The “Way” and “Teaching” of Balaam

The N.T. warns Christians to not engage in two errors Balaam propagated. The first is his greed, the way of Balaam found in 2Pet. 2.15-16. The second error is tripping up believers to commit sin; this is known as the teaching of Balaam and found in Rev. 2.14. Yes, Balaam was a mouthpiece for God whom He used to frustrate the Gentile Balak who was seeking Israel’s ruin. Instead, God blessed Israel repeatedly. The records of these utterances most probably came from Balaam’s two servants who accompanied him to Moab (Num. 22.22) and may have been spared in the war of vengeance against the Moab/Midian Coalition. It’s impossible to know the source, but his two servants seem to be the most logical since they may have acted as his assistants.

Balaam may have come from the area around the Euphrates River as the following article claims, but this is not the only possible home for the wicked and greedy prophet. Some hold that his home was much closer to Moab and located south of the area where he prophesied. This view accounts better for the quick turn around of the two missions to fetch him.

Balaam was a “madman” in the sense that when God finally gave him permission to accompany Balak’s emissaries to Moab, he was so blinded by his greed for reward that even his donkey saw the opposing angel, whereas the prophet’s eyes were closed to the danger. This episode defines the way of Balaam: They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness (2Pet. 2.15-16 NIV).

The way of Balaam is greed and linked to the first sin. The serpent used it to entice Eve to try to gain for herself more than was warranted. Eve had everything provided for her and yet the Devil used greed to lure her into sin. He lied to make her feel inadequate that she was missing out: For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God (Gen. 3.5 NIV). Jesus gave a strict warning in His teaching to avoid the sin of covetousness (greed, covetousness, and lust are synonymous) in Lk. 12.15: Then he said to them, Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions (NIV). The same word Jesus used, pleonexias, is what Peter uses in 2Pet. 2.14 of which he gives the illustration of Balaam’s way in 2.15, quoted above. Peter calls these false teachers (2.1), an “accursed brood” and proves that Balaam’s way is the way of greed: With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! (NIV).

His madness also showed itself; after God put in his mouth all the blessings toward Israel, Balaam thought up a scheme to compromise the chosen people. This teaching of Balaam undoubtedly was for reward since Balak intended to send him home empty handed after his inability to curse Israel: Now leave at once and go home! I said I would reward you handsomely, but the Lord has kept you from being rewarded (Num. 24.11 NIV). Instead of recognizing the prophecy and standing with God’s people, Balaam was entirely self-serving in his desire for wealth, and thus personal advantage. Num. 25.1-2 records what Balaam counseled the Moabites in order to trip up Israel from following the Lord: While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods (NIV).

The N.T. warns Christians of false teachers who advise similar compromises: Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality (Rev. 2.14 NIV). The Greek text of Rev. 2.14 is descriptive by the use of the word skandalon, which means to cast a snare or, literally, “to trip up.” Balaam caused the Israelites to turn from God’s way by inviting them to a religious feast of eating rich animal sacrifices offered up to Pagan gods. Instead of eating God’s Manna, they desired the flesh pots of Moab. Immorality was an accompanying feature of these types of sacrifices, which petitioned these gods for either personal fertility in producing children or agricultural harvests, and possibly both. As a result, God’s people were judged for compromising their religious fidelity to the God who saved them from Egyptian slavery. God sent a plague among the people for their disobedience in serving other gods: So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against thembut those who died in the plague numbered 24,000 (Num. 25.3,9 NIV).

This advice from Balaam illustrates what Jesus meant when speaking about causing these little ones to stumble in Mt. 18.6: If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! (NIV). Here Jesus uses the verb skandalisay which indicates recommending a sinful behavior to immature or young Christians similar to what Balaam devised for the Israelites. Jesus strongly condemns those who would scandalize Christians and promises severe retribution.

In the end, Balaam got what was coming to him when the Israelites went to war against the Moabite/Midian Coalition: In addition to those slain in battle, the Israelites had put to the sword Balaam son of Beor, who practiced divination (Jos. 13.22 NIV).

Balaam Blesses Israel — Bible Mapper Blog