T. H. Reynolds.
Christian Friend vol. 17, 1890, p. 29 etc.
It is a blessed thing to begin with God. He ever acts from what He is, not from what we are, and the final result of this will be that man will be blessed through eternal ages according to the outgoings of the heart of God. In carrying out this purpose He has disclosed the mystery of His will that every thing in heaven and earth is to be headed up in Christ as man. Alan is the being in whom the blessing is to flow out through the creation of God. He is blessed in order to be a blessing, and the highest form of it is seen in a Man being now in the glory of God, and the Church united to Him there as His body.
On earth Israel are the people, having their own special links with Christ as Son of Abraham and Son of David, in whom the blessing of all the nations of the earth is secured. They were a family, a nation chosen of God out of the system of nations which compose the world, to be Jehovah's witnesses and the vessel of His blessing to all the families of the earth. The head of this family was separated by divine call from country, kindred, and father's house. The nation of Israel were separated from the world by divine call also (Hosea 11:1), made good in the power of redemption. The world out of which they were taken is morally a system of which Satan is the god and prince. Of Israel God has said, "This people have I formed for Myself; they shall shew forth My praise." (Isa. 43:21.) No wonder that such a people were the objects of the deadly hostility of Satan. In order to bless the world God must first take a people out of the world and connect them with Himself. Hence He said to Abraham, when He called him out, "I will bless thee, and make thee a blessing." It is ever so. The Lord speaks of those whom He has chosen out of the world thus: "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world;" and then He adds His purpose as to them: "As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world."
Israel then was a nation in whom the rights and title of God, in the blessing and government of the world, were to be made good against the power of Satan exercised amongst the Gentiles. This power was specially maintained by idolatry, which was in reality the worship of demons. We can now understand that Satan's hostility to God, and his opposition to the purpose of God in blessing, would be manifested in antagonism against the people thus separated from other nations to be the special objects of His dealings. His first effort was to hold them captive. When that is unavailing, his opposition is directed against them to weaken and spoil them, and, if possible, intervene between them and the Lord who had chosen them. Two questions are thus brought before us; first, the state of the people themselves - sinful and powerless; secondly, the sovereignty of God in goodness and power, whereby He effectuates His own purpose and call.
We have said that Israel was called out of Egypt where they were in captivity under the power of Pharaoh. Egypt represents to us the world in its state by nature, enjoying indeed the providential goodness of God, but alienated from Him. He is not acknowledged as the source of their prosperity, but the providential supply is claimed as their own. "My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself." (Ezek. 29:3.) It is there the people of God's inheritance are held captive by its prince, serving divers lusts and pleasures. In accomplishing their deliverance from such a bondage God had to meet the sinful state of the people, and also to annul the power of the enemy. When Pharaoh refused to let them go in obedience to the demand of Jehovah, their deliverance must be accomplished by judgment; but if God acts in judgment He is no respecter of persons, for He is righteous. Consequently He must judge sin wherever He finds it, whether in an Israelite or an Egyptian. In grace He provided a shelter for Israel by the blood of the paschal lamb being sprinkled upon the lintel and doorposts of their houses. Thus were they secure in that night when God executed judgment against Egypt by slaying their firstborn. Their deliverance thus was according to righteousness, but it must be fully accomplished by freeing them from the place of their captivity as well as from the power that held them. Through the waters of judgment which overwhelmed the enemy, Israel passed into liberty - free now to be Jehovah's people and to go on to their inheritance with Him. This now is the theme of their song: "Jehovah hath triumphed gloriously." All is of Himself. He who sheltered them has now delivered them. He is manifestly their God. "He is my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt Him." Thus they sing. They anticipate too the full accomplishment of His purpose concerning them. He who led forth a redeemed people would bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of His inheritance. The power already manifested on the banks of the Red Sea was a pledge of the overthrow of the enemy in whatever way he might assail.
Israel are now in the wilderness - delivered indeed, but in themselves a feeble folk. Under grace our wants and weakness are but the occasion for the blessed God who has redeemed us to shew how sufficient that grace is for us. So we sing -
"On to Canaan's rest still wending,
E'en thy wants and woes shall bring
Suited grace, from high descending,
Thou shalt taste of mercy's spring."
But Satan knows that the flesh is weak, and, though no longer able to hold captive, he will use his power in the world to persecute and harass the redeemed people. Hence the attack of Amalek. (Ex. 17:8.) We are told that Amalek met them in the way, "and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God." (Deut. 25:18.) Our weakness may become the occasion for the enemy's attack. The wilderness is a place of sore trial for the flesh, and if the flesh distrusts, as it always does, the power and goodness of God, it soon becomes the point of attack. But to attack the feeble saint is really to attack God. "He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye." (Zech. 2:8.) The unbelief and murmuring of the flesh had shown itself at Meribah. They were faint and weary, and wanted water, and, notwithstanding their failure, God had supplied them from the smitten rock - the type of the heavenly springs which refresh us in the desert. Our weakness lays us open to attack. Satan in some way would take advantage of it; but the Spirit is given to shed the love of God abroad in our hearts, and in His power the enemy now is resisted. "Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world." (1 Peter 5:9.) We have, moreover, the intercession on high of Him who is the Apostle and High Priest of our profession. The hands of Moses are lifted up and in them the rod of God's power which led forth the people, and smote the sea and the rock. It is the Lord's battle, and victory is secured by those uplifted hands. Amalek was touching the rights of the Lord in His people, his hand was on the throne of the Lord, therefore it is perpetual warfare until the name of Amalek is blotted out from under heaven. Weak indeed we are, but not captives; the Lord's people, and hence ever the objects of Satan's attack, but more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
A totally different character of opposition now demands our notice, and it is a very terrible one, for the agents of the enemy are the world's power represented by Balak, and a corrupted religious element, having the knowledge of God and using His name, but seeking power from enchantments. Such was Balaam. The victories gained over the world, represented by Sihon and Og, had made Moab sore afraid. We may notice the character of these further on. There are moments when the world is forced to own that the power of God is with His people. The question now raised is, whether there is any power that can frustrate the purpose of God, or intervene between Him and His people? There is none. There is no divination or enchantment against Israel; nor is there angel, principality, or power which can separate the believer from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. If God has taken up a people for blessing, and to make them a blessing, He will accomplish in power what He has purposed in love. According to that purpose, Israel is yet to blossom and bud and fill the earth with fruit. The remnant. of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples as a dew from the Lord. The whole creation is now groaning as it waits to be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God. Moab was frustrating their own blessing, not the purpose of God, in hiring Balaam. On account of it they lost the privilege of entering into the congregation of the Lord. "Even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever." (Deut. 23:3, 4.)
