« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
sure, or honour; and when engaged no argu- , Their warlike array and recent successes, ment is of weight sufficient to dissuade; no I have alarmed the apprehensions of Balak, danger intimidates, no ditficulty discourages. king of Moab, as their prosperity and pros The understanding becomes the dupe of the pects had excited his envy and jealousy passions, conscience is led hoodwinked by Diffident of his strength, either to repel invaappetite, and the man is shamefully sunk in sion, if attacked by so powerful an adversary, the brute. But the alarm must be louder or to attack them first, and endeavour to than thunder, which awakens the thought- otstruct their progress, he enters into an less, the sensual, and the selfish to serious alliance with the people of Midian, for their reflection; and it must be repeated every mutual security and defence.
And even hour, else they will slumber and sleep again. then, still doubtful of the force of their united
Water has in its natural coldness a ten- arms, they agree to employ the arts of divinadency to congeal; and, once reduceri to ice; tion in aid of the sword, and dream of conhas no principle in itself to recover from quering by the power of enchantment, those that torpid state. The cause of change must whom they were afraid to encounter in the come from without. To dissolve and restore field. To such base, such wretched shifts st to its liquid state, the sun must shine, the do princes and nations resort, to gratify pride, wind must blow; withdraw the action of air ambition, or revenge.
For this purpose, and fire, and it will gradually freeze again. I they send a joint embassy to Balaam, the In like manner, without any cause from son of Beor, a noted soothsayer in the neigbwithout, the human body, by a principle of bourhood. corruption within itself, inust speedily dis Balak and Moab had degenerated from the solve and be destroyed; and the human mind, faith of Lot, their forefather, and were sunk by a similar internal principle of moral cor- into idolatry; it is therefore no wonder to ruption, degenerates from depravity to de- see them of a jealous and hostile spirit pravity, tili, lost to shame, fear, remorse, towards Israel, their brother. A principle and at length, to feeling, men come to com- of religion, consisting in the fear and love of mit iniquity with greediness, and to glory in God, is the great bond of union among men; their shame. To preserve the body in sife, it strengthens the ties of natural affection, there must be constant supplies of nourish- and even conciliates friendship between enement administered; and to preserve the soul mies: but irreligion, or what is worse, an in health, there must be " line upon line, erroneous principle of religion, turns men precept upon precept, here a little and there loose against each other, dissolves society, a little.”
and fattens the earth with human blood. We It is truly affecting to see men enlight- cannot help recollecting, alas! that Abraham ened and persuaded, yet wedded to their and Lot, the uncle and nephew, the progenilusts; clearly informed of the right path, but tors of the two nations, were under the newilfully and deliberately persisting in error ; cessity of separating from each other, on hardening themselves against God, and yet account of their increasing wealth; and we thinking to prosper; acknowledging God in see, many years after they were laid in the words, but in works denying him.
dust, the self-same cause, whetting the spirits These observations are all strikingly ex- and the swords of their posterity, and arining einplified in the character and conduct of them for their mutual destruction. The Balaam, of which we attempted to give you whole world is a possession too scanty for a general idea in the last Lecture, and to avarice and ambition; the success of one which were added some observations tonding seems to be a diminution of the happiness of to elucidate his singular history. We are another; and even the immense ocean is now to enter on the particular detail of it, as crimsoned with gore, that one may enjoy it is delivered in the sacred record.
