Verses 13–30

Here is, I. Preparation made the second time, as before, for the cursing of Israel. 1. The place is changed, Num. 23:13. Balak fancied that Balaam, having so full a prospect of the whole camp of Israel, from the top of the rocks (Num. 23:9), was either so enamoured with the beauty of it that he would not curse them or so affrighted with the terror of it that he durst not; and therefore he would bring him to another place, form which he might see only some part of them, which would appear more despicable, and that part at least which would lie in view he hoped he might obtain leave to curse, and so by degrees he should get ground against them, intending, no doubt, if he had gained this point, to make his attack on that part of the camp of Israel which Balaam now had in his eye, and into which he was to throw the fireballs of his curses. See how restless and unwearied the church’s enemies are in their malicious attempts to ruin it; they leave no stone unturned, no project untried, to compass it. O that we were as full of contrivance and resolution in prosecuting good designs for the glory of God! 2. The sacrifices are repeated, new altars are built, a bullock and a ram offered on every altar, and Balak attends his sacrifice as closely as ever, Num. 23:14; 15. Were we thus earnest to obtain the blessing as Balak was to procure a curse (designedly upon Israel, but really upon himself and his people), we should not grudge the return both of the charge and of the labour of religious exercises. 3. Balaam renews his attendance on God, and God meets him the second time, and puts another word into his mouth, not to reverse the former, but to ratify it, Num. 23:16; 17. If God said not to Balaam, Seek in vain, much less will he say so to any of the seed of Jacob, who shall surely find him, not only as Balaam, their instructor and oracle, but their bountiful rewarder. When Balaam returned Balak was impatient to know what message he had: “What hath the Lord spoken? Are there any better tidings yet, any hopes of speeding?” This should be our enquiry when we come to hear the word of God. See Jer. 23:35.

II. A second conversion of the curse into a blessing by the overruling power of God; and this blessing is both larger and stronger than the former, and quite cuts off all hopes of altering it. Balak having been so forward to ask what the Lord had spoken (Num. 23:17), Balaam now addresses himself particularly to him (Num. 23:18): Rise up, Balak, and hear. It was a message from God that he had to deliver, and it is required of Balak, though a king, that he attend (hear and hearken, with a close application of mind, let not a word slip), and also that he attend with reverence: Rise up, and hear. His successor Eglon, when he was to receive a message from God, rose out of his seat, Jdg. 3:20.

1. Two things Balaam in this discourse informs Balak of, sorely to his grief and disappointment:—

(1.) That he had no reason to hope that he should ruin Israel.

[1.] It would be to no purpose to attempt to ruin them, and he would deceive himself if he expected it, for three reasons:—

First, Because God is unchangeable: God is not a man that he should lie, Num. 23:19. Men change their minds, and therefore break their words; they lie, because they repent. But God does neither. He never changes his mind, and therefore never recalls his promise. Balaam had owned (Num. 23:8) that he could not alter God’s counsel, and thence he infers here that God himself would not alter it; such is the imperfection of man, and such the perfection of God. It is impossible for God to lie, Heb. 6:18. And, when in scripture he is said to repent, it is not meant of any change of his mind (for he is in one mind, and who can turn him?) but only of the change of his way. This is a great truth, that with God there is no variableness nor shadow of turning. Now here, 1. He appeals to Balak himself concerning it: “Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Said it in his own purpose, and shall he not perform it in his providence, according to the counsel of his will? Hath he spoken in his word, in his promise, and shall he not make it good? Can we think otherwise of God than that he is unchangeably one with himself and true to his word? All his decrees are unalterable, and all his promises inviolable.” 2. He applies this general truth to the case in hand (Num. 23:20): He hath blessed and I cannot reverse it, that is, “I cannot prevail with him to reverse it.” Israel were of old a blessed people, a seed that the Lord had blessed; the blessing of Abraham came upon them; they were born under the blessing of the covenant, and born to the blessing of Canaan, and therefore they could not be cursed, 2b87 unless you could suppose that the God of eternal truth should break his word, and become false to himself and his people.

Secondly, Because Israel are at present unblamable: he has not beheld iniquity in Jacob, Num. 23:21. Not but that there was iniquity in Jacob, and God saw it; but, 1. There was not such a degree of iniquity as might provoke God to abandon them and give them up to ruin. As bad as they were, they were not so bad as this. 2. There was no idolatry among them, which is in a particular manner called iniquity and perverseness; we have found nothing of that kind in Israel since the golden calf, and therefore, though they were in other instances very provoking, yet God would not cast them off. Balaam knew that nothing would separate between them and God but sin. While God saw no reigning sin among them, he would send no destroying curse among them; and therefore, as long as they kept in with God, he despaired of ever doing them any mischief. Note, While we keep from sin we keep from harm. Some give another sense of those words; they read it thus: He has not beheld wrong offered to Jacob, nor will he see any grievance done to Israel, that is, “He has not nor will he permit it, or allow it; he will not see Israel injured, but he will right them, and avenge their quarrel.” Note, God will not bear to see any injury done to his church and people; for what is done against them he takes as done against himself, and will reckon for it accordingly.

