of the temple is recorded, describe a succession of the most criminal plots to resist its progress.
3. Thus, also, at a third period. No epoch is more distinguished by the merciful designs of God in favour of the Jews than the time of our Lord’s appearance upon earth. One of the highest evidences of the favour of God, is the gift or increase of the means of religious instruction. Consider, then, the peculiar privileges of the Jews at the coming of Christ. But how were they regarded by the inhabitants of the world? They were neglected, and they were oppressed. They were enslaved by the Romans, and every species of indignity was inflicted upon them.
4. But let us now come to a fourth period, viz., to our own days. And here it is necessary to observe that, notwithstanding the continued unbelief of the Jews, the merciful intentions of God towards His prostrate people are as obvious now as at any other period of their history. They are indeed fallen, but is the patience of God therefore towards them exhausted--has He no mercies in store for them--does He mean to leave them in the dust? Such is the design of God with regard to the people of Israel, which is revealed to ourselves. And now let us contrast it with the conduct of mankind. Consider, then, the contempt in which the Jews are almost universally held. Is not the word Jew a name almost of execration among many? But can such a feeling be made to harmonise with the designs of God? Can the voice of insult have any concord with the lofty and triumphant songs and triumphs of prophecy?
II. I proceed to examine some of the reasons by which this opposition to the will of God is justified.
1. Some persons attempt to vindicate their neglect of the Jews by a reference to the crimes of this people in the earlier stage of their history. But then, are we to be the administrators of Divine vengeance? Are we, by a sort of posthumous retribution, to visit the crimes of other ages upon the people of this?
2. A second reason for this neglect of the Jews is founded upon the defects of their present character. Can a people such as these merit any public regard? Are they not stamped with all the features most offensive to God and to good men? These also are facts not to be disputed. Their rejection of Christ has brought with it a train of the most tremendous curses: His “blood” has been and is “upon them and upon their children.” Their moral defects spring from their religious defects. They want honesty, because they are ignorant of Christ. They want purity, because they have never been led to the fountain which “cleanseth from all sin.” Give them, under God, a knowledge of their Saviour, and you shall see the graces of Christianity bursting upon the barren soil, the water rushing from the rock, and the wilderness blossoming like the rose.
3. Again, a third class of objectors say, “Why not leave the Jews as you find them? It is inhuman to disturb their repose, and introduce faction among them.” To this I answer, If the conduct of the friends of this society is intolerant, it is the intolerance of Heaven: it is the intolerance of the “good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.”
4. A fourth class of objectors have said, “You take upon yourselves to be, not only the interpreters, but the agents and executors of prophecy. Because God has predicted that the Jews are to be restored, you assume that He means you to be the administrators of His plans.”--We answer, no; we are not following the voice of prophecy, which may apply to others as well as to ourselves: we are obeying the command of God, which must apply to ourselves in common with all Christians.
5. Again, it has been said by some, “We discover no particular encouragement to undertake the conversion of the Jews at the present moment, either in the circumstances of our own country, or in those of the world in general.” To this I reply, that I do discover such encouragement. I discover it in the dislocation of the Mahometan power, which has always been the grand political barrier to Jewish restoration. I discover it in the fact that many of the Jews themselves entertain the same opinion. I discover it in the remarkable circumstance, which appears to be well authenticated, of many Jews having manifested of late a singular disposition to migrate to their own land. I hear again the voice of Him, who condescended to spring from a Jewish mother, and to dwell upon its favoured soil, calling upon us to teach all nations, “beginning at Jerusalem.” “The age of chivalry is gone.” And God be praised that it is, if by that term is designated the unnatural combinations of pious zeal and fiery ambition, by which the Crusaders were characterised. But, thank God, the age of Christian zeal is not gone. And to that zeal I would now present an adequate, a sublime, a most interesting object. It is before men inflamed by this holy ambition I would lift up the banner of the Cross. Oh, remember that even now “the gates of the daughter of Zion lament and mourn, and that she, being desolate, sits on the ground.” (J. W. Cunningham, M. A.)
Balaam’s vision and prayer
I. His splendid vision.
1. He saw the pleasant tent-life of the people. Reposing peacefully on the strong arm of the Lord. Every truly good man’s life is an illustration.
2. He saw the shadow of Israel’s impending victory.
3. He saw Israel’s most savage foe, Balak, chained to his lair.
II. His beautiful prayer.
1. He believed in death, aye, in two sorts of death; he puts the death of the righteous over against the death of the wicked, though he makes no mention of the latter.
2. He believed that the death of the righteous was always desirable. (W. V. Young.)
The vision from the rocks
So from these desert lands, and these desert hills, we gaze upon the Church on her way to Canaan, about to be settled in the blessed land and holy city. And when we gaze, what do we see?
I. The ruggedness of the land of our present sojourn. It is the region of hostility as well as barrenness. This is not our rest. These dark mountains are not our home.
II. The glorious land. Afar off just now, but still visible, still beautiful. It is the paradise of God; it is the new Jerusalem; the city which hath foundations; the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
III. A people delivered from a present evil world. Once in bondage, now free; once groaning under oppression, now in the service of a heavenly Master, and heirs of the world to come; the Red Sea crossed, and now between them and their persecutors an iron wall. Forgiven and redeemed; with their backs on Egypt, and their faces to Jerusalem.
IV. A people sustained by Jehovah Himself. Theirs is the hidden manna, the water from the smitten rock. Jehovah feeds them; Jehovah gives them the living water. It is not man but God who cares for them.
V. A pilgrim band. They are strangers on the earth; this is not their home; here is not their city. Their loins are girt, and their staff is in their hand, and they are hastening onward. No sitting down; no taking ease; no folding of their hands. Forward, still forward, is their watchword!
VI. A people bought with a price. Their ransom has been blood; and they are not their own. Another life has gone for theirs.
VII. A people loved with an infinite love. The banner that is over them is love. The song they sing is love, “Unto Him that loved us.” It is a love which passeth knowledge; a love without bound or end; a love eternal and Divine.
VIII. A people preparing to pass over to the goodly land. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!
The end of the righteous desired
Carlyle, in his “History of the French Revolution,” tells us of a
Duke of Orleans who did not believe in death; so that when his secretary
stumbled on the words, “The late King of Spain,” he angrily demanded
what he meant by it.
The obsequious attendant replied, “My Lord, it is a title which some of the kings of Spain have taken.” We know that all our paths, wind as they may, will lead to the grave. A certain king of France believed in death, but forbade that it should ever be mentioned in his presence. “And if,” said he, “I at any time look pale, no courtier must dare, on pain of my displeasure, to mention it in my presence”; thus imitating the foolish ostrich, which, when pursued by the hunter, and utterly unable to escape, is said to hide its head in the sand, fancying that it is secure from the enemy which it cannot see. I trust that, being sane men, you desire to look in the face the whole of your future history, both in the present world and in worlds beyond the region of sight; and, foreseeing that soul and body must part in the article of death, you are desirous to consider that event, that you may he prepared for it.
I. Balaam’s wish concerning death. He anxiously desired that he might die such a death as the righteous die.
1. Truly we commend his choice, for, in the first place, it must, at the least, be as well with the righteous man when he comes to die, as with any other man. By the righteous man we mean the man who has believed in Jesus,-and so has been covered with Christ’s righteousness, and moreover, has by the power of the Holy Spirit received a new heart, so that his actions are righteous both towards God and man. A certain carping infidel, after having argued with a poor countryman who knew the faith, but who knew little else, said to him, “Well, Hodge, you really are so stupid that there is no use arguing with you. I cannot get you out of this absurd religion of yours.” “Ah! well,” said Hodge, “I dare say I am stupid, master, but do you know we poor people like to have two strings to our bow?” “Well,” said the critic, “what do you mean by that?” “Master, I’ll show you. Suppose it should all turn out as you say; suppose there is no God, and there is no hereafter, don’t you see I am as well off as you are? Certainly, it will not be any worse for me than it will be for you, if we both of us get annihilated. But don’t you see if it should happen to be true as I believe, what will become of you?”
2. There is this to be said for the righteous man: he goes to the death chamber with a quiet; conscience. It has been clearly ascertained that in the event of death, the mind is frequently quickened to a high degree of activity, so that it thinks more perhaps in the course of five minutes than it could have done in the course of years at other times. Persons who have been rescued from drowning, have said that they imagined themselves to have been weeks in the water, for the thoughts, the many views and visions, the long and detailed retrospect seemed to them to have required weeks, and yet the whole transpired in a few seconds. Frequently towards the last the soul travels at express speed, traversing its past life as though it rode upon the lightning. Ah! then how blessed is that man who, looking back upon the past, can see many things of which conscience can approve!
3. Again, the righteous man, when he dies, does not lose his all. With every other man the sound of “earth to earth, dust to dust, and ashes to ashes,” is the end of present seeming wealth and the beginning of eternal and real want. But the Christian is not made a bankrupt by the grave; death to him is gain. “Go,” said the dying Saracen hero, Saladin, “take this winding sheet, and as soon as I expire, bear it on a lance through all the streets, and let the herald cry as he holds aloft the ensign of death, ‘This is all that is left of Saladin, the conqueror of the East.’“ He need not have so said if he had been a Christian, for the believer’s heritage is not rent from him, but opened up to him by the rough hand of death. The world to come and all its infinite riches and blessedness are ours in the moment of departure.
4. “Let me die the death of the righteous” may well be our wish, because he dies with a good hope. Peering into eternity, with eyes marvellously strengthened, the believer frequently beholds, even while he is yet below, something of the glory which is to be revealed in him.
