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HISTORY OF BALAAM.
But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast
there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.-Revelations ii. 14. THE
mystery of iniquity, which the human heart is daily bringing to light, is as strange and incomprehensible as any thing in the frame of nature, or in the conduct of Providence. In the first ages of a sinful career, a spectator could not conceive, the man himself cannot believe the desperate wickedness to which he may in time be brought. The latter end is so very unlike the beginning, that it becomes matter of astonishment how the same person could possibly be so much changed, and by what steps the man was gradually transformed into the devil. Scripture represents to us a man shrinking with horror from a prophetic display of his own character, and an anticipated view of his own conduct_“What, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?" 2 Kings viii. 13. He viewed it then, through the calm medium of reason, humanity, and conscience; and justly reprobated, what passion and opportunity afterwards prompted him to act, without pity or remorse.
The progress of sin is like that of certain dieases, whose first symptoms give no alarm; to which a vigorous constitution bids a bold defiance, and treats with neglect; but which, through that neglect, silently fix
upon some of the nobler parts, prey unseen, unobseryed upon the vitals, and the man finds himself dying, before he apprehended any danger. It was but a slight cold, a tickling cough, a small difficulty of breathing; but imperceptibly becomes an intolerable oppression, an universal weakness, an extenuating hectic, under which nature fails; the nails bend in wards, the hairs fall off, the legs swell, the eyes sink, and the cold hand of death stops the languid current at the fountain. Thus the giddy sallies of youth, the mistakes of inconsideration, the errors of inexperience, through neglect, presumption and indulgence, become, before men are aware, habits of vice, constitutional maladies, by which manhood is dishonoured, old age becomes pitiable, and death is rendered dreadful beyond expression. These considerations clearly justify and enforce the advice of the apostle; “Exhort one another daily, while it is cal. led to-day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin,” Heb. iii. 13.
If there be a history and a character, which, more powerfully than another, press this exhortation upon the conscience, it is the history and character of Balaam, the son of Bosor, “who taught Balak to cast a stumb. ling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” We have traced his progress from Aram to Moab, and found him pertinaciously adhering to an impious purpose, with an understanding clearly informed as to his duty, and a conscience perfectly awake to his situation. It is unpleasant, but God grant it may not be unprofitable, to attend him through the remainder of his wicked .and abominable course.
Balak chagrined and disappointed to hear the eulogy of Israel from those lips which he had hired to curse them, weakly hopes to change the counsels of Heaven, by changing the place of his own view: and Balaam wickedly humours his fondness and credulity. The
Moabitish prince ascribes the rapturous expressions of the prophet, to the full and distinct prospect which he had of the camp of Israel, and therefore proposes to view it from a new station, whence its extremity only was visible, in the hope that a partial survey of that glory might encourage him to blast it with a curse. ducts him accordingly into the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and another preparatory sacrifice is offered up
of seven bullocks and seven rams, upon as many different altars; and the hardened wretch has the impious boldness of retiring a second time to meet God on this ungracious errand. An answer is now put into his mouth, which levels a mortal blow at the hopes of his wicked employer, and the wrath of man serves but the more illustriously to praise God. Who but must shudder to hear such words as these falling from such a tongue? “Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor: 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? Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed, and I can. not reverse it. 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. God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn. 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! Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up him. self as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink of the blood of the slain,” Numb. xxiii. 18-24. Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord,” Psal. cxliv. 15.
The time would fail to go into a particular detail of the events which justify this noble prediction. But
we should do it infinite injustice to restrict its meaning to one particular nation, to transitory purposes, or to temporal events. It is gloriously descriptive of the unchangeable faithfulness, the undeviating truth, the almighty protection, the immoveable love of God to his people. It speaks the blessedness of the man“ whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered;" the blessedness of the man “unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile,” Psalm xxxii. 1, 2. It exposes the impotence of Satan, and of all the enemies of their salvation. It exhibits the final triumph of the church of God, through the great Captain of their salvation, who unites in his person, among other wonderful extremes, the character of “the Lamb slain, to take away the sins of the world,” and of the “Lion of the tribe of Judah," the great Lion who lifteth up himself and shall not lie down, until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.” And, it prefigures their last joyful encampment in the heavenly plains, where the shout of a king shall be for ever heard among them, and the glory of the Lord arise upon them, to set no more.
This decisive answer seeins for a moment to have quashed the hopes of Balak, and he is now disposed to compound with the prophet for total silence. « Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all,” Verse 25. But O, the obstinate perseverance of the carnal mind in a sinful course! After all he had seen and heard, he returns a third time to the charge, and dreams of another station, a repeated sacrifice, and an altered purpose. How mortifying to think that good men are so much sooner weary of well-doing, so much more easily discouraged from the pursuit of duty. But though Balaam gave directions for the building of new altars, he can no longer be the dupe of his own sinful wishes and magical arts, and therefore dares not to have recourse to them again. Such is the awful, such the glorious power of God! Magicians may for a lit
tle while amuse themselves, and deceive others, by their enchantments; but Aaron's rod at length swallows up those of Egyptian wizards; and Balaam is at length constrained to resign his fruitless arts, and to acknowledge the finger of God from the top of Peor, where Baal was worshipped. He again surveys the tents of Israel, where Jehovah resided, and charmed, by the prospect, from his malevolent design, seems to give cordially into the views of that Spirit who spake by his mouth. “ And when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes, and the Spirit of God came upon him. And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor 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! As the vallies are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lign-aloes which the Lord hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters. He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.
ough with his arrows. He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee,” Chap. xxiv. 1-9.
Our chief object at present being to illustrate the character of Balaam, and to improve it, we are to consider his prophecy chiefly in that view, abstracted from the great and glorious truth which it contains. And