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Numb, xxiii. 9. "Lo I the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations"
Known unto God, are all his works from the beginning of the world. It is his distinguishing characteristic, that he calls things that are not, as though they were. The challenge by which the idolatry of the heathen is put to shame, is grounded upon this high prerogative of the true God. Thus saith the Holy One of Israel, "Let them bring forth and shew us what shall happen. Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods. Who hath declared from the beginning that we may know? Yea, there is none that sheweth, yea, there is none that declareth. To whom will ye liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like? Remember this, and shew yourselves men; bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors. Remember the things of old, for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me: declaring the end from the beginning, and, from ancient times, the things that are not yet done; saying, my counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure."*
Our present object is to examine, in the faith and fear of God, the meaning of what the Holy Ghost has spoken concerning the Jewish nation, by the mouth of the holy prophets. It is not, therefore, to the fancies of a poet that your attention is solicited: it is not to the equivocal evasions of a heathen oracle: it is not to the guessings of a vissionary enthusiast; nor to the cunningly-devised fables of an ingenious priesthood. No, it is to the true sayings of the living and the true God. It is to the instructive providence and revealed purposes of Him, whose will is law, whose power is absolute; of Him, the great First Cause, in whom you live, and move, and have your being; by whom kings reign, and princes decree justice; by whom nations rise and fall; by whom our own nation has been raised, and blessed, and made a blessing ; by whom the Jewish nation was established, is dispersed, and (we believe) shall be restored again. The Lord God hath spoken—this is our * See Isaiah xl. to xlvi. inclusive.
sure wan*ant. To ascertain the right meaning of his words—this is our proper business.
The progress of events, by giving fulfilment to many of the predictions of the prophets, has borne testimony, in a way that cannot be resisted, to the true meaning of the figurative language of prophecy. History is but another name for the providence of God: and so far as it can be shewn to have been the subject of prophecy, its faithful record should be distinctly and carefully compared with the terms of the prediction. Because the best possible method of soberly anticipating events, from the language of those prophecies which are still unfulfilled, is to observe the connexion between the language and the event in those which have already found their fulfilment. It is thus that, in the school of experience, we shall "make the nearest possible approaches to a right distinction between what is actually literal, what is merely figurative, and what is specifically symbolical, in the inspired language; which distinction is acknowledged by all who have attended to the subject, to be the grand desideratum of prophetic interpretation.
It is well observed by Mr. Davidson, in his Discourses on the Structure, Use, and Inspiration of Prophecy, that "the rational exposition of it requires that we attend to the seasons and circumstances under which it was given, and endeavour to take some measure of it by its adaptation to them. For it was never given to be an insulated phenomenon, nor merely to demonstrate the prescience of its all-wise Author; but by him it was engrafted upon the exigencies of times and persons, and made to serve as a light of direction to the attentive observers of it, before the event had set the seal to its truth" This is of great importance. I will add only one more preliminary reflection, taken from the same cautious and correct writer.* He says, "A certain acquaintance with the contents of Scripture must be presumed on the part of my hearers; without which I could not expect the general view proposed to be given, to be admitted as a just and faithful one; nor is it possible, by quotations made on the moment, to supply the materials for an adequate judgment in this case; which materials can be derived only from the knowledge or examination of the chief document itself—the Scripture volume. Nor is this the only instance wherein our satisfaction, and even our means of judging of the truth or use of revelation, are made to depend upon some personal study of it. There is cause to think that scepticism itself is often no more than a form of very unreasonable * See note A, in the Appendix.
enthusiasm, demanding conviction without the pains of inquiry."
The first revealed characteristic, then, of the Jewish people, concerning which I would invite you to search the Scriptures, is their separation from all the surrounding nations of the earth. This is directly stated concerning them in the words of our text, which form a part of the celebrated prophecy of Balaam. That false diviner was invited by the king of Moab to come and curse the Israelites, as they passed through his territories. God commanded Balaam not to go; but he, loving the wages of iniquity, tempted God to give him angry leave to take his own course. He was soon, however, forced to feel and acknowledge that it is God who made, and who controls man's mouth. He could not speak according to his own will, or to the will of his master Balak; but a true prophecy was given to him against his will, and to the disappointment of his covetousness. "He took up his parable and said, Balak, the king of Moab, hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel. How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy whom the Lord hath not defied? For from the top of the rocks I see him,