5. Moreover, the believer dies in the arms of a friend. I do not say in the arms of a mortal friend, for it has fallen to the lot of some Christians to be burnt at the stake; and some of them have rotted to death in dungeons; but yet every believer dies in the arms of the best of friends. Precious is communion with the Son of God, and never more so than when it is enjoyed upon the verge of heaven.
6. Lastly, when the good man dies, he dies with honour. Who cares for the death of the wicked? A few mourning friends lament for a little time, but they almost feel it a relief within a day or two that such a one is gone. As for the righteous, when he dieth there is weeping and mourning for him. Like Stephen, devout men carry him to the sepulchre, and make great lamentation over him.
II. Balaam spoke concerning the godly man, of his last end. I do not know that this wicked prophet, whose eyes were once opened, knew anything about this latter end, as I shall interpret it; but you and I do know, and so let us use his words, if not his thoughts. God has endowed us with a spiritual nature which shall Outlive the sun, and run on coeval with eternity. Like the years of God’s right hand, like the days of the Most High, has God ordained the life of souls to be. Now, I can well believe that the most of us wish that our position after death may be like that of the righteous.
1. The first consideration in death is that the spirit is disembodied. I should desire to be like a Christian in the disembodied state, because he will not be altogether in a new and strange world. Some of you have never exercised your spirits at all about the spirit-world. You have talked with thousands of people in bodies, but you have never spoken with spiritual beings; to you the realm of spirit is all unknown; but let me tell you, Christians are in the daily habit of communing with the spirit-world, by which I mean that their souls converse with God; their spirits are affected by the Holy Spirit; they have fellowship with angels, who are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them that are the heirs of salvation.
2. After the judgment is pronounced, the disembodied spirit dwells in heaven. Some of you could not be happy if you were allowed to enter that heaven. Shall I tell you why? It is a land of spirit, and you have neglected your spirit. There is a story told of a young woman who dreamed that she was in heaven unconverted, and thought she saw upon the pavement of transparent gold, multitudes of spirits dancing to the sweetest music. She stood still, unhappy, silent, and when the King said to her, “Why do you not partake in the joy?” she answered, “I cannot join in the dance, for I do not know the measure; I cannot join in the song, for I do not know the tune”; then said He in a voice of thunder, “What dost thou here?” And she thought herself cast out for ever. If you do not learn heaven’s language on earth you cannot learn it in the world to come. If you are not holy you cannot be with holy saints.
3. After awhile our bodies will be raised again; the soul will re-enter the body; for Christ has not only bought the souls of His people, but their bodies too. “Awake, ye dead! awake! and come to judgment! come away!” Then up will start the bodies of the wicked. I know not in what shapes of dread they will arise, nor how they will appear. But this I know, that when the righteous shall rise they will be glorious like the Lord Jesus; they shall have all the loveliness which heaven itself can give them.
III. We have to make a practical use of the whole. Behold the vanity of mere desires. Balaam desired to die the death of the righteous, and yet was slain in battle fighting against those righteous men whom he envied. There is an old proverb which says, “Wishers and woulders make bad housekeepers”; and another which declares, “Wishing never filled a sack.” Mere desiring to die the death of the righteous, though it may be natural, will be exceedingly unprofitable. Stop not there. Have you never heard the old classic story of those ancient Gauls who, having once drunk the sweet wines of Italy, constantly, as they smacked their lips, said one to another, “Where is Italy?” And when their leaders pointed to the gigantic Alps crowned with snow, they said, “Cannot we cross them?” Every time they tasted the wine the question was put, “Where is Italy? and cannot we reach it? This was good plain sense. So they put on their war-harness, and marched to old Rome to fight for the wines of Italy. So every time you hear of heaven, I should like you, with Gothic ardour, to say, “Where? is it? for I fain would go.” And happy should I be if men here would put on the harness of the Christian, and say, “Through floods and flames for such a conquest, to drink of such wines well refined, we would fain go to the battle that we may win the victory.” Oh, the folly of those who, knowing and desiring this, yet spend their strength for nought! The Roman Emperor fitted out a great expedition and sent it to conquer Britain. The valiant legionaries leaped ashore, and each man gathered a handful of shells, and went back to his barque again--that was all. Some of you are equally foolish. You are fitted by God for great endeavours and lofty enterprises, and you are gathering shells: your gold and your silver, your houses and your lands, and heaven and everlasting life you let go. Like Nero, you send to Alexandria for sand for your amusements, and send not for wheat for your starving souls. “Well,” cries one, “how is heaven to be had?” It is to be had only by a personal seeking after it. I have read of one who, when drowning, saw the rainbow in the heavens. Picture him as he sinks; he looks up, and there, if he sees the many-coloured bow, he may think to himself, “There is God’s covenant sign that the world shall never be drowned, and yet here I am drowning in this river.” So it is with you. There is the arch of God’s promise over you, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” and yet, because you believe not in Him, you will be drowned in your sins. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. The man.
II. The circumstances.
III. The wish.
1. A good wish alone will never save the soul.
2. Even knowledge of the consequences of sin will not restrain a wicked man.
3. As wishes, knowledge, and human strength are insufficient, seek for Divine grace. (Preacher’s Analyst.)
The death of the righteous
I. Righteous men die.
II. Bad men would die like them
1. The death of the righteous is a desirable death. No moral remorse, no terrible forebodings. Peaceful conscience. Glorious hope.
2. This desirable death is only gained by a righteous life. (Homilist.)
The end attained by effort
No results are attained without the diligent application of means, and no end is reached without persistent effort.
1. With respect to earthly things this proposition needs no argument. There is nothing valuable attained without labour and patience. Is knowledge? Is wealth? Is fame? Is influence? Is dignity?
2. It is well to know, then, that the spiritual kingdom is not under one law and the material under another. God’s laws traverse the whole of His creation.
3. Learn here--
The prayer of Balaam
I. That no man ought to expect, or hope, to die the death of the righteous, who will not lead the life of the righteous. If a thorn-bush could bring forth grapes, or a thistle figs, we should not know what was coming next: certainty, as to causes and effects, would be at an end, and our ideas would be but chaos. So likewise if a bad life could lead to a good death, or if he who would none of the holy beginnings of the righteous could come at last to an end like his, all our moral ideas would be upset, and confusion worse confounded would ensue as to our duties, the consequences of human acts, and the relation of cause to effect in the spiritual sphere. The sight of the unity and harmony of God’s laws in nature leads to faith in the truth and equity of His dealings with men as moral and responsible beings; and no clear mind can help seeing the force of the analogy. Nor can this argument be shaken by any theory about the efficacy of what are commonly known as death-bed repentances. Who knows anything about the worth of such changes? Are they really changes?
II. Wishes, however earnest, do not of necessity bring with them the thing wished for. Why should the wish for eternal good have a power which no wish for temporal good possesses? If the mere wishing for what you want in this life does not give the thing wished for, how can you have, for a mere wish, the glories and rewards of the life to come? (Morgan Dix, D. D.)
