Sunday School lessons for Gospel Doctrine Class

Saturday, May 5, 2018

“I Cannot Go Beyond the Word of the Lord”





**Scripture references have been hyperlinked to the LDS Scriptures at LDS.org and will open in a new window. Please click to read!  Resource quotes have been highlighted in blue.  All Resources are noted at the end of the blog.



 Take a look at the following statements and think about the type of person who would make them: 

“If [the king] would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God” (Numbers 22:18).

“All that the Lord speaketh, that I must do” (Numbers 23:26).

“I cannot go beyond the commandment of the Lord, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; but what the Lord saith, that will I speak” (Numbers 24:13).


What are some of the qualities of a person who would say these things?  Obedient, faithful, and humble...

These statements were made by a man named Balaam.  His story comes from Numbers in the Old Testament.  Balaam was a prophet often inspired by the Lord and professed strict obedience but in his heart desired earthly rewards and honors. This I find a very scary story, for if a man can be so close to God, even to talk to him face to face, and yet fall; how much harder do we need to work so that we, in our day and time don't fall.  

So then how are we doing in this area?  Do we seek earthly rewards and honors, forgetting or putting aside our obedience.  I think sometimes when we think of seeking earthly rewards or honors we think of attaining huge goals or grandiose things, but if we really think about it, maybe some of the little things we desire could cause us to profess obedience but not actually obey.  Today we will learn about Balaam from the book of Numbers to help us learn to submit fully to the will of the Lord, without hesitation; learning the consequences of stubbornly insisting on our own will to fulfill such desires when all we need do is depend on the Lord.  


Who is Balaam? 

He was the son of Beor and a man of some rank among the Midianites (Numbers 31:8) and resided at Pethor, in an area known as Aram, in Mesopotamia. Haran, where Abraham resided after leaving Ur, is also in Aram and the worship of the true God had been practiced here. The Biblical record is unclear, but it is possible that Balaam was a true prophet of God holding priesthood authority. He was a man of prophetic stature who lived independent of Moses and the children of Israel but it is clear that Balaam did not worship the idols of the land, but had a true knowledge of God.

Elder Bruce R McConkie said this of Balaam: ...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, which has been charted for him by that God whom he serves.  But greed for wealth and lust for honor beckoned him...(Quoted in Unlocking the Old Testament Victor L Ludlow)

 Part 1: Balaam refuses Balak’s offer of rewards in exchange for cursing Israel Numbers 22:1–21


As Israel began to move towards their promised inheritance, they entered into the land of Moab.  When the two mighty kings of the Amorites were defeated by Israel the Moabites, with their Midianite confederates, were filled with such alarm that Balak, their king, sought assistance. It was not from his own god, Baal, that he sought power for Baal had failed him greatly.  Instead, he decided to use Israel’s own God, whose power had been marvelously manifest with their great victories against themselves. He sent a delegation bearing presents to Balaam of Pethor, who had a reputation for being able to bless and curse with great effect (see Numbers 22:3–6).  

He offers Balaam rewards if he will come to Moab and curse the Israelites for he knows he cannot beat them on his own.  Numbers 22:5–7

 5 He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me:

6 Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land: for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.

7 And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came unto Balaam, and spake unto him the words of Balak.

 How did Balaam respond to this offer?  He took the matter to the Lord who commands Balaam to refuse, and Balaam obeys.   Numbers 22:8–14.
  
 8 And he said unto them, Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the Lord shall speak unto me: and the princes of Moab abode with Balaam.

9 And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?

10 And Balaam said unto God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me, saying,

11 Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which covereth the face of the earth: come now, curse me them; peradventure I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out.

12 And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.

13 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes of Balak, Get you into your land: for the Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you.

14 And the princes of Moab rose up, and they went unto Balak, and said, Balaam refuseth to come with us.

What so-called rewards are we sometimes offered in exchange for disobeying God?  Praise, honor, power, glory, money....

After Balaam's refusal, the princes returned to Balak and reported.  Balak continues in his quest and offers Balaam additional honor and wealth if he will come to Moab and curse Israel. .  Numbers 22:14-15 

14 And the princes of Moab rose up, and they went unto Balak, and said, Balaam refuseth to come with us.

15 And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.

 What did Balak offer Balaam that was so great?  Numbers 22:15–17

15 And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.

16 And they came to Balaam, and said to him, Thus saith Balak the son of Zippor, Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from coming unto me:

17 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.

How did Balaam respond to this second attempt?  Numbers 22:18–19     
He was impressed with the potential rewards for his compliance with Balak's request but he told the men he could not go beyond the word of the Lord.  However the rewards were such that he once again took the matter before the Lord and asked a second time.    

18 And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more.

19 Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the Lord will say unto me more.

 Why do you think he wanted to ask the Lord again? Balaam may have hoped the Lord would change his mind and allow him to get the rewards offered by Balak.

Perhaps the Lord would let him compromise his standards and have some worldly prosperity and power as well as a testimony of the gospel. Of course he knew the gospel was true, as it were, but why should he be denied the things his political file leader could confer?  (Bruce R McConkie Quoted in Unlocking the Old Testament Victor L Ludlow)

What are the dangers of seeking exceptions to God’s commandments and counsel? 