sole and sullen empire; as if that vast space The Israelitish nation was now in the last could not accommodate the operations of two year of their peregrination through the wil- tribes of ants on yonder molehill. Blessed derness; their civil and religious government world, where envy and strife shall rage no were fully settled, and the theocracy finally more; where there is bread enough and to established. They were now approaching spare, room enough and to spare; where the the banks of the Jordan: and by their num- felicity of every one is an accession of felicity ber, order, and discipline, striking terror into to every one! all the neighbouring nations. Two kings, Balaam is described in scripture by his their armies, and their people, have already parentage, his country, and profession." He fallen before their victorious arms; and no- was the son of Beor, or Bosor, the difference thing is left to oppose their progress to Ca- of which pronunciation is accounted for, from naan, but the river, the boundary itself of the the difference of dialect in the oriental lanpromised land. They pitch their camp qui-guages. The father exists to us only in his etly in the plains of Moab, expecting the sig- name, and in the history of his son: and nul froin their divine leader and commander happy had it been for that son, to have left lo pass over, conquer, and take possession.' behind him nothing too but a mere name,
instead of one loaded with infimy and detest- | licked up the water that was in the trench."* ation. Pethor, the place of his residence, The ox, as he feeds calmly and stately along, was a city of Aram, or Mezopotamia, the employs his tongue only, and the grass perishvery country where Abraham himself was i eth without pushing with the horn, or stampborn, and where he resided till his seventy- ing with the foot, actions that denote strength fifth year; the native country of Rebekah, and exertion, but by the casy motion of a soft the wife of Isaac; the country where Jacob and pliant film of flesh, he sweeps away all passed a great part of his youthful years; before him; thus easily and certainly, Balak where he married; where all his children, apprehends, was Israel advancing to his and except Benjamin, were born, and whence he his people's destruction. obtained the name of a Syrian. Pethor was And how was this approaching plague to situated on the river Euphrates, called the be resisted or averted ? “Come now, thereriver, by way of eminence or distinction, it fore, I pray thee, curse me this people, for being the largest in the country; and thence, they are too mighty for me; peradventure I in many passages of scripture, styled the shall prevail that we may smite them, and great river. The country adjacent, to a vast that I may drive them out of the land; for I distance, being plain, it was .avourable to wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, the observation of the heavenly bodies; and and he whom thou cursest is cursed.”+ We accordingly we find the science of astronomy have here an assemblage of all the baser and was early cultivated there; and the pretend- more contemptible passions of the human ed science of astrology, that is, the power of mind, called forth, and led on by the predoforetelling future events, from the appear-minant one of fear: a low grovelling superances and supposed influence of the stars, was stition, expecting from magical spells, what speedily grafted upon it. Pride, presumption, ought to have been sought for from wisdom and a little knowledge, soon arrogated to and valour: unproroked violence and cruelty, themselves a power of controlling these great in seeking the destruction of a people, who luminaries, which seem in perpetual motion were dwelling peaceably by him, and who to encompass our earth, and of suspending or had given such strong and recent proof of altering their influences; and ignorance, their moderation, in submitting to a tedious superstition, and credulity easily adınitted and difficult march round the whole land of the insolent claim, and resorted to it. This Edom, rather than offend an unkind brother. was apparently the profession of Balaam, for who had refused a passage through his land, in the book of Joshua he is expressly termed which they could easily have cut with the “the soothsayer.” It was probably to his sword; and unmanly, abject adulation of a vile skill and power as an astrologer, that Balak wizard, whom he supposed capable of serving had recourse for assistance against Israel, his turn. On the other hand, the two great and when we come to his prophecy itself, we leading passions of Balaam's soul, vanity and shall meet with some, and these not obscure covetousness, were likely to be gratified to allusions to that art.
the full. How would his heart exult, to see The message put into the mouths of these a train of princes standing at his gate, and ambassadors, is strongly expressive of terror presents, worthy of kings to bestow, poured and consternation. “There is a people come down at his feet! A prophet indeed, would out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face have known from the beginning, that the apof the earth, and they abide over against plication was nugatory, and that it must come
."* The dreadful plagues inflicted on to nothing; and an honest man would have Egypt, in effecting Israel's deliverance, had rejected it with firmness, and persevered in been heard at the distance of Moab; and that rejection. But we see his heart is won though forty years have elapsed, they are from the first moment, and all that follows is neither forgotten, nor have lost their impres- a wretched struggle between inclination and sion. Fear ever magnifies its object; "they conscience, in which the former, at length, cover the face of the earth:” the word is, the carries off the victory. eye or sight of the earth; their tents extend He receives the messengers with great so far, that the earth and they seem to have courtesy, and accommodates them in his one limit, and they are marshalled so close, house; for even a miser can be hospitable, if that no ground can be seen. Another image, he be sure of gaining by it. Abraham's serstrongly expressive of the same passion, is vant, followed by a camel loaded with the that in the fourth verse. “ Now will this com- good things of Canaan, can easily force open pany lick up all that are round about us, as the doors of such a man as Laban, or Balaam. the ox licketh up the grass of the field.” He affects an air of great mystery; he can"Lick up," it is the same word which is used not give his response immediately. Night, 1 Kings xvii. 38, to express the action of the season of incantation and dreams, must devouring fire. "Then the fire of the Lord intervene; and, horrible to think, the great fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and and dreadful name of Jehovah is interposed, the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and to sanction and conceal the wicked purposes
1 Kings xviii. 33. † Numb dxij G.
* Numb. xxii. 5.
