On May 24, 1844, in the U.S. Capitol Building, Samuel F. B. Morse sent the first message on his newly invented telegraph machine; and the message was taken from the words of the 23rd verse of this chapter: “What hath God Wrought.”
When we left the idolatrous prince and the impious prophet at the end of the last chapter, they were both busily engaged in seeking how to curse the Lord’s people, whom He had blessed. Standing in the high places of the idolatrous worship of Baal, with the camps of the Israelites in full view, Balaam ordered seven altars to be built, and a bullock and a ram to be offered upon each of them. It is worthwhile to observe the vast pains and expense that bad people will go to, under the cover of their “religion.” But in the eyes of the Lord, what are seven altars, or seventy times seven sacrifices, when they are offered from a wicked heart? If God would only accept the ungodly and indulge them in their sins, they would willingly pay Him with any amount of expensive sacrifices. But for the child of God, the Lord Jesus is our only Altar, Priest, and Sacrifice! It is only in Him – the Beloved One – that we are accepted in the sight of God! (Eph. 1:6, 7)
If we consult the first verse of chapter 24, this will throw a light upon Balaam’s whole proceedings; for in that verse, it is very plain to see that Balaam’s leaving Balak (under the pretense of hearing what the Lord would say to him) was to use enchantments. But notice what is said nevertheless in the fifth verse of this chapter: “the Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth” – that is, He overruled this wicked man to say the very opposite of what he wished he could say. Thus, in the very moment that he hired himself out to curse God’s people, he was constrained to bless them. O that the Lord’s people always had the grace to consider this, and to keep it in remembrance! How often we need to be convinced of the truth of that sweet Scripture which says that no weapon formed against us can prosper! (Isa. 54:17) Even the wrath of men shall praise God, the Psalmist says; and the remainder of men’s wrath, the Lord will restrain (Ps. 76:10).
Balaam pronounced Israel safe and happy in their distinction from the rest of the nations. He spoke of the righteous being truly blessed – not only while they live, but also when they die. He even went so far as to express a wish that his own death would be like the death of God’s people. But alas! There are many who desire to die the death of the righteous, yet they do not endeavor to live the life of the righteous. They wish to be saints in heaven, but not saints on earth. And so this saying of Balaam’s was only a vain wish; for it was only a wish for the end, without any care for the means. So many people seek to quiet their consciences with a promise of future amendment, or with a belief in some false hope; and at the same time, they neglect the only way by which a sinner can be made righteous before the Lord.
One would have thought that common sense would have been enough to convince Balak that if the Lord blessed Israel in one place, He would never allow them to be cursed in another. But that thought was not in the mind of this wicked man. He conducted Balaam to the top of Mount Pisgah; and there, Balaam again pretended to go and consult the Lord. And again, he came back with the only words that the Lord would allow him to speak.
Even though Balaam was a wicked man, his words in verses 18-24 are still very precious truths; for those words were given to him by the Lord Himself, Who uses the wicked even for His own good purposes. And these words are doubly precious when they are read with Jesus in mind. In the covenant relationship of God in Christ – in the word, oath, and promises of the Father; the blood, righteousness, grace, and mercy of the Son; and the fellowship and communion of the Holy Spirit – all of these confirm the unquestionable testimony of the unchangeableness and faithfulness of Jehovah. We must mark this down as an infallible truth: God is not a man that He should lie! To our finite human vision and understanding, He sometimes appears to change the plan of His Providences (even though He Himself knew what He would do all along); but He never alters the purposes of His grace. And when the Father beholds His people clothed in the righteousness of Jesus, He cannot see iniquity in them!
But let us not lose sight of Balaam’s confession in verse 23: “there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel.” No indeed! Jesus has told us (Rev. 2:10) that Satan will cast some of us into prison, and we shall have tribulation for a short time; yet we are to fear none of these things. The Song of Salvation must be sung, for Satan – “the accuser of our brethren” – has already been cast down; he was defeated at the cross of Calvary, and we are now only dealing with a foe who has already lost the battle! How precious it is to remember that neither magicians nor devils can curse us when the Lord has pronounced us blessed!
A confession of God’s overruling power was thus extorted from a wicked prophet, to the confusion of a wicked prince. For the second time, the curse had been turned into a blessing; and this blessing was both larger and stronger than the former one! Men change their minds and break their words, but the Lord never changes His mind; and therefore, He never recalls His promises. However, Balak and Balaam foolishly resolved to make one more attempt to curse Israel, even though they knew that it was a hopeless endeavor.
Lord! Help us to see that You use even the foes of Your Church and people as instruments for our good. You have blessed Your people, and You will continue to bless us; and our enemies shall be constrained to call us blessed also! Amen.
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illustration of a telegraph machine | Wikimedia Commons