Numbers 22-24 The Voice (VOICE)
22 But they didn’t remain there. The Israelites traveled on to the Moabite plains, where they set up camp, just across the Jordan River, east of Jericho. 2 The Moabite Balak (Zippor’s son) knew about the Israelites’ victory over the Amorites and what they had done there. 3 Actually, everyone in Moab was terrified of the Israelites. And Moab hated the Israelites, because there were so many of them!
Now we overhear this very unusual dialogue between the Moabite leader Balak and the respected prophet Balaam. While Balaam is not an Israelite, he has a healthy respect for the God of the Israelites. No matter how Balak tempts Balaam to curse the people of the Lord, God continues speaking to Balaam and frustrating Balak’s plans. Eventually it comes down to a not-so-dumb donkey instructing the great prophet. Both Balaam and Balak learn that God is not one to be toyed with. He can frustrate the plans of even the greatest kings and prophets.
Interestingly, a discovery was made in Jordan of an inscription containing prophecies of Balaam. He specialized in animal divination, slaughtering animals for his prophetic purposes. So Balaam was used to hearing God “speak” through animals, if not always so directly.
Moabites (to elders in the neighboring Midianite community): 4 This voracious horde, these Israelites, will wipe us out without so much as a second thought. They’ll devour us and move through our land as a herd of hungry cows mows a field.
Balak (Zippor’s son), you’ll remember, was then the king of Moab. 5 In the face of this threat, he sent messengers to the famous prophet Balaam (Beor’s son), who lived in a town that belonged to his country on the Euphrates River called Pethor. Balak wanted the prophet to come to Moab.
Since the victories over Sihon and Og, the Israelites have gained a reputation of taking over. Their size and strength frighten the local inhabitants.
Moab’s Message (to Balaam): There is a group of people who came from Egypt and who have settled right near me. They cover the land with their numbers. 6 Come quickly, and curse them for me. There’s no other hope that I have of defeating so many of them and driving the rest away. They’re too strong. But I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed.
7 So the messengers went—elders, actually, from both Moab and Midian—with money in hand, to pay the prophet to come back with them and curse the Israelites. They gave him Balak’s message.
Balaam (to the messengers): 8 It’s been a long trip for you. Spend the night, and I’ll give you the prophecy the Eternal tells me.
So the Moabite and Midianite elders stayed overnight with Balaam. 9 But God came in the night to Balaam and questioned him.
Eternal One (to Balaam): Who are these people staying with you?
Balaam: 10 Messengers. Balak, the king of Moab and Zippor’s son, sent them to ask me for help on their behalf. 11 He says that a certain people, coming from Egypt, seem to be taking over the land. He wants me to curse those people for him so he can fight them and make the survivors leave.
Eternal One: 12 Don’t do it. The people whom Balak wants you to curse are already blessed.
13 So first thing in the morning, Balaam confronted Balak’s elders with the news.
Balaam: You’ll have to go back to your land without me. The Eternal has prohibited me from returning with you.
14 The Moabite contingent returned and told Balak that Balaam wouldn’t come. 15 But Balak wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. He sent another, bigger contingent of even more highly esteemed men to solicit Balaam’s help.
Balak’s Second Message (to Balaam): 16 Don’t let anything stop you from coming to Moab; 17 there’s a lot in it for you—whatever you desire—and I’ll make sure you are treated with the greatest honors. Just, please, come and curse these people for me!
Balaam (to Balak’s messengers): 18 Even if Balak gave me everything he has, riches of silver and gold in his house, I simply couldn’t do it. It is impossible for me to say anything less or greater than what the Eternal One, my God, directs me to say. 19 But, listen, why don’t you spend the night, and I’ll let you know whatever else the Eternal might tell me in the meantime.
20 Again, God came to Balaam in the night and spoke with him.
Eternal One (to Balaam): If these men have indeed come to get you, go ahead. Go with them, but do only what I tell you to do.
21 So when morning came, Balaam got his donkey ready. He set out with the Moabite elders. 22 Nevertheless, God was angry that Balaam was going. He sent His own messenger as an adversary to stand in Balaam’s way, blocking the prophet’s path. Now Balaam was riding on his donkey, and he had two servants too. 23 But it was the donkey who saw the Eternal’s messenger standing in the road with a sword in his hand, drawn and ready. The donkey went off the road and into the field, and Balaam, not seeing the messenger as his donkey had, hit the beast to drive it back onto the road; 24 but then the messenger of the Eternal stood in the narrow walkway separating two vineyards, and there was a wall on either side. 25 Spooked by the Eternal’s messenger, the donkey pressed herself against one of the walls, trapping Balaam’s foot. Balaam hit her again. 26 The Eternal’s messenger got ahead of them again and faced them in a narrow spot where they had no way to avoid him. 27 This time, the donkey, seeing the Eternal’s messenger, just lay down, Balaam still sitting on top. Balaam was furious, and he beat the beast with a rod. 28 But the Eternal One gave the donkey the ability to speak.
Donkey (to Balaam): What have I done to you that you would hit me three times?
Balaam: 29 You’ve made me look stupid! If I’d had a sword, I’d have killed you by now!
Donkey: 30 Aren’t I the very same donkey you’ve always ridden? Have I ever been disloyal or hurt you?
31 At that point, the Eternal opened the eyes of Balaam to see His messenger standing in the road, sword drawn. Balaam bowed low to the ground, lying with his face in the dirt.
Eternal One’s Messenger: 32 Why were you so hard on your donkey, beating her these three times? I came here as an adversary against you because I do not approve of the direction you’re taking, in more ways than one.[a] 33 Your donkey did the right thing. She saw me and turned away all three times. This donkey saved your life. Perhaps I would have killed you on the spot and let her live.
