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Balak Summons Balaam to Curse Israel


The Israelites set out, and camped in the plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho. 2Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. 3Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were so numerous; Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. 4And Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” Now Balak son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time. 5He sent messengers to Balaam son of Beor at Pethor, which is on the Euphrates, in the land of Amaw, to summon him, saying, “A people has come out of Egypt; they have spread over the face of the earth, and they have settled next to me. 6Come now, curse this people for me, since they are stronger than I; perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land; for I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed.”

7 So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam, and gave him Balak’s message. 8He said to them, “Stay here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, just as the L ord speaks to me”; so the officials of Moab stayed with Balaam. 9God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” 10Balaam said to God, “King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, has sent me this message: 11‘A people has come out of Egypt and has spread over the face of the earth; now come, curse them for me; perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.’ ” 12God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” 13So Balaam rose in the morning, and said to the officials of Balak, “Go to your own land, for the L ord has refused to let me go with you.” 14So the officials of Moab rose and went to Balak, and said, “Balaam refuses to come with us.”

15 Once again Balak sent officials, more numerous and more distinguished than these. 16They came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak son of Zippor: ‘Do not let anything hinder you from coming to me; 17for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do; come, curse this people for me.’ ” 18But Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, “Although Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the L ord my God, to do less or more. 19You remain here, as the others did, so that I may learn what more the L ord may say to me.” 20That night God came to Balaam and said to him, “If the men have come to summon you, get up and go with them; but do only what I tell you to do.” 21So Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the officials of Moab.

Balaam, the Donkey, and the Angel

22 God’s anger was kindled because he was going, and the angel of the L ord took his stand in the road as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23The donkey saw the angel of the L ord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; so the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road. 24Then the angel of the L ord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. 25When the donkey saw the angel of the L ord, it scraped against the wall, and scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck it again. 26Then the angel of the L ord went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27When the donkey saw the angel of the L ord, it lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28Then the L ord opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!” 30But the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?” And he said, “No.”

31 Then the L ord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the L ord standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed down, falling on his face. 32The angel of the L ord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me. 33The donkey saw me, and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let it live.” 34Then Balaam said to the angel of the L ord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now therefore, if it is displeasing to you, I will return home.” 35The angel of the L ord said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but speak only what I tell you to speak.” So Balaam went on with the officials of Balak.

36 When Balak heard that Balaam had come, he went out to meet him at Ir-moab, on the boundary formed by the Arnon, at the farthest point of the boundary. 37Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send to summon you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not able to honor you?” 38Balaam said to Balak, “I have come to you now, but do I have power to say just anything? The word God puts in my mouth, that is what I must say.” 39Then Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. 40Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent them to Balaam and to the officials who were with him.

Balaam’s First Oracle

41 On the next day Balak took Balaam and brought him up to Bamoth-baal; and from there he could see part of the people of Israel.

8. And he said unto them, Lodge here this night. Inasmuch as he waits for a revelation from the true God, it is probable that he was not a magician or sorcerer, whose only power to divine arose from superstition or evil arts. We shall, indeed, see hereafter, that he was accustomed to use many impostures and deceptions; but it will be plain, from the evidence of facts, that he was furnished with the gift of prophecy. Not that he is to be reckoned among the true prophets whom God set over His Church, because neither was the perpetual office of prophesying conferred upon him, nor was it conjoined with that of teaching. For those servants of His, to whom God intrusted the office of prophesying, He so directed by His Spirit, that they never spoke except out of His mouth. And although they did not foresee all that was to happen, but only according to the measure of their revelation, still He concealed nothing from them which it was profitable for them to know. Hence the expression of Amos,

“Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7.)

In a word, they were the organs of the Holy Spirit for all necessary predictions; and the credit due to their prophecies was of an equable and constant character, so that they never spoke absurdly or in vain. Besides, they were endowed with the power of adapting their prophecies to a just object and use. Thus, after the Law was promulgated, they were its interpreters. In prosperity they bore witness to the grace of God; in adversity, to His judgments. In fine, their business was to ratify God’s covenant, whereby He reconciles men to Himself through Christ. Far different was the case with Balaam, and such like, who were only endued with a particular gift, 145145     “Pour predire ceci ou cela;” to predict this or that. — Fr. so that they truly foretold some things, and were mistaken in others; and, indeed, they only uttered bare revelations without any admixture of doctrine. God willed, indeed, that such should exist even among heathen nations, so that some sparks of light should shine amidst their darkness, and thus the excuse of ignorance should be taken away. Indeed, all those who have dared to delude the world by their impostures have usurped the name of prophet; and although the word divination is honorable and sacred, it has been improperly applied to the art of deception, and the liberty to lie, as it is the custom of the devil to profane God’s name by its impious abuse. Still, there were some among the Gentiles who occasionally predicted future events by divine inspiration; and this was especially the case before the Law was given, inasmuch as God had not then distinguished His elect people from others by this mark. At this time, it is true, the promise had been given,

“The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee prophets,” 146146     A.V. “A Prophet.” See C.’s Comment. in loco, vol. 1, p. 433. etc, (Deuteronomy 18:15.);

but it was not yet generally known, and therefore God was unwilling that the nations should be deprived of their soothsayers, who still were very different from those true prophets, whose call was clear and legitimate.

I have said thus much briefly with reference to Balaam, whom God addresses in a vision by night, or dream, no less familiarly than any of His own servants; but only on a particular point. By the inquiry, “What men are these with thee?” Hie indirectly reproves his improper desires. At first sight he pretends a holy anxiety to obey, when he dares to attempt nothing without God’s permission, and refuses to stir a foot, until he shall have received His answer. Yet secret covetousness influences him to obtain from God, by bargaining as it were, what he still feels not to be right. God glances at this astuteness, when He inquires respecting the men; as much as to say, that there was no reason why he should detain them a moment, since their demand should have been peremptorily refused. And, assuredly, if he had been free, he would have hastened at once to obey the wishes of king Balak, even contrary to the will of God. He now requests that permission should be given him; as if he desired to have the reins, which withheld him from his evil purposes, slackened, when he would have willingly shaken them off altogether, if he were not well aware that he could do nothing further than God would permit. Nor, indeed, does he regard what is lawful and right; but only seeks that his mouth may be opened to curse with impunity.

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