The history of Balaam is most solemn. While it serves to bring out the sovereign grace of God, it reveals also the elements of religious corruption which prevail in the last days. Satan, powerless to prevail against the saints of God by open hostility, will corrupt. In Balaam we have the character of that which corrupts. There was a knowledge of God - he had this, he even says "Jehovah my God." (Num. 22:18.) He called Israel's God his God, but his heart was exercised with covetous practices, he "loved the wages of unrighteousness." This is the character also given to Judas by Peter. (Acts 1:18.) Thirty pieces of silver were "the reward of iniquity" given to the man who said to Jesus, "Hail, Master!" Both these men describe a feature of religious apostasy which at last perishes in its own corruption.
There is nothing more awful than when that which bears the name of God is associated with the power of Satanic evil. Possessed by a covetous desire, Judas becomes Satan's instrument in betraying the One whom he called Master into the hands of His enemies. Balaam too will seek to curse the people whom the One he called "Jehovah, my God" had blessed.
God takes up the cause of His people. They knew not what was taking place between the messengers of Balak and Balaam, but "He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep." All was known to the Lord. "Lodge ye here this night," said Balaam to the men who brought the reward of divination in their hand. To entertain those who sought to curse the people of the Lord showed the wicked inclination of his heart. He is only hindered by the positive intervention of God. We mark here the working of Satan with him. "I will bring you word again," said he to the elders of Moab, "as the Lord shall speak unto me." Satan can present himself before the Lord (Job 1:6), and be used of God in afflicting His servant. Nor is there a more terribly fiery dart than the taunt of Satan to a failing saint. "There is no help for him in God." (Ps. 4:3.) "Thou shalt not go with them, thou shalt not curse the people, for they are blessed" is God's answer to this wicked waiting upon Him. Such a reply might well have hindered Balaam from again asking the servants of Balak to tarry another night, when they bring a second invitation to him to come and curse the people. Conscious that he cannot (for he would) go beyond the word of the Lord to do less or more, he again seeks to know what the Lord would say unto him more. Though the very thought of his going was opposed to the mind of God, yet, if the men came to call him, he was to go and speak the word which God should say unto him. The haste of Balaam anticipates this, and manifests how perverse his way was before the Lord. God uses the dumb ass speaking with man's voice to forbid the madness of the prophet. Balaam now must go, and not only to Balak, but, by means of his prophecy, declare to all generations the settled purpose of God as to Israel. In contrast to this we have spiritual wickedness, which, owning the name of the Lord, acquires its power by falling into the hands of Satan.
It is remarkable that in Leviticus 24 there is the same contrast. The lamps are ordered before the Lord from the evening to the morning continually by Aaron alone; that is, by Christ. The light in the sanctuary is maintained by Him during Israel's night. Again, the twelve loaves of shewbread, representing the twelve tribes, are put upon the pure table before the Lord with the added frankincense. "He shall set it in order before the Lord continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant." It is at the time when this memorial of Israel being ever before the Lord is ordained, that we have the account of the man who blasphemed the name of Jehovah. His mother was an Israelitish woman, his father an Egyptian. The offspring of this mixture of the people of God and the world curses his God. Let the reader weigh this well. It is in the heart, of God to bless man. Man's heart can so fall under the power of Satan that he will curse God and curse His people. What would man be but for the sovereign grace of God? Well may we use Balaam's words "God is not man."
How blessed to meditate on what God is in Himself; He acts in the supremacy of grace according to His own holy nature. The evil which is in man does not affect that. We have seen the perverse prophet who would for reward help on the enmity of the world against the people of God, while at the same time that very people had been rebellious against the Lord from the day of their departure from Egypt. (Deut. 9:7) Neither the way of Balaam nor the stiff-neckedness of the people can alter what He is. He will rebuke the madness of the prophet by his own ass; and He will chasten His people as often as they need it; but He is God.
Having shown Balaam the perversity of his way, it is now God's will that he should go with the princes of Moab, and speak the word only which God compelled him to utter. He meets Balak thus, "Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say anything? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak." The high places of Baal, to which Balak conducts him on the morrow, witness the impotency of the power of evil. Balak and Balaam offer sacrifices, but to whom is not said. Perfect in number, but in character spiritual wickedness. This done, Balaam bids Balak stand by his burnt-offering, while he goes alone to the meeting of a superior power, with a "peradventure" that it might be the Lord. "And God met Balaam;" and in reply to his recounting the sacrifices he had offered, Jehovah put a word into his mouth. He returns to Balak, and took up his parable. Brought out of Aram from the mountains of the east to curse Jacob and defy Israel, he has to own his inability to curse those whom God hath not cursed, or to defy those whom Jehovah hath not defied.