The happiest end of life
1. The righteous life insures the happiest end--a happy future for the soul.
2. To end well our life is a noble ambition.
3. Let us cultivate this desire, for it will fashion our lives, if it be a strong and constant motive. (Hom. Monthly.)
Upon the character of Balaam
These words, taken alone, and without respect to him who spoke them, lead our thoughts immediately to the different ends of good and bad men. It is necessary particularly to observe what Balaam understood by righteous. And he himself is introduced in the Book of Micah explaining it; if by righteous is meant good, as to be sure it is. “O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal.” From the mention of Shittim it is manifest that it is this very story which is here referred to, though another part of it, the account of which is not now extant, as there are many quotations in Scripture out of books which are not come down to us. “Remember what Balaam answered, that ye may know the righteousness of the Lord,” i.e., the righteousness which God will accept. Balak demands, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before Him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression; the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Balaam answers them, “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Here is a good man expressly characterised, as distinct from a dishonest and superstitious man. No words can more strongly exclude dishonesty and falseness of heart than “doing justice” and “loving mercy”; and both these, as well as “walking humbly with God,” are put in opposition to those ceremonial methods of recommendation which Balak hoped might have served the turn. From hence appears what he meant by the righteous whose death he desires to die. The object we have now before us is the most astonishing in the world: a very wicked man, under a deep sense of God and religion, persisting still in his wickedness, and preferring the wages of unrighteousness, even when he had before him a lively view of death, and that approaching period of his days which should deprive him of all those advantages for which he was prostituting himself; and likewise a prospect, whether certain or uncertain, of a future state of retribution: all this joined with an explicit ardent wish that, when he was to leave this world, he might be in the condition of a righteous man. What inconsistency, what perplexity is here! With what different views of things, with what contradictory principles of action, must such a mind be torn and distracted! And yet, strange as it may appear, it is not altogether an uncommon one: nay, with some small alterations, and put a little lower, it is applicable to a very considerable part of the world. For if the reasonable choice be seen and acknowledged, and yet men make the unreasonable one, is not this the same contradiction, that very inconsistency which appeared so unaccountable? To give some little opening to such characters and behaviour, it is to be observed in general that there is no account to be given in the way of reason of men’s so strong attachments to the present world: our hopes and fears and pursuits are in degrees beyond all proportion to the known value of the things they respect. This may be said without taking into consideration religion and a future state; and when these are considered, the disproportion is infinitely heightened. Now, when men go against their reason, and contradict a more important interest at a distance for one nearer, though of less consideration, if this be the whole of the case, all that can be said is that strong passions, some kind of brute force within, prevails over the principle of rationality. However, if this be with a clear, full, and distinct view of the truth of things, then it is doing the utmost violence to themselves, acting in the most palpable contradiction to their very nature. But if there be any such thing in mankind as putting halfdeceits upon themselves, which there plainly is, either by avoiding reflection, or (if they do reflect) by religious eqivocation, subterfuges, and palliating matters to themselves, by these means conscience may be laid asleep, and they may go on in a course of wickedness with less disturbance. All the various turns, doubles, and intricacies in a dishonest heart cannot be unfolded or laid open; but that there is somewhat of that kind is manifest, be it to be called self-deceit or by any other name. To bring these observations home to ourselves: it is too evident that many persons allow themselves in very unjustifiable courses, who yet make great pretences to religion, not to deceive the world--none can be so weak as to think this will pass in our age--but from principles, hopes, and fears respecting God and a future state, and go on thus with a sort of tranquillity and quiet of mind. This cannot be upon a thorough consideration and full resolution that the pleasures and advantages they propose are to be pursued at all hazards, against reason, against the law of God, and though everlasting destruction is to be the consequence. This would be doing too great violence upon themselves. No, they are for making a composition with the Almighty. These of His commands they will obey; but as to others, why, they will make all the atonements in their power--the ambitious, the covetous, the dissolute man, each in a way which shall not contradict his respective pursuit. Besides these, there are also persons who, from a more just way of considering things, see the infinite absurdity of this, of substituting sacrifice instead of obedience; there are persons far enough from superstition, and not without some real sense of God and religion upon their minds, who yet are guilty of most unjustifiable practices, and go on with great coolness and command over themselves. The same dishonesty and unsoundness of heart discovers itself in these another way. In all common ordinary cases we see intuitively at first view what is our duty, what is the honest part. This is the ground of the observation that the first thought is often the best. In these cases doubt and deliberation is itself dishonesty, as it was in Balaam upon the second message. That which is called considering what is our duty in a particular case is very often nothing but endeavouring to explain it away. Thus those courses which, if men would fairly attend to the dictates of their own consciences, they would see to be corruption, excess, oppression, uncharitableness; these are refined upon--things were so and so circumstantiated--great difficulties are raised about fixing bounds and degrees, and thus every moral obligation whatever may be evaded. That great numbers are in this way of deceiving themselves is certain. There is scarce a man in the world who has entirely got over all regards, hopes, and fears concerning God and a future state; and these apprehensions in the generality, bad as we are, prevail in considerable degrees: yet men will and can be wicked, with calmness and thought; we see they are. There must therefore be some method of making it sit a little easy upon their minds, which in the superstitious is those indulgences and atonements before mentioned, and this self-deceit of another kind in persons of another character. And both these proceed from a certain unfairness of mind, a peculiar inward dishonesty, the direct contrary to that simplicity which our Saviour recommends, under the notion of becoming little children, as a necessary qualification for our entering into the kingdom of heaven. But to conclude: How much soever men differ in the course of life they prefer, and in their ways of palliating and excusing their vices to themselves, yet all agree in the one thing, desiring to die the death of the righteous. This is surely remarkable. The observation may be extended further, and put thus: Even without determining what that is which we call guilt or innocence, there is no man but would choose, after having had the pleasure or advantage of a vicious action, to be free of the guilt of it, to be in the state of an innocent man. This shows at least the disturbance and implicit dissatisfaction in vice. If we inquire into the grounds of it, we shall find it proceeds partly from an immediate sense of having done evil, and partly from an apprehension that this inward sense shall one time or another be seconded by a higher judgment, upon which our whole being depends. As we are reasonable creatures, and have any regard to ourselves, we ought to lay these things plainly and honestly before our mind, and upon this act as you please, as you think most fit; make that choice and prefer that course of life which you can justify to yourselves, and which sits most easy upon your own mind. And the result of the whole can be nothing else but that with simplicity and fairness we keep innocency, and take heed unto the thing that is right, for this alone shall bring a man peace at the last. (By. Butler.)
Balaam’s vain wish
I. What does it mean? He knew that he must die, and that after death he must live for ever. He had seen men die; he had seen the men of Aram, and Midian, and Moab die; and he bad seen the mourners sorrow for them as those who had no hope. He would not die their death. He had at least heard of other deaths, for he evidently knew much of Israel’s history. He had heard of the deaths of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in other days; and, it may be, he had heard of Aaron’s death on Mount Her just a short time before; and he knew how the righteous die. But the words mean more than this, for he speaks not merely of death, but of something beyond death--the last cad of the righteous. There is no repetition of the other. There is a parallelism indeed, but it is an ascending one; this second part containing more than the first; and by “last end” the seer meant resurrection--a truth far more widely known, at least among the nations in any way linked with patriarchal traditions, than is generally admitted. Balaam’s prayer was, “Let me share the death of the righteous; and let me share his resurrection too.” How comprehensive!
II. What state of feeling does it indicate? Sick at heart, and weary of the hollowness of his own heathenism, and all that it could give him, he cries aloud from the depths of a dissatisfied heart, “Let me die the death of the righteous.” Disappointed and sorrowful, he sees the eternal brightness in the distance, with all its attraction, and in the bitterness of his spirit cries out, “Would God that I were there!” The feeling soon passes off, but while it lasts it is real. But, with all its reality, it leads to nothing. Balaam’s wish is a very common one, both in its nature and in its fruitlessness. Sometimes it is a mere passing wish, called up by vexation and weariness; at other times it is a deep-breathed prayer; but in both cases it is too often ineffective, leading to nothing. Men, young as well as old, get tired of life, sick of the world and its vanities. They see that none of its pleasures can last. When it has done all it can, it still leaves them with a troubled conscience, an aching head, and an empty heart. In too many cases this desire is transient and sentimental. It leads to no action, no result. It vanishes like a bright rainbow from a dark cloud, and there is no change. Is it to be so with you? If hungry, a wish won’t give you bread; or, if thirsty, a wish won’t quench your thirst; or, if suffering, a wish won’t soothe your pain; or, if dying, a wish won’t bring back health into your pale cheek and faded eye. Yet a wish may be a good beginning. All fruit begins with buds and blossoms; and though these often come to nought, yet sometimes they end in much. That wish may be the beginning of your eternal life. It may lead to much; oh, let it lead you on! (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Balaam’s lights and shadows
Balaam’s character is a deep one--one of amazing power, of mixed good and evil, with a strife of elemental forces in his soul. The desire to die the death of the righteous is founded upon great intelligence, deep penetration into the ruling forces of the moral world, even if unaccompanied by the moral force to be righteous.
1. The highest knowledge of Divine things does not ensure salvation; one who knows what it is may fail of its light, peace, and final reward.
2. In all men this law of righteousness is found, as well as the consciousness that, if followed, it will lead to good.
3. All opposition to the Church or kingdom of God must fail, because the Church is founded on that law of righteousness or right which is the law of being and the very essence of God.
4. Death and its connection with righteousness, or what it opens to the righteous. (J. M. Hoppin, D. D.)
The death of the righteous
The thought which I wish to inculcate is that a Christian life is the only sure ground of hope in death. I would represent the work of life and the preparation for death as one and the same thing; and would attach to every portion of healthful, active, busy life the associations of deep solemnity, which are commonly grouped around the closing moments of one’s earthly pilgrimage. Let me first ask your attention to an invariable law of our being of which we are too prone to lose sight, namely, that our success and happiness in every new condition of life depend upon our preparation for that condition. Our earthly life is made up of a series of states and relations, each of which derives its character from the next preceding. Thus, “the child’s the father of the man.” Now, how is it that men will not apply this same law to that future state of being on which they hope to enter? How fail they to perceive that the heavenly society, like every other state of being, demands preparation, and that preparation for it cannot be a mere formula of holy words mumbled by dying lips but must run through the habits, the feelings, the affections, the entire character? You must have entered here upon the duties and the joys of the spiritual life in order to make them even tolerable to you hereafter. And spirituality of thought, temper, and feeling must, in some measure, have detached you from earthly objects, and made them seem inferior and unessential goods, in order for you to resign them without intense suffering. This view demands, as a preparation for death, not only a decent formalism, but a strictly spiritual religion--a religion which has its seat in the affections, Now, why are we not all diligently fitting ourselves for the home where we hope to go? Were it some distant city or foreign country upon our own planet where we expected to fix our residence, how earnestly should we seek an interest in its scenes, its resources, its life I How eagerly should we avail ourselves of every opportunity of training in whatever might be peculiar in its condition and modes of living! How fast, in the interval before embarking, should we become, in desire and feeling, citizens of our future home! And shall the city of God form the only exception to this rule? Shall we turn our backs upon it till driven to the shore where we must embark, and then go we know not whither? Shall not prayer, and faith, and hope lay up treasures against our arrival thither? Thus do the law of human life and the Word of God, while they make us solicitous to die the death of the righteous, unitedly urge upon us the essential importance of living his life. The same lesson must have impressed itself upon all who have been in any degree familiar with the closing scenes of life. It is not the opportunity of a death-scene, not the hurried and unnatural utterances of a last hour, but the whole previous character, the direction which the face and steps had borne before death seemed near, that cherishes or crushes our hope for the departed. (A. P. Peabody.)
