Balaam’s Prophecies

Numbers 22 - 24

The prophecies of Balaam form a unique portion of God’s word. The man who uttered them, the circumstances in which they were uttered, the nature of the prophecies themselves, all combine to make an extremely arresting theme for the Bible student.

Not only was Moses inspired to record these remarkable prophecies, but Balaam was inspired to utter them. This is the more remarkable seeing that Balaam prophesied against his will, of things entirely foreign to his thoughts, and opposed to his desires. He spoke under strong compulsion. Nor had Moses any first-hand knowledge of what Balaam said, for the prophecies were uttered in a hostile camp, among the bitter enemies of God’s people.

Thus God would emphasize the great truth of inspiration in forcing a man against his will to utter sublime truths—a wicked man to enunciate holiness, a tool of Satan to extol the ways of God—and in leading Moses to record prophecies, which had been uttered in such unusual circumstances.

All the writers of the sixty-six books of the Bible were servants of the Lord, holy men of God, clean vessels for the Holy Spirit to use. Balaam stands in striking contrast, being an idolater, and, as we read in Joshua 13:22, a “soothsayer,” or “diviner” [margin], in other words, a spiritist. Scripture plainly shows the connection between idolatry and spiritism. We read, “What shall I say then? that the idol is anything, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is anything? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils” (1 Cor. 10:19).

Along with idolatry and spiritism, Balaam was marked by two other things found with spiritism today, namely immorality and covetousness. In connection with the first we read of “the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication” (Rev. 2:14). What a terrible indictment! Not content with his own utter lack of restraint, he would, on religious grounds, and as the very dupe of the devil, lend himself to the destruction of the people by leading them into the shameful practices associated with idolatry. Satan, in his overwhelming hatred of God, ever seeks to destroy the bodies of men, in carrying out his plan for the destruction of their souls.

One has only to enquire into the customs of heathen lands to find the counterpart today of what happened in Balaam’s time. Shameful immorality is part of the religion of heathendom, by which woman loses the place of honour and respect that God designed for her as the companion and help-meet of man. To read of the depths of depravity to which spiritism, in the form of idol worship, has reduced our fellow-men is enough to bring the blush of deepest shame to the cheek.

And this has its counterpart in these lands, veiled it is true, but nevertheless working under the surface. Modernism, worldliness among those who profess Christ’s name, anti-Christian cults and spiritism, all combine to weaken the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom, to carry the nation downhill, and to bring in the worst features of heathendom. We are indeed in the rapids. The future is dark and foreboding for a world that is rapidly casting off the fear of God and the restraints of godliness.

The second thing that marked Balaam was covetousness. In the Epistle of Peter we read, “Balaam the son of Bosor . . . loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:15). Jude also solemnly warns against those who “ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward” (Jude 11). It is significant that spiritism and these anti-Christian cults to which we have referred, which at bottom are really forms of spiritism, are very largely money-making concerns. The devil knows how to play on the covetousness of the human heart. The spiritist mediums very generally make a good living out of their wicked deceptions. It is notorious that the leaders of many of these false systems have accumulated great wealth from profits and royalties derived from the sale of books expounding their systems. If there were no “money” in these concerns we believe they would soon die out.

So we find Balaam to be a spiritist, an idolater, a fornicator, a covetous man, a veritable dupe of the devil. His end was tragic. The very people he sought to seduce were the instruments of his death. “Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, did the children of Israel slay with the sword among them that were slain by them” (Joshua 13:22). Thus we gather from Scripture the character, life and death of the man, who uttered the wonderful prophecies we are about to consider.

Why, we may ask, did God take up such an instrument? Is it not to bring into greater relief the purpose of God toward His people by forcing an inveterate enemy, such as Balaam, to bless His people and not to curse them?

1. THE CONFLICT

That Balaam was no ordinary man is seen in that Balak, the king of Moab, sent for him from Pethor in distant Mesopotamia. There must have been many soothsayers in the land of Moab, but Balaam, the super-soothsayer, was sent for. The commission was no ordinary one, for he was to curse the people of God with the devil’s curse (Num. 22:1-6).

Indeed so great was the fear that the children of Israel inspired in the hearts of the surrounding nations, that Midian united with Moab, and sent their elders, with the rich rewards of divination in their hands, to Balaam with their wicked request (v. 7).