But more, he is obliged to survey the people from the height of God's purpose. "From the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him." He looks at them, not according to their actual state as in the valley below, but from above. From Pisgah's top (compare verse 14) Moses was permitted to view the promised land; and from an exceeding high mountain John was shown the holy city - new Jerusalem. Ezekiel also, from the same vantage-ground, saw the city whose name was to be, "The Lord is there." To the same point, an exceeding high mountain, the devil took the blessed Lord, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them - all was made to pass before Him in a moment of time. From such a point Balaam views the people in the visions of God, and from thence he has to declare God's thoughts as to them. "So the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations." In the mind of God they are a separate people.
We have seen that Abraham, by the call of God, had been separated from the midst of the idolatrous nations to know Him, and to walk before Him as the Almighty God. To his seed according to the flesh the name of Jehovah was made known; and by His mighty arm they were redeemed to Himself out of Egypt, that they might be His people. The revelation of His name put them into relationship with Himself as so revealed. They could not belong to God and to the world also. Further, to be God's people necessitated that they should dwell alone. The fact of His dwelling among them, that He went with them, was the principle on which they were, and the cause of their being, separated from all people on the face of the earth. (Exodus 33:16.) It is ever so. There is the broad road of the world, and the narrow and separated path which leads to life. We cannot walk in the two at once. Conversion to God is to quit the highway of the world, and to enter the strait and narrow gate. Instance after instance may be given in confirmation of this separated path, and passage after passage from God's word to show that it is God's mind for His people. "Beware that thou bring not my son thither again," was the chief injunction of Abraham to his servant. Isaac must not return to the country whence his father had been called out. Consequently we find him, at his father's death, dwelling by the well Lahai-roi (Genesis 25:11) - the well of Him that liveth and seeth me, the secret of the presence of God. This well had been made known to Hagar; but Ishmael, her son, and his descendants, dwelt from Havilah to Shur, the great highway of the world between Egypt and Assyria. In the New Testament this separation received its force from the death of Jesus. His cross is the boundary line between the Christian and the world. He gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world. (Gal. 1:4.) Its character is unaltered; therefore the apostle John thus writes, "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness." (1 John 5:19.) The mind of God then as to His people is that they dwell alone. They are His, and this He will give the enemy to know.
Let us further survey them in the mind of God. Balaam proceeds with his parable: "Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel?" One solitary man had been called out from the midst of the nations. "I called Abraham alone, and blessed him, and increased him." (Isaiah 51:2.) A childless man, alone, he was bidden of God to look toward heaven and tell the stars, if he were able to number them. So was his seed to be. In the same plains of Moab, where Balaam's prophetical utterance, "Who can count the dust of Jacob?" was spoken of Israel, Moses said of them, "Ye were the fewest of all people." (Deut. 7:7.) A separated people, dwelling alone, may apparently be for the time "a little flock;" yet when the purpose of God is fully accomplished, what countless multitudes will fill both the heavens and the earth. "Look now towards the heavens." Do they not declare the glory of God? Those redeemed from every nation. by the blood of Christ are there - an innumerable throng of heavenly saints, each one in the likeness of Christ. On earth they spring up as among the grass, as willows by the watercourses, the witnesses of Jehovah and of His redemption. They are the children of the separated Joseph - the ten thousands of Ephraim, and the thousands of Manasseh. (Deut. 33:16, 17.) Besides, there is a countless multitude for the earth (Rev. 7:9) of Gentiles, who find their place in God's holy temple. (Comp. Isaiah 56:7, 8.) But whether on earth or in heaven, Jesus will see in these countless multitudes of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. They are witnesses of redemption power and glory. Who then shall count them?
Well may Balaam conclude his parable, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his." It is the "last end" which is important, whether for Israel or an individual. Death is the "last end" for man here. Death, vanquished in the power of resurrection, is now the beginning according to God. The way of the Lord is prepared by proclaiming that all flesh is grass. That flesh is grass is fully brought out in the parable and dark saying of Psalm 49, and yet the inward thought of man is to continue here. This their way is their folly. Each will admit it is folly, yet their posterity approve their sayings, and hence each, while he lives, will bless himself. Nevertheless death shall feed upon them. Balaam would curse Israel to bless himself. His way is his folly. Under the power of the word of Jehovah, which he was compelled to speak, he desires the end of the righteous, but in heart approves the present way of the world. The righteous - the saints of old - died according to faith. They rested on the promise and embraced it, though to them it was a parable - a dark saying. Such was the utterance of the psalmist: "God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave." Life and incorruptibility are now brought to light by the gospel. Death, the last end of man, opens out into the light of resurrection and heavenly glory. It is no longer a parable. Israel too, as a nation, will eventually awake from the dust of the earth, when they have been brought to know that all flesh is grass. Of old, God led their through the wilderness "that He might humble thee, and that He might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end." Their entrance into Canaan under Joshua was not the fulfilment of that word, it was but preliminary to their deliverance from a wilderness condition, in which they will be found in the last days, into the fulness of their blessing. They will pass through the time of Jacob's trouble, and be saved out of it, having been brought up as from the grave. (Ezek. 37:12.) What an awakening it will be! Balaam, in wishing for himself the last end of the righteous, anticipates in his parable what that end will be. We have yet to see how such a people can be reckoned righteous.
This parable of Balaam is rightly interpreted by Balak as a blessing. The Lord had indeed chosen them to be a special people to Himself above all people that are upon the face of the earth - who then should bring accusation against them? Looked at as the people of God they were blessed - shielded by the power of Jehovah. Would it be possible to curse part of them? "Thou shalt see but the utmost part of them," says Balak, "and shalt not see them all." The "utmost part" is a place exposed to danger; it was there the fire of the Lord burnt at Taberah. (Num. 11:1.) Nearness is always a safe place; while to be at a distance leaves us open to attack. Could the power of the enemy prevail there?