Thirdly, Because the power of both was irresistible. He shows Balak that there was no contending with them, it was to no purpose to attempt it; for, 1. They had the presence of God with them: “The Lord his God is with him in a particular manner, and not provoked to withdraw from him.” 2. They had the joy of that presence, and were always made to triumph in it: The shout or alarm of a king is among them. They shout against their enemies, as sure of victory and success, glorying continually in God as their King and conqueror for them. 3. They had had the experience of the benefit of God’s presence with them, and his power engaged for them; for God brought them out of Egypt, Num. 23:22. The power which had done that could never be restrained, never resisted; and, having begun so gloriously, he would no doubt finish gloriously. 4. While they had God’s presence with them they had the strength of a unicorn, able to make head against all that opposed them. See Num. 24:8. Such is the strength which the God of Israel gives unto his people.

[2.] From all this he infers that it was to no purpose for him to think of doing them a mischief by all the arts he could use, Num. 23:23. First, He owns himself baffled. Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob so as to prevail. The curses of hell can never take place against the blessings of heaven. Not but that attempts of this kind would be made, but they would certainly be fruitless and ineffectual. Some observe that Jacob denotes the church low and afflicted, Israel denotes it prosperous and advanced; but be the church high or low, be her friends few or many, let second causes smile or frown, it comes all to one: no weapon formed against it shall prosper. Note, God easily can, and certainly will, baffle and disappoint all the devices and designs of the powers of darkness against his church, so that they shall not prevail to destroy it. Secondly, He foresees that this would be remembered in time to come. According to this time, that is, with reference to this we are now about, it shall be said concerning Jacob and Israel, and said by them, What hath God wrought! What great things hath God done for his people! It shall be said with wonder, joy, and thankfulness, and a challenge to the neighbouring nations to produce any similar instances of the care of their gods for them. Note, The defeating of the designs of the church’s enemies ought to be had in everlasting remembrance to the glory of God. There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun. What Balaam says here concerning the pre-eminence of the God of Israel above all the gods of the Gentiles perhaps Moses refers to when he says (Deut. 32:31), Their rock is not as our rock, even our enemies themselves being judges, Balaam particularly. Balak therefore has no hopes of ruining Israel. But,

(2.) Balaam shows him that he had more reason to fear being ruined by them, for they were likely to make bloody work among his neighbours; and, if he and his country escaped, it was not because he was too great for them to meddle with, but because he fell not within their commission Num. 23:24. Behold, and tremble; the people that now have lain for some time closely encamped do but repose themselves for a while like a lion couchant, but shortly they shall rise up as a great lion, a lion rampant, that shall not lie down till he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain. This seems to point at the victories he foresaw they would obtain over the Canaanites, that they would never lay down their arms till they had made a complete conquest of the land they had now in view; and, when his neighbour’s house was on fire, he had reason to think his own in danger.

2. Now what was the issue of this disappointment?

(1.) Balak and Balaam were both of them sick of the cause. [1.] Balak is now willing to have his conjurer silenced. Since he cannot say what he would have him, he wishes him to say nothing: “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all, Num. 23:25. If thou canst not curse them, I beseech thee not to bless them. If thou canst no assist and encourage my forces, yet do not oppose and dispirit them” Note, God can make those that depart from him weary of the multitude of their counsels, Isa. 47:13; 57:10. [2.] Balaam is still willing to own himself overruled, and appeals to what he had said in the beginning of this enterprise (Num. 22:38): All that the Lord speaketh, that I must do, Num. 23:26. This sows, First, In general, that the way of man is not in himself; there are many devices in man’s heart, but God’s counsels shall stand. Secondly, In particular, that, as no weapon formed against the church shall prosper, so every tongue that rises against her in judgment god will control and condemn, Isa. 54:17.

(2.) Yet they resolve to make another attempt. They think it scorn to be baffled, and therefore pursue the design, though it be only to their further confusion. And now the third time, [1.] They change the place. Balak is at last convinced that it is not Balaam’s fault, on whom, before, he had laid the blame, but that really he was under a divine check, and therefore now he hopes to bring him to a place whence God might at least permit him to curse them, Num. 23:27. Probably he and Balaam were the more encouraged thus to repeat their attempt because God had the second time allowed Balaam to go, though he had forbidden him the first time. Since by repeated trials they had carried that point, they hope in like manner to carry this. Thus because sinners are borne with, and sentence against their evil works is not executed speedily, their hearts are the more fully set in them to do evil. The place to which Balak now took Balaam was the top of Peor, the most eminent high place in all his country, where, it is probable, Baal was worshipped, and it was thence called Baal-peor. He chose this place with a hope, either, First, That it being the residence (as he fancied) of Baal, the god of Moab, Jehovah the God of Israel would not, or could not, come hither to hinder the operation; or, Secondly, That, it being a place acceptable to his god, it would be so to the Lord, and there he would be brought into a good humour. Such idle conceits have foolish men of God, and so vain are their imaginations concerning him. Thus the Syrians fancied the Lord to be God of the hills, but not of the valleys (1 Kgs. 20:28), as if he were more powerful in one place than he is in every place. [2.] They repeat their sacrifice, seven bullocks and seven rams, upon seven altars, Num. 23:29; 30. Thus do they persevere in their expensive oblations, though they had no promise on which to build their hopes of speeding. Let not us therefore, who have a promise that the vision at the end shall speak and not lie, be discouraged by delays, but continue instant in prayer, and not faint, Luke 18:1.