Balaam is Made to Prophesy
The Israelites next journeyed by the way of the Red Sea to march around the land of Edom, and the people were much discouraged on account of the way. Again the people began to complain and abuse Moses. They said to him: "Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread, neither is there any water and we loathe this manna."
To punish the people for their lack of faith the Lord sent fiery serpents among them, that crawled over the ground and into the tents and bit the people, so that many of them died.
Moses prayed for the people and asked God to spare them. The Lord said to Moses: "Make a fiery serpent and set it upon a pole, and it shall come to pass that every one that is bitten, if he shall look upon the serpent, he shall live." And Moses made a serpent of brass and put it upon a pole so that the people could see it. If any man was bitten by any of the fiery serpents, all he had to do was to look up at the brass serpent on the pole, and he lived.
After the fiery serpents had disappeared, Israel marched onward, and at last came to the plains of Moab. The king of the country was named Balak, and he feared the children of Israel for they were many and the Lord had made them powerful against their enemies. He thought they had come to make war against him and he did not have enough soldiers to fight so great a company. Therefore, he sent to a man named Balaam, saying: "There is a people come over from Egypt; they cover the face of the earth and they abide over against me. Come now and curse these people that I may smite them and drive them out of the land." And he promised many things to Balaam if he would curse the children of Israel and bring evil upon them.
Balaam did not want to go, and sent the messengers back to Balak. Again the king sent more messengers, princes this time, saying: "Let nothing hinder you from coming to me. I will promote you to very great honor, and I will do whatever you ask me to do. Come, therefore, and curse these people that I may smite them and drive them out of the land."
At last Balaam was persuaded, and rose up in the morning and saddled his ass, and went away with the princes of Moab. But God's anger was kindled against him for going, and for yielding to the temptation of riches and honors to do wrong in trying to bring evil upon the people of Israel.
As Balaam rode along on his ass an angel of the Lord stood in the way, with a sword drawn in his hand, and the ass saw the angel but Balaam could not see him. And the ass turned aside out of the way and went into the field. Balaam could not understand why the ass left the path and smote her to turn her back in the way.
A little further on they came to a narrow path with a wall on either side and again the angel stood in the path. Again the ass saw the angel and Balaam could not see him. When the ass saw the angel she thrust herself against the wall and crushed Balaam's foot against the hard stone. Balaam cried aloud and smote the ass again. Then the angel disappeared and Balaam rode on not knowing why his ass was behaving in the way she did.
They came to a narrow path where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. Again the angel appeared to the ass, which frightened the poor animal so much that she fell down in the path and refused to move. Balaam was very angry and began to beat the ass with his long staff.
Then the Lord opened the mouth of the ass and she began to speak to Balaam, "What have I done to you that you should beat me three times?" she said.
"Because you have made sport of me. If there were a sword in my hand I would kill you," answered Balaam.
The ass spoke up and asked Balaam: "Am I not your ass, upon which you have ridden ever since you have owned me, and have I ever before made sport of you, and have I not always done your bidding?" And Balaam was compelled to confess that the animal had always been a faithful servant.
Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam and he saw the angel standing in the way with his sword drawn in his hand. Then Balaam bowed his head and fell flat on his face. The angel spoke to him and said: "Why have you smitten this poor beast three times? It was I who stood in the way because the Lord is not pleased with what you do. The ass saw me and turned three times; unless she had turned I would have slain you and saved her alive."
"Go with the men, but only the word which I shall speak to you shall you speak," said the angel to Balaam. And Balaam rode on with the princes of Moab until he came to King Balak.
Balak went out to meet him on the way and greeted him, and promised him all honors if he would curse the children of Israel. But Balaam answered: "Have I now any power to say anything? The word that the Lord puts in my mouth that only shall I speak." With that the king was compelled to be content. He sent oxen and sheep to Balaam and showed him great respect hoping thereby to get him to curse the children of Israel.
On the next day Balak took Balaam into a high place where he could see the hosts of Israel. Balaam said: "Build me here seven altars and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams." And Balak built the altars and he and Balaam offered on each altar a bullock and a ram. Then Balaam told the king to stand by the burnt offering while he went off to speak to the Lord. Then God met Balaam and put words in his mouth that he should speak when he came back to Balak.
Balaam returned and Balak expected him to bring curses upon the people of Israel, but instead of that Balaam began to speak the words that God had put in his mouth. He said: "How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? How shall I defy whom the Lord has not defied?" Then he told Balak that the people of Israel should be blessed above all nations. Balak was very angry and said to Balaam: "What have you done to me? I brought you here to curse my enemies and see you have blessed them altogether."
Then Balak took him to another high place where he could see the hosts of Israel and built seven altars and offered up seven bullocks and seven rams and asked Balaam to curse his enemies. But again the Lord put words into Balaam's mouth and he told Balak that the people of Israel should rise up like a lion and not lie down until they had eaten of the prey and drunken of the blood of the slain.
Then Balak tried again in a third place, and again they built seven altars and offered seven bullocks and seven rams as they had done before. By this time Balaam knew that the Lord would not let him curse His people, and so he looked toward the wilderness where the people of Israel were abiding in their tents. Then the spirit of God came upon Balaam and he prophesied a great future for the people of Israel while King Balak and the princes of Moab stood by in anger and listened to his words.
Then Balak's wrath was great. He said to Balaam: "I had thought to promote you to great honor. I had called you to curse my enemies and behold, you have blessed them three times. You shall have neither the riches nor the honor I had promised. Therefore, go you back to your own home." And Balaam rose and went back to his home and Balak also went his way.