Again sacrifice is offered, and again Balaam went to meet a mysterious power "yonder." But Jehovah met Balaam. At first, when the separation of the people was declared, God met Balaam. Now it is manifestly Israel's God - Jehovah - who put a word into his mouth. He returns to Balak; but he no longer merely confesses his inability to curse. There is a commanding power in his utterance as he replies to Balak's question, "What hath the Lord spoken?" "Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor: God is not a man." The word Balaam uses here - "El" - is the expression of absolute Deity. Man is thus vividly brought into contrast with God in His essential Being. Blessing - our blessing through grace - is thus connected with what He is. This title of God is used several times in this prophecy. (See Num. 23:8, 19, 22, 23; Num. 24:4, 8, 16, 23.) It is put into Balaam's lips, and bespeaks the absolute character of the blessings pronounced. "Hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?" Consequently there is a further title used (Num. 24:4), "Almighty" - the Accomplisher of all that He has spoken. He is too in relationship with those He blesses - "Jehovah his Elohim is with him;" and when the rising of the Star out of Jacob is predicted, then the title "Most High" is brought in (Num. 24:16); for the Sceptre of universal dominion arises out of Israel, and Jehovah their God is then Most High over all the earth. It is His millennial title. How blessed to be in the secret of these titles! (Compare Psalm 90:1, 2.) Soon will they be celebrated in heaven thus, "Hallelujah! for the Lord God Almighty reigneth." But He who is thus celebrated we call in the Spirit of adoption, Abba, Father!
Numbers 23, 24.
"The gifts and calling of God are without repentance." This Balaam now declares. God will not alter the thing that is gone out of His lips, and what He has said that will He do. Balak may conduct Balaam from place to place in order to survey the people, but there is only one point of view from which the prophet is permitted to speak - what they are in the eyes of God. We must remember that God is answering the enemy. That which is taking place on the high places of Moab is a controversy between Himself and the futile power of Satan. He has His own way of speaking to His people, and He has His way of speaking of them in the face of the enemy. It is a sweet and precious privilege that they are permitted to know how He speaks of them. "I have received," says Balaam, "commandment to bless: and He hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it." Such is our God. Our blessing depends upon what He is. Had we to consider the state of the people, or the state of any poor sinner whom God takes up to justify, words such as Isaiah spoke to the sinful nation are applicable: "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it" (Isaiah 1:5, 6.) What they were, what they would be, was fully known to Him who was their Justifier. "I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb." (Isaiah 48:8.) It is of such a people that Balaam is compelled to say: "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel." How He can be just, and yet a Justifier, is now brought to light by the shedding of the blood of Jesus. God's righteousness is therein declared for the remission of sins that are past. This way of justifying was present to the mind of God when He answered for His people to Balak and Balaam. What an overwhelming sense of the mercy and goodness in God fills the soul of the once guilty sinner, as he hears his justification pronounced in the face of the enemy! Sin in me, mercy in God, that all my salvation should be of Him! "It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?" Again we say, "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance." Hence, later on in their history, He thus pleads with Israel: "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions far Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." What can be done by all the power of Satan against a people who have such a God? "Jehovah his God is with him." He is their Sun and Shield, Giver of grace and glory. And Jesus was this Jehovah. He who blessed and justified on the heights of Moab became a Man" Emmanuel . . . God with us." He bore their sorrows and carried their griefs, even as He did ours; the chastisement of their peace was upon Him, and with His stripes they are healed. Oh, how irreversible, sovereign, and eternal is the justification pronounced by such a God, and that God was with them!
"The shout of a King is among them. God brought them out of Egypt; He hath as it were the strength of an unicorn." He is indeed a King against whom there is no rising up. Moab has yet to learn to their cost what the shout of a King will bring to them. "Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting, and with the sound of a trumpet" (Amos 2:2.) "Where the word of a king is, there is power; and who may say unto him, What doest thou?" Royal and victorious power is for Israel, and against their enemies. So the Spirit of Christ writes for them by the pen of Asaph, "God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. Thou didst divide the sea by Thy strength." (Psalm 74:12, 13.) In the power and might of His own right arm He brought them out of Egypt, the pledge of their passing over by the same strength into the mountain of His inheritance. Jehovah, their God, shall reign for ever and ever. "If God be for us, who shall be against us?" "Surely," then, "there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought? "
Here let us mark well that it is neither what Israel say, nor what Israel had wrought. It is said of Israel, "What hath God wrought?" Having taken the blessing of such a people into His own hands, all is wrought out by Himself. There had been forty years of provocation in the wilderness on their part. How oft did they grieve Him in the desert! And now at the close it is said - mark, it was not then wrought, but it was said at that time - "What hath God wrought?" In Egypt, the question between God in judgment and His people had been settled under the shelter of the bloodstained lintel. Their deliverance had been effected at the Red Sea. There God wrought, while Israel stood still and saw His salvation. On the other side of the sea they sang of what He had done. Then came the wilderness journey, with its trial and testing, and at its end they are confessedly proved to be rebellious and stiff-necked. What shall be said of them now? Nothing shall be said of what they had wrought, but of them it shall be said by the mouth of the man hired to curse them, but commanded of God to bless, "What hath God wrought?"
Thus does this prophecy typically bring out the absolute justification of the believer by God. His working has accomplished it in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. What God has wrought for us must not in any way be mixed with his working in us, necessary as that is. The experimental history of our souls has nothing to do with the work wrought for us, unless it be to show how much we needed it. This foundation deepens and widens in the experience of the soul, as we prove who and what we are for whom God has wrought in such marvellous grace, and the heart is filled with joy in God Himself.
