With this paper we arrive at the third main section of the book: In the Plains of Moab, and the Prospects and Division of the Land, 22. 2 to 36. 13. The chapters now to be considered describe the character and conduct of Balaam and the peril of his influence upon Israel.
Balaam and Balak, ch. 22-25. The Covetous Prophet and the Crafty
King. Balak, king of Moab, unable to prevail against Israel with carnal weapons, now sent for Balaam, described in Joshua 13. 22 as “the soothsayer”, to come and curse Israel. As the sequel proves, not even the powers of darkness can deter the victorious march of the people of God. Through His encircling love, Israel is equally safe against the spirits of evil as against the sword of the enemy, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood but … against spiritual wickedness in high places1’, Eph. 6. 12, but the armour of God affords complete protection.
The Prophet, ch. 22. The character and spirit of Balaam is clearly described in the New Testament by both Jude and Peter. Cain, Balaam and Korah are examples of those who have profession without reality, preaching without profit, pride and self-assertion. They represent the religion of rationalism, mammonism and anarchism, Jude 11; 2 Pet 2. 14-16, and of these we should be constantly aware. Balaam, hankering after “filthy lucre”, abused his influence and ability, seducing Israel from the pure worship of Jehovah. Like Simon, Acts 8. 13-23, his heart was not right in the sight of God because he thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money; today, there are still those who practise religion for gain. In his farewell address to the elders of Ephesus, Paul warned of those who would come among them, like grievous wolves not sparing the flock, and of those of their own selves who would arise “speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them”. In contrast, Paul reminded them that he “coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel”, but worked with his own hands to provide for his own necessities and those of his companions, Acts 20. 28-35. The sin of covetousness is nothing less than idolatry, Col. 3. 5. The Parables, chs. 23-24. “I took thec to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether”, 23. 11; with these words Balak described Balaam’s parables concerning Israel. God will judge and punish His people for their failures, but will not listen to accusations from their enemies, for “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? it is God that justified!”, Rom. 8. 33. The first of Balaam’s parables, Num. 23. 7-12, views Israel as a separate people, to “dwell alone, and … not be reckoned among the nations”. His earthly people, chosen in Abraham, remain until this day a separate nation, while his heavenly people are a special treasure for Christ’s own possession, Titus 2. 14. In his second parable Num.
23. 18-24, Balaam describes Israel as a secure people saying, “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”. They are safe because of what God has wrought, their security depending not upon their merit but upon the promises and faithfulness of Jehovah. The believer can rest in the knowledge that “all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us”, 2 Cor. 1. 20.
In Balaam’s third parable, Num. 14. 3-9, Israel is depicted as a satisfied people; “how 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 lign aloes which the Lord hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters”, vv. 5,6. Thus, prostrate before God, with eyes uncovered, Balaam beheld Israel, prosperous, strong and victorious. Moreover, Israel had been chosen to be a channel of blessing to others, water shall flow from his buckets and his posterity shall be in abundance of water, and this would be true in a literal and prophetic sense, Ezek. 47; Zech. 14. 4. Having been hired by Balak to curse Israel, Balaam had blessed them three times, and is now-ordered to return home. As he does so he utters his fourth parable, Num.
24. 15-24, in which he sees Israel as a sovereign people, ultimately victorious, “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel”, v. 17. Here is prophesied the coming and triumph of the true Messiah, King of kings and Lord of lords, Rev. 19. 46.
The Peril, ch. 25. “And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods”, vv. 1,2. It would seem that this was the work of Balaam who, unable to curse Israel, had taught Balak how to seduce them from their loyalty to Jehovah; see 31. 16; Rev. 2. 14. To be invited to share in the religious activities of the local Baal might appear to have been an act of generous friendship, but was in fact a corruption of the covenant. The psalmist recounts, “they provoked him to anger with their inventions: and the plague brake in upon them. Then stood up Phinehas and executed judgment: so the plague was stayed. And that was counted unto him for righteousness unto all generations for ever-more”, Psa. 106. 29-31.
There are times for tenderness and seasons for severity in the history of God’s people. Complacency in essentials of truth may well be a form of compromise. The New Testament parallel is clearly stated in 2 Corinthians 6. 14-18, and provides a salutary warning against an unrestrained ecumenism. The cost of Balaam’s counsel was great, for twenty four thousand died by the plague, Num. 25. 9, while Balaam himself fell among the judged Midianites, vv. 18, 19; 31. 8. It behoves us carefully to distinguish between the tolerance of Christian love and the sublety of erroneous compromise.
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