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Numbers 23-24 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

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[a] 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[b]
    and does not reckon itself among the nations.
10 Who has ever counted the dust of Jacob,
    who numbered Israel’s dust-cloud?[c]
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[d] 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[e] 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:[f]
    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[g] 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[h]
    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[i] 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[j] 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[k] of the nations is Amalek,
    but their end is to perish forever.

21 Upon seeing the Kenites,[l] 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[m] takes you captive.

23 Upon seeing[n] [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. 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.
  2. 23:9 A people that lives apart: that is, “securely”; cf. Dt 33:28.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 23:21 Misfortune…misery: Balaam states that he is unable to see any evils for Israel.
  6. 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).
  7. 24:4 In rapture: lit., “falling,” therefore possibly “in a trance.” However, this interpretation is uncertain.
  8. 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).
  9. 24:10 Balak clapped his hands: a gesture suggesting contempt or derision, apparently made in anger (cf. Jb 27:23; Lam 2:15).
  10. 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.
  11. 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.”
  12. 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.
  13. 24:22 Asshur: the mention of Asshur, i.e., Assyria, is not likely before the ninth or eighth centuries B.C.
  14. 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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