LESSON 10 *November 28 - December 4
The "Madness" of the Prophet
Lesson graphic

Read for This Week's Study:

Numbers 22–24; Deut. 1:30; 20:4; Matt. 15:14; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Pet. 2:14-16; Rev. 3:17.

Memory Text:

"For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Timothy 6:10).

      The story of Balaam is well known and often used to make jokes, such as: “Well, if God could talk through Balaam’s donkey, then He could talk through so-and-so.”

In one sense, however, there’s nothing really funny about this story. Though it can be read on various levels, Balaam’s encounter with the Lord can be seen as another example of how sin, if not overcome, if not wrestled with through the power of God, can lead us into paths of destruction.

Balaam is referred to in the New Testament three times (2 Pet. 2:15, 16; Jude 11; Rev. 2:14), and none of the references are very flattering. On the contrary, he’s a prototype, a symbol, of sin.

Peter talks about the “madness” of Balaam. Yet, it wasn’t the “madness” of the mentally deranged; rather, it was the madness of someone who was so swept up into covetousness that he was ready to do what Balak asked, and all for money, regardless of how wrong it was.

If someone like Balaam, a prophet, could be so “mad,” how much madder would we be to do something similar, especially with his sorry example before us?  

*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 5.

SUNDAY November 29

A Fearful and Deluded King

Try to put yourself in the position of Balak, king of Moab. Here was this massive horde that had come out of the great nation of Egypt, and who had survived only by miracles (what else?) in the desert for four decades. And now they were camped “in the plains of Moab” (Num. 22:1), not far from his kingdom.

Even though the nation had not made any threats against them and wasn’t intending to invade, Balak, understandably, was nervous. After all, look what they had just done to King Og of Bashan and to King Sihon of the Amorites—whose nation already had defeated Moab (see Num. 21:26). Not to mention what they had done to the Canaanites (vss. 1–3), too. No wonder he was nervous.

Read Numbers 22:1–6. What was it about the Israelites that especially made the king fearful?

In reality, if Israel had been a threat, what should Balak really have been afraid of? See Gen. 48:21, Exod. 15:1, Deut. 1:30, 20:4. 

It’s kind of ironic that Balak, facing what he believed to be an insurmountable foe, would seek out a prophet of the God of the very people he wanted cursed and defeated. Whether he realized what he was doing, we don’t know; but from our perspective, it’s obvious that Balak’s plans were doomed from the start. One only could wonder, too, why he didn’t get one of his own local holy men to petition the Moabite gods to defend them against Israel. Instead, he called upon a prophet of the true God. Perhaps the key to that is found in Numbers 22:6: “ ‘Curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed’ ” (NKJV).
Ask yourself how much you really seek to depend upon God, and how much you trust in yourself, your money, your job, your talents, whatever. How can you learn to get your eyes off these things and on the Lord? Why is that naturally hard to do? See 1 Cor. 2:14.  

MONDAY November 30


Who was this Balaam?

“Balaam was once a good man and a prophet of God; but he had apostatized, and had given himself up to covetousness; yet he still professed to be a servant of the Most High. He was not ignorant of God’s work in behalf of Israel; and when the messengers announced their errand, he well knew that it was his duty to refuse the rewards of Balak and to dismiss the ambassadors. But he ventured to dally with temptation.”—Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 439.

Read Numbers 22:7–21. On the surface, it looks as if Balaam is standing firm for the Lord. However, if you read carefully, what hints can you find of his playing with temptation? 

Balaam had urged the messengers to tarry with him that night, declaring that he would give no decided answer till he had asked counsel of the Lord. Balaam must have realized that his curses would not hurt Israel, for Balaam knew, or at least had known, the Lord. He really didn’t need to ask the Lord; perhaps He did so hoping there would be another answer. Either way, by having them linger when he should have dismissed them right away, he opened himself up to temptation. After all, the men had come with “the fees for divination” (vs. 7, NRSV).

Notice what happened at the second invitation, when they promised him even more. God had said that “if the men come to call” he may go, provided he speak only what God said (vs. 20). But in the early morning—before the princes could say anything—Balaam saddled his donkey and rode off at once with ambassadors of Moab. In other words, despite all the pretense of faithfulness and his claims about not being able to be bought at any price, he was eager to get all the money that was offered to him.
Read 2 Peter 2:14–16. How did Peter view the actions of Balaam? What warning is there for us regarding covetousness and temptation? Why is it so easy to rationalize away our sin to the point that it doesn’t seem sinful?  

