chapter is based on Numbers 22 and 24.]
to the Jordan from the conquest of Bashan, the Israelites, in preparation
for the immediate invasion of Canaan, encamped beside the river, above its
entrance into the Dead Sea, and just opposite the plain of Jericho. They
were upon the very borders of Moab, and the Moabites were filled with
terror at the close proximity of the invaders.
The people of
Moab had not been molested by Israel, yet they had watched with troubled
forebodings all that had taken place in the surrounding countries. The
Amorites, before whom they had been forced to retreat, had been conquered
by the Hebrews, and the territory which the Amorites had wrested from Moab
was now in the possession of Israel. The hosts of Bashan had yielded
before the mysterious power enshrouded in the cloudy pillar, and the giant
strongholds were occupied by the Hebrews. The Moabites dared not risk an
attack upon them; an appeal to arms was hopeless in face of the
supernatural agencies that wrought in their behalf. But they determined,
as Pharaoh had done, to enlist the power of sorcery to counteract the work
of God. They would bring a curse upon Israel.
The people of
Moab were closely connected with the Midianites, both by the ties of
nationality and religion. And Balak, the king of Moab, aroused the fears
of the kindred people, and secured their co-operation in his designs
against Israel by the message, "Now shall this company lick up all
that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the
field." Balaam, an inhabitant of Mesopotamia, was reported to possess
supernatural powers, and his fame had reached to the land of Moab. It was
determined to call him to their aid. Accordingly, messengers of "the
elders of Moab and the elders of Midian," were sent to secure his
divinations and enchantments against Israel.
ambassadors at once set out on their long journey over the mountains and
across the deserts to Mesopotamia; and upon finding Balaam, they delivered
to him the message of their king: "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."
once a good man and a prophet of God; but he had apostatized, and had
given up to covetousness; yet he still professed to be a servant of the
Most High. He was not ignorant of God's work in behalf of Israel; and when
the messengers announced their errand, he well knew that it was his duty
to refuse the rewards of Balak and to dismiss the ambassadors. But he
ventured to dally with temptation, and urged the messengers to tarry with
him that night, declaring that he could give no decided answer till he had
asked counsel of the Lord. Balaam knew that his curse could not harm
Israel. God was on their side, and so long as they were true to Him no
adverse power of earth or hell could prevail against them. But his pride
was flattered by the words of the ambassadors, "He whom thou blessest
is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed." The bribe of costly
gifts and prospective exaltation excited his covetousness. He greedily
accepted the offered treasures, and then, while professing strict
obedience to the will of God, he tried to comply with the desires of Balak.
In the night
season the angel of God came to Balaam with the message, "Thou shalt
not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are
morning Balaam reluctantly dismissed the messengers, but he did not tell
them what the Lord had said. Angry that his visions of gain and honor had
been suddenly dispelled, he petulantly exclaimed, "Get you into your
land: for the Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you."
"loved the wages of unrighteousness." 2 Peter 2:15. The sin of
covetousness, which God declares to be idolatry, had made him a
timeserver, and through this one fault Satan gained
entire control of him.
It was this that caused his ruin. The tempter is ever presenting worldly
gain and honor to entice men from the service of God. He tells them it is
their overconscientiousness that keeps them from prosperity. Thus many are
induced to venture out of the path of strict integrity. One wrong step
makes the next easier, and they become more and more presumptuous. They
will do and dare most terrible things when once they have given themselves
to the control of avarice and a desire for power. Many flatter themselves
that they can depart from strict integrity for a time, for the sake of
some worldly advantage, and that having gained their object, they can
change their course when they please. Such are entangling themselves in
the snare of Satan, and it is seldom that they escape.
messengers reported to Balak the prophet's refusal to accompany them, they
did not intimate that God had forbidden him. Supposing that Balaam's delay
was merely to secure a richer reward, the king sent princes more in number
and more honorable than the first, with promises of higher honors, and
with authority to concede to any terms that Balaam might demand. Balak's
urgent message to the prophet was, "Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder
thee from coming unto me: for I will promote thee unto very great honor,
and I will do whatsoever thou sayest unto me: come therefore, I pray thee,
curse me this people."
A second time
Balaam was tested. In response to the solicitations of the ambassadors he
professed great conscientiousness and integrity, assuring them that no
amount of gold and silver could induce him to go contrary to the will of
God. But he longed to comply with the king's request; and although the
will of God had already been definitely made known to him, he urged the
messengers to tarry, that he might further inquire of God; as though the
Infinite One were a man, to be persuaded.
