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And Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor, that looketh toward Jeshimon. 28

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28. And Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor, that looketh toward Jeshimon.

28. Sumpsit ergo Balac ipsum Balaam in verticem Peor qui respicit versus desertum (vel, Jesimon.)

29. And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams.

29. Dixit autem Balaam ad Balac, AEdifica mihi hic septem altaria, et appara mihi hic septem juvencos, et septem arietes.

30. And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.

30. Fecit itaque Balac quemadmodum dixerat Balaam, et obtulit juvencum et arietem in unoquoque altari.

1. Build me here seven altars. We more positively conclude from hence that this degenerate prophet had been by no means wont to prophesy in accordance with pure revelations from God, but that the art of divination, in which he boasted, had some affinity to magical exorcisms, and was infected with many errors and deceptions. Still this did not prevent him from being sometimes a true prophet by the inspiration of God’s Spirit; because, as has been already said, whilst the world was plunged in darkness, it was God’s will that some little sparks of light should still shine, in order to render even the most ignorant inexcusable. Since, therefore, Balaam was only endowed with a special gift, he borrowed devices in various directions, which savored of nothing but the illusions of the devil, and were utterly foreign to the true and legitimate method of consulting (God.) Hence came the seven victims and the seven altars; for, although God, by consecrating the seventh day unto Himself, as also in the seven lamps, and other things, indicated that there was something of perfection in that number; nevertheless, afterwards, many strange superstitions were invented, and under this pretense Satan cunningly deluded wretched men, by persuading them that secret virtues were contained in this number seven. This frivolous subtlety prevailed also among profane writers, so that they sought the confirmation of the error throughout all nature. Thus they allege the seven planets, as many Pleiades, the Septemtriones, f153 and as many circles or zones; and again, that infants do not come into the world alive till the seventh month. Many such things they heap together in order to prove that some hidden mystery is implied in the number seven. This contagion reached the Christians also: for on this point the ancients f154 sometimes philosophize too refinedly, and have in general preferred to corrupt (Scripture) rather than not to restrict the gifts of the Spirit to this number, and to establish the sevenfold grace of the Holy Ghost. It is plain that Balaam was infected by this fanciful notion, when he endeavours to draw down God by seven altars, and twice seven sacrifices. Let us, however, learn from Balak’s prompt compliance, that the superstitious neither spare expense, nor refuse anything which is demanded by the masters of their errors. Wherefore we must beware lest we be rashly credulous; whilst at the same time we take care lest, when it is clear what we ought to do, we should be withheld by discreditable supineness, when unbelievers hasten so eagerly and speedily to their own destruction.

3. And Balaam said unto Balak. In this respect, also, he imitates the true servants of God: for he seeks retirement, because God has almost always appeared unto His servants when they have been separated from the company of men. You would say that he was another Moses, when he exhorts the king to persevering prayer, and, in order that he may be more earnest in supplication, bids him remain perfectly still by the altars. Meanwhile he withdraws himself from the crowd, and the eyes of the witnesses, so that he may be more ready to receive the revelation. Since, however, there was no sincerity in him, we may probably conclude, that in vain ostentation he imitated the servants of God, that, like one of God’s councillors, he might bring forth the secrets from the shrines of heaven. I know not why some render the word ypç, shephi, alone, others, sad; f155 it is more suitable to take it for a high place; which other similar passages confirm. The impostor, therefore, retired into a higher place, or summit, in order that he might come forth from thence more surely established as a prophet by his familiar intercourse with God.

4. And God met Balaam. It is wonderful that God should have determined to have anything in common with the pollutions of Balaam; since there is no communion between light and darkness, and He detests all association with demons; but, however hateful to God the impiety of Balaam was, this did not prevent Him from making use of him in this particular act. This meeting him, then, was by no means a proof of His favor, as if he approved of the seven altars, and sanctioned these superstitions; but as He well knows how to apply corrupt instruments to His use, so by the mouth of this false prophet, He promulgated the covenant, which He had made with Abraham, to foreign and heathen nations.

In truth, he boasts of his seven altars, as if he had duly propitiated God. Thus do hypocrites arrogantly trust that they deserve well of God, when they do but provoke His anger. God, however, passes over this corrupt worship, and proceeds with what He had determined; for He sends Balaam to be a proclaimer and witness of the sureness of His grace towards His chosen people. He supplies, indeed, His servants with what they speak, and controls their tongues; for neither would they be sufficient to think anything, unless the ability were bestowed by Him; and no one can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Still the holy Prophets were in suchwise organs of the Spirit, that they gave forth from the heart the treasures which God had deposited with them. In this view, Jeremiah says that he “did eat the words of God,” (<241516>Jeremiah 15:16; ) and Ezekiel, that he ate the roll on which his prophecies were written. (<260301>Ezekiel 3:1.) For we must not conceive an inspiration (ejnqousiasmo such as that by which the heathens supposed their diviners to be carried away, so that the heavenly afflatus transported them, or threw them into ecstasies; but rather did that take place in them, which David declares of himself: “I believed, therefore have I spoken,” (<19B610>Psalm 116:10:) and God illuminated their senses before He guided their tongues. The case of Balaam was different, whose mind was alienated while he delivered the words which were put into his mouth. f156

7. And he took up his parable and said. The word lçm, mashal, signifies all weighty and notable sayings, especially when expressed in exalted language. The meaning, therefore, is, that Balaam began to speak eloquently, and in no ordinary strain. Nor can it be doubted but that he aroused Balak’s attention by this grandeur of language through God’s secret influence; that the wretched man might acknowledge that Balaam now spoke in no mortal fashion, but that there was something of divine inspiration in his words, so that his mind might be the more deeply affected by the revelation. The sum of what he said was to this effect, that there was not merely perversity and folly in Balak’s design to curse the people, but that whatever he attempted would be vain and useless, since he was fighting against God. At the same time, he renounces for himself that power, which Balak was persuaded that he eminently possessed: for Moses has already recorded the words of Balak before spoken, “I know that he whom thou cursest is cursed,” as if the power of God were transferred to him, so that he might exercise it according to his will. But what was this, but to depose God from His supremacy? Consequently this abominable imagination is refuted by the mouth of Balaam, when he attributes the right of blessing to God alone. “How (he says) should I curse except according to God’s command?” not that God always restrains the wicked from declaring what is opposed to His truth: for we know that they often prate at random, vomit forth their blasphemies by the mouthful, obscure the light by their falsehoods, and endeavor, as far as in them lies, to overthrow the faithfulness of God. But inasmuch as Balaam was compelled to play a different part, viz., to proclaim the revelation suggested to him by God, he confesses that his tongue was tied, so that he could not utter a single syllable against God’s command.

Since mention is made of Syria, some have supposed that Balaam was fetched from Mesopotamia; and some color was given to this mistake, because the art of divination had its rise amongst the Chaldeans. But, as has been said before, it is not credible that the fame of the man should have extended so far; and again, in the short time during which the people remained there, how could an embassy have been twice sent to a distant country? for they would have occupied at least six months. Besides, we shall soon see that he was slain among the Midianites. But it is very probable that the country was included under the name of Aram or Syria, which even profane authors describe as contiguous to Arabia, towards the Red Sea. Now, since, in reference to the land of Moab, Midian was to the eastward, and, moreover, was high and mountainous, it is rightly added that he was called “from the mountains of the east;” and thus does he designate a place well known to the Moabites, on account of its neighborhood to them.

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