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<061301>JOSHUA 13:1-33 The thirteenth chapter of Joshua is another chapter which offers very little scope for the commentator, for it consists largely of geographical details.
After a brief but blessed word from the Lord to Joshua himself, the first six verses contain a list of those parts of the land which had not yet been possessed by Israel, together with an assurance from God that He would drive out from before His people the inhabitants of those sections also. In the next six verses the Lord gives orders concerning the dividing of apportioning of Canaan, naming some of the places therein and the bounds thereof. Then comes a reference to the portion which Moses had allotted unto the two and a half tribes on the eastward side of Jordan, with a detailed description of the same. Parenthetically, mention is made of Israel’s slaying of Balaam, and twice over we are informed that Moses gave no inheritance to the tribe of Levi. Thus its contents admit of no unified treatment, its central subject being, perhaps, best described as the spoils of victory enjoyed by Israel and the respective portions therein assigned to her tribes.
Canaan was (as we have previously pointed out) at once a Divine gift, yet as to their occupying of the same it was the result of Israel’s own prowess.
It was bestowed upon them by free grant from God, nevertheless it had to be conquered by them. Therein there was an accurate shadowing forth of the Christian’s inheritance. That too is wholly of Divine grace and mediatorial purchase, but it is not actually entered into by the heirs of promise without much effort on their part. It is at this point that theologians have so often gone wrong, by attributing either too much or too little unto the creature. Only by cleaving very closely to Holy Writ as a whole — and not by singling out detached fragments — are we preserved from serious error. On the one hand, we must see to it that we return right answers to the questions, “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?” ( 1 Corinthians 4:7); on the other, we must give due place to such exhortations as “Strive to enter in at the strait gate” ( Luke 13:24) and “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest” ( Hebrews 4:11); and not ignore such statements as “knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance” ( Colossians 3:24).
It is indeed true that the child of God has nothing good or spiritual but what the Lord has freely bestowed upon him. But does that mean he is as passive a “receiver” as the earth is when fructified by heaven’s refreshing showers and genial sunshine? Great care needs to be taken in answering that question lest we contradict the Word of Truth. Certainly he is no cooperator with Christ in the work of his redemption. There is not the least warrant for us to say, “God will do His part if we do ours.” There is no dividing of the honors: the glory is God’s alone, and we have no ground for boasting. Most assuredly the elect have nothing to do with their election, for God chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world, and there is not a line in His Word to show that His choice was determined by anything praiseworthy which He foresaw in them. Those ordained to be vessels of honor were “clay of the same lump” as the vessels appointed to dishonor. Nor had they a thing to do with their redemption, for all that was required to make atonement for their sins and reconcile them to God was accomplished by Christ centuries before they existed. Nor had they anything whatever to do with their regeneration, for they were dead in trespasses and sins when the Spirit quickened them into newness of life.
But it is quite wrong to infer from the above that the regenerated soul remains a passive agent. Equally wrong is it to suppose that he is how possessed of any self-sufficiency, that his new nature empowers him to perform his duty. Though he has become a living branch of the Vine, yet he is entirely dependent upon the Vine’s nourishing and fructifying. But we must not confine ourselves to that particular figure and relationship. The Christian is a moral agent, and grace has been given him to improve.
Means of grace have been provided, and he is responsible to employ the same. He has a conflict to engage him, a race to run. There is a world for him to overcome, a devil to resist, a salvation to be worked out with fear and trembling. True, in and of himself he is quite incapable of accomplishing such tasks; nevertheless, through Christ he “can do all things” ( Philippians 4:13). He must tread the narrow way if he would actually enter into the fullness of Life, and is required to endure unto the end if he is to be finally saved. He must fight the good fight of faith if he is to enter into the eternal inheritance. These things are just as true and real as those mentioned in the preceding paragraphs.
It must not be forgotten that Scripture itself records, and without the least condemnation or criticism, such utterances as “by the word of Thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer” ( Psalm 17:4), “I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep Thy word” ( <19B9101> Psalm 119:101), “I keep under my body” ( 1 Corinthians 9:27), “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” ( 2 Timothy 4:7).
Those are not carnal boastings but true statements of fact, and due place must be given to them in our theological system, or our doctrinal beliefs are very defective. True indeed, it was by Divine grace that those men conducted themselves thus, yet they were active moral agents therein, and not passive ciphers. Thus also was Canaan a Divine gift unto Abraham and his descendants, but they had to fight — fight long and hard — in order to enter into possession of the same. True also that the Lord fought for them, and that their victories must be ascribed unto Him who so signally showed Himself strong in their behalf; nevertheless that altered not the fact that they fought and subdued their foes. Both the Divine and the human sides are to be recognized and owned by us.
