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What had it been better for the ass to see the angel, if he bad rushed still upon his sword ? Evils were as good not seen, as not avoided ; but now he declines the way, and saves bis burden. It were happy for perverse sinners, if they could learn of this beast to run away from foreseen judgment. 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, bimself had perished. How oft do we wish those things, the not obtaining whereof is mercy! We grudge to be stayed in the way to death, and fly upon those which oppose our perdition. i.
I do not, as who would not expect, see Balaam's hair stand upright, nor himself alighting, and appalled at this inonster 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 even 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.
I hear the angel of God taking notice of the cruelty of Balaam to his beast; his first words, to the unmerciful prophet, are in expostulating of his wrong. We little think it, but God shall call us to an account for the unkind and cruel usages of his poor mute creatures. He hath made us Lords, not tyrants ; owners, not tormentors; he that hath' given us leave to kill them for our use, hath not given us leave to abuse them at our pleasure : they are so our drudges, that they are our fellows by creation. It was a sign the magician would easily wish to strike Israel with a curse, when he wished a sword to strike his harmless beast. It is ill falling into those hands, whom beasts find unmerciful.
Notwithstanding these rubs, Balaam goes on, and is not afraid to ride on that beast, whose voice he had heard. And now posts are sped to Balak, with the news of so welcome a guest; he that sent princes to fetch him, comes himself on the
way to meet him. Although he can say, “Am not I able to promote thee?” yet he gives this high respect to him as his better, from whom he expected the promotion of himself and his people. O the honour that hath been formerly done by heathens, to them that have borne but the face of prophets ! I shame and grieve to compare the times and men. Only, O God, be thou merciful to the contempt of thy servants.
As if nothing needed but the presence of Balaam, the superstitious king, out of the joy of this hope, feasts his gods, his prophet, his princes; and, on the morrow, carries him up to the high places of his idols. Who can doubt, whether Balaam were a false prophet that sees him sacrificing in the mount of Baal? Had he been from the true God, he would rather have said, “Pull me down these altars of Baal, than build me here seven others." The very place convinces him of falsehood and idolatry. And why seven altars? what needs all this pomp? When the true God never required but one at once, as himself is one; why doth the false prophet call for no less than seven? As if God stood upon numbers ! as if the Almighty would have his power either divided or limited! Here is nothing but a glorious and magnificent pretence of devotion. It hath been ever seen, that the false worshippers of God have made more pompous shows, and fairer flourishes of their piety and religion than the true.
Now, when Balaam sees his seven bullocks and seven rams smoking upon his seven altars, he goes up higher into the mount, as some counterfeit Moses, to receive the answer of God. But will God meet with a sorcerer? will he make a prophet of a magician? O man, who shall prescribe God what instruments to use! He knows how to employ, not only saints and angels, but wicked men, beasts, devils, to bis own glory. He that put words into the mouth of the ass, put words into the mouth of Balaam: the words do but pass from him ; they are not polluted, because they are not his : as the truuk, through which a man speaks, is not more eloquent for the speech that is uttered through it. What a notable proclamation had the infidels wanted of God's favour to his people, if Balaam's tongue bad not been used! How many shall once say, “ Lord, we have prophesied in thy name,” that shall hear, “Verily I know you not."
What madness is this in Balaam? He that found himself constant in soliciting, thinks to find God not constant in denying; and, as if that infinite. Deity were not the same everywhere, hopes to change success with places. Neither is that bold forehead ashamed to importune God again, in that wherein his own mouth bad testified an assurance of denial. The reward was in one of his eyes; the revenging angel in the other : I know not whether (for the time) he more loved the bribe or feared the angel. And, wbile he is in this distraction, his tongue blesses against his heart, and his heart curses against bis tongue. It angers him that he dare not speak what he would; and now, at last, rather than lose his hopes, he resolves to speak worse than curses. The fear of God's judgment, in a worldly heart, is at length overcome with love of gain.
Of Phineas. BALAAM pretended an haste homeward, but he lingered so long that he left his bones in Midian. How justly did he perish with the sword of Israel, whose tongue had insensibly slain so many thousands of them! As it is usually said of the devil, that he goes away in a stench, so may it be truly said of this prophet of his, according to the fashion of all hypocrites, his words were good, his actions abominable; he would not curse, but he would advise, and his counsel is worse than a curse; for his curse had hurt none but himself; his counsel cost the blood of twenty-four thousand Israelites. He that had heard God speak by Balaam, would not look for the devil in the same mouth : and if God himself had not witnessed against him, who could believe that the same tongue, which uttered so divine prophecies, should utter such villanous and cursed advice? Hypocrisy gains this of men, that it may do evil unsuspected: but now, he that heard what he spake in Balak's ear, hath bewrayed and condemned his counsel and himself. .