of a heart hunting after its covetousness; knew no more than he had a mind to com and he promises to report in the morning the municate to them, he delivers it in terms result of his consultation. How faithfully calculated only to stimulate the eagerness the report was made the sequel will show. of the king of Moab, by encouraging a hope
It appears, on the face of the history, that that something might be extorted, by dint of God waited not for an application from Ba- importunity and perseverance; or that, perlaam, concerning this business, but whether haps, he might be allowed to do that at a in a dream, a vision, or by a voice, prevented distance, which he might not do by a nearer him, with an inquiry concerning the deputa- approach. The command was clear and full, tion from Moab. In many instances, Jehovah "'Thou shalt not go with them;" but in the is represented as drawing information from mouth of Balaam it is mutilated and pervertmen's own mouths, of what evidently lay re-ed: “ The Lord refuseth to give me leave to vealed to his all-seeing eye, and thus making go with you.
.99* This satisfies Balak at once, their folly and wickedness to expose, reprove, that the prophet's good will was with him; and condemn themselves. “ And God came that it was not from want of inclination unto Balaam, and said, What men are these that the messengers returned without him; with thee ?"* This question must have put and, he justly concludes, that with such a the prophet into great agitation. Awful is proportion of the man on his side, it would the voice of the Eternal, at whatever season, not be difficult to make the rest to follow. in whatever form, and on whatever occasion The father of lies himself will speak truth, it is heard! How awful then to a bad man, when it makes for his purpose ; and Satan harbouring an ill design, shutting wilfully will quote scripture, if he can but deceive his own eyes, and yet flattering himself, and by it; as in his temptation of our Saviour in saying, Doth God see, and is there know- the wilderness. But then there is always some ledge with the Most High? That he con- material circumstance disguised, perverted, sidered the very question as ominous, and or suppressed : and thereby a different meanfatal to the cause of his avarice and vain- ing is conveyed from what was intended. glory, is evident from the circumstantiality The word of God, then, is handled deceitfully, of his answer. It discovers a soul trem- not only when it is wrested, and made to blingly alive to the voice of interest: it is speak a language not its own, but when any minute and particular, as if, by a parade of part of the truth is purposely, artfully, and words, he could deceive his Maker into an wilfully concealed : and he “ who shuns to approbation of his purpose and desire. What declare the whole counsel of God," is equally then must have been his chagrin and disap- criminal with him who presumes to deliver, pointment, when a prohibition, so peremptory as the word of God, what wants the stamp of and positive, in a moment blasted all his his authority. Balaam simply relates, that prospects of gain and preferment!
he is not permitted to go; not a syllable of “ And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt the prohibition to curse Israel, nor of the not go with them, thou shalt not curse the reason assigned for that prohibition. people, for they are blessed.”+ The applica As the message lost much by the way betion had two objects in view, permission to tween God and the princes of Moab, from go into the land of Moab, and liberty to curse Balaam's manner of rehearsing it; so it loses the children of Israel, and both meet with a still more between Balaam and their master, flat denial. He must not accompany the from their mutilated and partial report: so ambassadors to him who sent them; neither that by the time it reaches Balak, an entirely must he, either at home, or abroad, in this different turn and meaning is given to it. place or in that, presume to curse, or in any The words of the oracle are, “ Thou shalt not shape whatever to molest that people. And, go with them : thou shalt not curse the peoas if the sternness of interdiction had not ple, for they are blessed :"† rehearsed by Babeen sufficient, a reason is assigned, “ for laam, “the Lord refuseth to give me leave they are blessed.” The commandments of to go with you :"* reported by the ambassaGod, in general, are so clear, that it is im- dors, “ Balaam refuseth to come with us." I possible to misunderstand them; it is not ig- Thus, by the alteration of a few circumstannorance, but presumption, that ruins man- ces, even without a direct violation of truth, kind.
by passing through a very few hands, a plain Balaam, however reluctant, must next proposition is made to contradict itself; and morning deliver an account of the night's if we add to the easiness of varying facts, by success; and we find he does it in a very varying phrases, and modes of expression ; partial and imperfect manner. When he re- the difference, still more easily made, by the ported the message of Balak to God, having infinite diversity of tones, looks, and gesture, io do with the great Searcher of hearts, with we shall not be surprised to find, what frerhom disguise avails nothing, he is accurate quently happens, a man made to say diame and distinct; but in carrying back the an- trically the reverse of what he did say, and swer of God, having to do with men, who what he intended.
| Nurnb. xxii. 12.