Balaam was all too ready to do what they desired, but God intervened. The people of Israel were His people; He had blessed them, and would not allow them to be cursed. In what follows the veil is drawn aside, and we are permitted to see the conflict between good and evil, between God and the devil,—a conflict which leaves no doubt as to where ultimate victory will lie. This instructive scene is only a sample of what has happened behind the scenes in all times and places from the garden of Eden to the present day.

The Lord forbad Balaam to respond to the wishes of the king of Moab. Balaam was made to feel that there was a higher power than that of the enemy of God’s people, and he was forced into a path that was far removed from his heart and desires (vv. 8-14).

Balak sent a second embassy of princes of more exalted rank than the elders who went in the first instance. The king offered more tempting baits; he would promote Balaam to high honour; he would do whatever he asked (vv. 15-17).

The greedy prophet replied that if the king were to give him a house full of silver and gold he could not come without the divine consent, his covetous nature thus indicating how strong was the restraint put upon him (v. 18).

Again Balaam enquired of the Lord if he might go, and at last leave was given, but upon one condition, namely, if the men sent by Balak came to call him in the morning (vv. 19-20).

Balaam, his heart filled with hatred of God’s people, covetousness raging in his breast—for this was no common task, and would carry no common reward—waited not for the men to call him, but rose up in the morning, saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab (v. 21).

God’s wrath was kindled, and He sent an angel with a drawn sword to withstand him in his path of defiance. Balaam did not see the angel, but God permitted the ass to see him. The beast, naturally afraid, turned out of the way into the field. Balaam, not knowing why the ass acted thus, smote it, urging it on (vv. 22-23).

Balaam needed a sharper lesson. In a path through the vineyards, with a wall on either side, the angel with a drawn sword appeared again, still unseen by Balaam but seen by the ass. The animal turning to one side, crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. Balaam in anger smote the beast a second time. Still Balaam failed to perceive that the Lord was withstanding him in his self-will (vv. 24-25).

A third time the angel appeared; on this occasion in a narrow place with no room to turn one way or the other. In sheer fright the poor animal fell down. Balaam, thoroughly angered, smote his ass for the third time. Then a marvellous thing happened, “The dumb ass speaking with a man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet” (2 Peter 2:16).* The ass expostulated with his master as to why he had smitten him these three times. Balaam, so mad with anger that he did not seem to realize the wonder of the ass speaking with a man’s voice, replied that he would that he had a sword in his hand that he might have slain him (vv. 26-29).
{*As to the miracle of the ass speaking, we are reminded of the conversation between a believer and an unbeliever on this subject. Said the unbeliever, “I cannot believe this story of the ass speaking. The mouth of the ass is not constructed to be capable of articulate speech.” The believer replied, “I’ll promise you one thing. If you will make an ass, I’ll make it speak.” Nothing more need be said on that point. God made the ass; God could make it speak. Bring God in, and all is clear.}

The ass enquired if he had ever been wont to act thus, and on the prophet acknowledging that it was not so, God opened Balaam’s eyes to see the angel with the drawn sword in his hand. At the terrifying sight he bowed his head, and fell flat on his face. The angel then informed Balaam that he owed his life to the ass three times, whereupon he acknowledged that he had sinned, expressing his readiness to return (vv. 30-34).

It is surely for our profit that we are given this vivid glimpse into the conflict between the forces of good and evil, between God and Satan. It is well to pay heed to this, for this conflict has gone on ever since the first onslaught in the Garden of Eden, has continued down the ages, and is waged wherever man is found. Because Satan works secretly and largely underground we are inclined to think lightly of his power. Nevertheless the underworld is a vast organisation of immense hordes of demons, working under the direction of Satan, as far as God will permit. In Balaam we have an instance of Satan’s desire to curse the people of God being frustrated by the mighty power of God.

We get a passing glimpse of the organisation of the underworld in the Book of Daniel, where we read of demons, of special ability, put in charge of Satan’s interests in Persia and Greece, designated as the Prince of Persia and the Prince of Greece. Later we read in Revelation 9:11, of the king over the bottomless pit, named Abaddon. Clearly a king is the head of an organised dominion, with officers to carry out his government, and subjects to yield him obedience.