In like manner our salvation has the same two sides unto it. God is indeed both the Alpha and the Omega thereof, yet He deals with us as rational creatures and enforces our responsibility in connection with the same. So far as we can discover, the plants in the garden and the trees in the orchard owe their growth and fertility entirely to the Creator. But it is otherwise with believers: they are required to use the means of grace which God has appointed, and look to Him to bless the same. The vegetables and trees are incapable of taking precautions against pests and tornadoes; but we are obligated to avoid evil, resist temptation, and take shelter from the storm.
Eternal life is a Divine gift ( Romans 6:23), but we are to “lay hold on” it ( 1 Timothy 6:12). The celestial inheritance is “the purchased possession” of Christ for His people ( Ephesians 1:14), yet it is also “the reward” of service unto the Lord ( Colossians 3:24). Grace is freely given, but we are to use it, and must improve the same if we would receive more ( Luke 8:18; Matthew 25:16). “Seek the Lord, and His strength: seek His face evermore” ( <19A504> Psalm 105:4) — there is the meeting-place of the two sides! We have no sufficiency of our own, but if grace be duly sought ( Hebrews 4:16) then “our sufficiency is of God” ( 2 Corinthians 3:5). “Now Joshua was old and stricken in years; and the Lord said unto him, Thou art old and stricken in years, and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed” ( Joshua 13:1).
Unlike Moses, of whom it is recorded that at the close of a still longer life his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated ( Deuteronomy 34:1), the strenuous life Joshua had lived took heavy toll of him, and the infirmities of old age had come upon him. Probably he had then reached the century mark, for he was one of the twelve originally sent forth by Moses to spy out the land, and therefore would be at least as old as Caleb, who was then eighty-five ( Joshua 14:10), and most likely quite a few years more, for he was but 110 at the time of his death ( Joshua 24:29). But it is blessed to see that, despite his increasing bodily weakness, the Lord did not desert him in his old age, but now honored him with a special visit and a most gracious communication. And that, dear reader, is recorded for the particular comfort and encouragement of His aged pilgrims. Unto them He has given the sure promise: “And even to your old age I am He [the unchanging One]; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you” ( Isaiah 46:4), and that blessed assurance it is their holy privilege to rest upon day by day with childlike faith.
It is to be noted that after informing His servant that he was old and stricken in years — for the Lord never flatters man, nor withholds His Truth (except in judgment) from man — He did not say “but there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed”: instead it was “and there remaineth.” Thus He was not saying this by way of reproach. It appears to us that God so addressed Himself to Joshua on this occasion, First , to instruct Him: to let him know that He was no Egyptian taskmaster, who imposed burdens grievous to be borne; rather did He tenderly remember that Joshua was dust. By virtue of growing frailty he would be unfit to complete so vast a task as conquering the whole of Canaan — the major part of which remained to be done.
Second , to humble him. While Joshua had much ground to be thankful for the considerable success with which the Lord had crowned his efforts, he had no reason to be elated, for the energy was still in possession of the remoter sections of Israel’s inheritance.
While the Lord took knowledge of the enfeebled frame of His servant, yet He did not for that reason encourage him to be slack. On the contrary, He assigned him a new though much lighter task. It is not the revealed will of God that His people should spend their old age in idleness. He does not preserve them through all the dangers of youth and the trials of maturity that they should be mere cumberers of the ground. He may well suffer them to become exceedingly tottery and perhaps bedridden and entirely dependent upon others; yet even so it is their privilege and duty to beg Him to make good in them that precious word, “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age: they shall be fat and flourishing” ( Psalm 92:14).
They may still commune with the Lord, and manifest the effects thereof.
The decay of nature is no reason why grace should languish. Even when thoroughly helpless, the fruits of patience, meekness and gratitude may be borne, and they may carry themselves as the monuments of God’s goodness and the memorials of His faithfulness, and thereby “show forth His praises.” Though the strenuous efforts of earlier years be no longer possible, the ministry of prayer is available unto the very end, and who can say that more will not be accomplished therein for eternity than by any other spiritual activity?
