At the end of the last chapter, Balak had brought Balaam to yet a third location – foolishly thinking that perhaps the Lord would permit him to curse Israel if he did so from this place. This time, Balaam did not pretend to consult the Lord, and then go and use enchantments (as he had done the other two times). The Spirit of the Lord now came upon him, and Balaam spoke accordingly – not merely having words “put into his mouth” by the Lord.
This third blessing that Balaam uttered was nearly the same as the other two. He admired Israel’s beauty, fruitfulness, honor, power, and victory. He compared the people to a lion, for the righteous are as bold as a lion – not like a lion when he is assaulting others; but like a lion at rest, because God enables them to dwell in safety. If these beautiful words are considered prophetically (as they were undoubtedly intended to be), what a volume of rich mercies – both temporal and spiritual – is contained in them! The people of God shall prevail over all opposition! This is the great theme of these words. The Lord’s people must be a warlike people, for the whole world is against them; but they will assuredly conquer, for they shall overcome by the blood of the Lamb. However, we must not overlook the principal thing in this prophecy – namely, that Israel’s strength was not in themselves; but rather, it was in their God, in Whose name they were victorious. And similarly, Jesus has assured His people of salvation; they shall be where He is, so that they may behold His glory (John 17:24; Rev. 7:9-17).
With Balaam’s third blessing, the vain attempt to curse Israel was ended! Balak broke out in rage against Balaam; but the latter excused himself by declaring that God restrained him from saying what he would have said, and constrained him to say what he would not have uttered. In effect, by his apology in verses 12 and 13, Balaam made it clear that he would have gladly obliged Balak and done his wishes, if he had dared to disobey the Lord and do so.
However, by reading other parts of Scripture, we know that after his failure to outright curse Israel, Balaam actually taught Balak that there was indeed one way by which he could ruin them, thereby preserving his own nation from ruin. He basically told him that the only way to get Israel cursed was to entice them to sin, so that their God be obliged to chastise them. To that end, he encouraged Balak to tempt the people of Israel to worship idols and engage in immoral relationships with heathen women. Revelation 2:14 reveals this unquestionable truth from the words of the Lord Jesus Himself; and if we consult the first few verses of the next chapter of Numbers, we will see how sadly Balaam’s poisonous advice operated among God’s people when Balak acted upon it.
Beginning in verse 14, as Balaam was under the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit of prophecy, he foretold the future prosperity and extensive dominion of Israel. He declared that he knew the knowledge of the Most High; however, a person may be full of the knowledge of God, and yet utterly destitute of the grace of God. Balaam called God “the Most High” and “the Almighty.” Indeed, no one could seem to express a greater respect to the Lord; yet this wicked man had no true fear of Him, love to Him, nor faith in Him.
In verse 17, we read Balaam’s prophecy concerning the One Who would be the crown and glory of His people Israel. These words had a partial reference to King David; but ultimately, they were an illustrious prophecy of Jesus – the promised Messiah! Balaam, as a wicked man, would indeed see Christ, as he said in his prophetic words; but he would not see Him “nigh.” He would not see Him as His Redeemer, as Job did (Job 19:25-27). When Christ comes in the clouds, every eye shall be laid upon Him; but sadly, many will only see Him as the rich man in hell saw Abraham – that is, afar off. Balaam spoke of Him coming out of Jacob and Israel as a Star and a Scepter – the former denoting His glory and luster, and the latter symbolizing His power and authority. Christ is not only the King of Jacob and Israel, but also of all the world; and therefore, all people shall either be governed by His golden scepter, or dashed in pieces by His iron rod.
Balaam also prophesied concerning the Amalekites and the Kenites. They were, at this time, the chiefest and the securest of the nations, respectively; but even a nest in a rock would not be a lasting security for them (verses 20-22). He also made a prophecy that looked as far forward as the Greeks and Romans (verse 24), represented by the “coast of Chittim.” Balaam acknowledged that all the revolutions of states and kingdoms are the Lord’s doing. Instead of cursing the Israelites, he did utter a curse against Amalek (the first enemy against God’s organized people; Ex. 17) and the Roman Empire (a great and terrible enemy of the early New Testament Church).
Let us pray for grace that we may not be like the man who loved the wages of unrighteousness, and died as the enemy of God. Let us depend simply upon our Redeemer’s atoning blood and sanctifying grace, cheerfully submit to the Divine will, and constantly endeavor to glorify the Lord and benefit His people. No boasting hypocrite has ever truly done these things, yet even the feeblest believer does not fail to do them – in Christ’s strength!
Lord, let the history of Balak’s vain attempt to curse Israel remind us always of the eternal safety of Your people, who can never be plucked from Jesus’ hand! Amen.
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