At this chapter begins the famous story of Balak and Balaam, their
attempt to curse Israel, and the baffling of that attempt; God's people
are long afterwards told to remember what Balak the king of Moab
consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, that they
might know the righteousness of the Lord,
In this chapter we have,
I. Balak's fear of Israel, and the plot he had to get them cursed,
II. The embassy he sent to Balaam, a conjurer, to fetch him for that
purpose, and the disappointment he met with in the first embassy,
III. Balaam's coming to him upon his second message,
IV. The opposition Balaam met with by the way,
V. The interview at length between Balak and Balaam,
|Balak Sends for Balaam.
||B. C. 1452.|
1 And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the
plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.
2 And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to
3 And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were
many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.
4 And Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this
company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh
up the grass of the field. And Balak the son of Zippor was king
of the Moabites at that time.
5 He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam the son of Beor to
Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of
his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come
out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face of the earth, and
they abide over against me:
6 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.
7 And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with
the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came unto
Balaam, and spake unto him the words of Balak.
8 And he said unto them, Lodge here this night, and I will
bring you word again, as the LORD shall speak unto me: and the
princes of Moab abode with Balaam.
9 And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with
10 And Balaam said unto God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of
Moab, hath sent unto me, saying,
11 Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which
covereth the face of the earth: come now, curse me them;
peradventure I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them
12 And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou
shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.
13 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes
of Balak, Get you into your land: for the LORD refuseth to give
me leave to go with you.
14 And the princes of Moab rose up, and they went unto Balak,
and said, Balaam refuseth to come with us.
The children of Israel have at length finished their wanderings in the
wilderness, out of which they went up
and are now encamped in the plains of Moab near Jordan, where they
continued till they passed through Jordan under Joshua, after the death
of Moses. Now we have here,
I. The fright which the Moabites were in upon the approach of Israel,
They needed not to fear any harm from them if they knew (and it is
probable that Moses let them know) the orders God had given to Israel
not to contend with the Moabites, nor to use any hostility against
But, if they had any notice of this, they were jealous that it was but
a sham, to make them secure, that they might be the more easily
conquered. Notwithstanding the old friendship between Abraham and Lot,
the Moabites resolved to ruin Israel if they could, and therefore they
will take it for granted, without any ground for the suspicion, that
Israel resolves to ruin them. Thus it is common for those that design
mischief to pretend that mischief is designed against them; and their
groundless jealousies must be the colour of their causeless malice.
They hear of their triumphs over the Amorites
and think that their own house is in danger when their neighbour's is
on fire. They observe their multitudes
They were many; and hence infer how easily they would conquer
their country, and all about them if some speedy and effectual course
were not taken to stop the progress of their victorious arms: "They
shall lick up or devour us, and all that are round about
us, as speedily and irresistibly as the ox eats up the
owning themselves to be an unequal match for so formidable an enemy.
Therefore they were sorely afraid and distressed themselves; thus were
the wicked in great fear where no fear was,
These fears they communicated to their neighbours, the elders of
Midian, that some measures might be concerted between them for their
common safety; for, if the kingdom of Moab fall, the republic of Midian
cannot stand long. The Moabites, if they had pleased, might have made a
good use of the advances of Israel, and their successes against the
Amorites. They had reason to rejoice, and give God and Israel thanks
for freeing them from the threatening power of Sihon king of the
Amorites, who had taken from them part of their country, and was likely
to overrun the rest. They had reason likewise to court Israel's
friendship, and to come in to their assistance; but having forsaken the
religion of their father Lot, and being sunk into idolatry, they hated
the people of the God of Abraham, and were justly infatuated in their
counsels and given up to distress.
II. The project which the king of Moab formed to get the people of
Israel cursed, that is, to set God against them, who, he perceived,
hitherto fought for them. He trusted more to his arts than to his arms,
and had a notion that if he could but get some prophet or other, with
his powerful charms, to imprecate evil upon them, and to pronounce a
blessing upon himself and his forces, then, though otherwise too weak,
he should be able to deal with them. This notion arose,
1. Out of the remains of some religion; for it owns a dependence upon
some visible sovereign powers that rule in the affairs of the children
of men and determine them, and an obligation upon us to make
application to these powers.
