BIBLE STUDY SERIES #389, 390 and 391

9 May, 1999

BLOCKED PASSAGES - PART XI - BALAK

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our regular sequence of on-going Bible Studies, starting a number of years ago with The Call by The Almighty God to Abram in Genesis 12 has followed his progeny down to the Tribes of Israel who are presently on the border of the Promised Land.

Israel had marched past the land presently occupied by Moab, and had attacked and taken the land held by Sihon king of the Amorites, whom Israel has just defeated. Balak, the son of Zippor, who was king of the neighbouring Moabites saw what Israel had done to his Amorite neighbours, and his own subject people, Moab, were afraid of Israel. Balak decided to seek out the assistance of a notable prophet of that day, Balaam, who is on the road from his home to Moab.

Balaam has had the unusual and astonishing experience, while on his journey, of hearing his beast of burden speak to him when he beat her for turning aside, veering from the path and finally falling down. At this point, he is caused to see the revelation of an angel who stood with drawn sword in his way, and he is at once aware that the animal beneath him has saved his life, by refusing to advance towards this heavenly being, and now both humbled and admonished by the angel, he offers to return home. This, however, is not God's plan. He is now told that he must go with the messengers from Moab, but he will be sure to relate to Balak, the king of Moab nothing but the words of blessing which God gives him to pronounce over the tribes of Israel whom Balak has desired him to come and curse. The angel says "Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak." Here, let us pause for a moment to let the situation sink in, so to speak. This is a prominent seer who has great prestige and is widely respected for his facility with such matters. He is on his way to bring words directed as the king, Balak, desires. Now, he is on his way to that monarch, but he is under direct orders of God to say words of blessing directly contrary to those desired by the Moabite king, and for which he will nor receive any of the rewards of great honours and riches which he had hoped to obtain in this expedition to Canaan. What thoughts might, at this point have begun to form in his mind. He has lost the chance to exercise his talents for gain. He will, doubtless, greatly anger the sovereign of the country, and he will possibly find his reputation and ability to make gain from his talents as a seer tarnished in future. He has been humbled through the reproof of a dumb animal upon which he rides, which has shown swifter perception of the angelic being's presence in his path than he, the great and widely-respected "seer", had shown. He will doubtless be persona non grata for what he is about to do upon his arrival, and he must prepare to break the news to the king that he is limited in what he may now speak concerning the tribes of Israel whose camp will not be very far removed from himself as he gives his words of prophetic import to the king.

We will review the last verses of Numbers 22, beginning at verse 35, in order to gain a grasp of what followed:

35. And the angel of the LORD said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.
36. And when Balak heard that Balaam was come, he went out to meet him unto a city of Moab, which is in the border of Arnon, which is in the utmost coast.
37. And Balak said unto Balaam, Did I not earnestly send unto thee to call thee? wherefore camest thou not unto me? am I not able indeed to promote thee to honour?
38. And Balaam said unto Balak, Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say any thing? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak.
39. And Balaam went with Balak, and they came unto Kirjathhuzoth.
40. And Balak offered oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes that were with him.
41. And it came to pass on the morrow, that Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into the high places of Baal, that thence he might see the utmost part of the people.

