Sunday School: Gospel Doctrine
Lesson 16: ‘I Cannot Go Beyond the Word of the Lord’

“Lesson 16: ‘I Cannot Go Beyond the Word of the Lord’” Old Testament: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (2001), 73–76

“Lesson 16,” Old Testament: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, 73–76

Lesson 16

“I Cannot Go Beyond the Word of the Lord”

Numbers 22–24; 31:1–16


To encourage class members to submit to God’s will without hesitation.


  1. Prayerfully study the following scriptures:

    1. Numbers 22:1–21. Balak, king of Moab, is terrified by the approach of the Israelites. He offers Balaam rewards if he will come to Moab and curse the Israelites. God commands Balaam to refuse, and Balaam obeys (22:1–14). Balak offers Balaam additional honor and wealth if he will come to Moab and curse Israel. God tells Balaam he can go if he desires but that he must speak only the words God gives him (22:15–21). Balaam decides to go. (Note that in verse 6 the word wot means “know.” Note also that the Joseph Smith Translation of Numbers 22:20 includes the phrase “if thou wilt” before the words “go with them.”)

    2. Numbers 22:22–35. God is angry with Balaam for going to Moab, knowing that he hopes for some reward from Balak. While on his way, Balaam learns the dangers of displeasing God when his donkey and an angel speak to him.

    3. Numbers 22:36–24:25. Balaam meets with Balak (22:36–23:2). Three times Balak asks him to curse Israel, but Balaam obeys God and blesses Israel each time (23:3–24:9). He then curses Moab and prophesies of Jesus Christ (24:10–25).

    4. Numbers 31:1–16. The Israelites destroy the Midianites and slay Balaam. Moses explains that Balaam had counseled the Midianites to entice the Israelites into sin. (The consequences of Balaam’s counsel are described in Numbers 25:1–3. Although Balaam would not curse Israel directly, he apparently wanted a reward from Balak badly enough that he suggested tempting Israel to sin, causing them to lose God’s protection.)

  2. Additional reading: 2 Peter 2:15–16; Jude 1:11; Revelation 2:14.

Suggested Lesson Development

Attention Activity

You may want to use the following activity (or one of your own) to begin the lesson.

Ask class members to listen closely to the following statements and think about the type of person who would make them:

  • “If [the king] would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God” (Numbers 22:18).

  • “All that the Lord speaketh, that I must do” (Numbers 23:26).

  • “I cannot go beyond the commandment of the Lord, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; but what the Lord saith, that will I speak” (Numbers 24:13).

  • What are some of the qualities of a person who would say these things? (Such statements suggest that a person is obedient, faithful, and humble.)

Explain that these statements were made by a man named Balaam, who professed strict obedience but in his heart desired earthly rewards and honors. This lesson shows the consequences of stubbornly insisting on our own will to fulfill such desires.

Scripture Discussion and Application

As you teach the following scripture passages, discuss how they apply to daily life. Encourage class members to share experiences that relate to the scriptural principles.

1. Balaam refuses Balak’s offer of rewards in exchange for cursing Israel.

Teach and discuss Numbers 22:1–21.

  • Terrified by the approach of the Israelites, Balak, king of Moab, sent messengers to offer Balaam rewards if he would come to Moab and curse Israel (Numbers 22:5–7). How did Balaam respond to this offer? (See Numbers 22:8–14.) What so-called rewards are we sometimes offered in exchange for disobeying God?

  • After Balaam refused to come to Moab, Balak sent a second group of men, more impressive than the first, to try to persuade him. What did Balak offer Balaam? (See Numbers 22:15–17.) How did Balaam respond? (See Numbers 22:18–19.) Why do you think he wanted to ask the Lord again? (Balaam may have hoped the Lord would change his mind and allow him to get the rewards offered by Balak.) What are the dangers of seeking exceptions to God’s commandments and counsel?

  • The Lord gave Balaam permission to go with Balak’s messengers if he wanted to. But then the Lord was angry with Balaam for going (Numbers 22:20–22). What does the Lord’s anger suggest about what was in Balaam’s heart? (See 2 Peter 2:15; Isaiah 29:13.)

2. The Lord shows the danger of Balaam’s stubborn insistence on his own will.

Teach and discuss Numbers 22:22–35.

  • On his way to Moab, Balaam tried three times to force his donkey forward (Numbers 22:22–30). In what way was this like Balaam’s relationship with the Lord? (Balaam wanted to force his own will on the donkey and on the Lord. You may also want to point out that the donkey saw the angel, but Balaam did not. Similarly, the Lord saw many things that Balaam did not see.)

  • What are some modern parallels of individuals and groups stubbornly trying to do what they want rather than submitting to God’s will or to the righteous counsel of parents or leaders?