Now follows the declaration, that in royal might the people will rise up for the putting down of all hostile power. That is reserved for Israel, as the people in whom the royalty of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, is to be known in the execution of judgment on the power of evil. It is celebrated in Psalm 149:6-9, and the result will be universal praise to Israel's God. Ours is a different vocation. We are predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son. The groaning creation waits to be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God. That will be when they are manifested. The peculiar portion of the Church will be the administration to the earth of heavenly blessings. The coming forth of the Rider on the white horse with the armies of heaven, or His making Judah his goodly horse in the battle on earth, is for the clearing away of all opposition, that the heavenly city, in which is gathered up the full administration of heavenly glory and blessing, may descend out of heaven from God. Then will be the rest of creation. The Rod out of the stem of Jesse will smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips will He slay the wicked, so that the knowledge of the Lord may fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.
"Neither bless them at all, nor curse them at all" is now the language of Balak, and yet he would fain conduct Balaam to another spot, as if a fresh survey of the people from thence could alter the purpose of God. From three points of view does Balaam look at them, if so be that from either it were possible to curse them. They give occasion for God to declare, first, their separation; secondly, their justification; thirdly, their order and beauty in His eyes, as well as His planting them by His own springs of blessing. No longer does Balaam leave Balak by his burnt-offering while he went to meet with enchantments, for he saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, but he set his face towards the wilderness. There he saw Israel - abiding according to their tribes. As he thus beheld them, could he see in themselves any comeliness to draw forth the pleasure of the Lord? We know there was none. Comely indeed they were in His eyes, but it was with the comeliness which He had put upon them. The order of their tribes in which they were abiding was the beauteous order of His own arrangement. Mark well the holy city, new Jerusalem, and note if there is one detail of its glory and beauty which is not descriptive of the Christ in whose light she shines. "The city was pure gold, like unto clear glass." Thus is figured the righteousness and true holiness in which, after God, the new man is created, and the truth in Jesus is, our having put off' the old man and put on the new. There is no perfection, but in conformity to Christ in glory. It is in glory the Church knows Him. Therefore if any man be in Christ it is new creation, old things have passed away, the new have come.
As the comely order of the earthly people, abiding in their tents in the wilderness, breaks upon the wicked prophet's view, he becomes the instrument of the Spirit of God, and now he not only hears the words of God, but the vision of the Almighty fills his eyes. A vision it is, and he falls down under it; but it is no passing dream or mere ecstatic utterance, for his eyes are open, and he declares what the people whom he was called to curse were in the vision of the Almighty. They still dwelt in tents and tabernacles, but how goodly in His eyes. He saw them spread forth as the valleys, as gardens by the river-side. They dwelt by the fresh springs of life which He caused to flow for them in the desert. As trees of fragrance and beauty, planted by the Lord Himself, beside the waters whence all their nourishment was derived. The Spirit of Jehovah was with Israel. By it He led them with His glorious arm, dividing the water before them to make Himself an everlasting name. By it He led them as a horse in the wilderness, and the Spirit of the Lord caused him to rest. (Isaiah 63:11, 14.) Thus Balaam saw them, the cloud of Jehovah's presence resting upon the many thousands of Israel. The Church is now the dwelling-place of the Spirit of God. Its beauty and order flow from His energy in it. Apart from that all is disorder and confusion. In the vision of the Almighty, He looks at it according to His own mind in the fulness of the blessing in which He has set it. This makes it the channel of His grace to all around. Hence we further read, "He shall pour the water out of His buckets, and His seed shall be in many waters." As we dwell by the rivers of waters, we know what it is to be satisfied with favour and full of the blessing of the Lord. Thirsty we were, but we come to Jesus and drink. The first effect is that the inflow of living water rises up to its own source, and there the communion and enjoyment it produces are known, then it flows out. God's covenant with Israel is that His Spirit which is upon them, and the words He has put in their mouth, shall not depart out of their mouth from henceforth and for ever. (Isa. 59:21.) With them will be the outflow of testimony, and in the "many waters" of the Gentile world will fruit yet be found from the seed of Israel. Well then may the exaltation of the kingdom established in such a people be spoken of. But first it will be a kingdom that will break in pieced and consume all other kingdoms (Dan. 2:44), in order that the King who is higher than Agag (the tall one) may reign in righteousness. Then, with the Spirit poured out from on high, the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.
Hence it is again repeated that in resistless power God brought them forth out of Egypt. In the previous chapter (v. 22), it showed that no other power could prevail against the strength which led them out and wrought for them. Here it is said in connection with the power that would subdue every enemy, and then rest as a couching lion in the conscious might of universal sway.
The blessing of all nations, as we have seen, is bound up with the blessing of Israel because they are Jehovah's people. Balaam therefore concludes his parable with the words of God to Abraham. "Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee." The fulfilment of this is given in Matt. 25. There the Son of man, sitting upon the throne of His glory, separates the nations one from another according to their treatment of one of the least of His brethren, the children of Israel. They are His brethren according to the flesh, but He will own those among them as such in that day, who have done the will of His Father in heaven. To them He will stretch out His hand. (Matt. 12:49, 50.) Such are the company, in Rev. 7, whom the angel from the sun-rising seals on their foreheads with the seal of the living God. He calls them the servants of our God. Whatever they may be thought of by others, they are owned by Christ. The blessed among the nations who go into life eternal are those who have succoured and cared for these Jewish brethren of Christ, while the cursed who go away into everlasting fire are those who refused Him by neglecting them. How fully are the interests of His people bound up with Himself!
