Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lesson #16 - I Cannot Go Beyond the Word of the Lord

Lesson 16 - I Cannot Go Beyond the Word of the Lord
Numbers 22-24, 31

Background -

The Israelites have moved beyond Mt Sinai. Because of rebellion and fear they do not advance directly into the Promised Land.

Instead, God determines the adults who refused to come into His presence at Sinai, and later feared the inhabitants
in the land of Canaan, would not enter the Promised Land. Israel would instead wander in the wilderness for forty years.

From Map 3 in the LDS Bible, we find that Israel took a very long route to the land of Canaan. Mt Sinai is traditionally believed to be near the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. A quicker and easier route would have been to follow the coast line of the Mediterranean Sea on the ancient highway, the Way of the Sea.
Map of the Exile

This journey to Sinai and back took Israel through the lands of other peoples and vast desert wastelands, such as the Wilderness of Paran.

Israel first moved through that desert to the southern borders of the Promised Land at Kadesh-Barnea in the Wilderness of Zin. However, when Israel's twelve spies returned with most insisting they couldn't win, God cursed them for 40 years, as mentioned above. Israel returned into the Wilderness of Paran to wander for years until most of the rebellious had died there. Eventually they made their way back to Ezion-Geber and the boundary of the Sinai Peninsula.

That said, we see that Israel still moved forward, conquering many of the nations they came across, slowly learning obedience as the new generation of free Israelites replaced the old slave/victim mentality of the first generation of the Exodus.

Numbers 20

As they left the Sinai Peninsula, one of the first nations Israel came across was Edom (Numbers 20:14-21). The King's Highway passed through the land, offering an easier path to the lands east of the Dead (Salt) Sea and the Jordan River. Israel requested to peacefully pass through the area, offering to pay for water used and any damage caused. But Edom refused. Israel turned to go another way.

Why didn't Israel just invade and destroy Edom as they did previously? Unlike the people in Sinai, this was family. Edom is another name for Esau, Jacob's brother. This was their family. The nation of Israel calls itself "thy brother" to Esau. This was Esau's inheritance, granted by God and Isaac. When Edom sent an army to defend its border, Israel turned away to seek another longer and more difficult route.

Aaron's Death
Numbers 20:22-29

As stated by God when Moses and Aaron disobeyed at Meribah (see vs 7-12), they would not enter into the land of promise.

Moses, Aaron and Eleazar ascend Mount Hor, where the chief priest's garments are removed from Aaron and placed upon hls son, Eleazar.

In previous lessons we've discussed the ancient tradition of the holy garment of Adam being passed down from father to son in the legitimate passing of priesthood power. Here the tradition starts anew as Aaron symbolizes Adam passing his own garment and authority on to his son, Seth.

This also symbolizes Christ receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood from his Father. Paul wrote:
"For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins...
"And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
"So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day I have begotten thee.
"As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedec" (Hebrews 5:1-6).

In this quote, Jesus receives his priesthood authority from his Father, just as Eleazar would receive it from Aaron.

Moses and Eleazar descend from the mountain top, the new generation high priest ready to faithfully perform his duties.

Israel Destroys the Nations
Numbers 21

Unlike the Edomites, the other peoples in the region are not considered family. When other nations came against them, Israel destroyed their armies first and then the cities were destroyed.

King Arad, who ruled Canaanites in the south, first came to battle. The Israelites turned to God, promising to destroy their cities if God would deliver them. God agreed, and the cities were destroyed.

Israel passed by Edom, but still sought to use the King's Highway as an easier path to travel. This time, Israel asked for safe passage through the Amorite nation, just north of Edom and to the east of the Dead Sea. The Amorites had recently conquered the Moabites, driving many of them from the land. They were not interested in allowing a nation with 600,000 men to pass through the center of their territory.

The Amorite king, Sihon, sent an army to stop Israel. However "Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land" (21:24). While not originally a part of the Promised Land, Israel finally had a place to dwell, refresh themselves, and prepare to enter the land of promise.

Israel also gained control of a portion of the King's Highway, a major trade route. Israel could obtain much needed funds by charging trade caravans for using their road and to pass through the land.

One by one, the Israelites conquered cities and nations until they came upon the Moabites.

