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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 15–21
Verses 15–21

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, Num. 22:15. 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 former messengers. 2. The request was very urgent. This powerful prince becomes a suitor to him: “Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee (Num. 22:16), 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,” Num. 22:17. 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, Num. 22:18. 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, Num. 22:18. 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 (Num. 22:19) 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, Num. 22:20. 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 in wrath.

IV. His setting out in the journey, Num. 22:21. 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 reward, Jude 1:11. The love of money is the root of all evil.