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Lecture VIII: Kadesh and Pisgah (part 1)
by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, D.D. The close of the history of the Wanderings bears on its face the marks of confusion and omission. Two stages alone of the journey are distinctly visible, from Sinai and Kadesh, and from Kadesh to Moab. I. I have elsewhere pointed out the profound ob- scurity in which the Mosaic narrative has wrapt the first of these two periods. Not merely are the names of nearly all the encampments still lost in uncertainty, but the narrative itself draws the mind of the reader in different directions; and the variations, in some instances as it would seem, of the text itself, repel detailed inquiry still more positively. To this outward confusion corresponds the inward and spiritual aspect of the history. It is the period of reaction, and contradiction, and failure. It is chosen by S. Paul as the likeness of the corresponding fail- ure of the first efforts of the primitive Christian Church; — the one "type" of the Jewish History ex- pressly mentioned by the writers of the New Testa- ment. It left hardly any permanent trace on the history of the people, and, therefore, according to the plan laid down in these Lectures, may be passed with the same rapidity with which it is passed by the Sacred Record itself. Some few institutions, or frag- ments, however, of institutions, come down to the Jewish, and even into the Christian Church, from that time; and some few salient points emerge full of eternal significance. The brazen plates which covered the ancient wooden altar, and which were perpetuated in "the brazen altar" of Solomon's temple, were traced back to the relics of the censers of brass which had belonged to the chefs of the great con- spiracy of the tribes of Levi and Reuben against the rule of the two prophet-brothers of the family of Aaron. Never again did Levi make the at- tempt to gain the possession of the priest- hood; nor Reuben to seize the reins of government. The two tribes afterwards became entirely parted asunder in their characters and fortunes: the one was incorporated into the innermost circle of the settled civilization of Palestine; the other hovered on the very outskirts of the Holy Land and chosen people, and dwindled away into a Bedouin tribe. But the story of Korah belongs to a time when they, with Simeon, still breathed the same fierce and uncontrol- lable spirit of their Arabian ancestry; when Levi was still fresh from the great crisis of Sinai, by which their tribe had been consecrated and divided from the rest; when the recollection of the birthright of Reuben still lingered in the minds of his descendants. In the desert they marched side by side; and their joint conspiracy naturally grew out of their joint neighborhood. It was the last expiring effort of the old traditions of the Beni-Israel against the constitu- tion of the new order of things, which every gener- ation would more firmly establish. "Thou leddest Thy people like sheep by the hand of Moses and Aaron." Another relic of the dark time was one which re- mained till the time of Hezekiah in the Jew- ish Church, but which, partly in symbol and partly in pretensions to the reality, has prevailed even to our own day in the Christian Church. "The serpent of brass that Moses had made" was long cherished as the sacred image in the sanctuaries of Judah and Jerusalem. Incense was offered to it, and a name conferred on it; and, even after its destruc- tion by Hezekiah, the recollection of it was still so endeared to the nation, that from it was drawn one of the most sacred similitudes of the New Testament; and even the Christian Church claimed for centuries to have preserved its very form intact in the church of S. Ambrose, at Milan. The snakes against which the brazen serpent was originally raised as a protec- tion, were peculiar to the eastern portion of the Sinaitic desert. There, and nowhere else, and in no other moment of their history, could this symbol have originated. Amidst the general obscurity and doubts of this period of wanderings, one spot emerges, if not into certainty, at least into unmistakable prominence. It is in this stage of the history, almost what Sinai was in the first. "He brought them to Mount Sinai and to Kadesh Barnea." It is the only place dignified by the name of a "city." Its very name implies its sanctity, — "the Holy Place;" as if like Mount Sinai itself, it had a sacredness of its own before the host of Israel encamped within its precincts: possibly from the old oracular spring of judgment described in the earliest times of the Canaanitish his- tory. The encampment there is distinct in character from any other in the wilderness, except the stay at Sinai. Once, if not twice, "they abode there many days." Situated as it was within the Edomite terri- tory, its close connection with Israel invested with a kind of Sinaitic glory the whole range of the Idu- mean mountains. "O Jehovah, when Thou wentest out of Seir, when Thou marchedst out of Edom." "God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran." "Jehovah came from Sinai and rose up from Mount Seir unto them: He shined forth from Mount Paran, and He came with the ten thou- sands of Kadesh." On what precise spot amongst the rocks of Edom this "Holy Place" was enshrined, is a question even more uncertain than that which regards the exact lo- cality of Sinai. But nothing has yet been discovered to shake the substantial truth of the Jewish, Mussulman, and Christian traditions, which have fixed it in the