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Numbers 22-24 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

Chapter 22

Then the Israelites moved on and encamped in the plains of Moab[a] on the other side of the Jordan opposite Jericho.

Balaam Summoned. Now Balak, son of Zippor, saw all that Israel did to the Amorites, and Moab feared the Israelites greatly because they were numerous. Moab was in dread of the Israelites. So Moab said to the elders of Midian, “Now this horde will devour everything around us as an ox devours the grass of the field.” At that time Balak, son of Zippor, was king of Moab; and he sent messengers to Balaam, son of Beor, at Pethor on the river, in the land of the Ammonites,[b] to summon him with these words, “A people has come out of Egypt! They have covered up the earth and are settling down opposite me! Now come, curse this people for me,[c] since they are stronger than I am. Perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed and whoever you curse is cursed.” So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian, themselves experts in divination,[d] left and went to Balaam, to whom they gave Balak’s message. He said to them, “Stay here overnight, and I will give you whatever answer the Lord gives me.” So the princes of Moab lodged with Balaam.

Then God came to Balaam and said: Who are these men with you? 10 Balaam answered God, “Balak, son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me the message: 11 ‘This people that has come out of Egypt has covered up the earth. Now come, lay a curse on them for me; perhaps I may be able to fight them and drive them out.’” 12 But God said to Balaam: Do not go with them and do not curse this people, for they are blessed. 13 The next morning Balaam arose and told the princes of Balak, “Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.” 14 So the princes of Moab went back to Balak with the report, “Balaam refused to come with us.”

Second Appeal to Balaam. 15 Balak yet again sent princes, who were more numerous and more distinguished than the others. 16 On coming to Balaam they told him, “Thus says Balak, son of Zippor: Please do not refuse to come to me. 17 I will reward you very handsomely and will do anything you ask of me. Come, lay a curse on this people for me.” 18 But Balaam replied to Balak’s servants, “Even if Balak gave me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, small or great, contrary to the command of the Lord, my God. 19 But, you too stay here overnight, so that I may learn what else the Lord may say to me.” 20 That night God came to Balaam and said to him: If these men have come to summon you, go back with them; yet only on the condition that you do exactly as I tell you. 21 So the next morning when Balaam arose, he saddled his donkey,[e] and went off with the princes of Moab.

The Talking Donkey. 22 But now God’s anger flared up[f] at him for going, and the angel of the Lord took up a position on the road as his adversary. As Balaam was riding along on his donkey, accompanied by two of his servants, 23 the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with sword drawn. The donkey turned off the road and went into the field, and Balaam beat the donkey to bring her back on the road. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow lane between vineyards with a stone wall on each side. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord there, she pressed against the wall; and since she squeezed Balaam’s leg against the wall, he beat her again. 26 Then the angel of the Lord again went ahead, and stood next in a passage so narrow that there was no room to move either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord there, she lay down under Balaam. Balaam’s anger flared up and he beat the donkey with his stick.

28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she asked Balaam, “What have I done to you that you beat me these three times?” 29 “You have acted so willfully against me,” said Balaam to the donkey, “that if I only had a sword at hand, I would kill you here and now.” 30 But the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have always ridden until now? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way before?” “No,” he replied.

31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, so that he saw the angel of the Lord standing on the road with sword drawn; and he knelt and bowed down to the ground. 32 But the angel of the Lord said to him: “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come as an adversary because this rash journey of yours is against my will. 33 When the donkey saw me, she turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away from me, you are the one I would have killed, though I would have spared her.” 34 Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. Yet I did not know that you took up a position to oppose my journey. Since it has displeased you, I will go back home.” 35 But the angel of the Lord said to Balaam: “Go with the men; but you may say only what I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak.

36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at Ar-Moab on the border formed by the Arnon, at its most distant point. 37 And Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send an urgent summons to you? Why did you not come to me? Did you think I could not reward you?” 38 Balaam answered Balak, “Well, I have come to you after all. But what power have I to say anything? I can speak only what God puts in my mouth.” 39 Then Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. 40 Here Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent portions to Balaam and to the princes who were with him.

