The answer is astounding, yet clearly proved in your own Bible. It is a warning and example for us today!
JUDE the apostle warned Christians shortly after A.D. 70 to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. For certain men had crept into God's Church unawares as fifth columnists! "Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam" (Jude 11). Who was Balaam? What was his terrible error? What does it have to do with us today? Balaam's error was so dangerous that it is mentioned three times in your New Testament! It is important for us to understand today so that we will not make the same mistake.
Who Was Balaam?
The book of Numbers devotes several chapters to the little-known account of Balaam. But, even after reading the account in Numbers, most people do not see the great, the awful sin of Balaam. The New Testament account condemns this man in most serious words. However, to many worldly scholars the Old Testament account does not appear at first glance to speak so unfavorably of him. Many Biblical scholars have puzzled over this question. Some theologians have thought that the New Testament writers grossly misunderstood poor Balaam! The very noted Bible commentator of the last century, Adam Clarke, has given the following naive comment concerning Balaam. "The badness of this man's character has been very far overrated: and that it does not appear that he was a hypocrite. false prophet, or a sorcerer in the common acceptance of the term, and that he risked even life itself in following and fulfilling the will of the Lord!" Clarke's Commentary, volume 1. Dr. Adam Clarke did not understand the scripture! But to get to the root of the problem. Who was Balaam? Where did he come from? And what do the scriptures reveal about him personally? He was a man from Pethor, a city in Mesopotamia. located by the Euphrates River. This town was located about 350 miles north of Jericho. It was near the present border of Turkey. Since he lived in a Gentile land apart from Israel he was a Gentile. He had a gift of prophecy. On occasions God talked directly to Balaam. By having such communication with God, he had knowledge of who God blessed and who He cursed. Therefore, he knew those nations on which God pronounced a curse were cursed, and those on which God pronounced blessings, were blessed. He was a man of renown and of note all over the Middle East. Even the five kings of Midian knew about him. The children of Israel had come out of Egypt about 40 years before Balaam is introduced into the Bible account. God had been with them, had performed stupendous miracles in protecting, guiding, and helping the children of Israel. These things were known by all the nations round about. God had given them victory over their enemies. At the beginning of the story the children of Israel were encamped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan River near Jericho.
"Come and Curse Israel"
Balak, King of Moab, had seen what Israel had done to the great nation of the Amorites. As a result, he and his people were jealous and in great fear of Israel. They knew that if they started a war against Israel their nation would be completely destroyed — unless supernatural means were taken to rid them of Israel. Balak knew of the fame of Balaam. He knew that "He whom you (Balaam) bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed" (Numbers 22:6 RSV). So Balak sent his emissaries to have Balaam come and curse Israel. After their journey of 350 miles to the north they explained their mission to Balaam. Now notice what Balaam did! Instead of refusing to see them he invited the emissaries to stay for the night. In the meantime he would pray to God to see if he might get God to change His mind and curse Israel. God spoke to Balaam and Balaam explained the mission of the elders of Midian. "God said to Balaam, You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed" (Numbers 22:12 RSV). In the morning Balaam told the princes to return to their own land since God ordered him not to go or to curse the children of Israel. Balak was not satisfied with Balaam's answer. He sent more princes to Balaam to entreat him once again to come and curse Israel. "Let nothing hinder you from coming to me; for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do; come, curse this people for me" (Numbers 22:17 RSV). In response to this second appeal, Balaam again asked his guests to remain for the night while he sought God's counsel. "And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, 'If the men have come to call you, rise, go with the men but only what I bid you, that shall you do' " (Numbers 22:20). Notice, God allowed Balaam to go. We will understand why in a moment! The next morning Balaam arose and went with the princes of Moab on the long journey to the land of Moab. Along the way a remarkable thing occurred. An angel of the Lord appeared to the ass on which Balaam rode. At first Balaam could not see the angel, and struck the ass three times. Then, the ass was given the power of speech to speak to Balaam. Only after this was Balaam able to see the angel of the Lord and to see that he had almost been killed by the angel. The angel said, "Behold I come to withstand you, because your way is perverse before me" (Numbers 22:32). Balaam acknowledged his sin (verse 34). But what was the sin? Let us go back briefly. At the first visit of the Moabites Balaam asked God whether he should go and curse the children of Israel. God told him NO! Then the princes came again the second time. Balaam already had his answer from God. He knew what God's will was. Yet, he was like an impudent child who wanted to have his own way. He did not take God's Word the first time — he wanted God to change His mind. Therefore, as punishment, God let Balaam have his way by permitting him to go. Sometimes God permits us to have our own way just as He did Balaam. However, our ways end up in death, just as Balaam's was to end in death. When shown his error, Balaam did admit that he had sinned. He knew what he was doing! But this knowing disobedience is not the sin of Balaam that is recorded in the New Testament! We still have not seen what that great sin was! Balaam went on to the city of Moab to meet Balak and said, "Lo I have come to you! Have I now any power at all to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth that must I speak" (Numbers 22:38).