In the night
season the Lord appeared to Balaam and said, "If the men come to call
thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto
thee, that shalt thou do." Thus far the Lord would permit Balaam to
follow his own will, because he was determined upon it. He did not seek to
do the will of God, but chose his own course, and then endeavored to
secure the sanction of the Lord.
thousands at the present day who are pursuing a similar course. They would
have no difficulty in understanding
their duty if it were in harmony with
their inclinations. It is plainly set before them in the Bible or is
clearly indicated by circumstances and reason. But because these evidences
are contrary to their desires and inclinations they frequently set them
aside and presume to go to God to learn their duty. With great apparent
conscientiousness they pray long and earnestly for light. But God will not
be trifled with. He often permits such persons to follow their own desires
and to suffer the result. "My people would not hearken to My voice. .
. . So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust: and they walked in
their own counsels." Psalm 81:11, 12. When one clearly sees a duty,
let him not presume to go to God with the prayer that he may be excused
from performing it. He should rather, with a humble, submissive spirit,
ask for divine strength and wisdom to meet its claims.
were a degraded, idolatrous people; yet according to the light which they
had received their guilt was not so great in the sight of Heaven as was
that of Balaam. As he professed to be God's prophet, however, all he
should say would be supposed to be uttered by divine authority. Hence he
was not to be permitted to speak as he chose, but must deliver the message
which God should give him. "The word which I shall say unto thee,
that shalt thou do," was the divine command.
received permission to go with the messengers from Moab if they came in
the morning to call him. But, annoyed at his delay, and expecting another
refusal, they set out on their homeward journey without further
consultation with him. Every excuse for complying with the request of
Balak had now been removed. But Balaam was determined to secure the
reward; and, taking the beast upon which he was accustomed to ride, he set
out on the journey. He feared that even now the divine permission might be
withdrawn, and he pressed eagerly forward, impatient lest he should by
some means fail to gain the coveted reward.
angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him." The
animal saw the divine messenger, who was unperceived by the man, and
turned aside from the highway into a field. With cruel blows Balaam
brought the beast back into the path; but again, in a narrow place shut in
by walls, the angel appeared, and the animal, trying to avoid the menacing
figure, crushed her master's foot against the wall. Balaam was blinded to
the heavenly interposition, and knew not that God was
path. The man became exasperated, and beating the ass unmercifully, forced
it to proceed.
"in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand
or to the left," the angel appeared, as before, in a threatening
attitude; and the poor beast, trembling with terror, made a full stop, and
fell to the earth under its rider. Balaam's rage was unbounded, and with
his staff he smote the animal more cruelly than before. God now opened its
mouth, and by "the dumb ass speaking with man's voice," he
"forbade the madness of the prophet." 2 Peter 2:16. "What
have I done unto thee," it said, "that thou hast smitten me
these three times?"
being thus hindered in his journey, Balaam answered the beast as he would
have addressed an intelligent being--"Because thou hast mocked me: I
would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee."
Here was a professed magician, on his way to pronounce a curse upon a
whole people with the intent to paralyze their strength, while he had not
power even to slay the animal upon which he rode!
The eyes of
Balaam were now opened, and he beheld the angel of God standing with drawn
sword ready to slay him. In terror "he bowed down his head, and fell
flat on his face." The angel said to him, "Wherefore hast thou
smitten thine ass these three times? Behold, I went out to withstand thee,
because thy way is perverse before me: and the ass saw me, and turned from
me these three times: unless she had turned from me surely now also I had
slain thee, and saved her alive."
the preservation of his life to the poor animal that he had treated so
cruelly. The man who claimed to be a prophet of the Lord, who declared
that his eyes were open, and he saw the "vision of the
Almighty," was so blinded by covetousness and ambition that he could
not discern the angel of God visible to his beast. "The god of this
world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not." 2
Corinthians 4:4. How many are thus blinded! They rush on in forbidden
paths, transgressing the divine law, and cannot discern that God and His
angels are against them. Like Balaam they are angry at those who would
prevent their ruin.
given evidence of the spirit that controlled him, by his treatment of his
beast. "A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the
tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."