Selfishness, as shown in Balaam’s character
From first to last one thing appears uppermost in this history--Balaam’s self; the honour of Balaam as a true prophet--therefore he will not lie; the wealth of Balaam--therefore the Israelites must be sacrificed. Nay, more, even in his sublimest vision his egotism breaks out. In the sight of God’s Israel he cries, “Let me die the death of the righteous”; in anticipation of the glories of the eternal advent, “I shall behold Him, but not nigh.” He sees the vision of a kingdom, a Church, a chosen people, a triumph of righteousness. In such anticipations, the nobler prophets broke out into strains in which their own personality was forgotten. Moses, when he thought that God would destroy His people, prays in agony, “Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book.” Paul speaks in impassioned words, “I have continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites.” But Balaam’s chief feeling seems to be, “How will all this advance me?” And the magnificence of the prophecy is thus marred by a chord of melancholy and diseased egotism. Not for one moment--even in those moments when uninspired men gladly forget themselves; men who have devoted themselves to a monarchy or dreamed of a republic in sublime self-abnegation--can Balaam forget himself in God’s cause. Observe, then, desire for personal salvation is not religion. It may go with it, but it is not religion. Anxiety for the state of one’s own soul is not the healthiest or best symptom. Of course every one wishes, “Let me die the death of the righteous.” But it is one thing to wish to be saved, another to wish God’s right to triumph; one thing to wish to die safe, another to wish to live holily. Nay, not only is this desire for personal salvation not religion, but if soured, it passes into hatred of the good. Balaam’s feeling became spite against the people who are to be blessed when he is not blessed. He indulges a wish that good may not prosper, because personal interests are mixed up with the failure of good. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Desiring the death of the righteous
When the indifferent and wicked reflect upon the change produced at death, and see that what appears dark to them is to the believer bright; when they see one of themselves racked with fear, and goaded by the stings of a too late awakened conscience, while the righteous is calm and resigned, they will readily adopt the language of the worldly prophet and say, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.”
I. Which arises this desire? I believe it arises from the conviction that those things on which we place our affections in this life are not such as will afford peace in the hour of death. They who are most blindly attached to the god of this world are among the readiest to confess the transitory nature of present things, and their utter inability to afford comfort at the last. You desire to “die the death of the righteous”; are you, then, resting your confidence on Jesus Christ as chief, and deriving happiness from other things, only as He shall be pleased to give them you? Do you look upon the world as something which must soon be left behind, and which will not, as your friends, exist in another state?
II. What that death is, and wherefore desirable. The death-chamber of the confirmed saint of God is a scene eloquent to all who have ever beheld it. It reveals the assured faithfulness of God’s promises, and shows the firm foundation of their hopes, who have made those promises the rock of their salvation. The righteous is not without bodily anguish at his last end. He knows by experience the sorrows and sufferings that are the lot of man; but he knows that his Saviour has endured them too, and it is but fitting the disciple should walk in the steps of his heavenly Master. But how tranquil is his mind amid them all, as he draws near to the last moment of his earthly career! At that hour, when the false hopes of the wicked are shaken and proved worthless, then the hopes of the righteous are increasing in brightness. The dying Christian has his times of temptation when “the swellings of Jordan” rise up around his soul. Satan sometimes is allowed to buffet him sorely. Yet “as thy day is, so thy strength shall be.” And hence, amid all his depression, amid all his conflicts, as the shinings of God’s love fall upon his sinking soul, his courage revives, and he can rejoice with a joy unspeakable and full of glory. The stronger his faith, the brighter are his hopes, and therefore the higher and more heavenly his joys. What says He on this subject? “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee.” “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” “If a man keep My saying, he shall never taste of death.” “Them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” “O death! I will be thy plague! O grave! I will be thy destruction!” “Right precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” These are the promises which lie thickly scattered in the pages of God’s own blessed Word. Thus you have a faint idea of what the death of the righteous is--full of faith, deep confidence, and heavenly peace. Are you anxious to realise it for yourselves? well ye rosy be. How, then, is it to be gained? Not by putting off the work of salvation to the last. Though you desire the peaceful end of the righteous, are not some of you deluding yourselves in this way? Oh! what folly! How know you that your death will come preceded by a long sickness or affliction as your warning? (R. Allen, B. A.)
The Christian’s final blessedness
1. From the clearness of his views. Wise unto salvation.
2. From the strength of his faith.
3. From the firmness of his trust. Assurance that a mansion is prepared for him, and that a merciful Saviour will welcome him to glory and immortality.
4. From the slightness of the hold which this world has on him.
5. From the familiarity with which the consistent follower of the Lord regards a state of future existence. (W. H. Marriott.)
I. The righteous die, and in the same manner outwardly as the wicked do. For Christ, in His first coming, came not to redeem our bodies from death, but our souls from damnation. His second coming shall be to redeem our bodies from corruption into a “glorious liberty.” Therefore wise men die as well as fools.
Use 1. It should enforce this excellent duty, that considering we have no long continuance here, therefore, while we are here, to do that wherefore we come into the world.
Use 2. And let it enforce moderation to all earthly things.
II. The estate of the soul continues after death. For here he wisheth to die the death of the righteous, not for any excellency in death, but in regard of the continuance of the soul after death.
Reason 1. And it discovers, indeed, that it hath a distinct life and excellency in itself, by reason that it thwarts the desires of the beady when it is in the body.
Reason 2. And we see ofttimes, when the outward man is weak, as in sickness, &c., then the understanding, will, and affections, the inward man, is most sublime, and rapt unto heaven, and is most wise.
III. There is a wide, broad difference between the death of the godly and of the wicked. In their death they are--
1. Happy in their disposition. What is the disposition of a holy man at his end? His disposition is by faith to give himself to God, by which faith he dies in obedience; he carries himself fruitfully and comfortably in his end. And ofttimes the nearer he is to happiness, the more he lays about him to be fruitful.
2. Besides his disposition, he is happy in condition; for death is a sweet close. God and he meet; grace and glory meet; he is in heaven, as it were, before his time. What is death to him? The end of all misery, of all sin of body and soul. It is the beginning of all true happiness in both.
3. And blessed after death especially; for then we know they are in heaven, waiting for the resurrection of the body. There is a blessed change of all; for after death we have a better place, better company, better employment; all is for the better.
IV. Even a wicked man, a wretched worldling, may see this; he may know this happiness of God’s people in death, and for ever, and yet notwithstanding may continue a cursed wretch. Use
1. Seeing this is so, it should teach us that we refuse not all that ill men say; they may have good apprehensions, and give good counsel. Use
2. It should stir us up to go beyond wicked men. Shall we not go so far as those go that shall never come to heaven? Let us therefore consider a little wherein the difference of these desires is, the desires that a Balaam may have, and the desires of a sound Christian, wherein the desires of a wicked man are failing.
The death of the righteous desired
I. That death is the appointed lot of all men.
II. That the righteous possess advantages in death unknown to all others.
1. Generally peaceful.
2. Sometimes triumphant.
3. Always safe.
III. The persuasion that the righteous possess advantages in death unknown to all others, leans many to adopt the exclamation in the text.
1. It is adopted by the trembling inquirer who has just perceived the necessity and value of true religion.
2. It is adopted by the decided Christian, whose eye is directed to the end of his course.
3. It is the language of those who partially feel the value of religion, but whose hearts are undecided before God.
4. It is the language of the openly wicked and profane. They live as sinners, but they would die as saints. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Mere desire useless
1. Balaam teaches us the uselessness, I may say the danger, of conviction without repentance, of a knowledge of what is right without an earnest pursuit of holiness.
2. And this comes nearly to the same thing as saying, that Balaam’s history shows us the need of practical piety, sacrificing ourselves to God, body and soul, while we have something worthy of being sacrificed; curbing our desires and passions before they die out of themselves; living a life of obedience and submission while yet the temptation of the world is strong to follow a quite different course. What is the use of a man sighing for the death of the righteous? The death is in general like the life. A far wiser prayer than Balaam’s would be this: “Give me grace to lead the life of the righteous, and let all the prime of my health and faculties be consecrated to Thee, O Lord.”
3. Lastly, the death of Balaam shows us in a very striking manner the uselessness of such religious aspirations as that in which he indulged. Balaam’s worst sins were committed after he had uttered the pious prayer of the text, and his end was miserable. Beware lest any of you be in like manner tempted to evil; you may see the excellence of religion; you may be even led to utter high aspirations for the rest, which remains for the people of God; but it is only a diligent walking in God s ways, a constant battle against self and sin and impurity and worldly lusts and the like, a constant serving of God in all things which He Himself has commanded, which can ensure you against making shipwreck of your faith. (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)
The convictions of Balaam
I. It is very evident that the ruling passion of Balaam was covetousness.
II. But I wish you, further, to consider Balaam as the possessor of extraordinary gifts.
III. But, lastly, we must consider Balaam as influenced by strong religious convictions. We mark them in his anxiety to ask counsel of God--in his confession of sin when withstood by the angel--in his steady determination to obey the letter of the command--and in the impassioned wish of my text, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.” Now we must not suppose that in all this Balaam was altogether insincere. His whole aim was to try to reconcile his wickedness with his duty; nevertheless, there were times when the better nature struggled hard within him. And is not this just the case of thousands in every age? Are there not many who, when under the influence of an awakened conscience, can melt into tears at the remembrance of past sins and negligences--who feel a momentary desire of attaining heaven? They are borne away by the fervour of the moment, and fancy themselves in earnest. The natural man has been wrought upon, and, for the time, you might fancy him spiritual; but the trance is over, and he is natural still. Beware, then, how you trust to occasional thoughts and feelings. All men, whatever their present life may be, agree in the desire of attaining heaven at the last. And here is the deceptive thing--that the wish for conversion may be mistaken for the act of conversion; the appearance of devotion for the reality of devotion; the elevated thought, the momentary aspiration, for the real abiding work of the Spirit of the Lord. Oh! then, for the grace to make these impressions permanent, so that they may lead onwards to greater watchfulness, more earnest prayer, and more honest strivings against the besetting sin. (E. Bickersteth, M. A.)
