Page images

For this purpose he sends messengers to Balaam, the son of Beor, a noted inchanter of those times, with large money in their hands, styled in scripture “ the rewards of divination,” and “the wages of unrighteousness,” and a message to this purpose: “Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me. Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land: for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed,” Numb. xxii. 5, 6. Thus Providence fulfilled the words of the oracle, pronounced in the song of Moses thirty-eight years before, immediately on the passage of the Red Sea; “ Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them: all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them: by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone,” Exod. xv. 15, 16. Now the person to whom Balak applied on this trying occasion, was a man of a very extraordinary character, and of very singular gifts and abilities. He seems to have united qualities, the most dissimilar and opposite. He exhibits in his language and conduct, a very uncommon combination and contrast of virtues and vices. What can exceed on the one hand, the generosity and disinterestedness which he expressed and put tice, when repeatedly urged to employ his prophetic sagacity or magical skill against Israel? “ If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more," Numb. xxii. 18.

” Numb. xxii. 18. What can equal on the other, the vile prostitution, for hire, of his great talents in the service of an idolatrous prince, against the people whom he knew to be favoured and protected of Heaven? We see him this day seeking, and enjoy

in prac


ing the most intimate communion with the living and true God; and to-morrow recurring to the practice of infamous and infernal arts, to accomplish a most detestable and diabolical purpose: proclaiming at one time, in language which the spirit of wisdom and prophecy alone could inspire, the security, glory and haj:piness of that people whom God delighted to honour; and, with the very next breath, insidiously suggesting counsels, which directly tended to destroy that security, to tarnish that glory, and to dissolve that happi.

In a word, we behold him fully impressed with the importance of a holy life, in order to a peaceful and happy end, and yet living in the commission of the most flagrant enormities, and prematurely cut off, with all his imperfections on his head; cleaving to the last to the mammon of unrighteousness, and yet sufficiently impressed with the loveliness of true goodness to pray in these words, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!” Numb. xxiii. 10.

For the further clearing up of this very singular character and history, it may be of importance to observe that though the descendants of Abraham for many ages after the death of that patriarch, were distinguished as the peculiar people of God, to whom were committed the lively oracles, and “to whom pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises,” Rom. ix. 4, yet scripture permits us not to consider all divine knowledge as confined to that people, previous to their establishment in Canaan. The dispersion from the wild attempt of Babel, necessarily conveyed in every one of its fragments some knowledge of the nature, will and worship of the God of their fathers; which, though in process of time obscured by tradition and forgetfulness, and disfigured by human invention, must still have retained somewhat of both its original form and substance. The

example and instructions of so good a master, and a neighbour so respectable as Abraham himself, could not but have a sensible effect on his numerous domestics, who were of various countries, and upon the princes with whom he came into connexion; and for this very end probably it was, that Providence kept him wandering from place to place. By means of their intercourse with Abraham, we know that Pha. raoh and Abimelech attained at least a certain degree of acquaintance with the true God. We find, in like manner, Job, at whatever period he lived, and his three friends, in Arabia, and particularly Elihu of the kindred of Ram, discovering very profound knowledge in divine things; and Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, in the land of Midian, appears evidently to have possessed the same advantage. It is not therefore matter of very great surprise, that Balaam, a stranger and an enemy to the commonwealth of Israel, should enjoy this advantage in common with many of his neighbours, and that he should have made such an indifferent use of it: this, alas! being the misery of multitudes, who are favoured with a still clearer light than he was. Neither will it excite wonder, if we find superstitious and idolatrous rites gradually blend. ing with the worship of the great Jehovah. Laban, though not to be set down as wholly given to idolatry, long before the period now under review, hed his Teraphim, or household gods, which he highly prized, either as objects of religious veneration, or on account of the precious materials of which they were composed. And this too will in part account for that strange mixture which we find in the character of Ba. Jaam, his sudden transition from the acknowledgment of the God of Israel, to a participation in the profane rites employed in the worship of the idols of Balak and Moab.

But, notwithstanding this odious and abominable mixture, we observe in more than one instance, the great God winking at these times of ignorance, and condescending to make known his will, even to men who were daily insulting him by their abominations, as in the case of Pharaoh and Abimelech already mentioned, as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar, the grossest of idolaters, many ages afterwards, and in the case before us. All this leads to make an obvious and an important distinction, beiween the extraordinary gifts and the graces of God's Spirit. It is one thing to have a clear, enlightened head, and another, to have an affectionate and obedient heart. It is a blessed union where they meet, but the former without the latter only renders wickedness more conspicuous, and condemnation more just. The charge, alas! does not stop at wicked, covetous Balaam; it was matter of complaint down to the days of Micah, and of

prophets of a different description. “ The heads” of God's people judge “ for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets divine for money,

And our blessed Lord, to level all confidence in the posses, sion of the choicest gifts, assures us, that many shall say to him in the great day, “ Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonder. ful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity," Matt. vii. 22, 23.

We observe farther, that though God was sometimes pleased to bestow the gift of prophecy upon the un. worthy, the prediction, though uttered by unholy lips, was the truth of God, which no weakness, perverseness, nor disinclination of the prophet was able either to alter or suppress. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost," 2 Pet. i. 21. They spake under an irresistible impulse; they spake sometimes what they understood not, and what they would have concealed, if they could. Thus Caiphas, the avowed enemy of our blessed Lord, uttered a notable prophecy concerning him, not knowing what he said. Thus Jeremiah, disgusted with the ill success of his preaching, finding the word of the Lord made a reproach and a derision daily, by the thoughtless men of his generation, resolved not to make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. “But,” says he,“ his word was in mine heart, as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” And Josephus, in perfect consistency with the character of Ba. laam, as drawn by Moses, puts into his mouth this address to the king of Moab, who upbraided him with breach of agreement, in pronouncing the warmest of benedictions, where he was expressly hired to curse. “Can you imagine, that when prompted by the Spirit of God to disclose futurity, it depends on us to be si. lent, or to speak out? He makes our voices the vehicles of His will, without permitting us a choice in the matter. I well remember for what purpose the joint entreaties of you and the Midianites have brought me hither. I have undertaken this journey with a fix. ed determination to favour your earnest wishes; but God is more powerful than the bent of my inclination, which aimed at the gratification of your desires. For when he takes possession of our minds, he occupies them wholly, and leaves us nothing of our own. I had nothing less in my intention, than to trumpet the praises of this mighty host, or to display the blessings which God has in reserve for this favoured race. But being graciously disposed towards them, and determinod to exalt them to the highest pinnacle of glory and felicity, He suggested to me the predictions which I could not but utter."*

Sometimes the representation of some dreadful punishment, to be instantly inflicted, if they dared to

*Joseph. Antiq. lib. IV. cap. IV.

« PreviousContinue »