2. Out of the ruins of the true religion; for if the Midianites and
Moabites had not wretchedly degenerated from the faith and worship of
their pious ancestors, Abraham and Lot, they could not have imagined it
possible to do any mischief with their curses to a people who alone
adhered to the service of the true God, from whose service they had
III. The court which he made to Balaam the son of Beor, a famous
conjurer, to engage him to curse Israel. The Balaam lived a great way
off, in that country whence Abraham came, and where Laban lived; but,
though it was probable that there were many nearer home that were
pretenders to divination, yet none had so great a reputation for
success as Balaam, and Balak will employ the best he can hear of,
though he send a great way for him, so much is his heart upon this
project. And to gain him,
1. He makes him his friend, complaining to him, as his confidant, of
the danger he was in from the numbers and neighbourhood of the camp of
Israel: They cover the face of the earth, and they abide over
2. In effect he makes him his god, by the great power he attributes to
his word: He whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou
cursest is cursed,
The learned bishop Patrick inclines to think, with many of the Jewish
writers, that Balaam had been a great prophet, who, for the
accomplishment of his predictions and the answers of his prayers, both
for good and evil, had been looked upon justly as a man of great
interest with God; but that, growing proud and covetous, God departed
from him, and then, to support his sinking credit, he betook himself to
diabolical arts. He is called a prophet
(2 Peter 2:16,)
because he had been one, or perhaps he had raised his reputation from
the first by his magical charms, as Simon Magus, who bewitched the
people so far that he was called the great power of God,
Curses pronounced by God's prophets in the name of the Lord have
wonderful effects, as Noah's
2 Kings 2:24.
But the curse causeless shall not come
no more than Goliath's, when he cursed David by his gods,
1 Samuel 17:43.
Let us desire to have the prayers of God's ministers and people for us,
and dread having them against us; for they are greatly regarded by him
who blesseth indeed and curseth indeed. But Balak cannot rely upon
these compliments as sufficient to prevail with Balaam, the main
inducement is yet behind
they took the rewards of divination in their hand, the wages of
unrighteousness, which he loved,
2 Peter 2:15.
IV. The restraint God lays upon Balaam, forbidding him to curse Israel.
It is very probable that Balaam, being a curious inquisitive man, was
no stranger to Israel's case and character, but had heard that God was
with them of a truth, so that he ought to have given the messengers
their answer immediately, that he would never curse a people whom God
had blessed; but he lodges the messengers, and takes a night's time to
consider what he shall do, and to receive instructions from God,
When we enter into a parley with temptations we are in great danger of
being overcome by them. In the night God comes to him, probably in a
dream, and enquires what business those strangers had with him. He
knows it, but he will know it from him. Balaam gives him an account of
and God thereupon charges him not to go with them, or attempt to curse
that blessed people,
Thus God sometimes, for the preservation of his people, was pleased to
speak to bad men, as to Abimelech
and to Laban,
And we read of some that were workers of iniquity, and yet in Christ's
name prophesied, and did many wondrous works. Balaam is charged
not only not to go to Balak, but not to offer to curse this people,
which he might have attempted at a distance; and the reason is given:
