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WHAT A WISE MAN LEARNED FROM AN ASS
Numbers xxii: 2, to xxv: 18; xxxi: 1 to 9.
HEN the Israelites had traveled around the land of Edom,
and encamped beside the river Jordan, a little north of
the Dead Sea, they did not sit down to rest, for Moses
knew that a great work was before them, to take the
land of Canaan. He had already won a great victory over
the Amorites at Jahaz, and slain their king, and won
their land. Again Moses sent out an army into the
north, a region called Bashan. There they fought with
King Og, who was one of the giants, and killed him, and
took his country. This made the Israelites masters of
all the land on the east of the river Jordan, and north
of the brook Arnon.
South of the brook Arnon and east of the Dead Sea were
living the Moabites. This people had sprung from Lot,
the nephew of
 Abraham, of whom we read in earlier Stories (6 and
8). In the five hundred years since Lot's time, his
family or descendants had become a people who were
called Moabites, just as Jacob's descendants were the
Israelites. The Moabites were filled with alarm and
fear as they saw this mighty host of Israel marching
around their land, conquering the country and encamping
on their border. The Moabites were ruled by a king
whose name was Balak, and he tried to form some plan
for driving away the people of Israel from that region.
There was at that time a man living far in the east,
near the great river Euphrates, whose name was Balaam.
This man was known far and wide as a prophet, that is,
a man who talked with God, and heard God's voice, and
spoke from God, as did Moses. People believed that
whatever Balaam said was sure to come to pass; but they
did not know that Balaam could only speak what God gave
him to speak.
Balak, the king of the Moabites, sent men to Balaam at
his home by the river, with great presents. He said to
"There is a people here who have come up out of Egypt,
and they cover the whole land. I am afraid of them, for
they have made war and beaten all the nations around.
Come and curse them for me in the name of your God; for
I believe that those whom you bless are blessed and
prosper, and those whom you curse are cursed and fail."
The men from Moab brought this message and promised to
Balaam a great reward if he would go with them. And
Balaam answered them, "Stay here to-night, and I will
ask my God what to do."
That night God came to Balaam, and said to him:
"Who are these men at your house, and what do they want
The Lord knew who they were, and what they wanted, for
God knows all things. But he wished Balaam to tell him.
And Balaam said:
"They have come from Balak, the king of Moab, and they
ask me to go with them, and to curse for them a people
that have come out of Egypt."
And God said to Balaam, "You must not go with these
men; you shall not curse this people, for this people
are to be blessed."
 So the next morning Balaam said to the men of Moab, "Go
back to your land; for the Lord will not let me go with
When these men brought back to their king, Balak, the
message of Balaam, the king still thought that Balaam
would come, if he should offer him more money. So he
sent other messengers, of high rank, the prices of
Moab, with larger gifts. And they came to Balaam, and
"Our King Balak says that you must come; he will give
you great honors, and all the money that you ask. Come
now, and curse this people for King Balak."
And Balaam said:
"If Balak should give me his house full of silver and
gold, I cannot speak anything except what God gives me
to speak. Stay here to-night, and I will ask my God
what I may say to you."
Now Balaam knew very well what God wished him to say;
but Balaam, though he was a prophet of the Lord, wished
to be rich. He wanted to go with the men, and get
Balak's money, but he did not dare to go against God's
command. And that night God said to Balaam:
"If these men ask you to go with them, you may go; but
when you go to Balak's country, you shall speak only
the words that I give you to speak."
At this Balaam was very glad, and the next day he went
with the princes of Moab, to go to their land, which
was far to the southwest. God was not pleased with
Balaam's going, for Balaam knew very well that God had
forbidden him to curse Israel; but he hoped in some way
to get King Balak's money.
And God sent his angel to meet Balaam in the way. In
order to teach Balaam a lesson, the angel appeared
first to the ass on which Balaam was riding. The ass
could see the angel with his fiery sword standing in
front of the way, but Balaam could not see him. The ass
turned to one side, out of the road, into an open
field; and Balaam struck the ass and drove it back into
the road, for he could not see the angel, whom the ass
Then the angel appeared again, in a place where the
road was narrow, with a stone wall on each side. And
when the ass saw the angel it turned to one side, and
crushed Balaam's foot against the wall. And Balaam
struck the ass again.
THE ANGEL MEETS BALAAM IN THE WAY
Again the angel of the Lord appeared to the ass in a
 where there was no place to turn aside; and the ass was
frightened, and fell down, while Balaam struck it again
and again with his staff.
Then the Lord allowed the ass to speak; and the ass
said to Balaam, "What have I done that you have struck
me these three times?"
And Balaam was so angry that he never thought how
strange it was for an animal to talk; and he said: "I
struck you because you will not walk as you should. I
wish that I had a sword in my hand; then I would kill
And the ass spoke again to Balaam, "Am I not your ass,
the one that has always carried you? Did I ever disobey
you before? Why do you treat me so cruelly?"