* Num. xxii. 13. Num. xxii, 12. Num. xxii, 14.
Numb. xxii. 9.
Balak having received this answer as the ing to deceive the king of Moab's messengers propnet's, with great colour of reason, con- into the expectation of a response more fasiders it as a mere artifice, employed with a vourable to their united wishes. According, view to raise his price and importance; and ly, he courteously invites them to lodge with he hopes to conquer Balaam's reluctance, by him that night also ; it, peradventure, there assiduity, perseverance, presents, and Hattery; might be obtained a reversal of the decree. for both good and bad inen judge of others And now the sable curtain is drawn, and by themselves: and apprized, it would ap- Balaam is left alone, and no eye sees him but pear, of Balaain's weak side, ambition, and the all-seeing eye of God. Without waiting avarice, he despatches a second embassy, con- to be consulted, and the prophet, without sisting of a greater number of persons, and doubt, was both afraid and ashamed to venof still higher rank, with this weighty and ture on this second rencounter, God again importunate address : “ Thus saith Balak, prevents him, and tacitly, though not directly, the son of Zippor, Let nothing, I pray thee, charges him with having invited this second hinder thee from coming unto me: for I will application, in the face of a positive and depromote thee unto very great honour, and I cided answer. Balaam and Balak are both will do whatsoever thou sayest unto me: men of this world, and having one and the come, therefore, I pray t.ee, curse me this same spirit to govern them, they readily unpeople."* How flattering all this to a worldly, derstand each other. Balaam evidently courts selfish mind! Balak puts a chart blanche in- a second address; and Balak is not slow to to his hands ; leaves him to name his own pay it. Now, this is the very thing which terms. All the honour which a king could gives so great and such just offence to a holy bestow, all the wealth of Moab is before him; God—that two presumptuous, selfish wretches the very things which his soul lusted after. should presume to imagine, that the counsels Blessed Jesus, thou chief of the prophets, of Heaven could be shaken, in compliance with even the prince of this world, the chief of their humour or interest. * And God came tempters, when he came, found nothing in unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the thee! found no weak side, no vulnerable part. men come to call thee, rise up;
with The kingdoms of this world, and the glory of them; but yet the word which I shall say them, dazzled not thine eyes : to the loudest unto thee, that shalt thou do."* The word calls of nature thou turnedst a deaf ear. The might have been rendered, " Seeing the men applause of men thou didst despise; thou have come to call thee, Balaam, you have soughtest not thine own glory, but the glory carried, thus far, your point. A more honourof Him that sent thee: thy “meat and drink able embassy attends you. Your desire is to was to do the will of Him that sent thee." go: you are unable to withstand the allure
Balaam had now been at the summit of his ments of riches and honour: you know the wishes, but for a stern, pointed command of better course, but will pursue the worse. God; which, like a drawn sword, hung by a Well then, fulfil thy desire. I have declared single hair over his head. Shocking dilem- my will; but thou preferrest thine own. ma? he is goaded on by desires as impetuous I have said, Go not; curse not; but the deas ever took possession of a proud and covet- mon of gain, Mammon, says, go and curse. ous mind; he is bridled in by a prohibition, Obey him. Go, and take the consequence.' as decisive as words could make it. For a This is clearly the language of the permismoment we are in hope that the good prin- sion given him to accompany the messengers. ciple has got the ascendant, that the fear, if And can there be a clearer proof of the divine not the love of God is shed abroad in his heart. displeasure, than when God yields to men, Who could speak better? “ If Balak would and gives them their own way? give me his house full of silver and gold, I ple,” says God," would not hearken to my cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my voice, and Israel would none of me; so I gave God, to do less or more."! It is the very them up into their own heart's lust, and they sentiment of chaste and virtuous Joseph, walked in their own counsels. O that my when solicited by templation of a different people had hearkened unto me, and Israel sort. But here is the difference :-Joseph had walked in my ways! I should soon have fied from temptation and overcame : Balaam subdued their enemies, and turned my hand tampered with it, and fell. Even the worst against their adversaries.”+ The wickedness of men feel themselves under a necessity, for of the old world at length overcame the patheir interest's sake, to save appearances; tience of God; and he said, “ My Spirit shall and something must be said, at least, to still not always strive with man:” and so they the clamours of conscience. Unhappy man! were left to eat and drink, to dance and to steady, himself, to his own base and wicked play; but then the waters of a deluge were purpose, he is weak enough to entertain the at no great distance: and when God says, conhope, that the great, the unchangeable Je- cerning a people, or an individual, “ Ephraim hovah may depart from his. Thus deceiving is joined to idols, let him alone;" short of hell, himself, it is no wonder to see him attempt it is the worst that can befal them. * Num. xxii. 16, 17. † Num. xxii. 18.