Chapter 23 records the blessings concerning Israel that God revealed through Balaam. Balak was very distressed and angry. He asked Balaam to come a second time to a different place and curse Israel. Again, Balaam wanted God to change His mind, but Balaam again realized God had blessed Israel and would not change. Balaam was afraid to say anything else! A third time Balak tried to get Balaam to speak against Israel (Chapter 24). Again Balaam blessed Israel. At the end of his prophecy about Israel he stated: "Blessed be everyone that blesses you (Israel) and cursed be everyone who curses you" (Numbers 24:9). This made Balak even more angry since he was trying to bring a curse upon Israel. After this conversation Balaam again prophesied. This remarkable prophecy concerned the latter days, meaning our time today, and into the World Tomorrow. He prophesied of Jesus Christ (verse 17), and showed that He would crush or destroy the very same people who were now trying to bring a curse upon Israel. After this prophecy concerning Israel we read: "Balaam arose, and went back to his place; and Balak also went his way" (Numbers 24:25). But this is not the end of the story! All scripture is given by inspiration of God and any particular scripture cannot be "privately" understood (II Peter 1:20). The Bible is written "here a little and there a little" (Isaiah 28:10, 13).
New Testament Key
In the message of Jesus Christ to the seven eras of God's Church, we find a special warning to the church at Pergamos. This church was not perfect before God. "But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel" (Rev. 2:14). God told this church to repent (verse 16) or he would come and fight against the rebellious who held such doctrines. What was this doctrine of Balaam? Part of the answer is in this very verse. Notice, Balaam taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel. In other words Balaam taught Balak how to cause the children of Israel to curse themselves. Balaam knew that Israel was blessed if they continued to obey God. He also knew that if they would sin, they would come under a curse of sin. So Balaam cleverly told Balak how to cause Israel to bring curses upon themselves by sins! What sin did Balaam teach Balak? "To eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication" (same verse). This same account is also recorded in the book of Peter. Peter records that in apostolic days there were going to be false prophets just as in ancient times. These false prophets were sensual, lustful and beguiled unstable souls. They "have forsaken the right way, and have gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness" (II Peter 2:15). This verse gives more information about the sin of Balaam. Balaam forsook the right way and loved the wages of unrighteousness. Unrighteousness is breaking God's commandments (Psa. 119:172, Deut. 6:25). Balaam showed Balak how to cause the people of Israel to disobey God's commandments. The specific commandments that they disobeyed concerned idolatry and fornication. Let's go back to Jude 11. At the beginning of this article only part of this verse was quoted. Now read the whole verse. "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.-Balaam was greedy for money, for a reward, and because of that he committed great sin and led others to sin also.