They are blessed. This was part of the blessing of Abraham
I will curse him that curseth thee; so that an attempt to curse
them would be not only fruitless, but perilous. Israel had often
provoked God in the wilderness, yet he will not suffer their enemies to
curse them, for he rewards them not according to their
iniquities. The blessedness of those whose sin is covered comes
V. The return of the messengers without Balaam.
1. Balaam is not faithful in returning God's answer to the messengers,
He only tells them, the Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with
you. He did not tell them, as he ought to have done, that Israel
was a blessed people, and must by no means be cursed; for then the
design would have been crushed, and the temptation would not have been
renewed: but he, in effect, desired them to give his humble service to
Balak, and let him know that he applauded his project, and would have
been very glad to gratify him, but that truly he had the character of a
prophet, and must not go without leave from God, which he had not yet
obtained, and therefore for the present he must be excused. Note, Those
are a fair mark for Satan's temptation that speak diminishingly of
divine prohibitions, as if they amounted to no more than the denial of
a permission, and as if to go against God's law were only to go without
2. The messengers are not faithful in returning Balaam's answer to
Balak. All the account they give of it is, Balaam refuseth to come
intimating that he only wanted more courtship and higher proffers; but
they are not willing Balak should know that God had signified his
disallowance of the attempt. Thus are great men wretchedly abused by
the flatteries of those about them, who do all they can to prevent
their seeing their own faults and follies.
|Balak's Second Message to Balaam.
||B. C. 1452.|
15 And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable
16 And they came to Balaam, and said to him, Thus saith Balak
the son of Zippor, Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from
coming unto me:
17 For I will promote thee unto very great honour, and I will
do whatsoever thou sayest unto me: come therefore, I pray thee,
curse me this people.
18 And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, 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.
19 Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night,
that I may know what the LORD will say unto me more.
20 And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, 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.
21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and
went with the princes of Moab.
We have here a second embassy sent to Balaam, to fetch him over to
curse Israel. It were well for us if we were as earnest and constant in
prosecuting a good work, notwithstanding disappointments, as Balak was
in pursuing this ill design. The enemies of the church are restless and
unwearied in their attempts against it; but he that sits in heaven
laughs at them. Observe,
I. The temptation Balak laid before Balaam. He contrived to make this
assault more vigorous than the former. It is very probable that he sent
double money in the hands of his messengers; but, besides that, now he
tempted him with honours, laid a bait not only for his covetousness,
but for his pride and ambition. How earnestly should we beg of God
daily to mortify in us these two limbs of the old man! Those that know
how to look with a holy contempt upon worldly wealth and preferment
will find it not so hard a matter as most men do to keep a good
conscience. See how artfully Balak managed the temptation.
1. The messengers he sent were more, and more honourable,
He sent to this conjurer with as great respect and deference to his
quality as if he had been a sovereign prince, apprehending perhaps that
Balaam had thought himself slighted in the fewness and meanness of the
2. The request was very urgent. This powerful prince becomes a suitor
to him: "Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee
no, not God, nor conscience, nor any fear either of sin or shame."
3. The proffers were high: "I will promote thee to very great
honour among the princes of Moab;" nay, he gives him a blank, and
he shall write his own terms: I will do whatsoever thou sayest,
that is, "I will give thee whatever thou desirest, and observe whatever
thou orderest; thy word shall be a law to me,"
Thus sinners stick at no pains, spare no cost, and care not how low
they stoop, for the gratifying either of their luxury or of their
malice; shall we then be stiff and strait-handed in our compliance with
the laws of virtue? God forbid.
II. Balaam's seeming resistance of, but real yielding to, this
temptation. We may here discern in Balaam a struggle between his
convictions and his corruptions.
1. His convictions charged him to adhere to the command of God, and he
spoke their language,
Nor could any man have said better: "If Balak would give me his
house full of silver and gold, and that is more than he can give or
I can ask, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God." See
how honourably he speaks of God; he is Jehovah, my God. Note,
Many call God theirs that are not his, not truly because not
only his; they swear by the Lord, and by Malcham. See how
respectfully he speaks of the word of God, as one resolved to stick to
it, and in nothing to vary from it, and how slightly of the wealth of
this world, as if gold and silver were nothing to him in comparison
with the favour of God; and yet, at the same time, the searcher of
hearts knew that he loved the wages of unrighteousness. Note, It is an
easy thing for bad men to speak very good words, and with their mouth
to make a show of piety. There is no judging of men by their words. God
knows the heart.