And then God opened Balaam's eyes, and let him see the
angel standing with a drawn sword in front of him. Then
Balaam leaped off from the ass to the ground, and fell
down upon his face before the angel. And the angel said
to Balaam, "Balaam, you know that you are going in the
wrong way. But for the ass, which saw me, I would have
killed you. The road that you are taking will lead you
 And Balaam said, "I have sinned against the Lord; now
let the Lord forgive me, and I will go home again."
But the angel knew that in his heart Balaam wanted to
go on to meet King Balak; and the angel said:
"You may go with these men of Moab; but be sure to say
only what God gives you to speak."
So Balaam went on, and came to the land of Moab; and
King Balak said to him:
"So you have come at last! Why did you wait until I
sent the second time? Do you not know that I will pay
you all that you want, if you will only do what I
And Balaam said, "I have come to you as you asked; but
I have no power to speak anything except what God gives
King Balak thought that all Balaam said about speaking
God's word was spoken only to get more money. He did
not understand that a true prophet could never say
anything except what was the will of God. He took
Balaam up to the top of a mountain, from which they
could look down upon the camp of the Israelites, as it
lay with tents spread on the plain, and the Tabernacle
in the middle, overshadowed by the white cloud.
Then Balaam said, "Build for me seven altars, and bring
me for an offering seven young oxen and seven rams."
They did so, and while the offering was on the altar
God gave a word to Balaam; and then Balaam spoke out
"The king of Moab has brought me from the east, saying,
'Come, curse Jacob for me; come, speak against Israel.'
How shall I curse those whom God has not cursed? How
shall I speak against those who are God's own people?
From the mountain-top I see this people dwelling alone
and not like other nations. Who can count the men of
Israel, like the dust of the earth? Let me die the
death of the righteous; and let my last end be like
And King Balak was surprised at Balaam's words. He
"What have you done? I brought you to curse my enemies,
and instead you have blessed them!"
And Balaam answered, "Did I not tell you beforehand,
that I could only say the words that God should put
into my mouth?"
But King Balak thought that he would try again to
obtain from Balaam a curse against Israel. He brought
him to another place, where they could look down on the
Israelites, and again
 offered sacrifices. And again God
gave a message to Balaam; and Balaam said:
"Rise up, King Balak, and hear. God is not a man, that
he should lie, or that he should change his mind. What
God has said, that he will do. He has commanded me to
bless this people; yea, and blessed shall they be. The
Lord God is their king, and he shall lead them, and
give them victory."
Then King Balak said to Balaam:
"If you cannot curse this people, do not bless them,
but leave them alone!"
And Balaam said again, "Did I not tell you, that what
God gives me to speak, that I must speak?"
But King Balak was not yet satisfied. He brought Balaam
to still another place, and offered sacrifices as
before. And again the Spirit of God came on Balaam.
Looking down on the camp of Israel, he said:
"How goodly are your tents, O Israel! And your
tabernacles, O Jacob! God has brought him out of Egypt;
and God shall give him the land of promise. He shall
destroy his enemies; Israel shall be like a lion when
he rises up. Blessed be every one who blesses him; and
cursed be every one that curses him!"
And Balak, the king of Moab, was very angry with Balaam
"I called you," said Balak, "to curse my enemies; and
you have blessed them over and over again. Go back to
your own home. I meant to give you great honor and
riches; but your God has kept you back from your
And Balaam said to Balak:
"Did I not say to your messengers, 'If Balak should
give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go
beyond God's command, to say good or evil? What God
speaks, that I must speak.' Now let me tell you what
this people shall do to your people in the years to
come. A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter
shall be stretched forth from Israel that shall rule
over Moab. All these lands, Edom, and Mount Seir, and
Moab, and Ammon, shall some time be under the rule of
And all this came to pass, though it was four hundred
years afterward, when David, the king of Israel, made
all those countries subject to his rule.
 But Balaam soon showed that although for a time God
spoke through his lips, in his heart he was no true
servant of God. Although he could not speak a curse
against the Israelites, he still longed for the money
that King Balak was ready to give him if he would only
help Balak to weaken the power of Israel. And he tried
another plan to do harm to Israel.
Balaam told King Balak that the best plan for him and
his people would be to make the Israelites their
friends, to marry among them, and not to make war upon
them. And this the Moabites did; until many of the
Israelites married the daughters of Moab, and then they
began to worship the idols of Moab.
This was worse for the Israelites than making war upon
them. For if the people of Israel should be friendly
with the idol-worshipping people around them, the
Moabites east of the Dead Sea, the Ammonites near the
wilderness, and the Edomites on the south, they would
soon forget the Lord, and begin to worship idols.
There was danger that all the people would be led into
sin. And God sent a plague of death upon the people,
and many died. Then Moses took the men who were leading
Israel into sin, and put them to death. And after this
the Israelites made war upon the Moabites, and their
neighbors, the Midianites, who were joined with them.
They beat them in a great battle, and killed many of
them. And among the men of Moab they found Balaam the
prophet; and they killed him also, because he had given
advice to the Moabites which brought harm to Israel.
It would have been better for Balaam to have stayed at
home, and not to have come when King Balak called him;
or it would have been well for him to have gone back to
his home when the angel met him. He might then have
lived in honor; but he knew God's will, and tried to go
against it, and died in disgrace among the enemies of