The First Oracle. 41 The next morning Balak took Balaam up on Bamoth-baal, and from there he could see some of the people.

Chapter 23

Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build me seven altars here, and here prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” So Balak did as Balaam had ordered, and Balak and Balaam offered a bull and a ram on each altar. Balaam said to Balak, “Stand here by your burnt offering while I go over there. Perhaps the Lord will meet me, and then I will tell you whatever he lets me see.” And so he went out on the barren height. Then God met Balaam, and Balak said to him: “I have erected the seven altars, and have offered a bull and a ram on each altar.” The Lord put an utterance in Balaam’s mouth, and said: Go back to Balak, and speak accordingly. So he went back to Balak, who was still standing by his burnt offering together with all the princes of Moab. Then Balaam recited his poem:

From Aram[g] Balak has led me here,
    Moab’s king, from the mountains of Qedem:
“Come, curse for me Jacob,
    come, denounce Israel.”
How can I lay a curse on the one whom God has not cursed?
    How denounce the one whom the Lord has not denounced?
For from the top of the crags I see him,
    from the heights I behold him.
Here is a people that lives apart[h]
    and does not reckon itself among the nations.
10 Who has ever counted the dust of Jacob,
    who numbered Israel’s dust-cloud?[i]
May I die the death of the just,
    may my end be like theirs!

11 “What have you done to me?” cried Balak to Balaam. “It was to lay a curse on my foes that I brought you here; but instead, you have blessed them!” 12 Balaam replied, “Is it not what the Lord puts in my mouth that I take care to repeat?”

The Second Oracle. 13 Then Balak said to him, “Please come with me to another place[j] from which you can see them; but you will see only some, not all of them, and from there lay a curse on them for me.” 14 So he brought him to a lookout post on the top of Pisgah, where he built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each of them. 15 Balaam then said to Balak, “Stand here by your burnt offering, while I seek a meeting over there.” 16 Then the Lord met Balaam, and, having put an utterance in his mouth, said to him: Return to Balak, and speak accordingly. 17 So he went to Balak, who was still standing by his burnt offering together with the princes of Moab. When Balak asked him, “What did the Lord say?” 18 Balaam recited his poem:

Rise, Balak, and listen;
    give ear to my testimony, son of Zippor!
19 God is not a human being who speaks falsely,
    nor a mortal, who feels regret.
Is God one to speak and not act,
    to decree and not bring it to pass?
20 I was summoned to bless;
    I will bless; I cannot revoke it!
21 Misfortune I do not see in Jacob,
    nor do I see misery[k] in Israel.
The Lord, their God, is with them;
    among them is the war-cry of their King.
22 They have the like of a wild ox’s horns:[l]
    God who brought them out of Egypt.
23 No, there is no augury against Jacob,
    nor divination against Israel.
Now it is said of Jacob,
    of Israel, “Look what God has done!”
24 Here is a people that rises up like a lioness,
    and gets up like a lion;
It does not rest till it has devoured its prey
    and has drunk the blood of the slain.

25 “Neither lay a curse on them nor bless them,” said Balak to Balaam. 26 But Balaam answered Balak, “Did I not tell you, ‘Everything the Lord tells me I must do’?”

The Third Oracle. 27 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Come, let me bring you to another place; perhaps God will approve of your laying a curse on them for me from there.” 28 So he took Balaam to the top of Peor, that overlooks Jeshimon. 29 Balaam then said to Balak, “Build me seven altars here; and here prepare for me seven bulls and seven rams.” 30 And Balak did as Balaam had ordered, offering a bull and a ram on each altar.