Balaam, Magician and Advisor of Pharaoh
Numbers 22

We first mentioned Balaam in lesson #13 on the Exodus. According to the Book of Jasher, Baalam was a a chief advisor to Pharaoh, king of Egypt. He originally fled his home land, when the king of Chittim was slain, and went into Egypt. "And Pharaoh received him with great honor, for he had heard of his wisdom, and he gave him presents and made him for a counsellor, and aggrandized him. And Balaam dwelt in Egypt, in honor with all the nobles of the king, and the nobles exalted him, because they all coveted to learn his wisdom" (Jasher 67:8-10).

Pharaoh dreams a terrible and foreboding dream. Balaam suggests he calls forth his two main counselors to advise him on the dream:
"18 And Balaam the son of Beor answered the king and said unto him, This means nothing else but a great evil that will spring up against Egypt in the latter days.

19 For a son will be born to Israel who will destroy all Egypt and its inhabitants, and bring forth the Israelites from Egypt with a mighty hand.

20 Now therefore, O king, take counsel upon this matter, that you may destroy the hope of the children of Israel and their expectation, before this evil arise against Egypt.

21 And the king said unto Balaam, And what shall we do unto Israel? surely after a certain manner did we at first counsel against them and could not prevail over them.

22 Now therefore give you also advice against them by which we may prevail over them.

23 And Balaam answered the king, saying, Send now and call thy two counsellors, and we will see what their advice is upon this matter and afterward thy servant will speak.

24 And the king sent and called his two counsellors Reuel the Midianite and Job the Uzite, and they came and sat before the king.

25 And the king said to them, Behold you have both heard the dream which I have dreamed, and the interpretation thereof; now therefore give counsel and know and see what is to be done to the children of Israel, whereby we may prevail over them, before their evil shall spring up against us.

26 And Reuel the Midianite answered the king and said, May the king live, may the king live forever.

27 If it seem good to the king, let him desist from the Hebrews and leave them, and let him not stretch forth his hand against them."

Reuel is Jethro, the man who later would be Moses' father-in-law. He was a priest after the order of Melchizedek and would one day ordain Moses to the priesthood (D&C 84:6). He went into a long history of Abraham and his descendants, how Jehovah had protected them from Pharaohs and other kings in the past. It would be best to leave the Hebrews alone, and not go against them and their God.

When asked, Job the Uzite deferred to the king's best judgment. Then Pharaoh asked Balaam his advice.

"42 And the king said to Job the Uzite, What sayest thou Job, and what is thy advice respecting the Hebrews?

43 So Job said to the king, Behold all the inhabitants of the land are in thy power, let the king do as it seems good in his eyes.

44 And the king said unto Balaam, What dost thou say, Balaam, speak thy word that we may hear it.

45 And Balaam said to the king, Of all that the king has counselled against the Hebrews will they be delivered, and the king will not be able to prevail over them with any counsel.

46 For if thou thinkest to lessen them by the flaming fire, thou canst not prevail over them, for surely their God delivered Abraham their father from Ur of the Chaldeans; and if thou thinkest to destroy them with a sword, surely Isaac their father was delivered from it, and a ram was placed in his stead.

47 And if with hard and rigorous labor thou thinkest to lessen them, thou wilt not prevail even in this, for their father Jacob served Laban in all manner of hard work, and prospered.

48 Now therefore, O King, hear my words, for this is the counsel which is counselled against them, by which thou wilt prevail over them, and from which thou shouldst not depart.

49 If it please the king let him order all their children which shall be born from this day forward, to be thrown into the water, for by this canst thou wipe away their name, for none of them, nor of their fathers, were tried in this manner.

50 And the king heard the words of Balaam, and the thing pleased the king and the princes, and the king did according to the word of Balaam" (Jasher 68).

In other words, kings have tried to slay Abraham and his descendants with flame and sword in the past, and were unsuccessful. However, no one before had ever attempted to drown the male children. In this, perhaps, Pharaoh would find a loophole to destroy Israel and stop the dreamed prophesy from coming to pass. However, Pharaoh still could not succeed. Somehow the majority of the children were preserved, even when Pharaoh's armies attempted to seize and drown them. Jethro/Reuel was disgusted and left Egypt, returning to his home in Midian.

A few years later, as the young child Moses sat eating with the king, the boy grabbed Pharaoh's crown and placed it upon his own head. Balaam insisted this child was the one who would topple Egypt. Only an angel's intercession kept the child from being slain. As Moses grew, he later heard how Balaam was instrumental in the deaths of the Hebrew children, and attempted to have Moses killed. Moses sought his life, but Balaam was warned and fled (Jasher 70).

