Numbers 22:28
And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said to Balaam, What have I done to you, that you have smitten me these three times?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(28) And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass.—Many critics, who admit the miraculous character of the events recorded in this and the following verses, maintain the subjective character of some of the incidents, and they adduce arguments to show that, whilst the same results might have been brought about in either manner, it is more in accordance with the general analogy of Scripture to assign a subjective than an objective interpretation to the language which is here employed. The following remarks may be made in regard to this interpretation:—(1) Consistency requires that the whole of the narrative should be interpreted either objectively or subjectively; and hence, that if the voice of the ass be interpreted as a subjective impression made upon the mind of Balaam, the appearance of the angel must be understood in the same manner. In this case, however, a difficulty arises which is as great, or greater, than that which the subjective theory is thought to remove. If the appearance of the angel to Balaam was subjective, the appearance must have been subjective also to the ass. In this case, moreover, it may be fairly alleged that if the line which divides the intelligent from the brute creation is transgressed by ascribing articulate speech to the ass, much more is that line transgressed by the supposition that an impression was produced in a subjective manner upon the mind of the ass. But (2) the real question at issue is not whether the recorded results might have been accomplished on the supposition that the incidents are to be explained subjectively, but what is the interpretation which the narrative itself suggests, and which the words of St. Peter (2Peter 2:16) require? In regard to the narrative itself, there is no intimation given that its respective portions are to be differently interpreted; nor is it possible, without doing violence to its obvious meaning, to interpret some parts of it objectively and other parts subjectively; whilst in regard to the testimony of St. Peter, it would be impossible to conceive of a statement couched in terms more directly suggestive of a literal fact than the following—“The dumb ass, speaking with man’s voice, forbad the madness of the prophet.” In regard to the objections which have been raised to the literal interpretation, grounded on the absence of any expression of surprise on the part of Balaam, and of any allusion to the effect produced upon the Moabitish princes and Balaam’s servants, it will suffice to observe (1) that here, as elsewhere, no just inference can be drawn from the silence of Scripture; and (2) that, as in the case of those who were with St. Paul as he went to Damascus, we have no means of determining, on the assumption of the presence of witnesses throughout the miraculous occurrences described, what amount of those occurrences they may have seen and heard. The angel was visible, in the first instance, only to the ass. In like manner the angel may have been visible only to Balaam, not to those who were with him. So also in regard to the voice: it may have been audible only to him to whom it was addressed.

Numbers 22:28-29. Opened the mouth — Conferred upon her the power of speech and reasoning for that time. Balaam said — Balaam was not much terrified with the ass’s speaking, because perhaps he was accustomed to converse with evil spirits, who appeared to him and discoursed with him in the shape of different creatures. Or, perhaps, he was so blinded by passion that he did not consider the strangeness of the thing.22:22-35 We must not think, that because God does not always by his providence restrain men from sin, therefore he approves of it, or that it is not hateful to him. The holy angels oppose sin, and perhaps are employed in preventing it more than we are aware. This angel was an adversary to Balaam, because Balaam counted him his adversary; those are really our best friends, and we ought so to reckon them, who stop our progress in sinful ways. Balaam has notice of God's displeasure by the ass. It is common for those whose hearts are fully set in them to do evil, to push on violently, through the difficulties Providence lays in their way. The Lord opened the mouth of the ass. This was a great miracle wrought by the power of God. He who made man speak, could, when he pleased, make the ass to speak with man's voice. The ass complained of Balaam's cruelty. The righteous God does not allow the meanest or weakest to be abused; but they shall be able to speak in their own defence, or he will some way or other speak for them. Balaam at length has his eyes opened. God has many ways to bring down the hard and unhumbled heart. When our eyes are opened, we shall see the danger of sinful ways, and how much it was for our advantage to be crossed. Balaam seemed to relent; I have sinned; but it does not appear that he was sensible of this wickedness of his heart, or willing to own it. If he finds he cannot go forward, he will be content, since there is no remedy, to go back. Thus many leave their sins, only because their sins have left them. The angel declared that he should not only be unable to curse Israel, but should be forced to bless them: this would be more for the glory of God, and to his own confusion, than if he had turned back.And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass - The account was perhaps given by Balaam to the Israelites after his capture in the war against Midian. Compare Numbers 31:8. That which is here recorded was apparently perceived by him alone among human witnesses. God may have brought it about that sounds uttered by the creature after its kind became to the prophet's intelligence as though it addressed him in rational speech. Indeed to an augur, priding himself on his skill in interpreting the cries and movements of animals, no more startling warning could be given than one so real as this, yet conveyed through the medium of his own art. 28. the Lord opened the mouth of the ass—to utter, like a parrot, articulate sounds, without understanding them. That this was a visionary scene is a notion which seems inadmissible, because of the improbability of a vision being described as an actual occurrence in the middle of a plain history. Besides, the opening of the ass's mouth must have been an external act, and that, with the manifest tenor of Peter's language, strongly favors the literal view [2Pe 2:15, 16]. The absence of any surprise at such a phenomenon on the part of Balaam may be accounted for by his mind being wholly engrossed with the prospect of gain, which produced "the madness of the prophet" [2Pe 2:16]. "It was a miracle, wrought to humble his proud heart, which had to be first subjected in the school of an ass before he was brought to attend to the voice of God speaking by the angel" [Calvin]. i.e.

