A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Why Did Jesus Warn Us About Balaam? (part 2)

In part 1, we looked at the error of Balaam — which appears to be willingness to do wrong for financial gain. Now let’s look at the doctrine of Balaam

As you remember from part 1, King Balak of Moab sends messengers to Balaam offering money if he will just come and curse Israel. God tells Balaam not to do it, so Balaam says No to the messengers. Then King Balak send higher rank guys with a bigger bribe. Balaam is tempted, so he asks God for a second opinion. God tells him to go with the messengers “but do only what I tell you to do.”

And while Balaam is making the journey, God sends his angel to bar the way so that Balaam will realise that God isn’t pleased with his attitude and is ‘on his case.’ The angel reiterates God’s instructions: “Go with these men, but say only what I tell you to say.

So now we go on with the story. When Balaam arrives, there’s a bit of jockeying for position. King Balak reprimands Balaam for not coming sooner and reminds him of the wealth and power he can bestow on the prophet. Balaam pushes back by replying that he can only speak the words that God gives him to speak.

When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?”

“Well, I have come to you now,” Balaam replied. “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.” (Numbers 22:36-38 NIV)

Is Balaam obeying God at this point? It would seem so. But remember that he has already been rebuked by the lowly donkey; and God has felt it necessary to double-drill His instructions into Balaam’s entitled head, rather like a surgeon trepans a skull.

At Balaam’s initiative, he and the king build seven altars and sacrifice a bull and a ram on each altar. Balaam then goes off to a private place to see if God will give him a word of prophecy. God does, and it is word of blessing for Israel, not a curse.

King Balak is furious. And like a movie director ordering Take Two, he asks Balaam to come with him to another place to try again. Balaam agrees; he is arrogant enough to try for a second opinion from God in whom there is no shadow of turning (James 1:17).

At Balaam’s instigation, they repeat the ritual of altar building and sacrificing. How important Balaam makes himself look by commanding Balak to build all these altars and sacrifice all these animals! He likes to perform. He likes to make a big impression. But would God be impressed? Not likely. (“I want your loyalty, not your sacrifices. I want you to know me, not to give me burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6, GW)

Balaam then goes off privately to seek a word from God. God gives a second prophesy of blessing upon Israel. Here is part of Balaam’s second oracle:

God is not a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind. Does He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?

I have indeed received a command to bless; since He has blessed, I cannot change it. He considers no disaster for Jacob; He sees no trouble for Israel. The Lord their God is with them, and there is rejoicing over the King among them. God brought them out of Egypt; He is like the horns of a wild ox for them. There is no magic curse against Jacob and no divination against Israel. 

It will now be said about Jacob and Israel, “What great things God has done!” (Numbers 23:19-23 HCSB)

Here is verse 21 in another translation:

God saw no wrong in Jacob’s people. He saw no sin in the Israelites. The Lord is their God, and he is with them. The Great King is with them!  (ERV).

God’s heart for his people is not like all those sermons we’ve heard that accuse, slam, and blame us. How many times have we been told that we’re good for nothing? How many ‘c’hristian books have slammed us left and right, accusing and blaming us for everything? But when God looks at you, dear Christian — if you are someone whom God has regenerated unto saving faith— if you are in Christ and Christ dwells in you— God says you are the “the righteousness of God in Christ.” (2 Cor 5:21)

King Balak is not happy! He pretty much tells Balaam to shut up: “Do not curse them at all, and do not bless them at all.”  Balaam reminds him, “Did I not tell you, ‘All that the LORD says, that I must do’?” (23:25-26)

But the king had spoken impulsively, he doesn’t really want Balaam to stop. We know this because he orders Take Three (v 27). And Balaam complies. They do the whole altar and sacrifice thing again. But this time Balaam doesn’t go off privately to seek an omen.

Balaam saw that the Lord wanted to bless Israel so he did not try to change that by using any kind of magic. (24:1a ERV)

When Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. [facing where the Israelites were camped] (24:1 ESV)

Balaam’s third prophecy blesses and praises Israel … and it announces destruction on Israel’s enemies.

