This lesson is built entirely around Balaam, a man whose story we have seldom invoked in earlier Sunday School curricula. A narrative account of Balaam – complete with a subtitle that is identical to the title of the lesson in our current manual – was told for children in 1947.
Balaam, the Covetous Priest
“I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord, my God”
To the Teacher:
Quiet listening does not assure learning. Activity is the key.
1. How much longer did the Israelites wander in the wilderness?
2. What happened to the older Israelites?
3. Did the Lord remain with Israel?
4. Why did Moses make a brass serpent?
5. Who was the king of the Moabites?
6. Whose help did he seek? Why?
7. Did the priest want to come? Why?
8. What warning was given by the donkey?
9. How many altars were built?
10. how many animals were sacrificed?
11. Did Balaam curse Israel? Why?
The Story (Numbers 21 to 32):
It was a most unhappy and discouraged people that turned from the borders of Canaan and returned into the wilderness. Unknown years lay ahead of them; years of heat, wandering and weariness. They had come from Egypt on the strength of a promise that Moses would lead them to their own land of promise. Twenty years passed by. They had seen the land, but lacked courage to enter. More years rolled by.
As the years passed the older Israelites died and young Israelites took their places. This younger generation knew nothing of Egypt, except what their parents told them. They were accustomed to deserts and wilderness. They were trained to look to Moses for leadership, and to God for help. They too sometimes complained but their complaints lacked the bitterness, the sting, and the element of personal resentment shown by their fathers.
Moses was well over an hundred years of age. Still following the cloud and the pillar of light, he led them to the edge of the desert. The people complained that the water was bad, and they were getting so tired of manna. Out of the deserts swarmed serpents, or poisonous snakes.
The serpents crawled into all their tents, their beds, their food. They were everywhere. They bit the people and their bite was like the sting of fire. Those that were bitten died. the people came quickly to Moses and confessed, saying, “We have sinned against our Heavenly Father. We should not have complained, for he is good. Pray to Him that these serpents go away and that we may not die.”
Moses did pray to the Lord and his prayer was answered. He was told to make a serpent of brass and hang it upon a pole. Whoever was bitten by a serpent should look upon that brass serpent and if he did this he would be healed. All this was done. The people found that the promise of the Lord did not fail; they were saved from the serpents by following the Lord’s instructions.
Forty years passed. Only three of the men who came out of Egypt still remained alive. Those three were Moses, Joshua and Caleb. All the others had died in the wilderness.
The Israelites were camped on the east side of the River Jordan on the plains of Moab. The king of the Moabites was wondering what he could do to protect himself and his people against those terrible Israelites. He thought them terrible because they had driven off so many of their enemies in recent years. “Why,” he said, “they will take my land from me, and may even kill me.”
The king of the Moabites was named Balak. He had heard of a man living in Midian who possessed wonderful power. It was said that anything the Midianite spoke evil against soon suffered, while the things that he blessed always prospered. Balak sent a number of his greatest princes to Midian to find that man and secure his help.
The princes found the man they were seeking. His name was Balaam. Now Balaam, like Jethro of Midian, believed in God and his prayers were answered. The princes showered him with gifts and promised him great wealth if he would come with them and curse the Israelites. Balaam hesitated. “Stay here with me tonight. I will pray to the Lord and he will tell me what answer I should give to you.”
Balaam knew the Lord had blessed him in the past. He knew of his power to bless, and he recognized that such a power is a great responsibility. But the money that had been offered was a great temptation.
The Lord spoke to Balaam that night. “Who are these men that are visiting you?”
Balaam replied, “They are princes from Balak. They have come asking me to curse the Israelites, so Balak may make war upon them and drive them out of the land.”
“Thou shalt not go with these men,” said the Lord, “neither shall you curse Israel, for they are a blessed people.”
Balaam gave the princes the message from the Lord. They hurried away to tell Balak.
Balak sent them back to Balaam again. This time they came with more money and greater offers of riches and power if Balaam would come and help him.
Poor Balaam was sorely tempted. He desired that wealth and honor. He decided he would ask the Lord again if he could go and do as Balak wished. The princes were invited to remain at his home until he could speak to the Lord about it. The Lord spoke to him again. This time He said, “You may go with the men if you wish, but you must say only the things that I tell you to.”
