Sunday School Lesson #16

Lesson 16: Numbers 22-24; 31:1-16*

Who is Balaam?

All of a sudden a non-Israelite prophet appears. Who is he? Is he really a prophet? New Testament writers took Balaam as a negative object lesson. Peter, speaking of those who left the church because of lust, refers to Balaam “preferring the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2: 15-16); Jude compares Balaam’s transgression to Cain’s (Jude 1:11); and the Lord, speaking to John on the Isle of Patmos, speaks of the doctrine of Balaam, who taught “the children of Israel to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication” (Rev. 2: 14). However, it is not clear from the text we have why they would do so.

Nehama Leibowitz suggests a comparison between Balaam and other prophets. In Jeremiah 1:4, Ezekiel 1:3, Hosea 1:1, and Joel 1:1 we see the calling of a prophet described in the same way each time: “The word of the Lord came unto ______.” Or we see something like Ezekiel 1:3: “The hand of the Lord was there upon him.” However, we don’t see anything like that in Balaam’s case. Instead, we see Balaam seeking out the Lord (Numbers 23:1-3, 14-16). As she says of the prophets, “Far from seeking [the office of a prophet], it was thrust on them” (284), but the difference in wording may suggest that Balaam sought after the office. Jewish commentators have also noticed that whereas the prophets mark their prophecies with “saith the Lord,” Balaam marks his with “Balaam [. . .] hath said.” (See, for example, Numbers 24:3.) But this difference isn’t unambiguous, for in Balaam’s third experience with the Lord we see that the Spirit came on him (Numbers 24:2) rather than that he sought after it.

So, was Balaam a prophet or not? How do we understand Balaam’s relation to the Lord and to Israel? Does this help us understand, perhaps, what the word “prophet” can mean in the Old Testament? How is that different than what we might at first assume? As you think about Balaam, think also about Melchizedek and Jethro. Do they show us that the ancient world was different religiously than we might have thought?

Story Outline

1. Balak, king of Moab asks the Midianites to go with him to Balaam, a prophet in Mesopotamia, to get a curse on Israel. (Numbers 22:1-8)

2. Balaam asks God but is forbidden to go. (Numbers 22:9-13)

3. Balak petitions Balaam to go with him, offering him whatever he wishes to do so; Balaam refuses, but them God relents and allows Balaam to go, if he will say only what he has been told. (Numbers 22:14-20)

4. Balaam leaves, but God is angry with him and sends an angel to stand in his way. He does not see the angel, but his ass does. The ass won’t pass the angel, so Balaam strikes the ass. The third time that he beats the ass, the ass speaks to him asking him why. Then Balaam sees the angel and says he will return if the angel commands it. The angel tells him that he should go ahead, but say only what he has been told to say. (Numbers 22:21-35)

5. Balak meets Balaam, but Balaam reminds him that he can only say what has been given. (Numbers 22:36-39)

6. Balak offers sacrifices, and Balaam reminds him that he can only say what he has been told to say. (Numbers 22:40-41)

7. Balaam and Balak offer sacrifices, and God meets with Balaam. (Numbers 23:1-7)

8. Balaam blesses Israel, to the dismay of Balak. (Numbers 23:8-12)

9. Balak offers sacrifices and asks Balaam to prophesy again; he does so, again blessing Israel. (Numbers 23:13-26)

10. Balak takes Balaam to another location, asking once again Balaam to curse Israel; Balaam commands Balak to offer more sacrifices. (Numbers 23:27-30)

11. Balaam blesses Israel a third time, provoking Balak’s anger (Numbers 24:1-11)

12. Balaam says “I told you I could only say what the Lord told me to say” and blesses Israel a fourth time, prophesying of the Messiah; Balak and Balaam part. (Numbers 23:12-25)

13. Moses sends an army to destroy the Midianites and Balaam is killed with them (Numbers 31:1-16)

Study Questions

Numbers 22

Verse 1: Where was Moab? Who were the Moabites, and how were they related to Israel (Genesis 19: 30-37)? Keep them in mind because Ruth, whom we will study later, is a Moabite, and Christ descends in part from that lineage.

Verses 5-6: Who was Balaam? What led Balak to believe that Balaam could stop the Israelites?