As intimated above, one of the Lord’s designs in now appearing unto Joshua was to make known unto him his duty; yea, this seems to have been His leading object. What that duty consisted of was revealed in verse 7: he was to superintend in the apportioning of the land unto the nine and a half tribes — the other two and a half having already been allotted their heritage by Moses. It was most essential that he should be the one to perform this task. Clothed as he was with Divine authority, called of God to be Israel’s head, so markedly used by Him in vanquishing the armies of the Amorites and destroying their strongholds, none so well fitted as he now to divide the spoils of victory. Enjoying the confidence of the congregation, it behooved him to set about this important task while life and sufficient strength remained; and not leave unto some successor to do what could be far better and more appropriately done by himself. The decisions of the one who had in the hearing of the nation commanded the sun and the moon to stand still would not be challenged by the tribes; whereas it was not nearly so likely that they would freely accept the rulings of another Joshua then must not delay. “This is the land that yet remaineth [i.e. to be possessed]: all the borders of the Philistines, and all Geshuri” (verse 2).
From there to the end of verse 6 follows a list of the more remote sections of Palestine which were still occupied by the heathen. Here, then, by clear implication, was another task assigned unto Joshua: to stir up the people unto further efforts, that while he could not personally take any further part in the fighting he must press upon the nation the duty still devolving upon them. Instead of now taking their ease and being satisfied with those portions of their inheritance which had already been secured, they must continue to “possess their possessions,” and not miss God’s best for them.
It is highly probable that the great majority of Israel were quite ignorant of the extent of the land, unacquainted with the terms of the promise made by the Lord unto Abraham in Genesis 15:18-21, etc. During their lengthy sojourn in Egypt their ancestors had lapsed into idolatry (see Leviticus 17:7; Ezekiel 20:7,8; 23:3), and so unacquainted were they with the Lord Himself that when Jehovah commissioned Moses to lead His people out of the house of bondage he asked, “When I... say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me to you; and they shall say to me, What is His name? what shall I say unto them?” ( Exodus 3:13).
Sufficient attention has not been paid unto what has just been pointed out.
While it be far from excusing the conduct of Israel under Moses — in view of the wondrous deliverance the Lord wrought for them and the signal favors shown by Him unto them at the Red Sea, at Sinai. and during the forty years that followed — yet it does supply the key which explains much that otherwise is altogether unaccountable. Their children had been reared in the wilderness, and now they had entered Canaan under Joshua it is likely that they knew little or nothing of its boundaries. Thus we consider it was for this reason that it was now necessary for the Lord to instruct Joshua by the details furnished in Joshua 13:2-5, that he might inform the people of the full extent of that land which had been given to them. The spiritual application of this unto ourselves is not difficult to perceive. Even after their regeneration, God’s people are totally ignorant of the unsearchable riches that are theirs in Christ, until informed of the same from the Scriptures. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him “( 1 Corinthians 2:9).
Nevertheless it at once follows, “But God hath revealed them unto Us by His Spirit” — in His Word; and as we diligently search that Word we learn what those things are.
Matthew Henry pointed out three reasons why the Lord commissioned Joshua to acquaint Israel with the fact that “there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed,” and to amplify that statement by announcing to them all the geographical details given in verses 2-5.
First , that they might be more affected with God’s goodness in giving them so extensive a portion, and thereby be engaged to love and serve Him. He would have them occupied with the Divine bounty, that their obedience to Him might be prompted by gratitude and not by a slavish fear.
Second , that they might not be tempted to make any league or contract any dangerous familiarity with those neighbors, so as to learn their ways; but might be jealous of them, as those who kept them out of their rightful inheritance. In like manner, Christians, as they contemplate the possession purchased for them, are to conduct themselves as strangers and pilgrims in this scene, keeping their garments unspotted from the world, walking with God in separation therefrom. Third, that they might keep themselves in a posture of war, and not think of putting off their harness as long as there remained any of the land to be possessed.
In closing this article, a final word upon the application of verses 1-5 to the aged pilgrim. You may, dear reader, be stricken in years, nevertheless the fact must be faced that “‘ there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.” No matter what be your growth in grace or the extent of your progress in spiritual things, you are not as completely conformed to the image of Christ as you should be, nor have you as fully possessed your possessions ( Obadiah 1:17), as it is your privilege to do. Take a leaf out of the apostle’s book. Near the close of his life he declared, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” ( Philippians 3:13,14).
Do thou the same. As for verses 2-5, we too should sit down and draw up a list of those parts of our heritage not yet experientially possessed by us — and note that verse 2 is headed by the most difficult one, for the later Scriptures show that Israel had most trouble from the Philistines. Do you ask, What good could that do? It should humble. It should prompt to more definite prayer. We read of “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” ( <471001> Corinthians 10:1). Are those graces made good in you ?