2. His corruptions at the same time strongly inclined him to go
contrary to the command. He seemed to refuse the temptation,
But even then he expressed no abhorrence of it, as Christ did when he
had the kingdoms of the world offered him (Get thee hence
Satan), and as Peter did when Simon Magus offered him money: Thy
money perish with thee. But it appears
that he had a strong inclination to accept the proffer; for he would
further attend, to know what God would say to him, hoping that he might
alter his mind and give him leave to go. This was a vile reflection
upon God Almighty, as if he could change his mind, and now at last
suffer those to be cursed whom he had pronounced blessed, and as if he
would be brought to allow what he had already declared to be evil.
Surely he thought God altogether such a one as himself. He had
already been told what the will of God was, in which he ought to have
acquiesced, and not to have desired a re-hearing of that cause which
was already so plainly determined. Note, It is a very great affront to
God, and a certain evidence of the dominion of corruption in the heart,
to beg leave to sin.
III. The permission God gave him to go,
God came to him, probably by an anger, and told him he might, if he
pleased, go with Balak's messengers. So he gave him up to his own
heart's lust. "Since thou hast such a mind to go, even go, yet know
that the journey thou undertakest shall not be for thy honour;
for, though thou hast leave to go, thou shalt not, as thou hopest, have
leave to curse, for the word which I shall say unto thee, that thou
shalt do." Note, God has wicked men in a chain; hitherto they
shall come by his permission, but no further that he does permit
them. Thus he makes the wrath of man to praise him, yet, at the same
time, restrains the remainder of it. It was in anger that God said to
Balaam, "Go with them," and we have reason to think that Balaam himself
so understood it, for we do not find him pleading this allowance when
God reproved him for going. Note, As God sometimes denies the prayers
of his people in love, so sometimes he grants the desires of the wicked
IV. His setting out in the journey,
God gave him leave to go if the men called him, but he was so
fond of the journey that we do not find he staid for their calling him,
but he himself rose up in the morning, got every thing ready
with all speed, and went with the princes of Moab, who were
proud enough that they had carried their point. The apostle describes
Balaam's sin here to be that he ran greedily into an error for
The love of money is the root of all evil.
|God's Displeasure against Balaam; Remonstrance of Balaam's Ass; The Angel Appears to Balaam.
||B. C. 1452.|
22 And God's anger was kindled because he went: and the angel
of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he
was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.
23 And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way,
and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of
the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to
turn her into the way.
24 But the angel of the LORD stood in a path of the vineyards,
a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side.
25 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she thrust
herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam's foot against the
wall: and he smote her again.
26 And the angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a
narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand
or to the left.
27 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down
under Balaam: and Balaam's anger was kindled, and he smote the
ass with a staff.
28 And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto
Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me
these three times?
29 And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I
would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.
30 And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon
which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day?
was I ever wont to do so unto thee? And he said, Nay.
31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the
angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his
hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.
32 And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Wherefore hast thou
smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I went out to
withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me:
33 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.
34 And Balaam said unto the angel of the LORD, 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.
35 And the angel of the LORD said unto Balaam, Go with the men:
but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt
speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.
We have here an account of the opposition God gave to Balaam in his
journey towards Moab; probably the princes had gone before, or gone
some other way, and Balaam had pointed out where he would meet them, or
where they should stay for him, for we read nothing of them in this
part of our narrative, only that Balaam, like a person of some quality,
was attended with his two men-honour enough, one would think, for such
a man, he needed not be beholden to Balak for promotion.
I. Here is God's displeasure against Balaam for undertaking this
journey: God's anger was kindled because he went,
1. The sin of sinners is not to be thought the less provoking to God
because he permits it. We must not think that, because God does not by
his providence restrain men from sin, therefore he approves of it, or
that it is therefore not hateful to him; he suffers sin, and yet is
angry at it.
2. Nothing is more displeasing to God than malicious designs against
his people; he that touches them touches the apple of his eye.