Verse 7: The Moabites joined in this venture with the Midianites. Who were the Midianites? Where have we met them before, and why might they unite with the Moabites? What ancestor did they share in common? (See Genesis 11:27.) Is it relevant that Moses took exile in Midian and married someone from there? Of course, Jethro, his father-in-law and a source of important advice (Exodus 18:13-27), was a Midianite. He also offered a sacrifice in which Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel took part (Exodus 18:12; see also D&C 84-6-7). What does that tell us about the Midianites? The phrase “the rewards of divination” might be better translated “the price of divination.” What does that tell us? Does it tell us something about Balaam or about how Balak understood what Balaam did?

Verse 13: How do you account for the fact that God talks directly with Balaam. In other words, what seems to be Balaam’s relationship to God and what was his answer to Balak’s emissaries? What changes characterize the second delegation sent to Balaam—both in composition of the delegation and in the rewards offered? (Compare vv. 7, 15-17.) What indication is given that Balak is beginning to panic?

Verse 18: What does Balaam’s initial answer to the second delegation tell one about Balaam’s feelings then? What does the fact that he goes with the delegation tell about his feelings? Are these two in conflict?

Verse 20: Why might the Lord have allowed Balaam to go with the second delegation sent by Balak? Notice the change made in the JST. Does that make more sense of what is happening? What caution does the Lord give Balaam?

Verses 23-33: What do you make of the experience of Balaam and his donkey?

Verses 34-35: When Balaam becomes repentant, why does the angel tell him to go to Balak?

Verse 41: This is the first time that we are come across the pagan god Baal. We will meet his followers often from this point. To find out about him, go to the Bible Dictionary at the back of your Bible. For more information, see the entry, “Baal,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary (vol. 1, page 546).

Numbers 23

Verses 1-3: What ritual does Balaam engage in before going to enquire of the Lord? Why does he call the offering Balak’s burnt offering? (Compare verses 3 and 6.)

Verses 7-10: What is the substance of the answer Balaam gives to the assembled elders of Moab and Midian? The King James translation calls Balaam’s utterance a parable. “Oracle” is another translation. Balaam gives his prophecies in poetic form, though the KJV doesn’t show that. How do you explain the ending of verse 9, in which Israel is portrayed as alone and insignificant, and the beginning of verse 10, in which Israel is portrayed as innumerable? To whom and how could an innumerable nation be insignificant?

Verses 11-12: What might one expect if a king has been dealt with as Balak things he has been dealt with (verse 11)? In verse 12, Balaam no longer uses Balak’s kingly title in referring to him. (Compare Numbers 22:10.) What might this suggest?

Verse 13: Why does Balak move Balaam to another place to view the Israelites, hoping he will curse them from that location? In other words, what does he appear to hope would this will accomplish? Notice that seven more altars are built and seven more sacrifices offered at this new location. Why?

Verses 19-24: What new information is added in Balaam’s second report to Balak?

Verse 25: Why does Balak tell Balaam that if he is not going to curse Israel, at least not to bless them?

Verses 27-30: Why is the location changed again? Is there perhaps something like Christ’s temptation in the wilderness going on here, an analogy to Lucifer taking Jesus to three different locations to tempt him?

Verse 28: Balak has taken Balaam to three different places to offer sacrifice and to demand that God curse Israel: the high places of Baal (Numbers 22:41), the field of Zophim (Numbers 23:14), and the top of Peor (verse 28)? Why has he moved him about this way? One commentator points out that the first was a place of worship of the god of fertility and material plenty, the second the place of worship of a god who foretold the future (“Zophim” means “lookers” or “watchers”), and the third to the place of worship of a god of sexual licence. (See Leibowitz 316-317.) Does that help explain why Balak chose the places he did? How?

Numbers 24

Verses 1-9: How is what Balaam does this time different than the previous two times (verse 1)? Why does he mention that his eyes are open while he is in the trance (verses 4 and 15)? Is this a parallelism, and if it is, what are we to see from it? Notice that Balaam uses a lot of figurative speech in this blessing. In verse 6, for example, there are four consecutive similes all related to a well-watered garden. What is the symbolic significance of that theme? What is the theme of the end of verse 7 and verses 8-9? How are the themes of verses 5-7a and 7b-9 related to each other? How is this blessing related to the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:2-3, among other place—it may be interesting to compare this blessing to the several versions of the Abrahamic covenant)? What is different in Balaam’s experience this time as he comes before the Lord? (Compare verse 9 with Judah’s blessing in Gen. 49: 9.)