Here we might benefit by seeing what Keil and Delitzsch have to say on this passage. Under the heading "Reception of Balaam by the King of the Moabites" they say: "As soon as Balak heard of Balaam's coming, he went to meet him at a city on the border of the Arnon, which flowed at the extreme (north) boundary (of the Moabitish territory), viz. at Areopolis... probably the capital of the kingdom at one time, but now reduced to a frontier town, since Sihon the Amorite had taken all the land as far as the Arnon; whilst Rabbah, which was farther south, had been selected as the residence of the king. By coming as far as the frontier of his kingdom to meet the celebrated soothsayer, Balak intended to do him special honour. But he could not help receiving him with a gentle reproof for not having come at his first invitation, as if he, the king, had not been in a condition to honour him according to his merits. - Ver. 38. But Balaam, being still mindful of the warning which he had just received from God, replied, 'Lo, I am come unto thee now: have I then any power to speak anything (... of my own accord)? The word which God puts into my mouth, that will I speak.' With this reply he sought, at the very outset to soften down the expectations of Balak, inasmuch as he concluded at once that his coming was a proof of his willingness to curse... . As a matter of fact, Balaam did not say anything different to the king from what he had explained to his messengers at the very first (cf. ver. 18). But just as he had not told them the whole truth, but had concealed the fact that Jehovah, his God, had forbidden the journey at first, on the ground that he was not to curse the nation that was blessed (ver. 12), so he could not address the king in open, unambiguous words - Ver. 39, 40. He then went with Balak to Kirjath-Chuzoth, where the king had oxen and sheep slaughtered in sacrifice, and sent flesh to Balaam as well as to the princes that were with him for a sacrificial meal, to do honour to the soothsayer thereby. The sacrifices were not so much thank-offerings for Balaam's happy arrival, as supplicatory offerings for the success of the undertaking before them." They add a quotation: "This is evident, from the place and time of their presentation; for the place was not that where Balak first met with Balaam, and they were only presented on the eve of the great event." They continue: "Moreover, they were offered unquestionably not to the Moabitish idols, from which Balak expected no help, but to Jehovah, whom Balak wished to draw away, in connection with Balaam, from His own people (Israel), that he might secure His favour to the Moabites. The location of Kirjath-Chuzoth, which is only mentioned here, cannot be determined with absolute certainty. As Balak went with Balaam to Bamoth-Baal on the morning following the sacrificial meal, which was celebrated there, Kirjath-Chuzoth cannot have been very far distant... . But Balak conducted the soothsayer to Bamoth-Baal, not because it was consecrated to Baal, but because it was the first height on the way to the steppes of Moab, from which they could see the camp of Israel, or at all events, 'the end of the people,' i.e. the outermost portion of the camp. For 'Balak started with the supposition, that Balaam must necessarily have the Israelites in view if his curse was to take effect'"

Now let us turn our eyes, in imagination, to the person of the king of Moab. Balak is at this point probably more optimistic of obtaining his object than he had been for some weeks or months. His consternation at seeing the large Israelitish camp spread in the plains which had once been under his country's dominance, had caused him to look for a means to repel their expected insurgence. Balak had sent his first messengers on their way, travelling to Pethor, on the River Euphrates in Mesopotamia, to the home of Balaam, in order to obtain his assistance. Doubtless nervously watching the camp of Israel in the distance day after day until their return, he had probably felt keen dismay when his anticipation had been turned to disappointment on seeing those first messengers return, unsuccessful in their mission as they were unaccompanied by the famed seer.

We might suppose that Balak's resulting consternation had been followed by concerned consultations with his princes over the matter, and he had probably taken the advice of each. Sending the much larger and more reputable delegation of the chief men of the kingdom to make a second approach, he would probably have been forced to endure a quite anxious period awaiting news from the outposts until the emissaries were at long last seen approaching in the distance. Perhaps those Moabitish leaders had dispatched a fast messenger ahead of them to bring the news of their success to Balak. Learning of their approach, with the report of the eminent stranger riding in their company, he would have hastened to put matters in hand for a suitable welcome at his border, and now, at last, the Seer was here, with him. As we have just read in the Commentary, he would be prepared to offer the fullest honours to this eminent stranger, not only because he believed that by this personage his country might be empowered in its defence against the great Israelitish encampment, but also there might linger the thought that this was a person whose powers were very great for good or ill, and therefore, the Seer was not one to be even unintentionally angered through the showing of the slightest discourtesy. Everything must be of top quality. The food must be prepared by the best cooks in the kingdom. He must show every sign of due respect, even while making plain his own eminent status as a king.

We shall continue this study next week.

16 May, 1999

BLOCKED PASSAGES - PART XII - BLESSING 1

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our regular sequence of on-going Bible Studies, starting a number of years ago with The Call by The Almighty God to Abram in Genesis 12 has followed his progeny down to the Tribes of Israel who are presently on the border of the Promised Land.

Israel had marched past the land presently occupied by Moab, and had attacked and taken the land held by Sihon king of the Amorites, whom Israel has just defeated. Balak, the son of Zippor, who was king of the neighbouring Moabites saw what Israel had done to his Amorite neighbours, and his own subject people, Moab, were afraid of Israel. Balak has sought the services of the notable prophet, Balaam, who has just arrived from his home in Mesopotamia.

Balaam has had the unusual, indeed astonishing experience, while on his journey, of hearing his beast of burden speak to him when he beat her for turning aside. At this point, he had seen the revelation of an angel who stood with drawn sword in his way, and who had given him explicit instruction, in compliance with God's plan, that he must not stray from the words which The Almighty God gives him, and specifically that he must not curse the camp of Israel. The angel had stated "Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak." He has arrived in Moab, and the expectant king Balak is showing him every courtesy.