    You may want to discuss some of the following examples:

    1. A child, unhappy with an answer from one parent, goes to the other parent, hoping for a different answer.

    2. A member of the Church, unsatisfied with the counsel of a priesthood leader, goes to another priesthood leader.

    3. A member of the Church rationalizes that a commandment doesn’t apply to him or her as it does to other members.

  • The Lord chastened Balaam through the angel and the donkey. How did Balaam respond to the chastening words of the angel? (See Numbers 22:31–35.) Why does God chasten his children? (See D&C 95:1.) How can God’s chastening be a blessing to us?

3. Balaam refuses to curse Israel.

Teach and discuss Numbers 22:36–24:25.

  • After Balaam arrived in Moab, Balak asked him three times to curse Israel. Each time the Lord told Balaam to bless Israel, and Balaam obeyed. What strengths did Balaam show in this account? (See Numbers 22:38; 23:8, 19–20; 24:1, 12–13.) What weakness was still evident in Balaam? (See Numbers 22:41; 23:1–3, 13–15, 27–30. Although Balaam refused Balak’s requests to curse Israel, he was willing to follow Balak from place to place and listen to his requests even though he knew they were wrong.) What are the dangers of listening to unrighteous suggestions (from friends or the media, for example) when we know they are wrong?

4. The Israelites destroy the Midianites and slay Balaam.

Teach and discuss Numbers 31:1–16.

  • Why did the Israelites go to war against the Midianites? (See Numbers 31:1–3; the Lord was angry with the Midianites for enticing the Israelites to sin, as recorded in Numbers 25:1–3.) Who counseled the Midianites to tempt the children of Israel to participate in idol worship and immorality? (See Numbers 31:16.) Why did Balaam give this counsel? (Although Balaam obeyed the Lord’s commands to bless rather than curse Israel, in his heart he wanted earthly honors and rewards. To receive these rewards, he suggested tempting Israel to sin, causing them to lose God’s protection.) What happened to Balaam during the Israelites’ battle with the Midianites? (See Numbers 31:8.)

  • Three writers in the New Testament referred to Balaam (2 Peter 2:15–16; Jude 1:11; Revelation 2:14). What are their impressions of him?

  • What lessons can we learn from this story? (Members of the Church who seek earthly rewards and honors, who seek exceptions to God’s counsel and commandments, or who try to introduce worldly ideas, practices, or standards into the Church are following Balaam’s unrighteous example. This is called the “doctrine of Balaam” in Revelation 2:14.)

    Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:

    “What a story this is! Here is a prophet of God who is firmly committed to declare only what the Lord of heaven directs. There does not seem to be the slightest doubt in his mind about the course he should pursue. He represents the Lord, and neither a house full of gold and silver nor high honors offered by the king can sway him from his determined course. …

    “But greed for wealth and lust for honor beckon him. How marvelous it would be [for him] to be rich and powerful. … Perhaps the Lord would let him compromise his standards and have some worldly prosperity and power. … I wonder how often some of us get our direction from the Church and then, Balaam-like, plead for some worldly rewards. …

    “Balaam, … inspired and mighty as he once was, lost his soul in the end because he set his heart on the things of this world rather than the riches of eternity” (“The Story of a Prophet’s Madness,” New Era, Apr. 1972, 7).

  • Refer back to the statements in the attention activity. Point out that although Balaam appeared to be strictly obedient, the desires of his heart were to receive earthly rewards and honors. What does this story teach about the importance of keeping the desires of our hearts pure? How can we keep the desires of our hearts pure?


Testify that if Balaam had humbly submitted to God’s will, much sin and suffering would have been avoided for himself and for Israel. Encourage class members to be steadfast rather than stubborn—to seek and follow the Lord’s will without trying to get around it or change it.

Additional Teaching Ideas

The following material supplements the suggested lesson outline. You may want to use one or more of these ideas as part of the lesson.

1. Obeying the Lord

We can learn from Balaam the importance of obeying the Lord. We can also learn this from the good examples of many other men and women in the scriptures. You may want to refer to the following examples:

  1. The Savior, aware of the agony before him in Gethsemane and on the cross, “kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:41–42).

  2. When Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac, he “rose up early in the morning” to begin the journey to Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:3).

  3. When Mary was told that she would be the mother of the Son of God, she responded, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).

  4. When Nephi was instructed to return to Jerusalem to get the brass plates from Laban, he immediately responded, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7).

  5. The sons of Helaman were successful in battle because “they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness” (Alma 57:21).

2. “The Lord hath kept thee back from honour” (Numbers 24:11)

  • When Balaam refused to curse Israel and receive Balak’s rewards and honor, Balak told him, “The Lord hath kept thee back from honour” (Numbers 24:11). How does following the Lord sometimes keep us from receiving earthly rewards and honors? What does the Lord promise instead of earthly rewards? (See D&C 81:6.)