Proverbs 12:10. Few realize
as they should the sinfulness of abusing animals or leaving them to suffer
from neglect. He who created man made the lower animals also, and
"His tender mercies are over all His works." Psalm 145:9. The
animals were created to serve man, but he has no right to cause them pain
by harsh treatment or cruel exaction.
It is because
of man's sin that "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain
together." Romans 8:22. Suffering and death were thus entailed, not
only upon the human race, but upon the animals. Surely, then, it becomes
man to seek to lighten, instead of increasing, the weight of suffering
which his transgression has brought upon God's creatures. He who will
abuse animals because he has them in his power is both a coward and a
tyrant. A disposition to cause pain, whether to our fellow men or to the
brute creation, is satanic. Many do not realize that their cruelty will
ever be known, because the poor dumb animals cannot reveal it. But could
the eyes of these men be opened, as were those of Balaam, they would see
an angel of God standing as a witness, to testify against them in the
courts above. A record goes up to heaven, and a day is coming when
judgment will be pronounced against those who abuse God's creatures.
beheld the messenger of God, Balaam exclaimed in terror, "I have
sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now
therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again." The Lord
suffered him to proceed on his journey, but gave him to understand that
his words should be controlled by divine power. God would give evidence to
Moab that the Hebrews were under the guardianship of Heaven, and this He
did effectually when He showed them how powerless Balaam was even to utter
a curse against them without divine permission.
The king of
Moab, being informed of the approach of Balaam, went out with a large
retinue to the borders of his kingdom, to receive him. When he expressed
his astonishment at Balaam's delay, in view of the rich rewards awaiting
him, the prophet's answer was, "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." Balaam greatly regretted this restriction; he
feared that his purpose could not be carried out, because the Lord's
controlling power was upon him.
pomp the king, with the chief dignitaries of his
kingdom, escorted Balaam
to "the high places of Baal," from which he could survey the
Hebrew host. Behold the prophet as he stands upon the lofty height,
looking down over the encampment of God's chosen people. How little do the
Israelites know of what is taking place so near them! How little do they
know of the care of God, extended over them by day and by night! How dull
are the perceptions of God's people! How slow are they, in every age, to
comprehend His great love and mercy! If they could discern the wonderful
power of God constantly exerted in their behalf, would not their hearts be
filled with gratitude for His love, and with awe at the thought of His
majesty and power?
some knowledge of the sacrificial offerings of the Hebrews, and he hoped
that by surpassing them in costly gifts he might secure the blessing of
God and ensure the accomplishment of his sinful projects. Thus the
sentiments of the idolatrous Moabites were gaining control of his mind.
His wisdom had become foolishness; his spiritual vision was beclouded; he
had brought blindness upon himself by yielding to the power of Satan.
direction seven altars were erected, and he offered a sacrifice upon each.
He then withdrew to a "high place," to meet with God, promising
to make known to Balak whatever the Lord should reveal.
nobles and princes of Moab the king stood beside the sacrifice, while
around them gathered the eager multitude, watching for the return of the
prophet. He came at last, and the people waited for the words that should
paralyze forever that strange power exerted in behalf of the hated
Israelites. Balaam said:
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?
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.
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!"
confessed that he came with the purpose of cursing Israel, but the words
he uttered were directly contrary to the sentiments of his heart. He was
constrained to pronounce blessings, while his soul was filled with curses.
looked upon the encampment of Israel he beheld with astonishment the
evidence of their prosperity. They had been represented to him as a rude,
disorganized multitude, infesting the country in roving bands that were a
pest and terror to the surrounding nations; but their appearance was the
reverse of all this. He saw the vast extent and perfect arrangement of
their camp, everything bearing the marks of thorough discipline and order.
He was shown the favor with which God regarded Israel, and their
distinctive character as His chosen people. They were not to stand upon a
level with other nations, but to be exalted above them all. "The
people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the
nations." At the time when these words were spoken the Israelites had
no permanent settlement, and their peculiar character, their manners and
customs, were not familiar to Balaam. But how strikingly was this prophecy
fulfilled in the afterhistory of Israel! Through all the years of their
captivity, through all the ages since they were dispersed among the
nations, they have remained a distinct people. So the people of God--the
true Israel--though scattered throughout all nations, are on earth but
sojourners, whose citizenship is in heaven.