Nevertheless God, as ever, is Master of the situation. It is striking to trace His dealings with Balaam in using a wicked and depraved man, a tool of the devil, to show how He can bless His people, in spite of all the power of the enemy endeavouring to turn Him aside from His purpose. Relying on the infinite power of God, we need not fear the might of the enemy. On the other hand let us not underrate his power nor the ceaseless activity of his attacks. Realising his power and malevolence we shall be warned not to rely on our own strength to meet the wiles of Satan, but encouraged to cast ourselves continually on the care and protection of the Lord.

2. THE CIRCUMSTANCES

We have already seen that Balaam was hired to curse the people of God, and, though a money- loving man, a soothsayer and spiritist, he was restrained by the power of God. To understand his prophecies it is further necessary to recall the circumstances under which they were uttered. In this connection we may consider the place from which they were uttered, and the manner of the utterances.

In reference to the place, he said, “How shall I curse, whom God has not cursed? or how shall I defy whom the LORD has not defied? For from the TOP OF THE ROCKS I see him, and from the HILLS I behold him” (Num. 23:8-9). Here we get the solution of the great question, How can God bless a people that in themselves are stiff-necked and rebellious? It can only be as He views them from His own standpoint, from the point of His purpose, and as having the work of His blessed Son in view as the righteous ground on which He can in consonance with His attributes bless man.

Throughout Scripture vantage ground is ever symbolical of viewing things from the point of the divine standard. Thus Ezekiel is set upon “a very high mountain” from whence he sees the vision of the Temple that is to be the centre of earthly worship during the golden millennial age (Ezek. 40:2). So John, the seer, in his vision of the Holy City, symbol of the Church of God associated with Christ in His millennial kingdom, is taken in the spirit to “a great and high mountain” (Rev. 21:10). It is true that Balak took Balaam “into the high places of Baal,” for Satan is ever a copyist and never original, but God took advantage of Balak’s action, and gave Balaam the vantage ground from which to view His people.

The vantage ground afforded by the top of the rocks is typical, then, of faith’s view of the saints from the side of God’s thoughts of them in Christ—not what they are in their wilderness responsibility, but what they are before God in Christ. There is great gain in cultivating the habit of so looking at the Lord’s people.

But in applying the illustration of Balaam’s prophecies to ourselves in this dispensation, and in the light of New Testament teaching, it is of the first importance to remember that God chose and blessed the children of Israel with an earthly calling and blessing. This national and earthly blessing did not carry spiritual and eternal blessing to every one of the nation. Each one possessed the blessing of having the oracles of God, the advantage of prophets and rulers, and God’s ways of government with them, but only those individuals were spiritually blessed, who had faith in God and in the coming Saviour. Alas! not every Israelite had that. At the present time the saints are called with a heavenly calling, and blessed with eternal blessing—not some of them but all. Thus we read of them as “Blessed . . . with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).

As to the manner employed for the expression of these prophecies; when Balaam found that it was impossible to turn God aside from His purpose of blessing the people, he ceased to seek for enchantments. We read, “Balaam the son of Beer has said, and the man whose eyes are open has said: he has said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open” (24:15-16).

Here we see the manner in which Balaam was brought to see the deep things of God, and to testify to His good pleasure in the people of His choice. Eyes, ears and lips were brought under the mighty power of God. He was obliged to see “the vision of the Almighty,” and to hear, “the words of God,” and to speak that which the Lord put in his mouth (see Numbers 22:38; 23:5, 12, 16, 26; 24:13).

Solemn consideration that on occasion God can use the eyes, ears and lips of a man to utter glorious predictions for which the man himself has no heart, and in which he has neither part nor lot.

3. SANCTIFICATION

  “And he took up his parable, and said, Balak the king of Moab has brought me from Avant, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel, How shall I curse, whom God has not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the Lord has not defied? For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!” (Numbers 23:7-10).

What remarkable words to come from the lips of one of the most determined enemies of the Lord’s people that ever breathed. On the surface such words, as we have seen, are a clear instance of inspiration; underneath they contain truths of the deepest importance. How was it that Balaam could give expression to such views, for he would gladly have cursed God’s people, and filled his house with silver and gold as the reward of his iniquity! How was it that God, through the wicked prophet, could thus speak of a people, who in their actual circumstances were rebellious and stiff-necked?