I wonder how often some of us get our direction from the Church and then, Balaam-like, plead for some worldly rewards and finally receive an answer which says, in effect, if you are determined to be a millionaire or to gain this or that worldly honor, go ahead, with the understanding that you will continue to serve the Lord. Then we wonder why things don't work out for us as well as they would have done if we had put first in our lives the things of God's kingdom?  (Bruce R McConkie Quoted in Unlocking the Old Testament Victor L Ludlow)

After Balaam calls upon the Lord a second time the Lord tells him he can go if he desires but that he must speak only the words God gives him Numbers 22:20–22

 20 And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do.

21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.

22 And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.

 And as we read Balaam decides to go.  However we should note that in verse 6 the word wot means “know.” Also  the Joseph Smith Translation of Numbers 22:20 includes the phrase “if thou wilt” before the words “go with them.”     KJV:  "rise up, and go with them" JST:  "rise up, if thou will go with them"  

After his decision, 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. 

Why was the Lord Angry after consenting to Balaam's departure?  God is angry with Balaam for going to Moab, knowing that he hopes for some reward from Balak.   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. 

What does the Lord’s anger suggest about what was in Balaam’s heart?  2 Peter 2:15; Isaiah 29:13

 15 Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;

 13 Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:

 What are the rewards of unrighteousness?

Do they not include seeking for worldly things when these run counter to the interests of the Church?

 Part 2. The Lord shows the danger of Balaam’s stubborn insistence on his own will  Numbers 22:22–35

Balaam learns of this displeasure of God and the dangers of displeasing God when his donkey and an angel speak to him.  Numbers 22:22–35  As Balaam took his journey to consider Balak's request  Numbers 22:22-29.  He rode upon his donkey and took two servants along with him..."...and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him." 
Balaam's donkey saw the angel of the Lord, with sword drawn, and turned into a field.  Balaam smote the donkey and turned it back onto the path.  As Balaam continued, the donkey saw the angel of the Lord along the path between two walls in a vineyard.; trying to steer clear of the angel, the donkey crushed Balaam's foot against the wall and Balaam smote the donkey again.  Then the angel blocked the path in a narrow place where there was no place to turn, the donkey was not about to try and pass the angel and lay down on the path so Balaam smote the donkey. 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."
 On his way to Moab, Balaam tried three times to force his donkey forward, Numbers 22:22–30 

22 And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.

23 And the ass saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.

24 But the angel of the Lord stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side.

25 And when the ass saw the angel of the Lord, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall: and he smote her again.

26 And the angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.

27 And when the ass saw the angel of the Lord, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.

28 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?

29 And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.

30 And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? And he said, Nay.

The rebuke received by Balaam from an animal wrought upon by the Spirit of God is a singular event in history. Speculation on how the deed was accomplished is useless. It is certain that the beast spoke in a way understandable to Balaam. Other scriptures indicate that when animals are filled with the divine Spirit and celestialized, they will be able to express themselves in ways presently denied them (see Revelation 4:6, 9; D&C 77:2–4). Balaam is not recorded as showing surprise at this phenomenon, which circumstance has led some to suggest that Balaam’s mind was troubled because of his attempt to serve both God and mammon. Had he been more thoughtful, the unusual behavior of his otherwise obedient mount would have caused him to look about to discover the trouble. Then perchance he would have discovered the angel’s presence.  The incident was sufficient to carry out the Lord’s purposes, however. Balaam was shown that it was not the journey in itself that was displeasing to God, but the feelings and intentions he harbored. The entire incident seems to have been brought about to sharpen his conscience and sober his mind so he would strictly speak only the word of God. (Old Testament Student Manual p 210)
In what way was this like Balaam’s relationship with the Lord?  Balaam wanted to force his own will on the donkey and on the Lord.  The donkey saw the angel, but Balaam did not. Similarly, the Lord saw many things that Balaam did not see.
What are some modern parallels of individuals and groups stubbornly trying to do what they want rather than submitting to God’s will or to the righteous counsel of parents or leaders?
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.
 The Lord chastened Balaam through the angel and the donkey. How did Balaam respond to the chastening words of the angel?  Numbers 22:31–35
 
31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.

32 And the angel of the Lord said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me:

33 And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive.

34 And Balaam said unto the angel of the Lord, 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.

35 And the angel of the Lord said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.

 Why does God chasten his children?  D&C 95:1

 1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you—

 How can God’s chastening be a blessing to us?  Record your thoughts in your journal! 


Part 3: Balaam refuses to curse Israel  Numbers 22:36–24:25 

At this time Balaam meets with Balak (22:36–23:2). And three times Balak asks him to curse Israel, but Balaam obeys God and blesses Israel each time (23:3–24:9). He then curses Moab and prophesies of Jesus Christ (24:10–25).

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. What strengths did Balaam show in this account?  Numbers 22:38; 23:8, 19–20; 24:1, 12–13

 38 And Balaam said unto Balak, Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say any thing? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak.