When Joshua had become old and more or less enfeebled, the Lord appeared unto His servant, and after informing him that there remained yet very much land to be possessed, and naming some of the places and peoples to be conquered, He declared, “them will I drive out from before the children of Israel: only divide thou it by lot unto the Israelites for an inheritance, as I have commanded thee” ( Joshua 13:6).
It had been so with Moses: under God he had begun the task of occupying Canaan (namely that part thereof which lay to the east of Jordan), but only a small beginning had been made. Joshua had been used to carry forward the enterprise considerably, yet it was far from being completed — others would be raised up later to effect the Divine purpose. And it has been the same ever since. A start was all that was made by the apostles in the evangelizing of the Gentiles, for when the last of them expired there remained yet very much land to be possessed. Calvin and Luther were mightily employed in delivering God’s people from the deadly shackles of Rome, yet when the last of the Reformers was called home how much yet remained to be accomplished!
It is the same now. At the close of the most active and self-sacrificing life in the service of Christ, each succeeding minister of His leaves this scene with very much of the world still occupied by the enemy. But observe now the blessed consolation the Lord gave unto Joshua: “them will I drive out,” not “from before thee,” for he would not live to see it accomplished, but “from before the children of Israel.” As he had carried forward the work begun by Moses, so others would be Divinely appointed and equipped to advance his efforts — the honor of laying the capstone thereon being reserved for David centuries later. A similar assurance should be the very real confidence of every aged minister of the Gospel. There is no statement in Scripture, so far as the writer can perceive, to show that a time will ever come when all upon earth will be saved, or even nominally receive the Truth: yet the Divine promise is given, “One generation shall praise Thy works to another” ( <19E504> Psalm 145:4); yea, that some “shall fear Thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations” ( Psalm 72:5).
The words of Christ in Matthew 28:20, make it clear that He will have some of His on earth till the last, and His “all that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me” ( John 6:37) proves that neither man nor devil will prevent the salvation of the entire election of grace. “The foundation of God standeth sure... The Lord knoweth them that are His” ( 2 Timothy 2:19) provides a grand haven of rest for every anxious heart. “Them will I drive out from before the children of Israel: only divide thou it by lot unto the Israelites” (verse 6).
We regard this statement as one with a clearly implied proviso attached to it, and as such addressed to their responsibility, presupposing their concurrence. Therefore we agree with Matthew Henry’s comments thereon: “This promise that He would drive them out front before the children of Israel plainly supposes it as the condition of the promise that the children of Israel themselves must attempt and endeavor their extirpation, must go up against them, else they could not be said to be driven out before them. If afterwards, through sloth or cowardice or affection to these idolaters, they sat still and let them alone, they must blame themselves, and not God, if they be not driven out.” Nor was that Puritan alone in so understanding those words of the Lord. Even the high Calvinist J. Gill remarked thereon, “Which the Lord would deliver into their hands, providing they were obedient to His will, for, because they were not, many of those places never came into their possession, though divided to them by lot”; and again (later), “that is on condition of their obedience, for it appears that not only the Sidonians but many others, even the chief, and most of those mentioned, were never possessed by them.”
The same is true of Christians and their eternal inheritance: there are certain conditions which they are obligated to meet. “Conditions” not in the Romish sense, as con-causes with the Father’s choice and the Son’s atonement; nor in the Arminian sense, of an absolute power lying in their own wills and strength to comply therewith. But according to the order of things which God has established, for the enforcing of their moral agency — as there must be a sowing before reaping, the cross before the crown.
Principal causes (God’s grace and Christ’s merits) do not exclude necessary means — grace must not be turned into lasciviousness nor Christ made the minister of sin. Scripture is unmistakably plain on this point: “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end” ( Hebrews 3:14, and note well the “if” in John 8:51; 1 Corinthians 15:2; Colossians 1:23). As remission of sins is promised to none but those who repent ( Luke 24:47; Acts 3:19) and believe ( Acts 10:43), so only he that endures to the end shall be saved ( Matthew 24:13). “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest [the antitypical Canaan], lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” ( Hebrews 4:11), as the Israelites in the wilderness.
This was the business in which Joshua was now to engage: to apportion it — the entire territory, both what was already subdued and those parts of it which still remained to be conquered. “Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance unto the nine tribes, and the half tribe of Manasseh, with whom the Reubenites and the Gadites have received their inheritance, which Moses gave them, beyond Jordan eastward” (verses 7, 8).