The answer is that God made choice of them in His sovereign wisdom. We read in Deuteronomy 7-8, that the Lord did not choose them because they were more in number than any other, for in fact, they were the fewest. No, the only reason that God could give for His choice was that He loved them. There was nothing in them to draw out His love in contrast with others: the reason lay in His own nature, and herein lies the solid foundation of the blessing into which the Lord brings His people.

Therefore He separated the children of Israel unto Himself. Nothing in them would affect this. Even today Israel is as much loved as ever for the fathers’ sake. The people were to dwell alone and not to be numbered among the nations. In the history of the nation all their troubles arose through ignoring God’s mind for them, and mixing with surrounding nations, either socially as in marriage, or religiously by turning aside to the gods of the heathen, or politically by entering into treaties and alliances.

This setting aside of the people to Himself answers to sanctification. The simple meaning of sanctification is setting apart. We may recall that God sanctified the seventh day, the Sabbath. He ordained it to be a day of rest. It was not a question of making the seventh day holy, for sin had not come into the world. This is even more strikingly seen in the case of the blessed Lord, who sanctified Himself for the sake of His own (John 17:19). There can be no question of the Lord needing to be made holy. He was ever holy. No, it means He set Himself apart for a definite purpose in relation to His own. We have even the instance of men who sanctified themselves to work abomination in Isaiah 66:17; that is they set themselves apart to do evil.

From these instances we can see that sanctification is, in its primary aspect, an absolute act, independent of circumstances, though in view of circumstances. Let an illustration help our meaning. Suppose a childless couple determine to adopt a certain child as their heir. There is first the act of adoption, then follows the training that prepares the adopted child for the purposed inheritance. The actual adoption, and the immediate position into which it brings the child, we may call, for the sake of clearness, positional sanctification. The training of the adopted child, involving the responsibility of the child to obey, is in order to prepare it for, the inheritance. This we may call practical sanctification.

The former consists wholly of the act of the Sanctifier; the second brings in the practice of the sanctified. In everyday life we see that men are given positions that demand separation for that particular position; then follows the practice of the men in those positions. The first is positional, the second, practical according to the position.

With Israel, God chose them, sanctified them, set them apart for His own purpose, and then called upon them to answer to His thoughts in sanctifying them for Himself. This choice is never altered—never set aside—and all God’s ways in government are to bring them practically into line with His thoughts for them. In the end God will triumph by bringing the practical into accord with the positional. This will be seen when Israel accepts their Messiah, and the millennium will show to the world what the choice of Israel by God as His earthly people means.

We would use this as an illustration of the New Testament truth of sanctification. First however let us remark that sanctification in its primary aspect comes before justification. Two Scriptures will make this plain. In 1 Corinthians 6:11 we read, “And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are SANCTIFIED, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” Again, in 1 Peter 1:2, we read, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”

Here sanctification comes before justification in the first Scripture; and before the obedience of faith, and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus, in the second.

Thus sanctification in its primary aspect is what God does, resulting in a place being given to us in His mind, followed by certain divine acts to put us into that place. Sanctification is the sovereign absolute act of God, and what God does He does for ever.

What an unspeakable comfort to grasp this fundamental fact! How it takes our blessing off the ground of our doing or deserving in any shape or form, leaving us wholly in the blessed hands of God in the matter of our eternal blessing.

Let us note an invariable principle of God’s dealings with His people, namely, God never asks us to work to obtain a position, but first gives us the position, which is never taken back; then asks us to be true to it, giving us the power that enables us to answer to it. It is the failure to understand this principle that accounts for much feverish and fruitless striving among Christians.

Let us weigh this statement well, for this important principle underlies the truth of sanctification. God sanctifies us absolutely in His sovereign choice, then calls upon us to answer to the position He has given us, to be practically sanctified, to be holy, and gives us the new nature that desires holiness, and the Holy Spirit, the power to carry out the desires of that new nature.

If positional sanctification comes, in the nature of things, before justification, justification, on the other hand, is an important milestone on the road to practical sanctification. God separated the children of Israel to Himself before He redeemed them out of Egypt, but He redeemed them out of Egypt and the power of Pharaoh in order to bring them into circumstances where they could answer to His mind in separating them unto Himself.

