The topic of this class is listening to and obeying the word of the Lord. This lesson correlates with lesson sixteen in the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Sunday School Class of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This lesson plan can be used by Sunday School or other church group teachers, Bible study groups, or individuals to enrich their study of the Bible. If you are teaching, feel free to adapt the material to the needs of your class and as prompted by the Spirit.
The teacher’s manual includes Numbers chapters 22-24, and chapter 31. I have focused the lesson on the story of Balaam and Balak in chapter 22.
Scriptures (especially The Old Testament, but also The Doctrine and Covenants–abbreviated D&C)
Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Sunday School Class Teacher’s Manual of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
“Breaking the Chains of Sin” by Elder H. Ross Workman, July 2006 Liahona
We have been learning about Moses and the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness (click here for last week’s lesson plan). The Israelites were a huge group of people at this point. We’re not talking about just a few tents or a family. (In Numbers 26 we read of a census ordered by Moses among the Israelites. The men over the age of 20–excluding the Levites– totals over 600,000 people! Including women, youth, children, and the Levite men, the total would have been well over a million people. So this is an enormous group that is travelling near small kingdoms.)
Ask how many people in the class have served missions. Then ask how they knew what to say to people. For example, you’re tracting and someone lets you in…how do you know what to say? Let people share their experiences. There should be two key points: preparation and the Spirit. Read D&C 33:8-10. When we are serving the Lord righteously, he will fill our mouths and tell us what to say and do.
When teaching, effective teaching is always through the Spirit. No matter how much we learn about the gospel, it is the Spirit that will give us a testimony. In teaching Sunday School classes, I don’t know all of the individual needs of class members. The Lord, however, does. As I prepare, I try to listen to the promptings of the Spirit to know what portions of the lesson to teach. (See D&C 42:13-14; D&C 50: 14, 17-18.)
We also discussed, for the priesthood holders, what it was like to give a priesthood blessing. (They act as a mouthpiece for Heavenly Father, and are inspired to know what to say.)
All of these things are related to a story in the Old Testament about a prophet. This prophet was called to speak for the Lord. Unfortunately, we also find out what happened when he tries to impose his own will over Heavenly Father’s Plan.
In Numbers 22, we learn of a prophet by the name of Balaam. Balaam lives near the kingdom of Moab. When the Israelites came near Moab, the king of the Moabites (Balak) was scared. He knew that alone his people could not defend themselves against the Israelites. So Balak sent messengers with rewards to Balaam the Prophet.
Read Numbers 22:5-7. Balak did not just want to ask for the Lord’s help. He should have approached the prophet and humbly asked what to do. Instead, he tried to bribe the prophet into cursing his enemies.
Balaam gives the messengers a place to stay for the night, and then asked of the Lord what he should do. God tells him not to go with the messengers and not to curse the Israelites, “for they are blessed” (see verse 12). So Balaam sends the messengers away.
Balak responded by trying again. Read Numbers 22:15-17. Balaam, knowing that God has already told him what he should do, responds by again telling them no (see verse 18). However, Balaam is starting to be tempted by the promises of wealth and power. Instead of sending the messengers away, he tells them to stay the night, and he again asks the Lord. Finally the Lord gave him permission to go with them, but gave him the strict instruction to say and do only what the Lord commanded (see verse 20).
As he is travelling, Balaam has problems with his donkey. He loses his temper with the animal, and then the animal speaks to him. Then he is able to see an angel that is blocking his path. The problem was that Balaam was going on a “perverse” path, and was not going just to convey the will of the Lord. He was still hoping to curse the Israelites and gain the rewards that Balak offered. (Read verses 21-35.)
This is similar to a more recent situation. Whilst translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith worked closely with Martin Harris. Martin Harris repeatedly asked for permission to take away the manuscript, even though the Lord had already given them instructions about how to store and care for it. Joseph Smith, wanting to please his friend, kept asking the Lord’s permission on behalf of Harris. Eventually the Lord allowed them to do as they wished, but gave them careful instructions about what to do. Harris lost the 116 pages of the manuscript that had been entrusted to his care. These pages were never re-translated. (See D&C 3 for more information about this incidence.) Even through the mistakes of men, God was prepared. The Nephites had been guided to keep multiple records, and so everything in the lost pages (the Book of Lehi) was recorded somewhere else as well.
Joseph Smith learned from this occurrence, humbled himself, and become a more powerful prophet.
Unfortunately Balaam, although still strictly following the Lord’s path, still had his heart set on the rewards of the world. He continued on his journey and went to King Balak. He told the king that he would only speak the words of the Lord (see Numbers 22:38), and repeatedly blessed and prophesied about Israel (not cursing them as Balak desired). However, desiring the rewards that Balak offered, Balaam eventually advised Balaam how he could cause Israel’s downfall (tempt them to sin so that they would lose the Lord’s blessing). He had his heart set on worldly rewards rather than the rewards of the Lord, and so he tried to find a loophole (he didn’t curse Israel, but he did conspire their downfall). As a result he lost his spiritual calling, and eventually he was killed.
Conclude the lesson by reading from the talk Breaking the Chains of Sin” by Elder H. Ross Workman, July 2006 Liahona. I read the segment labelled “The Lesson of Balaam”.
You may want to incorporate these additional readings about Balaam:
“The Story of a Prophet’s Madness” by Bruce R. McConkie, August 1979 Liahona
2 Peter 2:15-16