II. The way God took to let Balaam know his displeasure against him:
An angel stood in the way for an adversary. Now God fulfilled
his promise to Israel
I will be an enemy to thy enemies. The holy angels are
adversaries to sin, and perhaps are employed more than we are aware of
in preventing it, particularly in opposing those that have any ill
designs against God's church and people, for whom Michael our prince
What a comfort is this to all that wish well to the Israel of God, that
he never suffers wicked men to form an attempt against them, without
sending his holy angels forth to break the attempt and secure his
little ones! When the prophet saw the four horns that scattered Judah,
at the same time he saw four carpenters that were to fray those horns,
&c. When the enemy comes in like a flood the Spirit of the Lord will
lift up a standard against him. This angel was an adversary to
Balaam, because Balaam counted him his adversary; otherwise those are
really our best friends, and we are so to reckon them, that stop our
progress in a sinful way. The angel stood with his sword drawn
a flaming sword, like that in the hands of the cherubim
turning every way. Note, The holy angels are at war with those
with whom God is angry, for they are the ministers of his justice.
1. Balaam had notice given him of God's displeasure, by the ass, and
this did not startle him. The ass saw the angel,
How vainly did Balaam boast that he was a man whose eyes were
open, and that he saw the visions of the Almighty
when the ass he rode on saw more than he did, his eyes being blinded
with covetousness and ambition and dazzled with the rewards of
divination! Note, Many have God against them, and his holy angels, but
are not aware of it. The ass knows his owner, sees his danger,
but Balaam does not know, does not consider,
Lord, when thy hand is lifted up, they will not see,
Let none be puffed up with a conceit of visions and revelations, when
even an ass saw an angel; yet let those be ashamed of their own
sottishness, worse than that of the beasts that perish, who, when they
are told of the sword of God's wrath drawn against them, while they
persist in wicked ways, yet will go on: the ass understood the law of
self-preservation better than so; for, to save both herself and her
(1.) She turned aside out of the way,
Balaam should have taken the hint of this, and considered whether he
was not out of the way of his duty; but, instead of this, he beat
her into the way again. Thus those who by wilful sin are running
headlong into perdition are angry at those that would prevent their
(2.) She had not gone much further before she saw the angel again, and
the, to avoid him, ran up to a wall, and crushed her rider's
How many ill accidents are we liable to in travelling upon the road,
from which if we are preserved we must own our obligations to the
divine Providence, which by the ministry of angels keeps us in all
our ways, lest we dash our foot against a stone; but, if we at any
time meet with a disaster, it should put us upon enquiring whether our
way be right in the sight of God or no. The crushing of Balaam's foot,
though it was the saving of his life, provoked him so much that he
smote his ass the second time, so angry are we apt to be at that which,
though a present uneasiness, yet is a real kindness.
(3.) Upon the next encounter with the angel, the ass fell down under
He ought to have considered that there was certainly something
extraordinary in this; for his ass was not restive, nor did she use to
serve him thus: but it is common for those whose hearts are fully
set in them to do evil to push on violently, and break through all
the difficulties which Providence lays in their way to give check to
them and to stop them in their career. Balaam the third time smote his
ass, though she had now done him the best piece of service that ever
she did him, saving him from the sword of the angel, and by her falling
down teaching him to do likewise.