An amplification of the illustration already used may help to show the connection of justification with sanctification. Suppose that the lad, whom the gentleman has taken means to adopt, is also a juvenile offender with a serious charge against him, demanding prison, or the payment of a fine. The fact that he has adopted the boy answers to positional sanctification, but it is evident the gentleman cannot touch the boy until the claims of justice are met: so he pays the fine and clears the lad, which may feebly answer to justification.

Now the boy being cleared, the gentleman can take him home and have him suitably dressed and educated. In course of time the boy begins by his refined ways and affectionate bearing to repay his benefactor for all that he has done. This may illustrate practical sanctification and its results.

Thus Scripture puts positional sanctification before justification, but justification before practical sanctification. The latter is seen in the following Scriptures:
  “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). Christ also “loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:25-26).

The two aspects of sanctification are seen in the following verse, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:19). The Lord here takes the place of positional sanctification, in order that the truth may have its own powerful effect in the practical sanctification of the lives of believers.

All God’s ways with us in the ministry of the word to our souls, and, if we will not pay heed to this, in His tender but unflinching discipline, are designed to effect in us His own gracious desire for our practical sanctification.

One example of this is very illuminating. At Corinth there were believers behaving so badly that the Lord removed them in holy discipline from the earth where they had so dishonoured His blessed name. By this act God was taking their practical sanctification into His own hands, removing them from the sphere of the flesh, where they were not judging their sinful ways, and freeing them from all that hindered them from being well pleasing to Him. It was an intensely sad way to pass into the Lord’s presence, but this act of God shows how His government and grace go hand in hand so that once He has sanctified a man by His Holy Spirit, He will not be content until that one is pleasing to Himself.

How happy to realize that the positional and the practical will in the end exactly coincide when we find ourselves in the Lord’s presence in our glorified bodies, with Him and like Him for ever.

May we learn these lessons aright, and seek to respond happily to the Lord’s desire for us, that we maybe practically sanctified by the truth in all our ways.

4. JUSTIFICATION

  “And he took up his parable, and said, Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor: God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: has He said and shall He not do it? or has He spoken, and shall He not make it good? Behold I have received commandment to bless: and He has blessed: and I cannot reverse it. He has not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither has He seen perverseness in Israel: the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them” (Numbers 23:18-21).

This parable affords a beautiful illustration of the great truth of justification—a truth long lost to the Church, revived through the agency of Luther at the Reformation, and in danger of again being lost in these days under the baneful influences of ritualism and rationalism.

Two Scriptures, having reference to Israel, stand in striking contrast: first, in Deuteronomy 9:13, we read, “Furthermore the Lord spake unto me, saying, I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people:” second, in Numbers 23:21, “He has not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither has He seen perverseness in Israel.” Is there, however, any contradiction in these Scriptures? When Balaam uttered the words that God had not seen iniquity in Jacob, were not the Israelites, as to their actual condition, a stiff-necked and rebellious people?

There is indeed contrast, but no contradiction. All depends upon the standpoint from which the children of Israel were viewed. To see this standpoint is of all importance, if we are to understand the real ground of their blessing, and ours, before God.

God had determined to bless His people; and having spoken of blessing He would not repent nor turn from His purpose. What He had said He would make good. Every promise to Abraham would be upheld and fulfilled. On what ground then can God bless a stiff-necked people? Certainly not on the ground of the people working to secure a place of acceptance before God. God must work for Himself. In other words God had Christ before Him, and blesses on the ground of who Christ is and what He would perform on Calvary’s cross.

This was set forth on the great day of atonement, typical of the value of the atoning death of Christ. Outwardly the sacrifice of the sin-offering for the people by the High Priest, and the sprinkling of the blood on and before the mercy seat, enabled God to go on with His people, and to speak of them as Balaam was constrained to speak. But God had the reality of the offering of Christ before Him—that efficacious sacrifice in contrast to the shadows and types that could never take away sin. All this is clearly set forth in the New Testament.

