The Way of Balaam – II Peter Studies

Just a Children’s Story?

The comical figure of a doddering old man, being corrected by his donkey, is stripped away and the real story unfolds before our eyes to show a hideous face of destruction.

For many Christians, the story of Balaam and his donkey is on par with that of Jonah and the whale. (By the way, it was really a great fish!). Today in the church, we tend to minimize these Bible stories and relegate them to the status of the “fun parts” of the Bible suitable only for small children. But as we mature in our faith and begin to earnestly study Holy Scripture we find, in the case of Balaam, Peter took the story literally and with deadly seriousness. When we trivialize or ignore Scripture we do so at our peril, and the peril of our churches, families and children.

So what was the “Way of Balaam”? Wasn’t he just a doddering old prophet of God? Wasn’t he just someone who was greedy and did not want to listen to God? The answer is an emphatic NO, as we shall see.

The Apostle Peter mentions the “Way of Balaam” in chapter 2:15-16 in the book of II Peter. He specifically equates Balaam’s offense with that of false teachers who use their knowledge to attack God’s people. The story of Balaam is found in Numbers chapters 22-25 and chapter 31: 6-19. I highly recommend a careful study of Balaam in order to gain the greatest benefit from the texts.

Who Was Balaam?

Who was Balaam? The Bible story says that Balaam was a “prophet,” the son of Beor and the brother of Bela. He formed an alliance with the King of Moab who wanted to curse Israel. Balaam was at first reluctant because God told him not to curse Israel. But Balaam wanted money so badly that he finally devised a plan that would destroy Israel without verbally cursing them.

The story sounds bad but not really that bad. It does not sound as bad as the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Certainly not on the order of the crimes committed by the fallen angels, or the corruption of the entire world that resulted in the flood of Noah. Yet, Peter and Jude both state that Balaam’s crime was indeed of the same magnitude. We will soon see that to “curse” Israel meant a deliberate attempt to wipe them out, every last man woman and child!

Balaam’s name means “not of the people”, or foreigner. He was not a Hebrew prophet. He was an Edomite, (from the land of Edom). He did not hold the same ordained office of “Prophet of Israel” like Moses or Elijah or Jonah. Well then, did God appoint Gentile prophets as well?
Let’s go to the Talmud to see…

… “Just as He [God] set up kings, wise men and prophets for Israel, He set them up similarly for the other nations. As He raised up Moses for Israel, so He raised up Balaam for the heathens” (Num. R. xx. 1). Everyman’s Talmud

There can be little doubt that Balaam was a Gentile prophet who was appointed by God and to whom God spoke. There can also be no doubt that Balaam decided to go against what he knew to be God’s will. But Balaam had a problem.

Balaam’s Dilemma

Balaam knew that to harm God’s children was to invite ruin. If we read Numbers 23:19-24 we can see that Balaam considered every sort of sorcery and divination to curse Israel. Balaam also knew that if he cursed Israel he would also be cursed. Num. 24: 9…”blessed is he who blesses you, [Israel], and cursed is he who curses you.” So Balaam needed a different approach to defeating Israel.

It is from the text in Numbers 23:20-21 that I believe Balaam devised his attack on Israel. These verses are where Balaam is stating that he cannot curse Israel and observes that God “…has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel…”

Balaam’s Final Solution

Balaam decided to entice and deceive the Israelites into committing the same crimes that resulted in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This would sidestep God’s protection because Israel would destroy itself and Balaam would escape having to curse them.

Balaam’s plan was nothing short of Satanic with the premeditated purpose of wiping out the people and blood lines of Israel by abusing God’s own laws.

Balaam decided to first draw-in the Israelites with the women of Moab as a lure and then assimilate, (or consume) Israel, by way of sensuality and idolatry into the body of Moab, thus destroying them by breeding & corrupting Israel out of existence.

As we see in Numbers 31:16, Balaam’s plan actually worked, up to a point. The Israelites began to intermarry with the women of Moab and then started to worship thier idols. Israel was enticed to repeat the sins of immorality and idolatry of their ancestors in the wilderness and the consequence of God’s judgment which was sure to follow.

Not a Pleasant Sunday School Lesson

As we sit back and reflect, suddenly our pleasant little Sunday school tale takes on a sinister, deadly and demonic tone. The comical figure of a doddering old man, being corrected by his donkey, is stripped away and the real story unfolds before our eyes to show a hideous face of destruction.

Study Deuteronomy 23: 1-4. You will see that as a result of the crimes of Moab and Balaam against Israel, God decreed that it would take ten pure Hebrew generations to elapse after the joining of an Israelite male and a Moabite woman before any resulting offspring would be permitted to join the assembly of Holy Israel.

We know that 24,000 Israelites were “infected” before the plan of Balaam was halted. Do the math and you can see that just one infected generation of inter-racial births multiplied by the 10 generations necessary for purification would quickly spell the end of the “Generations of Abraham.”

The Bible called it a “plague.” It really was a physical plague since it had the potential to destroy the gene pool from which the Messiah would come. 24,000 of God’s people died before the plague ended.

Premeditated Murder

Balaam deliberately attempted to murder the entire nation of Israel and forever destroy the mercy of God and the salvation of the Messiah upon whom each and every one of us depends.

Before you think I am getting carried away in my comments I want you to know that I am not alone. Let’s see what the Talmud says about Balaam…

…”See the difference between the prophets of Israel and the prophets of the Gentiles. The Israel prophets warned their hearers against transgression: as it is said, “Son of Man, I have made thee a Watchman” (Ezek iii, 17) but the prophet who arose from the peoples (i.e. Balaam), initiated licentiousness to destroy his fellow men from the world. Not only that, but the prophets of Israel were moved with compassion for their own people also for the Gentiles…. This cruel one on the other hand aimed at uprooting an entire nation, [Israel], without cause. For that reason the section about Balaam is included in the Scripture to inform us why the Holy One, blessed be He, removed the Holy Spirit from the heathen people, since this one, [Balaam], arose from among them and He [God], saw what he did.
(Num. R. xx.1). – Everyman’s Talmud

I Thought Balaam Refused At First?

One point which may trouble us in reading the account of Balaam is that it seems as though Balaam was consistently refusing to curse Israel. He knew what God wanted him to say to King Balak and he indeed did so. Over and over Balaam seemed to refuse to betray God. At first Balaam seemed almost heroic in defying a King. As we look closely though we see that what Balaam was really doing was just paying lip service to God while he was trying to figure out different ways around God’s will.

Follow the Money?

Most Sunday school stories about Balaam focus on the donkey and the greed of Balaam. When we see verse 15 and 16 of Chapter 2 in II Peter and we read “who loved the wages of unrighteousness,” we may tend to think only in terms of money and gold. There is no question that Balaam wanted to profit monetarily from his knowledge of God. But remember what we have just seen tells of an underlying motivation and malevolent power behind the prophet. This is the same spirit which motivates the false teachers of today. This evil has an agenda that is much more insidious and deadly than simply the lust for money.

Balaam’s Children are in our Churches Today

The goal of Peter’s false teachers is exactly the same plan as Balaam’s and just as deliberate. In 2007 their goal is to intentionally cut our anchor…to get us to sin against our just and Holy Father…to cut our connection with the true faith of Scripture… to isolate, deny and discount our teachings and finally to assimilate our people and children into their pagan world. Unfortunately in the United States and Europe the plan of the false teachers has already succeeded for the most part.

The Way of Balaam is alive and well. Peter saw it in the first century and we can see it today.