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WONDERFUL as the gift of prophecy was, it was not always con fined to the chosen seed, nor yet always imparted to the best of men. God might sometimes, to convince the world of his superintendence and government of the world, disclose the purposes of his providence to heathen nations. He revealed himself to Abimelech, Gen. xx; to Pharaoh, Gen. xli; and to Nebuchadnezzar, Dan. ii, and we have no reason to deny all the marvellous stories which are related of divination among the heathens; the possibility and credibility of which is argued on both sides by Cicero in his two books of Divination, his brother Quintus asserting it in the first book, and himself labouring to disprove it in the second; but I think all unprejudiced readers must agree, that the arguments for it are stronger and better than those urged against. Neither was there any necessity, that the prophets should always be good men. Unworthy persons may sometimes be possessed of spiritual gifts as well as of natural. Aaron and Miriam, who were inspired upon some occasions, yet upon others mutinied against Moses, and rebelled against God. Jonah for his disobedience to God was thrown into the sea.
In the 13th chapter of the first book of Kings we read of two prophets, the one a liar and afterwards inspired, the other inspired and afterwards disobedient to the word of the Lord. Yea, our Saviour himself hath assured us, Matt, vii. 22, 23,—that in the last day many will say unto him, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name ? and in thy name have cast out devils ? and in thy name done many wonderful works ? and yet will he profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.'
Balaam was a remarkable instance of both kinds, both of a prophet who was a heathen, and of a prophet who was an immoral man. He came from Aram' or ' Mesopotamia, out of the mountains of the east,' ---Numb. xxiii. 7. Deut. xxiii. 4. And the east was infamous for boothsayers and diviners.---Is. ii. 6. However he was a worshipper of the true God, (as were also Melchizedek, and Job, and others of the heathen nations,) and this appears by his applying to God, Numb. xxii. 8,---- I will Lring you word again, as the Lord shall speak unto me;' and by his calling the Lord his God.' ver. 18,--- I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God to do less or more.' But his worship was mixed and debased with superstition, as appears by his building seven altars, and sacrificing on each altar, Numb. xxiii. 1, 2, and by his going to seek for enchantments, whatever they were, Numb. xxiv. 1. He appears to have had some pious thoughts and resolutions, by declaring ‘I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more: and by so earnestly wishing, 'Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his,'---xxiii. 10. But his heart was unsound, was mercenary, was corrupt: he loved the wages of unrighteousness,'---2 Pet. ii. 15; and ran greedily after rewards.---Jude 11. His inclinations were contrary to his duty; he was ordered to stay, but yet he wished to go; he was commanded to bless, but yet he longed to curse; and when he found that he was overruled, and could do the people no hurt as a prophet, he still contrived to do it as a politician, and taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication,'---Rev. ii. 14. So that he was indeed a strange mixture of
every man more or less. There are inconsistencies and contradictions in every character, though not so great perhaps and notorious as in Balaam. If he is called a
soothsayer' in one part of scripture, Josh. xiii. 22, in another part he is called a 'prophet,' 2 Pet. ii. 16; and his name must have been in high credit and estimation, that the king of Moab and the elders of Midian should think it worth their while to send two honourable embassies to him at a considerable distance, to engage him to come and curse the people of Israel. It was a superstitious ceremony in use among the Heathens to devote their enemies to destruction at the beginning of their wars, as if the gods would enter into their passions, and were as unjust and partial as themselves. The Romans had public officers to perform the ceremony, and Macrobius hath preserved the form of these execrations.* --Now Balaam being a prophet of great note and eminence, it was believed that he was more intimate than others with the heavenly powers, and consequently that his imprecations would be more effectual; for, as Balak said unto him, Numb. xxii. 6,--. I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou curseth is cursed.' But the strangest incident of all is the parts of Balaam's ass. This
* Saturnal. lib. 3. cap. 9.
usually is made the grand objection to the truth of the story. The speaking ass from that time to this hath been the standing jest of every infidel brother. Philo the Jew seemeth to have been ashamed of this part of the story: for in the first book of his life of Moses, wherein he hath given an account of Balaam, he hath purposely omitted this particular of the ass's speaking, I suppose not to give offence to the Gentiles; but he needed not to have been so cautious of offending them, for similar stories were current among them.The learned Bochart* hath collected several instances, the ass of Bacchus, the ram of Phrixus, the horse of Achilles, and the like, not only from the poets and mythologists, but also from the gravest historians, such as Livy and Plutarch, who frequently affirm that oxen have spoken. The proper use of citing such authorities is not to prove, that those instances and this of Balaam are upon an equal footing and equally true; but only to prove, that the Gentiles believed such things to be true, and to lie within the power of their gods, and consequently could not object to the truth of scripturehistory on this account. Maimonides and others have conceived, that the matter was transacted in a vision; and it must be confessed that many things in the writings of the prophets are spoken of as real transactions, which were only visionary; and these visions made as strong impressions upon the minds of the prophets as realities. But it appears rather more probable from the whole tenor of the narration, that this was no visionary, but a real transaction. The words of St. Peter show that it is to be understood, as he himself understood it, literally : 2 Pet. ii. 14, 15, 16,— Cursed children : Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but was rebuked for his iniquity ; the speaking with man's voice, forbad the madness of the prophet.' The ass was enabled to utter such and such sounds, probably as parrots do, without understanding them : and say what you will of the construction of the ass's mouth, of the formation of the tongue and jaws being unfit for speaking, yet an adequate cause is assigned for this wonderful effect, for it is said expressly, that 'the Lord opened the mouth of the ass ;' and no one who believes a God, can doubt of his having power to do this, and much more. If the whole transaction was visionary, no reason can be given why it was said particularly, that the Lord opened the mouth of the ass.' But it is thought strange that Balaam should express no surprise upon this extraordinary occasion ; but perhaps he had been accustomed to prodigies with his enchantments; or perhaps believing the eastern doctrine of transmigration of human souls into the bodies of brutes, he might think such a humanized brute not incapable of speaking; or perhaps he might not regard, or attend to the wonder, through excess of rage and madness' as the word is in St. Peter; or perhaps (which is the most probable idea,) he might be greatly disturbed and astonished, as Josephus* affirms he was, and yet Moses in his short history might omit this circumstance. The miracle was by no means needless or superfluous; it was very proper to convince Balaam, that the mouth and tongue were under God's direction, and that the same divine power which caused the dumb ass to speak, contrary to its nature, could make him in like manner utter blessings contrary to his inclination. And accordingly he was overruled to bless the people, though he came prepared and disposed to curse them, which according to Bochartt was the greater miracle of the two, for the ass was merely passive, but Balaam resisted the good motions of God. We may be the more certain that he was influenced to speak contrary to his inclination, because after he had done prophesying, though he had been ordered in anger to depart and 'flee to his place,'—Numb. xxiv. 10, 11; yet he had the meanness to stay, and gave that wicked counsel, whereby the people were enticed to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab,' and 'twenty and four thousand died in the plague,'-Numb. xxv.