Having received orders and authority from God, Joshua was to set about this task at once with all diligence. He was not to wait until all the tribes had actually secured their inheritance, but must define or mark out the portion allotted to each of them, so that they might know the particular section to which he had Divine title, and go forward, take and occupy the same. Thus Joshua was to act with full confidence in God. Though he should be called to leave the field of battle and enter his rest, others would be raised up to carry on the conflict until the Divine purpose was realized. This, we say again, needs to be borne in mind by the Lord’s people in all generations, for considerable unbelief is often mingled with their grief when some much-used servant of His is removed from this world — as though the cause of Christ was jeopardized thereby.
Once more Joshua was to count implicitly upon Jehovah: to work while it was yet day for him, and to leave the outcome to his Master. Probably the major part of the land was then occupied by the Canaanites, yet he was personally to superintend the allotting of the whole of it to Israel. Thus was he called upon to trust in the Lord with all his heart, and lean not unto his own understanding ( Proverbs 3:5), as had Noah and Abraham before him ( Hebrews 11:7,8). That is the principle by which every servant of God is ever to act. As Paul declared, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5,7). The apostle and his fellow workers lived and labored by faith, being inspired with courage and strength from having their hearts occupied with things invisible. Theirs was not a single act, but a constant course of trustfulness. To walk by faith is to conduct ourselves in the firm belief of those things we do not see, resting on the sure Word of God and being practically influenced thereby. It is to live in a steady expectation of things to come — the realities and glories of heaven. It is the opposite of being governed by our senses or regulated by visible objects, for “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” ( Hebrews 11:1), making them real and precious to the soul.
It was at this point that the predecessor of Joshua had failed; though, through not linking up parallel passages with Numbers 13:1-3, many have not perceived this — another case where Scripture must be compared with Scripture if we are to obtain the complete picture. “And ye came near unto me every one of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come. And the saying pleased me well: and I took twelve men of you” and sent them forth ( Deuteronomy 1:22,23). Those words seem to make two things quite evident.
First , that this project originated with the people.
Second , that Moses failed to discern the distrust which prompted their proposal — his approval thereof being a case of evil communications corrupting good manners. At a later date, when chiding the children of Gad and of Reuben, he said, “Wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord hath given them? Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land” ( Numbers 32:7,8), which shows they had a spirit of unwillingness to go up into it.
From the account given in Numbers 13:17-20, we learn that they questioned the value of the promised inheritance, as the language “see the land, what it is... whether it be good or bad... whether it be fat or lean” makes clear. Thus it was rank unbelief in the word of the Lord which lay behind their policy, while their “by what way we must go up” of Deuteronomy 1:22, showed their lack of confidence in being Divinely directed as to the best route to take. What need was there to go and examine the kind of land which the Lord had chosen for them, when He had already informed them that it was one “flowing with milk and honey” ( Exodus 3:8)? What occasion was there to investigate the approaches into it when there were the pillars of cloud and of fire to guide and show them the way? Nor have we any need to ask what God’s will for us is, when He has already made known the same, or to inquire as to our path of duty, when we possess His Word as a lamp unto our feet. But alas, Israel had a better opinion of their own policy and judgment than of God’s; and is it not often the same with us?
Though approving of the carnal suggestion of the people, before acting on the same Moses evidently sought confirmation from the Lord, and we are told that He said, “Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan” ( Numbers 13:2).
In thus giving permission, God acted in judgment. Deuteronomy 1:6-8, makes it clear that a year previously Israel had received Divine orders to go forward and possess the land which had been given unto their fathers, but as soon as they left Horeb one sin after another was committed by them (Numbers 11 and 12). God had been provoked by their waywardness, and in order to make further manifest the hardness of their hearts He now gave them up to their lusts. The sequel at once demonstrated their unbelief and perversity. God also suffered their desire to be granted in order to serve as a solemn warning to His people in all generations. If we profit not from the recorded sins and punishments of others, then is our case indeed inexcusable. When God gratifies our self-will and suffers us to follow the schemes of our own devising, we pay dearly for it. If we have more confidence in our own wisdom or the representations of our senses than we have in the Divine counsels, we shall inevitably taste the bitterness of our foolishness.
It seems rather strange that, after a full description of the territory given to the two and a half tribes had previously been furnished in the closing verses of Numbers 32 the middle of Deuteronomy in. a briefer reference in Deuteronomy 29 and a fuller one again in Joshua 12:4-6, a further account of the same should be repeated here. Matthew Henry suggested the following explanation.