How good a thing it is to die the death of the righteous
There be many ways in which men go out of the world; some withdrawing in carelessness and indifference, some in heaviness and fear, some without hope or expectation, some with a mere wish to make an end of physical discomfort, some hardened in frigid stoicism, and some in a maze of dreams, saying to themselves, Peace, peace, when there is no peace. After no such fashion would we die. There is another manner of departure which leads all the rest in dignity and beauty. It is substantially the same in every age. Joy with peace; a trust in God that rests on strong foundations; a heart confiding in a covenant promise which it knows to be certain and sure; perfect submission to the will which is evermore a will of love; resignation of self and all into those hands which come forth through the gathering darkness; sacrificial surrender gladly paying the debt due to sin;--these signs mark the death of the righteous; whereunto, since Christ came, are to be added the presence of the Saviour, the thought that He has gone that way before us and knows every step of the path, the conviction that to die is gain, the assurance that the Lord shall raise us up at the last day, and that whosoever liveth and believeth in Him shall never die. (Morgan Dix, D. D.)
Death of Christian and infidel
The French nurse who was present at the deathbed of Voltaire, being urged to attend an Englishman whose case was critical, said, “Is he a Christian?” “Yes,” was the reply, “he is, a Christian in the highest and best sense of the term--a man who lives in the fear of God; but why do you ask?” “Sir,” she answered, “I was the nurse that attended Voltaire in his last illness, and for all the wealth of Europe I would never see another infidel die.”
Piety makes a soft death-pillow
A Roman Catholic seeing a Protestant die in peace and triumph, is reported to have said, “If this be heresy, it makes a soft pillow to die on.”
Confidence at death
Dr. Simpson on his deathbed told a friend that he awaited his great change with the contented confidence of a little child. As another friend said to him that he might, as St. John at the Last Supper, lean his head on the breast of Christ; the doctor made answer, “I fear I cannot do that, but I think I have grasped hold of the hem of His garment.” (Keenig’s Life of Dr. Simpson.)
Courage in view of death
We are all marching thither. We are going home. Men shiver at the idea that they are going to die; but this world is only a nest. We are scarcely hatched out of it here. We do not know ourselves. We have strange feelings that do not interpret themselves. The mortal in us is crying out for the immortal. As in the night the child, waking with some vague and nameless terror, cries out to express its fears and dreads, and its cry is interpreted in the mother’s heart, who runs to the child and lays her hand upon it and quiets it to sleep again, so do you not suppose that the ear of God hears our disturbances and trials and tribulations in life? Do you not suppose that He who is goodness itself cares for you? Do you suppose that He whose royal name is Love has less sympathy for you than a mother has for her babe? Let the world rock. If the foot of God is on the cradle, fear not. Look up, take courage, hope and hope to the end. (Last words of Ward Beeeher’s last sermon.)
A Christian’s last end
In the life-of the good man there is an Indian summer more beautiful than that of the seasons; richer, sunnier, and more sublime than the most glorious Indian summer the world ever knew--it is the Indian summer of the soul. When the glow of youth has departed, when the warmth of middle age is gone, and the buds and blossoms of spring are changing to the sere and yellow leaf; when the mind of the good man, still and vigorous, relaxes its labours, and the memories of a well-spent life gush forth from their secret fountains, enriching, rejoicing, and fertilising, then the trustful resignation of the Christian sheds around a sweet and holy warmth, and the soul, assuming a heavenly lustre, is no longer restricted to the narrow confines of business, but soars far beyond the winter of hoary age, and dwells peacefully and happily upon the bright spring and summer which await within the gates of Paradise evermore. Let us strive for and look trustingly forward to an Indian summer like this.
Habitual preparation to be made for death
There are few men, even among the most worldly, who do not expect to be converted before they die; but it is a selfish, mean, sordid conversion they want--just to escape hell and to secure heaven. Such a man says, “I have had my pleasures, and the flames have gone out in the fire-places of my heart. I have taken all the good on one side; now I must turn about if I would take all the good on the other.” They desire just experience enough to make a key to turn the lock of the gate of the celestial city. They wish “a hope,” just as men get a title to an estate. No matter whether they improve the property or not, if they have the title safe. A “hope” is to them like a passport which one keeps quietly in his pocket till the time for the journey, and then produces it; or, like life-preservers which hang useless around the vessel until the hour of danger comes, when the captain calls on every passenger to save himself, and then they are taken down and blown up, and each man with his hope under his arm strikes out for the land; and so, such men would keep their religious hope hanging idle until death comes, and then take it down and inflate it, that it may buoy them up, and float them over the dark river to the heavenly shore; or, as the inhabitants of Rock Island keep their boats, hauled high upon the beach, and only use them now and then, when they would cross to the mainland, so such men keep their hopes high and dry upon the shore of life, only to be used when they have to cross the flood that divides this island of Time from the mainland of Eternity. (H. W. Beecher.)
Frances Ridley Havergal’s death
She got her feet wet standing on the ground preaching temperance and the gospel to a group of boys and men, went home with a chill, and congestion set in, and they told her she was very dangerously sick. “I thought so,” she said, “but it is really too good to be true that I am going. Doctor, do you really think I am going?” “Yes.” “Today?” “Probably.” She said, “Beautiful, splendid, to be so near the gate of heaven.” Then after a spasm of pain she nestled down in the pillows and said, “There, now, it is all over--blessed rest.” Then she tried to sing, and she struck one glad, high note of praise to Christ, but could sing only one word, “He,” and then all was still. She finished it in heaven. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
A glorious death
The biographer of Dr. Norman Macleod says that, the night before his death, “he described with great delight the dreams he had been enjoying, or rather the visions which seemed to be passing vividly before his eyes, even while he was speaking. He said, ‘You cannot imagine what exquisite pictures I see! I never beheld more glorious Highlands, majestic mountains and glens, brown heather tinted with purple, and burns--clear, clear burns; and above, a sky of intense blue--so blue, without a cloud.’” On the day of his death he said: “I have had constant joy, and the happy thought continually whispered, ‘Thou art with me!’ Not many would understand me, they would put down much I have felt to the delirium of weakness, but I have had deep spiritual insight.” Very shortly before he died he said to one of his daughters, “Now all is perfect peace and perfect calm. I have glimpses of heaven that no tongue, or pen, or words can describe.”
God is not a man, that He should lie.
The unchangeable God
I. God is unchangeable. God cannot change; to suppose that He could change would be to suppose Him not Divine. A finite being may refuse to change, adhering rigidly to some purpose; but all the while that being is capable of change, there is n thing in his nature which makes it absolutely impossible that he should change. But it is so with God. We here speak of unchangeableness in regard of God’s dealings with His creatures, though of course it is also in Himself, in His essence, in His own property, that God is unchangeable; and it is an amazing and overwhelming contemplation, that of our Creator as in no respect capable of change, immutable because infinitely perfect.
II. The contrast between God and man. This unchangeableness is indispensable to the Creator, but incommunicable to the creature. It is indispensable to the Creator, forasmuch as the Creator must he in every respect infinite. But all change ends in addition or diminution: if anything be added, He was not infinite before; if anything be diminished, He is not infinite after. But if indispensable in the Creator, it is incommunicable to the creature. We say nothing against the powers of God, when we say that God could not have made an unchangeable creature. Must not that which is unchangeable be self-existent, and therefore eternal? That which has already had beginning, has already undergone change--the change from nothing to something, so that a creature, because not eternal, cannot be unchangeable. God alone is unchangeable, because God alone is eternal. It is self-evident that He cannot make an eternal creature, and therefore certain that He cannot make an unchangeable creature. The creature, then, is changing, the sun as well as the atom, the archangel no less than the worm (Psalms 102:25-27). Was it only of the material fabric of the earth, with its many productions-of the firmament, with its majestic troop of stars, that the Psalmist asserted this? Nay, it is true of the intelligent creation as well as of the material. And spirits are immortal: sparks from the eternal fire, they shall never be quenched; but though immortal, they shall not be the same; indestructible, they shall be always on the march. Angel and man, they shall not, as we have already said, be ever at a stand. Stand! when there are new heights to be scaled, new depths to be fathomed? Nay, it were imperfection, it were wretchedness. It is the glory of the Creator that He never changes; it is the glory of the creature to be always changing. Eternity shall be one mighty progress to all except the Eternal. “I am Jehovah, I change not, the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The word of God unchangeable
1. “God is not a man, that He should lie.” Balaam knew how capable he himself was of deceit and falsehood, how liable to be changed by bribery from one course to another; and it is possible that he might have entertained such unworthy notions of the Almighty as to imagine Him also movable and uncertain. But God has no admixture of evil, no imperfection; nor can He “be tempted with evil.” Men have their own corrupt interests to serve; their own gain to study, their own gratification to seek: and when these things cannot be so readily compassed by integrity, recourse is often had to deceitful dealing. It may not always be that a man’s word is actually broken; but there is very commonly, in the children of this world, some kind of double dealing to suit a carnal purpose. From all this, and from all approach to this, the Lord is purely free: He can neither deceive nor be deceived.
