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they were condemned on account of their transgressions. All those who provoked God to anger by their repeated rebellions had fallen, and "left their carcases in the wilderness," according to the sentence pronounced against them by the mouth of Moses. They were, at length, permitted to approach the land promised unto their fathers, and after vanquishing Sihon, king of the Amorites, who attempted to hinder their progress, they crossed the mountain range of Abarim, and descended into the plains of Moab, to the bank of the river Jordan. Though surrounded by enemies sufficiently numerous to make their situation one of extreme peril; enemies exasperated by defeat, and vindictive in proportion to their fears; Israel yet spread their tents among them, under the guidance of Moses, under the sure protection of the Most High. Whilst thus they reposed, previous to crossing the stream, which now alone separated them from their inheritance, the singular occurrence takes place which is the subject of three chapters of this book.
Their rapid progress, and the total destruction with which they had visited the Amorites, strikes terror into the surrounding nations. The king of Moab, therefore, perceiving that human arms prevailed so little, against the singular people, who had thus suddenly "covered the face of the earth," determines to have recourse to those which are supernatural. For this purpose he sends to Balaam, a celebrated prophet of the neighbouring, and subject country of Midian. The reputation of this man was so great that the king does not hesitate to say, "I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed." With respect to the circumstances which follow it is only necessary at present to observe, that, whatever the private feelings of the prophet may have been, whilst engaged in performing the duty to which he was summoned, his curses are converted into blessings by the over-ruling providence of God. He not only prophecies concerning the future prosperity and glory of the chosen people,
but even speaks, "under the influence of the spirit," of the "star which should come out of Jacob, and the sceptre which should rise out of Israel," the great and glorious Messiah, the seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed; and of that "kingdom and dominion which should be given to the people of the saints of the Most High '." So clear, so sublime is this prophecy, scarcely exceeded by any uttered even by Moses himself, that it forcibly attracts our attention, and we are compelled to inquire more minutely into the particulars respecting it.
Removed as we are from the immediate experience of prophetic and miraculous powers, debarred from witnessing the visible signs and manifestations so often vouchsafed to former ages, we find some difficulty in understanding the system, as well as the principles upon which these divine influences were bestowed. We are easily led to imagine that, when
1 Dan. vii. 17.
the Almighty conferred privileges so exalted-when he opened the eyes to behold the secret things of futurity, or gave authority to arrest and to control the usual laws of nature-there must have existed, in the persons thus highly favoured, some peculiar qualities, something, if we may be permitted to use such an expression, to justify so wonderful and conspicuous a mark of distinction. In other words, we are disposed to believe that such persons would be men of holy and blameless lives; that, before they were gifted with the extraordinary--they would possess in a high degree the ordinary graces of the Spirit. And we know that in general it was so, especially in the case of those who were commissioned to teach the way, and to proclaim the will of Jehovah, to transmit his precepts and commandments to posterity. Many and illustrious are the examples presented to our notice; and the apostle Peter distinctly tells us, that "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost'.
1 2 Peter i. 21.
But the gift of prophecy, and the power of working miracles, appear, by no means and at no time, to have belonged exclusively to God's peculiar people: still less, to have been limited to those among them who were his worshippers in spirit and in truth.
Prophecy may be divided into three distinct periods, the patriarchal, the legal, and the evangelical; and under each of these dispensations it admitted of several degrees. It denoted the peculiar influence which excited men to set forth, the praises of the Most High; which enabled them to preach and to explain the word of God. That it is has been so understood during the evangelical dispensation, we may learn from the distinction drawn by St. Paul, between speaking with tongues and prophesying; where he says, that spiritual gifts are indeed to be desired, but prophecy much rather; for "he that prophesieth, speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort 1." We have also a remarkable 1 1 Cor. xiv. 1-3.