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SERMON XII.

BALAAM.

Chird Sunday after Easter.

NUMBERS XXII 18:

"If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more."

We have read again to-day one of the most remarkable narratives of the Old Testament, the history of Balaam—the man whom Balak, king of Moab, in his terror, had sent for to curse the Israelites, who had pitched in large numbers on the border of his land ; and who, instead of cursing, blessed them three times. I purpose to set the character of this man as clearly as I can before you, and to draw from it one or two points of instruction, profitable, I trust, for our learning

Now when we first hear of Balaam, it is as of a man of enlightenment, and famous for divine insight —“whose eyes were open ”—who saw visions and received revelations from God. So great was his reputation for religion, that the heathen king of Moab thought that if he could only secure the presence of Balaam in Moab, and get him to denounce woes upon the Israelites, he should undoubtedly prevail and drive them out. Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me : peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them; for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.”

Balaam, who had no scruple himself, dare not go without consulting God; and on consulting God, he got a clear order not to go. " Thou shalt not go with them : thou shalt not curse the people, for they are blessed." Accordingly in the morning, he gave his answer to the messengers of Balak. into your land; for the Lord refuseth to let me go with you.” But Balak would not give up his purpose. Perhaps he knew Balaam better than Balaam knew himself, for he sent a second embassy, "princes more honourable,” with promises of great reward. Balaam was much moved : his heart was set on the rewards, yet he dared not go against God's express forbidding. If Balak" (it sounds a fine and noble answer), “ If Balak would give me his house full of

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silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more.” It was a brave answer, but it was spoilt by what he added: “Tarry ye here this night, that I may know what the Lord will say unto me more.” As if God were likely to change His mind." As if God had not, as clearly as words could speak, forbidden him. Well ! that “ Tarry

was a clear tampering with the voice of God; that was a trial or tempting of God: and like all such false ways, it led to harm. God answered Balaam according to his wish. He let him have the desire of his evil heart. He allowed him to go with the messengers of Balak; but it was with the proviso, that when he got into Balak's country, he should confine himself to speaking as God might direct. “The word that I shall say, that shalt thou do."

Accordingly, on the morrow, Balaam was ready to go with Balak's messengers: “He rose up and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.” And as he went he had a further intimation that he was going against God's will. The Angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him.” Three times was that interruption made, and at the third time,“ The Lord opened the eyes of Balaam : and he saw," (what the poor brute on which he rode had seen all along), "the Angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand : and he bowed down his head and fell flat on his face."

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Yes, conscience, which he had attempted to smother, at last asserted her right, and rose up like an armed Angel to turn him from his perverse way. He offered to go back. “If it displease Thee,” he said, in his address to the Almighty, “ I will get me back again.”

God, however, let him pursue his way, with the injunction, “ only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that shalt thou speak." And the history tells

” us with what result. Balak took Balaam and brought him up to the high places: Shewed him the Israelites, encamped by thousands in the valley below. And Balaam offered sacrifices, and enquired of the Lord. Again and again this was done, but no leave was given to Balaam to do as Balak had desired. Instead of cursing, Balaam was constrained to bless, and not to curse God's people, Israel. Nay, his better feelings prevailed at the sight of the encampment: the six hundred thousand who had come out of Egypt, all under canvas spread out in order in the valley, he broke forth into hearty admiration, and prophesied-truly prophesied of the future glories of Israel : “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 lign aloes which the Lord hath planted, as cedar trees beside the water,” “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.” “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 !”

But this high feeling does not last. Balaam, though he would not curse Israel, and so missed the reward of Balak, yet went about in a secret underhand way, to earn the coveted reward. He instructed Balak (we learn from the Jewish historian, Josephus) to tempt the Israelites, (through intercourse with the heathen women of Moab) into idolatry. “Israel joined himself to Baal-Peor”-says the Psalmist“and ate the offerings of the dead :" and thus provoked God to anger, to destroy them with a great destruction. A plague was sent in which twenty-four thousand of the people died.

“ Then stood up Phinees and prayed, and so the plague ceased." In the avenging that followed, the inflicting of punishment on the Midianites, “ Balaam, the son of Beor, was slain with the sword." That was the end of Balaam : he perished by the sword of the Israelites. He met his death at the hand of the people whom he had betrayed into sin. We feel no pity for him, we see in it the just reward of evil deeds: one of the thousand examples, that sin does not go unpunished; that as a man sows so does he reap: that sooner or later vengeance overtakes the transgressor, that it is

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