2. “Neither the son of man, that He should repent,” or change His purpose. Man is ignorant and short-sighted; often knows not what will be for the best: and the plan, which he bad contrived with his utmost skill, is not seldom injurious; and thus he is compelled to alter and relinquish. But God is all-wise: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”
3. We may infer--
1. The imminent danger of sin, and the certain ruin from it, if persisted in, are by no means believed and perceived, as they ought to be. The Almighty has declared, throughout His word of truth, that He is a God of holiness; and that in unholiness, in disobedience, in unrepented guilt, no man can be accepted, no man can approach Him.
2. And, blessed be the holy name of God, the gracious promises of mercy to His faithful and obedient servants are not less frequent than the threatenings of wrath upon the impenitent and forgetful. (J. Slade, M. A.)
The unchangeableness of Jehovah
I. Some men think that God will lie. God has told us, with strong and repeated asseverations, that “we must be born again” (John 3:7); but this is totally disbelieved by--
1. The profane. They persuade themselves that such strictness in religion, as is implied in the new birth, is not necessary; and that they shall go to heaven in their own way.
2. The self-righteous. These consider regeneration as a dream of weak enthusiasts, and are satisfied with the “form of godliness, without” ever experiencing “the power” of it.
3. The hypocritical professors of religion. These, having changed their creed, together with their outward conduct, fancy themselves Christians, notwithstanding their faith n either “overcomes the world,” nor “works by love,” nor “ purifies their hearts.” That all these persons think God will lie, is evident beyond a doubt; for if they really believed that old things must pass away and all things become new (2 Corinthians 5:17), before they can enter into the kingdom of heaven, they would feel concerned to know whether any such change had taken place in them; nor would they be satisfied till they had a Scriptural evidence that they were indeed “new creatures in Christ Jesus.”
II. Others fear he may lie. This is common with persons--
2. Under temptation or desertion. God has declared that He will not suffer His people to be tempted above what they are able to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). But when they come into temptation, they are apt to say, as David, “I shall one day perish,” &c. (1 Samuel 27:1).
III. But God neither will nor can lie.
1. He will not lie.
2. He cannot lie. Truth is as essential to the Divine nature as goodness, wisdom, power, or any other attribute; so that He can as easily cease to be good, or wise, or powerful, as He can suffer one jot or tittle of His word to fail. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The Lord is unchangeably true in all His ways, words, and works
His decrees are immutable and irrevocable, and without shadow of turning (Psalms 105:7-8; Psalms 105:10). To this purpose the apostle saith, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:29). By all these places we see that God is unchangeable in His mercy and goodness toward His Church and children. The reasons follow to be considered.
1. First, He is not like unto man, His ways are not like man’s ways, nor His thoughts like unto man’s thoughts; but as far as heaven is distant from the earth, so far are the works of God from ours. We know by experience the changeable nature of man. He is constant to-day, he changeth to-morrow. He loveth one day, and hateth another.
2. Secondly, His love and mercy to His people is not changeable as the moon, unconstant as the wind, floating as the sea, uncertain as the weather, but stable as the earth that cannot be moved out of his place, and steadfast as Mount Sion that remaineth for ever. This will plainly appear unto us if we consider the similitudes whereby it is expressed. His love is like to the covenant of waters, and as sure as the promise that He made to Noah, that the waters should no more overflow the whole earth, as the prophet Isaiah teacheth, Isaiah 54:7-9.
3. Again, His goodness is as the ordinance of God, that hath set an order for summer and winter, for day and night, for seed-time and harvest, for cold and heat, which shall not be changed, therefore the Lord saith (Jeremiah 31:35; Jeremiah 33:20). Nay, His mercy is said to be more stable than the mountains (Isaiah 54:10).
Now let us come to the uses of this doctrine.
1. First, hereby we learn that God is to be preferred before all creatures.
2. Secondly, we may from hence assure ourselves that God will make us unchangeable like Himself, and we may rejoice in the comfort of thin His favour. For seeing His nature is unchangeable, He will make us in our men, sure partakers of immortality. This is a great comfort unto us in these days of sorrow, to consider that the time will come, when our state shall be changed, and we continue for ever without change. Here we are subject to many turnings and returnings, but after this life shall be no more place for changing; our happiness shall be unchangeable, and firmly established with God. This the prophet sets down (Psalms 16:12).
3. Thirdly, it teacheth that it is time for us to repent and turn unto God. An unchangeable God, an unchangeable word. Let us be transformed into the obedience of it. It is not a leaden rule to bend every way to us. All our ways must be framed unto it. And when once we are turned to God, let us not return back again to our old ways, but persevere constant unto the end. The unchangeable God requireth an unchangeable servant.
4. Lastly, herein is great comfort offered to the servants of God, as on the other side horror to the wicked and disobedient. For seeing God is immutable, we may from hence take strong consolation by former examples of God’s dealing toward His children, and in all temptations build ourselves upon that blessed experience, as upon a sure foundation that can never fail us. (W. Attersoll.)
He hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.
I. Blessings are decreed for the people of God. The difficulty of believing in the glorious truth of the supreme blessedness of the children of God is so common that there must be some reasons for it.
1. One reason is that the largest blessings belong to the future. For the present, Christians have to endure the trials of a wilderness pilgrimage. We need faith to expect the good things of the unseen future.
2. A deeper reason is that the best blessings are spiritual. To the carnal mind they appear wearisome in the extreme, just as the exquisite tones of the finest melody do to a man who has no ear for music. Here also men need faith to believe that the highest blessings are necessarily at present above their appreciation.
II. The attempt to reverse these blessings results in the increase of them. The evil intention results unwittingly in a beneficent action. Consider some of the applications of this principle of Providence.
1. The captivity. Nebuchadnezzar, who aimed at destroying the Jewish nation, was indirectly its great benefactor in fulfilling the Divine prophecies of necessary chastisement and forcing the people to a painful discipline, which effectually and for ever purged them of their old besetting sin of idolatry.
2. The temptation of Christ. The tempter sought to overthrow the Son of God and Saviour of the world. But the result of the forty days’ trial in the wilderness was that Christ came forth fitted to be our great high priest by means of the very endurance of that temptation.
3. The death of Christ. His enemies hoped to overthrow His cause by means of this. But it was overruled to secure His triumph and to accomplish the great end of His mission.
4. The persecution of the Church. The Christians, scattered by the persecution that followed the death of Stephen, fled from Jerusalem only to spread the gospel in all directions, and so to increase their own numbers and to magnify the name of their God.
5. The troubles of life generally. The sufferer is described as being “delivered unto Satan.” The motive of Satan must be purely malignant. Yet the suffering he inflicts is expressly designed for the good of the sufferer--“that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5).
III. The blessings of which the people of god cannot be robbed by their most violent foes may be lost by their own sin, (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
The curses of man turned into blessings by God
The principle embodied here is this: that when God hath determined to bless His people, His purposes will be executed even by those whose intent it is only to reverse them. Tills is the solution of all the apparent mysteries and incongruities in the present state of things: and it will apply--
I. To the Church of Christ at large--and, next, to every individual among the people of God. To this Church--that is, this army of the living God, though separated in different divisions, we look, in the interpretation of God’s promises, as Balaam looked upon Jacob in his goodly tents, and Israel in his outstretched tabernacle. To these we refer the benediction of the royal psalmist, “They shall prosper that love Thee”; and to these we apply what may be termed the reversed invocation of the text -a curse becoming a blessing--“Behold, I have received commandment to bless; and He hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.” But it is not less needful, though it be less pleasing, to observe how, as in the case of Israel, the most severe and searching probation came upon them--not amidst the perils and privations of the wilderness, but amid the abundance and prosperity of the promised land. So the Church, when the fires of persecution had been extinguished, was, and still continues to be, in danger far more imminent. We must beware, lest those prevail who would openly assault her bulwarks, and attempt her battlements in vain. As to the end, indeed, all is safe, and all is sure; God has determined to bless, and earth and hell cannot reverse it (Isaiah 2:2; Habakkuk 2:14; Philippians 2:10-11). But it is not the less needful to beware lest, in the meantime, corruption be introduced amongst us from an unsuspected quarter, by intermixture with the enemies of God, while, amidst the rising mists of error, our candlestick burns dimly, if even, through apostasy, it be not removed out of its place. Intercourse with the irreligious and unbelieving, whatever be the pretext, is plainly to be suspected and to be shunned. The blessing of God upon a good cause may be forfeited, and will be nullified, by alliance with wicked men. What else can the crew expect, if they allow themselves to be piloted by traitors, but that they shall strike on a rock suddenly, and go down into the depths of destruction?
II. I proceed, however, to the second, and more practical part of the subject--the application of the principle embodied in the text to each individual believer. Rightly understood, and closely applied, it is to him a covert from all the storms of life, a shield against the fiery arrows of the wicked one, a very present help in time of trouble. God hath blessed, man cannot reverse it: and, however the world may plot, and however it may appear to the servant of the Most High, there is One who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will. The devices of man may appear to be successful, but it is His counsel only that shall abide. It is very important, however, to keep in mind that, while Scripture develops the purposes of God’s will, it does not profess to reveal the processes of God’s work. It states a definite and determined end, but it makes no specific mention of the means. “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me,” declares the Psalmist, but how, and by whom, God only knows. “He that hath begun a good work in you,” says the apostle, “will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”; but who can say whether the work will proceed in sunshine or in clouds? Perhaps the latter; not improbably the latter. It is enough for us to know that God is working out a blessing: we must not be cast down, though it come through the channel of a calamity, and with the aspect of a curse. The richest stream of benefit and glory that ever flowed forth to a lost and polluted world was thus opened. How did Christ redeem us from the curse of the law but by being made a curse for us? Many sought to quench God’s light by lifting up the Redeemer on the Cross, and they thus imparted to it instrumentally a power which in the end shall draw all men unto Him. (T. Dale, M. A.)