God brings him [Israel] out of Egypt and is for him like the horns of the wild ox; he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces and pierce them through with his arrows. (24:8 ESV)

King Balak is furious and he refuses to pay Balaam anything.

But God hasn’t finished using Balaam as his spokesperson. He inspires him to prophesy the coming of Israel’s Messiah and the destruction of Moab, Edom and Amalek.

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly. And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!” (24:17-19 ESV)

No matter how much King Balak tried to engineer a curse on God’s people, and no matter how Balaam in his greed toyed with the offer of financial gain and cooperated with Balak’s scheme, God kept insisting on blessing His people. We find a summary of this in Deuteronomy 23:5 —

… the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you. (NIV)

Balaam may have spoken God’s word, but in his heart he was on the side of the evil

Balaam, for all his ‘obedience’ in prophesying only the words that God gave him, is not happy about having missed out on his speaking fee. So he figures out how to get the money. He couldn’t get it by being a prophet. But he can get it by being a consultant, an advisor, a counselor, a mentor to Balak. The advisors behind the scenes can often pull more strings than the men who hold the microphones.

He tells Balak the secret to destroying Israel — seduce them into sin and then God will have to destroy them for you.

So Balak gets attractive women to tempt the Israelites. The porn stars and spin doctors of Moab do their thing. “Come to the feast we’re having! It’s gonna be a great party!” … And the Israelites fall into sin.

While Israel was staying in the Acacia Grove, the people began to have sexual relations with the women of Moab. The women invited them to the sacrifices for their gods, and the people ate and bowed in worship to their gods. So Israel aligned itself with Baal of Peor, and the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord so that His burning anger may turn away from Israel.”

So Moses told Israel’s judges, “Kill each of the men who aligned themselves with Baal of Peor.”

An Israelite man came bringing a Midianite woman to his relatives in the sight of Moses and the whole Israelite community while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw this, he got up from the assembly, took a spear in his hand, followed the Israelite man into the tent, and drove it through both the Israelite man and the woman—through her belly. Then the plague on the Israelites was stopped, but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.
(Numbers 25:1-9 HCSB)

God’s heart is broken. Sin has consequences. He has to hurt the people that He wanted to protect. Twenty-four thousand people die from a plague. The plague only stops when Phinehas takes the initiative to purge sin out of the camp.

This is the part of the story that Jesus references in Revelation 2:14 when he tells the church at Pergamos —

But I have a few things against you, because you have some there who follow Balaam’s teaching. Balaam had taught Balak to trip up the Israelites so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality. In the same way, you have some who follow the Nicolaitans’ teaching. Rev 2:14-15 (CEB)

Jesus seems to be telling us that the essence of the doctrine of Balaam involves laying a stumbling block in front of others. Tripping up believers so they go off the path.

In practical terms, the teaching or doctrine of Balaam is the view that Christians can—or even should—compromise their convictions for the sake of popularity, money, sexual gratification, or personal gain. It’s the attitude that treats sin as “no big deal.” (link)

Yet even when there is a stumbling block, everyone is still responsible for their own choices. This is what the Apostle Paul emphasizes when he references this story —

These things show us something. They teach us not to want things that are bad for us like those people did. 

So anyone who thinks they are standing strong should be careful that they don’t fall.

God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tempted more than you can take. But when you are tempted, He will make a way for you to keep from falling into sin. (1 Cor 10:6,12,13b ERV)

This is pretty heavy stuff. Balaam’s advice led to the destruction of thousands of lives. And Judgment day came to Balaam when Israel killed him in battle — Num 31:8; Josh 13:22.

And there was a consequence for the Moabites too. God banned Moabites from attending worship services with the Israelites for ten generations! Not because they were from a different tribe but because they had hired Balaam to revile the Israelites and they had enticed the Israelites into sexual and spiritual sin. That’s how seriously God takes this stuff!

