"What Have I Done Unto Thee?"

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Last Updated on May 24, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 185

Context: Laying waste the lands before them on the way to Canaan, the Israelites arrive at the plains of Moab. Balak, the Moabite king, fearful of the approaching Israelites, sends emissaries to the prophet Balaam of Pethor to persuade him to come and curse the invaders. Refusing to make the journey without God's approval, Balaam, at God's command, rejects the pleas of the first group and goes with a second group with the admonition to do only what God bids. Saddling his ass, Balaam begins the journey, but angers God, Who places an armed angel before the ass, which first carries Balaam into a field, then crushes his foot against a vineyard wall, and finally lies down under him. Balaam strikes the ass with a staff:

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And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?
And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me:
The the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way. . . .

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