He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel.
The prophecies of Balaam
Prophecy is not Fatalism, but in many cases, at least, a forecasting of the certain consequences of such and such moral antecedents. And this view of prophecy leads me to that which is, after all, the most important aspect of the prophecies of Balaam. Here, in the blessings he pronounced on Israel, we have an authoritative declaration of the natural and inevitable outcome of the then condition of the chosen people; blessings which, indeed, they sometimes reaped, and sometimes failed to reap--varying in their relations to the God who spake to them by the lips of Balaam--but blessings which it is open for us to reap, if we will only follow the Lord perfectly and with all our hearts.
I. We have here a declaration of the principles that lie at the foundation of all true national and church life.
1. And the first of these principles that I shall refer to, is that mentioned in the language of the text: “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perversity in Israel.” But if we are to accept these words as in any sense descriptive of the actual condition of the Jewish people at this moment, we must understand them in relation to the words that follow: “The Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.” That is, there was none of that iniquity and perverseness in Israel which is the root and substance of all iniquity and perverseness, viz., the denial of God’s presence in the midst of them, and a refusal to submit to Him as their King. Whatever else they were (and they had their faults), the Israelites were not a godless people; and being at heart a godly and God-fearing people, Jehovah saw fit to interpret all the other features of their character according to this ruling disposition of their lives, and to look over and excuse many other imperfections for the sake of this predominating excellence.
2. Another element that characterised the moral condition of the Jewish people, was that of the separation from the other nations of the earth. Their separation was their security.
3. But there is, even still farther, a third element belonging to the moral condition of the Jewish people that must not be overlooked; and that is the principle of order that obtained amongst them. “Behold,” said the Psalmist, “how good and how pleasant a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalms 130:1). And unity and order are intimately related to each other. For order both expresses and promotes unity. And unity makes order possible.
II. There is here also declared to us the blessedness of those in whom these principles are realised and embodied. And the prophet lavisheth his praises on the Israelitish people, as the representatives of those who realise and embody these principles. Thus, e.g., he compares the tents of Israel to outspread valleys full of verdure and fertility; and again, to gardens by the riverside, always fruitful and beautiful; and again he speaks of them as trees of lign aloes, which the Lord had planted, laden with the most delicious fragrance; and as cedar trees beside the waters, full of stately, sober beauty (Numbers 24:6). And the blessedness of such he describes as not only personal, but diffusive. The godly are as water-bearers, pouring water out of their buckets on the “dry and thirsty land where no water is,” and causing peace and plenty to abound (Numbers 24:7). They themselves increase on every hand; and as they increase, the welfare of the world advances. “Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel?” (Numbers 23:10). It was not that Israel was at that moment an innumerable people, for this book is a record of the numbering of the people of Israel; but Israel had, in the moral principles that governed its action and life, the germs of indefinite extension and enlargement. And wherever it went it carried blessings for the nations in its hand.
III. The dignity and majesty of those who are thus blessed. Every symbol of strength and vigour, of safety and security, does the prophet press into the service of his eulogy of Israel’s greatness.
IV. The advantages that may be enjoyed by those who are only somewhat remotely related to the people of God. “Come with us,” said Moses to Hobab, “and we will do you good; for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel” (Numbers 10:29). There is such a thing as blessedness, by being related to the blessed. And so Balaam says of Israel: “Blessed is he that blesseth thee; and cursed is he that curseth thee” (Numbers 24:9; see Matthew 10:40; Matthew 10:42). (W. Roberts.)
The justification of God’s people
What? Was Israel perfect? Was not their entire history one of rebellion and ingratitude and sin? How then could God say He saw no iniquity or perverseness in them? Mark, it is not said that Israel had no iniquity or perverseness. It is said God “beheld” none. Is God, then, the minister of sin? God forbid! He only magnifies the riches of His grace by putting it out of His sight. But is not this a license to the soul to continue in sin, or be indifferent to it? Nay. The love that has pardoned is the love that constrains ever after to “newness of life.” But notice again--God was never indifferent to sin in Israel. “He is of too pure eyes to behold iniquity.” Yes, the least sin in them was marked and judged with an unsparing hand. But when it came to this, should Satan make use of their sin to cast them out for ever from God--to curse them--then God would see no sin in them. Then His language is, “I have not beheld iniquity in Jacob, nor seen perverseness in Israel.” Thus we have seen Israel’s complete justification before God. Now let us examine the foundation on which it rests. “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 tie spoken and shall He not make it good?” Thus their justification, and everything that follows, rest upon God’s unchangeable character. What a rock is that on which the weakest believer rests! What untold blessings are his l and all secured by the faithfulness of that unchanging God. But let us proceed and mark the streams of blessing which flow down to the believer from this Rock. “The Lord his God is with him.” What can he lack, having Him? He is with him to supply every need, to lead into every holy path, to unfold to his soul from hour to hour all the riches of His grace, to quicken, to warn, to comfort, to build up, and to carry on that work in the soul which His grace has begun, till it be perfected in glory. Mark the next blessing--“the shout of a king is among them.” It is the shout of joy. It is the joy of Christ in His people, and His people in Him: “these things have I spoken unto you that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” It is the “shout of a king,” even of King Jesus, for He has gotten the victory! “Jehovah has triumphed, and His people are free.” Mark the next blessing--“God brought them out of Egypt.” The song of redemption is now their song, and will be for ever. “He hath, as it were, the strength of an unicorn” (or buffalo); “strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” As the sapling grows into the mighty tree, so that no storms can uproot it, so the Christian grows by living upon Christ, and abiding in Him. All the trials of the way arc converted into elements of strength. What can harm the child of God, then? What foe can curse him whom God has so blessed? None. “What hath God wrought!” It is all God here; man is nothing. Surely every crown must be laid for ever on the riches of His grace! “Behold the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down till he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.” In the symbol of the lion, under which the Lord’s people are here brought before us, we have the victorious onward course of the Church of Christ. The Lord’s people are represented as “rising up” in the majesty of Divine strength and power and victory over their spiritual foes. And what is the last feature in the character of the Lord’s people presented in this parable? It is victory over every foe at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: “he shall not lie down till he eat of the prey and drink the blood of the slain.” To “lie down” is the expression for rest. In the morning of resurrection they will Pest, for then every enemy will be given into their hands. (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
And the shout of a king is among them.--
The best war-cry
I. God’s presence among his people.
1. It is an extraordinary presence, for God’s ordinary and usual presence is everywhere. Whither shall we flee from His presence? He is in the highest heaven and in the lowest hell; the hand of the Lord is upon the high hills, and His power is in all deep places. Still there is a peculiar presence; for God was among His people in the wilderness as He was not among the Moabites and the Edomites their foes, and God is in His Church as He is not in the world. He saith of His Church, “Here will I dwell, for I have desired it.” This is much more than God’s being about us; it includes the favour of God towards us. His consideration of us, His working with us.
2. God is with His people in the entireness of His nature. This is the glory of the Church of God--to have the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Ghost to be her never-failing benediction. What a glory to have Father, Son, and Holy Spirit manifesting the Godhead in the midst of our assemblies, and blessing each one of us!
3. For God to dwell with us: what a condescending presence this is! And will God in very truth dwell among men? If the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him, will He abide among His people? He will! “Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost?”
4. What an awe this imparts to every true Church of God! You may go in and out of certain assemblies, and you may say, “Here we have beauty I here we have adornment, musical, ecclesiastical, architectural, oratorical, and the like!” but to my mind there is no worship like that which proceeds from a man when he feels--the Lord is here. What a hush comes over the soul! Here is the place for the unsandalled foot and the prostrate spirit. Now are we on holy ground.
5. This is the one necessary of the Church: the Lord God must be in the midst of her, or she is nothing. If God be there, peace will be within her walls, and prosperity within her palaces.
6. This presence of God is clearly discerned by the gracious, though others may not know it.
II. The results of this Divine presence.
1. Leading (Numbers 23:22). We must have the Lord with us to guide us into our promised rest.
2. The next blessing is strength. “He hath as it were the strength of an unicorn” (Numbers 23:22). It is generally agreed that the creature here meant is an extinct species of urns or ox, most nearly represented by the buffalo of the present period. This gives us the sentence--“He hath as it were the strength of a buffalo.” When God is in a Church, what rugged strength, what massive force, what irresistible energy is sure to be there! And how untamable is the living force!
3. The next result is safety. “Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel.” The presence of God quietly baffles all the attempts of the evil one. Divination cannot touch a child of God: the evil one is chained. Wherefore be of good courage; if God be for us, who can be against us?
4. Further than that, God gives to His people the next blessing, that is, of His so working among them as to make them a wonder, and cause outsiders to raise inquiries about them. “According to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought?”
5. When God is with His people He will give them power of a destructive kind. Do not be frightened. Here is the text for it: “Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion”--that is, as a lion in the fulness of his vigour--“he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.” God has put into His Church, when He is in it, a most wonderful, destructive power as against spiritual wickedness. A healthy Church kills error, and tears in pieces evil.
III. What can be done for the securing and preserving of the presence of God with the church?
1. There is something even in the conformation of a Church to secure this. God is very tolerant, and He bears with many mistakes in His servants, and yet blesses them; but depend upon it, unless a Church is formed at the very outset upon scriptural principles and in God’s own way, sooner or later all the mistakes of her constitution will turn out to be sources of weakness. Christ loves to dwell in a house which is built according to His own plans, and not according to the whims and fancies of men.