neighborhood of the city afterwards known by the name of the "Cliff," or "Rock." That huge sandstone "cliff," through which the most romantic of ravines admits the stream of living water to fertilize the ba- sin of Petra, and which, doubtless, was the origin of the later Hebrew and Greek title of the city, still bears the name of Moses; and in its rent the Arabian tribes still believe that they see the mark of his won- der-working staff. It is this scene of the giving of water to the angry Isaelites and "their beasts" ("The Thirst" of Murillo's famous picture), on which our attenton is chiefly fixed, and which is identified either with the new name, or the new turn given the old name of the place, "Meribah Kadesh," "Strife and Sanctity." But there are two other events which more distinctly mark the stage of the history at which we have arrived. In Kadesh passed away the eldest born of the ruling family of Israel. "Miriam died there and was buried there," in one of the rock-hewn tombs which perforate the whole range of the hills surround- ing Petra; it may be, in that secluded spot still known by its sacred name of the "Convent," still scaled by the long ascent cut out of the rock for the approach of pilgrims in ages beyond the reach of history. The mourning for her death, according to Josephus, lasted for thirty days, and was terminated by the ceremony which remained to the last days of the Commonwealth, the sacrifice, as if in special allusion to the departed Prophetess, of the red heifer. Close in the neighbor- hood of Kadesh passed away the second of the family. On the summit of Mount Hor, immediately facing that other sanctuary of which we just now spoke, has, for at least two thousand years, been shown the grave of Aaron. From that craggy top he — like his younger brother, forbidden to enter the Promised Land — surveyed, though in a far more dis- tant view, the outskirts of Palestine. He surveyed, too, in its fullest extent, the dreary mountains, barren platform , and cheerless valley, of the desert through which they had passed. It was a Pisgah, not of pros- pect, but of retrospect: it was, if we may venture so far to draw out its meaning, the appropriate end of the chief representative of the sacerdotal order of his nation, clinging to the past, looking back to Egypt, with no encouraging word for the future; — the oppo- site of that wide and varied vista which opened be- fore the first of the Prophets. The succession of the Priesthood, that link of continuity between the past and present, now first introduced into the Jewish Church, and amidst all changes of form never entirely lost in the Christian church, — was continued to his son Eleazar. It was made through that singular usage, preserved even to the latest days of the Jewish hie- rarchy, by the transference of the vestments and dra- pery of the dead High Priest to the living successor. "Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them upon Eleazar his son, and Aaron died there in the top of the mount; and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount, and when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel." In this, their first great national sorrow, they parted from Kadesh, from Mount Hor, and from the inhospitable race of their kindred tribe of Esau; under the now undivided sway of the youngest, the greatest, and only remain- ing child of the family of Amram. Even had he borne his share in the gloom of this period. In the incident of the calling forth of the water from the cliff of Kadesh, occurs the expression of distrust on the part not only of Aaron but of Moses. It is but a single blot in the career of the Prophet, and it is but slightly touched by the Sacred narrative. Still it was thought sufficiently im- portant for Josephus, after this manner, to suppress all mention of it; and it just reveals that shade of weak- ness in the character of Moses, which adds so much to its general strength. He doubted, and his doubt is not concealed. He doubted once in a moment of gloom and irritation; but he did not, therefore, doubt everything and al- ways: and he is not less revered as chief Prophet of the Jewish Church. It is to this side of his char- acter that, in the Koran, is attached the remarkable story intended to repress his murmurs against the in- scrutable ways of Providence, which tells how he met, by the shores of the Red Sea, the mysterious visitant from the other world, El Khudr, "The Green, or Immortal One, One of the servants of God." And Moses said unto him, "Shall I follow thee, that thou mayest teach me part of that which thou hast been taught for a direction unto me?" He answered, "Verily thou canst not bear with me; for how canst thou patiently suffer those things the knowledge whereof thou dost not comprehend?" Moses re- plied, "Thou shalt find me patient if God please; neither will I be disobedient unto thee in anything." He said, "If thou follow me, therefore, ask me not con- cerning anything until I declare the meaning thereof unto thee." They proceed on their journey. The stranger successively makes a hole in a ship on the sea, slays an innocent youth, and rebuilds a tottering wall in a city where they had been unjustly treated. At each transaction Moses asks the reason and is re- buked. At the conclusion the explanation is given. "The vessel belonged to certain poor men, and I was minded to render it unserviceable, because there was a certain King behind them who took every sound ship by force. The youth had he grown up, would have vexed his parents by ingratitude and perverse- ness. The wall belonged