Verses 10-11: Striking one’s hands together seems to have been a sign of contempt (cf. Lamentations 2:15 and Job 27:23). Of whom or what is Balak contemptuous? Why? Notice that Balak tells Balaam that God has kept Balaam from honor (verse 11). Do those who wish to serve often have to forego honor? Why?

Verse 13: Leibowitz (326-27) notes that there is a gradual change in how Balaam responds to Balak: “Can I say anything? Whatever God shall put in my mouth that I shall speak” (Numbers 22:38; Leibowitz translation); “Surely that which God shall put in my mouth that shall I observe to speak (Numbers 23:12; Leibowitz translation); “Surely I have told you saying: All that the Lord shall speak that shall I do” (Numbers 23:26; Leibowitz translation); and here “I cannot violate the word of the Lord to do good or evil out of mine own heart; that which the Lord shall speak, that shall I speak” (Leibowitz translation). Does that gradual change denote a change in Balaam? If so, of what kind? If so, it is for good or for worse?

Verse 14: Is Balaam giving comfort to Balak by saying, “This is what Israel will do to your people, but not until the last days?” In other words, “Don’t worry, all of this is a long time from now.” If so, might this be part of the reason that Balaam has become a negative figure for Israel?

Verses 17-25: What is to be the fate of the pagan nations, according to Balaam? When will this be fulfilled? Who is the “Star out of Jacob,” the “Scepter out of Israel,” that shall smite the corners of Moab? (This is among the earliest of the major Messianic prophecies given in the Old Testament. Note the references that parallel Judah’s blessing (Genesis 49:10). Why Judah? Might the star in the eastern heavens that appeared at the birth of Christ have any association with this prophecy?

Numbers 31

Verses 1-6: What is the composition of the army sent out against the Midianites? It is ironic that Moses’s last act before his death is to respond to a call to send an army to destroy the Midianites. After all, he himself had been sheltered by them for forty years of his life and had married one of their daughters: his children are half Midianite. What does it mean that the priests took “the holy instruments” into battle against the Midianites (verse 6)? Are the Israelites taking the Ark of the Covenant with them into battle? Why might they do this? Is it significant that neither Moses nor Aaron goes with them into battle?

Verse 8: What finally happens to Balaam? Why might the Lord allow this? (See Deuteronomy 23:3-6; and Joshua 13:22 and 24:10.)

Verses 15-17: Though they are not part of our reading, do these verses give us any understanding of the earlier events?

*Once again I am indebted to Art Bassett for a number of these questions.

26 comments for “Sunday School Lesson #16

  1. Bryce, as often as you record and post these, it would be great to have you link to them here. I’m sure that some of our readers would be pleased to have a version of the lesson readings they could easily listen to.

  2. Answer to the question: What do you make of the experience of Balaam and his donkey?

    (Cute little donkey. Can I pet the donkey? Please?)

    The KJV describes it as an ass not a donkey, although one might need to be an ass to make this distinction. Donkeys are all domesticated. Asses include all of the many varieties of wild asses and domesticated ones (donkeys). The animal in question seems to be both.

    Does anyone else see the connection between Balaam’s talking ass and some of our gospel doctrine teachers? Ahem…

    On a slightly more serious note, a question for the comparative mammallian otorhinolaryngologists: What are the possible anatomic mechanisms of the ass generating audible human speech?

    My impression is that the human voice box is anatomically unique, allowing speech. Animals do not speak because they can not, Dr. Dolittle not withstanding. Impossible anatomic alterations would have to occur for an ass to physically speak, along with changes in the tongue, teeth, lips, etc. The size and shape of the throat of an ass does not allow for this. I think it is physically impossible for an ass to speak. Do we then discount this event as not historical?

    Perhaps the sound waves left the lips of the ass in the form of normal equine braying and then miraculously were changed into human speech (Hebrew?) in mid air by the power of God to be heard in physiologically normal ways by the ears of Balaam and interpreted normally by his brain?

    Perhaps the ear drums of Balaam vibrated in a pattern stimulated by the braying of an ass but the brains of Balaam and his companions interpreted the sound as speech or even ideas with a specific message from God. (A neuropsychological explanation).

    Don’t forget the miracle on the day of Pentacost when people of many languages heard the same words of Peter in their own language simultaneously and others heard only drunkenness.

