Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Balaam and the Ass
By Joseph Hall (15741656)
THAT no man may marvel to see Balaam have visions from God and utter prophecies from Him, his very ass hath his eyes opened to see the angel, which his master could not, and his mouth opened to Speak more reasonably than his master. There is no beast deserves so much wonder as this of Balaam, whose common sense is advanced above the reason of his rider; so as for the time the prophet is brutish, and the beast prophetical. Who can but stand amazed at the eye, at the tongue of this silly creature? For so dull a sight, it was much to see a bodily object that were not too apparent, but to see that spirit which his rider discerned not was far beyond nature. To hear a voice come from that mouth, which was used only to bray, it was strange and uncouth: but to hear a beast, whose nature is noted for incapacity, to out-reason his master, a professed prophet, is in the very height of miracles; yet can no heart stick at these, that considers the dispensation of the Almighty in both. Our eye could no more see a beast, than a beast can see an angel, if He had not given this power to it. How easy is it for Him that made the eye of man and beast, to dim or enlighten it at His pleasure; and if His power can make the very stones to speak, how much more a creature of sense. That evil spirit spake in the serpent to our first parent; why is it more that a spirit should speak in the mouth of a beast? How ordinarily did the heathen receive their oracles out of stones and trees! Do not we ourselves teach birds to speak those sentences they understand not? we may wonder, we cannot distrust, when we compare the act with the Author; which can as easily create a voice without a body as a body without a voice. Who now can hereafter plead his simplicity and dulness of apprehending spiritual things, when he sees how God exalts the eyes of a beast, to see a spirit? Who can be proud of seeing visions, since an angel appeared to a beast? Neither was his skin better after it than others of his kind. Who can complain of his own rudeness and inability to reply in a good cause, when the very beast is enabled by God to convince his master? There is no mouth into which God cannot put words; and how often doth he choose the weak and unwise to confound the learned and mighty!
What had it been better for the ass to see the angel, if he had rushed still upon his sword? Evils were as good not seen, as not avoided; but now he declines the way, and saves his burthen. It were happy for perverse sinners, if they could learn of this beast, to run away from foreseen judgments. The revenging angel stands before us: and though we know we shall as sure die as sin, yet we have not the wit or grace to give back: though it be with the hurt of a foot to save the body; with the pain of the body to save the soul.
I see, what fury and stripes the impatient prophet bestows upon this poor beast, because he will not go on; yet if he had gone on, himself had perished. How often do we wish those things, the not obtaining whereof is mercy! We grudge to be staid in the way to death, and fly upon those which oppose our perdition.
I do not (as who would not expect) see Balaams hair stand upright, nor himself alighting and appalled at this monster of miracles: but, as if no new thing had happened, he returns words to the beast, full of anger, void of admiration; whether his trade of sorcering had so inured him to receive voices from his familiars, in shape of beasts, that this event seemed not strange to him; or, whether his rage and covetousness had so transported him, that he had no leisure to observe the unnatural unusualness of the event. Some men make nothing of those things, which overcome others with horror and astonishment.