How Balaam Taught Balak
The details of how this came about are clearly given in the Bible. This is what Balaam probably told Balak: "I cannot curse the Children of Israel, since God has commanded me not to curse them. But, there is a way that they can bring curses upon themselves. There is a way that will bring retribution, punishment, and the absolute displeasure of God upon them. Seduce them to disobey their God and His commands. If they desert the true God, and follow your religious practices they will bring this curse upon themselves. You must be subtle in causing them to follow your religion. They have been warned beforehand that they are not to learn the ways of the heathen about them — that they are not to learn how the other nations serve their gods and then do likewise. "Here is the way that you can cause them to sin. Take your most beautiful women and cause them to seduce the young Israelite men. After these Israelites are 'hooked,' have your women lead these men into following your religious practices. These young women can then subtly influence their new husbands into following their religion. Get them to believing each one is entitled to his own religion — that God understands if they disobey Him so long as they keep peace and harmony in the home. By doing this they will think they are 'free' and can really enjoy life! After all, Balak, doesn't the whole nation of Moab enjoy these religious practices? This is something that is acceptable and right! Everyone does it! It is popular and the accepted thing." This is exactly what the Bible says Balaam did — read it again in Revelation, Peter and Jude! It is the old story of permissiveness to deceive people into believing that they can have permission to disobey God, and get away with it. That it is not necessary to obey God. God does not see or know, and anyway Jesus Christ lived a good life for us. Therefore we can live as we think best. We need not obey God since Jesus Christ lived that perfect life for us. It is the same siren song of destruction that is being preached in most of the pulpits of our own land today!
The Account of Josephus
There is even an historical account beside the Bible of just what did happen. It is found in the works of the historian Flavius Josephus who lived during the time of the Apostles. "But Balak being very angry that the Israelites were not cursed, sent away Balaam without thinking him worthy of any honor. Whereupon, when he (Balaam) was just upon his journey, in order to pass the Euphrates, he sent for Balak, and for the princes of the Midianites, and spake thus to them: "O Balak, and you Midianites that are here present (for I am obliged even without the will of God to gratify you), it is true no entire destruction can seize upon the nation of the Hebrews, neither by war, nor by plague, nor by scarcity of the fruits of the earth, nor can any other unexpected accident be their entire ruin; for the providence of God is concerned to preserve them from such a misfortune; nor will it permit any such calamity to come upon them whereby they may all perish; but some small misfortunes, and those for a short time, whereby they may appear to be brought low, may still befall them; but after that they will flourish again, to the terror of those that brought those mischiefs upon them. So that if you have a mind to gain a victory over them for a short space of time, you will obtain it by following my directions; Do you therefore set out the handsomest of such of your DAUGHTERS AS ARE MOST EMINENT FOR BEAUTY, and proper to force and conquer the modesty of those that behold them, and these decked and trimmed to the highest degree you are able. Then do you send them to be near the Israelites' camp, and give them in charge, that when the young men of the Hebrews desire their company, they allow it them; and when they see that they are enamored of them, let them take their leaves; and if they entreat them to stay, let them not give their consent till they have persuaded them to leave off their obedience to their own laws and the worship of that God who established them, and to worship the gods of the Midianites and Moabites; FOR BY THIS MEANS GOD WILL BE ANGRY AT THEM.' Accordingly, when Balaam had suggested this counsel to them, he went his way" (Antiquities of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter 6). Josephus continued in the same chapter to show what followed. "So the women, as soon as they perceived they had made them their slaves and had caught them with their conversation began to speak thus to them..." (Section 7). Then continues the suggestion by these young women to cause them to commit fornication and to take part in the pagan idolatrous rites of the Moabites. Many other details of this same event are also recorded in this same chapter of Josephus.