Balaam (to the messenger): 34 I confess I was wrong, but I didn’t know you were there, trying to block my way. Now, please, if you don’t want me to go any farther, then let me go back home.
Eternal One’s Messenger: 35 No, go ahead with this Moabite escort, but only say what I tell you to say.
So Balaam traveled on with Balak’s men.
36 When they neared the very edge of Moabite territory, Balak (who’d heard they were on their way) met Balaam at Moab’s city on the Arnon.
Balak (to Balaam): 37 Didn’t you understand it was I who requested you again and again? Why didn’t you come? Am I not able to give you honor?
Balaam (to Balak): 38 Well, I’m here now. But do you think I can say whatever I please? I can only say what God tells me to say. God puts the words in my mouth.
39 Nevertheless the two went off together. Balak led Balaam to Kiriath-huzoth in Moab. 40 Later on, Balak had some oxen and sheep sacrificed, which he made sure Balaam received (along with the officials who accompanied him).
41 The next day, Balak led Balaam up to a high place of Baal worship, an altar dedicated to pagan lords.[b] Looking down from there, they could see a section of the Israelite camp.
23 Balaam (to Balak): This is what I need from you. Build seven altars here, and then get seven bulls and seven rams ready to sacrifice.
2 Balak did just as Balaam had asked him to do. Then together they offered a bull and a ram on each of the seven altars.
Balaam (to Balak): 3 You stay here, close to these burnt offerings. I’m going to go a little ways away, in case the Eternal wants to meet just with me. Whatever He lets me know, I’ll be sure to pass on to you.
So Balaam went over to an exposed area on the heights, 4 and God met Balaam there.
Balaam (to the Lord): I made seven altars and set an offering of a bull and a ram on each one.
Eternal One (giving Balaam the right words to say): 5 Go back to Balak and recite what I’ve told you.
6 So Balaam walked back down and over to where Balak stood waiting next to the burnt offerings, along with the officials of Moab. 7 Balaam recited His words.
Balaam: The king of Moab got me to come here, all the way from my home in Aram.
Balak (to Balaam): 11 What are you doing to me? I brought you all the way out here to curse these people—my enemies—yet what have you done? You’ve blessed them!
Balaam: 12 But don’t you agree that I have to be very careful to make sure I say only and exactly what the Eternal has given me to say?
Balak: 13 Well, come over here. Admittedly, from the place where I’m bringing you, you can only see a small part of that whole congregation. But I am commanding you: from this new place, curse them!
14 So Balak brought Balaam to the fields of Zophim, on the top of Pisgah’s peak. As before, he built there seven altars on which he sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams.
Pisgah dominates the Abarim Mountains and is thus used as a lookout to warn of possible attack.
Balaam (to Balak): 15 You stand here, by the altars with their burnt offerings, while I go just over there to talk with the Eternal One.
16 And once again, the Eternal met Balaam and gave him the words to say.
Eternal One: Go back to Balak, and recite what I’ve told you.
17 So Balaam returned to where Balak stood waiting next to the burnt offerings along with the Moabite officials.
Balak (to Balaam): What did the Eternal say?
18 And Balaam recited His words.
Balaam: Listen up, Balak, and attend to these words:
20 Look here, I received a word of blessing,
Balak (to Balaam): 25 Don’t curse them, but don’t bless them either!
Balaam: 26 Haven’t you been listening? Whatever the Eternal tells me, I must do.
Balak: 27 I think we should try a different spot. Come on and maybe God will be happy to let you curse them for me from over there.
28 So off they went again. This time, Balak took the prophet to the top of Peor, from where they could look down over the whole broad spread of Jeshimon, which some call simply “the wasteland.”
Balaam (to Balak): 29-30 You know what to do: get the seven altars ready and burn the offerings, just as you did before.
And so Balak did—he built seven altars, on each of which were sacrificed a bull and a ram.
24 Meanwhile, it was obvious to Balaam that the Eternal One was quite happy to bless Israel, so he didn’t go through the trouble of looking for omens of God’s intent. Instead, Balaam contemplated the wilderness stretched out before him. 2 Seeing the Israelites camping there, in their orderly arrangement by tribes, he was suddenly overcome by God’s Spirit. 3 He recited God’s words.
Balaam: This is an oracle of Balaam (Beor’s son),
Balak and his men have been engaged in preparing the altars and making the sacrifices; he doesn’t like the sound of this at all.
10 He was absolutely furious with Balaam, smacking his hands together with anger.
Balak (confronting Balaam): I can’t believe this! I brought you all this way and asked you to curse my enemies, but instead you actually blessed them. And you did that not just once, mind you, or twice, but three times. 11 Now get out of here! Get out of my sight—go back to that miserable place you call home. Yeah, sure, I said I’d greatly honor you, but the Eternal has withheld the honor that I had planned for you.
Balaam (to Balak): 12 Remember the first time that you sent messengers to get me? Even then I told them 13 I don’t care how much silver and gold you have or what all you’d give to me; I cannot alter what God would have me say. Whatever the Eternal One puts into my mouth is what will come out, whether good or evil words. 14 So, yes, I’m heading home. But before I go, I will tell you what those people will do to your nation when your time is up.
15 He recited God’s words.
Balaam: This is an oracle of Balaam (Beor’s son),
17 I see him, but at a later time, I’ll recognize him, even though he is far away.
20 Then Balaam turned toward the land of the Amalekites and spoke his prophecy.
Balaam: Amalek was first among the nations,
21 Then Balaam turned toward the land of the Kenites and spoke his prophecy.
Balaam: Your dwelling is lasting,
23 Balaam took up his answers:
25 Then Balaam went his way to his country, and Balak went his way toward his country.
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