Here, let us pause to give attention to the king, Balak. Doubtless he expected the arrival of this powerful personage to create, by some terrible curse, the conditions for a successful dislodgment of Israel, and the re-capture to Moab of those valuable northern lands, the plains of Moab, taken by the Amorites, and now so recently occupied by these Israelites. Balak would doubtless calculate that, as the lands formerly owned by Moab would be returned to him, their wealth would be a prize worthy of a great expenditure, we might call it a sort of investment, to acquire the benefits of Balaam's ability as a Seer, with power to draw down a terrible curse upon those encamped below and spread beyond, into the distance.

While we do not have the multitude of words in the scripture which we might desire, there are enough to permit us to draw the picture between the lines, so to speak, and I believe that such a process forms a legitimate adjunct to a Bible Study, for it enhances attention to the detail to be extracted from each word and phrase of the account, and we are thereby increased in both our appreciation of the reality of the personalities described, and our understanding of the events reported therein.

Before we read today's Scripture portion, it will perhaps assist our appreciation of what is about to happen if we consult a passage from The New Bible Commentary which is headed "XV. The Prophecies of Balaam. xxii. 41-xxiv. 24" for a concise advanced summary of what we will be studying. It states "Four times Balaam declared the word of God, stating exactly the message that God gave him, even though it wrecked his opportunity to secure the rich rewards which Balak offered for cursing Israel. After each of the first two utterances, Balak took Balaam to a different place, thinking that this might change the spell and make it possible for Balaam to fulfil his desire. Each time Balaam insisted that he could say nothing but the word which the Lord would give him. After the third utterance Balak in disgust told him to desist, and neither bless nor curse Israel; yet Balaam proceeded to deliver a fourth message, this time not merely blessing Israel, but declaring that ultimate doom of Balak's people at Israel's hand. The outline of these eight sections follows, with occasional remarks on special points of interest or difficulty."

Perhaps we might now read Numbers 23, starting at verse 1, to see how things fell out that day.

1. And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams.
2. And Balak did as Balaam had spoken; and Balak and Balaam offered on every altar a bullock and a ram.
3. And Balaam said unto Balak, Stand by thy burnt offering, and I will go: peradventure the LORD will come to meet me: and whatsoever he sheweth me I will tell thee. And he went to an high place.

Keil and Delitzsch, commenting on these first three verses, clarify the fact that one bullock and one ram was selected and sacrificed upon each altar. This, they explain, was a recognized normal method of sacrifice designed "to make sure of the protection and help of the gods; but this was especially the case with their ceremonies of adjuration." Various nations of antiquity did the same. Thus, Balaam "also did everything that appeared necessary, according to his own religious notions, to ensure the success of Balak's undertaking, and bring about the desired result." They continue, noting that the number seven was sacred from "the creation of the world in seven days, as being the stamp of work that was well-pleasing to God. The sacrifices were burnt-offerings, and were offered by themselves to Jehovah, whom Balaam acknowledged as his God... ." Balaam thereupon instructed Balak and the princes to stand by the sacrifices while he went out "for auguries." This, they further explain, meant that "Balaam went out to look for a manifestation of Jehovah in the significant phenomena of nature." This portrays an admixture of the religious ideas of both Israelites and the heathen, who looked for such signs in such natural events. "Heathen augurs were always accustomed to select elevated places for their auspices, with an extensive prospect, especially the towering and barren summits of mountains that were rarely visited by men... ."

4. And God met Balaam: and he said unto him, I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered upon every altar a bullock and a ram.
5. And the LORD put a word in Balaam's mouth, and said, Return unto Balak, and thus thou shalt speak.
6. And he returned unto him, and, lo, he stood by his burnt sacrifice, he, and all the princes of Moab.
7. And he took up his parable, and said, Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel.

At verse 4, "And God met Balaam..." The Companion Bible notes that the meeting was in a hostile sense, the Hebrew for "met" in this sentence being "karah." The same reference, at verse 5, indicates that this "word in Balaam's mouth" is "inspiration." Here, I want to pause to gain an appreciation of what might have been in the mind of Balaam as he returned. With the King, Balak, and all the princes of Moab gathered expectantly around the sacrifices, one would suppose that there would arise quite a tense feeling in Balaam's mind, for he had set out from home expecting to gain great reward for an approved curse, delivered before these expectant notables of the land. He knows, however, that The Almighty has given him a quite different message, which will immediately arouse anger, and possibly even threat to his person, for non-delivery of the expected curse. Balaam replies:

8. How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the LORD hath not defied?
9. For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.
10. Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!
11. And Balak said unto Balaam, What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether.
12. And he answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak that which the LORD hath put in my mouth?