Chapter 24

Balaam, however, perceiving that the Lord was pleased to bless Israel, did not go aside as before to seek omens, but turned his gaze toward the wilderness. When Balaam looked up and saw Israel encamped, tribe by tribe, the spirit of God came upon him, and he recited his poem:

The oracle of Balaam, son of Beor,
    the oracle of the man whose eye is true,
The oracle of one who hears what God says,
    and knows what the Most High knows,
Of one who sees what the Almighty sees,
    in rapture[m] and with eyes unveiled:
How pleasant are your tents, Jacob;
    your encampments, Israel!
Like palm trees spread out,
    like gardens beside a river,
Like aloes the Lord planted,
    like cedars beside water;
Water will drip from their buckets,
    their seed will have plentiful water;
Their king will rise higher than Agag[n]
    and their dominion will be exalted.
They have the like of a wild ox’s horns:
    God who brought them out of Egypt.
They will devour hostile nations,
    break their bones, and crush their loins.
Crouching, they lie like a lion,
    or like a lioness; who will arouse them?
Blessed are those who bless you,
    and cursed are those who curse you!

10 In a blaze of anger at Balaam, Balak clapped his hands[o] and said to him, “It was to lay a curse on my foes that I summoned you here; yet three times now you have actually blessed them! 11 Now flee to your home. I promised to reward you richly, but the Lord has withheld the reward from you!” 12 Balaam replied to Balak, “Did I not even tell the messengers whom you sent to me, 13 ‘Even if Balak gave me his house full of silver and gold, I could not of my own accord do anything, good or evil, contrary to the command of the Lord’? Whatever the Lord says I must say.

The Fourth Oracle. 14 “But now that I am about to go to my own people, let me warn you what this people will do to your people in the days to come.” 15 Then he recited his poem:

The oracle of Balaam, son of Beor,
    the oracle of the man whose eye is true,
16 The oracle of one who hears what God says,
    and knows what the Most High knows,
Of one who sees what the Almighty sees,
    in rapture and with eyes unveiled.
17 I see him, though not now;
    I observe him, though not near:
A star shall advance from Jacob,
    and a scepter[p] shall rise from Israel,
That will crush the brows of Moab,
    and the skull of all the Sethites,
18 Edom will be dispossessed,
    and no survivor is left in Seir.
Israel will act boldly,
19     and Jacob will rule his foes.

20 Upon seeing Amalek, Balaam recited his poem:

First[q] of the nations is Amalek,
    but their end is to perish forever.

21 Upon seeing the Kenites,[r] he recited his poem:

Though your dwelling is safe,
    and your nest is set on a cliff;
22 Yet Kain will be destroyed
    when Asshur[s] takes you captive.

23 Upon seeing[t] [the Ishmaelites?] he recited his poem:

Alas, who shall survive of Ishmael,
24     to deliver them from the hands of the Kittim?
When they have conquered Asshur and conquered Eber,
They too shall perish forever.

