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Numbers 21-24 Common English Bible (CEB)

Defeat of the Canaanite king of Arad

21 When the Canaanite king of Arad, who ruled in the arid southern plain, heard that the Israelites were coming on the Atharim road, he fought against Israel and took some of them captive. Then Israel made a solemn promise to the Lord and said, “If you give this people into our hands, we will completely destroy their city.” The Lord heard the voice of Israel and handed the Canaanites over. They completely destroyed them and their cities, so the name of the place is called Hormah.[a]

The bronze snake’s healing power

They marched from Mount Hor on the Reed Sea[b] road around the land of Edom. The people became impatient on the road. The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why did you bring us up from Egypt to kill us in the desert, where there is no food or water. And we detest this miserable bread!” So the Lord sent poisonous[c] snakes among the people and they bit the people. Many of the Israelites died.

The people went to Moses and said, “We’ve sinned, for we spoke against the Lord and you. Pray to the Lord so that he will send the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous snake and place it on a pole. Whoever is bitten can look at it and live.” Moses made a bronze snake and placed it on a pole. If a snake bit someone, that person could look at the bronze snake and live.

March around Moab

10 Then the Israelites marched and they camped at Oboth. 11 They marched from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim in the desert on the border of Moab toward the east. 12 From there they marched and camped in the Zered ravine. 13 From there they marched and camped across the Arnon in the desert that extends from the border of the Amorites, for the Arnon was the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14 For this reason the scroll of the Lord’s wars says:

Waheb in Suphah and the ravines.
The Arnon 15 and the ravines
that extend to the settlement of Ar
and lie along the border of Moab.

16 From there they marched to Beer, the well where the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people, and I’ll give them water.” 17 Then the Israelites sang this song:

“Well, flow up!
Sing about it!
18 The well that the officials dug,
        that the officials of the people hollowed out
        with the ruler’s scepter and their staffs.”

They marched from the desert to Mattanah; 19 from Mattanah to Nahaliel; from Nahaliel to Bamoth; 20 from Bamoth to the valley in the Moabite countryside, to the top of Pisgah overlooking Jeshimon.[d]

Wars against Sihon and Og

21 Then the Israelites sent messengers to Sihon the Amorite king: 22 “Let us pass through your land. We won’t turn aside into a field or vineyard. We won’t drink water from a well. We will walk on the King’s Highway until we cross your border.”

23 But Sihon wouldn’t allow the Israelites to cross his border. Sihon gathered all his people and went out to meet the Israelites in the desert. When he came to Jahaz, he attacked the Israelites. 24 The Israelites struck him down with their swords and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as the Ammonites, for the border of the Ammonites was fortified. 25 The Israelites took all these cities. Then the Israelites settled in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon and all its villages.

26 Now Heshbon was the city of Sihon the Amorite king who had fought against the former king of Moab. He had taken all his land from him as far as the Arnon. 27 Therefore, the poets say:

“Come to Heshbon, let it be built.
    Let the city of Sihon be established.
28 Fire went out from Heshbon,
    flame from Sihon’s city.
It consumed Ar of Moab
    and swallowed up the shrines of the Arnon.
29 You are doomed, Moab!
    You are destroyed, people of Chemosh!
He gave his sons as fugitives,
        and his daughters as captives
    to the Amorite king Sihon.
30 Yet we have thrown them down,
    destroying them[e]
    from Heshbon to Dibon.
We brought ruin until Nophah,
    which is by Medeba.”

31 Israel settled in the land of the Amorites. 32 Moses sent spies to Jazer. They captured its villages and took possession of the Amorites who were there. 33 Then they turned and ascended the road of Bashan. Og, Bashan’s king, came out at Edrei to meet them in battle, he and all his people. 34 The Lord said to Moses: Don’t be afraid of him, for I have handed over all his people and his land. Do to him as you did to Sihon the Amorite king who ruled in Heshbon.

35 They slaughtered Og, his sons, and all his people until there were no survivors. Then they took possession of his land.

Balak summons Balaam to curse the Israelites

22 The Israelites marched and camped in the plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho. Balak, Zippor’s son, saw everything that the Israelites did to the Amorites. The Moabites greatly feared the people, for they were so numerous. The Moabites were terrified of the Israelites. The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “Now this assembly will devour everything around us, as an ox eats up the grass in the field.”

Balak, Zippor’s son, was king of Moab at that time. He sent messengers to Balaam, Beor’s son, at Pethor, which is by the river in the land of his people,[f] to summon him: “A people has come out of Egypt, and they have now covered the land. They have settled next to me. Now please come and curse this people for me because they are stronger than I am. Perhaps I’ll be able to destroy them and drive them from the land, for I know that whomever you bless is blessed and whomever you curse is cursed.”

So the elders of Moab and Midian went with the payment for divination in their hands. They came to Balaam and told him Balak’s words. He said to them, “Spend the night here and I’ll bring back to you a word exactly as the Lord speaks to me.” So the officials of Moab stayed with Balaam.

God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?”

