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What was Balaam's sin?

   By L. Leroy Neff Page 1 2 Good News Feb, 1962

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).


Balaam's Prophecies

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.