By Randy Dillon
Numbers 22:1 -25:18, 31:8 2 Peter 2:15 Jude 11 Revelation 2:14
Is it possible for a man to follow the commands of God and yet in the end turn God’s people against Him for his own profit? It may not seem probable, but we find just this occurrence in the curious account of Balaam, the Midianite, son of Beor (Bosor) who resided by the river Pethor (the Euphrates) which is about 400 miles from Moab.
After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land. Under the leadership of Moses they had conquered land on the east side of the Jordan River defeating King Sihon of the Ammorites and King Og of Bashan. As they approached the land of Moab the people there feared the growing power of God’s chosen people, so much so that Balak, King of Moab, sought out a prophet to curse the Jews. The man he sought was Balaam.
Balaam’s reputation as a man of God preceded him. Apparently, he was regarded as a righteous, God-fearing prophet whose prophecies were genuine and correct. It was to this man that Balak sent messengers with gifts hoping to entice Balaam’s favor. In their first visit Balaam consulted God who refused that he go to Moab and curse the Israelites. A second contingent of princes and nobles were sent. This time Balaam added that he could not curse the Jews even if he were offered a house full of silver and gold. After once more consulting God, Balaam repeated that he could not curse Israel, but this time God permitted him to go with the Moabite noblemen to Moab.
The next event is often viewed as the highlight of this account. Balaam is riding his ass which three times sees in their path an avenging angel of the Lord ready to slay Balaam. But Balaam is blind to the angel. Twice the ass turns aside into a field and vineyard and the third time she throws Balaam. Balaam beats his mount, but God opens the mouth of the ass to speak to Balaam and his eyes are open to see the angel. The angel tells Balaam that had the ass not saved him Balaam would have died. He allowed Balaam to proceed but told him he must speak only what God allowed him to say.
In Moab, Balaam is taken by Balak to four different locations to view Israel camps and to curse Israel. Instead, each time Balaam blesses Israel. But a house full of silver and gold beckons Balaam so while he is forbidden to curse the Israelites he instead tells Balak how to bring a curse from God upon the Jews by sending Moabite women into the Israelite camp to seduce their men into sexual debauchery and idol worship. He earns the reward by betraying God’s people. In Numbers chapter 25 we see the results of the betrayal. Those Israelites who succumbed to the Moabite idols and perversion were slain; the number counted was 24,000. Later we find in Numbers chapter 31:8 that when Israel slew the Moabites and Midianites who were with them that Balaam was recorded as one of the celebrated casualties of God’s wrath.
Now it is time to ask again: Can a man who speaks truthfully the word of God still yet betray God’s people for his own profit? We see in Balaam both aspects. On the one hand he faithfully blessed Israel as God commanded. On the otherhand he desired the wealth of this life so much so that he was willing to advise the heathen in how to subvert God’s people into sexual immorality and idol worship bringing on them death.
Peter, in his second epistle, says Balaam “loved the wages of unrighteousness.” Jude says to reject those who “ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward and perished . . .” Jesus, in The Revelation, says to the church at Pergamum that they held “the doctrine of Balaam who taught Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.”
Thus, one lesson from the life of Balaam is that Christians should demonstrate discernment and wisdom when dealing with those exercising leadership and guidance within the church. It is quite possible, as we see with Balaam, for one to speak accurately the word of God while simultaneously desiring in the heart the riches of the world. Be reminded of the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “no man can serve two masters . . . ye cannot serve God and mammon.” We are charged to speak faithfully the Word of God and equally to guard the condition of our heart regarding the desire for the riches of this temporal life.