Here we see that Balaam and Moses have a long history. Balaam, while a man of foresight and counsel, used it to fight against God and his chosen servant. Balaam knew he had a very nice life in Egypt, and a spoiler like Moses would surely ruin it if he wasn't stopped.

Balak, King of Moab seeks Balaam's Help
Numbers 22

One thing is for certain. Balaam is famous. As Balak, King of Moab, sees that Israel has destroyed the Amalekites and other nations in front of them, he realizes that an army is insufficient to stop the Hebrews. Therefore, Balak seeks a different approach to winning against Israel. He sends for Balaam to use his magical prowess to curse Israel. The king realizes that he whom Balaam "blesses [is] blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed" (Numbers 22:6).

Balaam seems to be a follower of many gods. The Lord Jehovah is one of a pantheon of war-like gods that Balaam deals with. He knows Jehovah has power, yet he often acts as if he can outsmart Jehovah with magic, stealth, and the power of other gods.

Balak's messengers arrive and tell Balaam to come and curse the Hebrews for the king of Moab. The Lord commands Balaam not to go with them, for he has chosen Israel. Balaam initially refuses to go. When Balak sends princes and an offer of wealth and power to Balaam, he does not refuse them. He tells them he will go, but will speak the word of God, "I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord to do more or less" (22:18).

At this point, we find a conflict in the writing. Balaam tells the princes he will see what God tells him at night, in which the Lord tells him to go with the men, but only speak God's word. Yet, when he goes with them, "God's anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him" (22:20-22). Why would God tell him to go, and then seek to hedge up his way? Because Balaam outwardly was professing he would do as the Lord commanded him, but in his thoughts he conspired. He was hedging his bets, and keeping an open mind as to how he would handle the situation once he was with Balak. What Balaam did not understand is that the Lord could read his thoughts.

The incident with Balaam's ass helps us to understand this. The angel of the Lord stood in the path with a sword to slay Balaam. His ass feared the angel and attempted to stop and turn to the side. Balaam, caught up in his thoughts, didn't not see the angel until it was almost too late. The angel stood before him with sword drawn. He told Balaam that only his donkey had saved him from death.

Balaam knows how to play God, or so he thinks. Upon seeing the angel, he bowed to the earth. When the angel told him God was displeased, Balaam offered to return home again. Again the Lord told him to continue with the men, but repeated the command to only state what the Lord should speak to him.

Balaam goes to Balak and they prepare. They go to the high place of Baal, a holy sanctuary for a god that was very similar to Jehovah in many attributes and aspects. Balak offered sacrifice to the Lord, hoping to appease him (22:40, 23:1-2). In his mind, gods could be bribed. However, when Balaam returns from speaking with God, all he can do is bless Israel. Balak is beside himself, and suggests they do it again from a hill where they can actually see Israel approaching.

Once again, Balak offers sacrifice to God, expecting God to change his mind and accept the sacrificial bribe. But Balaam returns and tells him, "God is not a man that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent...behold I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it" (23:19-20). In other words, God holds to his word. While men, such as Balak and Balaam, can be bribed or caused to change their minds, God isn't tempted by mortal entreaties.

Balaam had tried to destroy Moses and Israel before in Egypt and failed due to God's power. Now Balaam resigns himself to speak for God. "Surely there is no enchantment against jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!" (23:23). Balak tries one more tactic. Perhaps he could convince Balaam to neither curse nor bless Israel, but just keep things as they were before. Again Balaam says he cannot, and Balak tries once again in another location.

The Star out of Jacob and a Sceptre of Israel
Numbers 24

Balaam instructed Balak to build seven altars and again offer sacrifice to the Lord. Balaam realized that God wanted to bless Israel, so he no longer sought any "enchantments" or legal wrangling to find a loophole in order to curse Israel (24:1). Instead, he tried a new approach. He looked upon the children of Israel in the wilderness, and the Spirit caused him to not only bless them, but to curse those that curse Israel (24:5-9).

Balak exploded in anger, "I called thee to curse mine enemies, and behold, thou hast altogether blessed them these three times." Balak warned Balaam to flee back to his home, evidently to avoid the king's wrath. However, Balaam reminded him that he warned the princes that he would only speak God's will. Balaam then foretells the future of Israel and the nations around it. He sees the day when the "Star out of Jacob and a Sceptre" would arise that would overpower the nations around Israel. "Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city" (24:17-19).

