21-23 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went off with the noblemen from Moab. As he was going, though, God’s anger flared. The angel of God stood in the road to block his way. Balaam was riding his donkey, accompanied by his two servants. When the donkey saw the angel blocking the road and brandishing a sword, she veered off the road into the ditch. Balaam beat the donkey and got her back on the road.
24-25 But as they were going through a vineyard, with a fence on either side, the donkey again saw God’s angel blocking the way and veered into the fence, crushing Balaam’s foot against the fence. Balaam hit her again.
26-27 God’s angel blocked the way yet again—a very narrow passage this time; there was no getting through on the right or left. Seeing the angel, Balaam’s donkey sat down under him. Balaam lost his temper; he beat the donkey with his stick.
28 Then God gave speech to the donkey. She said to Balaam: “What have I ever done to you that you have beat me these three times?”
29 Balaam said, “Because you’ve been playing games with me! If I had a sword I would have killed you by now.”
30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your trusty donkey on whom you’ve ridden for years right up until now? Have I ever done anything like this to you before? Have I?”
He said, “No.”
31 Then God helped Balaam see what was going on: He saw God’s angel blocking the way, brandishing a sword. Balaam fell to the ground, his face in the dirt.
32-33 God’s angel said to him: “Why have you beaten your poor donkey these three times? I have come here to block your way because you’re getting way ahead of yourself. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she hadn’t, I would have killed you by this time, but not the donkey. I would have let her off.”
34 Balaam said to God’s angel, “I have sinned. I had no idea you were standing in the road blocking my way. If you don’t like what I’m doing, I’ll head back.”
35 But God’s angel said to Balaam, “Go ahead and go with them. But only say what I tell you to say—absolutely no other word.”
And so Balaam continued to go with Balak’s nobles.
36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him in the Moabite town that was on the banks of the Arnon, right on the boundary of his land.
37 Balak said to Balaam, “Didn’t I send an urgent message for help? Why didn’t you come when I called? Do you think I can’t pay you enough?”
38 Balaam said to Balak, “Well, I’m here now. But I can’t tell you just anything. I can speak only words that God gives me—no others.”
39-40 Balaam then accompanied Balak to Kiriath Huzoth (Street-Town). Balak slaughtered cattle and sheep for sacrifices and presented them to Balaam and the nobles who were with him.
41 At daybreak Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal (The Heights of Baal) so that he could get a good view of some of the people.
23 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and then prepare seven bulls and seven rams.”
2 Balak did it. Then Balaam and Balak sacrificed a bull and a ram on each of the altars.
3 Balaam instructed Balak: “Stand watch here beside your Whole-Burnt-Offering while I go off by myself. Maybe God will come and meet with me. Whatever he shows or tells me, I’ll report to you.” Then he went off by himself.
4 God did meet with Balaam. Balaam said, “I’ve set up seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.”
5 Then God gave Balaam a message: “Return to Balak and give him this message.”
6-10 He went back and found him stationed beside his Whole-Burnt-Offering and with him all the nobles of Moab. Then Balaam spoke his message-oracle:
Balak led me here from Aram,
the king of Moab all the way from the eastern mountains.
“Go, curse Jacob for me;
go, damn Israel.”
How can I curse whom God has not cursed?
How can I damn whom God has not damned?
From rock pinnacles I see them,
from hilltops I survey them:
Look! a people camping off by themselves,
thinking themselves outsiders among nations.
But who could ever count the dust of Jacob
or take a census of cloud-of-dust Israel?
I want to die like these right-living people!
I want an end just like theirs!
11 Balak said to Balaam, “What’s this? I brought you here to curse my enemies, and all you’ve done is bless them.”
12 Balaam answered, “Don’t I have to be careful to say what God gives me to say?”
13 Balak said to him, “Go with me to another place from which you can only see the outskirts of their camp—you won’t be able to see the whole camp. From there, curse them for my sake.”
14 So he took him to Watchmen’s Meadow at the top of Pisgah. He built seven altars there and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.
