The story of Balaam is told in the book of Numbers in chapters twenty-two to twenty-five. A few additional references to Balaam are to be found in both the Old and the New Testaments. Balak, the king of Moab, who had learned of the unusual victories of Israel over a number of neighboring nations became fearful of the annihilation of his own kingdom. Balak as a heathen king and not knowing where else to go for supernatural help called in a man of divination. Balaam, like Simon the sorcerer of Acts 8 was doubtless considered a man of great power with God—“I wot that he whom thou blesses is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.” Said Balak. We will note a number of points on Balaam and make some practical applications.
The Occupation of Balaam – Frequently we hear Balaam referred to as a prophet of the Lord. In the record of his death found in Joshua 13:22 he is labeled as a fortune teller. “Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, did the children of Israel slay.” In Numbers 23:23 and 24:1 he is spoken of as one who used enchantments. In Leviticus 19:26 and Deuteronomy 18:10 Israel is strictly forbidden to use divination, enchantments, witchcraft, etc.
The assumption that Balaam was a prophet of God is usually based on the fact that he uttered some profound Divine Truth in setting forth his parables. While this is very true we must remember that Balaam was under the restraining hand of God and God wanted these idolatrous heathen to know that Israel was blessed of God and that no amount of divination can or sorcery could bring a curse on them.
In first Kings 13 we have another account of a false, lying prophet who uttered a message of judgment to a true prophet who had fallen victim to his seductive lines. Beautiful utterances of divine truth are no proof that a man is a true prophet. There are many false prophets today who are very deceptive by their ability to fluently utter divine truth. The only place in the Bible where Balaam is referred to as a prophet is in 2 Peter 2:15 where he is referred to as a mad prophet who loved the wages of unrighteousness.
The Perverseness of Balaam – In Numbers 22:32 God said to Balaam, “Thy way is perverse before me.” Perverse here means that he was taking his own way against the way of God, and to go against God is always the wrong way. In chapter 22:12 God told Balaam that he was not to go to Balak and when God restricts us once He should not need to tell us again. When Balak urged Balaam a second time to “let nothing hinder thee from coming” on the assumption that he could promote him to “very great honor” and make him wealthy besides, Balaam asked God the second time if he couldn’t go. And God said, “Go”. If we want to go against God, God will let us go to our own hurt and destruction. As Balaam was on his way the probability is that he was reasoning that if God gave up once He will do so again and thus he will be able to curse Israel. God saw this determined perverseness in Balaam and sent an angel with a drawn sword to stand in the way of the mad prophet. When the ass on which Balaam was riding tried to avoid the angel and finally fell down under Balaam he gave the beast a wicked lash with his staff wishing he had a sword to finish the stubborn brute. Then the supernatural happened—the dumb ass began to talk. But Balaam was so perverse in his pursuit for fame and wealth that he couldn’t even be impressed with a dumb braying beast that was suddenly speaking to him in his won language. Methinks that if a neighing horse, or a bawling cow, or aa grunting hog would start giving me a message in English I’d sit up and take notice. I’d also probably want to stand a safe distance from them to hear what they have to say. However, when an individual or a church group is perverse in their ways, regardless of what the purpose or motive may be, they can no longer discern the true way of God or be convinced by any special manifestation from God. “Though one went unto them from the dead they will not repent.”
Balaam was again warned by the angel that he dare not curse Israel.
The Devilish Counsel and Doctrine of Balaam—In Revelation 2:14 Christ rebukes the Pergamos Church because there were those among “them that hold the doctrine of Balaam who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols and to commit fornication.” The historical record of this is found In Numbers 25. When Balaam was repeatedly restrained by a divine hand from cursing Israel he came up with the enchanting, immoral, and diabolic idea that if Balak would be real sociable and invite Israel to participate in their religious activities and at the same time make sexual love with them he could by this process himself bring the desired curse on Israel. Balaam’s counsel went promptly into action. The ecumenical procedures began and Israel fell into the trap. The record says that “Israel joined himself to Baal-Peor,” verse 3, and they began worshipping and feasting together, verse 2. Brazen sex exploits began to take place, verse 6. The curse of God fell upon them and 24,000 Israelites died. And Balaam went home having earned his “rewards of divination” and “the wages of unrighteousness.”
The doctrine of Balaam briefly stated is simply the unwholesome, unscriptural joining with unscriptural groups or any other worldly organizations. Today we have the promise that the very “gates of hell shall not prevail against” the true church. All the prophets of atheism, communism, socialism, immorality, etc. on the outside of the church cannot curse or corrupt or destroy the church, but alas, when the enchanting tactics of unscriptural ecumenical allurement with all its socialistic, communistic and immoral corruption is joined or participated in, the curse of God rests upon that church, and He will destroy that which He wanted to save and glorify.
The Error of Balaam—Jude pronounces a woe on those religious corruptors who run “greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.” Jude 11. And Peter declares that some people “have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam.” 2 Peter 2:15. The Apostle Paul warns that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Bribery today is resulting in multiplied corruption in both the government and the church. God only knows how many preachers today are muffled for the sake of the “bread and butter” that comes their way. If we want to preach for money we should change messages and churches both.
The Desire of Balaam—As Balaam saw the glorious character and triumph of God’s people he cried out. “Let me die the death of the righteous and let my last end be like his.” This is the desire of most people. People who choose to live the life of wicked disobedience with the people of the world or apostate Christendom would still like to die the death of the righteous. If Balaam wanted to die the death of the righteous he should have cried out, “Let me live the life of the righteous. “ One would surely think that after all the beautiful unveiling God gave him of Israel he would have been anxious and ready to join himself unto Israel, but because he “loved the wages of unrighteousness” he died with the enemies of God among whom he chose to believe and was part of. Numbers 31:8, Joshua 23:10.
If our desire to die the death of the righteous is great enough that we unreservedly, uncompromisingly live the life of the righteous our desire shall be fulfilled.
Aaron M. Shank