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On the Character of Balaam.

On the Character of Balaam.

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2 St. Peter, ii. 15.

Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of

2 St. Peter, ii. 15.

Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Jul 16, 2014
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O THE CHARACTER OF BALAAM. BY REV. THEODORE DEHO, D. D.2 St. Peter, ii. 15. Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness. In the course which the Church directs for publicly reading the Holy Scriptures, we are, at this period, brought to a very interesting, singular, and instruc- tive piece of sacred history. The story of Balaam attracts our attention by the matter to which it re- lates, the ancient customs with which it is inter- spersed, and the strangeness and wickedness of his conduct, whom it more particularly exhibits to our view. In this celebrated diviner we behold an ex- traordinary mixture of just sentiment with perverse practice ; right apprehensions of God with direct opposition to His will ; seeming piety and inspira- tion with diabolical purposes and disgraceful insta- bility. It is a character necessary to be studied ; not only that we may derive instruction from it, but also that we may perceive the justness of the cen- sure, passed upon him in the Gospel, and not be led, by the occasional appearance of propriety in his ex- pressions and behaviour, to think him less criminal than he is represented. For so wise and prudent, so pious and just, does he seem to be in particular 4 O THE CHARACTER OF BALAAM. 227 passages, that the cursory reader may be ready to exclaim, Wherefore is he blamed ? how cautious his
steps ! how sublime his visions ! Examination is ne- cessary to understand his character. When we have well observed it, we shall be struck with its incon- sistency and baseness ; and wonder that he ever possessed a virtuous sentiment, or cherished a holy habit in his bosom. To mark it, as it opens upon us in the sacred narrative ; to trace its peculiarities to their cause, and to show its awful termination, will be leading objects of this discourse : in which we will take the inspired St. Peter for our monitor, and rely upon Thee, Thou ' Giver of all good gifts*,' for assistance and an improving blessing. The occasion of Balaam's being introduced was the arrival of the Israelites upon the plains of Moab. Dismayed by their numbers and fame, by the won- ders which had marked their footsteps out of Egypt, and the destruction which they poured upon their foes, and particularly by their . recent, terrifying conquest of the Amorites, and powerful King of Basan; the Moabites trembled at their approach. TJhey consulted with the elders of Midian about the common safety, and their mutual communications were a striking accomplishment of the prediction of Moses, that the nobles of Edom, and mighty ones of Moab, should be dismayed by the greatness of the Divine arm, in delivering His people *. Something was to be done for defence, against this mighty company which devoured all before it, *' as the ox licketh up the grass of the fields" It was an important part of ancient warfare to seek the influence of the gods, and imprecate the foe. In the Greek and Roman classics, there are traces of * Prayer in the Ember Weeks. * Exod. XV. 15. ^ umb. xxii. 4. q2
228 O THE CHARACTER OF BALAAM. this custom ; and it appears to have been prevalent among most of the heathen nations. They were wont, before going to battle, to endeavour, by sa- crifices and oblations, to enlist on their side their own and foreign gods, and by the imprecations of some priest or magician, to devote the enemy to destruction. Being a worshipper of Chemosh, and credulous in these vain superstitions, it was the first care of the King of Moab, to send for a diviner to " curse the people ^" He hoped that thus, with the aid of his sword, he should be able to prevail against them, and drive them out of the land. Accordingly, messengers were sent, with the pre- sents which were customary on such occasions, to Balaam, the son of Beor, or Bosor, a celebrated diviner who dwelt in Mesopotamia, to invite him to Moab on this absurd business. From all that we can learn of Balaam, it appears, that he was an acknowledger of the true God. In many parts of the heathen world, there were instances of persons, who, though they were not Israelites by birth, or profession, gathered from the rubbish of Paganism some decaying fragments of the knowledge, which was diflPused through the world at the dispersion from Babel, and in various ways renewed by the economy of Divine Providence : which fragments furnished them with an imperfect sentiment of the one, supreme, eternal, Being, As it was in this part of Mesopotamia, that Abraham dwelt before his removal to Canaan ; and here that Jacob and most of his sons, once had a residence ; it is less surprising to find here some traces of true religion, some inconstant remembrance of the true God. Be this as it may, it is certain, that we find Balaam speaking of the Lord Jehovah as his God, and ac-

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