First , as the reason why the nine and a half tribes should now be assigned their portions: since their brethren had already been provided for, it was just and meet that they should be so too.
Second , as the pattern for Joshua now to follow. He was not being ordered to do something unprecedented, for he had been personally present when Moses had distributed the eastern section of Palestine unto the two and a half tribes, and from his example he might well now act.
Thus the Lord who had provided for the former was equally solicitous about the welfare of the latter.
Fourth , that the portion given to the two and a half tribes years before now being specified in detail signified a ratification of the original grant, thus obviating any disputes about the boundaries. Joshua was not free to make any alterations.
The account given of the portions allocated unto the two and a half tribes closes with the ominous statement, “Nevertheless the children of Israel expelled not the Geshurites, nor the Maachathites: but the Geshurites and Maachathites dwell among the Israelites until this day” (verse 13).
This is the first time that anything of this nature is recorded of them, though if we are permitted to go through the book of Judges we shall see that other of the tribes were equally remiss at a later date. It reminds us of a similar and most regrettable failure on the part of Queen Elizabeth and those who succeeded her. Under the Reformation in the days of Luther and Calvin, the Protestant sections of Europe were delivered from the idolatries of the mass, Mariolatry and the worship of idols; but those who followed were found sadly wanting in purging themselves from other popish evils and superstitions. It is worthy of note that as the two and a half tribes were placed in their inheritance before their fellows, so (centuries later) they were displaced before the other tribes were, being carried captive to Assyria, and that because they “went a whoring after the gods of the people of the land” ( 1 Chronicles 5:25,26).
Such a proportion does Providence often observe in the dispensations of prosperity and adversity, setting the one over against the other. “Balaam also the son of Besor, the soothsayer, did the children of Israel slav with the sword among them that were slain by them” ( Joshua 13:23).
Nothing definite is known about the early life of this mysterious person. He is introduced abruptly in the Scriptures, being mentioned first in Numbers 22:5. A “soothsayer” was one who essayed to foretell the future and possess strange powers by means of the occult forces of evil.
Balaam was a magician of renown and had, apparently, acquired some knowledge of the true God — probably by hearing of what He had wrought in Egypt and at the Red Sea (see Joshua 2:10). Israel had then crossed the wilderness, and had arrived at the country of the Moabites — in the vicinity of the Jordan. Balak its king was afraid that Israel would destroy his people, and sent for Balaam to use his enchantments against them. Accordingly, his servants visited the prophet “with the rewards of divination in their hand,” and invited him to return with them to their master, and pronounce such a curse on the Israelites that the Moabites might smite them ( Numbers 22:5-7). Balaam’s character was at once revealed by his response to this temptation: he neither accepted nor refused. Instead of reprimanding them, he bade them lodge with him, and he would return his answer next morning.
During the night God appeared to him, and said, “Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people. Next morning Balaam informed his visitors “The Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you,” and they departed without him — though he dishonestly failed to tell them why he must not accept their commission. Refusing to be discouraged by Balaam’s repulse, Balak sent again to him, promising to promote him with very great honor if he would come and curse Israel. Though he knew the mind of the Lord. he temporized and invited the princes to stay with him that night.
Prompted by the love of gain, he now mocked God by pretending to ask His permission — as though He might change His mind; and God now mocked him, giving him leave to go, but commanding him to utter only the word He gave him. This is evident from “And God’s anger was kindled because he went,” and from “the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him.” ( Numbers 22:22).
Rebuked by the dumb ass and told by the angel, “I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me,” Balaam acknowledged his sin; yet when the word “Go with the men” was given to test him further, he was carried forward against all checks by the violent impulse of his lusts.
When he arrived at his destination, so powerfully did the Spirit of God restrain that Balaam blessed Israel instead of cursing them. Nevertheless, so strongly did he love “the wages of unrighteousness” ( 2 Peter 2:15), and so determined was he to earn the same, that he now devised a method which promised to ensure the ruin of Israel ( Numbers 31:16, and cf. Revelation 2:14), and which had been completely successful had not God intervened ( <19A628> Psalm 106:28,29). Thus did he definitely range himself against Israel and defy the Lord. Soon after he reaped what he had sown: linking his interests with the Moabites and Midianites, he died with them ( Numbers 22:7; 31:8). Such is the doom of the double-hearted, and those who are in bondage to covetousness. None can serve God and mammon.