Balak, the king of Moab, having seen that the Israelites defeated the Emorites, was afraid that they would plot against him. Balak sent emissaries to Midian, to Bilaam the son of Be’or, to ask him to curse the Israelites. Bilaam told Balak’s emissaries to stay the night, to give him time to see how God would instruct him. God appeared to Bilaam at night and warned him not to travel to Moab to curse the Israelites, who are a blessed nation.
Bilaam wakes up in the morning and tells Balak’s officers that he is unable to go with them, due to God’s warning. After they reported back to Balak, he sent higher-ranking officers to persuade Bilaam. Bilaam repeated that he is bound by God’s word. God again appeared to Bilaam at night, telling him that he had permission to go, but that he must do what He instructs him.
Bilaam saddled his donkey and travelled with Balak’s officers. God is angered by Bilaam’s decision and sent an angel to impede him. The donkey saw the angel, who had a drawn sword in his hand. She deviated from the road to avoid the angel. Bilaam, unable to see the angel, hit the donkey. The angel positioned himself between two parallel fences. When the donkey moved towards the wall, pressing Bilaam’s leg against it, Bilaam again hit her. The angel then placed himself in a narrow part of the path, making it impossible for the donkey to circumvent him. She stopped and crouched, causing Bilaam to get angry and hit her again. God “opens the mouth of the donkey”, who defended her actions. God now “uncovers Bilaam’s eyes” and he sees the angel. The angel chastised Bilaam, who admitted his sin and suggested that he return home. The angel responded that he can continue his journey but must not say anything other than what God tells him. Balak went out to greet Bilaam on the border of Arnon.
Bilaam and Balak went to a vantage point from where Bilaam could see the edge of the Israelite camp. Bilaam told Balak to build him seven altars and give him seven bulls and rams to sacrifice. Balak complied and Bilaam sacrificed the animals. God appeared to Bilaam and told him what to say. Against his will, Bilaam actually blessed the Israelites. Balak was incensed, yet Bilaam claimed that he was unable to defy God’s command.
Balak took Bilaam to a new location in the hope of a better result. Once again, Bilaam brought animal offerings. As before, God appeared to Bilaam, who could only bless, not curse, the Israelites.
Balak and Bilaam went to a third location. After bringing the offerings to the altar, Bilaam saw the encampments of the Israelites and “the spirit of God rested upon him” so that he actually no longer wanted to curse them. Again Bilaam blessed Israel. Balak dismissed him.
Before leaving, Bilaam told Balak that the Israelites could be vulnerable to immoral behaviour. He then prophesied about future stages of their history. Bilaam and Balak went their separate ways. The Israelites settled in Shittim where the men were attracted to Moabite women, as well as towards worshipping the idol Pe’or. Pinchas, a grandson of Aharon, saw a public display of immoral behaviour and killed the culprit, Zimri from the tribe of Shimon, along with Kozbi, the Midianite princess.