to two orphan youths, and under it was hidden a treasure; and their father was a righteous man; and thy Lord was pleased that they should attain their full age, and take forth this treasure by the mercy of thy Lord. And I did not what thou hast seen by my own will, but by God's direction. This is the interpretation of that which thou couldst not hear with patience." II. From this point, the geography and the history at once begin to clear up. We trace the course of the host with the utmost distinctness down the Arabah to the Gulf of Elath. At the head of the gulf — to be no more revisited by Israelitish wanderers, till it became the exit of Solomon's com- merce — they turned the southern corner of the Idu- mean range by the Wady Ithm, and then skirting the eastern frontier of Edom, finally crossed into what became their home for many months, perhaps years, — the vast range of forest and pasture on the east of the Jordan. It was a marked epoch in their journeyings — al- most an anticipation of the passage of the Jordan itself — when, after having crossed the watercourse or torrent, shaded or overgrown by wil- lows, that formed the first boundary of the desert, they passed the stream of Arnon, — the first that they had seen since the Nile, — which, flowing through its deep defile of sandstone rocks, parts the cultivated land of Moab from the wild mountains of Edom. Two fragments of ancient song remain, cele- brating with triumphant strains these two memorable fords, — "Now rise up, And get you over the watercourse of Zered." And again, in still more emphatic language, — "What he did in the flags by the river side, And the torrents of Arnon, And at the pouring forth of the brooks That goeth down to the dwellings of Ar And lieth on the border of Moab." Their first halt brings before us a scene, such as had before, doubtless, marked their encamp- ments in the desert, but now with indica- tion that they were approaching the cultivated land. It was no longer by the natural springs, as of Elim or Marah, nor by the living stream gushing out of the rock, as at Horeb and Kadesh, that they rested. Here, as on the southern frontier of Palestine, Beer- sheba, and Beer-lahai-roi, we find "the well," the deep cavity sunk in the earth by the art of man. Long afterwards the spot was known, from this the first visit, as Beer-elim, "the well of the heroes." Rab- binical tradition represented it as the last appearance of the spring or well of Miriam, that had followed them through their wanderings, and had bubbled up once more before it finally plunged into the Lake of Gennesareth. But the original account of it is more touching even than this picturesque legend, — "That is the well whereof the Lord said unto Mo- ses — "Gather the people together, I will give them water." The nation long preserved the song addressed, as if with a passionate invocation, to the water which lay hid in this well, by those who came to draw from it. "Spring up, O well! sing ye unto it! The well which the princes digged, The nobles of the people digged it With the sceptre of the Lawgiver, With the 'staves of their tribes.' " It was the expression of the thankful feeling that in that simple but precious gift of water all had borne their part from the least to the greatest: that it was no ordinary tool, no staff of divination, but the rod of their great leader Moses, the sceptres of the chiefs of the tribes that had wrought this homely work, and left the refreshing boon to posterity. There are many who hail this clear, undoubted burst of primitive Hebrew poetry, out of the disjointed structure of the Sacred History, almost as gratefully as the event which it commemorates was hailed by the Israelites them- selves. From their entry into the territory of Moab the history presents itself under two distinct as- pects. The first is that of the earliest stage of the conquest of Palestine. The second is that of the last days of Moses. The first of these will be most conveniently considered in detail in the next Lecture. But the general results of this conquest in- troduce a scene in the history which can only be con- sidered in this place, because it suddenly gives us, before we finally take farewell of the great Prophet of Israel, a glimpse of another Prophet, who for a mo- ment fills our whole view, and who, though he leaves no enduring mark on the history of the Jewish Church, has occupied so large a place in Christian theology as to rank amongst the most interesting characters of the Old Dispensation. A unity of place links together the Two Prophets, else so wide apart; and, as if with a consciousness of this, the shadow of the great mountain, where the two scenes which connect them were enacted, is thrown before at the very beginning of this portion of the narrative. "They came from Nahali-el to Bamoth, 'the high places,' and from Bamoth to the 'ravine' that is in the field of Moab, to the top of 'Pisgah which looketh toward Jeshimon, the waste.' " 1. It is one of the striking proofs of the Divine uni- versality of the Old Testament, that the veil is from time to time drawn aside, and other charac- ters than those which belonged to the Chosen People appear in the distance, fraught with an instruction which even transcends the limits of the Jewish Church, and not only in the place, but in the time, far outruns the teaching of any peculiar age or nation. Such is the discussion of the profoundest questions of religious philosophy in the book of the Gentile Job. Such is the appearance of the Gentile Prophet Balaam. He is one of those characters of whom, whilst