By James H. Brookes
Balak, king of Moab, was afraid of the Israelites, and sought to put them under the spell of a curse pronounced by Balaam a famous prophet. The monarch, therefore, sent messengers to entreat the prophet to come to his assistance, with the promise of riches and honors for his incantations. Balaam, “Who loved the wages of unrighteousness,” wished to accept the invitation, but “God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them.” Finding his heart set upon the enterprise, and determining to glorify Himself, to vindicate His word, and to bless His people, the Lord at length permitted him to depart, but with a strange mark of His sore displeasure.
The ass upon which Balaam rode saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way, and recoiled; but the prophet, more stupid than the irrational beast, could not see, because blinded by his greed. Then Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the poor creature, forcing her to obey. “And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee? that thou hast smitten me these three times?” Even the Higher Critics must admit that here we have clear case of verbal inspiration, and it will not do for them to dodge the truth of the narrative by claiming that it is a “legend” or “myth,” since the Holy Ghost by an apostle mentions it as an undoubted fact: “The dumb ass, speaking with man’s voice, forbade the madness of the prophet,” 2 Pet. ii. 16. After all, it was no stranger than when an infidel, professing to be a Christian, opens his mouth, and speaks like an ass.
Balaam went on his way to Balak, but said unto him immediately, “Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say anything? The word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak.” Accordingly “the Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, Return unto Balak, and thus thou shalt speak.” The result was a blessing instead of a curse, and he explained to Balak: “Must I not take heed to speak that which the Lord hath put in my mouth?” A second time “the Lord met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, Go again unto Balak, and say thus.” A still richer blessing was pronounced, and when Balak complained Balaam answered, “Told not I thee, saying, All that the Lord speaketh, that I must do?” Then the king begged the prophet neither to bless nor curse, but Balaam replied, “If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the commandment of the Lord, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; but what the Lord saith, that will I speak.”
Here is a man who did not wish to utter the words that fell from his lips, but was constrained by a supernatural and irresistible power to proclaim truths directly contrary to his own desire and will. Nay, he was compelled to announce his personal doom at a time then far distant: “I shall see Him, but not now; I shall behold Him, hut not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite through the princes, and destroy all the sons of tumult. . . Alas! who shall live when God doeth this?” Num. xxii.-xxiv.
Saul, chosen a king not after God’s heart, but after Israel’s heart, disobedient, unruly, willful from the beginning, when he turned his back to go from Samuel, “Behold, a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them,” 1 Sam. x. 10. /Whether he was a prophet in the wider sense of speaking for God, or in the narrower sense of predicting future events, is of little moment, because in either case he was subject to a control beyond his ability of resistance. At a later date he sent messengers to seize David, and “the Spirit of God Was upon the messengers, and they also prophesied.” He sent other messengers, “and they prophesied likewise. And Saul sent messengers the third time, and they prophesied also.” Then he himself went; “and the Spirit of God Was upon him also, and he went on, and prophesied,” 1 Sam. xix. 20-24. There is no way of accounting for this, except by the fact that supernatural power ruled these men and their utterances against their wishes.
A still more remarkable illustration, were it possible, of the entire subjection of men to the authority of God, causing them to utter His own words, is found when idol worship was formally established in Israel by royal enactment. Jeroboam, the first king of the ten tribes, had set up an altar in Bethel, in contemptuous disregard of the divine command. A prophet had been sent forth from Judah to denounce the wrath of Jehovah against the shameful idolatry. He cried, “Behold the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.” The king attempted to seize him, but his hand was dried up, and restored only in answer to the intercession of the prophet.
Jeroboam, deeply humbled, entreated the man of God to go home with him, and be refreshed; but “the man of God said unto the king, If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place: for it was so charged me by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou earnest.” But an old prophet lived in Bethel, whose sons told him of the scene witnessed at the altar, and going after the man of God he invited him home to eat with him. To the old prophet the same reply was given that had been made to the king; and “he said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art: and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that they may eat bread and drink water. But he lied unto him.”
While sitting at the table the host suddenly exclaimed, “Thus saith the Lord, forasmuch, as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the Lord, and hast not kept the commandment which the Lord thy God commanded thee, but earnest back and hast eaten bread, and drunk water in the place of the which the Lord did say to thee, Eat no bread, and drink no water: thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers.” The condemned and saddened man started on his journey; and “a lion met him by the way, and slew him; and his carcase was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it; the lion also stood by the carcase.” Well might the old prophet mourn over him, saying, “Alas, my brother,” 1 Kings xiii.
Most impressive is the lesson which the narrative teaches of the absolute necessity and infinite importance of giving heed to the word of God, reminding us of the apostle’s testimony, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that we have preached unto you., let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed,” Gal. i. 8, 9. Eloquence and learning, although they are equal to an angel’s gifts, amount to nothing unless they are in thorough subjection to the authority of the sacred Scriptures; and the only safety for a Christian in reading these inspired writings is to be fully persuaded in his own mind and heart that “God spake all these words.”