 8 How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the Lord hath not defied?

19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

20 Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.

 1 And when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness.


12 And Balaam said unto Balak, Spake I not also to thy messengers which thou sentest unto me, saying,

13 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 of mine own mind; but what the Lord saith, that will I speak?

 What weakness was still evident in Balaam?  Numbers 22:41; 23:1–3, 13–15, 27–30 
 Although Balaam refused Balak’s requests to curse Israel, he was willing to follow Balak from place to place and each time listen to his requests even though Balaam knew they were wrong.

 What are the dangers of listening to unrighteous suggestions (from friends or the media, for example) when we know they are wrong?

 Part 4: The Israelites destroy the Midianites and slay Balaam  Numbers 31:1–16

The record next describes the whoredoms Israel committed with the daughters of Moab; that is, Israel joined the women of Moab in worshiping Baal-peor, a fertility god, including offering sacrifices to the god and indulging in sexual immorality. What is not mentioned here but is explained later (Numbers 31:16) is that Balaam advised the Moabites in this action. Evidently, when he saw that he could not earn Balak’s commission by cursing Israel directly, he told Balak that God would only bless Israel when they were righteous. If the Moabites could seduce Israel into idol worship, they would lose God’s power. Thus, Balaam became a symbol of those who use their callings and gifts to get gain and pervert the Lord’s people 2 Peter 2:15; Revelation 2:14

In Numbers 31:1–16. The Israelites destroy the Midianites and slay Balaam. Moses explains that Balaam had counseled the Midianites to entice the Israelites into sin. The consequences of Balaam’s counsel are described in Numbers 25:1–3. Although Balaam would not curse Israel directly, he apparently wanted a reward from Balak badly enough that he suggested tempting Israel to sin, causing them to lose God’s protection.

Why did the Israelites go to war against the Midianites?  The Lord was angry with the Midianites for enticing the Israelites to sin Numbers 31:1–3

1 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

2 Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.

3 And Moses spake unto the people, saying, Arm some of yourselves unto the war, and let them go against the Midianites, and avenge the Lord of Midian.


Who counseled the Midianites to tempt the children of Israel to participate in idol worship and immorality? Numbers 31:16

 16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.

 Why did Balaam give this counsel? Although Balaam obeyed the Lord’s commands to bless rather than curse Israel, in his heart he wanted earthly honors and rewards. To receive these rewards, he suggested tempting Israel to sin, causing them to lose God’s protection.

 What happened to Balaam during the Israelites’ battle with the Midianites? Numbers 31:8

 8 And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.

 Three writers in the New Testament referred to Balaam (2 Peter 2:15–16; Jude 1:11; Revelation 2:14). What are their impressions of him?  Balaam, the prophet, inspired and mighty as he once was, lost his soul in the end because he set his heart on the things of the world rather than the riches of eternity.  

It is significant that Balaam is referred to as a soothsayer or diviner, somewhat on the order of Simon of the New Testament (Joshua 13:22; Acts 8:9–24). Although he acknowledged Jehovah and professed his dependence on Him, Balaam was willing to go against the Lord’s counsel and accompany the men of Balak. To assure his responsiveness to God’s will, the Lord sent an angel to threaten him with death should he curse Israel.

What lessons can we learn from this story?  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 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” (“The Story of a Prophet’s Madness,” New Era, Apr. 1972, 7)
Although Balaam appeared to be strictly obedient, the desires of his heart were to receive earthly rewards and honors. What does this story teach about the importance of keeping the desires of our hearts pure? 


 When Balaam refused to curse Israel and receive Balak’s rewards and honor, Balak told him, “The Lord hath kept thee back from honour” (Numbers 24:11).

11 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.

How does following the Lord sometimes keep us from receiving earthly rewards and honors?   We are a peculiar people, meaning not strange, but chosen of the Lord to be his, thus our lives will be different, we cannot be of the world, for we know our prize comes in the end.  However, if we are following the Lord as we should, we will have all the honors afforded to us...



What does the Lord promise instead of earthly rewards? (D&C 81:6.)


6 And if thou art faithful unto the end thou shalt have a crown of immortality, and eternal life in the mansions which I have prepared in the house of my Father.

 How can we keep the desires of our hearts pure?  

Conclusion

The Savior, aware of the agony before him in Gethsemane and on the cross, “kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:41–42).When Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac, he “rose up early in the morning” to begin the journey to Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:3). when Mary was told that she would be the mother of the Son of God, she responded, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). when Nephi was instructed to return to Jerusalem to get the brass plates from Laban, he immediately responded, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7).  The sons of Helaman were successful in battle because “they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness” (Alma 57:21).

Had Balaam humbly submitted to God’s will, much sin and suffering would have been avoided for himself and for Israel.  Our lesson is to be steadfast rather than stubborn, to seek and follow the Lord’s will without trying to get around it or change it. Then we will have safety and peace, and great rewards to come...


Resources:
Old Testament Student Manual
Ensign
Conference Reports
Unlocking the Old Testament Victor L Ludlow
Joseph Smith Translation Bible



 


 





 









 

The Fall of Adam and Eve

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