so little is told that we seem to know nothing of him, yet, what- ever that little is, raises him at once to the highest pitch of interest. His home is beyond the Euphrates, amongst the mountains where the vast streams of Mesopotamia have their rise. But his fame is known across the Assyrian desert, through the Ara- bian tribes, down to the very shores of the Dead Sea. He ranks as a warrior chief (by that combination of soldier and prophet, already seen in Moses himself) with the five kings of Midian. He is regarded throughout the whole of the East as a Prophet , whose blessing or whose curse was irresistible, the rival, the possible conqueror of Moses. In his career is seen that recognition of Divine Inspiration outside the Chosen People, which the narrowness of modern times has been so eager to deny, but which the Scriptures are al- ways ready to acknowledge, and, by acknowledging, admit within the pale of the teachers of the Universal Church, the higher spirits of every age and of every nation. His character, Oriental and primeval though it be, is delineated with the fineness of touch which has ren- dered it the storehouse of theologians and mor- alists in the most recent ages of the Church. Three great divines have from different points of view drawn out, without exhausting, the subtle phases of his greatness and of his fall. The self-deception which persuades him in every case that the sin which he com- mits may be brought within the rules of conscience and revelation; the dark shade cast over a noble course by standing always on the ladder of advance- ment, and by the suspense of a worldly ambition never satisfied; the combination of the purest form of re- ligious belief with a standard of action immeasurably below it; these have given to the story of Balaam, the son of Beor, a hold over the last hundred years, which it never can have had over any period of the human mind less critical or less refined. One feels a kind of awe in the gradual preparation, with which he is brought before us, as if in the fore- boding of some great catastrophe. The King of the civilized Moabites unites with the Elders, or Sheiks, of the Bedouin Midianites, to seek for aid against the powerful nation who (to use their own peculiarly pas- toral image) "licked up all that were round about them, as the ox licked up the grass of the field" of Moab. Twice, across the whole length of As- syrian desert, the messengers, with the Oriental bribes of divination in their hands, are sent to conjure forth the mighty seer from his distant home. In the per- mission to go when, once refused, he presses for a favorable answer, which at last comes, though leading him to ruin, we see the peculiar turn of teaching which characterizes the purest of the ancient heathen oracles. It is the exact counterpart of the elevated rebuke of the Oracle at Cumæ to Aristodicus, and of the Oracle of Delphi to Glaucus. Reluctantly, at last he comes. The dreadful apparition on the way, the desperate resistance of the terrified ani- mal, the furious determination of the Prophet to ad- vance, the voice, however explained, which breaks from the dumb creature that has saved his life, all heighten the expectation of he message that he is to deliver. When Balaam and Balak first meet, the short dialogue, preserved not by the Mosaic historian but by the Prophet Micah, at once exhibits the agony of the King and the lofty conceptions of the great seer. "O my people, remember what Ba- lak, king of Moab, consulted, and what Balaam, the son of Beor answered, 'Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?' " So speaks the super- stitious feeling of all times, but, in a peculiar sense, of the royal house of Moab, always ready, in a na- tional crisis, to appease offended Heaven by the sacri- fice of the heir to the throne. The reply is such as reathes the very essence of the prophetic spirit, such as had at that early time hardly expressed itself dis- tinctly even within the Mosaic Revelation itself. "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." If this is, indeed, intended to describe the first meeting of the King and the Seer, it en- hances the pathos of the struggle which con- tinues through each successive interview. Sometimes the one only, sometimes both together, are seen striv- ing to overpower the voice of conscience and of God with the fumes of sacrifice, yet always failing in the attempt, which the Prophet had himself at the outset declared to be vain. The eye follows the Two, as they climb upwards from height to height along the extended range, to the "high places" dedicated to Baal, on the "top of the rocks," — "the bare hill" close above it, — the "cultivated field" of the watchmen (Zophim) on the top of Pisgah, — to the peak where stood "the sanctuary of Peor, that looketh toward the waste." It is at this point that the scene has been caught in the well-known lines of the poet, — "Oh for a sculptors's hand That thou mightst take thy stand, Thy wild hair floating on the eastern breeze, Thy tranced yet open gaze Fix'd on the desert haze, As one who deep in heav'n some airy pageant sees. "In outline dim and vast Their fearful shadows cast, The giant forms of Empire on their way To ruin: one by one They tow'r and they are gone. Yet in the Prophet's soul the dreams of avarice stay." Behind him lay the vast expanse of desert extend- ing to the shores of his native Assyrian river. On his left were the red mountains of Edom and Seir: opposite were the dwelling-places of the Kenite, in the rocky fastness of Engedi; further still was the dim outline of