God didn’t want the Moabites to have any chance of closely socialising with the Israelites, for if Moabites were going to church with Israelites, the Moabites might have been able to recruit a covetous Israelite to help them draw the people of Israel into sin.

So what do we learn from this story?

My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.
(Micah 6:5 NIV)

Shittim is Acacia Grove — the place where the Israelites sinned with the Moabites (Num 25:1). Gilgal is where they camped after crossing the Jordan, where they renewed the covenant with God through circumcision symbolizing dying to the fleshly nature. (Josh 5)

Looking back on this story we can see how God cares for us — that He will turn a curse into a blessing because He loves us. We also see the warning that even after God delivered Israel out of Egyptian bondage, they were seduced in the wilderness and there were consequences for those sins they committed.

We must watch out for the error and doctrine of Balaam in our churches

As believers we are called to recognize, resist and oppose the way, error and doctrine of Balaam—

  • the willingness to do wrong for financial gain, especially willingness to revile God’s people for payment
  • teaching that causes God’s people to be tripped up, any teaching that entices God’s people into sin
  • willingness to cooperate with the plots of God’s enemies

God exhorts us to RESIST not submit to sin.

Since we are surrounded by so many examples, we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up.  Hebrews 12:1 (GW)

Some of what we lay aside might be the burden of false guilt for someone else’s sin against us.

And some of what we get rid of (or remove ourselves from) will be the influencers in the church who are dedicated to the kind of covetousness and compliance with God’s enemies that Balaam displayed.

***

This post was drafted by Avid Reader and MarkQ. Barb Roberts then edited it and added some material. Because Barb added so much, the byline shows Barb as the author. But Barb is immensely grateful to these two for starting the ball rolling — she has learned a lot from working on this series.

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17 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog.

  2. Jeff Crippen

    There is big “money” to be had in the visible church of today IF you play by the rules of the power brokers and teach only the company line of doctrine. Career advancement in the pulpit, popularity and book sales, a big following, key committee positions and on and on. It is all putrid in God’s sight.

    Largely, that is why pastors and church leaders are so incredibly resistant to helping abuse victims in their congregations. Because truly helping them necessarily means rejecting much of the man-made tradition about marriage, divorce, sin, evil, and even the gospel that has predominated for so long. And that is just too costly for most.

    Many churches, pastors, and professing Christians today are putting a stumbling block in front of the righteous that is keeping them from finding freedom. Balaam’s brethren are with us.

    • Avid Reader

      AMEN!

    • Thanks Jeff.

      I’ve been feeling a little dismayed that so few comments came in on this post. So your comment is encouraging.

      • The Bluest Eyes in Texas

        Barbara, when I read the two-part post on Balaam, I thought, “This is like reading one of Pastor Crippen’s sermons!” Please do not be dismayed. There is so much substance to these two posts that it may take time for us readers to digest.

      • Yeah, I think I realise that… and with the little-girl inside me who wants instant feedback, I need to encourage her to be more patient! 🙂

      • Lea

        >I’ve been feeling a little dismayed that so few comments came in on this post.

        I very much enjoyed both parts, I just didn’t have anything to say.

      • Still Struggling

        Part 2 is just as excellent as part 1! Everything I read here is excellent! Thank you for all your hard work putting it together!

  3. Song of Joy

    Thanks for this follow-up post. Since the first part posted I’ve been doing some thinking. As I commented previously, it was always hard for me to understand Balaam because I wondered why someone who had the rare privilege of hearing from God directly would want to do wrong. Then after this 2nd part posted, the following scripture came to mind regarding King Solomon, who was extremely blessed by God during his (Solomon’s) early kingship. Anyway, Solomon did wrong too. He allowed his unbelieving wives to influence and place a stumbling block before him even though the Lord appeared to him twice (that rare privilege again). Thanks again for these two articles on Balaam, it has been very helpful.

    1 Kings 11:9-11 (NIV)
    The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you…

    • Thanks Song! Yes, Solomon is a good example of this phenomenon.

