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Scripture Story: Numbers 22–24.

Commentary: Patriarchs and Prophets, (or Beginning of the End), chapter 40.

greed: the bottomless pit

Photo by Bill Wolf


“Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way with His drawn sword in His hand; and he bowed his head and fell flat on his face.” (Numbers 22:31, NKJV)


“Balaam ‘loved the wages of unrighteousness’ (2 Peter 2:15). The sin of covetousness, which God declares to be idolatry, had made him a timeserver, and through this one fault Satan gained entire control of him. It was this that caused his ruin. The tempter is ever presenting worldly gain and honor to entice men from the service of God. He tells them it is their overconscientiousness that keeps them from prosperity. Thus many are induced to venture out of the path of strict integrity. One wrong step makes the next easier, and they become more and more presumptuous” (Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 439, 440).

what do you think?

Desperate for money, a young man held up a store, even though his conscience told him it was wrong. Before long he committed more and more crimes, and the more he committed, the less it bothered him. The more wrong he did, the less wrong it seemed. He finally became completely immune to his guilt over the thievery.

Why did the young man become immune to his guilt?

did you know?

Crime in the United States accounts for more injuries, deaths, and loss of property than all the natural disasters combined. Thirteen million people commit crimes every year, and half a million commit violent crimes. Many of these people would have probably, at one time, never imagined committing any sort of felony. But sometimes greed or desperation can drive someone down a path they never intended to go, and send them into a downward spiral, sometimes permanently. Once a person has begun committing crimes such as robbery, the more they do it the longer the lengths they are willing to go to get what they desire, even if it means murdering or injuring other people.


“That night God came to Balaam and said, ‘Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.’ Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. . . .

“When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.

“Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff.

“Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?’

“Balaam answered the donkey, ‘You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.’

“The donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?’

“‘No,’ he said. Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown. The angel of the Lord asked him, ‘Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.’

“Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, ‘I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.’ The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, ‘Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.’ So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.”

(Numbers 22:20-35, NIV)


Why did the Moabites call to Balaam for help?

Why did Balaam refuse to go with the Moabites? Was it his love for God or his pride?

What was Balaam’s reaction when he saw the Angel of the Lord before him?

Why did God open the mouth of the donkey and let it speak?

Why did the Moabites want Balaam to curse the Israelites?

Name some of Balaam’s good attributes.

Name some of Balaam’s bad attributes.

Why did Balaam decline the bribe of the princes? Was it his love for God that made him decline it, or did he do so because he wanted to appear as if he were faithful and obedient?

What can we learn from this story about how God communicates with us?

punch lines

O thou that dwellest upon many waters, abundant in treasures, thine end is come, and the measure of thy covetousness” (Jeremiah 51:13, KJV).

Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil!” (Habakkuk 2:9, KJV).

But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication” (Revelation 2:14, KJV).

Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core” (Jude 11, KJV).

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5, KJV).

other eyes

“Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”—Erich Fromm, 20th-century U.S. (German-born) psychoanalyst.

“Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it is never enough.”—Janwillem van de Wetering, current Dutch author.

“The main source of our wealth is goodness. The affections and the generous qualities that God admires in a world full of greed.”—Alfred A. Montapert, current U.S. author.



Do you see yourself as being more like Balaam, or more like the donkey, when it comes to relating to God?

Ponder your actions. Consider whether or not you do things that you once thought were sinful, but now believe to be harmless. How can we protect ourselves from falling into that trap? Balaam was greedy; he wanted the riches the Moabites offered him, even though he knew that to curse the Israelites was not what God wanted. How can we stay conscious of what’s wrong and what’s right?


Think about the young man in the What Do You Think? section. Do you ever find yourself doing things you know are wrong, and yet justifying them in your mind? What are ways you justify doing wrong?

Do you guiltlessly do things now that you used to think were wrong? If so, what brought about the change? Is there any way to return your conscience to its former state? Would you want to?


Review the Key Text and ponder the fact that it took Balaam a lot longer than the donkey to realize a heavenly being was present.

Animals suffer along with the rest of humanity because of sin. When Balaam struck the donkey that he rode, he was causing this innocent animal to suffer. God wants us to make the lives of His creatures as bearable as possible; actually, He says that our righteousness is revealed by our regard for our animals (Prov. 12:10; see also Ps. 36:6 and 147:9).

What are ways that you could help innocent animals that are being abused? One way would be to volunteer at an animal shelter.


Read this week’s Punch Lines. Even though Balaam had fallen short on his love for God, he first told the Moabites he would not curse the Israelites in order to make himself seem full of integrity. He put on a disguise that made him appear righteous, when he really cared only about his own benefit, not what God wanted.

Ponder your own character, and whether you do things for God or just to make yourself appear more righteous. Pray and ask for God’s guidance, and do what God wants you to do because you love Him, not because you’re worried about what others think of you.


Look at the quotes in the Other Eyes section. Which one speaks most to you? What are they saying is wrong with greed? Come up with a few short quotes yourself that express the evil nature of greed. Write them down and share them with someone else.


Remember that God is all powerful. When God told Balaam not to curse the Israelites, He meant it. Balaam thought he could hide from God by appearing to be righteous, but God knows the heart; He knows when we are sincere and when we aren’t. God also knew that Balaam desired the wealth the Moabites offered him. He pretended not to want it, but God knew his heart. Ask yourself: Are there ways in which I am putting on masks, pretending to be what I am not?


Read the Flashlight quote again. In what ways does covetousness work against your soul? What are ways in which you can combat covetousness in your own life? Is it possible to fight it in our own strength?

Consider volunteering with friends to work in a soup kitchen, or work with your church on another project to help the homeless. Active service to help others is one of the best ways we can work with God to combat covetousness in our own hearts.

Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

this week’s reading*

Patriarchs and Prophets (or Beginning of the End), chapter 40.

*Beginning of the End is a special adaptation of Patriarchs and Prophets, created for you by the Ellen G. White Estate and Pacific Press. Get more information about it at article/191/about-us/conflict-of-the-ages-compan ion-books#.URlhF1rBO9s. By following the weekly reading plan, you will read at least one book of the Conflict of the Ages Series each year.