“I Cannot Go Beyond the Word of the
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 will.
Balaam refuses to curse Israel.
The Israelites destroy the Midianites and slay Balaam.
A study of this lesson will encourage us to submit to God’s will without
Scripture references for study: Numbers
Note: Underlined scripture references have been hyperlinked
to the LDS Scriptures at LDS.org and will open in a new window.
Lesson 16 Handout (PDF
Balaam & Balak
The Lord denied Israel entry into Palestine after ten of the spies returned
with a negative report about Israel's ability to conquer the land.
Many years later Israel began to move 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 negative group of people sought to have Joshua and Caleb stoned (see
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 thirty-eight years.
Balak, king of Moab, felt he should take action against this threat from
the Israelites. (Numbers 22:2-4)
"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 caused concern among the people of
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." (Numbers 22:6)
The 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
Evidently, this Balaam had a reputation for being able to bless and curse
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. (Numbers
He took the matter before God (Numbers 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."
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." (Numbers
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." (Numbers
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." (Numbers
He had previously answered "no" to Balak's request, but the rewards were
such that he once again took the matter before the Lord. (Numbers
The Lord gave Balaam permission to travel with these men, but also said
word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do." (Numbers
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 giving consideration to Balak's
request. (Numbers 22:21-22)
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 justified in counseling with the Lord after the first visit
of Balak's representatives. When the representatives returned the
second time, Balaam 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.
A promotion at work that would leave us little time with our families.
Years ago, during a job interview, I was asked where I would place my allegiance
if there was a conflict between the instructions of the employer and 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. 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 COUNSEL?
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 3:4). The Lord's work will go on. The manuscript 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 Danger of Balaam's Stubborn Insistence
Balaam took his journey to consider Balak's request (see
"...and the angel of the LORD stood in the way
for an adversary against him." (v22)
He rode upon his donkey and took two servants along with him. (v22)
NUMBERS 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. (v23)
Balaam smote the donkey and turned it back onto the path (v23).
As Balaam continued, the donkey saw the angel of the Lord along the path
between two walls in a vineyard. (v24)
Trying to steer clear of the angel, the donkey crushed Balaam's foot against
the wall and Balaam smote the donkey again. (v25)
Still further, the angel blocked the path in a narrow place where there
was no place to turn. (v26)
The donkey was not about to try and pass the angel and lay down on the path. Balaam smote the donkey. (v27)
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 thee." (v29)
HOW MIGHT INDIVIDUALS AND GROUPS STUBBORNLY TRY TO DO WHAT THEY WANT RATHER
THAN SUBMIT TO GOD'S WILL OR THE RIGHTEOUS COUNSEL OF PARENTS OR LEADERS?
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 the angel.
HOW DID BALAAM RESPOND TO THE CHASTISEMENT OF THE LORD DELIVERED BY THE
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,
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 in Utah, and open trade with the
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. Godbe
and others became involved in the Spiritualist movement and participated
in séances 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 this group 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 back.
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 may have lost his
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." (HC, 2:488)
How did Parley respond? 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
Balaam Refuses To Curse Israel
Balaam continued his journey to Moab where he met with Balak.
Balaam and Balak built seven altars and made sacrifices on each altar of
a bullock and a ram. (Numbers
Balak questioned Balaam as to why he did not come before. (Numbers
Balaam responded that he had now come and "the
word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak." (v38)
Balak took Balaam to "the high places of Baal,
that thence he might see the utmost part of the people." (v41)
Twice more Balak asked Balaam to follow him and to curse Israel. Balaam followed Balak, but twice more returned with a blessing for Israel.
Balaam then went up and spoke with God and returned to bless Israel. (Numbers
Balak was less than pleased, "What hast thou done
unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed
them altogether." (v11)
Balaam's response: "Must I not take heed
to speak that which the LORD hath put in my mouth?" (v12)
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" (v13). Eventually Balaam
returned to his home.
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 Spencer W. 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
"'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, bickering sparrows.
"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 fallen state.
"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
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, while living in Seattle, I watched on TV the running of the Emerald City Marathon. As I watched the race, I thought to myself that running
a marathon looked like a fun and interesting challenge. At that time
I did not have a running program nor 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 the Emerald City 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 physically fit. Temptation is the same
way. If we even entertain suggestions to do wrong, we may be opening
the door to the development of sin.
President 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, p215)
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." (Numbers 25:1-2)
The Lord was angered and 24,000 were killed by a plague. (Numbers
At the command of the Lord, the Israelites armed themselves to go to war
against the Midianites for enticing the Israelites to sin. (Numbers 31:1-3)
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."
WHY DO YOU SUPPOSE BALAAM GAVE THIS COUNSEL TO THE MIDIANITES?
He let the ideas of Balak work upon him and wanted to receive the
rewards offered by Balak. He dared not curse Israel, but found another
route to fulfill Balak's request.
Israel went to battle against the Midianites and slew their leaders and
all their men. (Numbers 31:7-8)
WHAT LESSONS CAN BE LEARNED FROM THE STORY OF BALAAM?
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."
Elder 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....
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)
Gospel Doctrine Notebook
- Record your thoughts on the story of Balaam. Why was Balaam sympathetic to
Balak and the people of Moab? What meaning does this story have in your life?
How can you resist the persistent efforts of the adversary?
Resources Used In This Lesson
Encyclopedia of Mormonism edited by Daniel H. Ludlow.
History of the Church (HC).
The Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W. Kimball.
Gospel Doctrine Class
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Changes last made on:
17 March 2014