Numbers 22:34
And Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I knew not that you stood in the way against me: now therefore, if it displease you, I will get me back again.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Numbers 22:34. I have sinned — He confesses his passion and thoughtlessness in his ill treatment of the ass, and excuses himself for so wilfully persisting in his journey, from his ignorance of the angel’s standing in the way to oppose him; but he makes no confession of his covetousness, which was the dishonest principle that influenced him in all his steps.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.Is perverse - Rather, is headlong. Compare Peter's words 2 Peter 2:16, "the madness of the prophet." 34, 35. I have sinned … if it displease thee, I will get me back again—Notwithstanding this confession, he evinced no spirit of penitence, as he speaks of desisting only from the outward act. The words "go with the men" was a mere withdrawal of further restraint, but the terms in which leave was given are more absolute and peremptory than those in Nu 22:20. A frivolous supposition; for it was apparently displeasing to God, who had now said that his way was perverse, and had therefore opposed him and sought to slay him: but hereby he shows how loth he was to go back and lose the hopes he had conceived; and besides he speaks of desisting from the outward action, but shows no sense of the plague of his heart, his vile affections, which were the root of this ill-designed journey. And Balaam said unto the angel of the Lord, I have sinned,.... That is, in beating the ass; not that he was sensible of his sin of covetousness, and of the evil disposition of his mind, and of his wicked intention in going along with the princes to curse Israel, if possible, and get Balak's presents and preferments:

for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me; signifying, that if he had known it, he should not have smitten the ass, but submitted himself to the will of the angel:

now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again; which he spoke very coldly and faintly, not caring heartily to go back, unless forced to it; for seeing a drawn sword in his hand, he might be afraid of his life should he persist in his journey, and therefore feigns a readiness to go back, quitting it on condition that his going forwards was displeasing; whereas he knew it was, especially his going with an evil mind to hurt Israel if possible.

And Balaam said unto the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
"Then Jehovah opened the mouth of the ass, and she said to Balaam, What have I done to thee, that thou hast smitten me now three times?" But Balaam, enraged at the refractoriness of his ass, replied, "Because thou hast played me ill (התעלּל, see Exodus 10:2): if there were only a sword in my hand, verily I should now have killed thee." But the ass replied, that she had been ridden by him from a long time back, and had never been accustomed to act in this way towards him. These words of the irrational beast, the truth of which Balaam was obliged to admit, made an impression upon him, and awakened him out of his blindness, so that God could now open his eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord.

In this miraculous occurrence, which scoffers at the Bible constantly bring forward as a weapon of attack upon the truth of the word of God, the circumstance that the ass perceived the appearance of the angel of the Lord sooner than Balaam did, does not present the slightest difficulty; for it is a well-known fact, that irrational animals have a much keener instinctive presentiment of many natural phenomena, such as earthquakes, storms, etc., than man has with the five senses of his mind. And the fact is equally undeniable, that many animals, e.g., horses and cows, see the so-called second sight, and are terrified in consequence.

(Note: In support of this we will simply cite the following from the remarks made by Martin upon this subject, and quoted by Hengstenberg in his Balaam (p. 385), from Passavant's work on animal magnetism and clairvoyance: "That horses see it (the second sight), is also evident from their violent and rapid snorting, when their rider has had a vision of any kind either by day or night. And in the case of the horse it may also be observed, that it will refuse to go any farther in the same road until a circuitous course has been taken, and even then it is quite in a sweat.")

The rock of offence in this narrative is to be found in the rational words of an irrational and speechless ass. It is true, that in the actual meaning of the words there is nothing beyond the sensations and feelings to which animals constantly give utterance in gestures and inarticulate sounds, when subjected to cruel treatment. But in this instance the feelings were expressed in the rational words of human language, which an animal does not possess; and hence the question arises. Are we to understand this miracle as being a purely internal fact of an ecstatic nature, or a fact that actually came under the cognizance of the senses? If we examine the arguments which Hengstenberg has adduced in favour of the former, and Kurtz in support of the latter, there is nothing at all in the circumstance, that the narrative itself says nothing about Balaam being in an ecstasy, nor in the statement that "Jehovah opened the mouth of the ass," nor lastly, in the words of 2 Peter 2:16, "The dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, forbade the madness of the prophet," to furnish conclusive, not to say irresistible, proofs of the assertion, that "as the ass was corporeally and externally visible, its speaking must have been externally and corporeally audible" (Kurtz). All that is contained in the two scriptural testimonies is, that the ass spoke in a way that was perceptible to Balaam, and that this speaking was effected by Jehovah as something altogether extraordinary. But whether Balaam heard the words of the animal with the outward, i.e., the bodily ear, or with an inward spiritual ear, is not decided by them. On the other hand, neither the fact that Balaam expressed no astonishment at the ass speaking, nor the circumstance that Balaam's companions - viz., his two servants (Numbers 22:22) and the Moabitish messengers, who were also present, according to Numbers 22:35 - did not see the angel or hear the ass speaking, leads with certainty to the conclusion, that the whole affair must have been a purely internal one, which Balaam alone experienced in a state of ecstasy, since argumenta e silentio confessedly prove but very little. With regard to Balaam, we may say with Augustine (quaest. 50 in Num.), "he was so carried away by his cupidity, that he was not terrified by this marvellous miracle, and replied just as if he had been speaking to a man, when God, although He did not change the nature of the ass into that of a rational being, made it give utterance to whatever He pleased, for the purpose of restraining his madness." But with regard to the Moabitish messengers, it is very doubtful whether they were eye-witnesses and auditors of the affair. It is quite possible that they had gone some distance in advance, or were some distance behind, when Balaam had the vision. On the other hand, there was no necessity to mention particularly that they saw the appearance of the angel, and heard the speaking of the animal, as this circumstance was not of the least importance in connection with the main purpose of the narrative. And still less can it be said that "the ass's speaking, if transferred to the sphere of outward reality, would obviously break through the eternal boundary-line which has been drawn in Genesis 1 between the human and the animal world." The only thing that would have broken through this boundary, would have been for the words of the ass to have surpassed the feelings and sensations of an animal; that is to say, for the ass to have given utterance to truths that were essentially human, and only comprehensible by human reason. Now that was not the case. All that the ass said was quite within the sphere of the psychical life of an animal.