TUESDAY December 1

Unnatural Confrontation

Determined in his heart to get the rewards the king offered him, Balaam set out with the men toward Moab. Despite all Balaam’s outward professions of fidelity, which he even might have believed himself, the Lord knew what was going on in the man’s heart and responded to it.

Read Numbers 22:22–34 and answer the following questions:  

A lot has been written over the centuries regarding this, one of the stranger stories in the Bible. Different commentators come away with different interpretations. One point, though, seems clear: Balaam was a man who had a special connection with the Lord. After all, the Lord still was speaking with Him in an intimate manner. And yet, even with this connection, Balaam was determined to do what he himself wanted.
In what ways, even the most subtle ways, do you find yourself fighting against the Lord? That is, you’re determined to do what you want even though you know it’s not what God wants. How can you overcome this dangerous attitude?  

WEDNESDAY December 2

"The Death of the Righteous"

After the incident with the donkey, Balaam came to Balak. It is interesting to note that Balak brought Balaam to “the high places of Baal” (Num. 22:41). Apparently, Near Eastern pagans built their shrines on the tops of mountains so as to be nearer the gods whom they wished to influence. Balaam ordered the king to build at this place seven altars and offer seven bullocks and seven rams thereon.

Read the words that Balaam, controlled by God, spoke over the children of Israel. What powerful message, and promise, is found in them? What hope is offered to us all in them, as well? See Num. 23:5–10; see also 1 Corinthians 15.  

“He saw them supported by His arm as they enter the dark valley of the shadow of death. And he beheld them coming forth from their graves, crowned with glory, honor, and immortality. He saw the redeemed rejoicing in the unfading glories of the earth made new. Gazing upon the scene, he exclaimed, ‘Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel?’ And as he saw the crown of glory on every brow, the joy beaming from every countenance, and looked forward to that endless life of unalloyed happiness, he uttered the solemn prayer, ‘Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!’”—Ellen G. White, Patriarch and Prophets, p. 447.

What does it mean to “die the death of the righteous”? What is the only way we can die such a death? Rom. 3:20–24.  

In a sense, these words of God uttered over His ancient people reflect the gospel promise of all of God’s people in every age, the promise of eternal life because of the righteousness of Jesus. None of us are righteous; none of us live or die in and of ourselves with enough righteousness to deliver us from the grave. Only the righteousness of Jesus can, which is credited to us by faith. Here, in the book of Numbers, with the story of Balaam, God is revealing to us the promise of salvation through Jesus.

THURSDAY December 3

Stars and Scepter

Imagine the king’s surprise when Balaam began to bless Israel. Although angry, the king still wasn’t ready to give up. He took the prophet to another mountain peak where he could see only a small part of Israel and built another seven altars, offering again bullocks and rams. Balaam “went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments” (Num. 24:1). Yet again, instead of Balak getting the curse that he was willing to pay so much for, Balaam—under the control of God—uttered another blessing over Israel. A third time Balak arranged for seven altars and their sacrifices on another peak, but Balaam knew it was useless to ask God for permission to use magic on Israel. Looking on Israel’s encampment from this third angle, he blessed the nation again (Num. 23:27–30; Num. 24:1–10), and Balak sent him home in disgrace for his failure to curse Israel.

Read the parable Balaam told in Numbers 24:15–17. What was this a prophecy of, and how was it fulfilled? Gen. 49:10; Matt. 2:1, 2.  

“Seeking clearer knowledge, [the wise men] turned to the Hebrew Scriptures. . . . Balaam belonged to the magicians, though at one time a prophet of God; by the Holy Spirit he had foretold the prosperity of Israel and the appearing of the Messiah. . . . The prophecy of Balaam had declared, ‘There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.’. . . Could this strange star have been sent as a harbinger of the Promised One?”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 59, 60.

Bible students long have seen in these words a Messianic prediction, that of the coming Redeemer, Jesus. The image of a scepter (power) and a star (light) both are apt symbols of Jesus. Though the Lord used, at the time of the prophecy itself, local symbols, which would have meaning to those who heard it then, the principle behind the prophecy—that of Christ’s power and victory—apply to the whole world. Jesus is the light of the world and the rightful owner of it, and no matter what humans’ plans are, in the end the whole world will see Him prevail. See Isa. 45:23, Rom. 14:11, Phil. 2:10.

