Numbers 22–24: The Story of Balaam

Old Testament Seminary Student Study Guide, (2002), 69

Would you accept money to do something you knew wasn’t right? Numbers 22–24 tells the story of a man who had to make that decision. His name was Balaam. He was a soothsayer (one who professes to foretell the future) who believed in, or at least knew about, the God of Israel to the degree that he could be influenced by the Spirit. The king of Moab tried to hire Balaam to curse Israel so the Moabites could defeat them in battle. As you read, think about what you would have done if you had been Balaam and what you might have learned from the experience.
angel and Balaam

Understanding the Scriptures

Numbers 22

Distressed (v. 3)Worried 
Lick up (v. 4)Eat, consume 
Abide over against (v. 5)Settled next to 
Prevail (v. 6)Win 
Rewards of divination (v. 7)Money for prophesying 
Lodge (v. 8)Stay 
Hinder (v. 16)Stop 
Smote, smitten (vv. 23, 25, 27–28, 32)Hit 
Perverse (v. 32)Wrong, wicked 

Numbers 23

Defy (vv. 7–8)Go against 
Reckoned (v. 9)Counted, considered, noticed 
But the utmost part (v. 13)Only part 
Enchantment, divination (v. 23)Fortune telling 
Wrought (v. 23)Done 

Numbers 24

Nigh (v. 17)Near 
Sceptre (v. 17)A staff a ruler holds to signify his power. In this case, the capital S refers to the Messiah, who is the ruler of Israel. 
Valiantly (v. 18)Strong and courageously 
Have dominion (v. 19)Rule 
Wasted (v. 22)Destroyed 

Numbers 22:20–35—Why Was God Angry at Balaam for Doing What He Was Told?

The Lord told Balaam that if the Moabite princes asked him to accompany them again he should go only to say the words the Lord would tell him to say (see Numbers 22:20). Verse 21 records that Balaam simply got up the next morning and started on his way. Some have noted that it appears that Balaam had his heart set on the money offered for his services (see 2 Peter 2:15); he left without any intention of following the Lord. Consequently, he had an experience with his ass and an angel with a drawn sword that demonstrated he should listen to the Lord. At the end of his experience, the Lord reminded Balaam once more that he could go with the princes but only if he would say the words the Lord would give to him (see Numbers 22:35).

Studying the Scriptures

Do two of the following activities (A–C) as you study Numbers 22–24.

Activity A iconIs Your Integrity for Sale?

Just like Balak wanted Balaam to go against what he knew was right for money (see Numbers 22), how do you see people today going against what they know is right for money or the opportunity to be “promoted … unto very great honour”? (v. 17).


Write about someone you know who gave up money and honor to do what he or she knew was right.

Activity B iconGive a Character Reference

Imagine you are Balak, and another king in the area wrote you because he was thinking about hiring Balaam to curse his enemies. Write what your response would be and include what happened the three times he asked Balaam to curse Israel (first time: Numbers 23:1–13; second time: Numbers 23:14–30; third time: Numbers 24:1–13).

Activity C iconInterpret the Prophecy

In Numbers 24:17, who do you think is the “Star of Jacob” and the “Sceptre of Israel”? (see also vv. 14–16, 18–29). Why do you think so?