Story Thirty-Three

WHAT A WISE MAN LEARNED FROM AN ASS
WHEN the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes had traveled around the land of Ḗ dom, and encamped beside the river Jôŕ dan, a little north of the Dead Sea, they did not sit down to rest, for Mṓ s̝es̝ knew that a great work was before them, to take the land of Cā́năan. He had already won a great victory over the Ăḿ or-ītes at Jā́ hăz, and slain their king, and won their land. Again Mṓ s̝es̝ sent out an army into the north, a region called Bā́ shăn. There they fought with King Og, who was one of the giants, and killed him, and took his country. This made the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes masters of all the land on the east of the river Jordan, and north of the brook Äŕ nŏn.
South of the brook Äŕ nŏn and east of the Dead Sea were living the Mṓ ab-ītes. This people had sprung from Lŏt the nephew of Ā́ bră-hăm, of whom we read in earlier stories. In the five hundred years since Lŏt’s time, his family or descendants had become a people who were called Mṓ ab-ītes, just as Jā́ cob's descendants were the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes. The Mṓ ab-ītes were filled with alarm and fear as they saw this mighty host of Ĭś̝ ra-el marching around their land, conquering the country and encamping on their border. The Mṓ ab-ītes were ruled by a king whose name was Bā́ lăk, and he tried to form some plan for driving away the people of Ĭś̝ ra-el from that region.
There was at that time a man living far in the east, near the great river Eū-phrā́ tes̝, whose name was Bā́ laam. 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 Mṓ s̝es̝. People believed that whatever Bā́ laam said was sure to come to pass; but they did not know that Bā́ laam could only speak what God gave him to speak.
Bā́ lăk, the king of the Mṓ ab-ītes, sent men to Bā́ laam at his home by the river, with great presents. He said to Bā́ laam:
"There is a people here who have come up out of Ḗ ġy̆pt, 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 Mṓ ab brought this message and promised to Bā́ laam a great reward if he would go with them. And Bā́ laam answered them, "Stay here to-night, and I will ask my God what to do.”
That night God came to Bā́ laam, and said to him:
"Who are these men at your house, and what do they want from you?”
The Lord knew who they were, and what they wanted, for God knows all things. But he wished Bā́ laam to tell him. And Bā́ laam said:
"They have come from Bā́ lăk, the king of Mṓ ab, and they ask me to go with them, and to curse for them a people that have come out of Ḗ ġy̆pt.”
And God said to Bā́ laam, "You must not go with these men; you shall not curse this people; for this people are to be blessed.”
So the next morning Bā́ laam said to the men of Mṓ ab, "Go back to your land; for the Lord will not let me go with you.”
When these men brought back to their king, Bā́ lăk, the message of Bā́ laam, the king still thought that Bā́ laam would come, if he should offer him more money. So he sent other messengers, of high rank, the princes of Mṓ ab, with larger gifts. And they came to Bā́ laam, and said:
`Our King Bā́ lăk 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 Bā́ lăk.”
And Bā́ laam said:
"If Bā lăk 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 Bā́ laam knew very well what God wished him to say; but Bā́ laam, though he was a prophet of the Lord, wished to be rich. He wanted to go with the men, and get Bā́ lăk's money, but he did not dare to go against God's command. And that night God said to Bā́ laam:
"If these men ask you to go with them, you may go; but when you go to Bā́ lăk's country, you shall speak only the words that I give you to speak.”
At this Bā́ laam was very glad, and the next day he went with the princes of Mṓ ab, to go to their land, which was far to the southwest. God was not pleased with Bā́ laam's going, for Bā́ laam knew very well that God had forbidden him to curse Ĭś̝ ra-el; but he hoped in some way to get King Bā́ lăk's money.
And God sent his angel to meet Bā́ laam in the way. In order to teach Bā́ laam a lesson, the angel appeared first to the ass on which Bā́ laam was riding. The ass could see the angel with his fiery sword standing in front of the way, but Bā́ laam could not see him. The ass turned to one side, out of the road, into an open field; and Bā́ laam struck the ass and drove it back into the road, for he could not see the angel, whom the ass saw.
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 Bā́ laam's foot against the wall. And Bā́ laam struck the ass again.
Again the angel of the Lord appeared to the ass in a place where there was no place to turn aside; and the ass was frightened, and fell down, while Bā́ laam struck it again and again with his staff. Then the Lord allowed the ass to speak; and the ass said to Bā́ laam, "What have I done that you have struck me these three times?”
And Bā́ laam 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 you.”