    Could a speaker be standing at the pulpit and speaking as much nonsense as any braying ass, and by the power of the Spirit the words touch the hearts of many and open their minds up to reservoirs of hidden knowledge? Is this what is going on in my ward and I am missing it?

    I think the text favors a literal anatomic change, the Lord opened the mouth of the ass. I also find it interesting that the ass is described as female. And that the ass has a rather violent wild disposition, barely qualifying as a domestic donkey in my judgment. In consideration of Matt 5, where less anger than this is morally equated with murder; how worthy is this ass, so privileged among all asses of history to see an angel and be immortalized in Holy Scripture?

    Notice, the ass could see the angel when Balaam could not. This sighting does not seem to require any anatomic change in the eyes of the ass, but still Balaam and his companions could not see it. Are Balaam’s eyes miraculously veiled, or does he somehow do it to himself?

    A parallel question I have wondered about is this: If the Golden Plates were sitting here on a cleared table in this room, could I see them? Or like Balaam, would they be hidden from my view by my lack of worthiness or faith? Perhaps there are objects in the universe that are physically present, have a molecular basis with mass (could be “hefted”) and other physically measurable properties, but require faith or some divine gift to perceive other of their properties, such as visibility or audibility. Or even more interestingly, objects that require some kind of blindness not to be seen?

    Of note, the Golden Plates were once hidden in a barrel of beans, which I am told was typically so small that the plates would have occupied more than half the total volume of the barrel. Not a 55 gallon barrel of beans that I initially imagined when I heard the story. (Can you imagine eating 55 gallons of beans over the course of a few day’s wagon trip?) A mob member supposedly thrust his arm deep into the little barrel of beans and swirled them around and could not find the hidden Golden Plates. And let’s not forget the struggle Martin Harris experienced before he recieved the witness of the angel that immortalized him.

    I first thought about the Golden Plates in this way when I was in the Aaronic Priesthood and wanted to go back to New York and dig around until I found them and this would go a long ways to prove the Book of Mormon. (I didn’t considered the theoretical possibility that the Golden Plates exist as some unrelated Indian artifact and Joseph Smith acquired them but did not translate them at all, so finding them could destroy the foundation of Mormonism. Or that President McKay had them locked in his desk drawer.)

    I think these are legimate considerations. We dismiss them as assinine when encountered in the Old Testament. But when we begin to think about the First Vision and the Golden Plates and the translation of the Book of Mormon; similar questions to these become crucial to historically oriented orthodox LDS faith in light of recent scientific discoveries.

    Like many stories in the Old Testament that move some to discount them as silly fables, this one raises important questions that have wide implications if we are willing to consider them. The Old Testament allows us greater degrees of freedom to explore and discuss these issues because, unlike seeing the Golden Plates, it really is not crucial how or even if Balaam’s ass saw an angel and spoke or not.

    I can relate to Balaam at church almost every week. I wonder how many “angels” I miss that even an ass would not. Oh, that I rode an ass like Balaam’s, wild or domesticated.

  3. Mike, you might notice that I did not hesitate to use the word “ass” in most cases. However, in the sentence you refer to, I was concerned that it was too easily read scatalogically, so I changed the word, in that one place, to “donkey.”

  4. Mike, I think your question about why Balaam didn’t see the angel is a good one….

    Jim, thanks for the cross-references to D&C 84 regarding Jethro’s priesthood lineage (I’d never noticed this was a separate line from the Adam-Abraham line). This spurred me to research Jethro a bit more, I didn’t realize he’s one of the 25 Islamic prophets. Interestingly, the Quran 7:85-6 depicts Jethro (Shu’aib) as a prophet sent to Midian that taught the people not to “turn away from Allah’s path him who believeth in Him.” Considering this as a prophetic teaching taught specifically to the Midianites makes the Balak-Balaam interchange all the more interesting to me.

  5. Mike: After reading Robert C’s comment and then re-reading yours, I realized that I may have judged you wrongly. I apologize for doing so, and I have edited my comment (#4) to get rid of my judgment.

    Robert C: Thanks very much for the information about Jethro in the Quran. That is quite interesting. I’m always amazed, by the way, with how much additional research you are able to do. It takes me 6-8 hours a week (and sometimes more) to work up the materials for my questions, and I never am able to go as far or dig as deep as you seem to. Thanks for being willing to add to what I put up.