2. But next, God will only dwell with a Church which is full of life. The living God will not inhabit a dead Church. Hence the necessity of having really regenerated people as members of the Church. Remember that text: “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living,” and it bears this sense among others, that He is not the God of a Church made up of unconverted people. Oh that we may all live unto God, and may that life be past all question.
3. That being supposed, we next notice that to have God among us we must be full of faith. Do you believe your God? Alas, too many only believe a little! But do you believe His every word? Do you believe His grandest promises? Is He a real God to you, making His words into facts every day of your lives? If so, then the Lord is among us as in the holy place. Faith builds a pavilion in which her King delights to sit enthroned.
4. With that must come prayer. Prayer is the breath of faith. Where prayer is fervent God is present.
5. Supposing there is this faith and prayer, we shall also need holiness of life. You know what Balaam did when he found he could not curse the people. Satanic was his advice. He bade the king of Moab seduce the men of Israel by the women of Moab that were fair to look upon; and he sadly succeeded. So in a Church. The devil will work hard to lead one into licentiousness, another into drunkenness, a third into dishonesty, and others into worldliness. If he can only get the goodly Babylonish garment and the wedge of gold buried in an Achan’s tent, then Israel will be chased before her adversaries. God cannot dwell in an unclean Church.
6. Lastly, when we have reached to that, let us have practical consecration. God will not dwell in a house which does not belong to Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Divine presence needed in the Church
There 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, M. A.)
Surely there Is no enchantment against Jacob.--
Impregnable security of Israel; God’s wondrous doings on their behalf
I. The truth affirmed: “Surely there is no enchantment,” &c. The certainty of this may be inferred--
1. Because the counsels of God are more than sufficient to baffle the designs and plots of hell.
2. Because the power of Jehovah is ever effectual in thwarting the attacks of the enemies of his people.
3. Because Divine goodness is more than enough to counteract the malevolence of our foes.
4. The resources of God are more than adequate to render all the means of the Church’s enemies abortive.
II. The exclamation uttered: “According to this time,” &c.
1. What is to be said? “What hath God wrought!” Agents are to be observed, but only God praised. This is to keep up our dependence on God. This is to inspire with adoration and praise. This is to keep human nature in its right place.
2. Who are to say it?
3. When should it be said?
1. Our text may apply to many as to their Christian experience before God. “Remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee,” &c. (Deuteronomy 8:2).
2. The text is appropriate to Christian missions. What enemies, difficulties, and discouragements have been overcome and surmounted! Well may we exclaim, “What hath God wrought!”
3. Let God ever be exalted for the blessings we enjoy, and for all the good done in us and by us. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The blessings of God and the acknowledgment which it demands
I. The source of effectual blessing. It directs us to the Deity, in His essential character, in His active character, and in His relative character. And what is the interference we wish? Various. Sometimes--
1. Deliverance--from danger internal and external--“enchantment.”
2. Blessing. “I have received commandment to bless,” &c
3. Forbearance. “He hath not beheld iniquity,” &c.
4. Stability. “The Lord his God is with him.”
5. Complete success.
II. The time from which his interposition is remarked. “According to this time it shall be said.” The time of--
2. Renewed devotion.
3. Peculiar providential arrangement.
4. Earnest and decisive spirit of prayer.
III. The acknowledgement it demands. “It shall be said, What hath God wrought!”
1. Acknowledgment is implied and expected. “God wrought.”
2. It is spontaneously offered. “It shall be said.”
3. It is a personal and explicit token. “Jacob and Israel.”
4. It is to be recorded and gratefully renewed. “According to this time it shall be said,” &c. (Samuel Thodey.)
A little trust is better than much foresight
That must have been a wonderful glimpse into the ways of God with men which led a diviner to deny his own art, and to confess that to wait with childlike confidence on God till in due time He reveals His will is a far greater and more precious gift than to force or surprise the secrets of the future and to pass in spirit through the times to be. God “met” Balaam to purpose when He taught him a truth which men, and even Christian men, have not yet learned--that a little trust is better than much foresight, and that to walk with God in patient and loving dependence is better than to know the things to come. And this insight into the real value of his special gift was part of that training, that discipline, by which, as we have seen, God was seeking to save His servant from his besetting sin; for Balaam was proud of the gift which set him apart from and above his fellows, of the eagle eye and unyielding spirit which made the supernatural as easy and familiar to him as the natural, while they were trembling before every breath of change and finding omens of disaster in the simplest occurrences of daily experience. He was apt to boast that he was the man of an open eye, hearing the voice of God and seeing visions from the Almighty, falling into trances in which the shadows of coming events were cast upon his mind, and that he could read all secrets and understand all mysteries. Unlike the great Hebrew prophets, who humbly confessed that the secret of the Lord is with all who fear Him, and so made themselves one with their fellows, he was perverting his high gifts to purposes of self-exaltation and self-aggrandisement. Was it not, then, most salutary that he should be checked and rebuked in this selfish and perilous course? And how could he be more effectually rebuked than by being shown a whole race possessed of even higher gifts than his own, possessed above all of the gift of waiting for God to reveal His will to them in due time, and so raised out of all dependence on divinations or enchantments? At this spectacle even his own high and sacred endowment seemed but a vulgar toy, and the aspiration was kindled in his breast for that greater good, that greatest of all gifts, the power to walk in ways of righteousness, and to leave the future, with simple trust, in the hands of God. It is a lesson which we still need to learn; for which of us would not rejoice had he prophetic raptures and trances of which to boast, if men looked up to him as possessed of a solitary and mysterious power, and resorted to him that he might forecast their fate and interpret to them the mysteries by which they were perplexed? Which of us does not at times long to pierce the veil and learn how it fares with those whom we have loved and lost awhile, or even what will be the conditions of our own life in years to come or when death shall wear us away, instead of waiting until in due time God shall reveal even this unto us? Let us, then, learn from Balaam, if we have not yet learned it from David or St. Paul, that to rest in the Lord and to wait patiently for Him is a higher achievement than to apprehend all mysteries; and that to do His will in humble trust is a nobler function and power than to foresee what that Will will do. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all--
You cannot neutralise God
“Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all.” But Balaam said, “No; you cannot treat God’s messengers in that way. As a matter of fact they are here; you have to account for them being here, and to reckon with them while they are here.” We cannot quiet things by ignoring them. By simply writing “Unknowable” across the heavens we really do not exclude supernatural or immeasurable forces. The ribbon is too narrow to shut out the whole heaven; it is but a little strip; it looks contemptible against the infinite arch. We do not exclude God by denying Him, nor by saying that we do not know Him or that He cannot be known. We cannot neutralise God, so as to make Him neither the one thing nor the other. So Balaam was the greatest mystery Balak had to deal with. It is the same with the Bible-God’s supernatural Book. It will not lie where we want it to lie: it has a way of getting up through the dust that gathers upon it and shaking itself, and making its pages felt. It will open at the wrong place; would it open at some catalogue of names, it might be tolerated, bat it opens at hot places, where white thrones are and severe judgments, and where scales are tried and measuring wands are tested. It will speak to the soul about the wrong-doing that never came to anything, and the wicked thought that would have burned the heavens and scattered dishonour upon the throne of God. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor.
The wicked are wise in their kind to bring their wicked purposes to pass
We may observe by continual experience the nature of ungodly men. They are cunning in their kind; they watch their ways and times to fit them to work out their wicked devices. Balak knew well enough he was not able to meet the Israelites in the open field, and therefore dealeth otherwise. This is it which Stephen in his apology noteth (Acts 7:19). Thus did Laban deal toward Jacob (Genesis 31:1-2; Genesis 31:41), changing his mind, revoking his bargains, altering his wages, murmuring at his prosperity, and changing his countenance toward him. This is noted also in the parable recorded (Luke 16:8). This we see by many examples. Ahithophel’s counsel was esteemed like as one who had asked counsel at the oracle of God, so were all his counsels both with David and with Absalom. The like we see in Herod when he heard of the birth of Christ, as of a new-born King, by the wise men. He pretendeth piety, but useth policy to destroy the babe our Saviour. The same we might observe in the scribes and Pharisees after the ascension of Christ. They spared no means to hinder the course of the gospel (Acts 3:1-26; Acts 4:1-37; Acts 5:1-42.), but used sometimes fair means, sometimes threatenings, sometimes commandments to stop the mouths of the apostles. All which testimonies teach us that which the prophet Jeremiah saith (Jeremiah 4:22) of the people in his time agreeable to the truth of this doctrine: “They are wise to do evil, bat to do well they have no knowledge.” The reasons follow.
1. They serve a cunning master, the author of all confusion, the contriver of all mischief, the worker of all wickedness, that old subtle serpent who worketh in all the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2).
2. God giveth even to wicked men wisdom and understanding, to magnify His mercy, who is good to all, and to aggravate their sin, who are made thereby without excuse (Romans 1:20-21). Now, the greater His goodness is toward them, the heavier shall His judgment and their punishment be (Luke 12:48). What is it that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received it, why dost thou not glorify Him of whom thou hast received it?
3. The enemies of God have knowledge, experience, foresight; they are as wise as serpents, as subtle as foxes, to the end God may use them as His rods in correcting His Church and in trying the faith of His people. So He proved the patience of the Israelites by Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and by the cunning and crafty fetches which they practised for their overthrow and destruction. So He tried Joseph and Mary by the dissimulation of Herod, by whom they were constrained to depart out of Judaea and to fly into the land of Egypt. The uses to be made of this doctrine are many.
──《The Biblical Illustrator》