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Victory over the Canaanites

21 The Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that the Israelites were approaching on the road through Atharim. So he attacked the Israelites and took some of them as prisoners. Then the people of Israel made this vow to the Lord: “If you will hand these people over to us, we will completely destroy[a] all their towns.” The Lord heard the Israelites’ request and gave them victory over the Canaanites. The Israelites completely destroyed them and their towns, and the place has been called Hormah[b] ever since.

The Bronze Snake

Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea[c] to go around the land of Edom. But the people grew impatient with the long journey, and they began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!”

So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died. Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people.

Then the Lord told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!

Israel’s Journey to Moab

10 The Israelites traveled next to Oboth and camped there. 11 Then they went on to Iye-abarim, in the wilderness on the eastern border of Moab. 12 From there they traveled to the valley of Zered Brook and set up camp. 13 Then they moved out and camped on the far side of the Arnon River, in the wilderness adjacent to the territory of the Amorites. The Arnon is the boundary line between the Moabites and the Amorites. 14 For this reason The Book of the Wars of the Lord speaks of “the town of Waheb in the area of Suphah, and the ravines of the Arnon River, 15 and the ravines that extend as far as the settlement of Ar on the border of Moab.”

16 From there the Israelites traveled to Beer,[d] which is the well where the Lord said to Moses, “Assemble the people, and I will give them water.” 17 There the Israelites sang this song:

“Spring up, O well!
    Yes, sing its praises!
18 Sing of this well,
    which princes dug,
which great leaders hollowed out
    with their scepters and staffs.”

Then the Israelites left the wilderness and proceeded on through Mattanah, 19 Nahaliel, and Bamoth. 20 After that they went to the valley in Moab where Pisgah Peak overlooks the wasteland.[e]

Victory over Sihon and Og

21 The Israelites sent ambassadors to King Sihon of the Amorites with this message:

22 “Let us travel through your land. We will be careful not to go through your fields and vineyards. We won’t even drink water from your wells. We will stay on the king’s road until we have passed through your territory.”

23 But King Sihon refused to let them cross his territory. Instead, he mobilized his entire army and attacked Israel in the wilderness, engaging them in battle at Jahaz. 24 But the Israelites slaughtered them with their swords and occupied their land from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River. They went only as far as the Ammonite border because the boundary of the Ammonites was fortified.[f]

25 So Israel captured all the towns of the Amorites and settled in them, including the city of Heshbon and its surrounding villages. 26 Heshbon had been the capital of King Sihon of the Amorites. He had defeated a former Moabite king and seized all his land as far as the Arnon River. 27 Therefore, the ancient poets wrote this about him:

“Come to Heshbon and let it be rebuilt!
    Let the city of Sihon be restored.
28 A fire flamed forth from Heshbon,
    a blaze from the city of Sihon.
It burned the city of Ar in Moab;
    it destroyed the rulers of the Arnon heights.
29 What sorrow awaits you, O people of Moab!
    You are finished, O worshipers of Chemosh!
Chemosh has left his sons as refugees,
    his daughters as captives of Sihon, the Amorite king.
30 We have utterly destroyed them,
    from Heshbon to Dibon.
We have completely wiped them out
    as far away as Nophah and Medeba.[g]

31 So the people of Israel occupied the territory of the Amorites. 32 After Moses sent men to explore the Jazer area, they captured all the towns in the region and drove out the Amorites who lived there. 33 Then they turned and marched up the road to Bashan, but King Og of Bashan and all his people attacked them at Edrei. 34 The Lord said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you, along with all his people and his land. Do the same to him as you did to King Sihon of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon.” 35 And Israel killed King Og, his sons, and all his subjects; not a single survivor remained. Then Israel occupied their land.

Balak Sends for Balaam

22 Then the people of Israel traveled to the plains of Moab and camped east of the Jordan River, across from Jericho. Balak son of Zippor, the Moabite king, had seen everything the Israelites did to the Amorites. And when the people of Moab saw how many Israelites there were, they were terrified. The king of Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This mob will devour everything in sight, like an ox devours grass in the field!”

So Balak, king of Moab, sent messengers to call Balaam son of Beor, who was living in his native land of Pethor[h] near the Euphrates River.[i] His message said:

“Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth and are threatening me. Please come and curse these people for me because they are too powerful for me. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.”

Balak’s messengers, who were elders of Moab and Midian, set out with money to pay Balaam to place a curse upon Israel.[j] They went to Balaam and delivered Balak’s message to him. “Stay here overnight,” Balaam said. “In the morning I will tell you whatever the Lord directs me to say.” So the officials from Moab stayed there with Balaam.

That night God came to Balaam and asked him, “Who are these men visiting you?”

10 Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent me this message: 11 ‘Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come and curse these people for me. Then perhaps I will be able to stand up to them and drive them from the land.’”

12 But God told Balaam, “Do not go with them. You are not to curse these people, for they have been blessed!”

13 The next morning Balaam got up and told Balak’s officials, “Go on home! The Lord will not let me go with you.”

14 So the Moabite officials returned to King Balak and reported, “Balaam refused to come with us.” 15 Then Balak tried again. This time he sent a larger number of even more distinguished officials than those he had sent the first time. 16 They went to Balaam and delivered this message to him:

“This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Please don’t let anything stop you from coming to help me. 17 I will pay you very well and do whatever you tell me. Just come and curse these people for me!”

18 But Balaam responded to Balak’s messengers, “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord my God. 19 But stay here one more night, and I will see if the Lord has anything else to say to me.”

