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Encampment on the plains of Moab. Balak and Balaam.
We next find the children of Israel encamped on the plains of Moab, east of the Jordan, and over against Jericho. Their late victories, with the entire conquest of two such extensive territories as those belonging to Sihon king of the Amorites, and to Og king of Bashan, were quickly noised abroad among the surrounding nations. Balak, the king of Moab, was well acquainted with the success of their arms, and trembled for the fate of his own dominions. It was true, indeed, that these powerful strangers had given, as yet, no indications of hostility against him or his people; having conducted towards them in the most peaceable and friendly manner. But he feared that this might only be the prelude to an attack the more overwhelming, because sudden and, at the moment, unexpected. It is not at all probable that he knew any thing of the divine command which had been given to the Israelites, not to molest his country ; and his fears had risen to such a height that he was
strains of the song which Moses and his countrymen sang in triumph, after passing through the Red Sea.
“ The nations hear thereof and tremble,
“ Let fear and dread fall upon them,
Balak sought to strengthen himself by an alliance with a neighboring nation, the Midianites. To bring this about he conferred with the chief men of that people; and set before them, in the strong language of his terror, the common danger to which they were all exposed. "Now shall this company,” said he,—this host of foreign invaders, "lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh
of the field.” The Midianites partook of the alarm; and yielded to his plan of procedure. This was, before commencing any hostile attack upon the Israelites, to bring in the power of sorcery to his aid. He supposed, and it was an opinion common among the heathen nations of antiquity, that the curse of some magician or enchanter, pronounced upon individu
als, or even upon a whole people, would frustrate their designs; weaken their power; fill them with dismay; and, in some cases, doom them to inevitable destruction.
He knew a person who had the reputation of possessing this mysterious influence; one who practised divination, and might, in this emergency, render him and his allies an essential service. It was Balaam, the son of Beor; whose fame, though he lived in the distant region of Mesopotamia on the banks of the Euphrates, had reached the ears of Balak. In connection with the Midianites, he despatched messengers to this distinguished individual, who were to present to him this urgent invitation. " Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt : behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me: 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, and that I may drive them out of the land : for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.”
Some of the principal men of Moab, and of Midian, were selected to bear this message. Their rank would give it additional importance in the estimation of Balaam; and thus, as was hoped, to
of his residence, they made known to him the message of the king; and spread before him the splendid gifts which they had brought, as "the rewards of divination ;" no unwelcome sight in the eyes
of Balaam, who greedily coveted such accessions to the wealth that he longed to amass.
But he was not prepared to give them an immediate answer. "Lodge here this night," said he,
and I will bring you word again, as the Lord shall speak unto me.” What a strange reply to their request! Have they mistaken the character of the individual whose aid they are seeking ? Is this the one who deals in divinations and enchantments ? Is he, after all, a prophet of Jehovah; and the oracles which he delivers, the communications of the true God?
Various answers have been given to these inquiries; but an extended investigation of the subject would carry the author quite beyond his prescribed limits. Perhaps the sacred record has left a degree of obscurity hanging over the character of this singular personage which the most learned and ingenious critics may not be able to pene. trate. We have but one portion of his history, and that exceedingly short. What had been the course of his life, and for what other purposes
may have made use of him, before he received the message from Balak, we are entirely ignorant. Let us follow closely the Scripture narrative,
making such reflections as naturally grow out of it.
"I will bring you word again, as the Lord shall speak unto me.” He knew, then, something of the true God. He expressed, in the presence of these heathen strangers, a reverence for his authority, and a purpose to abide by his decision in this important matter. It does not follow from this, however, that they were acquainted with the character of Jehovah, or that Balaam explained it to them at the time. His own knowledge of it was traditional, and mingled with many superstitious notions and practices; while the messengers probably supposed, from what he said, that he merely wished to consult his God, the one whom his nation professed to worship, or whom he himself had selected to as. sist him in his divinations.
I will bring you word again, as the Lord shall speak unto me." This mode of address evidently implies that he was going to obtain the answer of one who he intended to have them understand had before made communications to him. Nor must we consider this improbable, although, as will be seen in the sequel, Balaam was a covetous and very wicked man. The Scriptures tell us of those, even the "heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel,” who "judge for reward ;" and "the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say is not the Lord among