Bible Account of Israel's Sin
In the Bible account of Numbers, the story appears to close at the end of Chapter 24. We have now seen that the story did not end there. Notice, now, Numbers, chapter 25, where the story is continued: "While Israel dwelt in Shittim the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods and the people ate, and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked themselves to Baal of Peor. AND THE ANGER OF THE LORD WAS KINDLED AGAINST ISRAEL" (Numbers 25:1-3). As a result of this terrible sin. those who had yoked themselves to these pagan idolatrous rites were killed. God also brought plagues against the Israelites and twenty-four thousand of them died altogether (verse 9). This great sin had become so common in Israel that a man of Israel brazenly brought a Midianite woman to his tent in the sight of Moses. One of the Levitical priests followed the two into an inner room and pierced through both of them with a spear. These two were slain in the very act of defying the Living God by disobeying His commands against fornication. The story continues in chapter 31. The children of Israel warred against Midian. The five kings of the Midianites were slain; however, some of the women were permitted to live. "Moses said to them, 'Have you let all the women live?' Behold, these caused the people, by the counsel of Balaam, to act treacherously against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord" (Numbers 31:15-16).
Balaam's Lack of Character
Notice the retrogression of character in Balaam. At first he listened to suggestions that he knew were wrong, then he weakened, and asked God a second time if he might go with the princes of Moab. He knew he sinned, but went along anyway. He was still afraid of God enough that he said God's words, yet he tried to get around God. He obeyed in the letter but did not obey in the spirit! Finally, he rebelled completely and deliberately told them how they could ensnare Israel. This man, who knew God's will, ended up by being destroyed by the very people he one time blessed. "And they also slew Balaam the son of Peor with a sword" (Numbers 31:8). "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (I Cor. 10: 12).
Beware of Modern "Balaams"
There is another important lesson from this account which we should understand. Balaam taught Balak how to cause Israel to sin and disobey God. He showed Balak how to deceive them into thinking that they had freedom or license to disobey God, that it was permissible to disobey God. That is the same sin that most of the ministers of our land are following today. The ministers are telling the people that it is all right to sin. They have permission to sin, to disobey God and His commands. They may not say so in these exact terms, possibly, but that is what it amounts to. They tell people that they may have freedom in disobeying God. The ministers, for hire (just like Balaam), are telling the people to break God's commands and no harm will come. They condone and permit adultery and fornication in their congregations. They even try to join in marriage people who are already married to others. Some ministers are even suggesting that it is all right to commit fornication before marriage. They teach the people that it is all right to commit idolatry, though they do not call the false pictures of their Jesus that. They teach the people that it is all right to commit spiritual fornication. Spiritual fornication is an illicit affair with the pagan practices of the heathen. These pagan practices of the heathen have come down to us under different names. Today the pagan Brumalia is called Christmas. The pagan rites of fertility of the ancient goddess Astarte now masquerades under the name of Easter. The devilish and satanic teachings concerning unclean spirits and witchcraft are carried down today in our Halloween. Our people have learned the ways of the heathen. They have found how the other pagan nations have served their gods and they have done likewise. This is spiritual fornication and idolatry! Today the ministers are giving people "license" to disobey God. These terrible heinous sins, which seem right to a man, lead to death, just like the personal sin of Balaam led to his death. Here is an example of just how these ministers are causing the people of our land to disobey God. A world-famous minister and evangelist was asked: "Where did the idea of Santa Claus originate? We have decided we are not going to tell our children about him this year, because we have been told that it is wrong." What was the minister's answer? "The matter of telling your children about Santa Claus is one that you must decide in your own conscience before God. The Scripture teaches that in these matters, we have great liberty. This principle is taught in Romans 14." There is no Santa Claus. The story of Santa Claus is a LIE! This minister knows that it is. Yet he says that we may decide in our own conscience whether or not to lie to our children. He states that Romans fourteen gives us liberty to LIE to our own children! The fourteenth chapter of Romans does not give us liberty to LIE and he knows it. This is a way that seems right to a man but it ends in death (Prov. 14:22; 16:25). The way of permissiveness, or license, to disobey God's commands is the chief way that seems reasonable and right to man but leads to death. Don't let it deceive you.