the Arabian wilderness, where ruled the then powerful tribe of Amalek; immediately be- low him lay the vast encampment of Israel, amongst the acacia groves of Abel Shittim, — like the water- courses of the mountains, like the hanging gardens beside his own river Euphrates, with their aromatic shrubs, and their wide-spreading cedars. Beyond them, on the western side of Jordan, rose the hills of Palestine, with glimpses through their valleys of ancient cities towering on their crested heights. And beyond all, though he could not see it with his bodily vision, he knew well that there rolled the deep waters of the great sea, with the Isles of Greece, the Isle of Chittim, — a world of which the first beginnings of life were just stirring, of which the very name here first breaks upon our ears. These are the points indicated in the view which lay before the Prophet as he stood on the Watchers' Field, on the top of Pisgah. What was the vision which unrolled itself as he heard the words of God, as he saw the vision of the Almighty, "falling" pros- trate in the prophetic trance, "but having the eyes of his mind and spirit "open"? The outward forms still remained. He still saw the tents below, goodly in their array; he still saw the rocks, and hills, and distant desert: but, as his thought glanced from height to height, and from valley to mountain, the future fortunes of the nations who dwelt there unfolded themselves in dim succession, revolving round and from the same central object. From the midst of that vast encampment he seemed to see streams, as of water flowing to and fro over the valleys, giving life to the dry desert and to the salt sea. He seemed to see a form as of a mighty ion couched amidst the thickets, or on the mountain fastness of Judah, "and none should rouse him up;" or the "wild bull" raging from amidst the archers of Ephraim, trampling down his enemies, piercing them through with the well-known arrows of the tribe. And yet again, in the more distant future, he "saw, but not now," — he "beheld, but not nigh," — as with the intuition of his Chaldæan art, — "a Star," bright as those of the far Eastern sky, "come out of Jacob;" and "a sceptre," like the shepherd's staff that marked the ruler of the tribe, "rise out of Israel:' and then, as he watched the course of the surrounding nations, he saw how, one by one, they would fall, as fall they did, before the conquering sceptre of David, before the steady advance of that Star which then, for the first time, rose out of Beth- lehem. And, as he gazed, the vision became wider and wider still. He saw a time when a new tem- pest would break over all these countries alike, from the remote east, — from Assur, from his own native land of Assyria. "Assur shall carry thee away captive." But at that word burst from his lips: "Alas! who shall live when God doeth this!" For his own nation, too, was to be at last overtaken "For ships shall come from the coast of Chittim," — from the island of Cyprus, which, as the only one visible from the heights of Palestine, was the one familiar link with the western world — "and shall crush Assur, and shall crush Eber, 'the people be- yond the Euphrates,' and he also shall perish for ever." So it came to pass, when the ships of Cyprus, of Greece, of Europe, then just seen in the horizon of human hopes and fears, did at last, under the great Macedonian conqueror, turn the tide of eastern in- vasion backwards; and Asshur and Babylon, Assyria and Chaldæa, and Persia, no less than the wild hordes of the desert, "perished for ever" from the earth. It has often been debated, and no evidence now remains to prove, at what precise time this grandest of all its episodes was introduced into the Mosaic nar- rative. But however this may be determined, the maginificence of the vision remains untouched; and it stands in the Sacred record, the first example of the Prophetic utterances respecting the destinies of the world at large; founded, like all such utterances, on the objects immediately in the range of the vision of the seer, but including within their sweep a vast prospect beyond. Here first the Gentle world, not of the east only but of the West, bursts into view; and here is the first sanction of that wide interest in the various races and empire of mankind, not only as bearing on the fortunes of the Chosen People, but for their own sakes also, which the narrow spirits of the Jewish Church first, and of the Christian Church since, have been so slow to acknowledge. Here, too, is exhibited in its most striking form the irresistible force of the Prophetic impulse overpowering the baser spirit of the individual man. The spectacle of the host of Israel, even though seen only from its utmost skirts, is too much for him. The Divine message struggling within him, is delivered in spite of his own sordid resistance. Many has been the Balaam whom the force of truth or goodness from without, or the force of genius or conscience from within, has com- pelled to bless the enemies whom he was hired to curse. "Like the seer of old, Who stood on Zophim, heav'n-controll'd." "And Balaam rose up and went and returned to his own place." The Sacred historian, as if touched with a feeling of the greatness of the Prophet's mis- sion, drops the veil over its dark close. Only by the incidental notice of the subsequent part of the narra- tive, are we told how Balaam endeavored to effect by the licentious rites of the Arab tribes, the ruin which he had been unable to work by his own curses; and how, in the war of vengeance which followed, he met with his mournful end.