What is justification? Justification is the making or declaring a person to be right. It is a cognate word to righteousness, so that where the word righteousness occurs, when it is a question of God reckoning righteousness to the believer on the ground of the atoning work of Christ, we can view that and justification as one and the same thing.*
{*The close connection of the two words is shown inasmuch as they are translations of slightly different forms of the same Greek word—justification being a translation of the word dikaiosis, and righteousness of the word dikaiosunee.}

Justification, to be effectual, cannot depend upon what the believer is actually in his wilderness life. The best are far from perfect. But nothing short of perfection will do for God. This alone He finds in Christ. Thus if the believer is to have a perfect standing before God, it cannot be in or through himself. It must be in another—IN CHRIST. There is no perfection save in Him. Nor is justification secured to us by anything short of His atoning death. We are sinners, and the sin question has to be met. So we find that believers are “justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God has set forth to be a propitiation [mercy seat] through faith in His blood— that He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believes in Jesus” (Rom. 3:24-26).

It is through the atoning death of Christ; and that alone, that the believer is justified, and it is seen and witnessed to in Christ’s resurrection. How full and complete is the declaration that the believer is right in His holy presence, when it is altogether on the righteous ground of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ. So we read, “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believes on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5). If this righteousness is upon us, it is not our own righteousness, but the righteousness of God, secured in the atoning work of Christ, and can there be any flaw in that? Surely, ten thousand times, no. It is “the best robe,” which the father instructed his servants to bring forth, and put on the returning prodigal. Could anything be better? And it is just the same for the weakest believer as for the strongest. All alike stand in perfection before the eye of God.

In closing this chapter we may briefly refer to the different aspects in which Justification is viewed in connection with the believer.

(1) The believer is said to be justified by God’s grace (Rom. 3:24). He has no claim to it. It is all of pure sovereign grace.

(2) The believer is justified by Christ’s blood (Rom. 5:9). There must be a righteous ground on which God can justify, and He finds this in the blood of Jesus.

(3) The believer is justified by faith (Rom. 5:1). The blessing is received, not by works, but by faith, and by faith alone.

(4) The believer is justified by works (James 2:21). The believer’s works are the fruit, or evidence of faith. James does not contradict Paul, but says that the Scripture, which states that Abraham was justified by faith, was fulfilled when he offered up Isaac, though he had been reckoned righteous on the ground of believing God—that is on the ground of faith—long years before the works attested that his faith was really faith.

Thus we see that God’s grace is the source of the believer’s justification; Christ’s blood is the righteous basis of it; the believing sinner’s faith is the means of its reception, and the believer’s works are the evidence of it.

Further, Scripture speaks of “justification of life,” an expression which implies the communication of divine life through the death of Christ as seen in 1 John 4:9,—a life to which sin never attached, connected with the new Head, our Lord Jesus Christ, and every expression of which is pleasing to God.

Now just as God could have looked upon the children of Israel in their wilderness responsibility, and found them stiff-necked and rebellious, so God can look upon us, and find that oftentimes we are no better. Indeed it is God’s government that takes that look, and acts according to what He finds.

On the other hand if God looked at His people from the aspect of His own purpose towards them, and, on the ground of what the great day of atonement prefigured, and thus see neither iniquity nor perverseness in Israel, so surely He can look upon us as standing in all the value of the perfection of Christ’s work upon the cross, and hence as absolutely righteous. Christ Himself in the glory is the abiding expression of this righteousness. What an unspeakable comfort to have such a standing before God, that nothing can assail, seeing it is secured in Another—even Christ. This is the true ground of peace.

5. ORDER AND BEAUTY

  “And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beer has said, and the man whose eves are open has said: He has said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river side, as the trees of lien aloes which the Lord has planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters. He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agog, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brought him forth out of Egypt, he has as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows. He couched, he lay down as a lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and curseth is he that curseth thee” (Numbers 24:3-9).

Here we get a nearer view of the people, only to bring out in them fresh beauties under the eye of the Lord. Moreover, Balaam is still more strikingly dominated by the Spirit of God, wicked man though he is. He speaks of himself as the man whose eyes are open, whose ears hear the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty.

He beholds Israel abiding in his tents according to the tribes. He looks upon a scene of order and beauty. In studying the previous parables we have seen that they illustrate the New Testament truths of Sanctification and Justification. These are individual blessings that lie at the threshold of our Christian career. They are surely of the deepest importance and indispensable, though God’s gracious work does not stop with these great blessings.