  6. Jim F. (#6): That’s the beauty of your lessons, they make it so easy for the rest of us to steal all the best ideas from your hours and hours of hard work so we can seem really smart (and we can spend the time saved looking at other, new issues—you’ll notice I never make more than a handful of comments in comparison to your dozens and dozens of excellent points being made each week…).

    On a separate note, I did a search for “Balaam� in the LDS online search engine and found this real gem of an article by Kevin Barney (who’s been posting some great textual studies of Bible phrases at the BCC blog). In the article, which is about poetry in the scriptures, he uses Numbers 23 as an example of parallelism (the recurrent Jacob and Israel structuring). Not related to this lesson, but the article also has a fascinating section analyzing the terms heart and soul, esp. as used in the Psalm of Nephi.

  7. JimF: You ask your class to take special notice of the JST for Numbers 22:20. I think some or many will have a difficult time doing this, seeing that that JST verse is not in the newest LDS edition of the Bible. It is also not in the online version at (P.S. I found the text for it, but it didn’t change the way I read the verse.)

    I too had totally missed Section 84 about Jethro. Compare Abraham and Melchizedek to Moses and Jethro: Why is it that these two great prophets of Judaism each receive counsel–and more–from non-Jewish priests?

    Moses and the Midianites
    In response to your pointing out the irony of Moses defeating the Midianites, I would call attention to the phrase in 31:2, “afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.” I know that this phrase could simply be a euphemistic way of saying, “then you’ll die,” but I wonder if it was meant to be more than that. Who are Moses’ people? He’s not an Egyptian, but he was raised as one; he’s not an Israelite, but he was born as one; he’s not a Midianite, but he lived with them and married one. Moses strikes me as a total outsider, especially when the Lord refuses his entry into Canaan. Did Moses take this phrase as a curse or as a reward: “you mean, I finally get to belong somewhere?!”

    I also wonder if this is a way of putting an end to Moses’ repentance process. He was condemned for turning the office of a prophet into one of a showman when he theatrically struck the rock to make water flow. Now Moses is pitted against another prophet who wants to misuse his position. The battle is sort of anticlimactic after what else we have seen Moses do (namely, defy the world’s most powerful man and nation, then lead an entire nation for forty years in the wilderness, etc, etc.). I think it is meaningful that Moses’ “final assignment” involves a confrontation with a wayward prophet.

  8. By the way, I want to thank you, Jim, for changing the way you name your lessons. When they were all “JEF Sunday School Lesson” it was hard to distinguish which was which. Naming them “Sunday School Lesson #” is very helpful.

  9. BrianJ: I’m sorry about the difficulty of the JST version. I use a Community of Christ edition of the JST (published before they called themselves “COC”) and didn’t think to check whether the verse is in the LDS edition.

    Your question about what it means to tell someone like Moses that he will be gathered to his people is a good one. Thanks.

    As for the renaming: I started adding the “JEF” to the study materials when Julie was also posting materials. It was confusing for both of us to have “Sunday School Lesson #XX” as the title, so we decided each to preface our lesson materials with our initials to make it easier for people to tell them apart. Now that Julie has a new calling and isn’t posting materials, it makes sense to drop the initials.

  10. Part II of Lesson 16 — During the years prior to the Israelites entering the “Promised Landâ€? the Lord commanded Moses and the gang to purify the territory using methods that we of this day would refer to as “ethnic cleansingâ€? and “scorched earth policy.â€? The result was a land completely rid of native peoples yet abundant with the “spoilsâ€? of conquest.
    The instruction has been given time and time again to ‘liken all scripture unto ourselves.’ In that accord, one has to wonder what the implications of such heaven-sent commandment would be today – Suppose Allah were to command His believers to rid the earth of “Infidels�, or Jehovah were to command His saints to purge Jackson County of ‘godless sinners’ prior to the influx of His chosen people. Since God IS God, He could just as easy wink and every sinner turn to dust – but alas, how much more dramatic it would be for the chosen Elders of Israel to take up the sword and shield and cleanse the region themselves in preparation for the triumphant return!
    Like the Defenders of Righteousness from each of the twelve tribes, today’s Saturday’s Warriors stand ready and await the sound of the angelic trumpet.