The Lord conferred upon the ass the power of speech and reasoning for that time. Impudent are those heathens that disbelieve and scoff at the Scripture for this and some such relations contained in it, when there are examples of the same kind of prodigies, to wit, of oxen and other brute creatures speaking some few words, in the greatest and most approved writers of the Roman history as Plutarch, Polybius, Livy, an others. See the particulars in my Latin Synopsis on this place. Not included And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam,.... This was a very extraordinary and miraculous affair, and effected by a supernatural power, that a dumb creature, which had not organs endued with speech, should speak so plainly and distinctly, as is after expressed; and yet it should not be thought incredible, for what is it that Omnipotence cannot do? wherefore there is no need to say, as some Jewish writers (i), that this was all done in a visionary way, and not really and literally performed; nor can Heathens well object to the verity of it, if they believe what they themselves report concerning one of the asses which carried Bacchus over a river, to which, for reward, he gave the power of speaking with an human voice (k); though it is very probable the fable was framed from this story, and frequently do their writers speak of other brute creatures endued with speech; so Homer (l) represents Xanthus, the horse of Achilles, having the faculty of speech given it by Juno: Pliny says (m), it is commonly reported among the wonderful things of the ancients, that an ox spoke; and Livy (n) frequently makes mention of an ox spoke speaking in divers places, and of one particularly that said,"Rome, take heed to thyself;''not to take notice of a lamb in Egypt in the times of Bocchoris that spoke, related by Aelianus (o) and others; nor of the ram of Phrixus, or the dog at Ariminum, and the elephant of Porus in India, with others Bochart (p) has collected together: the words spoken by the ass were as follow:

what have l done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times? and just so many times she had been smitten by him, Numbers 22:23.

(i) Maimon. Moreh Nevochim, par. 2. c. 42. Ben Gersom in loc. (k) Hygin. Poet. Astronomic. l. 2. c. 23. "Lactant, de falsa Relig". l. 1. c. 21. (l) Iliad. 19. "prope finem". (m) Nat. Hist. l. 8. c. 45. (n) Hist. l. 24. c. 10. l. 27. c. 11. l. 28. c. 11. and l. 35. c. 21. (o) De Animal. l. 12. c. 3.((p) Hierozoic. par. 1. l. 2. c. 14. col. 197, 198.

And the LORD {m} opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?

(m) Gave her power to speak.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
28. The miracle here recorded finds no parallel in the O.T. except that of the serpent who spoke to Eve (Genesis 3:1; Genesis 3:4 f.). But similar instances are to be found in the folklore of many nations (see Gray, p. 334). The speaking ass is to be considered not as a fable—in the sense in which the word is applied, for example, to Aesop’s Fables—but as a detail of a fabulous nature which attached itself, during the course of Israel’s early traditions, to a narrative which may have had a historical basis. With the modern knowledge, to which God has led us, of the gradual nature of His self-revelation to Israel, and of the many different stages of literary development which are represented in the O.T., we are not under the necessity either of believing that the ass actually spoke, or of explaining away the miracle in some rationalising manner, e.g. by supposing that Balaam had a vision. The permanent spiritual value of the story lies in its representation of the strivings of conscience.Verse 28. - And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass. On the face of it this expression would seem decisive that an audible human voice proceeded from the ass's mouth, as St. Peter beyond doubt believed: ὑποζύγιον ἀφωνον ἐν ἀνθρώτου φωνῇ φθεγξάμενον. It is truly said, however, that a passing illusion of this kind, while it testifies that the Apostle understood the words, like all his contemporaries, in their most natural and simple sense, does not oblige us to hold the same view; if he was mistaken in this matter, it does not at all affect the inspired truth of his teaching. Two theories, therefore, have been proposed in order to avoid the difficulties of the ordinary belief, while vindicating the reality of the occurrence. It has been held by some that the whole affair took place in a trance, and resembled St. Peter's vision of the sheet let down from heaven (Acts 10:10), which we rightly conceive to have been purely subjective. This is open to the obvious and apparently fatal objection that no hint is given of any state of trance or ecstasy, and that, on the contrary, the wording of the narrative as given to us is inconsistent with such a thing. In verse 31 Balaam's eyes are said to have been opened so that he saw the angel; but to have the eyes open so that the (ordinarily) invisible became visible, and the (otherwise) inaudible became audible, was precisely the condition of which Balaam speaks (Numbers 24:3, 4) as that of trance. According to the narrative, therefore, Balaam was in an ecstasy, if at all, after the speaking of the ass, and not before. By others it has been put forward, somewhat confusedly, that although Balaam was in his ordinary senses, he did not really hear a human voice, but that the "cries" of the ass became intelligible to his mind; and it is noted that as an augur he had been accustomed to assign meanings to the cries of animals. If instead of "cries" we read "brayings," for the ass is endowed by nature with no other capacity of voice, being indeed one of the dumbest of "dumb" animals, we have the matter more fairly before us. To most people it would appear more incredible that the brayings of an ass should convey these rational questions to the mind of its rider than that the beast should have spoken outright with a man's voice. It would indeed seem much more satisfactory to regard the story, if we cannot accept it as literally true, as a parable which Balaam wrote against himself, and which Moses simply incorporated in the narrative; we should at least preserve in this way the immense moral and spiritual value of the story, without the necessity of placing non-natural constructions upon its simple statements. Supposing the miracle to have really occurred, it must always be observed that the words put into the ass's mouth do nothing more than express such feeling's as a docile and intelligent animal of her kind would have actually felt. That domestic animals, and especially such as have been long in the service of man, feel surprise, indignation, and grief in the presence of injustice and ill-treatment is abundantly certain. In many well-authenticated cases they have done things in order to express these feelings which seemed as much beyond their "irrational" nature as if they had spoken. We constantly say of a dog or a horse that he can do everything but speak, and why should it seem incredible that God, who has given the dumb beast so close an approximation to human feeling and reason, should for once have given it human voice? With respect to Balaam's companions, their presence need not cause any difficulty. The princes of Midian and Moab had probably gone on to announce the coming of Beldam; his servants would naturally follow him at some little distance, unless he summoned them to his side. It is very likely too that Balaam was wont to carry on conversations with himself, or with imaginary beings, as he rode along, and this circumstance would account for any sound of voices which reached the ears of others. Balaam's Speaking Ass. - Numbers 22:22. "And the anger of God burned, that he was going (הוּא הולך): and the angel of Jehovah placed himself in the way, as an adversary to him." From the use of the participle הולך instead of the imperfect, with which it is not interchangeable, it is evident, on the one hand, that the anger of God was not excited by the fact that Balaam went with the elders of Moab, but by his behaviour wither on setting out or upon the journey;

