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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 summoned me from the eastern mountains.
“Come, curse Jacob for me!”
“Come, denounce Israel!”
8 But I ask you, how can I curse any whom God has not cursed
or denounce whomever the Eternal has not denounced?
9 Here on the heights, from the rocky places where I stand,
I can see them; from these hills I observe them below.
And what do I see but a unique and solitary people
who do not have a place among the nations.
10 Who can count the dust of Jacob
or even a fourth of their number?
It’s impossible to count even one quarter of Israel.
Let me die as one who has done what is right.
Let my end be like his!
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:
Hear, son of Zippor, what God has to say to you.
19 God is not a man—He doesn’t lie.
God isn’t the son of a man to want to take back what He’s said,
Or say something and not follow through,
or speak and not act on it.
20 Look here, I received a word of blessing,
and He has spoken a blessing.
I cannot take it back.
21 There is no vision of wrongdoing by Jacob;
God has seen no trouble for Israel.
The Eternal One abides among them;
and the shout of a king is among them.
22 God, who leads them out of Egypt,
His splendor is like the wild bull:
23 There is no divination against Jacob
or enchantment against Israel.
Soon, people will say of Jacob and Israel,
“Look at what God has accomplished!”
24 Look at this people rise up like a lion,
like a lion who gets up and does not lie down
until it devours its prey,
even drinking the blood of the slain.
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.
57 When the time was right, Elizabeth gave birth to a son. 58 News about the Lord’s special kindness to her had spread through her extended family and the community. Everyone shared her joy, for after all these years of infertility, she had a son! 59 As was customary, eight days after the baby’s birth the time came for his circumcision and naming. Everyone assumed he would be named Zacharias, like his father.
Elizabeth (disagreeing): 60 No. We will name him John.
Her Relatives (protesting): 61 That name is found nowhere in your family.
62 They turned to Zacharias and asked him what he wanted the baby’s name to be.
63 He motioned for a tablet, and he wrote, “His name is John.” Everyone was shocked by this breach of family custom. 64 They were even more surprised when, at that moment, Zacharias was able to talk again, and he shouted out praises to God. 65 A sense of reverence spread through the whole community. In fact, this story was spread throughout the hilly countryside of Judea. 66 People were certain that God’s hand was on this child, and they wondered what sort of person John would turn out to be when he became a man.
67 When Zacharias’s voice was restored to him, he sang from the fullness of the Spirit a prophetic blessing.
68 Zacharias: May the Lord God of Israel be blessed indeed!
For God’s intervention has begun,
and He has moved to rescue us, the people of God.
69 And the Lord has raised up a powerful sign of liberation for us
from among the descendants of God’s servant, King David.
70 As was prophesied through the mouths of His holy prophets in ancient times:
71 God will liberate us from our enemies
and from the hand of our oppressors![a]
72-74 God will show mercy promised to our ancestors,
upholding the abiding covenant He made with them,
Remembering the original vow He swore to Abraham,
from whom we are all descended.
God will rescue us from the grasp of our enemies
so that we may serve Him without fear all our days
75 In holiness and justice, in the presence of the Lord.
76 And you, my son, will be called the prophet of the Most High.
For you will be the one to prepare the way for the Lord[b]
77 So that the Lord’s people will receive knowledge of their freedom
through the forgiveness of their sins.
78 All this will flow from the kind and compassionate mercy of our God.
A new day is dawning:
the Sunrise from the heavens will break through in our darkness,
79 And those who huddle in night,
those who sit in the shadow of death,
Will be able to rise and walk in the light,[c]
guided in the pathway of peace.
80 And John grew up and became strong in spirit. He lived in the wilderness, outside the cities, until the day came for him to step into the public eye in Israel.
1 Can you, panel of judges, get anything right?
When you judge people, do you tell the truth and pursue justice?
2 No, your real selves have been revealed. You have wickedness in your heart,
and many people have suffered by your hands.
3 Evildoers are naturally offensive, wayward at birth!
They were born telling lies and willfully wandering from the truth.
4 Their bite is painful; their venom is like the deadly poison of a snake;
they are like a cobra that closes up its ears
5 To escape the voice of the charmers,
no matter how enchanting the spells may be.
6 O God, shatter their teeth in their mouths!
Render the young lions harmless; break out their fangs, O Eternal One.
7 Let them run off like the waters of a flood,
and though they aim their arrows, let them fly without their heads.
8 Let them melt like a snail that oozes along;
may they be like a stillborn that never catches its first breath, never sees the sun.
9 Before your cook pots know the furious flame of a fire of thorns—
whether green or burning—He will blow the wicked away.
10 Cheers will rise as the right-living watch Him settle the score,
their feet washed in the blood after the onslaught of the wicked.
11 And it will be heard, “Those who seek justice will be rewarded.
Indeed, there is a God who brings justice to the earth!”
12 Whoever puts down another is not wise,
but one who knows better keeps quiet.
13 A gossip can’t keep anything confidential,
but a reliable person protects a secret.