  11. Since the Israelites killed noblemen and heirs but took as serf-laborers/ concubines all maidens and commoners, maybe there’s a parallel here to any type of fuedal war with regard to rightful inheritance such as say the Norman conquest of England? Which means, surprise, the way the West egages such enemies today as the radical Islamicists is through what’s the contemporary forms of economic hegemony (and see John David Payne’s string for his definition of terrorism for evidence that Conservative thinking contemporarily sees such hegemony likewise quite naturally to be just).

  12. Wayne L: I think that the problem with the way you approach this is similiar to the problem with the way more conservative members often approach the scriptures: it is ahistorical, reading the scriptures as if every time and every place were the same. Besides the fact that we can reasonably suspect that much of the story of destruction, etc. was rewritten, perhaps several times, in order to justify later political realities, we have to recognize that the standards for warfare (as well as narratives about warfare) a thousand years or more BCE were not quite the same as our own. That is not to say that we can simply relativize the problem: “since it was done in a different historical context, it is okay.” It is to say that since it was done in a different historical context, we have to be careful in trying to figure out what it means.

    We also have to recognize that the stories are probably meant to be understood symbolically as much as literally. Consider this from the The Anchor Bible Dictionary (volume 5, page 549):

    In Mesopotamia, property that was reserved for a god or king might be placed under a taboo and was then known as asakku. To misappropriate it was to violate the taboo and incur a penalty, which apparently varied, but could be death if the circumstances warranted (Malamat 1966). A priestess who repeatedly steals the asakku is burned (Anbar 1974: 173), and a man who takes booty previously declared asakku is “not to be spared,� but possibly has his death sentence commuted (ARM 5.72).

    In the Bible the same institution is called hrm, but the term is used only of taboo property reserved for God. Reservation is achieved by total destruction, as in the case of the apostate city (Deut 13:13–16), and the same applies where the enemy is declared hrm. Consequently, taking enemy property as booty instead of destroying it amounts to misappropriation of hrm, a crime that will incur divine anger (1 Sam 15:1–33).

    When Achan takes booty from Jericho, in spite of the city’s having been declared hrm (Josh 6:17), divine anger manifests itself in military defeat for Israel (Josh 7:1–12). In punishment, Achan is to be stoned and burned, along with his family, livestock, and possessions, including specifically the hrm property taken by him and also the tent in which it had been concealed (Josh 7:22–25).

    This isn’t exactly the case you are describing, but it is a good example of how what looks entirely unreasonable or arbitrary from our point of view has its own symbolic logic. We have to try to think in Old Testament terms if we wish to understand the book, rather than transpose our terms onto it.

  13. By the way I’m being neutral (two posts above) about the West’s right to seek its interests (my point’s being merely how thinly vieled self-interest tends to be interpreted in terms of godly morality).

  14. Thanks, Kimball and Jim, for your excellent comments.
    Now if only we could get the so-called religious extremists of the world to see past the literal dogma of the OT and move beyond incorporating ancient tactics and means into modern ways to usurp power and control over those of non-similar belief.

  15. I appreciate reading all the great in-depth information that is given by everyone. I learn a lot from them. I just wish there was more included about how this actually pertains to us in our everyday lives. A, “What am I supposed to learn from this….” section. It’s great to know the history and all the intricate details, but I find my class responding more to how it relates to them personally in their lives today. There is plenty of examples there to use! But, thank you for your insight.

  16. Jim: re Balaam and his ass (no scatology intended):

    A oracle is gotten anywhere! Balaam could just have well had noticed God’s communication in the way ants were parading from an anthill. Yet this wouldn’t have required ants to gain ability to send up ant satellites to spacially coordinate their trails and a connection to human thought to allow them to form symbols communicable to human observers — as God would have done all that. And anyway Balaam’s burro’s “voice” may well have been something more akin to that of a “still, small voice” — or that is something symbolically communicative of a sudden burst of imaginative discovery as is found in an otherwise random or unordered pattern or even an auditory hallucination? rather than what I’d imagine were to have been actual sound waves which in a scientific experiment could have been repeated to be discernable by humans as having mimicked a human voice giving a set speech (or, that is, so I’d imagine, at least!)

    Balaam’s oraclular mission is at the behest due the patronage of Balak. But this oracular burro stops.