This prophesy has a dual symbolism. King David would be the king of Israel who would conquer the surrounding nations, and establish the first true powerful kingdom and nation of Israel. Yet it would be the Son of David who would completely fulfill the prophesy. Jesus Christ would come as the "Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre" risen from Israel. At his Second Coming, he would smite the enemies of Israel, and take the land as an eternal possession for spiritual Israel.

The word "star" can denote several things in ancient Hebrew lore. Job saw the "When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:7). In this verse, God references the premortal existence and the divine council of heaven. When the plan came forth, all shouted for joy. The "Star out of Jacob" in Job's story would have been Jesus Christ in his role as Jehovah in the premortal existence.

And the star was significant in the New Testament and Book of Mormon. We read, "And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word" (3 Nephi 1:21). In the Middle East, this star was noticed by shepherds and followed by wise men. For the Nephites, it occurred during a time when the unbelievers were set to kill all believers. The people were so astonished at the sign of Christ's birth that they fell to the earth in amazement.

The Sceptre represents kingly authority. It was definitely represented in King David, who was called and anointed by God through his prophet, Samuel. David conquered the surrounding lands and established a strong monarchy. Yet his earthly reign was temporary and fell with the rebellions of his descendants. However, Christ shall come and reign as king of the earth during his Millennial reign. At that time,
"shall be the sound of his trump, saying to all people, both in heaven and in earth, and that are under the earth—for every ear shall hear it, and every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess, while they hear the sound of the trump, saying: Fear God, and give glory to him who sitteth upon the throne, forever and ever; for the hour of his judgment is come" (D&C 88:104).

Israel is led away by the "daughters of men"
Numbers 25

Prior to the flood, the stories are told of the righteous sons/angels of God looking upon the "daughters of men" and being tempted away from their holy responsibility and calling. In falling away, they took their knowledge of God and used it to corrupt themselves and the world they dwelt in. Only the Flood could end their vast apostasy and violence.

The pattern returns as Israel, with a several victories under their belt, and now accustomed to daily miracles bringing them bread, are enticed by the daughters of Moab. It was a very common thing in war, at least until the Geneva Convention, for conquering armies to plunder, pillage and take whatever they wanted. Israel has observed it in the past as the Egyptian and other armies around them have done the same thing.
1 And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.
2 And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.
3 And Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.
The pattern will be seen again and again. The covenant people of God are tempted by the daughters of men or the riches of the world. They go whoring after unrighteousness, and consume themselves in their lusts. Then they leave worshiping the Lord, and seek to worship the god/idol of the land. Baal-peor was the Canaanite god who was very similar to Jehovah in many respects. Baal means "Lord", and Peor was a mountain in Moab. Here we have a local version of the god Baal. As Israel had once worshiped the Lord Jehovah on His holy Mount Sinai, the Israelites were now worshiping the local god Baal on Mount Peor. A part of the Baal-Peor worship was sensual/sexual fulfillment, therefore the two went hand in hand. The daughters of Moab were essentially priestesses to Baal-Peor, and their duty was to lure men into whoredoms and worship. (

The Lord commanded Moses to slay all those men who followed after Baal-Peor, and it was done by the judges of Israel. A plague hits Israel, and many mourn in front of the Tabernacle, begging the Lord to forgive Israel. Phinehas, son of Eleazar the chief high priest, saw an Israelite man actually bring one of the Moabite women into camp. Phineas grabbed a javelin and thrust the man and woman through. The plague was stayed once Israel showed they would not allow such sin to enter into their camp, or near the Tabernacle of Jehovah.
10 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
11 Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.
12 Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace:
13 And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.
As in ancient Israel, today we see among us many who would walk away from their covenant and promise in order to worship other gods and idols. Today's idols are often material things that keep us from doing the great work God asks of us. We are too busy to proclaim his word, serve our fellow men, or study our scriptures. Busy with what? Entertainment, work, and other pleasures that aren't necessarily evil, except when they replace God in the center of our lives. Too few of us today are like Phinehas, who quickly served God and his people in his zeal to end a plague. Too many of us allow the plagues of our day to continue, because we do not speak out against them. We tolerate or even promote promiscuity, materialism, selfishness, cruelty, and lifestyles that impoverish mind, body and soul.

