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thought themselves in danger of losing their pasturegrounds and their old homes. They sent for a man of reputed ability, suited apparently to their present purpose; for they wished to get him to curse Israel.
In those old times, as now, there were idiosyncrasies among men that were thought to fit them for special occasions of supposed mysterious influences. When Athens was visited by a great plague B. C. 596, the citizens after trying all kinds of remedies, sent to Crete, for Epimenides, a man of reputation for sanctity and religious rites, and considered by those people as a prophet. He came and had sacrifices offered, and the plague ceased ; and it was by his order that altars were erected in that city with the inscription To THE UNKNOWN GOD, because he knew not to what God to attribute the cure. At the time we are now speaking of, a man named Balaam, living near the Euphrates, had a somewhat similar reputation, which reached these three tribes by the Arnon; and he seemed to be the individual adapted to their purpose, not, as in the case of Epimenides, for curing, but for cursing. There are roads now directly across that intervening desert, and the whole of that region was familiar to the nomadic Midianites and Moabites. Accordingly, authorized messengers, consisting of “the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian," were despatched to Balaam “ with the rewards of divination in their hands." The chief head of this movement was Balak, king of Moab, who had called for Midian with the alarming cry respecting the Israelites, “ Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field.”
The messengers found Balaam; and whatever the man
1 That was the meaning of “the river of the land,” Num. xxii. 5.
* Mr. Graham saw one now commencing near this (at Salkhad, “Salchah,” Deut. iii. 10,) and conducting to Busrah on the Euphrates.
may have been, God employed him for his own purposes on this occasion.
Balaam was bidden by the divine interposition not to accompany the messengers:
“ Thou shalt not curse the people : for they are blessed.” The unwelcome news of the man's refusal was carried back to the Moabitish king, who
grew still more earnest as he found obstacles rising in his way. He sent another deputation larger than the other and consisting of yet higher princes of the kingdom, and with not only a pressing message, but an offer of very high honors : “Come therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people.” The messengers were requested by Balaam, as in the former case, to wait till the next morning : and during the night permission was given him to accede to their wishes, but with the injunction, “ The word that I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do." In the morning, taking the ass on which he was accustomed to ride, and accompanied by two servants he started on the journey ; but “the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him.” The animal seeing the apparition, which was, however, not visible to the master, turned aside, but was brought back to the road; and again in a narrow place, hemmed in by walls, the angel appeared, and the animal trying to avoid the apparition crushed the rider's foot against the wall. Again, in a place where there was no passing by, the angel appeared, -as before in an offensive attitude, and the animal fell to the earth under its master, whose rage, before vented in blows, now rose to an extreme height. The dumb beast was here gifted with speech, and uttered its complaints in words; and the eyes of the master being opened to see his adversary with sword drawn, "he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.” To the reasonings of the angel he answered, “I have sinned,” “now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.” He was bidden to go on,
but warned now again, “ Only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that shalt thou speak.”
He went, and was met near the Arnon by King Balak, previously informed of his approach, and impatient for an interview and to have the curse pronounced. To the king's salutation and intimations of honors that might be bestowed, he answered, “ Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say anything? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak.”
They went together to one of the sacred places' and offered sacrifices : and on the morrow they ascended to “the high places of Baal,” where they could overlook the immense assemblages of the Israelites, scattered over the tableland and in the plain of Shittim below. Balaam directed seven altars to be built here, and had caused a bullock and a ram to be offered on each; and then he retired for a while
an high place,” to wait there by himself for the result. The impatient king stood by the smoking sacrifice, expectant throngs all around gazing on. They were on Baal's high-places, and they, hoped here for words of vengeance from their god. Over this wide extent of country, where the Amorites and Bashanites had erected his numerous altars, their enemy had spread, casting down altars and images with many words of reprobation and scorn upon all. The aged chief of these invaders had denounced Baal himself; and his elders and followers had taken up the cry of hatred against this old worship of their god and of Ashteroth ;—but now, it was hoped, the time of vengeance would
Baal would speak out in words of cursing that would effectually counteract the mysterious influences working in favor of those strangers,—the cloudy pillar by day, the fiery pillar by night, resting like a withering power upon the military strength of the inhabitants. Baal would
declare for himself; the strength of the enemy would be dried up under the direful magic words of their god ; and then, to Moabite and Midianite the time of full revenge would come.
With thoughts such as these the people watched by the altar for the return of Balaam, and saw him at last appear and stand by the sacrifices, and with the silence that only such awe can beget, they listened for him to utter the curse. He spoke
“Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel. How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed ? or how shall I defy whom the Lord hath not defied ? From the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob and the number of the fourth part of Israel ? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his."
They were horrified! Balak spoke out the feelings of all in a bitter cry of complaint, and was answered by Balaam sorrowfully and unwillingly, but in words equally incisive as the former:“Must I not take heed to speak that which the Lord hath put in my mouth ?”
The king took him, for another effort, to a still higher spot, in hopes that the god would there be more favorable; for the immense multitudes of their enemy would there be more fully seen, and perhaps the god might be thus stimulated to a better response. At the top of an elevation called Pisgah, seven altars were again built, and a bullock and ram offered on each; and the king was again left by the sacrifices, while Balaam retired as before. When he again appeared, the eager question was put to him, “ What hath the Lord spoken ?” and the reply was horrifying as in the former case : “God is not man, that he should lie, neither the son of man, that he should repent : hath he said and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken and shall he not make it good ? Behold, I have received commandment to bless; and he hath blessed, and I cannot reverse it,” and he proceeded with like remarks, declaring, “Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel."
The crushing anguish of the king is seen best in his own words, “ Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all.” But again a hope rose in him, though full of fear respecting the result, and mingled with a deep despondency. There was Mount Peor, where was the temple noted most of all for the disgusting scenes of licentiousness in honor of their god; and to this place Balaam was now conducted. Their god, they hoped amid their growing despair, might possibly there give them a favorable response.
Here the same number of sacrifices of the same kind were made; but this time Balaam did not withdraw to receive his answer. He believed it to be useless; and so, standing by the altars, he looked abroad over the widely-spread tents of Israel. The company around were afraid now of his speech ; were afraid to gaze on his face, lighted up as if by a strange fervor,-on his staring eyes, as if seeing sights not seen by them,-on his changed expression, as if the mystic scenes rising before him in his trance were horrifying to himself. And seeing him they dreaded to hear his words. These were in the same poetic phraseology as before: Balaam, the son of Peor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said : he hath said which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!" and proceeded in the same strain of prophecy respecting the future of these enemies of Balak. The feelings of the latter had been verging toward an angry explosion, and they now broke out in reproaches, and a