With Israel God did not leave them on the further side of the Red Sea, redeemed indeed, delivered from the power of Pharaoh—type of Satan, and freed from the thraldom of Egypt—type of the world; but He gave them a gathering centre round Himself, as dwelling in the holiest of all in the tabernacle. They were not only redeemed as individuals, but compacted into a nation with God as their Centre and Protector. In this lay their safety. Had they been left as individuals they would have been in a sorry plight.

The tents set in order round the tabernacle, wherein was the presence of God, formed a beautiful sight, and the enemy, as he saw this with the vision of the Almighty, had to bless and not to curse.

Has this not an application of the deepest importance to ourselves. We, as Christians, have individually received the blessings of the gospel: we are not, however, left as individuals to wend our way to heaven as each one thinks best. No, the great lesson of the Day of Pentecost must be realized, if we are to be preserved and used in service according to the mind of the Lord.

Towards the end of our Lord’s life upon earth, He constantly stressed the great change that would take place when He should have taken His place on high, and sent down the Holy Spirit. In short, believers on that wonderful day of Pentecost were formed into the Assembly of God upon earth, His Church, the House of God, where God’s presence should be known. We can never be thankful enough that believers are thus put into relation with Christ in glory, and with each other on earth by the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is as believers act in the light of this great truth that they are edified and built up.

On the side of our responsibility how broken and enfeebled is the Church of God upon earth. How lamentable is the sight of pretentious denominations and bitter divisions, how distressing to mark the worldliness and the love of ease that too often marks us. Nevertheless it is our privilege to see the Assembly with the vision of the Almighty—to see it as God sees it.

When here on earth the Lord said, “Upon this rock [the confession of His Person] I will build My church; and the gates of hell [hades] shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Sweet it is to know that nothing will set aside God’s thoughts—that all the break-up and sadness will pass away, giving place to the triumphant display of God’s purposes for His own. The Lord’s prayer for His people will yet be answered to the full, “That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me” (John 17:21).

The sight of the Church, as designed by God, will enable us to walk according to divine principles in a day of ruin and confusion. The sight of divine order will help us to act aright. It is not a question of taking up the truth, if we feel inclined, or walking with our fellow Christians or not as we choose, but we are set in this place of privilege and responsibility, and it is the recognition of this that will help us. Nay more, we are solemnly responsible to carry out our relation one to the other endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). If we are not doing this we are failing in our right relationship to the Lord.

Further Balaam spoke, not only of the order of the children of Israel, but also of their beauty and fruitfulness. He sees them as spread forth like the valleys, as gardens by the river’s side, as the trees of lign aloes planted by the Lord, as cedar trees beside the waters. Balaam set his face towards the wilderness, and what he would have seen, as to actual fact, would have been a number of tents pitched round a tabernacle in the midst of the bare sand of the desert, a dreary enough sight in itself. What Balaam saw, however, was no mirage of the desert; it was the vision of the Almighty. The trees planted by the river spoke of refreshment, fruitfulness and beauty. We have a similar thought in Jeremiah 17:8, where the prophet says, speaking of the believer in the Lord, “He shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the day of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”

So of the Christian today: though it be a day of ruin, may he not find refreshment from the Lord? May he not, as it were, find himself by the river of the supply of heavenly refreshment, which is so freely given in the power of the Spirit of God? Cannot the Christian be fruitful today, for though he is in the desert of this world, which can minister nothing to his spiritual refreshment, has he not all the resources of God at his disposal? Believers who walk in the living power of the truth of the Assembly, giving the Lord His true place, will realize this in full measure.

The river of blessing—the water poured out of the buckets—may well illustrate the ministry of the ascended Lord through the Scriptures and by the Holy Spirit of God. The great distinctive feature of this present dispensation is the presence of the Holy Spirit on this earth, the One who makes the Scriptures good to the souls of believers, who is the animating power of the one body of Christ.

Finally Balaam prophesied of blessings that are special to Israel. Her King would be higher than Agag. He recalls too what God has done—He brought His people out of Egypt—and intimates what Israel will do in a future day, and closes by saying, Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee” (Num. 24:9).