Not only was
Balaam shown the history of the Hebrew people as a nation, but he beheld
the increase and prosperity of the true Israel of God to the close of
time. He saw the special favor of the Most High attending those who love
and fear Him. He saw them supported by His arm as they enter the dark
valley of the shadow of death. And he beheld them coming forth from their
graves, crowned with glory, honor, and immortality. He saw the redeemed
rejoicing in the unfading glories of the earth made new. Gazing upon the
scene, he exclaimed, "Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number
of the fourth part of Israel?" And as he saw the crown of glory on
every brow, the joy beaming from every countenance, and looked forward to
that endless life of unalloyed happiness, he uttered the solemn prayer,
"Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like
If Balaam had
had a disposition to accept the light that God had given, he would now
have made true his words; he would at once have severed all connection
with Moab. He would no longer have presumed upon the mercy of God, but
would have returned to Him with deep repentance. But Balaam loved the
wages of unrighteousness, and these he was determined to secure.
confidently expected a curse that would fall like a withering blight upon
Israel; and at the words of the prophet he passionately exclaimed,
"What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and,
behold, thou hast blessed them altogether." Balaam, seeking to make a
virtue of necessity, professed to have spoken from a conscientious regard
for the will of God the words that had been forced from his lips by divine
power. His answer was, "Must I not take heed to speak that which the
Lord hath put in my mouth?"
not even now relinquish his purpose. He decided that the imposing
spectacle presented by the vast encampment of the Hebrews had so
intimidated Balaam that he dared not practice his divinations against
them. The king determined to take the prophet to some point where only a
small part of the host might be seen. If Balaam could be induced to curse
them in detached parties, the whole camp would soon be devoted to
destruction. On the top of an elevation called Pisgah another trial was
made. Again seven altars were erected, whereon were placed the same
offerings as at the first. The king and his princes remained by the
sacrifices, while Balaam retired to meet with God. Again the prophet was
entrusted with a divine message, which he was powerless to alter or
appeared to the anxious, expectant company the question was put to him,
"What hath the Lord spoken?" The answer, as before, struck
terror to the heart of king and princes:
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 cannot 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."
Awed by these
revelations, Balaam exclaimed, "Surely there is no enchantment
against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel." The
great magician had tried his power of enchantment, in accordance with the
desire of the Moabites; but concerning this very occasion it should be
said of Israel, "What hath God wrought!" While they were under
the divine protection, no people or nation, though aided by all the power
of Satan, should be able to prevail against them. All the world should
wonder at the marvelous work of God in behalf of His people-- that a man
determined to pursue a sinful course should be so controlled by divine
power as to utter, instead of imprecations, the richest and most precious
promises, in the language of sublime and impassioned poetry. And the favor
of God at this time manifested toward Israel was to be an assurance of His
protecting care for His obedient, faithful children in all ages. When
Satan should inspire evil men to misrepresent, harass, and destroy God's
people, this very occurrence would be brought to their remembrance, and
would strengthen their courage and their faith in God.
The king of
Moab, disheartened and distressed, exclaimed, "Neither curse them at
all, nor bless them at all." Yet a faint hope still lingered in his
heart, and he determined to make another trial. He now conducted Balaam to
Mount Peor, where was a temple devoted to the licentious worship of Baal,
their god. Here the same number of altars were erected as before, and the
same number of sacrifices were offered; but Balaam went not alone, as at
other times, to learn God's will. He made no pretense of sorcery, but
standing beside the altars, he looked abroad upon the tents of Israel.
Again the Spirit of God rested upon him, and the divine message came from
goodly are thy tents, O Jacob,
And thy tabernacles, O Israel!
As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side,
As the trees of lignaloes 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
And his King shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.
. . .
He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him
Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth
prosperity of God's people is here represented by some of the most
beautiful figures to be found in nature. The prophet likens Israel to
fertile valleys covered with abundant harvests; to flourishing gardens
watered by never-failing springs; to the fragrant sandal tree and the
stately cedar. The figure last mentioned is one of the most strikingly
beautiful and appropriate to be found in the inspired word. The cedar of
Lebanon was honored by all the people of the East. The class of trees to
which it belongs is found wherever man has gone throughout the earth. From
the arctic regions to the tropic zone they flourish, rejoicing in the
heat, yet braving the cold; springing in rich luxuriance by the riverside,
yet towering aloft upon the parched and thirsty waste. They plant their
roots deep among the rocks of the mountains and boldly stand in defiance
of the tempest. Their leaves are fresh and green when all else has
perished at the breath of winter. Above all other trees the cedar of
Lebanon is distinguished for its strength, its firmness, its undecaying
vigor; and this is used as a symbol of those whose life is "hid with
Christ in God." Colossians 3:3. Says the Scripture, "The
righteous . . . shall grow like a cedar." Psalm 92:12. The divine
hand has exalted the cedar as king over the forest. "The fir trees
were not like his boughs, and the chestnut trees were not like his
branches" (Ezekiel 31:8); nor any tree in the garden of God. The
cedar is repeatedly employed as an emblem of royalty, and its use in
Scripture to represent the righteous shows how Heaven regards those who do
the will of God.
prophesied that Israel's King would be greater and more powerful than Agag.
