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self had sojourned in the tents of Israel, and witnessed the miraculous manner in which the people were guarded, fed, and conducted, on their march toward Canaan. If community of illustrious origin presented a powerful motive for seeking the alliance of a mighty and victorious nation—if the privileges of the covenant people of God were desirable objects of attainment, the Midianites should have made common cause with the men of Israel. But they willingly resigned these distinctions, to strike an unholy league with Moab, and to bring Balaam from Mesopotamia, as a man of mighty influence over the powers of the invisible world; in order, that after he had solemnly devoted the heritage of the Most High to destruction, according to the custom of ancient nations, they might prevail against it, and smite it utterly.
Equally inconsistent is the conduct of Balaam. In many respects it is necessarily peculiar, because his precise situation has never been paralleled. But the principles by which he was actuated, are still common in the world. We may therefore be assisted through the labyrinth of doubt and difficulty, in which his behaviour is involved, by examining the state of his mind, and tracing him through some of the paths that led to the sins of which he was guilty, and to the punishment by which he was overtaken.
I. When Simon, the magician, between whose character, and that of Balaam, there exists a remarkable similarity, offered the apostles money for that power of conferring the Holy Ghost, which he wished to use as merchandize, for his advantage, the indignant messenger of Christ exclaimed, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter, for thy heart is not right in the sight of God."
(1.) Such was precisely the state of Balaam. The fear and love of God were not the regulating and governing principles of his mind. It would be vain to assert, in opposition to the whole course of the history, that he had no acquaintance with the character, the will, and the dealing of Jehovah. It is, indeed, certain, that he was a diviner, and pretender to those magical arts and incantations, so common in his age and country. But with these abatements he possessed, from whatever source derived, knowledge of a higher and nobler character, which, improved to its legitimate end, would have gifted him with distinctions immeasurably transcending every dream of worldly avarice, or all the wealth and power which the king of Moab could bestow. Unreal as his
divination and sorceries were, he had communications from the God of heaven, which might have made him wise unto salvation, and a diffusive blessing to all around him.
But alas, the illumination of the mind is by no means necessarily associated with the conversion of the heart. There are many who know God, yet glorify him not as God, by a sanctified use of their attainments to his honour. He only knows God aright, whose will and affections are overruled to love and obey him. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, a good understanding have all they that do his commandments. He whose knowledge of divine truth is merely theoretical, resembles the ill-assorted image of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, whose head was of fine gold, and his feet, part of iron and part of clay. Whatever might be the extent of Balaam's acquaintance with the precepts of the living God, his character remained uninfluenced and unhallowed. One mean and sordid passion held its empire over his heart. He was the slave of that covetousness which, wherever it usurps dominion, is idolatry, and the death of religion. He loved the wages of iniquity. He was prepared, like the traitor Judas, should a favourable opportunity present itself, to offer for sale his conscience and his God. They that will be rich fall into
temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil, which, while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Satan hath no more powerful hold upon man, for his eternal ruin, than an undue anxiety for wealth, which loads the spirit, as with thick clay, and prevents it from rising to have its affections and conversation in heaven. Of such the arch enemy may say, as the Egyptians concerning Israel, by the Red Sea, “They are entangled in the land; the wilderness hath shut them in.". The world has caught them in its snare; they surrender themselves tamely to its bondage ; and its prince leads them captive at his will. What the offered rewards of divination were we know not. They certainly sufficed to bribe Balaam to his ruin ; and to bring wretchedness, guilt, and death
Israel. “Let your conversation, my brethren, be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have.” “A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Is God the portion of your inheritance, and of your çup ? Are ye seeking first his kingdom and righteousness? Then will he provide all that is needful for you, from the abundance of his mercy,
ye have counted all things but loss that ye may win Christ, your heavenly Father will with him, also freely give you all things.
Covetousness was the besetting sin of Balaam. It impelled him to perform the requirement of Balak, and to curse the people of God: The dread of divine indignation, and some reverence for the will of heaven, still indeed, wrestled with him, -as the angel laid hold of Lot's hand while he lingered in Sodom. While thus, halting between two opinions, he could neither enjoy the gifts and promises of Moab, nor commune with God in the happy sincerity of an undivided heart. Would you avoid this cheerless state? Avoid the feeling whence it arose ; and all community with the covetous, whom God abhorreth. While many
in Balaam's eager desire after present advancement, are crying, “Who will shew us any good ?” take your holier stand with the man after God's own heart, and pray, “Lord lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us." To see a professor of religion eager in the pursuit of wealth, saying to gold, Thou art my hope ; and to fine gold, Thou art my confidence, is to behold the good seed of eternal salvation choked by cares and riches of this life,-to witness him who should be laying aside every weight, loading himself with a burden which must effectually prevent him from pressing towards the mark