OLD TESTAMENT - LESSON 16
Numbers 22-24; 31
- Balaam refuses Balak's offer of rewards in exchange for cursing Israel.
- The Lord shows the danger of Balaam's stubborn insistence on his own
- Balaam refuses to curse Israel.
- The Israelites destroy the Midianites and slay Balaam.
A study of this lesson should inspire us to submit to God's will without
Balaam & Balak
- The Lord denied Israel entry into Palestine after 10 of the spies returned
with a negative report about being able to conquer the land.
Many years later Israel began to advance towards their promised inheritance.
- Joshua and Caleb gave an opposite report. They claimed that Israel
could be successful in conquering and inhabiting the land.
- This was a negative group of people and they sought to have Joshua
and Caleb stoned (see Numbers 14:1).
- The anger of the Lord was kindled. Moses pleaded for the people and
they were spared destruction, but lost the privilege of entering the promised
land. They were left to wander in the wilderness of Sinai for the next
As king, Balak felt he should take action against the threat of the
- "And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the
plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho" (Numbers 22:1).
- Their movement into the land of Moab concerned Balak and the people
of the land.
HOW DID BALAAM HANDLE THIS REQUEST FROM BALAK?
- Balak sent messengers to Pethor to request the following of Balaam,
"Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they
are too mighty for me" (22:6).
- These messengers offered Balaam "rewards of divination"
- WHO IS THIS BALAAM?
- He was the son of Beor and man of some rank among the Midianites (Numbers
- He resided at Pethor, in an area known as Aram, in Mesopotamia. Haran,
where Abraham resided after leaving Ur, is also in Aram. The worship of
the true God had been practiced in this area.
- The Biblical record is unclear, but it is possible that Balaam was
a true prophet of God holding priesthood authority. It is clear that Balaam
did not worship the idols of the land, but had a true knowledge of God.
- The Biblical record does not refer to Balaam as a prophet, but as a
soothsayer or diviner (see Joshua 13:22).
- Evidently, this Balaam had a reputation for being able to bless and
curse with effect.
The princes returned to Balak and reported on Balaam's refusal. Evidently,
Balak was a believer in Balaam and whatever powers he possessed, for he
sent an impressive delegation back to make a second request (22:14-15).
- He took the matter before God (22:8-12).
- He was instructed by the Lord, "Thou shalt not go with them;
thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed" (22:12).
- The following morning he told princes of Balak, "Get you into
your land: for the LORD refuseth to give me leave to go with you"
HOW DID BALAAM HANDLE THIS SECOND REQUEST?
- These men carried from Balak the offer of tempting rewards, "Let
nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from coming unto me: For I will promote
thee unto very great honour, and I will do whatsoever thou sayest unto
me: come therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people" (22:16-17).
The second group of emissaries from Balak offered Balaam substantial
rewards for disobeying the instructions he had received from the Lord.
- He was impressed with the potential rewards for his compliance with
Balak's request, but he did tell these men, "I cannot go beyond
the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more" (22:18).
- He had previously answered "no" to Balak's request, but the
rewards were such that he once again took the matter before the Lord (22:19).
- The Lord gave Balaam permission to travel with these men, but also
said "the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do"
- When giving permission, consider the difference between the King James
translation and the Joseph Smith translation:
- KJV: "rise up, and go with them"
- JST: "rise up, if thou will go with them"
- The following morning Balaam left with these men. The Lord was angry
with Balaam for choosing to go with these men and consider Balak's request
- WHY WAS THE LORD ANGRY AFTER CONSENTING TO BALAAM'S DEPARTURE?
- As parents, we often give our children agency in making difficult choices,
even when we have counseled them on what we believe to be the correct choice.
Occasionally, our children make the wrong choice and we are not pleased.
Such appears to have been the situation with Balaam.
Balaam was certainly justified in counseling with the Lord after the
first visit of Balak's representatives. When the representatives returned
the second time, Balaam already knew the will of the Lord.
- DO WE EVER RECEIVE OFFERS OF REWARDS THAT WOULD CAUSE US TO DISOBEY
THE COMMANDMENTS? WHAT KINDS OF REWARDS MIGHT WE BE OFFERED?
- Recreational activities on the Sabbath.
- Momentary pleasures.
- A promotion at work that would leave us little time with our families.