Numbers 24, 25.
The blessings pronounced by an unchangeable God through Balaam's mouth, which we have hitherto considered, sound the death-knell of the world in its opposition to God and His people. Balak smote his hands together - the purposed curse had been turned into a threefold blessing, and he who would fain have secured the wages of unrighteousness and the honour of this world, unhappy Balaam, receives the withering taunt of Balak as he bids him flee to his place: "The Lord hath kept thee back from honour."
But Balaam is still on the heights of Moab, and, covetous as he was, he was there controlled by the power of the prophetic Spirit which had come upon him. Were it a house full of silver and gold he can neither speak good nor bad of his own mind. "What the Lord saith, that will I speak," and thus he continues: "And now, behold, I go unto my people: come therefore, and I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days." Again he takes up his parable, adding to his former utterance that he knew the knowledge of the Most High. It is Jehovah's title of universal supremacy. Psalm 83:18.) He takes it as possessor of heaven end earth. (Gen. 14:19.) Abraham learned the secret place of the Most High when Melchizedek blessed him. In that secret he dwelt, and refused the world; hence it was further revealed to him that the shadow of the Almighty was his abode. (Gen. 17:1.) It is in this way that the saints learn this title; for He - who is Himself the Most High, and yet in grace was born into this world, and called the Son of the Highest - is the Teacher of the saints as to this hiding-place of faith. This is His utterance, "I will say of Jehovah, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust." (Psalm 91:2.) Hence in verse 9, He is thus addressed by the spirit of prophecy in Israel: "Because Thou hast made Jehovah, which is my (Israel's) refuge, even the Most High, Thy habitation. there shall no evil befall Thee," etc.
But the Gentile world will learn it differently. In Nebuchadnezzar we see the first proud head of Gentile power. The supremacy taken from Israel was given of God to him. Apart from the acknowledgment of Him to whom power belongs, the most exalted of men descends to the level of a beast. Driven from among men, with his dwelling among the beasts, according to the decree of the Watcher and Holy One, Nebuchadnezzar learned by judgment that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and having learnt it, he blessed the Most High, and praised and honoured Him that liveth for ever. Secondly, there are nations who, in the last days when God is about to make good His purposes as to Israel, and to re-establish them in His land, will come against them. Hence they are looked at as God's enemies. (Psalm 83:2.) They hate Him. Their first thought is to cut off Israel from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance. Then they desire to take to themselves the houses of God in possession. Moab is one of these nations. It is this rising up against God which brings the call for judgment, not merely that Israel may be delivered, but that men may know that Jehovah, Israel's God, is Most High over all the earth. It is in this title that the blessing of God to the whole earth is secured; yet to acknowledge it the beast's heart must be changed to the heart of a man, and judgment must remove what opposes, in order that God may take the place of blessing. It is of this Balaam now speaks. If Israel eats up the nations His enemies, it is not mere revenge; it is in order that the millennial kingdom of the Most High may be established in the hands of Christ and His people. Hence Balaam at once speaks of the coming of the Star of Jacob, and of a Sceptre rising out of Israel that shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth (or tumult). The rule and government of Him who was born King of the Jews (compare Matt. 2:2) is here foreshadowed. Balaam in prophetic vision sees, in the far distance of the latter days, the dominion that will be exercised by Christ in the midst of Israel. But, unlike Daniel, whose visions were also for the time of the end, and yet when the end came would stand in his lot, he has neither part nor lot in the matter. Balaam's sad words, "I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh," not only point to the distant future, but proclaim that, Judas-like, the beams from the coming Star shone not for his covetous heart.
The enemies which he takes up in succession seem to give us a moral picture of the forms of Gentile power over which in the latter day the triumph of Israel is assured. We have seen in verse 17 that Moab is identified with the tumultuous rising of the nations that will seek to overflow Israel in the last days. (Psalm 83:6.) Edom, who hated them with perpetual hatred, and in the day of their calamity took vengeance, and sought to possess the two countries of Israel and Judah (Ezekiel 35:5, 10), becomes the possession of Israel. The strength and rule are with them, and the remnant out of the city - the centralization of this world - is destroyed by Him who wields the dominion in their midst.
In Amalek is represented the Gentile world in its foremost place of power and hostility, and in the Kenite the vain security in which the man of the earth confides. Neither the pride of power, nor the strong dwelling-place, can prevent the one perishing for ever, and the other being wasted in captivity; for Balaam's parable does not here speak of Israel accomplishing these things, but, "Alas! who shall live when God doeth this?" Then in a few words the three families of Noah are finally brought upon the scene. Kittim was a descendant of Japheth, Asshur of Ham, and Eber of Shem. All will be engaged in the final conflicts of the last days. God will use one to afflict another, but utter destruction awaits the final rising up of Gentile power.
