‘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’, 23. 9.1 They were an elect people whom God had separated unto Himself. Though, at the moment, Israel nationally has been set aside in divine purpose and the people dispersed amongst the Gentile nations, nevertheless they still retain their Jewish identity, distinct from all other peoples.
While the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites and the other ancient tribes frequently mentioned in the Old Testament have been absorbed into the Gentile nations, the Jews remain distinct:
What of believers today? We have been called with a heavenly calling and severed from the present course of the world; ‘Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father’, Gal. 1. 3, 4. Writing to Titus, Paul says, Christ ‘gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works’, Titus 2. 14. But, though by divine calling separated from the nations, sadly, in their subsequent history the children of Israel failed to live true to their calling. Are we living true to ours? ‘Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you’, 2 Cor. 6. 17.
‘Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel?’ 23. 10. If a ‘fourth part’ is so many, what must the whole camp be like? Balaam says this after all the efforts of Pharaoh to destroy them and after a generation had fallen in the wilderness because of unbelief. The way they had multiplied bore testimony to the grace and faithfulness of God. In Genesis chapter 13 verse 16, the Lord gave this promise to Abram, ‘I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered’. In the early chapters of Acts and the days following Pentecost, we see a similar numerical increase. Prior to Pentecost, ‘Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples … (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty)’, Acts 1. 15. Following Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit, we are told, ‘in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied’; ‘the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith’, Acts 6. 1, 7. Though unlikely we are witnessing such growth today, nevertheless the Lord said, ‘I will build my church’ and that work is progressing, Matt. 16. 18.
Far from cursing them, Balaam wished to be like them, ‘Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!’ 23. 10. Commenting on the phrase ‘the death of the righteous’, Edersheim, quoting a German commentator, wrote, ‘The pious Israelite could look back with calm satisfaction in the hour of his death, upon a life rich in proofs of the blessing, forgiving, protecting, delivering, saving, mercy of God … knew that he would carry them with him as an inalienable possession, a light in the darkness of Sheol’.2 Today, we have the added benefit of New Testament teaching and the assurance that for the believer, ‘to be absent from the body’ is to ‘be present with the Lord’, 2 Cor. 5. 8.
Balaam didn’t just speak about the death of the righteous but added, ‘let my last end, be like his’. It seems that he is looking on to their final, ultimate destiny, their future glory, when, despite their present position, Israel will be the head of the nations and not the tail, Deut. 28. 13.3 But what glory are we marked out for? To be with Christ, to be like Christ, and to behold His glory.4 Balaam, seeing their position, blessings and destiny, wished to be like them. Do we live in such a way that others might wish to possess what we have found in Christ?
Moses would later say, ‘When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye’, Deut. 32. 8-10.
Alfred Edersheim, Bible History, Vol. 3, pg. 26.
The Lord says, ‘Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame. At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth’, Zeph. 3. 19, 20.
1 Thess. 4. 17; 1 John 3. 2; John 17. 24.