2 Peter 2:16
But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet.
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(16) But was rebuked for his iniquity.—Literally, But had a conviction of his own transgressioni.e., was convicted of it, or rebuked for it. His transgression was that, although as a prophet he knew the blessedness of Israel, and although God gave him leave to go only on condition of his blessing Israel, he went still cherishing a hope of being able to curse, and so winning Balak’s promised reward.

The dumb ass.—Literally, a dumb beast of burden. The same word is rendered “ass” in Matthew 21:5, in the phrase “foal of an ass.” In Palestine the ass was the most common beast of burden, horses being rare, so that in most cases “beast of burden” would necessarily mean “ass.”

Forbad the madness.—Strictly, hindered the madness; and thus the trivial discrepancy which some would urge as existing between this passage and Numbers 22 disappears. It has been objected that not the ass but the angel forbad Balaam from proceeding. But it was the ass which hindered the infatuation of Balaam from hurrying him to his own destruction (Numbers 22:33). The word for “madness” is probably chosen for the sake of alliteration with “prophet”—prophétou paraphronian. It is a very rare formation, perhaps coined by the writer himself.

2 Peter 2:16. But was rebuked for his iniquity — In a very extraordinary manner; the dumb ass — On which he rode; speaking with man’s voice — That is, in man’s language; forbade the madness of the prophet — Namely, his endeavour to contradict the will of God, which might well be called madness, because it could have no effect but to bring the curse of God upon himself. “The apostle does not mean that the ass forbade Balaam, in so many words, to go with the princes of Moab; but that her unwillingness to proceed in the journey, her falling down under him rather than go on, her complaint in man’s language of his smiting her three times for not going on, and her saying, Was I ever wont to do so to thee, were things, so extraordinary, especially her speaking, that Balaam, from that miracle at least, ought to have understood that the whole was a rebuke from God of his foolish project.” Though Balaam is termed a soothsayer, (Joshua 13:22,) and is said to have used enchantments, (Numbers 24:1,) Peter justly calls him a prophet, on account of God’s speaking to him, and giving him a very remarkable prophecy, recorded Numbers 24:15. However, being a very bad man, he may often have feigned communications with the Deity to draw money from the multitude. Perhaps the only communications he ever had with God were on this occasion; and they may have been granted to him, that by uttering them in the hearing of Balak, and of the princes of Moab and Midian, the coming of one out of Jacob, who was to have dominion, might be known to the nations of the East.

2:10-16 Impure seducers and their abandoned followers, give themselves up to their own fleshly minds. Refusing to bring every thought to the obedience of Christ, they act against God's righteous precepts. They walk after the flesh, they go on in sinful courses, and increase to greater degrees of impurity and wickedness. They also despise those whom God has set in authority over them, and requires them to honour. Outward temporal good things are the wages sinners expect and promise themselves. And none have more cause to tremble, than those who are bold to gratify their sinful lusts, by presuming on the Divine grace and mercy. Many such there have been, and are, who speak lightly of the restraints of God's law, and deem themselves freed from obligations to obey it. Let Christians stand at a distance from such.But was rebuked for his iniquity - The object of Peter in this seems to be to show that God employed the very extraordinary means of causing the ass on which he rode to speak, because his iniquity was so monstrous. The guilt of thus debasing his high office, and going forth to curse the people of God - a people who had done him no wrong, and given no occasion for his malediction - was so extraordinary, that means as extraordinary were proper to express it. If God employed means so extraordinary to rebuke "his" depravity, it was to be expected that in some appropriate way he would express his sense of the wickedness of those who resembled him.

