1Then the Israelites moved on and encamped in the plains of Moab* on the other side of the Jordan opposite Jericho.
Balaam Summoned. 2Now Balak, son of Zippor, saw all that Israel did to the Amorites, 3and Moab feared the Israelites greatly because they were numerous. Moab was in dread of the Israelites. 4So 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; 5and he sent messengers to Balaam, son of Beor, at Pethor on the river, in the land of the Ammonites,* 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! 6Now come, curse this people for me,* 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.” 7So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian, themselves experts in divination,* left and went to Balaam, to whom they gave Balak’s message. 8He 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.
9Then God came to Balaam and said: Who are these men with you? 10Balaam 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.’” 12But God said to Balaam: Do not go with them and do not curse this people, for they are blessed. 13The 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.” 14So the princes of Moab went back to Balak with the report, “Balaam refused to come with us.”
Second Appeal to Balaam. 15Balak yet again sent princes, who were more numerous and more distinguished than the others. 16On coming to Balaam they told him, “Thus says Balak, son of Zippor: Please do not refuse to come to me. 17I will reward you very handsomely and will do anything you ask of me. Come, lay a curse on this people for me.” 18a 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. 19But, you too stay here overnight, so that I may learn what else the LORD may say to me.” 20That 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. 21So the next morning when Balaam arose, he saddled his donkey,* and went off with the princes of Moab.
The Talking Donkey. 22But now God’s anger flared up* 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, 23the 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. 24Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow lane between vineyards with a stone wall on each side. 25When 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. 26Then 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. 27When 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.
28b 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.” 30But 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.
31Then 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. 32But 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. 33When 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.” 34Then 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.” 35But 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.
36When 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. 37And 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?” 38Balaam 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.” 39Then Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. 40Here Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent portions to Balaam and to the princes who were with him.
The First Oracle. 41The next morning Balak took Balaam up on Bamoth-baal, and from there he could see some of the people.
* [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.
* [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).
* [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.
* [22:7] Experts in divination: lit., “divination was in their hand,” i.e., “in their possession”; cf. Ezr 7:25.
* [22:21] Donkey: technically a she-donkey; Heb. aton.
* [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.