Balak Sends for Balaam
1 The Israelites journeyed, and camped in the plains of Moab, on the east side of the Jordan [River] across from Jericho.
2 And Balak [the king of Moab] the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. 3 So Moab was terrified because of the people, for they were numerous. Moab was overcome with fear because of the sons of Israel. 4 Moab said to the elders of Midian, “Now this horde will lick up all that is around us, just as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” And Balak the son of Zippor was the king of Moab at that time. 5 So he sent messengers to (a)Balaam [a famous prophet-diviner] the son of Beor at Pethor, which is by the [Euphrates] River, in the land of the descendants of his people, to call for him, saying, “There is a people who have come out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land, and they are living opposite me. 6 Now please come, curse these people for me, for they are too powerful for me; perhaps I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know [your reputation] that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”
7 So the elders of Moab and of Midian departed with fees for divination (foretelling) in hand; and they came to Balaam and told him the words of Balak. 8 Balaam said to them, “Spend the night here and I will bring word back to you as the Lord may speak to me.” So the leaders of Moab stayed with Balaam [that night]. 9 God came to Balaam, and said, “Who are these men with you?” 10 Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent word to me: 11 ‘Hear this, the people who came out of Egypt cover the surface of the land; come now, curse them for me. Perhaps I may be able to fight against them and drive them out.’” 12 God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people [of Israel], for they are blessed.” 13 Balaam got up in the morning, and said to the leaders of Balak, “Go back to your own land [of Moab], for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.” 14 The leaders of Moab arose and went to Balak, and said, “Balaam refused to come with us.”
15 Then Balak again sent leaders, more numerous and [men who were] more distinguished than the first ones. 16 They came to Balaam, and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor, ‘I beg you, let nothing hinder you from coming to me. 17 For I will give you a very great honor and I will do whatever you tell me; so please come, curse these people [of Israel] for me.’” 18 Balaam answered the servants of Balak, “Even if Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the Lord my God. 19 Now please, you also stay here tonight, and I will find out what else the Lord will say to me.” 20 God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, get up and go with them, but you shall still do only what I tell you.”
21 So Balaam got up in the morning and (b)saddled his donkey and went with the leaders of Moab.
The Angel and Balaam
22 But God’s anger was kindled because (c)he was going, and the (d)Angel of the Lord took His stand in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 When the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way and His drawn sword in His hand, the donkey turned off the path and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back toward the path. 24 But the Angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path of the vineyards, with a [stone] wall on this side and a [stone] wall on that side. 25 When the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord, she pressed herself against the wall and crushed Balaam’s foot against it, and he struck her again. 26 The Angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam, so Balaam was angry and he struck the donkey [a third time] with his staff. 28 And the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?” 29 Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now!” 30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life until this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.”
31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way with His drawn sword in His hand; and he bowed his head and lay himself face down. 32 The Angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to stand against you, because your behavior was obstinate and contrary to Me. 33 The donkey saw Me and turned away from Me these three times. If she had not turned away from Me, I would have certainly killed you now, and let her live.” 34 Balaam said to the Angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that You were standing in the way against me. But now, if my going displeases You, I will turn back.” 35 The Angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but you shall speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went along with the leaders of Balak.
36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, which is on the border at the Arnon [River], at the farthest end of the border. 37 Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not urgently send word to you to call you? Why did you not come to me [immediately]? Am I really unable to honor (pay) you?” 38 So Balaam said to Balak, “Indeed I have come to you now, but am I able to say anything at all? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I shall speak.” 39 And Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. 40 Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent some to Balaam and to the leaders who were with him.
a. Numbers 22:5: Balaam had some awareness and knowledge regarding the true God, but he abused the office of prophet.
b. Numbers 22:21: The ancient rabbis saw in this action an indication that Balaam was eager to go with the messengers, because it was not considered appropriate for a man of importance to saddle his own mount.
c. Numbers 22:22: Balaam went with God’s permission, but his motives were in opposition to God’s will.
d. Numbers 22:22: “Angel” has been capitalized here to reflect the likelihood that it is God appearing in a visible form (see note Gen 16:7).