The dumb ass, speaking with man's voice - Numbers 22:28. God seems to have designed that both Balsam and Balak should be convinced that the children of Israel were his people; and so important was it that this conviction should rest fully on the minds of the rations through whom they passed, that he would not suffer even a pretended prophet to make use of his influence to curse them. He designed that all that influence should be in favor of the cause of truth, thus furnishing a striking instance of the use which he often makes of wicked men. To convince Balaam of the error of his course, and to make him sensible that God was an observer of his conduct, and to induce him to utter only what he should direct, nothing would be better suited than this miracle. The very animal upon which he rode, mute and naturally stupid, was made to utter a reproof; a reproof as directly from heaven as though the stones had cried out beneath his feet, or the trees of the wood had uttered the language of remonstrance. As to the nature of the miracle here referred to, it may be remarked:

(1) that it was as easy for God to perform this miracle as any other; and,

(2) that it was a miracle that would be as likely to be effectual, and to answer the purpose, as any other.

No one can show that it could not have occurred; and the occasion was one in which some decided rebuke, in language beyond that of conscience, was necessary.

Forbade the madness of the prophet - That is, the mad or perverse design of the prophet. The word here rendered "madness" means, properly, being aside from a right mind. It is not found elsewhere in the New Testament. It is used here to denote that Balaam was engaged in an enterprise which indicated a headstrong disposition; an acting contrary to reason and sober sense. He was so under the influence of avarice and ambition that his sober sense was blinded, and he acted like a madman. He knew indeed what was right, and had professed a purpose to do what was right, but he did not allow that to control him; but, for the sake of gain, went against his own sober conviction, and against what he knew to be the will of God. He was so mad or infatuated that he allowed neither reason, nor conscience, nor the will of God, to control him!

16. was rebuked—Greek, "had a rebuke," or conviction; an exposure of his specious wickedness on his being tested (the root verb of the Greek noun means to "convict on testing").

his—Greek, "his own": his own beast convicted him of his own iniquity.

ass—literally, "beast of burden"; the ass was the ordinary animal used in riding in Palestine.

dumb—Greek, "voiceless-speaking in man's voice"; marking the marvellous nature of the miracle.

forbade—literally, "hindered." It was not the words of the ass (for it merely deprecated his beating it), but the miraculous fact of its speaking at all, which withstood Balaam's perversity in desiring to go after God had forbidden him in the first instance. Thus indirectly the ass, and directly the angel, rebuked his worse than asinine obstinacy; the ass turned aside at the sight of the angel, but Balaam, after God had plainly said, Thou shalt not go, persevered in wishing to go for gain; thus the ass, in act, forbade his madness. How awful a contrast—a dumb beast forbidding an inspired prophet!

But was rebuked; not only by the angel’s speaking to him, but by the ass’s, as follows.

The dumb ass speaking with man’s voice, forbade; not in express words, that we read of, but the ass’s speaking with human voice, discerning the angel before Balaam did, and going back, when he, carried out by the power of his covetousness, would needs go forward, were so prodigious things as might sufficiently convince him of his sin, in going to Balak contrary to God’s command at first given; and it was no small dishonour put upon him, that he who would not hearken to God, should have an ass for his teacher.

The madness; in going against God’s command, and to curse those who, God had told him, were blessed.

Objection. Balaam had leave given him to go with Balak’s messengers, Numbers 22:20, and refused Balak’s offers, 2 Peter 2:18.


1. Balaam did not contemn the gifts offered, but had a desire after them, as appears by his inquiring of God the second time, 2 Peter 2:19, though God had fully revealed his will to him before, 2 Peter 2:12.

2. God bade him go that he might bless the people, 2 Peter 2:12, compared with 2 Peter 2:20, whereas he went not out of a respect to God’s answer, but out of a covetous mind, and a desire to curse Israel, as appears by Joshua 24:9,10, and by the cursed counsel he gave, Numbers 25:1, compared with Numbers 31:16, and Revelation 2:14.