- During a job interview several years ago I was asked where I would
place my allegiance if there was a conflict between the instructions of
the employer and the instructions from President Kimball. The question
seemed to imply that I had to choose between the rewards of a job or following
the prophet. In actuality, the interviewer wanted to see how I would react.
Before I answered, he retracted the question. I was later offered the position,
but declined it. The point is, as Latter-Day Saints, we do have challenging
choices to make. We need to determine now what our response will be when
tempting rewards are offered.
- WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF SEEKING EXCEPTIONS TO GOD'S COMMANDMENTS AND
- The classic modern example is the story of Martin Harris seeking to
show the translation to his wife and a few select others. The Prophet asked
the Lord three times for permission. The end result was the loss of the
116 page manuscript. Joseph lost the power to translate for a season and
the work stopped.
- The Lord said to Joseph in revelation, "For although a man
may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet
if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God,
and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must
fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him" (D&C
- The Lord's work will go on. This incident is evidence of that fact.
As the Lord says in this verse, if we do not follow the counsel of God
we "must fall".
The Lord Shows The Danger of Balaam's Stubborn Insistence
- Balaam took his journey to consider Balak's request.
"...and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary
against him" (22:22).
- He rode upon his donkey and took two servants along with him (22:22).
READ NUMBER 22:31-35. Balaam beholds the angel of the Lord.
- Balaam's donkey saw the angel of the Lord, with sword drawn, and turned
into a field (22:23).
- Balaam smote the donkey and turned it back onto the path (22:23).
- Further on, the donkey saw the angel of the Lord along the path between
two walls in a vineyard (22:24).
- Trying to steer clear of the angel, the donkey crushed Balaam's foot
against the wall and Balaam smote the donkey again (22:25).
- Still further, the angel blocked the path in a narrow place where there
was no place to turn (22:26).
- The donkey was not about to try and pass the angel and laid on the
path. Balaam smote the donkey (22:27).
- Finally, the Lord caused the donkey to speak, "What have I
done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?"
- Balaam was so angry that he replied back, "Because thou hast
mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill
HOW MIGHT INDIVIDUALS AND GROUPS STUBBORNLY TRY TO DO WHAT THEY WANT
RATHER THAN SUBMIT TO GOD'S WILL OR TO THE RIGHTEOUS COUNSEL OF PARENTS
- We find here an interesting contrast. The Lord had told Balaam that
he should not go down to consult with Balak and consider his offer, but
the Lord gave him his agency. On the trip down, the donkey recognized the
messenger from the Lord and was not about to defy him. Even though this
donkey had served him well, Balaam attempted to force the donkey to disobey
HOW DID BALAAM RESPOND TO THE CHASTISEMENT OF THE LORD DELIVERED BY
- Examples suggested by the manual:
- A child, unhappy with an answer from one parent, goes to the other
parent hoping for a different answer.
- A member of the Church, unsatisfied with the counsel of a priesthood
leader, goes to another priesthood leader.
- A member of the Church rationalizes that a commandment doesn't apply
to him or her as it does to other members.
- Consider the story of William Godbe and the ultimate consequences of
not submitting to the counsel of the prophet (see Encyclopedia of Mormonism,
Vol.3, Schismatic Groups):
- During the administration of President Brigham Young, William Godbe
joined with other disaffected Mormon businessmen and intellectuals to protest
the economic self-sufficiency policy of Brigham Young. They were in favor
of less structure, free trade iin Utah, and open trade with the outside
- Their economic position was well thought out and reasonable. The mistake
of Godbe and others was standing in opposition to President Young.
- Though they opposed President Young on a temporal matter, their opposition
to the prophet led to a rejection of doctrine and practice. He, and some
of the others, became involved in the Spiritualist movement and participated
in seances believing they were communicating with dead Church leaders,
Jesus Christ, and the ancient apostles.
- Godbe was excommunicated from the Church in 1869, eventually founding
a splinter group known as the Church of Zion. It was an anti-Mormon organization
and they founded the Salt Lake Tribune.
- "I have sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way
against me: now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again"
- In this instance, Balaam confessed his sin and was willing to turn
- HOW DO WE RESPOND TO RIGHTEOUS CHASTISEMENT?
