‘(Balaam said:) “Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!”‘ Numbers 23:10.
Calvin remarked in his Institutes II:10:14: “Why talk of saints and the children of God — when even one who otherwise strove to resist the truth, was not devoid of some similar impression? For what did Balaam mean when he said ‘Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!’ (Numbers 23:20)? Unless he felt convinced of what David afterward declares, ‘Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints!’ (Psalm 116:15)…. If death were the goal and ultimate limit, no distinction could be observed between the righteous and the wicked. The true distinction is the different lot which awaits them, after death!”
Balaam was a false-prophet — or, rather, a true Prophet who had lapsed. Calvin commented on Numbers 23:1-20: “This degenerate Prophet had been by no means wont to prophesy in accordance with pure revelations from God…. Still, this did not prevent him from being sometimes a true Prophet — by the inspiration of God’s Spirit….
“It is wonderful that God should have determined to have anything in common with the pollutions of Balaam…. But as He well knows how to apply corrupt instruments to His use — so by the mouth of this false-prophet!…. He…controls their tongues…. Balaam was compelled…to proclaim the revelation suggested to him by God…. Balaam declares, in the spirit of prophecy, that
he sees far more in the people of God than their distance from him would allow….
“‘Who can count the dust of Jacob?’ Hence it is plain that what Balaam was to say, was suggested to him by God — since he quotes the words of God’s solemn promise… Although that multitude was reduced to a small number by the sin of the people, nevertheless this was not declared in vain — inasmuch as that little body at length expanded itself so as to fill the whole world…. He says that their offspring would be infinite…. ‘I would that I might share with them, their last end!’….
“Balaam confesses himself unworthy to be reckoned among the elect people of God…. In these words, he refers to everlasting felicity — as much as to say that (Israel) would be blessed in death as in life. At the same time, he is a witness to our future immortality….
“He exclaimed that God so persevered in the extension of His paternal favour towards His people, that He did not cease to be gracious to them even in their death. Hence it follows, that the grace of God extends beyond the bounds of this perishing life….
“This declaration contains a remarkable testimony to our future immortality. For although Balaam perhaps did not thoroughly consider what he desired — still, there is no doubt but that he truly professed that he wished it for himself!… As far as [these] his words went, he acted the part of a true Prophet — although his feelings were altogether on the other side.” Reader, may you and I really mean it, when we say: ‘Let me die the death of the righteous!’