(Note: From a failure to observe the use of the participle in distinction from the preterite, and from a misinterpretation of the words of the angel of the Lord (Numbers 22:32), "I have come out as an adversary, for the way leads headlong to destruction," which have been understood as implying that the angel meant to prohibit the seer from going, whereas he only intended to warn him of the destruction towards which he was going, the critics have invented a contradiction between the account of the speaking ass (Numbers 22:22-35) and the preceding part of the history. And in consequence of this, A. G. Hoffmann and others have pronounced the section from Numbers 22:22 to Numbers 22:35 to be a later interpolation; whilst Baur, on the other hand (in his Geschichte d. alttestl. Weissagung), regards the account of the ass as the original form of the narrative, and the preceding portion as a composition of the Jehovist. But there is no "contradiction" or "evident incongruity," unless we suppose that the only reason for the appearance of the angel of the Lord was, that he might once more forbid the seer to go, and then give him permission, with a certain limitation. The other difference, which E. v. Ortenberg adduces, are involved in the very nature of the case. The manifestation of God, in the form of the Angel of Jehovah, was necessarily different in its character from a direct spiritual revelation of the divine will. And lastly, the difference in the expressions used to signify "three times," in Numbers 22:28, Numbers 22:32-33, and Numbers 24:10, etc., prove nothing more than that king Balak did not mould his style of speaking according to that of the ass.)

and, on the other hand, that the occurrence which followed did not take place at the commencement, but rather towards the close of, the journey. As it was a longing for wages and honour that had induced the soothsayer to undertake the journey, the nearer he came to his destination, under the guidance of the distinguished Moabitish ambassadors, the more was his mind occupied with the honours and riches in prospect; and so completely did they take possession of his heart, that he was in danger of casting to the winds the condition which had been imposed upon him by God. The wrath of God was kindled against this dangerous enemy of his soul; and as he was riding upon his ass with two attendants, the angel of the Lord stood in his way לו לשׂטן, "as an adversary to him," i.e., to restrain him from advancing farther on a road that would inevitably lead him headlong into destruction (cf. Numbers 22:32). This visible manifestation of God was seen by the ass; but Balaam the seer was so blinded, that it was entirely hidden from his eye, darkened as it was by sinful lust; and this happened three times before Jehovah brought him to his senses by the speaking of the dumb animal, and thus opened his eyes.

(Note: "To the great disgrace of the prophet, the glory of the angel was first of all apparent to the ass... He had been boasting before this of extraordinary visions, and now what was visible to the eyes of a beast was invisible to him. Whence came this blindness, but from the avarice by which he had been so stupefied, that he preferred filthy lucre to the holy calling of God?" (Calvin.))

The "drawn sword" in the angel's hand was a manifestation of the wrath of God. The ass turned from the road into the field before the threatening sight, and was smitten by Balaam in consequence to turn her or guide her back into the road.

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