We now enter on the last stage of Israel's history connected with Balaam. Hitherto we have considered his attempt to curse, and the way in which God turned it all into blessing. We have been in company with the Lord in His unchangeable purpose, as Balaam was forced to express it on the heights of Moab. Of what Israel actually were in the plains below, and of their conduct, no question has been raised. We now descend to them. "And Israel abode in Shittim." (Num. 25:1.) Their history is thus resumed from the end of chapter 21. There we see them victorious over Sihon and Og, and free to pitch on this side Jordan in the plains of Moab by Jericho. Let us consider their position. They had really left the wilderness. The thirty-eight years of wandering there was over, and the journey proper had been resumed. It was not now turning back into Egypt; but when they crossed the brook Zered, the wilderness testing was over, and they were really bound for Canaan. Figuratively the judgment of sinful flesh in the brazen serpent, and the power of life in the springing well, enabled them to be companions of the heavenly calling. They want simply to pass through the enemy's country in peace; for they are going to Canaan. They want nothing of theirs, only to be permitted to pass on. So for us, if our hearts are true to the heavenly calling, we want not anything of the world save to pass on in peace; for we are going to heaven. But to journey on as a heavenly people the enemy will not suffer, and he uses the proud, overbearing spirit of the world to resist. But we must pass on, and hence the world draws down upon itself the conflict and contention. The saint has a title by redemption to use this present scene, not to dwell there while Christ is absent. He uses it as belonging to Christ, for we shall yet possess it with Him. Satan, as the prince of this world, is a usurper, holding that which belongs to Christ and the saints. Heaven indeed is our inheritance, but the world to come is also to be subject to Him who is Heir of all things, and we shall reign with Him. The territory given to Abraham included all the country taken from Sihon and Og even to Euphrates (Genesis 15:18), as well as that within Jordan. The hostility of the world, as possessing that which rightfully belongs to Christ and the saints, but through which they now only want to pass, leads to its downfall. The blood of the martyrs, in days of old, was the seed of the Church. The attempt to exterminate the Christians, and to prevent a heavenly people having a lodging-place on earth, only brought out the right and title of Christ as having all power in heaven and earth to give His saints the victory over it, and to maintain them in their onward journey.
We see such a moment, after the outbreak of persecution about Stephen, in Acts 9:31: "Then had the churches rest . . . and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." So doing, all is well; but unless we pass on, the very victory is danger. Israel possessed the land both of Sihon and of Og, and though it is not mentioned in Numbers until chapter 32, yet we may gather from Deuteronomy 3:12 that the giving of this territory to the two and a half tribes, at their request, was very closely connected with the acquisition of it by conquest. The mention of Beth-peor (v. 29) and Baal-peor (Deut. 4:3) occurs after the request to possess it. There was the desire to settle down where they should have been passers through. Consequently the words, "And Israel abode in Shittim," are the prelude to the dreadful history of this chapter. It is from the New Testament we learn that it was Balaam who taught Balak to cast a snare before the children of Israel. He leaves the high places where he had seen them in the vision of the Almighty dwelling in beauty and order, and now, away from the power which had overruled him, he instructs Balak in this diabolical method of bringing the chastening hand of God upon His people. We do well to lay to heart, "that the friendship of the world is enmity with God." The enmity;of the world only brings in the power of God on our behalf. What a change when His jealousy is roused, by Satan having caught us by that which is in the world, and brought us into a position of antagonism against God! T. H. R.
The counterpart of Israel dwelling in Shittim is recorded by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, in Revelation 2. To the church at Pergamos the message is sent through John, "I know . . .where thou dwellest, even where Satan's throne is." In the days of the Church's history, represented by Smyrna, she had suffered tribulation, the direct work of the devil. Some he had cast into prison. There had too been martyrdom, the result of faithfulness where Satan dwelt. The true portion of the Church lay outside the territory where he had his throne. Suffering lay in the pathway through it, but the saints were sustained by the promise of the crown of life from the hands of Him who had gone through death, and opened up the way of life. How marked the contrast between the blasphemy and persecution of Satan, and the promise of Jesus, the First and the Last "I will give thee a crown of life"! One of old, in the very thick of increasing trials, had said, "I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me." So was it with Jesus Himself on the troubled waters of the Sea of Galilee. The awaking might be in resurrection, or it might be deliverance from so great a death, but the sustaining power of the Lord was known.
The victories over Sihon and Og should have been the earnest to Israel that every power of man, used as Satan's instrument to prevent them reaching and possessing their inheritance, would be swept away. (Compare Deut. 2:24, 25; Joshua 2:9, 10; see also Psalms 135 and 136.) It is interesting to see how Paul (2 Cor. 1:8-10) connects present deliverance from death, when pressed out of measure beyond strength in Asia, with the God of resurrection. But then Paul had the sentence of death in himself that he should not trust in himself, and this, not only with regard to the pressure around, but also as to the self within, which he reckoned as crucified with Christ. Fighting enemies without is not renouncing self. The sense of deliverance fro outward foes is not always accompanied by the sense of deliverance from self. Nay, the rest and ease hick follow a victory over the enemy may lead to the indulgence of self, and Satan is not slow to avail himself of such a position, and to bring the allurements of the world to bear on such a state. Israel abiding in Shittim were open to the seductions of Moab. The next thing to dwelling where Satan's throne is, is to be at ease there. And then what may not follow? With regard to Israel, first, they are led into unholy and abominable dalliance with the world; and, secondly, at the invitation of the same world, now friendly in appearance, they forsake the God who had answered for them on the heights above, to eat the sacrifices of idols, and to bow down to the gods of Moab.
While contrasting the effect which the friendship of the world produced upon Israel in the plains of Moab, with the mischief wrought in the Church by the same means, we must remember that Israel had not yet crossed the Jordan; while the place of the Church is sitting in heavenly places in Christ, according to the power which wrought in Him when God raised Him from the dead, and set Him there. In Christ it is new creation; and, though here as to the body, the saint is to walk according to this rule. The Church was set as the vessel of heavenly light to the world. Her sustainment is from heaven. Heavenly bread, and not the sacrifices of idols, her portion. Christ more precious to her than all the world could offer, and suffering accepted for His sake. So it was in the days of her first love. To be in the place where the doctrine of Balaam affected the saints, necessitated that she should have forgotten her place as united to Christ in the heavenlies, and become a dweller where she was only a stranger. The virgins who went out in the energy of first love to meet the Bridegroom, found a place of ease, and slept; and the saints who suffered in Smyrna from the world, were dwelling there in the days of Pergamos. Consequently those who held the doctrine of Balaam were allowed. When the Church forgot her position and calling to be a dweller upon earth, then the individual saint is exhorted to overcome; but we must remember there is the state of things to overcome.