Hearing these words, Balak is angry, smites his hands together in impotent rage, bids Balaam depart, seeing he has blessed Israel three times, instead of cursing them. Balaam responds that he can only say what the Lord gave him to say, harps upon the reward of silver and gold and the advancement to honour that Balak was willing to give him, if he cursed the people, as if his covetous soul mourned that the glittering prize could not be gained. He intimates that he is about to return to his own people, but before doing so he will utter a closing parable, which may well fill the heart of the king of Moab with utter dismay.

6. THE COMING OF THE LORD

  “And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor has said, and the man whose eyes are open has said. He has said, who heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the Most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open 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, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come He that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city” (Numbers 24:15-19).

What a vision of coming glory the unwilling eyes of the wicked prophet saw, a vision that spoke of the utter destruction of all that opposes itself to God. How Balak’s ears must have tingled as he heard of the sure doom of his own country, and the triumph of the people that he hated.

How blessed to read this prophecy concerning the coming of the Lord. The universe owes its existence to His almighty creative word; every blessing to man comes through His atoning death, and now all blessing for the earth waits for His coming again. What a day it will be for this sin-ridden, suffering earth when the Prince of Peace shall take into His pierced hands the sceptre of universal dominion. Well may we sing:
  Hail to the Lord’s Anointed!

Great David’s greater Son:
  When to the time appointed,
  The rolling years shall run,
  He comes to break oppression,
  To set the captive free;
  To take away transgression,
  And rule in equity.

Kings shall fall down before Him,
  And gold and incense bring;
  All nations shall adore Him,
  His praise, all people sing.

Outstretched His wide dominion

O’er river, sea and shore,
  Far as the eagle’s pinion,
  Or dove’s light wing can soar.

What a day of triumph that will be! How it thrills our hearts to contemplate this glorious prospect! But how unutterably sad for the wicked prophet to have to declare that when that day should come he would have no part nor lot in the blessing. How could he?

All have to bow to the crucified One, all have to confess Him Lord, but sad when “compelled by might” to do this before the judgment throne in the day to come, and not as “drawn by mercy” for eternal blessing in this day of grace.

A Star was to come out of Jacob, and when the Lord was born it was a star that guided the wise men of the east to the place where the infant Jesus was. A star denotes hope. It is the shining at night that promises the day. How happy for us who look forward to that day!

In the Old Testament we do not get the coming of the Lord for His saints—that which we speak of as the rapture. That is a Mystery revealed in the New Testament. The Lord’s earthly people will look for Him to bring deliverance on the earth, and to set up His throne at Jerusalem. The Christian looks for the Lord to come and catch him up to the great meeting in the clouds, to be for ever in His own blessed company—a blissful event that is surely drawing very near.

There are many events that tell us the coming of the Lord to His people Israel, and the setting up of His reign on the earth, is soon to be realized. The return of the Jews to their own land; the revival of the Roman Empire, rapidly taking place before our very eyes; the increasing apostasy in the professing Church of God; the loosening of natural ties, the increasing immorality, and the utter indifference to God’s things on the part of the man in the street—are all signs that the time for the intervention of the Lord is at hand.

But before the Lord comes to the earth, the Church will be raptured to heaven. He is the bright and morning Star to the Church, even as He is the Star that will come out of Jacob, indeed has come, though the time has not arrived for Him to be thus publicly recognised.

The Sceptre will rise out of Israel, the One that will rule, for the sceptre is the symbol of rule. Good then for believers to walk apart from the world not interfering with its government, knowing that nothing can be really right till He comes. Can anything be right with the world as long as the One who has the right and competency to rule, is rejected and cast out? Nothing can be right until the Head has His right place

All man’s efforts only result in the appearance of the antichrist, the man of sin. This terrible man will be the climax of the wisdom and power of this world. His end and the introduction of God’s Christ are vividly portrayed in Ezekiel 21:25-27. “And thou profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, thus says the Lord God: Remove the diadem [literally, ‘the mitre’—emblem of religious authority] and take off the crown [emblem of kingship] . . . exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, and it shall be no more, until He come whose right it is and I will give it Him.”

Hallelujah! that moment is surely coming. May the Lord give us to live in expectation of that blissful day, when He shall have His rights, and we shall be associated with Him in His triumph and reign Well may we take the path of rejection now, and wait for

  “the crowning day that’s coming by and by.