The true explanation lies between the notion that the whole occurrence was purely internal, and consisted exclusively in ecstasy brought by God upon Balaam, and the grossly realistic reduction of the whole affair into the sphere of the senses and the outward material world. The angel who met the soothsayer in the road, as he was riding upon his ass, and who was seen at once by the ass, though he was not seen by Balaam till Jehovah had opened his eyes, did really appear upon the road, in the outward world of the senses. But the form in which he appeared was not a grossly sensuous or material form, like the bodily frame of an ordinary visible being; for in that case Balaam would inevitably have seen him, when his beast became alarmed and restive again and again and refused to go forward, since it is not stated anywhere that God had smitten him with blindness, like the men of Sodom (Genesis 19:11), or the people in 2 Kings 6:18. It rather resembled the appearance of a spirit, which cannot be seen by every one who has healthy bodily eyes, but only by those who have their senses awakened for visions from the spirit-world. Thus, for example, the men who went to Damascus with Paul, saw no one, when the Lord appeared to him in a miraculous light from heaven, and spoke to him, although they also heard the voice (Acts 9:7).

(Note: Or, strictly speaking, they saw the light (Acts 22:9), but saw no man (Acts 9:7); and they heard the sound (τῆς φωνῆς, the voice or noise generally, Acts 9:7), but not the words (τὴν φωνὴν τοῦ λαλοῦντός μοι, the voice or articulate words of the person speaking, Acts 22:9). The construction of ἀκούω, with the genitive in the one case and the accusative in the other, is evidently intended to convey this distinct and distinctive meaning. - Tr.)

Balaam wanted the spiritual sense to discern the angel of the Lord, because his spirit's eye was blinded by his thirst for wealth and honour. This blindness increased to such an extent, with the inward excitement caused by the repeated insubordination of his beast, that he lost all self-control. As the ass had never been so restive before, if he had only been calm and thoughtful himself, he would have looked about to discover the cause of this remarkable change, and would then, no doubt, have discovered the presence of the angel. But as he lost all his thoughtfulness, God was obliged to open the mouth of the dumb and irrational animal, to show a seer by profession his own blindness. "He might have reproved him by the words of the angel; but because the rebuke would not have been sufficiently severe without some deep humiliation, He made the beast his teacher" (Calvin). The ass's speaking was produced by the omnipotence of God; but it is impossible to decide whether the modulation was miraculously communicated to the animal's voice, so that it actually gave utterance to the human words which fell upon Balaam's ears (Kurtz), or whether the cries of the animal were formed into rational discourse in Balaam's soul, by the direct operation of God, so that he alone heard and understood the speech of the animal, whereas the servants who were present heard nothing more than unintelligible cries.

(Note: See the analogous case mentioned in John 12:28-29, of the voice which came to Jesus from the skies, when some of the people who were standing by said that it only thundered, whilst others said an angel spoke to Him.)

In either case Balaam received a deeply humiliating admonition from the mouth of the irrational beast, and that not only to put him to shame, but also to call him to his senses, and render him capable of hearing the voice of God. The seer, who prided himself upon having eyes for divine revelations, was so blind, that he could not discern the appearance of the angel, which even the irrational beast had been able to see.

(Note: God made use of the voice of an ass, both because it was fitting that a brutish mind should be taught by a brute, and also, as Nyssenus says, to instruct and chastise the vanity of the augur (Balaam), who was accustomed to observe the meaning of the braying of the ass and the chirping of birds (C. a. Lap.).)

By this he was taught, that even a beast is more capable of discerning things from the higher world, than a man blinded by sinful desires. It was not till after this humiliation that God opened his eyes, so that he saw the angel of the Lord with a drawn sword standing in his road, and fell upon his face before this fearful sight.

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