Israel, the Next Generation
Numbers 26

Moses and Eleazar the priest number the children of Israel. Forty years in the wilderness has passed and all of the former generation have died, except for two.
63 These are they that were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho.
64 But among these there was not a man of them whom Moses and Aaron the priest numbered, when they numbered the children of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai.
65 For the Lord had said of them, They shall surely die in the wilderness. And there was not left a man of them, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.
God retains his blessings and promises to those who are truly faithful to him. Over the many years, Israel was tried and tested to determine their loyalty to God. Even after 40 years of wandering, many still were tempted to join with the worshipers of Baal-Peor. Only after many years and several plagues, were the Israelites purified enough to enter into the Promised Land. All that remained of the original Israelites, besides Moses and Eleazar, were Caleb and Joshua. Of the four, only three would enter into the Holy Land, representing Levi, Judah, and Ephraim, the three main tribes of Israel.

A Replacement for Moses
Numbers 27

Moses was promised, due to his rebellion that he would not enter into the Promised Land. Now that Israel was across the Jordan River from that land, they were soon ready to cross over. They would need a new prophet to replace Moses. But how does one set apart a prophet?
12 And the Lord said unto Moses, Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel.
13 And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered.
14 For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify me at the water before their eyes: that is the water of Meribah in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.
15 And Moses spake unto the Lord, saying,
16 Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation,
17 Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd.
18 And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him;
19 And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight.
20 And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient.
21 And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation.
22 And Moses did as the Lord commanded him: and he took Joshua, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation:
23 And he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge, as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses.
Joshua was called as prophet in a process: 1. It was revealed by revelation from a prophet. 2. It was done before all the people. 3. One with authority placed his hands upon the new prophet. As Paul would later say regarding priesthood authority, "no man taketh this honour unto himself save he be called of God, as was Aaron" (Hebrews 5:4). Aaron's son, Eleazar was in the audience when Joshua was ordained and set before Eleazar and the congregation. The pattern continued through the history of prophets and Hebrew kings.

Midianites destroyed
Numbers 31

All good things and all not-so-good things must come to an end. So it is with Balak and his kingdom. 12,000 soldiers, one thousand from each tribe are sent forward. Eleazar and the other priests go with them, carrying the holy instruments, and the trumpets. Trumpets were used anciently in war for communication. It was a quick and easy way to tell the soldiers to charge, retreat, or regroup. They could also be used to encourage.

The trumpets used were probably shofars, ram's horns shaped into trumpets. They were used by Israel for religious events, musical accompaniments, and to signal the beginning of a war ( The holy instruments were the sacred instruments of the sanctuary or Tabernacle. These could have included the Ark of the Covenant, which did go into battle frequently with Israel. The Ark of the Covenant represented God's presence. Imagine having the holy presence of the Lord up on a hilltop as the soldiers ran into battle! Such would be awe inspiring, giving the soldiers courage to defeat the enemy. It also represented the concept of each nation's God pitching in battle against one another. Would Jehovah be stronger than Baal-Peor?

Israel won the battle. All of the males were slain, and the women and children taken into captivity. When they returned to the camp, Moses freaked out.
15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.
17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
Israel slew all of the adult women and boys, keeping only the young girls. Why? Because the boys would one day grow up and perhaps challenge Israel's authority, just as Israel had become numerous and challenged Egypt. The women were instructed in the worship of Baal-Peor, which included sexual rites, and these had already led many sons of Israel into apostasy. Moses did not want to take the chance of Israel falling away from Jehovah, and losing the promised covenant.

For many people, it is strange that Jehovah and Moses would teach, "Thou Shalt Not Kill", but then approve the slaughter of small children and defenseless women. In this instance we learn that the commandment could aptly be adjusted to state: "Thou shalt not kill, unless God commands otherwise." We find this same sentiment in the command the Spirit gave Nephi to slay the drunken Laban. For Nephi, it was necessary to slay him in order to obtain the Brass Plates.
12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;
13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.
Clearly, if the Lord has a purpose, then killing is justified. In Moses' case, it was to preserve the purity of Israel. In Nephi's case, it was to ensure the Nephites (also Israelites) remained true to the promised covenant. It shows us that God does not view things from a temporary or short term viewpoint, but from the long term, even the eternal viewpoint. Those that were slain would receive opportunity to hear the gospel, be resurrected, and receive the covenant themselves in the latter days. But God had to prepare a people that could be a light unto the world, a people where Jesus Christ, the Sceptre and Star of Judah could come forth and bless all mankind.


Book of Jasher:



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