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Balak Summons Balaam to Curse Israel


The Israelites set out, and camped in the plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho. 2Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. 3Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were so numerous; Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. 4And Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” Now Balak son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time. 5He sent messengers to Balaam son of Beor at Pethor, which is on the Euphrates, in the land of Amaw, to summon him, saying, “A people has come out of Egypt; they have spread over the face of the earth, and they have settled next to me. 6Come now, curse this people for me, since they are stronger than I; perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land; for I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed.”

7 So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam, and gave him Balak’s message. 8He said to them, “Stay here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, just as the L ord speaks to me”; so the officials of Moab stayed with Balaam. 9God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” 10Balaam said to God, “King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, has sent me this message: 11‘A people has come out of Egypt and has spread over the face of the earth; now come, curse them for me; perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.’ ” 12God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” 13So Balaam rose in the morning, and said to the officials of Balak, “Go to your own land, for the L ord has refused to let me go with you.” 14So the officials of Moab rose and went to Balak, and said, “Balaam refuses to come with us.”

15 Once again Balak sent officials, more numerous and more distinguished than these. 16They came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak son of Zippor: ‘Do not let anything hinder you from coming to me; 17for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do; come, curse this people for me.’ ” 18But Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, “Although Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the L ord my God, to do less or more. 19You remain here, as the others did, so that I may learn what more the L ord may say to me.” 20That night God came to Balaam and said to him, “If the men have come to summon you, get up and go with them; but do only what I tell you to do.” 21So Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the officials of Moab.

Balaam, the Donkey, and the Angel

22 God’s anger was kindled because he was going, and the angel of the L ord took his stand in the road as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23The donkey saw the angel of the L ord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; so the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road. 24Then the angel of the L ord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. 25When the donkey saw the angel of the L ord, it scraped against the wall, and scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck it again. 26Then the angel of the L ord went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27When the donkey saw the angel of the L ord, it lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28Then the L ord opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!” 30But the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?” And he said, “No.”

31 Then the L ord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the L ord standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed down, falling on his face. 32The angel of the L ord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me. 33The donkey saw me, and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let it live.” 34Then Balaam said to the angel of the L ord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now therefore, if it is displeasing to you, I will return home.” 35The angel of the L ord said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but speak only what I tell you to speak.” So Balaam went on with the officials of Balak.

36 When Balak heard that Balaam had come, he went out to meet him at Ir-moab, on the boundary formed by the Arnon, at the farthest point of the boundary. 37Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send to summon you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not able to honor you?” 38Balaam said to Balak, “I have come to you now, but do I have power to say just anything? The word God puts in my mouth, that is what I must say.” 39Then Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. 40Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent them to Balaam and to the officials who were with him.

Balaam’s First Oracle

41 On the next day Balak took Balaam and brought him up to Bamoth-baal; and from there he could see part of the people of Israel.

31. Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam. This passage teaches us, that whatever be the acuteness of our senses, it is not only implanted in us by God, but also either sustained or extinguished by His secret inspiration. Balaam’s eyes are opened; consequently there was a veil before them previously, which prevented him from seeing what was manifest. Thus God at His pleasure makes dull the senses of those who seem to themselves to be very acute; since perception is His special gift.

By this example we are shewn as in a mirror how hypocrites fear God, viz., when they are influenced by His presence; for as soon as they can withdraw themselves, they revel like fugitive slaves. Balaam saw the angel threatening him with a drawn sword, and he hung down his head, and adored; that is to say, because the vengeance of God was impending. But this fear by no means induced him to true correction of himself, he confesses, indeed, that he had sinned, and puts forth some fruit of repentance in that he is ready to return home; but he betrays a servile and compulsory fear, which only trembles at the thought of punishment. “I knew not (he says) that thou stoodest in the way.” Unless, therefore, the Angel had been armed for his punishment, he was proceeding in security, as if impunity were conceded to him. Another expression also discovers his craft and perfidiousness, he is ready to return, if his proceeding should displease God; as if he had not known before that it was by no means pleasing to God. This, then, is a ridiculous condition, as if he were in doubt on a point which was abundantly clear. If he really feared God, and in pure sincerity of heart, he ought at once to have renounced an expedition which was wicked in itself, and improperly undertaken. For what avail was it to say, “I have sinned,” if he thinks that he can prosecute the journey he had begun in opposition to God? Let us, therefore, learn, when God’s will is positively known, to have recourse to no crooked subterfuges, whereby we may delay to perform it.

When the Angel says: Unless the ass had turned aside, that he should have slain Balaam without injuring her, he intimates not only that, in accordance with God’s justice and loving-kindness, he would have spared the harmless animal, but that by the very sagacity of the beast, — as though she had deprecated God’s anger, — the life of her master, who was else unworthy of mercy, had been redeemed.

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