Of the prophet: Balaam is called a prophet here, either:

1. Because he pretended to be so: thus the false prophets are sometimes called absolutely prophets, Jeremiah 6:13 26:7,8,11. Or:

2. Because he really was a prophet, though a wicked and covetous one; for he inquired of God, and had answers from him, Numbers 6:22 8:9,10,18,19; and Moses says expressly, that the Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth, Numbers 23:5,16; and that prophecy concerning the Messiah, Numbers 24:17, could not but be of God, yet it is probable that Balaam, out of covetousness, might sometimes use divination, nay, it is plain in some cases he did, Numbers 24:1.

But was rebuked for his iniquity,.... Which was not merely going along with the messengers of Balak, for he had leave from the Lord so to do, Numbers 22:20; but going along with them with a desire to curse Israel, when it was the will of God he should go and bless them, in order to get Balak's money; so that his governing iniquity was covetousness, which led him to other sins; and for this he was rebuked by the angel, Numbers 22:32, as well as reproved by his ass, Numbers 22:28, for

the dumb ass, as it was naturally so, the ass on which he rode,

speaking with man's voice; which was supernatural and miraculous, for it was God that opened the mouth of the ass: the mouth of that ass is said, by the Jews (m), to be one of the ten things created between the two evenings on the sixth day of the creation; that is, as the gloss on it says, concerning which it was decreed, that its mouth should be opened to speak what this ass said; and the occasion of it may be seen in Numbers 22:22. Lactantius (n) observes, that there are two stars in the constellation of Cancer, which the Greeks call the "asses"; and which, the poets feign, are those that carried Liberus over a river, when he could not pass it; to one of which he gave this for a reward, "ut humana voce loqueretur", "that it should speak with man's voice"; a fable, no doubt, hatched from the sacred history, and said in imitation of this ass. Which

forbad the madness of the prophet: and so Balaam, though a diviner and soothsayer, is called by the Jewish writers (o); who, they say, was first a prophet, and then a soothsayer, from whom Jerom (p) seems to have received the tradition; who says, that he was first a holy man, and a prophet of God, and afterwards, through disobedience, and a desire of gifts, was called a diviner; for his eyes were opened, and he saw the vision of the Almighty; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied many things concerning Israel, and the Messiah, and others, Numbers 24:4. His madness lay in going with the messengers of Balak, Numbers 22:21, in order to curse Israel, contrary to the will of God, Numbers 22:12; and it is madness in any to oppose God in his counsels, purposes, providences, and precepts; and every sin, which is an act of hostility against God, has madness in it; and this of Balaam's was forbid by his ass, and he was convinced of it. Very appropriately is mention made of this dumb ass, when the persons here spoken of were as natural brute beasts, and worse than them, 2 Peter 2:12.

(m) Pirke Abot, c. 5. sect. 6. & Jarchi in ib. Sepher Cosri, par. 2. p. 254. (n) De falsa Religione, l. 1. c. 21. (o) Pesikta, Ilmedenu & Gerundensis apud Drus in loc. T. Bab Sanhedrin fol. 106. 1. Aben Ezra in Numbers 32.28. (p) Tradition. Heb. in Genes. fol. 69. D.

But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet.
2 Peter 2:16. ἔλεγξιν δὲ ἔσχεν, a periphrasis for the passive of ἐλέγχω, = “was rebuked”. ἰδίας παρανομίας, emphatic, “his own transgression”. Two interpretations of ἰδίας are possible. (1) The παρανομ. is a characteristic trait in Balaam (Keil. Weiss). (2) As prophet, Belaam was expected to do and teach God’s law. He whose duty it is to rebuke others is himself rebuked for his own transgression” (Hundhausen, Wiesinger). παρανομία = “a particular transgression” as distinct from ἀνομία = “disobedience in general”, παραφρονίαν, “infatuation”. Balaam is proceeding against what he knows to be the Divine will.

