The Holy Bible – Knox Translation
The Book of Numbers
Their next encampment was in the plains of Moab, on the further side of Jordan opposite Jericho.
But there was one man that took note of all this, Balac the son of Sephor. He saw how the sons of Israel had defeated the Amorrhites,
how they had struck terror into Moab, and could not be halted in their advance.
And he said to the Madianite chiefs, Here is a people that will make short work of all our neighbours, as easily as an ox tears up grass by the roots. It was in Moab that Balac himself bore rule at this time.
So he sent envoys to Balaam son of Beor, the soothsayer who dwelt on the Ammonite border, desiring his presence. Here is a people on the march from Egypt, he said, whose hosts darken the face of earth, and they are encamped at my doors;
come and lay thy curse on them, or they are too strong for me. I would fain overthrow them, drive them out of my country; and I know well that a blessing falls where thou dost bless, a curse where thou dost curse.
So the elders of Moab, chiefs of the Madianite country, set out with gifts in their hands to fee the soothsayer. When they reached Balaam, and gave him Balac’s message,
he bade them stay there for the night, so that he might answer as the Lord should direct him. To this they consented; and when God came to Balaam and asked him,
What is their errand, these guests of thine?
he answered, They have brought me a message from Balac, son of Sephor.
He says a people has marched there from Egypt, whose hosts darken the face of earth, and he would have me come and lay my ban on them, so that he can make war on them and drive them out of his country.
Do not go with them, the Lord said to Balaam; do not lay thy curse on the people, for a blessing goes with them.
So when he rose next morning he bade the chiefs go back to their own country; the Lord would not allow him to accompany them.
And when these returned and told Balac how Balaam had refused to come with them,
he sent other chiefs, more in number and greater in rank than those whom he had sent first.
And the message these brought with them to Balaam in the name of Balac son of Sephor was this; Come to me with all speed;
I am ready to grant thee honours and whatever else thou wouldst have, if thou wilt only come and lay thy ban on this people.
But Balaam told them, Though Balac should fill his house with silver and gold and offer to give it me, I have no power to go beyond the Lord’s bidding by a word great or small.
Be pleased to lodge with me to-night, and wait to hear what answer the Lord will give me this time.
And that night the Lord came to Balaam and said, If they are here to summon thee, rise and go with them, but do ever what I bid thee.
When Balaam arose in the morning, he saddled his ass and set out in their company.
But now God was angry at his going.✻ There rode Balaam on his ass, with two servants attending him, when all at once an angel of the Lord stood in his path to prevent him.
And the ass, seeing an angel standing there with drawn sword, edged away from the road and took to the open fields, so that Balaam must needs beat her, to force her into the path again.
Next, the angel stood in a narrow entry between two vineyard walls;
and at the sight of him the ass cowered close against one of the walls, crushing her rider’s foot, and he must beat her forward again.
But still the angel of the Lord would have his way; he moved on to a narrow defile, where there was no room to pass right or left, and stood there to intercept them.
And now the ass, seeing him standing there, lay down under her rider; so that Balaam fell into a rage, and beat her flanks harder than ever.
Hereupon the Lord endowed the ass with the power of speech, and she said, This is the third time thou hast beaten me; what have I done to deserve it?
Thou hast deserved it, answered Balaam, by playing me false; if I had but a sword in my hand, I would kill thee.
Why, said the ass, am I not thy own beast, that thou hast ridden these years past? And did I ever play thee such a trick before? Never, said he;
and with that the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, to make him see the angel standing there with drawn sword, and he fell to the ground in worship.
How comes it, asked the angel, that thou hast thrice beaten thy ass? I came to intercept thee, because this errand of thine is headstrong and defies my will;
if the ass had not turned aside, yielding to my ban, I would have taken thy life and spared hers.
I have been at fault, said Balaam, little thinking that thou wert standing in my way; if thou art displeased with my errand, I will go home again.
No, said the angel, go with them, but be sure thou utterest no word save what I bid thee. So he went on with the chiefs;
and at the news of his coming Balac went out to meet him, at a town where Arnon marks the furthest boundaries of Moab.
I sent messengers to summon thee, he said to Balaam; why didst thou not come to me there and then? Didst thou think I had not the means to reward thee for thy pains?
And Balaam answered, I have come, as thou seest; but with no message for thee save what the Lord puts on my lips.
So together they made their way to this city on the frontier of Balac’s dominions.✻
Here he sacrificed oxen and sheep, sending a portion to Balaam and to the chiefs who had accompanied him;
and when morning came, he took him up to the Hill of Baal, whence he could see the furthest outposts of Israel.
The Holy Bible