However much injustice in the world, we have the promise that God will prevail, and that justice will, as well. How does that promise help you cope with all the injustice you see now?  

FRIDAY December 4

Further Study:  
  Read Ellen G. White, “Balaam,” pp. 438–452, in Patriarchs and Prophets; “The Beatitudes,” pp. 17–44; “The Spirituality of the Law,” pp. 45–58, in Thoughts From the Mount of Blessings.

“He who will abuse animals because he has them in his power is both a coward and a tyrant. A disposition to cause pain, whether to our fellow men or to the brute creation, is satanic. Many do not realize that their cruelty will ever be known, because the poor dumb animals cannot reveal it. But could the eyes of these men be opened, as were those of Balaam, they would see an angel of God standing as a witness, to testify against them in the courts above. A record goes up to heaven, and a day is coming when judgment will be pronounced against those who abuse God’s creatures.”—Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 443.  

Discussion Questions:
     What are some other spiritual lessons we can take away from the story of Balaam? What does it teach, for instance, about God’s sovereignty, about human free will and God’s providence, or about human sinfulness?  

   Dwell more on this idea of the “death of the righteous.” If you were to die today, would it be a “death of the righteous”? Justify your answer.  

   Money is such an incredibly corrupting influence in all areas of life, including our religious life. How can we, as Christians, protect ourselves, our faith, and our church from the potentially corrupting influence of money?  

   Read Jude 11 and Revelation 2:14, which, aside from the verses we already looked at in 2 Peter, are the only other New Testament references to Balaam. What can we learn from them that can help us better understand where Balaam went astray?  

  The account of Balaam’s attempt to curse Israel in return for riches and honor brings out into the open his inordinate greed and covetousness. The tenth commandment warns us away from this sinful human trait. None of us are immune to this, or to any other sin, which if not overcome can lead to our final ruin. How important it is that we learn from Balaam’s mistakes.  

I N S I D E Story    
Mad Man Goes to Church


Mekonin lived in a farming village in Ethiopia. Many people in this village didn't like Adventists, and some even wanted to destroy the local Adventist church.

One day people noticed that Mekonin was behaving erratically. He became angry easily and even tried to kill his wife. Fortunately, she and their children fled to her parents' home. As Mekonin's behavior became more demonic, the neighbors feared for their own safety. They chained him to a pillar in his home and stayed a safe distance away.

Then someone mentioned that when the Adventists pray for people, they're healed. The next Sabbath morning several strong men bound Mekonin in chains and led him to the Adventist church. The men sat down on a bench near the back surrounding Mekonin, ready to subdue him if he became aggressive. The visitors sat quietly through Sabbath School and church. Then the pastor, deacons, and church elders gathered around Mekonin and prayed for him.

"Why don't you throw water on him?" one of the neighbors asked. The pas-tor explained that the power to heal Mekonin was in Christ, not in the water. The pastor asked the men to bring Mekonin back the next day for prayer.

On Sunday the neighbors returned to the Adventist church with Mekonin, but this time he came without the chains. About 60 people came to pray for Mekonin or to watch what happened.

The following Sabbath, Mekonin visited the Adventist church again. He walked with some Adventist members and was not bound by chains. Mekonin took part in the worship service. The pastor knew of another Adventist church nearer to Mekonin's home and asked the local elders to go to Mekonin's home and pray with him. Other Adventist groups learned about Mekonin's condition and joined in praying for him. Within two weeks Mekonin was healed of the demons who had possessed him.

Mekonin's wife learned that her husband had been healed; she and her children returned home.

Mekonin and his wife joined the Adventist church, along with neighbors who had once wanted to destroy the church but had seen God heal Mekonin in answer to the believers' prayers. Today six Adventist churches stand in the area near Mekonin's home, testimonies of God's goodness and power to save.

Your mission offerings help spread the gospel in farming villages and large cities around the world so that people chained by darkness can be freed by Jesus, the Light of the World.

CHARLOTTE ISHKANIAN is editor of Mission.
Produced by the General Conference Office of Adventist Mission.
email:   info@adventistmission.org   website:  www.adventistmission.org

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