Psalm lxxxii, 11-14.
* Num. xxii. 20.
Balaam flattered himself and the Moabites, quicksighted as a covetous man pursuing his with hearing more from God; but, as the pu- gain? And yet, who so stupid and dull, as nishment of abusing the light he had, he hears the man whose eyes the god of this world less than before; and the vision is obscured hath blinded ? Balaam is up betimes in the to the man who had wilfully shut his own morning, equipped for his journey, on his way eyes. He was formerly forbidden either to for the land of Moab. “For the children of go, or to curse. He is now, at his peril, al- this world are in their generation wiser than lowed to go: but should he be so rash as to the children of light."* And there, for the proceed on so slender a warrant, he is, at his present, we shall leave him, with this melanperil, warned to walk by the instructions choly, mortifying reflection—that a corrupted which should be given him. How easily men heart has infinitely greater power to pervert a believe, how promptly they obey, when the sound understanding and a well informed condoctrine tallies with their prejudices; when science, than an intelligent conscience and a the precept coincides with their inclinations a clear head have to reform and purify a coror their interest. Balaam is weak, I ought | rupted heart. If God permit, we shall continue io have said, wicked enough, to imagine his the history next Lord's day. May grace and way perfectly clear. Having carried, as he wisdom be granted us to make a proper use thought, one essential point, all the rest, he of it; and to God's holy name be praise. Amen. presumes, will follow of course.
* Luke xvi 8.
HISTORY OF BALA A M.
These are gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteous.
ness; but was rebuked for his iniquity; the dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, torbad the madness of the prophet.--2 PETER ii. 15, 16.
The ordinary powers of nature, if we con- any degree of application, to the operations of sider them attentively, are no less wonderful his own mind; and to what, in the ordinary in themselves, and are not less a proof of the course of human affairs, is every hour presspower and wisdom of God, than those extru- ing upon his observation. ordinary gifts which have been bestowed, and In a crowded assembly, without the utterthose preternatural powers which have been ance of a single sound, by one glance of the exercised at particular seasons, and for spe- eye, the inmost thoughts, the most secret cial purposes; and which have excited the emotions, shall, quick as lightning, be conadmiration and astonishment of one part of veyed from soul to soul: and the stranger be mankind, and the incredulity of another. That unable to intermeddle with, to partake of the a company of illiterate men should suddenly, sorrow or the joy. Let the veil of night be and without instruction or study, be endowed spread ever so thick, and the use of sight suswith the gift of readily speaking various lan-pended, as if the eye ball were extinguished, guages, justly raises our wonder, and conveys ihe vibration of a little film of ficsh shail disto our minds a very lofty idea of that divine sipate the gloom, and convey the accents of intelligence which can communicate such affection or of wo to the car and the heart of power unto men: but we overlook the won- sympathy. Place the diameter of the globe der equally great, because it is continually between my friend and me, by an art subtile occurring, of the common gift of speech, and as the magic spell, what I know and feel in the conveyance of thought by it; and the ac- the frozen regions of the north, shall filee on quisition of language by means of letters and the swift wings of the wind, and touch his memory. That a dumb ass should speak soul under the more clement sky of the oppowith man's voice, and the dull ass reason, fills site hemisphere. Knowing from experience lis with surprise, because the instance is sin- | all this to be true, history can record ro fact, gular and unparalleled ; but the gradual in- promise suspend before my cyes no futuro crease of the human body, the imperceptible event too wonderful for me to believe. The expansion of the powers of the human mind, omniscience, omnipotence, and infinite goodpriss for a thing of course; though the hand ness of God once admitted, every difficulty of God be conspicuous in the one case as in vanishes. Is there any thing too hard for the the other. Nothing is incredible to them who Lord to perform? No: Then Sarah conknow the scriptures, and the power of God: ceives a son at ninety years old; the dumb nothing is incredible to him who attends, with ass reproves the madness of his master; unlet