* Hierozoic. Pars prior, lih. 2. cap. 14.
umb ass * Antiq. Jud. lib. 4. cap. 6. sect. 3.-Taparlou ever go aüto orce try ons ivo Purma ανθρωπινην εσαν, κ. τ. λ. Dum vero ille voce humana asinæ attonitus turbatusque &c. (He was astonished and disturbed because the voice of the ass was that of a human being.] P. 150. Edit. Hudson.
This miracle then was a proper sign to Balaam, and had a proper effect; and we may the more easily believe it, when we find Balaam afterwards inspired with such knowledge of futurity, It was not more above the natural capacity of the ass to speak, than it was above the natural capacity of Balaam to foretel so many distant events. The prophecies render the miracle more credible; and we shall have less reason to doubt of the one, when we see the accomplishment of the others. His predictions are indeed wonderful, whether we consider the matter or the style; as if the same divine Spirit that inspired his thoughts, had also raised his language. They are called parables in the sacred text: 'he took up his parable, and said.' Tlie same word is used after the same manner in the book of Job, xxvii, 1: xxix. 1. Moreover Job continued his parable, and said.' It is commonly translated ‘parable or proverb.' Le Clerc translates it 'figuratam orationem :' and thereby is meant a weighty and solemn speech delivered in figurative and majestic language. Such, remarkably such are the prophecies or parables of Balaam.* You cannot peruse them without being
+ Rabba in Numeros, sect. 20, Deum asserit os asinä ideo aperuisse, ut Balaamum doceret, os, et linguam penes se esse, adeoque os ipsius Balaami, si quæreret Israeli maledicere. Et vero id docuit eventus, cum Balaam iis ipsis invitus benedixit quibus maledicturus tanto apparatu venerat, non minore oraculo, aut etiam majore, quam cum asina locuta est. Asina enim erat mere patiens, sed Balaam moventi Deo pro
virik obsistebat, ut Saul, cum prophetam egit. Hierozoic, pars prior, lib. 2, cap. 14. [Rabba is of opinion, (section 20, on the book of Numbers,) that God opened the mouth of the ass, to teach Balaam that the mouth and the tongue were in his power, and therefore also the mouth of Balaam himself, if he should endeavour to curse Israel. And this epinion is indeed justified by the event, since Balaam, contrary to his own intention, blessed the very persons, whom with so much parade he had come to curse ; which stronger instance of the divine power, than when the ass spake. For the ass was merely passive, but Balaam forcibly resisted the impulse of God, as did Saul when he prophesied.]
* See to this parpose Mr. Lowth's poetical Prælections, particularly Prælect. 4. p. 41, Prælect. 18. p. 173, and his ingenious version of part of Balaam's prophecies into Latin verse, Prælect. 20. p. 206. The learned reader will not be displeased to see it here. Tuis, Jacobe, quantus est castris decor! Illi ada multo rore stillant garmina, Tuisqui signis, Israel !
Fætusque alunt juges aqure.
Rex usque victor hostium.
Navis superbum viribus,
Quis audeat lacessere ?
Mala quæ precabitur, luat ! [“ In proud array thy tents expand, Strong as the beast that rules the plain O Israel, o'er the subject land :
his fury shall restrain? As the broad vales in prospect rise, Who dares resist, his force shall feel, As gardens by the waters spread; The nations see, and trembling fly, As cedars of majestic size,
Or in the unequal conflict die; That shade the sacred fountain's head. And glut with blood his thirsty steel. Thy torrents shall the earth o'erflow, With aspect keen he marked his prey, O'erwhelming cach obdurate foe, He couched ---In secret ambush lay,In vain the mind essays to trace.
Who shall the furious lion dare ? The glories of thy countless race;
Who shall unmoved his terrors see? la vain thy king's imperial state
-Blest, who for thee exalts his prayer! Shall haughty Agag enulate.
And curse the wretch who curseth thee!"; His mighty Cod's protecting hand, I ed him from Pharaoh's tyrant land.