20 That night God came to Balaam and told him, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do.”

Balaam and His Donkey

21 So the next morning Balaam got up, saddled his donkey, and started off with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was angry that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the Lord to stand in the road to block his way. As Balaam and two servants were riding along, 23 Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey bolted off the road into a field, but Balaam beat it and turned it back onto the road. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood at a place where the road narrowed between two vineyard walls. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it tried to squeeze by and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So Balaam beat the donkey again. 26 Then the angel of the Lord moved farther down the road and stood in a place too narrow for the donkey to get by at all. 27 This time when the donkey saw the angel, it lay down under Balaam. In a fit of rage Balaam beat the animal again with his staff.

28 Then the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam.

29 “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!”

30 “But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?”

“No,” Balaam admitted.

31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him.

32 “Why did you beat your donkey those three times?” the angel of the Lord demanded. “Look, I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me. 33 Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.”

34 Then Balaam confessed to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I didn’t realize you were standing in the road to block my way. I will return home if you are against my going.”

35 But the angel of the Lord told Balaam, “Go with these men, but say only what I tell you to say.” So Balaam went on with Balak’s officials. 36 When King Balak heard that Balaam was on the way, he went out to meet him at a Moabite town on the Arnon River at the farthest border of his land.

37 “Didn’t I send you an urgent invitation? Why didn’t you come right away?” Balak asked Balaam. “Didn’t you believe me when I said I would reward you richly?”

38 Balaam replied, “Look, now I have come, but I have no power to say whatever I want. I will speak only the message that God puts in my mouth.” 39 Then Balaam accompanied Balak to Kiriath-huzoth, 40 where the king sacrificed cattle and sheep. He sent portions of the meat to Balaam and the officials who were with him. 41 The next morning Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth-baal. From there he could see some of the people of Israel spread out below him.

Balaam Blesses Israel

23 Then Balaam said to King Balak, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven young bulls and seven rams for me to sacrifice.” Balak followed his instructions, and the two of them sacrificed a young bull and a ram on each altar.

Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stand here by your burnt offerings, and I will go to see if the Lord will respond to me. Then I will tell you whatever he reveals to me.” So Balaam went alone to the top of a bare hill, and God met him there. Balaam said to him, “I have prepared seven altars and have sacrificed a young bull and a ram on each altar.”

The Lord gave Balaam a message for King Balak. Then he said, “Go back to Balak and give him my message.”

So Balaam returned and found the king standing beside his burnt offerings with all the officials of Moab. This was the message Balaam delivered:

“Balak summoned me to come from Aram;
    the king of Moab brought me from the eastern hills.
‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me!
    Come and announce Israel’s doom.’
But how can I curse those
    whom God has not cursed?
How can I condemn those
    whom the Lord has not condemned?
I see them from the cliff tops;
    I watch them from the hills.
I see a people who live by themselves,
    set apart from other nations.
10 Who can count Jacob’s descendants, as numerous as dust?
    Who can count even a fourth of Israel’s people?
Let me die like the righteous;
    let my life end like theirs.”

11 Then King Balak demanded of Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies. Instead, you have blessed them!”

12 But Balaam replied, “I will speak only the message that the Lord puts in my mouth.”

Balaam’s Second Message

13 Then King Balak told him, “Come with me to another place. There you will see another part of the nation of Israel, but not all of them. Curse at least that many!” 14 So Balak took Balaam to the plateau of Zophim on Pisgah Peak. He built seven altars there and offered a young bull and a ram on each altar.

15 Then Balaam said to the king, “Stand here by your burnt offerings while I go over there to meet the Lord.”

16 And the Lord met Balaam and gave him a message. Then he said, “Go back to Balak and give him my message.”

17 So Balaam returned and found the king standing beside his burnt offerings with all the officials of Moab. “What did the Lord say?” Balak asked eagerly.

18 This was the message Balaam delivered:

“Rise up, Balak, and listen!
    Hear me, son of Zippor.
19 God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
20 Listen, I received a command to bless;
    God has blessed, and I cannot reverse it!
21 No misfortune is in his plan for Jacob;
    no trouble is in store for Israel.
For the Lord their God is with them;
    he has been proclaimed their king.
22 God brought them out of Egypt;
    for them he is as strong as a wild ox.
23 No curse can touch Jacob;
    no magic has any power against Israel.
For now it will be said of Jacob,
    ‘What wonders God has done for Israel!’
24 These people rise up like a lioness,
    like a majestic lion rousing itself.
They refuse to rest
    until they have feasted on prey,
    drinking the blood of the slaughtered!”

25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Fine, but if you won’t curse them, at least don’t bless them!”

26 But Balaam replied to Balak, “Didn’t I tell you that I can do only what the Lord tells me?”

Balaam’s Third Message

27 Then King Balak said to Balaam, “Come, I will take you to one more place. Perhaps it will please God to let you curse them from there.”

28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of Mount Peor, overlooking the wasteland.[k] 29 Balaam again told Balak, “Build me seven altars, and prepare seven young bulls and seven rams for me to sacrifice.” 30 So Balak did as Balaam ordered and offered a young bull and a ram on each altar.

Footnotes

  1. 21:2 The Hebrew term used here refers to the complete consecration of things or people to the Lord, either by destroying them or by giving them as an offering; also in 21:3.
  2. 21:3 Hormah means “destruction.”
  3. 21:4 Hebrew sea of reeds.
  4. 21:16 Beer means “well.”
  5. 21:20 Or overlooks Jeshimon.
  6. 21:24 Or because the terrain of the Ammonite frontier was rugged; Hebrew reads because the boundary of the Ammonites was strong.
  7. 21:30 Or until fire spread to Medeba. The meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.
  8. 22:5a Or who was at Pethor in the land of the Amavites.
  9. 22:5b Hebrew the river.
  10. 22:7 Hebrew set out with the money of divination in their hand.
  11. 23:28 Or overlooking Jeshimon.