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While all this was going on, Balaam still did not perceive that God's angel stood before him. God meant to show him that in His hand is not only the tongue of man, but his eye as well, so that as long as He chooses, man will fail to see what is directly before his nose. But God suddenly permitted Balaam to see the angel with a sword drawn in his hand, and Balaam fell flat on his face. [748] For, being uncircumcised, Balaam might not listen to the words of God or of an angel, standing erect; hence, upon perceiving the angel, who instantly began to address him, Balaam cast himself upon the ground. [749] The sword in the angel's hand did not signify that he meant to strike Balaam, for a breath from his mouth would have sufficed to kill myriads, but it was to point out the following truth to Balaam: "The mouth was given to Jacob, but to Esau and to the other nations, the sword. Thou are about to change thy profession, and to go out against Israel with his own weapon, and therefore shalt thou find death through the sword that is thy own weapon." [750]

The angel now said to Balaam: "If I have been commissioned to demand restitution from thee for the injustice thou hast offered to the ass, that can show neither meritorious deeds of her own nor of her fathers, how much the more must I stand up as the avenger of an entire nation, that have their own merits and can refer to the merits of their fathers. But to return to the ass, why didst thou smite her, that turned from the road only because she saw me and was frightened?" Balaam was a shrewd sinner, for he knew that Divine punishment could be averted only by penitence, and that the angels have no power to touch a man who, after sinning, says, "I have sinned." Hence he said to the angel, "I have sinned," but added, "I did not set out until God said to me, 'Rise up, go with them;' and now thou sayest to me, 'Return.' But this is the Lord's way. Did He not also at first tell Abraham to sacrifice his son, and then He caused an angel to call out to him, 'Lay not thine hand upon the lad?' It is His custom first to give a command, and the through an angel to recall it. So also did He indeed say to me, 'Go with them;' but if it displeaseth thee, I shall turn back." [751] The angel replied: "All that I have done was to thy advantage, but if thou are bound to plunge into destruction, do so, go with these people, but destruction is decreed for all of you. Think not, however, that thou shalt do as thou wilt, for thou shalt have to say what I desire thee to speak, and to restrain what I wish to remain unuttered."

In spite of the warnings he had received from God and the angel, he was not to be restrained from taking this fatal step, but in his hatred toward Israel still cherished the hope that he should succeed in obtaining God's consent to curse Israel, and he continued his journey in this happy expectation. [752]

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