(4.) When all this would not work upon him, God opened the mouth of the
ass, and she spoke to him once and again; and yet neither did this move
him: The Lord opened the mouth of the ass,
This was a great miracle, quite above the power of nature, and wrought
by the power of the God of nature, who made man's mouth, and taught him
to speak, for otherwise (since we learn to speak purely by imitation,
and therefore those that are born deaf are consequently dumb) the first
man would never have spoken, nor any of his seed. He that made man
speak could, when he pleased, make the ass to speak with man's
2 Peter 2:16.
Here Mr. Ainsworth observes that the devil, when he tempted our first
parents to sin, employed a subtle serpent, but that God, when he would
convince Balaam, employed a silly ass, a creature dull and sottish to a
proverb; for Satan corrupts men's minds by the craftiness of those
that lie in wait to deceive, but Christ has chosen the foolish
things of the world to confound the wise. By a dumb ass God rebukes
the madness of the prophet, for he will never want reprovers, but when
he pleases can make the stones cry out as witnesses to him,
[1.] The ass complained of Balaam's cruelty
What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me? Note, The
righteous God will not see the meanest and weakest abused; but either
they shall be enabled to speak in their own defence or he will some way
or other speak for them. If God would not suffer a beast to be wronged,
much less a man, a Christian, a child of his own. We cannot open the
mouth of the dumb, as God did here, but we may and must open our
mouth for the dumb,
The ass's complaint was just: What have I done? Note, When we
are prompted to smite any with hand or tongue, we should consider what
they have done unto us, and what provocation they have given us. We
hear it not, but thus the whole creation groans, being burdened,
It was much that Balaam was not astonished to hear his ass speak, and
put to confusion: but some think that it was no new thing to him (being
a conjurer) to be thus spoken to by his familiars; others rather think
that his brutish head-strong passion so blinded him that he could not
observe or consider the strangeness of the thing. Nothing besots men
worse than unbridled anger. Balaam in his fury wished he had a sword
to kill his ass with,
See his impotency; can he think by his curses to do mischief to Israel
that has it not in his power to kill his own ass? This he cannot do,
yet he fain would; and what would he get by that, but make himself so
much the poorer (as many do), to gratify his passion and revenge? Such
was the madness of this false prophet. Here bishop Hall observes, It is
ill falling into the hands of those whom the brute-creatures find
unmerciful; for a good man regardeth the life of his beast.
[2.] The ass reasoned with him,
God enabled not only a dumb creature to speak, but a dull creature to
speak to the purpose. Three things she argues with him
from:--First, His propriety in her: Am not I thy ass?
1. God has given to man a dominion over the creatures: they are
delivered into his hand to be used, and put under his
feet to be ruled.
2. Even wicked people have a title to the possessions God gives to
them, which they are not to be wronged of.
3. The dominion God has given us over the creatures is a good reason
why we should not abuse them. We are their lords, and therefore must
not be tyrants. Secondly, Her serviceableness to him: On
which thou hast ridden. Note, It is good for us often to consider
how useful the inferior creatures are, and have been, to us, that we
may be thankful to God, and tender of them. Thirdly, That she
was not wont to do so by him, and had never before crushed his foot,
nor fallen down under him; he might therefore conclude there was
something more than ordinary that made her do so now. Note,
1. The rare occurrence of an offence should moderate our displeasure
against an offender.
2. When the creatures depart from their wonted obedience to us, we
should enquire the cause within ourselves, and be humbled for our
2. Balaam at length had notice of God's displeasure by the angel, and
this did startle him. When God opened his eyes he saw the angel
and then he himself fell flat upon his face, in reverence of
that glorious messenger, and in fear of the sword he saw in his hand.
God has many ways of breading and bringing down the hard and unhumbled
(1.) The angel reproved him for his outrageousness
Wherefore hast thou smitten thy ass? Whether we consider it or
no, it is certain that God will call us to account for the abuses done
to his creatures. Nay, he shows him how much more reason he had to
smite upon his breast, and to condemn himself, than to fly out thus
against his ass ("Thy way is perverse before me, and then how
canst thou expect to prosper?"), and how much wiser his ass was than
himself, and how much beholden he was to her that she turned aside; it
was for his safety, and not for her own, for had she gone on he had
been slain, and she had been saved alive. Note, When our eyes are
opened we shall see what danger we are in in a sinful way, and how much
it was for our advantage to be crossed in it, and what fools we were to
quarrel with our crosses which helped to save our lives.
(2.) Balaam then seemed to relent
"I have sinned, sinned in undertaking this journey, sinned in
pushing on so violently;" but he excused it with this, that he saw not
the angel; yet, now that he did see him, he was willing to go back
again. That which was displeasing to God was not so much his going as
his going with a malicious design against Israel, and a secret hope
that notwithstanding the proviso with which his permission was clogged
he might prevail to curse them, and so gratify Balak, and get
preferment under him. It does not appear that he was sensible of this
wickedness of his heart, or willing to own it, but, when he finds he
cannot go forward, he will be content (since there is no remedy) to go
back. Here is no sign that his heart is turned, but, if his hands are
tied, he cannot help it. Thus many leave their sins only because their
sins have left them. There seems to be a reformation of the life, but
what will this avail if there be no renovation of the heart?