This policy was fetched from the bottom of hell. It is not for lack of desire that I curse not Israel ; thou dost not more wish their destruction than I do thy wealth and honour; but so long as they hold firm with God, there is no sorcery against Jacob; withdraw God from them, and they shall fall alone, and curse themselves; draw them into sin, and thou shalt withdraw God from them. There is no sin more plausible than wantonness. One fornication shall draw in another, and both shall fetch the anger of God after them; send your fairest women into their tents, their sight shall draw them to lust, their lust to folly, their folly to idolatry ; and now God shall curse them for thee unasked. Where Balaam did speak well, there was never any prophet spake more divinely ; where he spake ill, there was never any devil spake more desperately. Ill counsel seldom succeedeth not: good seed falls often out of the way, and roots not, but the tares never light amiss. This project of the wicked magician was too prosperous. The daughters of Moab come into the tents of Israel, and have captivated those whom the Amorites and the Amalekites could not resist. Our first mother Eve bequeathed this dowry to her daughters, that they should be our helpers to sin; the weaker sex is the stronger in this conquest. Had the Moabites sent their subtilest counsellors to persuade the Israelites to their idol sacrifices, they had been repelled with scorn; but now the beauty of their women is over-eloquent and successful. That which in the first world betrayed the sons of God, hath now ensnared God's people. It had been happy for Israel, if Balaam had used any charms but these. As it is the use of God to fetch glory to bimself out of the worst actions of Satan, so it is the guise of that evil one, through the just permission of the Almighty, to raise advantage to himself from the fairest pieces of the workmanship of God. No one means hath so much enriched hell as beautiful faces. . . :: All idols are abominable; but this of Baal-peor was, besides the superstition of it, beastly: neither did Baal ever put on a form of so much shame as this. Yet very Israelites are drawn to 'adore it. When lust hath blinded the eyes, it carries a man whither it lists; even beyond all differences of sin. A man besotted with filthy desires, is fit for any villany. · Sin is no less crafty than Satan himself; give him but room in the eye, and he will soon be possessed of body and soul. These Israelites first saw the faces of these Moabites and Midianites; then they grew to like their presence; from thence to take pleasure in their feasts; from their boards they are drawn to their beds, from their beds to their idols ; and now they are joined to Baal-peor, and separated from
God. Bodily fornication is the way to spiritual. If we have made idols of flesh, it is just to be given up to idols of wood and stones. If we have not grace to resist the beginnings of sin, where shall we stay? If our foot slip into the mouth of hell, it is a miracle to stop ere we come to the bottom.
Well might God be angry to see his people go a whoring in this double fornication ; neither doth he smother his wrath, but himself strikes with his plague, and bids Moses strike with the sword. He strikes the body, and bids Moses strike the head. It had been as easy for him to plague the rulers, as the vulgar; and one would think, these should be more properly reserved for his immediate hand; but these he leaves to the sword of human authority, that he might win awe to his own ordinances. As the sins of great men are exemplary, so are their punishments. Nothing procures so much credit to government, as strict and impartial executions of great and noble offenders. Those whom their sins have embased, deserve no favour in the punishment. As God knows no honour, no royalty in matter of sin, no more may bis deputies. Contrarily, connivance at the outrages of the mighty, cuts the sinew's of state; neither doth any thing make good laws more contemptible, than the making difference of offenders; that small sacrileges should be punished, when great ones ride in triumph. If good ordinations turn once to spiders' webs, which are broken through by the bigger flies, no hand will fear to sweep them down.
God was angry, Moses and all good Israelites grieved ; the heads hanged up, the people plagued : yet behold one of the princes of Israel fears not to brave God and his ministers, in that sin which he sees so grievously revenged in others. I can never wonder enough at the impudence of this Israelite. Here is fornication, an odious crime, and that of an Israelite whose name challenges holiness ; yea, of a prince of Israel, whose practice is a rule to inferiors; and that with a woman of Midian, with whom even a chaste contract had been unlawful; and that with contempt of all government; and that in the face of Moses, and all Israel; and that in a time of mourning and judgment for that same offence. Those that have once passed the bounds of modesty soon grow shameless in their sins. While sin hides itself in corners, there is yet hope ; for where there is shame, there is a possibility of grace; but when once it dare look upon the sun, and send challenges