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ployed in criticism upon the phraseology of Sacred Writ; and therefore I will explain to you very fully what they signify, and what useful admonitions are involved in that signification.
Now a Christian readily supposes that they refer to the condition of a man in a world to come. But it is proper for me to tell you that we have no Scriptural evidence for believing that Balaam had any
distinct notions of a future state; and I must add, that, if we grant him to have acquired such notions, the words of Balaam have little or no relation to the context. If we look into some subsequent part of Balaam's history, we shall see the clearest traces of those ideas which, upon his repeated views of the Israelites, predominated in his mind. “Behold,” says he, in the 20th verse of the 23d chapter, “I have received commandment to bless, and he hath blessed, and I cannot reverse it. He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them. God brought them out of Egypt. He hath, as it were, the strength of an unicorn. Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob, what hath God wrought!” In this animated effusion Balaam alludes not to any recompence of the Israelites in another world, but to the glorious condition reserved for them in the present.
Turn we now to another passage, in which will find the same train of thinking: “He hath
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's side, as the trees of lign-aloes, which the Lord hath planted, and as cedar-trees beside the waters. He shall pour the water out of his bucket, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath, 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, and as a great lion; who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee.” Here
have no vestige of felicity in heaven, and surely such felicity, if it had occurred at all to the mind of Balaam, would have made a prominent figure in the description of the blessings to be conferred upon the people whom he had been desired to curse. The goodly tents of Jacob, the tabernacles of Israel, the exaltation of the kingdom of Israel, the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, the strength of Israel like that of an unicorn, the posture of Israel like a great lion, whom no man would presume to stir up, set before us, in vivid imagery, a felicity that was merely temporal, and ascribe that felicity to the gracious appointment of God.
Let us now examine what was passing in the breast of Balaam when he spoke the words which I
have chosen for the text: “Balak, the king of Moab, hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the East, saying, come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel. How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed, or how shall I defy whom the Lord hath 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 may my last end be like his.” If Balaam had said to Balak, God will in another world bless the nation of whom you are afraid, the king would have heard it with perfect indifference. But when Balaam enumerated the blessings God intended to confer upon them in this life, then the king's terrors were confirmed, then his wrath was kindled, then he smote his hands together, and exclaimed, “I took thee to curse mine enemies, and behold thou hast blessed them altogether." By the word righteous, commentators, especially Drusius and Bonfrerius, have generally agreed to understand the Israelites, and this interpretation would readily suggest itself to those who spoke the original language, for there is a strong similarity of sound in the two constituent words, of which Ishri, singular, denotes righteous, and Ishralim, plural, denotes the Israelites.* I am aware that Houbigant, Michaelis, and the author of Sepha Cosri, understand the text
# It has this meaning in Daniel, xi. 4.; Amos, iv. 2.; Psalm cix. 3.
as referring to a future state. But to the authority of these respectable writers may be opposed the opinion of other critics, not less distinguished by erudition and sagacity, and, let me add, of the antient Gomora --a word which implies perfection, and a work which is of the highest authority with the Jews, as containing a complete body of their laws. Bishop Patrick, who with his usual fairness produces both interpretations, evidently leans to that which I would adopt. “By the righteous," says this prelate," he means Israel, who were a people free from idolatry, and he desires to be happy as they in another world,—or, that he may not die an immature and violent death, but enjoy such a long life here as was promised to the Israelites."
Let us now attend to the explanation given by Bishop Warburton: “This,” says he, “is understood as a wish that Balaam might be a partaker with the righteous in another life. Had the apostate prophet said, let me live the life of the righteous, it would have had a much fairer claim for such a meaning. As it is, the force of the words, and their relation to the context, restrain us to this literal meaning: Let me die in a mature old age, after a life of health and peace, with all my posterity flourishing about me, as was the lot of the righteous observers of the law. This vain wish Moses, I suppose, recorded, that the subsequent account of his immature death (chap. xxxi. 8.) might make the stronger impression on the serious reader, to warn him against the folly and impiety of expecting the last reward of virtue for a life spent in the gratifi
cation of every corrupt appetite.” With a sort of slovenly and contemptuous air, the prelate tosses back the common interpretation to those who might chance to relish it—“but if any one will say the words have besides a sublimer meaning, I have no reason to contend with them.” Here I must remark that, if the words really have an additional meaning, it seems to me strange that the more important signification should not be equally visible with the less ; and, beyond all commentators, Bishop Warburton had very strong reasons to contend with such an explanation, because it would stand in direct opposition to his favourite hypothesis, that a future state had no place in the sanctions of that law by which the Israelites, of whom Balaam spoke, were to be governed. Such, therefore, could not be the meaning of Balaam; and yet, if the Bishop only meant to say that a Christian reader might add, as from himself, the sublimer meaning, I should have no reason to contend with him, while that meaning was understood to be subjoined by the operation of his own mind to the original sense.
The remark of Warburton on Balaam's foresight of the death which awaited himself deserves to be noticed, as it unfolds the weakness and deceitfulness of the human heart. Though Balaam, in his repeated interviews with Balak, was by the control of the Almighty restrained from gaining the wages of iniquity, yet the accursed passion of avarice still lurked in his bosom, and called again into action, by additional motives of resentment for his former disappointment, he afterwards executed his odious