The Plains of Moab: Part 4

Numbers 24‑25  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 8
UM 24-25{The blessings pronounced by an unchangeable God through Balaam's mouth, which we have hitherto considered, sound the death-knell of the world in its opposition to God and His people. Balak smote his hands together-the purposed curse had been turned into a threefold blessing, and he who would fain have secured the wages of unrighteousness and the honor of this world, unhappy Balaam, receives the withering taunt of Balak as he bids him flee to his place: " The Lord hath kept thee back from honor."
But Balaam is still on the heights of Moab, and, covetous as he was, he was there controlled by the power of the prophetic Spirit which had come upon him. Were it a house full of silver and gold he can neither speak good nor bad of his own mind. " What the Lord saith, that will I speak," and thus he continues: " And now, behold, I go unto my people: come therefore, and I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days." Again he takes up his parable, adding to his former utterance that he knew the knowledge of the Most High. It is Jehovah's title of universal supremacy. (Psa. 83:1818That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth. (Psalm 83:18)) He takes it as possessor of heaven and earth. (Gen. 14:1919And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: (Genesis 14:19)) Abraham learned the secret place of the Most High when Melchizedek blessed him. In that secret he dwelt, and refused the world; hence it was further revealed to him that the shadow of the Almighty was his abode. (Gen. 17:11And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. (Genesis 17:1)) It is in this way that the saints learn this title; for He -who is Himself the Most High, and yet in grace was born into this world, and called the Son of the Highest-is the Teacher of the saints as to this hiding-place of faith. This is His utterance, " I will say of Jehovah, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust." (Psa. 91:22I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. (Psalm 91:2)) Hence in verse 9, He is thus addressed by the spirit of prophecy in Israel: "Because Thou hast made Jehovah, which is my [Israel's] refuge, even the Most High, Thy habitation; there shall no evil befal Thee," &c.
But the Gentile world will learn it differently. In Nebuchadnezzar we see the first proud head of Gentile power. The supremacy taken from Israel was given of God to him. Apart from the acknowledgment of Him to whom power belongs, the most exalted of men descends to the level of a beast. Driven from among men, with his dwelling among the beasts, according to the decree of the Watcher and Holy One, Nebuchadnezzar learned by judgment that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and having learned it, he blessed the Most High, and praised and honored Him that liveth forever. Secondly, there are nations who, in the last days when God is about to make good His purposes as to Israel, and to re-establish them in His land, will come against them. Hence they are looked at as God's enemies. (Psa. 83:22For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head. (Psalm 83:2)) They hate Him. Their first thought is to cut off Israel from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance. Then they desire to take to themselves the houses of God in possession. Moab is one of these nations. It is this rising up against God which brings the call for judgment, not merely that Israel may be delivered, but that men may know that Jehovah, Israel's God, is Most High over all the earth. It is in this title that the blessing of God to the whole earth is secured; yet to acknowledge it the beast's heart must be changed to the heart of a man, and judgment must remove what opposes, in order that God may take the place of blessing. It is of this Balaam now speaks. If Israel eats up the nations His enemies, it is not mere revenge; it is in order that the millennial kingdom of the Most High may be established in the hands of Christ and His people. Hence Balaam at once speaks of the coming of the Star of Jacob, and of a Scepter rising out of Israel that shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth (or tumult). The rule and government of Him who was born King of the Jews (compare Matt. 2:22Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. (Matthew 2:2)) is here foreshadowed. Balaam in prophetic vision sees, in the far distance of the latter days, the dominion that will be exercised by Christ in the midst of Israel. But, unlike Daniel, whose visions were also for the time of the end, and yet when the end came would stand in his lot, he has neither part nor lot in the matter. Balaam's sad words, " I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh," not only point to the distant future, but proclaim that, Judas-like, the beams from the coming Star shone not for his covetous heart.
The enemies which he takes up in succession seem to give us a moral picture of the forms of Gentile power over which in the latter day the triumph of Israel is assured. We have seen in verse 17 that Moab is identified with the tumultuous rising of the nations that will seek to overflow Israel in the last days. (Psa. 83:66The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes; (Psalm 83:6)) Edom, who hated them with perpetual hatred, and in the day of their calamity took vengeance, and sought to possess the two countries of Israel and Judah (Ezek. 35:5,105Because thou hast had a perpetual hatred, and hast shed the blood of the children of Israel by the force of the sword in the time of their calamity, in the time that their iniquity had an end: (Ezekiel 35:5)
10Because thou hast said, These two nations and these two countries shall be mine, and we will possess it; whereas the Lord was there: (Ezekiel 35:10)
), becomes the possession of Israel. The strength and rule are with them, and the remnant out of the city-the centralization of this world-is destroyed by Him who wields the dominion in their midst.