The New Bible Commentary notes of verses 7-10, "These four verses are quite general in nature, merely stating Balaam's inability to curse a nation which God has not cursed, but has instead selected to occupy a unique place (9b) and to be an innumerable multitude (10a). Balaam knows that this defiance of Balak might cause his death, but declares his desire to die the death of the righteous (10b; but cf. xxxi. 8). Yesharim (righteous) is plural, and refers to the Israelites. ... In verse 10b it is doubtful whether aharith should be translated last end. It is formed from the preposition ahar, 'after', and probably really means 'that which comes after, or beyond'."

The Companion Bible, at verse 9, where Scripture speaks of Israel not being "reckoned among the nations" states "Therefore cannot be in the judgment of Matthew 25, or confused with 'the Gentiles, or with the church of God'. I Cor. 10. 32."

Balak's reaction to all this disappointing activity must have been that of some depression by this time. He adopts the attitude which looks for a better outcome from another vantage point, as we read in the next passage:

13. And Balak said unto him, Come, I pray thee, with me unto another place, from whence thou mayest see them: thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all: and curse me them from thence.
14. And he brought him into the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.

We shall have to leave the matter thus for today, as our time has gone. Let us see in Balak's increasing desperation a reflection of the reaction of all those who rely on auguries of nature or that which might be classed as horoscope hopes, to assure their prospects instead of the assurances of knowing The Almighty God of Israel's acquaintance.

23 May, 1999

BLOCKED PASSAGES - PART XIII - BLESSING 2

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our regular sequence of on-going Bible Studies, starting a number of years ago with The Call by The Almighty God to Abram in Genesis 12 has followed his progeny down to the Tribes of Israel who are presently on the border of the Promised Land.

Israel had marched past the land presently occupied by Moab, and had attacked and taken the land held by Sihon king of the Amorites, whom Israel has just defeated. Balak, the son of Zippor, who was king of the neighbouring Moabites saw what Israel had done to his Amorite neighbours, and his own subject people, Moab, were afraid of Israel. Balak has sought the services of the notable prophet, Balaam, who had, while travelling towards Moab, been given explicit instruction, that he must not curse the camp of Israel.

The first of four occasions on which Balaam was asked to seek a curse upon Israel was the subject of the last study. Balak, as Keil and Delitzsch note, in common with other heathen, had assumed "that Balaam, as a goetes and magician, could distribute blessings and curses according to his own will, and put such constraint upon his God as to make Him subservient to his own will. The seer opposes this delusion: the God of Israel does not curse His people, and therefore His servant cannot curse them." They continue "There were two reasons which rendered it impossible for Balaam to curse Israel: (1) Because they were a people both outwardly and inwardly different from other nations, and (2) because they were a people richly blessed and highly favoured by God. From the top of the mountains Balaam looked down upon the people of Israel. The outward and earthly height upon which he stood was the substratum of the spiritual height upon which the Spirit of God had placed him, and had so enlightened his mental sight, that he was able to discern all the peculiarities and the true nature of Israel. In this respect the first thing that met his view was the fact that this people dwelt alone... ." Keil and Delitzsch go on to show that not being reckoned among the nations meant separation of Israel from the rest of the nations. Physically, Israel was spread before him in their encampment upon the plain. It symbolised the inward separation of Israel from all the heathen. So long as they kept themselves separate, this would continue a source of blessing and independence.

Balak thought that this string of blessings might have resulted from the unfavourable locality; he therefore led the seer to the top of Pisgah, whence he could see the whole of the people of Israel, rather than just the "end" of their encampment as had been the case at this first attempt.

Today, we find ourselves at Numbers 23:13, at which Balak, being disappointed with the outcome of the first attempt to draw down a curse upon God's people, has decided that he must make another attempt. We are reading from verse 13:

13. And Balak said unto him, Come, I pray thee, with me unto another place, from whence thou mayest see them: thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all: and curse me them from thence.
14. And he brought him into the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.