(3.) The angel however continued his permission: "Go with the
Go, if thou hast a mind to be made a fool of, and to be shamed before
Balak, and all the princes of Moab. Go, only the word that I shall
speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak, whether thou wilt or no,"
for this seems not to be a precept, but a prediction of the event, that
he should not only not be able to curse Israel, but should be forced to
bless them, which would be more for the glory of God and his own
confusion than if he had turned back. Thus God gave him fair warning,
but he would not take it; he went with the princes of Balak. For
the iniquity of Balaam's covetousness God was wroth, and smote him, but
he went on frowardly,
|Meeting between Balak and Balaam.
||B. C. 1452.|
36 And when Balak heard that Balaam was come, he went out to
meet him unto a city of Moab, which is in the border of Arnon,
which is in the utmost coast.
37 And Balak said unto Balaam, Did I not earnestly send unto
thee to call thee? wherefore camest thou not unto me? am I not
able indeed to promote thee to honour?
38 And Balaam said unto Balak, Lo, I am come unto thee: have I
now any power at all to say any thing? the word that God putteth
in my mouth, that shall I speak.
39 And Balaam went with Balak, and they came unto
40 And Balak offered oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to
the princes that were with him.
41 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Balak took Balaam,
and brought him up into the high places of Baal, that thence he
might see the utmost part of the people.
We have here the meeting between Balak and Balaam, confederate enemies
to God's Israel; but here they seem to differ in their expectations of
1. Balak speaks of it with confidence, not doubting but to gain his
point now that Balaam had come. In expectation of this, he went out to
meet him, even to the utmost border of his country
partly to gratify his own impatient desire to see one he had such great
expectations from, and partly to do honour to Balaam, and so to engage
him with his utmost power to serve him. See what respect heathen
princes paid to those that had but the name and face of prophets, and
pretended to have any interest in heaven; and how welcome one was that
came with his mouth full of curses. What a shame is it then that the
ambassadors of Christ are so little respected by most, so much despised
by some, and that those are so coldly entertained who bring tidings of
peace and a blessing! Balak has now nothing to complain of but that
Balaam did not come sooner,
And he thinks that he should have considered the importunity Balak had
used, Did I not earnestly send to thee? (and the importunity of
people inferior to kings has prevailed with many against their
inclinations), and that he should also have considered Balak's
intentions concerning him: Am not I able to promote thee to
honour? Balak, as king, was in his own kingdom the fountain of
honour, and Balaam should have his choice of all the preferments that
were in his gift; he therefore thinks himself affronted by Balaam's
delays, which looked as if he thought the honours he prepared not
worthy his acceptance. Note, Promotion to honour is a very tempting
bait to many people; and it were well if we would be drawn into the
service of God by the honour he sets before us. Why do we delay to come
unto him? Is not he able to promote us to honour?
2. Balaam speaks doubtfully of the issue, and bids Balak not depend to
much upon him
"Have I now any power at all to say any thing? I have come, but
what the nearer am I? Gladly would I curse Israel; but I must not, I
cannot, God will not suffer me." He seems to speak with vexation at the
hook in his nose and the bridle in his jaws, such as Sennacherib was
tied up with,
3. They address themselves with all speed to the business. Balaam is
nobly entertained over night, a sacrifice of thanksgiving is offered to
the gods of Moab, for the safe arrival of this welcome guest, and his
is treated with a feast upon the sacrifice,
And the next morning, that no time might be lost, Balak takes Balaam in
his chariot to the high places of his kingdom, not only because their
holiness (such as it was), he thought, might give some advantage to his
divinations, but their height might give him a convenient prospect of
the camp of Israel, which was to be the butt or mark at which he must
shoot his envenomed arrows. And now Balaam is really as solicitous to
please Balak as ever he had pretended to be to please God. See what
need we have to pray every day, Our Father in heaven, lead us not