25 Then Balaam set out on his journey home; and Balak also went his way.


  1. 22:1 The plains of Moab: the lowlands to the northeast of the Dead Sea, between the Jordan and the foothills below Mount Nebo. Here the Israelites remained until they crossed the Jordan, according to Jos 1–4. Jericho lay to the west of the Jordan.
  2. 22:5 In the land of the Ammonites: the translation rests on a slight emendation of the traditional Hebrew text in accordance with the tradition represented by the Vulgate. While Pethor remains unidentified, this verse supports an identification of Balaam’s homeland in the Transjordan (cf. the Deir ‘Alla Inscriptions), over against other traditions in the text which connect Balaam with Syria (23:7; Dt 23:5).
  3. 22:6 Curse this people for me: Balak believed that Balaam, known in the tradition as a diviner (cf. Jos 13:22), could utter a curse upon Israel which would come to pass.
  4. 22:7 Experts in divination: lit., “divination was in their hand,” i.e., “in their possession”; cf. Ezr 7:25.
  5. 22:21 Donkey: technically a she-donkey; Heb. aton.
  6. 22:22 God’s anger flared up: God’s apparent change of mind became a source of much speculation in the tradition. So, for example, God was angry, not merely because Balaam was going to Balak, for he had God’s permission for the journey (v. 20), but perhaps because he was tempted by greed to curse Israel against God’s command (cf. 2 Pt 2:15; Jude 11; compare Nm 22:32). Adversary: Heb. satan; see also v. 32; cf. 1 Sm 29:4; 2 Sm 19:22; 1 Kgs 11; Jb 1–2; Ps 109:6; Zec 3:1–2; 1 Chr 21:1.
  7. 23:7 Aram: the ancient name of the region later known as Syria. The mountains of Qedem: Qedem is the name for a region in northern Syria. Qedem also means “eastern.” Perhaps this designates the low ranges in the Syrian desert. The “mountains of old” is also a possible translation.
  8. 23:9 A people that lives apart: that is, “securely”; cf. Dt 33:28.
  9. 23:10 The dust of Jacob…Israel’s dust-cloud: the Israelites will be as numerous as the dust kicked up by Israel in its march through the wilderness.
  10. 23:13 To another place: Balak thought that if Balaam would view Israel from a different site, he could deliver a different kind of omen.
  11. 23:21 Misfortune…misery: Balaam states that he is unable to see any evils for Israel.
  12. 23:22 A wild ox’s horns: Israel possesses the strength of a wild ox because of God’s presence among them. Compare the claim by the psalmist, the Lord is “my rock…my saving horn” (Ps 18:3).
  13. 24:4 In rapture: lit., “falling,” therefore possibly “in a trance.” However, this interpretation is uncertain.
  14. 24:7 Agag: during Saul’s reign, king of Amalek (1 Sm 15:8), fierce enemy of Israel during the wilderness period; see v. 20 (Ex 17:8–16).
  15. 24:10 Balak clapped his hands: a gesture suggesting contempt or derision, apparently made in anger (cf. Jb 27:23; Lam 2:15).
  16. 24:17 A star…a scepter: some early Christian writers, as well as rabbinic interpreters, understood this prophecy in messianic terms. So, for example, Rabbi Akiba designates Bar Kosiba the messiah in the early second century A.D. by calling him Bar Kokhba, i.e., son of the star, alluding to this passage. Although this text is not referred to anywhere in the New Testament, in a Christian messianic interpretation the star would refer to Jesus, as also the scepter from Israel; cf. Is 11:1. But it is doubtful whether this passage is to be connected with the “star of the Magi” in Mt 2:1–12. The brows of Moab, and the skull of all the Sethites: under the figure of a human being, Moab is specified as the object of conquest by a future leader of Israel. The personification of peoples or toponyms is common enough in the Old Testament; see, e.g., Hos 11:1; Ps 98:8. In Jer 48:45, which paraphrases the latter part of our verse, Moab is depicted as someone whose boasting warrants its ruin. In view of the use of Heb. pe’ah (here “brows”) in Nm 34:3 to indicate a boundary, some see in the “brows” of Moab and the “skull” of the Sethites a representation of features of Moab’s topography, i.e., the borderlands and the interior plateau. The Sethites: cf. Gn 4:25; here probably a general designation for nomadic/tribal groups on the borders of Palestine, unless they are to be identified with the Shutu mentioned in Execration texts of the early second millennium B.C. and the fourteenth century Amarna tablets from Egypt; however, the Shutu are not attested in Moab. On the basis of Gn 4:25 and Gn 25, one might also think of a reference to humanity in general.
  17. 24:20 First: lit., “the beginning.” In the Bible, Amalek is a people indigenous to Palestine and therefore considered as of great antiquity. There is a deliberate contrast here between the words “first” and “end.”
  18. 24:21 The Kenites lived in high strongholds in the mountains of southern Palestine and the Sinai Peninsula, and were skilled in working the various metals found in their territory. Their name is connected, at least by popular etymology, with the Hebrew word for “smith”; of similar sound to qayin, i.e., “Kain” or “smith,” is the Hebrew word for “nest,” qen—hence the play on words in the present passage.
  19. 24:22 Asshur: the mention of Asshur, i.e., Assyria, is not likely before the ninth or eighth centuries B.C.
  20. 24:23–24 Upon seeing: this phrase, lacking the Hebrew text, is found in the Septuagint, but without “the Ishmaelites” designated as the subject of the oracle. The Hebrew text of the oracle itself shows considerable disarray; the translation therefore relies on reconstruction of the putative original and is quite uncertain.
New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

Scripture texts, prefaces, introductions, footnotes and cross references used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


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