1Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build me seven altars here, and here prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 2So Balak did as Balaam had ordered, and Balak and Balaam offered a bull and a ram on each altar. 3Balaam 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. 4Then 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.” 5The LORD put an utterance in Balaam’s mouth, and said: Go back to Balak, and speak accordingly. 6So he went back to Balak, who was still standing by his burnt offering together with all the princes of Moab. 7Then Balaam recited his poem:
From Aram* Balak has led me here,
Moab’s king, from the mountains of Qedem:a
“Come, curse for me Jacob,
come, denounce Israel.”
8How can I lay a curse on the one whom God has not cursed?
How denounce the one whom the LORD has not denounced?
9For from the top of the crags I see him,
from the heights I behold him.
Here is a people that lives apart*
and does not reckon itself among the nations.
10Who has ever counted the dust of Jacob,
who numbered Israel’s dust-cloud?*
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!” 12Balaam replied, “Is it not what the LORD puts in my mouth that I take care to repeat?”
The Second Oracle. 13Then Balak said to him, “Please come with me to another place* 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.” 14So 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. 15Balaam then said to Balak, “Stand here by your burnt offering, while I seek a meeting over there.” 16Then the LORD met Balaam, and, having put an utterance in his mouth, said to him: Return to Balak, and speak accordingly. 17So 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?” 18Balaam recited his poem:
Rise, Balak, and listen;
give ear to my testimony, son of Zippor!
19God 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?
20I was summoned to bless;
I will bless; I cannot revoke it!
21Misfortune I do not see in Jacob,
nor do I see misery* in Israel.
The LORD, their God, is with them;
among them is the war-cry of their King.
22They have the like of a wild ox’s horns:*
God who brought them out of Egypt.b
23No, there is no augury against Jacob,
nor divination against Israel.
Now it is said of Jacob,
of Israel, “Look what God has done!”
24Here 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.c
25“Neither lay a curse on them nor bless them,” said Balak to Balaam. 26But Balaam answered Balak, “Did I not tell you, ‘Everything the LORD tells me I must do’?”
The Third Oracle. 27Then 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.” 28So he took Balaam to the top of Peor, that overlooks Jeshimon. 29Balaam then said to Balak, “Build me seven altars here; and here prepare for me seven bulls and seven rams.” 30And Balak did as Balaam had ordered, offering a bull and a ram on each altar.
* [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.
* [23:9] A people that lives apart: that is, “securely”; cf. Dt 33:28.
* [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.
* [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.
* [23:21] Misfortune…misery: Balaam states that he is unable to see any evils for Israel.
* [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).