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CHAP. XVII.

THE APPROACH TO CANAAN.

THE children of Israel, having now suffered to the

full the heavy penalty of their former disobedience, by wandering in the wilderness until all that generation were utterly consumed which, being grown men, and therefore justly responsible for their conduct, had sinned against God, Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, only being left alive, were now permitted to leave it, and to enter again upon a land inhabited. The countries of Moab and Ammon, which nations were the descendants of Lot, Abraham's nephew, they were forbidden to invade as enemies, though compelled to pass through a portion of the former. But the kingdoms of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon, and of Og, king of the rich pasture-land of Bashan, were given up to them for a prey: even of these, however, they only demanded a quiet passage through their territories; which being refused, they overthrew both of them in battle, and took possession of the whole of that district lying on the east of the river Jordan. Og, the king of Bashan, we are told, was of the remnant of the giants-he seems to have been a man of vast stature and of proportionable strength ;* but what is any strength or power of man, when the hand of the Lord is gone out against him? the Israelites, whose fathers had shrunk back, trembling and discouraged, when they merely heard that there were giants in the land of Canaan, now readily encountered and easily vanquished this formidable

* Amos ii. 9

upon him.

enemy, because adversity had taught them dependence upon God, and they felt that they were acting in accordance with his will. Resist your ghostly enemy in like manner, and he will flee from you; the God in whom you trust shall bruise him under your feet. The host of the Israelites had been forbidden by God to do any injury to the Moabites, in whose land they pitched their camp after their victories over Sihon and Og; Balak, however, the king of Moab, being ignorant of this, and entertaining a reasonable alarm at the appearance in his country of this vast multitude of warlike and victorious men, sought, in conjunction with his neighbours the Midianites, for some means of preventing the calamity which he feared was coming

The means which he adopted were such as no one would think of having recourse to now, but were sufficiently in accordance with the superstitious spirit of those times, and consisted in his sending a message to Balaam of Pethor, a person who enjoyed the reputation of a prophet, inviting him to come to his assistance, and to curse the people of Israel. Doubtless the opinion was generally entertained among those idolatrous nations, that such a curse, solemnly pronounced in the name of their imaginary gods, would have the effect of weakening, or perhaps destroying in some wonderful manner, the people against whom it was directed: and therefore Balak, according to the imperfect light which he possessed, acted with no small degree of worldly wisdom; and he found in Balaam a man not by any means unwilling to second him in his project: but the scheme, however deeply laid, and promising in appearance, was all brought to a very different end from that which they looked for, by the interposition of God. He first appeared to Balaam in a dream, and forbade him to go with the messengers of Balak : that king, finding his first endeavour unsuccessful, renewed it with greater offers of honour

." ** ness:

and reward : the avaricious mind of Balaam was not proof against these temptations; he loved the wages of unrighteousness; and having at last fancied that he had obtained the permission of God to do as he pleased, he set off with the full resolution of cursing his chosen people. This was indeed folly in the worldly wise man, near akin to what St. Peter has called it, "mad

it needed a severe rebuke, and it received one in a manner calculated to make an impression even upon him. When they came to a narrow part of the way, an angel of the Lord, with a drawn sword in his hand, was stationed there to withstand him. The prophet was unable at first to see this heavenly minister ; but the ass on which he rode saw him, and after twice saving her master by turning aside out of the path, at last fell down under him, as the only means of hindering him from hurrying on to certain death. Balaam, inflamed with anger at this, smote the ass with a staff; and then it was that by a wonderful miracle, the dumb animal,"speaking with man's voice, rebuked the madness of the prophet,” convincing him that its conduct could have proceeded from no ordinary cause : and what that cause was, God vouchsafed to explain to him, by opening his eyes, and showing him the armed angel, and assuring him that the sagacity and faithfulness of the poor animal which he had urgratefully smitten, had saved his life. Confounded and humiliated at this discovery, the prophet proceeded on his way, resolved no longer to disobey the commands of God, but to yield himself up submissively at least, if not cheerfully, to his guidance. Accordingly, though he went through, upon his arrival, the usual ceremonies of his idolatrous enchantments, and ascended up to a high place, from which he could see the armies of Israel, as if to curse

• 2 Pet. ii. 16,

N

them from thence, that which he uttered, to the astonishment and dismay of Balak, was, on three several occasions, no curse but a blessing—God so ruling it, that in spite of the evil intentions of these wicked men, nothing but good was spoken concerning his people : and in the last of Balaam's prophecies we have mention of some extraordinary personage, distinguished by the titles of a Star and Sceptre, who should arise out of Israel ; emblems of splendour and authority, attributable most fitly to our Saviour Christ, who is elsewhere called in Scripture, the “ bright and morning star, "* and the rod, or sceptre, proceeding out of the stem of Jesse. That the heart of Balaam was still malignantly bent upon mischief against the Israelites, or at least that he was desirous of earning, if possible, the wages promised him by Balak, appears from the insidious counsel which he gave, that the women of Moab and Midian should be employed to seduce that people to commit acts of idolatry and wickedness, in the hope, no doubt, that so the favour of God would be withdrawn from them, and they would be easily subdued. This subtle device of his succeeded but too well. Many of the Israelites were tempted by these females to forbidden indulgences ; and had it not been for the bold zeal of Phinehas, Eleazar's son, who slew one of them, together with a prince of Israel, in the midst of their iniquity, a plague from God, which had begun among the people, would not have been so soon stayed a plague which, during the time of its prevalence amongst them, and which seems to have been but one day, carried off no less than twenty and four thousand. Remember, that among the chief works of the devil, which you have promised to renounce at your baptism, are the lusts of the flesh: remember that they war against the soul, and do it far more lasting harm than any earthly enemy can do the body, and that they harm the body too, and, if not guarded against by prayer and watchfulness, will cause death, temporal and eternal.

* Rev. xxii. 16.

+ Isaiah xi. 1.

God signified his approval of the act of Phinehas, promising to continue the priesthood in his family, and then commanded a chosen body of men to be sent out of the camp to punish the Midianites for having thus thrown a stumbling-block in the way of his people. This command they executed, slaying the grown-up portion of that nation, and among them Balaam himself, the treacherous author of that evil counsel, and returned, bringing with them the youthful maidens and a great spoil of flocks and herds, a portion of all which was solemnly consecrated to the Lord. They were now victorious over all their enemies, and had conquered a large extent of coun. try; still this was not the land promised to their fathers, the land wherein Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had sojourned in old time : Canaan lay beyond the river Jordan, and they looked there for their place of final settlement and complete repose.

A portion of them, however, namely, the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh, being more rich in cattle than their brethren, and finding the country of Sihon and Og particularly suited to the pastoral manner of life, obtained permission from Moses to take it for themselves, upon condition that they would go over Jordan to battle with the other tribes, and not return till they had seen them permanently established in possession of the land beyond it. First let us do our duty, and then we may enjoy with a safe conscience the good gifts of God. It could not be expected that Moses, who now saw the people whom he had led faithfully through so many dangers, on the point of entering

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