    • Anonymous

      Song of Joy,
      I’ve thought of this as well and another thing that I contemplate A LOT concerning Solomon is this passage,

      The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. (1 King 3:10-13)

      It appears that Solomon was given this vast amount of wisdom without the PAIN that usually accompanies it. Maybe this is why he ended up turning away from God–he may have taken this gift of wisdom for granted.

      Whenever I’m in the deep trenches of the latest slice of wisdom God is teaching me, I’m always so aware of this pain–and I lament to God that I am NOT Solomon …and what’s more Solomon appeared to have gained his wisdom in one fell swoop–with no pain! Solomon had all the good stuff–wisdom, a peaceful kingdom, health etc.–yet sometimes I feel like what little I have left of my mind and life and then being forced to learn so much PAINFUL wisdom–is beating me down even more so. But one thing is true–I DO NOT TAKE MY WISDOM FOR GRANTED! Every blessed drop of it was HARD EARNED and will NOT be forgotten by me. It’s why I refuse to back-down when an evil one is trying to rape any area of my life and it’s also why I won’t concede to evil.

      I’m well aware that at the end of the trial I’m always so grateful for the wisdom God teaches me…

  4. Stronger Now

    Money is not the only currency that matters to people. When surveys are done to determine what is the most important factor on any job, affirmation and approval rank higher than money. So in my experience, and I think what Jeff is saying as well, the “powers that be” in a church will not do anything to rock the boat in the “old boys’ club” and risk the negative backlash.

    Even if the abuser is not a big tither, if he is viewed as a pillar of the church, they won’t risk accusing, chastising or disciplining him. There’s too much at stake. Not the least of which is the fact that there are other “pillars” who are just as guilty, and don’t want anyone thinking it’s ok to speak up about their home life.

    You see, if the leaders of the church create a culture where abusers are not accepted, coddled, and excused, other abusers’ wives will be given a voice.

    Can’t have that. No, no, no.

    • keeningforthedawn

      Excellent point. Thanks for that.

  5. MarkQ

    The more I think of it there are so many angles to take on this story.

    1) Balaam is an enemy of God, yet has the gift of prophecy. I think we can see the same thing in abusive church leaders – they seem so gifted that we don’t recognize them as working for the enemy.

    2) Abuse victims in the church are the donkey. It is only through a miracle that the donkey gets a voice and is heard. The abuse victims get in the way of the abusers’ desire for wealth and control, despite their desire to lead those around them in the correct way.

    3) The resistance of the donkey seems to be an impediment to the church as a whole – the progress of Balaam. Yet the donkey sees the real danger and is trying to steer Balaam away from danger.

    4) We see that Balaam has the appearance of giftedness and sincerity, but underneath it all he wants honor and money. We need to be wise to those in our churches that are just after their earthly reward.

    5) It’s not as much in the story, but we see that those who are in positions of leadership for the purpose of money and honor have groomed those around them to feed that honor. That means that if Balaam had followers, they would also be beating the donkey and calling the donkey names.

    • Thanks MarkQ 🙂 good thoughts 🙂

    • Anonymous

      Wonderful insight Mark Q! I’ve often wondered why Balaam was grouped together with Cain and Korah because initially he had the gift of prophesy and seemed to speak the truth. The donkey analogy is so applicable to what’s going on in many of our lives–thank you!

      I looked up the word for “error” in this bible verse Jude 1:11,

      Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.

      and here’s the word and what it means, “plané: a wandering, figuratively: deceit, delusion, error, sin; deviant behavior; a departure from what God says is true; an error (deception) which results in wandering (roaming into sin); a wandering, a straying about, whereby one, led astray from the right way, roams hither and thither. In the N.T. metaphorically, mental straying, i. e. error, wrong opinion relative to morals or religion.”

      This helped me see that he may have started out with the right heart / motive (and that’s a MAYBE) but due to his desire for gain, he ended up wandering away from God’s truth and ended up grouped together with some of the most notoriously foul people in the bible.

      Thank you all for this series! Good stuff!

      • Hi Anonymous, the word ‘fig’ in that definition stood for ‘figuratively’. So I amended it to that in your comment. 🙂

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