This was the name given to the kings of the Amalekites, who were at this
time a very powerful nation; but Israel, if true to God, would subdue all
her enemies. The King of Israel was the Son of God; and His throne was one
day to be established in the earth, and His power to be exalted above all
listened to the prophet's words Balak was overwhelmed with disappointed
hope, with fear and rage. He was indignant that Balaam could have given
him the least encouragement of a favorable response, when everything was
determined against him. He regarded with scorn the prophet's compromising,
deceptive course. The king exclaimed fiercely, "Therefore now flee
thou to thy place: I thought to promote thee unto great honor; but, lo,
the Lord hath kept thee back from honor." The answer was
king had been forewarned that Balaam could speak only the message given
him from God.
returning to his people, Balaam uttered a most beautiful and sublime
prophecy of the world's Redeemer and the final destruction of the enemies
see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh:
There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of
And shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth."
And he closed
by predicting the complete destruction of Moab and Edom, of Amalek and the
Kenites, thus leaving to the Moabitish king no ray of hope.
in his hopes of wealth and promotion, in disfavor with the king, and
conscious that he had incurred the displeasure of God, Balaam returned
from his self-chosen mission. After he had reached his home the
controlling power of the Spirit of God left him, and his covetousness,
which had been merely held in check, prevailed. He was ready to resort to
any means to gain the reward promised by Balak. Balaam knew that the
prosperity of Israel depended upon their obedience to God, and that there
was no way to cause their overthrow but by seducing them into sin. He now
decided to secure Balak's favor by advising the Moabites of the course to
be pursued to bring a curse upon Israel.
immediately returned to the land of Moab and laid his plans before the
king. The Moabites themselves were convinced that so long as Israel
remained true to God, He would be their shield. The plan proposed by
Balaam was to separate them from God by enticing them into idolatry. If
they could be led to engage in the licentious worship of Baal and
Ashtaroth, their omnipotent Protector would become their enemy, and they
would soon fall a prey to the fierce, warlike nations around them. This
plan was readily accepted by the king, and Balaam himself remained to
assist in carrying it into effect.
witnessed the success of his diabolical scheme. He saw the curse of God
visited upon His people, and thousands falling under His judgments; but
the divine justice that punished sin in Israel did not permit the tempters
to escape. In the war of Israel against the Midianites, Balaam was slain.
He had felt a presentiment that his own end was near when he exclaimed,
"Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like
his!" But he had not chosen to live the life of the righteous, and
his destiny was fixed with the enemies of God.
The fate of
Balaam was similar to that of Judas, and their characters bear a marked
resemblance to each other. Both these men tried to unite the service of
God and mammon, and met with signal failure. Balaam acknowledged the true
God, and professed to serve Him; Judas believed in Jesus as the Messiah,
and united with His followers. But Balaam hoped to make the service of
Jehovah the steppingstone to the acquirement of riches and worldly honor;
and failing in this he stumbled and fell and was broken. Judas expected by
his connection with Christ to secure wealth and promotion in that worldly
kingdom which, as he believed, the Messiah was about to set up. The
failure of his hopes drove him to apostasy and ruin. Both Balaam and Judas
had received great light and enjoyed special privileges, but a single
cherished sin poisoned the entire character and caused their destruction.
It is a
perilous thing to allow an unchristian trait to live in the heart. One
cherished sin will, little by little, debase the character, bringing all
its nobler powers into subjection to the evil desire. The removal of one
safeguard from the conscience, the indulgence of one evil habit, one
neglect of the high claims of duty, breaks down the defenses of the soul
and opens the way for Satan to come in and lead us astray. The only safe
course is to let our prayers go forth daily from a sincere heart, as did
David, "Hold up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps slip
not." Psalm 17:5.