And the ass spoke again to Bā́ laam, "Amos 1 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 trod opened Bā́ laam's eyes, and let him see the angel standing with a drawn sword in front of him. Then Bā́ laam leaped off from the ass to the ground, and fell down upon his face before the angel. And the angel said to Bā́ laam, "Bā́ laam, 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 to death.”
And Bā́ laam 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 Bā́ laam wanted to go on to meet King Bā́ laam; and the angel said:
"You may go with these men of Mṓ ab; but be sure to say only what God gives you to speak.”
So Bā́ laam went on, and came to the land of Mṓ ab; and King Mṓab 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 wish?”
And Bā́ laam said, "I have come to you as you asked; hut I have no power to speak anything except what God gives me.”
King Bā́ lăk thought that all Bā́ laam 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 Bā́ laam up to the top of a mountain, from which they could look down upon the camp of the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes, as it lay with tents spread on the plain, and the Tabernacle in the middle, overshadowed by the white cloud.
Then Bā́ laam 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 Bā́ laam; and then Bā́ laam spoke out God's word:
"The king of Mṓ ab has brought me from the east, saying, `Come, curse Jā́ cob for me; come, speak against Ĭś̝ ra-el.' 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 Ĭś̝ ra-el, like the dust of the earth? Let me die the death of the righteous; and let my last end be like his!”
And King Bā́ lăk was surprised at Bā́ laam's words. He said: "What have you done? I brought you to curse my enemies, and instead you have blessed them!”
And Bā́ laam answered, "Did I not tell you beforehand, that I could only say the words that God should put into my mouth?”
But King Bā́ lăk thought that he would try again to obtain from Bā́ laam a curse against Ĭś̝ ra-el. He brought him to another place, where they could look down on the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes, and again offered sacrifices. And again God gave a message to Bā́ laam; and Bā́laam said:
"Rise up, King Bā́ lăk, 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 Bā́ lăk said to Bắ laam:
"If you cannot curse this people, do not bless them, but leave them alone!”
And Bā́ laam said again, "Did I not tell you, that what God gives me to speak, that I must speak?”
But King Bā́ lăk was not yet satisfied. He brought Bā́ laam to still another place, and offered sacrifices as before. And again the Spirit of God came on Bā́ laam. Looking down on the camp of Ĭś̞ ra-el, he said:
"How goodly are your tents, O Ĭś̝ ra-el! and your tabernacles, O Jā́ cob! God has brought him out of Ḗ ġy̆pt; and God shall give him the land of promise. He shall destroy his enemies; Ĭś̝ ra-el shall be like a lion when he rises up. Blessed be everyone who blesses him; and cursed be every one that curses him!”
And Bā́ lăk, the king of Mṓ ab, was very angry with Bā́ laam the prophet.
"I called you," said Bā́ lăk, "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 reward!”
And Bā́ laam said to Bā́ lăk:
"Did I not say to your messengers, `If Bā́ lăk 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 Ĭś̝ ra-el that shall rule over Mṓ ab. All these lands, Ḗ dom, and Mount Sḗ ir, and Mṓ ab, and Ammon shall some time be under the rule of Ĭś̝ ra-el.”
And all this came to pass, though it was four hundred years afterward, when Dā́ vid, the king of Ĭś̝ ra-el, made all those countries subject to his rule.
But Bā́ laam 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 Iś̝ ra-el-ītes, he still longed for the money that King Bā́ lăk was ready to give him if he would only help Bā́ lăk to weaken the power of Ĭś̞ ra-el. And he tried another plan to do harm to Ĭś̝ ra-el.
Bā́ laam told King Bā́ lăk that the best plan for him and his people would be to make the Ĭś̞ ra-el-ītes their friends, to marry among them, and not to make war upon them. And this the Mṓ ab-ītes did; until many of the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes married the daughters of Mṓ ab, and then they began to worship the idols of Mṓ ab.
This was worse for the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes than making war upon them. For if the people of Iś̝ ra-el should be friendly with the idol-worshipping people around them, the Mṓ ab-ītes east of the Dead Sea, the Ăḿ mŏn-ītes near the wilderness, and the Ḗ dom-ītes 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 Ĭś̞ ra-el into sin, and put them to death. And after this the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes made war upon the Mṓ ab-ītes, and their neighbors, the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes, who were joined with them. They beat them in a great battle, and killed many of them. And among the men of Mṓ ab they found Bā́ laam the prophet; and they killed him also, because he had given advice to the Mṓ ab-ītes which brought harm to Ĭś̝ ra-el.
It would have been better for Bā́ laam to have stayed at home, and not to have come when King Bā́ lăk 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 God's people.