The names of Biblical characters quite frequently appear to bear some relationship to the part which they play in the Biblical record. Nelson's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts confirms Young's Concordance in explaining the meaning of Balak's name as "void, empty" whereas Balaam's name means "a pilgrim or lord (Baal) of the people." It might seem that at this stage of the account, we are, at least to some extent, confirming that observation!

Here, we will read what The Companion Bible calls "Balaam's Second Parable." The first had simply stated that God had not cursed Israel, a people who shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations, who will be countless in number with a glorious future. Now, we might imagine the expressions on the faces of the Moabite King, Balak, and his princes as they hear what Baalam is next given by way of prophetic utterance!

Drawing: Balaam and Balak offering sacrifices

"Balaam and Balak offering sacrifices"
Drawing by Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A. © 1985

15. And he said unto Balak, Stand here by thy burnt offering, while I meet the LORD yonder.
16. And the LORD met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, Go again unto Balak, and say thus.
17. And when he came to him, behold, he stood by his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him. And Balak said unto him, What hath the LORD spoken?
18. And he took up his parable, and said, Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor:
19. God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
20. Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.
21. He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.
22. God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.
23. Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!
24. Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.

The phrase in verse 23, "What hath God wrought!" was the choice for the opening words of the first message which was sent using Morse Code, over the wires of that new fast electrical method of sending messages across the earth by Samuel Morse, in 1844. Do you suppose that such a passage would be supplied today, in similar circumstances? "One small step for man..." when setting foot on the Moon doesn't really seem to match it!

The original word translated "Unicorn" in the AV is the Hebrew word "reem", of which The Companion Bible notes "Supposed to be the rhinoceros, buffalo, or antelope." That reference mentions that the word "unicorn" is from the Septuagint. We, of the British-Israel-World Federation realise, of course, that this is so, but we make a point of reminding others that it is a curious fact that only the British peoples have carried down through their generations their identification with these tribes of ancient Israel through the heraldry of the Lion and the Unicorn in the British Coat-of Arms which portrays these prophetic beasts. The symbolism in the case of that heraldic beast, the Unicorn, is particularly noteworthy as the crown is not on its head, but circles its neck with a length of chain attached thereto. The other end of the chain terminates in a link or ring which is, if correctly shown, not attached to any stake or anchor. The whole arrangement thus portrays a collar with an attached leash which has broken from its moorings. The symbolism thus presented is that of "A Royal People, Taken Captive, and Broken Free"! No other Royal people except those of British and kindred roots have such a device upon their escutcheon paired with a Lion. In the Glossary of The Concise Encyclopedia of Heraldry by Rothery, under the term "Unicorn" we find the description "A horse with a pointed horn springing from its forehead, and tufts of hair under its chin, on its hind legs and its tail. It represents knightly honour. The right-hand side supporter of the British Royal Arms is a silver unicorn rampant, with horn, hoofs, mane and tail of gold, a golden coronet (with fleur-de-lis and cross pate on the fillet) round the neck, a chain attached thereto and reflexed over the back. This is the supporter of the Scottish Royal Arms, and was first used in England by James I."

The St. Edward's Crown, used in that Coat-of Arms, as we have previously indicated, bears marks which reflect the four-square Tribal encampment of ancient Israel in their wilderness wanderings, and gathered about the Tabernacle of Yahweh, (Jehovah), The Almighty God, the twelve stones in the circlet being those named in the Bible as representing each of the tribes in Israel.

The New Bible Commentary, gives us this appraisal of the Biblical passage: "Balak has brought Balaam to the top of Pisgah, in the hope that this will change the spell. Balaam declares that God cannot be forced in this way, but will stand by His word (19). He declares that Israel will overcome its enemies (24), since God has been working for Israel (22-23). After noting the terrible accounts of murmurings and open rebellions among the Israelites, which occupy so large a part of chapters xi-xxi, it seems strange to read in verse 21: He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel. God is clearly speaking of Israel, not with reference to its actual state, but with reference to its standing before Him. How wonderful that everyone who belongs to the people of God, and trusts in the sacrifice of Christ, can answer Satan's onslaughts by appropriating his statement to himself! Our state is one of sin, and our sanctification is a long process, not completed until we actually see Christ as He is (I Jn. iii. 2); but God sees us as justified in Christ, and as already perfect in Him."

With that before us we might close today's study by suggesting that this would form a suitable theme for meditation for this week.

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