    Balaam says it’s because of a divine messenger in the road which only the oracular burro observes. Burro riders of course experience such willfullnes quite regularly; but in this particular case Balaam is able to interpret this ordinary experience with extraordinatry meanings: i.e., that the ass is responding to a heavenly messenger’s dictum not to proceed. And also the ass brays and Balaam’s able to discern in her braying these interpretive details being explained to him. So then: Are such events and the meaning being derived from them something truly extraordinary? Well, I myself would definately say not!: at least not according to the standard procedure of holymen and soothsayers, who quite reguarly will symbolically intepret things from their day-to-day existence within a way analogous to that applied to the jumbles of interpretive symbols in dreams. This is the way spiritual messages were regularly communicated to tribal princes such as Balak, who would have understood their meaning just as well as a modern captains of enterprise or rulers do today their particular prognosticative reports or oracular tea leaves; so the information that’s being conveyed here is less about its conventional and unremarkable form, under the circumstances, of a donkey’s speaking to a holyman but rather the substance of its oracle, communicated by this means, concerning Israel.

    OK but despite Balaam’s being the channel for prophesy, the New Testament speaks ill of him?Well, OK. But it’s plain to see the holyman office so exemplified by Moses wasn’t exclusive to him and that there was also this Midian priestly line in existence which God’s supreme prophet Moses had married into.

    Well, what’s the modern church’s take, for example, on Syney Rigdon of the early period of the Restoration? And, to complete this analogy, it’s an established fact of course that Sydney had been doing creatively “restorationist” stuff within a motif and variation patterned after generations of Protestant reformers and individuals in the Mother Church establishing movements and holy orders. After some success in this vein, Syndey really found his niche with Joseph; but after Sydney’s period of fallout from Joseph or vice versa and after the master administrative hand Brigham took the prophet’s mantle, Syndney’s services were no longer obtained: Or, in artistic terms, his creative period had ended and his lengthy “blue” period begun. So, dear reader, was Syndey a prophet of the Restoration or not then? Well: the existent documents and sustaining votes declare him to have been such.

    So I’d say it seems to be an oft repeated pattern for the Lord to utilize the talents of creative individuals as prophets who’s contributions are thereafter nonetheless marginalized so that in subsequent generations’ memories they, like Rodney Dangerfield, don’t get no respect.

  17. doctor Faulconer Um I hope ya don’t take offense, this comment’s comin from a well self styled Unitarian BUT your Sunday School lessons R da best! Kimball
    happy heliosday!

  18. Who is Leibowitz? And can this source be used in Gospel Doctrine without getting me in trouble?? I LOVED the comparison with Christ and His temptations.. but I am unfamiliar with Leibowitz

  19. Will somebody please help me? You (and the lesson manual) refer to a JST change to Numbers 22:20. I can’t find it in the footnotes or in the back of the book. Is it for real? Is there another place to find JST bible corrections?


  20. KJV
    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.

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

  21. #17, Brook M: I wrote these as study materials not as lesson materials, though of course teachers can use study materials for lesson materials. However, I think that most of the study materials do contain questions about how the scriptures pertain to our lives. They don’t contain any answers because I think that I am not the one to decide that question for other people. Application is something that should happen naturally as we try to understand the stories we read.

    #18, Kimball L. Hunt: Good questions and insightful observations about the way the Lord has used people who are later “outside.” Thanks.

    #21, Patty: Nehama Leibowitz was a Jewish teacher who wrote a series of study materials for Sabbath study in Israel. Will you get in trouble for using her material in Sunday School? I doubt it.

    #22, Adam S.: Take a look at comment number 8. That verse doesn’t appear either in the footnotes or in the additional material at the back of our Bible. I wouldn’t worry about it too much, but it you are interested, find a copy of the Inspired Version published by the Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS Church).

    Honestly, however, I’m not sure what I was thinking of when I made that comparison. It surely had something to do with the change from “do” to “speak,”

    #23: Kurt, Thanks for putting the Joseph Smith revision in.

  22. Patty (#21): Nehama Leibowitz is a Jewish Bible scholar. I think occassional use of bible scholarship in a SS class might be appropriate and helpful, but too frequent use would seem distracting.

    Adam (#22): The complete Joseph Smith Inspired Version of the Bible is available here thanks to the Community of Christ church (formerly RLDS). But I don’t think it highlights Joseph Smith changes, you have to compare the text to the original yourself….

  23. Robert C: Thanks for making the point that it would be inappropriate to rely too heavily on Leibowitz’s work. Indeed, my understanding is that, as Gospel Doctrine teachers, we ought not to rely heavily on anything other than the scriptures themselves.

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