And Balaam said to the ass, Because you have mocked me: I would there were a sword in my hand, for now would I kill you.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)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. Balaam, was not much terrified with the ass’s speaking, because he was much accustomed to converse with evil spirits, which oft appeared to him and discoursed with him in the shape of such creatures. Job 16:15 by running with him against a wall, and by lying down with him in the dust and dirt, and so the Arabic version renders it,"because thou hast rolled me in the dirt;''the sense of mocking is not easy to be understood, unless it be that it exposed him to be mocked and laughed at by others, by turning aside, and lying down, and being so unruly; but then there were only his servants with him, to whom only he could be exposed in such a manner, which one would think would not have given him so much concern, and put him into such a passion: the word sometimes is used for seeking occasion, and such a sense it may have here, as that it sought an opportunity or occasion to throw him, and so to kill him, or at least to do him harm, see Daniel 6:4.
I would there were a sword in my hand, for now would I kill thee: so enraged was he, and his passion was so great, that he was not at all frightened and amazed to hear the ass speak, though Josephus (q) represents him as disturbed and astonished at it; but some think, he being used to converse with spirits in the shapes of various creatures, it was no surprise to him to hear it speak.And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)29. thou hast mocked me] thou hast made sport of me; i.e. purposely caused me annoyance for your own pleasure.Verse 29. - And Balaam said unto the ass. That Beldam should answer the ass without expressing any astonishment is certainly more marvelous than that the ass should speak to him. It must, however, in fairness be considered -
1. That Balaam was a prophet. He was accustomed to hear Divine voices speaking to him when no man was near. He had a large and unquestioning faith, and a peculiar familiarity with the unseen.
2. Balaam was a sorcerer. It was part of his profession to show signs and wonders such as even now in those countries confound the most experienced and skeptical beholders. It is likely that he had often made dumb animals speak in order to bewilder others. He must indeed have been conscious to some extent of imposture, but he would not draw any sharp line in his own mind between the marvels which really happened to him and the marvels he displayed to others. Both as prophet and as sorcerer, he must have lived, more than any other even of that age, in an atmosphere of the supernatural. If, therefore, this portent was really given, it was certainly given to the very man of all that ever lived to whom it was most suitable. Just as one cannot imagine the miracle of the stater (Matthew 17:27) happening to any one of less simple and childlike faith than St. Peter, so one could not think of the ass as speaking to any one in the Bible but the wizard prophet, for whom - both on his good and on his bad side - the boundary lines between the natural and supernatural were almost obliterated.
3. Balaam was at this moment intensely angry., and nothing blunts the edge of natural surprise so much as rage. Things which afterwards, when calmly recollected, cause the utmost astonishment, notoriously produce no effect at the moment upon a mind which is thoroughly exasperated. 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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