16. but was rebuked for his iniquity] Literally, had a rebuke for his transgression of the law.

the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice …] The Greek word for “ass” is literally beast of burden. It is used, as here, in Matthew 21:5. The term for “madness” is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, but the corresponding verb is used by St Paul (2 Corinthians 11:23). For “forbade” it would be better, perhaps, to read checked, the actual rebuke having come from the angel, and taking the form of a permission rather than a prohibition. It is obvious that St Peter assumes the truth of the narrative of Numbers 22 (22–33) as beyond question, nor is there indeed any ground for thinking that it was at that time questioned by any reader, as it has been since. It does not fall within the scope of this Commentary to discuss either the objections which have been urged against that narrative, or the explanations that have been offered as toning down or minimising the supernatural element in it.

2 Peter 2:16. Ὑποζύγιον ἄφωνον· προφήτου, a dumb beast: of the prophet) A fine antithesis. So great was the madness of Balaam, that an ass must speak, rather than it should pass unreproved.—ἄφωνον) without a voice of man.

Verse 16. - But was rebuked for his iniquity; literally, but had a rebuke for his own transgression. The word for "rebuke" (ἔλεγξιν) Occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The guilt of offering the wages of unrighteousness rested with Balak; Balaam's own transgression lay in his readiness to accept them - in his willingness to break the law of God by cursing, for filthy lucre's sake, those whom God had not cursed. The dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbade the madness of the prophet. The word for "ass" is literally "beast of burden" (ὑποζύγιον, as in Matthew 21:5). "Dumb" is literally "without voice;" naturally without voice, it spake with the voice of man. The word ἐκώλυσεν, rendered "forbade," is rather "checked," or "stayed." The word for "madness" (παραφρονίαν) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The ass checked the prophet's folly by her shrinking from the angel, and by the miracle that followed; the angel, while permitting Balaam to expose himself to the danger into which he had fallen by tempting the Lord, forbade any deviation from the word to be put into his mouth by God. Balaam obeyed in the letter; but afterwards the madness which had been checked for the moment led him into deadly sin (Numbers 31:16). We observe that St. Peter assumes the truthfulness of the narrative in the Book of Numbers (see Mr. Clark's note in the 'Speaker's Commentary' on Numbers 22:28). 2 Peter 2:16Was rebuked (ἔλεγξιν ἔσχεν)

Lit., had a rebuke. The word for rebuke only here in New Testament.

For his iniquity (ἰδίας παρανομίας)

Rev., his own transgression. His own, see on 2 Peter 1:3. Transgression, from παρά., contrary to, and νόμος, law. Only here in New Testament. Compare the kindred verb παρανομέω, also occurring but once, Acts 23:3, where see note on contrary to the law.

The dumb ass

Inserting an article not in the text, and omitted by Rev.

Ass (ὑποζύγιον)

Lit., beast of burden. An animal subjected to the yoke. From ὑπό, beneath, and ζυγόν, a yoke. See on Matthew 21:5.

Speaking (φθεγξάμενον)

The verb is found in Peter only, here and 2 Peter 2:18, and in Acts 4:18, a Petrine narrative. It is well chosen, however. The verb denotes the utterance of a sound or voice, not only by man, but by any animal having lungs. Hence, not only of men's articulate cries, such as a battle-shout, but of the neigh of the horse, the scream of the eagle, the croak of the raven. It is also applied to sounds made by inanimate things, such as thunder, a trumpet, a lyre, the ring of an earthen vessel, showing whether it is cracked or not. Schmidt ("Synonymik") says that it does not indicate any physical capability on the part of the man, but describes the sound only from the hearer's stand-point. In view of this general sense of the verb, the propriety is apparent of the defining phrase, with man's voice.

Forbad (ἐκώλυσεν)

Rather, hindered, or, as Rev., stayed Compare Acts 8:36; Romans 1:13, Rev.

Madness (παραφρονίαν)

Only here in New Testament. But compare the kindred verb παραφρονέω (2 Corinthians 11:23), in the phrase, "I speak as a fool." From παρά, beside, and φρήν, the mind; and so equivalent to the phrase, beside one's self.

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