Scripture Sketches: 2. Balaam's Curse

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 9
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The traveler on the Brocken sometimes sees upon the clouds over his head enormous shadows of what appear to be the gigantic demigods of the Norse period struggling over the destinies of the nations at their feet. The vision is a natural phenomenon, easy of explanation, though the spectator seems to be viewing such colossal conflicts as the poets of the old time recorded, of Thor grasping his huge hammer “till his knuckles were white,” or the Titanic brethren warring with Saturn, or Briareus and the Giants piling Ossa on Pelion to reach the heavens, and casting rocks and hills at the monarch of Olympus.
In such a way, over the head of Israel in the wilderness there was waged a great conflict. The learned and polished Balaam was a man who could sometimes put forth a fearful and mysterious power; and a terrible attack was being made upon them, which they were utterly powerless to avert in the slightest degree. The gates of hell were lifted up against them, but the arm of omnipotence was unexpectedly stretched forth for their protection. “All these thing happened unto them for examples.” The attack is commenced by the performance of an elaborate set of mystic rites and sacrifices on the part of the king and Balaam, who then regard the unconscious Israelites from the summit of the hills, and prepare to invoke the mysterious power and malignant craft of the devilish realms against them. But Balaam stood too near to the burnt sacrifice1 to be able to effect this. (?) The savor of that which represented the work of Christ ascended to the God Who never fails to honor that sacrifice, and the curse is changed into a blessing. This benediction is four-fold and discloses to us a marvelous affluence of divine favor:—
, I— From the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him.” [He is looking at them from above, from God's point of view] “Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” There, first of all, is the principle of sanctification, that is, a setting apart for God's purposes; a position of being specially separated and unique through divine consecration. Sanctification is not to be confounded with sanctity—much less with sanctimoniousness. It is not now a question of their behavior at all; it is God's act of secluding them, and regarding them as unique,—a peculiar people. Their consecration does not consist in any worth in themselves, but in the fact that God's favor rests upon them. Sanctification is usually thought of as the last thing to which men can attain, but in fact it is the first of all things conferred: “Elect,” writes Peter “...through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.
II.— “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel.” It was there, but God would not see it. He looked on the Sacrifice and imputed to them righteousness. At this same moment Moses was standing down in the plain among the people and saying2Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you"! This is the second great principle — justification. The king had taken Balaam to another part of the hill whence he had a less advantageous view of the people; he only let him see “the utmost part of them,” 3the ragged edges, the riff-raff;—we have always a least favorable side that our critics love to look upon, complacently murmuring “Curse me them from thence.” But it makes no difference. The gifts and the calling of God are without repentance. “Whom He called, them He also justified.”
III.— “And whom He justified, them He also glorified.” This was the next thing that Balaam had to pronounce, and, pray mark, in doing so “he set his face toward the wilderness."4 It is not what shall be true in the future Canaan that he is speaking of, but what is true of the people of God here and now, in the wilderness:— “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!” He says, What! with all their miserable sins, sorrows, and contentions? Yes, for God sees the things that are not, as He had already declined to see the things that were,—their iniquity and perverseness. Let him stumble at it who will: we glory in it!
Here is a mother holding her child and gazing upon it with an ineffable love. The child is a common enough lump of human flesh. We others can see plainly enough the vulgar features of a very ordinary child. But the mother cannot, will not, see anything of that sort. On the contrary her eyes invest it with the charm, the beauty, the radiance that Love alone can ever see. It is love that “throws its halo o'er the loved one's head,” and clothes with its own beauties the beloved object. The radiance on the beloved flow out on it from Love's own eyes.
There is an optical effect that is well-known. If we fix the eyes for a while on a certain arrangement of colors, and then look upon something else that is devoid of color, we see a radiance of complementary colors reproduced on the new object. In some such way God had looked upon the glorious personality of the Christ, and then looking upon His people, He has transferred the graces and beauties from One to the others. “As He is, so are we in this world.” No man would ever have been so audacious as to invent those words. I find them in the inspired Scriptures. And observe, it is “in this world” that all is true, however in the next. Balaam had this time set his face towards the wilderness, and yet he pours forth a rapture of admiration concerning them: “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”...In all the blessings we have an affluence of figures given, each with its own distinct and beautiful meaning. In this third declamation we have figures indicating Israel's serviceableness5 to God and man, and his, humiliation and subsequent glory. 6
IV.—The culmination of all is the coming and rule of Christ. “I shall see Him but not now, I shall behold him but not nigh: there shall come a star out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.”