The jealousy of the Lord is aroused. Where is the people whom He had brought out of Egypt, separated to Himself, wrought for, justified, set in order and blessing with Himself? Corrupting themselves, and bowing down to idols. Could He be ought but jealous? His jealousy showed itself in the judicial action which swept away twenty-four thousand men. Moses too calls on the judges of Israel to slay every one his men that were joined to Baal-peor. In Pergamos the Lord who comforted with sure promise the tried of Smyrna, would fight in this jealousy with the sword of His mouth against the unrepentant.
A people lately victorious are a weeping people, and, alas! when the strength is given to strangers, a powerless people. Let it be remembered here that though the New Testament makes us know that they were suffering from the counsel of Balaam, yet Balaam himself is not seen in the history here recorded. The Spirit of God brings before us the condition of Israel. "Israel abode in Shittim." "Israel joined himself to Baal-peor." God had met Balaam, and frustrated the purpose of Balak; hence the history concludes with, "Balaam rose up, and went and returned to his place." What is before us hen is not Balaam but Israel. It was their state which laid them open to the seductions of Moab. Balaam, whatever he counselled, had no place in Israel, he returned to his place. He is found again, as it were, in those who held his doctrine in the midst of the Church. "Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam," is the Lord's word to the mystic representative of the church in Pergamos. Balaam was outside, of Israel, affecting them from without, but allowed in the Church. Sad and solemn progress of evil paving the way for the full-blown apostasy. The doctrine of Balaam allowed in Pergamos has borne its fruits in Thyatira. Alliance with the world is systematic there. There is a corrupt public body which is given over to its corruption, and its offspring killed with death. In Jude 11, the corruption taught by Balaam precedes the gainsaying of Core, wherein they finally perish. Cain, Balaam, Core - the genealogy of the dwellers upon earth - who turn the grace of God into lasciviousness, and deny the claims of the Lord.
Here is sorrow indeed. A people weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and Christ fighting with the sword of His mouth against the evildoers. But then, as another has said, "there cannot be any trouble among the saints that does not bring out the faithfulness of Him who waits to bless the overcomer, and thus bring the soul into communion with Christ in a way that nothing else could. For nothing gives the blessed consciousness of Christ's approbation, as between the soul and Himself, like faithfulness when evil begins to corrupt." We see in Phinehas the faithfulness which overcomes. He judges the evil on God's behalf. "He was zealous for my sake." His zeal turned away the Lord's wrath from the children of Israel. Such was the effect of being "zealous for his God." Paul too in later days showed the holy jealousy which would not tolerate evil in the Church. "I . . . have judged already," he writes, "concerning him that hath done this deed . . . to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." (1 Cor. 5:3-5.) And wherefore such jealousy? It was of God. He writes again to them. "I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." (2 Cor. 11:2.) The relation of Israel to Jehovah brought out the zeal of Phinehas when he executed judgment, and the sense of what the Church is to Christ creates in the faithful the earnest desire that she should answer to His mind, and be unspotted from the world. Faithfulness calls for the judgment of evil, as another has written: "We are called upon to judge evil in the Church, for God cannot accept Balaam and Jezebel if we can. Therefore may the Lord give us to remember that failure within the Church is to be judged." Faithfulness brings with it the approval of the Lord. Of Phinehas it is said, "I give unto him my covenant of peace." It was a wonderful thing for him to get such a word. None indeed but One could so come between the jealousy of God and the corrupted people, that the covenant of peace should be for ever undisturbed. The act of Phinehas so far made atonement for the children of Israel by caring for the glory of God, that what will be fully established in Him who perfectly glorified God was given to him on behalf of Israel - the covenant of peace, together with the covenant of an everlasting priesthood. This latter carried with it many things, but among them the place of special nearness and intimacy. (Ezekiel 44:15.) Nearness gives the sense of what is due to God, and turning away from iniquity themselves enabled the priestly family to walk with God in peace and equity, and turn many away from iniquity also. (Mal. 2:6.) The priest too feeds on the choicest food of the sanctuary.
The white stone given to the overcomer in Pergamos marks the approbation of Christ given to the one who receives it. The new name written in it betokens that the overcomer is individually known of Him. Precious knowledge! The Lord give us more to desire it as the result of refusing all fellowship with the doctrine of Balaam. The hidden manna was "God's treasured store." In eating it the soul enters into the delight which God had in the lowly, humbled pathway of Jesus in this world, but rejected by it down to the suffering of death. When the saints listen to Balaam's doctrine, and get into unholy association with the world, the one who refuses the evil on God's behalf gets special communion with God's thoughts of Jesus. The fulness of this communion will be in heaven, but the promise becomes true as we overcome the snare of association with the world. There is also a special and individual sense of what it is to belong to Christ, the known sweetness of the words, "I am my Beloved's, and His desire is toward me." The intimacy is tasted now, but it belongs to another scene, where the golden pot of manna has been laid up in the presence of God. Then there is not only the individual joy with which no stranger intermeddles; but to judge the evil, and be jealous over the saints with a jealousy of God, is that their hearts may be diverted from the allurements of the world, so that Christ may possess their affections. He does value the love of His own. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."
The Lord give us to learn the lessons He would teach us from the history of Israel in the plains of Moab. T. H. Reynolds.
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In bearing about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus, Paul found death to self, and the result was life to the Corinthians. Paul held the power of Christ's death on the natural man, so that when he ministered among the Corinthians there was no Paul at all, but only Christ. It was life to them, because death was working in Paul.