When morning came Balaam told the princes that he was ready to go and see Balak. He saddled a donkey and followed them.
At one point along the way, the path was very narrow. High steep walls rose on both sides of the pathway. The Lord was very displeased with Balaam and sent an angel to teach him a lesson. The angel took up a position in the path near the very narrowest point in the pathway. The angel was visible to the eyes of the donkey, but Balaam could not see him.
Balaam urged the donkey along the path. The poor donkey tried to turn out of the path to pass by the angel. Balaam whipped the poor beast and tried to urge him forward, but the donkey could see no way to pass. Balaam struck the animal unmercifully. It laid down in the pathway. The Lord then caused a voice to appear to come from the donkey. It said, “What have I done that you should strike me like that?”
Because Balaam was so angry, he did not notice anything strange about a donkey speaking. He called out angrily, “If I had my sword I would kill you.” Again the donkey seemed to speak. He reminded Balaam that he had always been faithful in the past, so why should Balaam want to kill him now? Then Balaam’s eyes were cleared, and he too saw the angel standing in the pathway.
Balaam was ashamed. “I have sinned. I did not know the angel of the Lord stood in my way. I will go back if it is your desire.” He was beginning to see that sometimes we are so anxious to go where we should not that our eyes are closed to the dangers and difficulties in our pathway.
The angel told Balaam to go on with the princes, but to say only the things the Lord told him to say.
When Balaam drew near to Moab, Balak came far out along the road to meet him. Balak said, “Were you afraid I would not pay you, that you did not come sooner?” He then offered great wealth and power if Balaam would curse Israel. Balaam desired to please Balak and own all that money, but when he remembered the angel Balaam answered, “I have come to you, oh king. But I have no power to say anything except the words that the Lord shall tell me to say.”
The next day that idol-worshiping king, Balak, took Balaam up to one of the high mountains. There altars had already been built to worship the idols. From that point Balaam could see the tents of the Israelites stretched far over the plains like a mighty army. Thousands and thousands of animals were grazing on the pasture lands of Moab.
Balaam instructed the king to erect seven new altars and sacrifice a sheep and an ox upon each of these to the Lord. This was done. Then Balaam went aside to see if this had pleased the Lord. The Lord spoke to Balaam saying he should return to Balak and say, “I cannot curse Israel for Jehovah has blessed that people.”
When Balak heard that answer, he was very displeased. “Instead of cursing Israel, you are blessing them,” he stormed.
He decided to try again. He took Balaam to a different mountain. From that one the camp of Israel could still be seen. Balaam wanted the money so he decided to try the Lord once more. Seven more altars were built, seven oxen and seven sheep were offered as sacrifices. Then Balaam called upon the Lord. The Lord would not allow Balaam to curse Israel.
A third time Balak built altars and offered sacrifices, but Balaam would not speak against Israel, for the Lord told him he must not. Balak was very angry. “I thought to make you a wealthy man,” he said, “but you will not help me. so go back to your country for I see you are not my friend.”
Balaam returned to Midian. years later, in a war between the Midianites and the Moabites, Balaam was killed. He might have been a truly great man if he had used his remarkable powers to help Israel’s cause. He let the desire for riches turn him from doing right. When people are given power or responsibility they should carry that responsibility in a righteous manner or it brings disaster to themselves and, at times, to those they love.
1. What were the results of the Israelites’ refusal to follow their leaders into Canaan?
2. Why did the Lord want the older Israelites to die off before he would lead His people into Canaan?
3. Is there evidence of a change of spirit among the Israelites as the years pass by?
4. What power did the brass serpent seem to possess?
5. Describe the attitude of the people while in the desert country of the Amorites.
6. Why did they conquer their enemies so easily?
7. What power did Balaam possess?
8. “The priesthood is a grave responsibility. It must be used righteously.’ Did Balaam remember that? Give evidence.
9. What should have been his answer to the king?
10. Why did the Lord let Balaam make the journey?
11. Why did Balaam not curse Israel?
12. Why is money said to be “the root of all evil”?
13. Do you know of other people who have given way to the temptation of that evil?
14. Are there examples of people that would not betray their trust?
15. Can you tell of some?
16. Why do you think the donkey was made to appear to talk?