15 Balaam said to Balak, “Take up your station here beside your Whole-Burnt-Offering while I meet with him over there.”
16 God met with Balaam and gave him a message. He said, “Return to Balak and give him the message.”
17-24 Balaam returned and found him stationed beside his Whole-Burnt-Offering and the nobles of Moab with him. Balak said to him, “What did God say?” Then Balaam spoke his message-oracle:
On your feet, Balak. Listen,
listen carefully son of Zippor:
God is not man, one given to lies,
and not a son of man changing his mind.
Does he speak and not do what he says?
Does he promise and not come through?
I was brought here to bless;
and now he’s blessed—how can I change that?
He has no bone to pick with Jacob,
he sees nothing wrong with Israel.
God is with them,
and they’re with him, shouting praises to their King.
God brought them out of Egypt,
rampaging like a wild ox.
No magic spells can bind Jacob,
no incantations can hold back Israel.
People will look at Jacob and Israel and say,
“What a great thing has God done!”
Look, a people rising to its feet, stretching like a lion,
a king-of-the-beasts, aroused,
Unsleeping, unresting until its hunt is over
and it’s eaten and drunk its fill.
25 Balak said to Balaam, “Well, if you can’t curse them, at least don’t bless them.”
26 Balaam replied to Balak, “Didn’t I tell you earlier: ‘All God speaks, and only what he speaks, I speak’?”
27-28 Balak said to Balaam, “Please, let me take you to another place; maybe we can find the right place in God’s eyes where you’ll be able to curse them for me.” So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, with a vista over the Jeshimon (Wasteland).
29 Balaam said to Balak, “Build seven altars for me here and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for sacrifice.”
30 Balak did it and presented an offering of a bull and a ram on each of the altars.
The Birth of John
57-58 When Elizabeth was full-term in her pregnancy, she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives, seeing that God had overwhelmed her with mercy, celebrated with her.
59-60 On the eighth day, they came to circumcise the child and were calling him Zachariah after his father. But his mother intervened: “No. He is to be called John.”
61-62 “But,” they said, “no one in your family is named that.” They used sign language to ask Zachariah what he wanted him named.
63-64 Asking for a tablet, Zachariah wrote, “His name is to be John.” That took everyone by surprise. Surprise followed surprise—Zachariah’s mouth was now open, his tongue loose, and he was talking, praising God!
65-66 A deep, reverential fear settled over the neighborhood, and in all that Judean hill country people talked about nothing else. Everyone who heard about it took it to heart, wondering, “What will become of this child? Clearly, God has his hand in this.”
67-79 Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied,
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
he came and set his people free.
He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives,
and in the very house of David his servant,
Just as he promised long ago
through the preaching of his holy prophets:
Deliverance from our enemies
and every hateful hand;
Mercy to our fathers,
as he remembers to do what he said he’d do,
What he swore to our father Abraham—
a clean rescue from the enemy camp,
So we can worship him without a care in the world,
made holy before him as long as we live.
And you, my child, “Prophet of the Highest,”
will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways,
Present the offer of salvation to his people,
the forgiveness of their sins.
Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace.
80 The child grew up, healthy and spirited. He lived out in the desert until the day he made his prophetic debut in Israel.
A David Psalm
58 1-2 Is this any way to run a country?
Is there an honest politician in the house?
Behind the scenes you brew cauldrons of evil,
behind closed doors you make deals with demons.
3-5 The wicked crawl from the wrong side of the cradle;
their first words out of the womb are lies.
Poison, lethal rattlesnake poison,
drips from their forked tongues—
Deaf to threats, deaf to charm,
decades of wax built up in their ears.
6-9 God, smash their teeth to bits,
leave them toothless tigers.
Let their lives be buckets of water spilled,
all that’s left, a damp stain in the sand.
Let them be trampled grass
worn smooth by the traffic.
Let them dissolve into snail slime,
be a miscarried fetus that never sees sunlight.
Before what they cook up is half-done, God,
throw it out with the garbage!
10-11 The righteous will call up their friends
when they see the wicked get their reward,
Serve up their blood in goblets
as they toast one another,
Everyone cheering, “It’s worth it to play by the rules!
God’s handing out trophies and tending the earth!”
12 Mean-spirited slander is heartless;
quiet discretion accompanies good sense.
13 A gadabout gossip can’t be trusted with a secret,
but someone of integrity won’t violate a confidence.