Today we will study the story of Balaam, who professed strict obedience but in his heart desired worldly rewards and honors of men. This lesson is designed to show the consequences of stubbornly insisting on our own will to fulfill such desires.
Balaam refused Balak’s offer of rewards in exchange for cursing Israel (Numbers 22:1-21)
Numbers 22:5-7 – Because he was terrified by the approach of the Israelites, Balak, king of Moab, dispatched messengers to offer Balaam rewards if he would journey to Moab and curse Israel so that Balak could drive them out of the land.
Numbers 22:8-14 tells us that Balaam responded by refusing to go curse the Israelites because the Lord would not allow him to do so.
Application: We are sometimes offered “rewards” to disobey God. Balaam was tempted by the promised rewards, but we should resolve that riches and the honors of men will not tempt us.
After Balaam refused to come to Moab, Balak sent a second group of men, more impressive than the first, to try to persuade him.
Numbers 22:15-19 – Obviously, Balaam was tempted by this second offer. Balak offered “very great honor”. Being tempted, Balaam wanted to petition the Lord again. Perhaps he was hoping that the Lord would change his mind and allow him to accept the rewards offered by Balak, but at this point, he said, “…I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God…” (22:18).
Application: As Joseph Smith found out centuries later when he asked the Lord about the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript, there are dangers in persistently seeking an exception to God’s directions. As we examine the things we petition the Lord to allow us to do, are we sometimes persistent in an unworthy cause?
Numbers 22:20-22 - The Lord gave permission for Balaam to go with Balak’s messengers if he so desired, but the Lord was angry with Balaam for going because he knew what was in Balaam’s heart.
2 Peter 2:15; Isaiah 29:13 – Here, we are told that Balaam “loved the wages of unrighteousness” and Isaiah reminds us that some, like Balaam, will draw near with their lips while their hearts are far away.
The Lord showed the danger of Balaam’s stubborn insistence on his own will (Numbers 22:22-35)
Numbers 22:22-30 – On his way to Moab, Balaam tried three times to force his donkey forward while the donkey balked because of the angel who blocked the way. Demonstrating his stubbornness, Balaam wanted to force his own will on the donkey and the Lord. Just as the donkey saw the angel and Balaam did not, the Lord saw many things that Balaam refused to see.
Application: If we examine some common situations in our day, we see modern parallels of both individuals and groups stubbornly trying to do what they want to do rather than submitting to God’s will or the righteous counsel of parents or leaders. As examples: 1. A child, unhappy with the answer from Mom goes to Dad seeking a different answer, 2. A member of the Church, unsatisfied with the counsel of a priesthood leader, seeks out another priesthood leader, 3. A member of the Church rationalizes that a commandment doesn’t apply to him or her as it does to other members.
Numbers 22:31-35 -The Lord chastened Balaam through the mouth of the ass and the angel. Balaam decided to return home, but the angel told him to continue, but to remember that he should only do as commanded by the Lord.
D&C 95:1 explains why God chastens his children—because he loves them, will forgive them with chastening, and will prepare a way out of the temptations.
Application: God’s chastening can be a blessing to us—if we accept it humbly, seeking forgiveness and direction on how to turn our lives around and become exacting in our obedience.
Balaam refused to curse Israel (Numbers 22:36-24:25)
After Balaam arrived in Moab, Balak asked him three times to curse Israel. Each time the Lord told Balaam to bless Israel, and Balaam obeyed.
Numbers 22:38; 23:8, 19-20; 24:1, 12-13 – Balaam continues to tell Balak that he must say what God commands and he will not go beyond that.
Numbers 22:41; 23:1-3, 13-15, 27-30 - Even though he had refused to curse Israel as Balak requested, weakness was still evident in Balaam as he followed Balak from place to place and listened to his requests even though he knew that they were wrong.
Application: If we place ourselves in temptation’s path, we will be confronted with unrighteous suggestions from friends, acquaintances, or the media. Eventually, our resistance can be worn down and we can succumb to temptations that we otherwise would not have considered.
The Israelites destroyed the Midianites and slew Balaam (Numbers 31:1-16)
Numbers 31:1-3 – Moses sent forth warriors to destroy the Midianites because the Lord was angry with them for enticing the children of Israel to sin as recorded in Numbers 25:1-3. It was Balaam who had counseled the Midianites to tempt the children of Israel to participate in idol worship and sexual immorality.
2 Peter 2:15-16; Jude 1:11; Revelation 2:14 – New Testament writers gave their impressions of Balaam as one who loved unrighteousness and was rebuked for his iniquity; a greedy seeker of reward; and one who cast a stumblingblock before Israel, enticing them to commit sin.
Application: Lessons we can learn from this story include: 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. This is called the “doctrine of Balaam” in Revelation 2:14.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “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 the high honors offered by the king can sway him from his determined course…
“Bur 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, 7).
Although Balaam pretended to be strictly obedient, the desires of his heart were to receive earthly rewards and honors. As we consider his example, we need to keep the desires of our heart pure so that we do not make Balaam’s mistakes.
If Balaam had humbly submitted to God’s will, much sin and suffering would have been avoided for himself and for Israel. We should be steadfast rather than stubborn—seeking to follow the Lord’s will without trying to get around it or change it.
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