10 Balaam said to God, “Moab’s King Balak, Zippor’s son, sent them to me with the message, 11 ‘A people has come out of Egypt and covered the land. Now come and curse them for me. Perhaps I’ll be able to fight against them and drive them out.’”

12 God said to Balaam, “Don’t go with them. Don’t curse the people, because they are blessed.”

13 Then Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak’s officials, “Go to your land, for the Lord has refused to allow me to go with you.”

14 The officials of Moab arose, they went to Balak, and they said, “Balaam refused to come with us.”

15 Balak continued to send other officials more numerous and important than these. 16 They came to Balaam and said to him, “This is what Balak, Zippor’s son, says: ‘Please let nothing hold you back from coming to me, 17 for I’ll greatly honor you and I’ll do anything you ask of me. Please come and curse this people for me.’”

18 Balaam answered and said to Balak’s servants, “If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I wouldn’t be able to do anything, small or great, to break the command of the Lord my God. 19 Now you also must remain the night here so that I may know what else the Lord may say to me.”

20 God came to Balaam in the night and said to him, “If the men have come to summon you, arise and go with them. But you must do only what I tell you to do.” 21 So Balaam arose in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the officials of Moab.

Balaam and the Lord’s messenger

22 Then God became angry because he went. So while he was riding on his donkey accompanied by his two servants, the Lord’s messenger stood in the road as his adversary. 23 The donkey saw the Lord’s messenger standing in the road with his sword drawn in his hand, so the donkey turned from the road and went into the field. Balaam struck the donkey in order to turn him back onto the road. 24 Then the Lord’s messenger stood in the narrow path between vineyards with a stone wall on each side. 25 When the donkey saw the Lord’s messenger, it leaned against the wall and squeezed Balaam’s foot against the wall, so he continued to beat it. 26 The Lord’s messenger persisted and crossed over and stood in a narrow place, where it wasn’t possible to turn either right or left. 27 The donkey saw the Lord’s messenger and lay down underneath Balaam. Balaam became angry and beat the donkey with the rod. 28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you’ve beaten me these three times?”

29 Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you’ve tormented me. If I had a sword in my hand, I’d kill you now.”

30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on whom you’ve often ridden to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

Balaam said, “No.”

31 Then the Lord uncovered Balaam’s eyes, and Balaam saw the Lord’s messenger standing in the road with his sword drawn in his hand. Then he bowed low and worshipped. 32 The Lord’s messenger said to him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I’ve come out here as an adversary, because you took the road recklessly in front of me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it hadn’t turned away from me, I would just now have killed you and let it live.”

34 Balaam said to the Lord’s messenger, “I’ve sinned, because I didn’t know that you were standing against me in the road. Now, if you think it’s wrong, I’ll go back.”

35 The Lord’s messenger said to Balaam, “Go with the men. But don’t say anything. Say only that which I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.

Balaam and Balak meet

36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at Ir-moab, which is on the border of the Arnon at the farthest point of the border. 37 Balak said to Balaam, “Didn’t I send urgently and summon you? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to honor you?”

38 Balaam said to Balak, “I’ve now come to you. But I’m only able to speak whatever word God gives me to say. That is what I will speak.”

Balaam’s first blessing of the Israelites

39 Then Balaam went with Balak and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. 40 Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep and sent them to Balaam and the officials who were with him. 41 In the morning Balak took Balaam and brought him up to Bamoth-baal, where he could see part of the people.

23 Balaam said to Balak, “Build me seven altars here and prepare for me seven bulls and seven rams.” Balak did as Balaam had said. Then Balak and Balaam offered a bull and a ram on each altar. Balaam said to Balak, “Stay by your entirely burned offering. I will go and perhaps the Lord will grant me an appearance and speak. Whatever he shows me, I will tell you.” Then he went off to a high outlook.

God granted Balaam an appearance. Balaam said to him, “I have arranged seven altars and I have sacrificed a bull and a ram on each altar.”

The Lord gave Balaam something to say, and said to him, “Return to Balak and say this.”

Balaam returned to him, while he and all the officials of Moab were standing next to his entirely burned offering. Then he raised his voice and made his address:

“From Aram Balak led me,
    the king of Moab, from the eastern mountains.
Come, curse Jacob for me;
    come, denounce Israel.
How can I curse
    whom God hasn’t cursed?
How can I denounce
    whom God hasn’t denounced?
From the top of the rocks I see him;
    from the hills I gaze on him.
Here is a people living alone;
    it doesn’t consider itself among the nations.
10 Who can count the dust of Jacob,
    or number a fourth of Israel?
Let me die the death of those who do right,
    and let my end be like his.”

11 Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemy. But now you’ve blessed him.”

12 He answered and said, “Don’t I have to take care to speak whatever the Lord gives me to say?”

Balaam’s second blessing of the Israelites

13 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Come with me, please, to another place where you’ll see them. You’ll see only part of them. You won’t see all of them. Then curse them for me from there.” 14 He took him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah. He built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

15 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stand here by your entirely burned offering, while I seek an appearance over there.”

