DISCOVERY for TEACHERS: Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua

Numbers

Balaam, the Double-Minded Prophet

source for questions

Numbers 22:1 through 25:18

key verse for memorization

“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?” (Numbers 23:19)

background

Balaam was a somewhat mysterious character whose story occupies three complete chapters in the Numbers narrative. He was a Gentile whose home was a city called Pethor near the Euphrates River (Deuteronomy 23:4). He had a reputation for divination (predicting the future) and incantation (using occult power to cast blessings and cursings). He also was quite willing to sell his services (2 Peter 2:15).

By this time, the Children of Israel had successfully defeated several enemies after leaving Egypt, including Amalek, the king of Arad; the Amorites; and Og, king of Bashan. Upon arriving in the plains of Moab they faced a different kind of enemy. Balak, king of Moab, recognized his inability to defeat Israel without supernatural help. From the text we conclude that Balaam’s reputation was widely known, since Balak sent for him from a great distance and offered a great price for his services.

Balaam offers four blessings upon God’s people, each from a different physical location. Each of these blessings pointed to the blessing of following God and the surety of His promises. However, New Testament references to Balaam all seem to imply his greed and lust for money. It was this greed that led him to look for ways to circumvent the revealed will of God to him. It seems that this greed not only caused deceitful behavior but also blinded his eyes and heart from the real truth of God’s message, which could have been applied to his own heart.

Eventually, even after expressing, “let me die the death of the righteous” (Numbers 23:10), Balaam was slain when Israel defeated the Midianites. (Numbers 31:8)   

Suggested Responses to Questions
  1. How was the approach of Moab and the Midianites different from that of the previous enemies Israel had faced (Numbers 22:2-6)? What different approaches does the enemy of our souls use to try to defeat us spiritually?

    The students should grasp that rather than an open frontal attack and physical battle, the Moabite king Balak called for someone to invoke a curse against God’s people. Israel may not have even realized they were under attack at this time, yet this attack was just as real as the previous ones upon the battlefield. God protected them and turned the requested cursing to blessing because of His great love and care for His chosen people.

    In discussing Satan’s tactics, the students may respond with several specific items such as temptation, discouragement, pride, etc. They should understand that the essence of the battle with Satan is more than just physical. They should also understand that Satan operates in the realm of deceit and deception and that his desire is to destroy humanity. Job 18:18 states: “He shall be driven from light into darkness, and chased out of the world.”

  2. God’s instructions to Balaam are very clear in Numbers 22:12. What were those instructions? Why does the story continue past this point?

    God’s instructions to Balaam were: “Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed” (Numbers 22:12). The discussion should center on the persistence of the Moabite king, Balak, and his repeated offers of honor, greatness, power, and material gain to influence Balaam. Satan does not give in easily when trying to discourage or dissuade the child of God. Discussion should then note Balaam’s willingness to entertain more discussion on the matter and even to return to God and try to get Him to change His revealed will.

  3. In the light of God’s directions, what seemed to be Balaam’s desire?

    It becomes painfully obvious that, while Balaam acknowledged: “I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more” (Numbers 22:18), his desire was for the honor and material gain offered by Balak. He was reticent to accept God’s instructions and sought the Lord for more instructions because he didn’t care for the first ones. Note in Numbers 22:21 that he goes out to meet the elders when God said he could go only if they came to call upon him again.

    Balaam seems to be a classic example of what James refers to as a “doubleminded” man (James 1:8; 4:8). He wants to have the approval of God and the material honor and gain offered by the world. Ask: What are the dangers of this type of thinking? Jesus makes it very clear in the Sermon on the Mount that, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24)

  4. In reading Numbers 22:21-31, Balaam’s desires led him not only to make poor choices, but also blinded him to the providence and warning of God. How does this happen to people today?

    Balaam flew into a rage when his donkey would not take him farther along the path he had chosen. The donkey recognized the angel of the Lord when Baalam did not. Many people today do not recognize the providence of God on their behalf.

    You may want to have your students list specific ways in which God tries to warn people and yet many continue on in that direction to their own destruction. We understand that those outside the light of the Gospel may not recognize the leading and warning of God but what about those who claim to know of Christ or even to know Him personally? 1 Samuel 15:23 says: “stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” Discuss how Satan might use the desire to have one’s own way more often than a temptation to open sin.

  5. Numbers 22:34 records Balaam’s acknowledgement of sin. Is this repentance on his part? Why or why not?

    Simple acknowledgement of sin is not repentance. Ask your students to suggest Biblical examples. Judas acknowledged his sin (Matthew 27:4), as did Pharaoh (Exodus 9:27), and King Saul (1 Samuel 15:24, 30; 26:21) yet we do not find that they returned to God for mercy. Even with a talking donkey and an angel from the Lord, Balaam offers to turn back “if it displease thee.” Your students may also note that Balaam’s actions throughout the rest of the narrative bring his sincerity into serious question.

  6. What was the general message of each of the four blessings (Numbers 22:30 through 24:14) pronounced by God through Balaam upon the Children of Israel?

    The first blessing (Numbers 22:39 — 23:12) emphasized the chosen and blessed nature of Israel because of God’s love toward them. The second blessing (Numbers 23:13-26) emphasized Israel as a conquering people because of the faithfulness of God and the surety of his promises and covenant. The emphasis of the third blessing (Numbers 23:27 — 24:14) is on the contentment of Israel after they enter and possess the Promised Land. This land is beautiful and bountiful because of the blessing of the Lord. The final blessing offered by Balaam speaks directly to the promise of the Messiah and His victories in the latter days. This blessing also included visions of the destiny of nations other than Israel.

  7. The New Testament refers to the way of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15), the error of Balaam (Jude 11), and the doctrine of Balaam (Revelation 2:14). What seems to be the sense of these three Scriptures and their warning to early-day Christians and to us today?

    Both 2 Peter 2:15-16 and Jude 1:11 refer to the greed and covetousness of Balaam, which led him to seek wealth and honor rather than obedience and truth. This temptation is evident in the world today, particularly in those societies where wealth is abundant. Sometimes morals and ethics are either bent or broken for the sake of material gain or promotion. Jude indicts Balaam along with the murderer Cain who was marked for life and Korah who rebelled against the authority given to Moses by God and was swallowed up by the earth.

    The warning to the Church of Pergamos concerning the “doctrine of Balaam” (Revelation 2:14) is apparently not a direct reference to Balaam’s greed but rather to his later instructions to Balak concerning a way to trip up the Children of Israel. These instructions were for an idolatrous feast (eating food offered to idols) and encouraging sexual immorality between the men of Israel and women of Moab and Midian. What Balaam could not accomplish by cursing Israel for Balak he did accomplish by giving counsel that helped encourage them into compromise with the idolatrous nations of Moab and Midian. Students should be made aware that even after resisting the enemy’s attacks, they must be on their guard against compromise in areas of idolatry and morality.

  8. God sometimes proves His sovereignty by overruling and/or using even the ungodly to fulfill His own purposes in the world. Give several Biblical examples and some modern-day examples.

    Students may list Biblical examples such as King Nebuchadnezzar, Joseph’s brothers, or Saul of Tarsus, all of whom God used for His own purposes while yet ungodly. They should then try to name others from more modern history or even current events which have been used by God to further His sovereign plan for humanity.
conclusion

How good it is to embrace the truth of the King of the Universe and to follow His precepts with both our words and our lives. His blessings are available to us today even though there is a battle to be fought. The battle is spiritual so we must be on guard and vigilant until the Lord calls us. “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!” (Numbers 23:10)