- How we respond, may determine our eternal destiny. William Godbe was
called to repentance by Brigham Young. His pride was greater than his faith
and he became an enemy of the Church and probably lost his eternal reward.
- In 1837, there were many in the Church attacking Joseph Smith and his
prophetic calling. Among those overcome with this spirit of discord was
Parley P. Pratt. When John Taylor came down to Kirtland, Parley tried to
turn him against the Prophet.
- Consider Brother Taylor's righteous rebuke: "I am surprised
to hear you speak so, Brother Parley. Before you left Canada you bore a
strong testimony to Joseph Smith being a Prophet of God, and to the truth
of the work he has inaugurated; and you said you knew these things by revelation,
and the gift of the Holy Ghost. You gave to me a strict charge to the effect
that though you or an angel from heaven was to declare anything else I
was not to believe it. Now Brother Parley, it is not man that I am following,
but the Lord. The principles you taught me led me to Him, and I now have
the same testimony that you then rejoiced in, if the work was true six
months ago, it is true today; if Joseph was then a Prophet, he is now a
Prophet." (History of the Church 2:488)
- How did Parley repond? His humility was sufficient that he went to
the Prophet in tears, confessed his sin, and asked for forgiveness. The
Prophet forgave him and Parley retained his place in the kingdom.
- Which would we rather be? William Godbes or Parley Pratts? Like Parley,
we sometimes make mistakes during this mortal probation. Are we going to
accept righteous chastisement or let pride get the best of us?
Balaam Refuses To Curse Israel
- Balaam continued his journey to Moab where he met with Balak.
Balaam and Balak built seven altars had made sacrifices on each altar
of a bullock and a ram (23:1-2).
- Balak questioned Balaam as to why he didn't come down (22:37).
- Balaam responded that he had now come down and "the word that
God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak" (22:38).
- Balak took Balaam to "the high places of Baal, that thence
he might see the utmost part of the people" (22:41).
Twice more Balak asked Balaam to follow him and to curse Israel. Balaam
followed Balak, but twice more returned with a blessing for Israel (23:12-24:9).
- Balaam then went up and spoke with God and returned to bless Israel
- Balak was less than pleased, "What hast thou done unto me?
I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them
- Balaam's response: "Must I not take heed to speak that which
the LORD hath put in my mouth?" (23:12).
Balaam showed strength by resisting the offer of Balak and blessing
Israel. He defended his stand stating that he could not "go beyond
the commandment of the Lord".
- "And Balak's anger was kindled against Balaam, and he smote
his hands together: and Balak said unto Balaam, I called thee to curse
mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them these three
times. Therefore now flee thou to thy place: I thought to promote thee
unto great honour; but, lo, the LORD hath kept thee back from honour"
- Balaam responded, "If Balak would give me his house full of
silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the commandment of the LORD, to do
either good or bad" (24:13). Eventually Balaam returned to his
- WHAT WEAKNESS WAS STILL EVIDENT IN BALAAM?
- He was still willing to follow Balak from place to place and listen
to his requests even though he knew they were wrong.
- WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF LISTENING TO UNRIGHTEOUS SUGGESTIONS (SUCH
AS FRIENDS OR MEDIA) WHEN WE KNOW THEY ARE WRONG?
- Consider this story of a lark told by President Kimball:
Sitting in the high branches of a tree safe from harm, he saw a traveler
walking through the forest carrying a mysterious little black box. The
lark flew down and perched on the traveler's shoulder. "What do you
have in the little black box?" he asked.
"Worms," the traveler replied.
"Are they for sale?"
"Yes, and very cheaply, too. The price is only one feather for a worm."
The lark thought for a moment. "I must have a million feathers. Surely,
I'll never miss one of them. Here is an opportunity to get a good dinner
for no work at all." So he told the man he would buy one. He searched
carefully under his wing for a tiny feather. He winced a bit as he pulled
it out, but the size and quality of the worm made him quickly forget the
pain. High up in the tree again he began to sing as beautifully as before.
The next day he saw the same man and once again he exchanged a feather
for a worm. What a wonderful, effortless way to get dinner!