In Amalek is represented the Gentile world in its foremost place of power and hostility, and in the Kenite the vain security in which the man of the earth confides. Neither the pride of power, nor the strong dwelling-place, can prevent the one perishing forever, and the other being wasted in captivity; for Balaam's parable does not here speak of Israel accomplishing these things, but, " Alas! who shall live when God doeth this? "Then in a few words the three families of Noah are finally brought upon the scene. Kittim was a descendant of Japheth, Asshur of Ham, and Eber of Shem. All will be engaged in the final conflicts of the last days. God will use one to afflict another, but utter destruction awaits the final rising up of Gentile power.
We now enter on the last stage of Israel's history connected with Balaam. Hitherto we have considered his attempt to curse, and the way in which God turned it all into blessing. We have been in company with the Lord in His unchangeable purpose, as Balaam was forced to express it on the heights of Moab. Of what Israel actually were in the plains below, and of their conduct, no question has been raised. We now descend to them. "And Israel abode in Shittim." (Chapter 25:1) Their history is thus resumed from the end of chapter 21. There we see them victorious over Sihon and Og, and free to pitch on this side Jordan in the plains of Moab by Jericho. Let us consider their position. They had really left the wilderness. The thirty-eight years of wandering there was over, and the journey proper had been resumed. It was not now turning back into Egypt; but when they crossed the brook Zered, the wilderness testing was over, and they were really bound for Canaan. Figuratively the judgment of sinful flesh in the brazen serpent, and the power of life in the springing well, enabled them to be companions of the heavenly calling. They want simply to pass through the enemy's country in peace; for they are going to Canaan. They want nothing of theirs, only to be permitted to pass on. So for us, if our hearts are true to the heavenly calling, we want not anything of the world save to pass on in peace; for we are going to heaven. But to journey on as a heavenly people the enemy will not suffer, and he uses the proud, overbearing spirit of the world to resist. But we must pass on, and hence the world draws down upon itself the conflict and contention. The saint has a title by redemption to use this present scene, not to dwell there while Christ is absent. He uses it as belonging to Christ, for we shall yet possess it with Him. Satan, as the prince of this world, is a usurper, holding that which belongs to Christ and the saints. Heaven indeed is our inheritance, but the world to come is also to be subject to Him who is Heir of all things, and we shall reign with Him. The territory given to Abraham included all the country taken from Sihon and Og even to Euphrates (Gen. 15:1818In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: (Genesis 15:18)), as well as that within Jordan. The hostility of the world, as possessing that which rightfully belongs to Christ and the saints, but through which they now only want to pass, leads to its downfall. The blood of the martyrs, in days of old, was the seed of the Church. The attempt to exterminate the Christians, and to prevent a heavenly people having a lodging-place on earth, only brought out the right and title of Christ as having all power in heaven and earth to give His saints the victory over it, and to maintain them in their onward journey.
We see such a moment, after the outbreak of persecution about Stephen, in Acts 9:3131Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied. (Acts 9:31): " Then had the churches rest... and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." So doing, all is well; but unless we pass on, the very victory is danger. Israel possessed the land both of Sihon and of Og, and though it is not mentioned in Numbers until chapter 32, yet we may gather from Deut. 3:1212And this land, which we possessed at that time, from Aroer, which is by the river Arnon, and half mount Gilead, and the cities thereof, gave I unto the Reubenites and to the Gadites. (Deuteronomy 3:12) that the giving of this territory to the two and a half tribes, at their request, was very closely connected with the acquisition of it by conquest. The mention of Beth-peor (v. 29) and Baal-peor (chap. 4. 3) occurs after the request to possess it. There was the desire to settle down where they should have been passers through. Consequently the words, "And Israel abode in Shittim," are the prelude to the dreadful history of this chapter. It is from the New Testament we learn that it was Balaam who taught Balak to cast a snare before the children of Israel. He leaves the high places where he had seen them in the vision of the Almighty dwelling in beauty and order, and now, away from the power which had overruled him, he instructs Balak in this diabolical method of bringing the chastening hand of God upon His people. We do well to lay to heart, "that the friendship of the world is enmity with God." The enmity of the world only brings in the power of God on our behalf. What a change when His jealousy is roused, by Satan having caught us by that which is in the world, and brought us into a position of antagonism against God!
T. H. R.
(To be continued if the Lord will)