16 The Lord granted Balaam an appearance and gave him a message. He said, “Return to Balak and say this.”

17 Balaam approached Balak, who was standing by his entirely burned offering with the officials of Moab. Balak said to him, “What did the Lord say?”

18 Then Balaam raised his voice and made his address:

“Arise, Balak, and listen;
    hear me out, Zippor’s son.
19 God isn’t a man that he would lie,
    or a human being that he would change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and not done it,
    or promised and not fulfilled it?
20 I received a blessing, and he blessed.
    I can’t take it back.
21 He hasn’t envisioned misfortune for Jacob,
    nor has he seen trouble for Israel.
The Lord his God is with him,
    proclaimed as his king.
22 God, who brought them out of Egypt,
    is like a magnificent wild bull for him.
23 There is no omen against Jacob,
    no divination against Israel.
Instantly it is told to Jacob,
    and to Israel, what God performs.
24 A people now rises like a lioness,
    like a lion it stands up.
It doesn’t lie down until it eats the prey
    and drinks the blood of the slain.”

25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Don’t curse them or bless them.”

26 But Balaam answered and said to Balak, “Didn’t I say to you, ‘I’ll do whatever the Lord tells me to’?”

Balaam’s third blessing of the Israelites

27 Balak said to Balaam, “Please come and I’ll take you to another place. Perhaps God will prefer it, so that you could curse him for me from there.”

28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, which overlooks Jeshimon.[g] 29 Balaam said to Balak, “Build me seven altars here and prepare for me seven bulls and seven rams.” 30 Balak did just as Balaam said. He offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

24 Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless the Israelites, so he didn’t go as the other times to seek omens. Instead, he turned toward the desert. Balaam looked up and saw Israel camping by tribes. Then God’s spirit came on him. He raised his voice and made his address:

“The oracle of Balaam, Beor’s son;
    the oracle of a man whose eye is open.[h]
The oracle of one who hears God’s speech,
    who perceives the Almighty’s[i] visions,
    who falls down with eyes uncovered.
How beautiful are your tents, Jacob,
    your camps, Israel!
Like palm groves that stretch out,
    like gardens next to a river,
    like eaglewood trees that the Lord has planted,
    like cedar trees next to water.
Water will drip from his branches;
    his seed will have plenty of water;
    his king will be higher than Agag,
    and his kingdom will be lifted up.
God, who brought him from Egypt,
    is like a magnificent wild bull for him.
He will devour enemy nations
    and break their bones;
    he will strike with his arrows.
He crouched and lay down like a lion;
    like a lioness, who can make her rise?
The one blessing you will be blessed,
    and the one cursing you will be cursed.”

10 Balak was angry with Balaam. He pounded his fists. Balak said to Balaam, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but now you’ve given a blessing these three times. 11 Now get out of here and go home. I told you I’d greatly honor you, but the Lord has denied you any honor.”

Balaam predicts Moab’s destruction

12 Balaam said to Balak, “Didn’t I tell your messengers, whom you sent to me, 13 ‘If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I wouldn’t be able to break the Lord’s command for good or ill by my own will. I’ll say whatever the Lord says’? 14 So now I’m going to my people. Let me advise you what this people will do to your people in the days to come.” 15 He raised his voice and made his address:

“The oracle of Balaam, Beor’s son,
the oracle of a man whose eye is open.
16     The oracle of one who hears God’s speech,
    and understands the Most High’s[j] knowledge,
    who perceives the Almighty’s[k] visions,
    who falls down with eyes uncovered.
17 I see him, but not now;
    I look at him, but not nearby.
A star comes from Jacob;
    a scepter arises from Israel,
        smashing Moab’s forehead,
        the head of all the Sethites.
18 Edom will become a possession,
    Seir a possession of its enemies.
    But Israel acts powerfully.
19 Someone from Jacob will rule
    and destroy the survivors from Ir.”
20 He looked at Amalek
    and raised his voice
    and gave his address:
    “Amalek is foremost among the nations,
        but its end is to perish forever.”
21 He looked at the Kenites
    and raised his voice
    and gave his address:
“Your dwelling is secure;
        your nest is set in the rock.
22 Yet Kain will burn
    when Asshur takes you away captive.”
23 He raised his voice
    and made his address:
    “How terrible!
    Who will live when God does this?
24 Ships from Kittim will attack Asshur;
    they will attack Eber,
    and even he will perish forever.”

25 Then Balaam arose, set out, and returned home. Balak also went on his way.


  1. Numbers 21:3 Or destruction
  2. Numbers 21:4 Or Red Sea
  3. Numbers 21:6 Heb uncertain
  4. Numbers 21:20 Or wasteland
  5. Numbers 21:30 Heb uncertain; LXX their posterity has perished
  6. Numbers 22:5 Sam, Syr, Vulg the Ammonites
  7. Numbers 23:28 Or wasteland
  8. Numbers 24:3 Heb uncertain
  9. Numbers 24:4 Heb Shaddai or Mountain One
  10. Numbers 24:16 Heb Elyon
  11. Numbers 24:16 Heb Shaddai or Mountain One
Common English Bible (CEB)

Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible

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