Each day thereafter the lark surrendered a feather, and each loss seemed
to hurt less and less. In the beginning he had many feathers, but as the
days passed he found it more difficult to fly. Finally, after the loss
of one of his primary feathers, he could no longer reach the top of the
tree, let alone fly up into the sky. In fact he could do no more than flutter
a few feet in the air, and was forced to seek his food with the quarrelsome,
The man with the worms came no more, for there were no feathers to pay
for the meals. The lark no longer sang because he was so ashamed of his
This is how unworthy habits possess us first painfully, then more easily,
until at last we find ourselves stripped of all that lets us sing and soar.
This is how freedom is lost. This is how we become enmeshed in sin. (Miracle
Of Forgiveness, pp214-215)
- I think we have all had the experience of having a cobweb of a thought
enter into our mind and watching it develop and grow. Several years ago,
I watched on TV the running of the Emerald City Marathon here in the Seattle
area. As I watched the race, I thought to myself that running a marathon
looked like a fun an interesting challenge. At the time I did not run and
did not even have a fitness program. But I let this thought work and grow
and a few months later I started running around the local track. Within
weeks I began entering local road races of just a few miles. The following
February I ran my first half-marathon and two months later my first marathon.
- The challenge, commitment, and effort in preparation all began with
a single small thought. That thought then grew and worked itself into action.
In the case of my running, it was a positive thing. I needed to become
more fit. But temptation is the same way. If we even entertain suggestions
to do wrong, we may be opening the door to the development of sin.
- Spencer W. Kimball: "It is extremely difficult, if not impossible,
for the devil to enter a door that is closed. He seems to have no keys
for locked doors. But if a door is slightly ajar, he gets his toe in, and
soon this is followed by his foot, then by his leg and his body and his
head, and finally he is in all the way." (Miracle of Forgiveness,
The Israelites Destroy The Midianites & Slay Balaam
- Balak was not successful in getting Balaam to curse Israel. There was
more success when "the people began to commit whoredom with the
daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their
gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods" (25:1-2).
At the command of the Lord, the Israelites armed themselves to go to
war against the Midianites for enticing the Israelites to sin (31:1-3).
- The Lord was angered and 24,000 were killed by a plague (25:3-9).
Israel went to battle against the Midianites and slew their leaders
and all their men (31:7-8).
- WHO COUNSELED THE MIDIANITES TO TEMPT THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL TO PARTICIPATE
IN IDOL WORSHIP AND IMMORALITY?
- "...these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel
of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD" (31:16).
- WHY DO YOU SUPPOSE BALAAM GAVE THIS COUNSEL TO THE MIDIANITES?
- He had let the ideas of Balak work upon him and he wanted to receive
the rewards offered by Balak. He dared not curse Israel, but found another
route to fulfill Balak's request.
WHAT LESSONS CAN BE LEARNED FROM THE STORY OF BALAAM?
- Balaam was also slain (31:8).
- Lesson Manual: "Members of the Church who seek earthly rewards
and honors, who seek exceptions to God's counsel and commandments, or who
try to introduce worldly ideas, practices, or standards into the Church
are following Balaam's unrighteous example."
- Revelation 2:14 speaks of the "doctrine of Balaam, who
taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to
eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication."
- Bruce R. McConkie: "What a story this is! Here is a prophet
of God who is firmly committed to declare only what the Lord of heaven
directs. there does not seem to be the slightest doubt in his mind about
the course he should pursue. He represents the Lord, and neither a house
full of gold and silver nor high honors offered by the king can sway him
from his determined course....
"But greed for wealth and lust for honor beckon him. How marvelous
it would be for him to be rich and powerful.... Perhaps the Lord would
let him compromise his standards and have some worldly prosperity and power....
I wonder how often some of us get our direction from the Church and then,
Balaam-like, plead for some worldly rewards....
"Balaam,...inspired and mighty as he once was, lost his soul in the
end because he set his heart on the things of this world rather than the
riches of eternity." (New Era, Apr. 1972, p7)
Martin Harris and William Godbe were men who followed the "doctrine
of Balaam". There are those today who would also follow the doctrine
of Balaam. We must be ever vigilant and not get caught up with those who
would seek to undermine those whom the Lord had called to lead his kingdom.
We must not seek for exceptions to the Lord's commandments. We must be
do all that we can do to shut temptation out of our lives. Are we doing
God's will or our own?
Lesson 17: Deuteronomy 6; 8; 11; 32
Additional Reading: Deuteronomy 7; 7:1-4; 13:1-8; 34
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