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Bible verses about Balaam
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Balaam son of Beor is definitely an oddball among the prophets. He is not an Israelite but apparently a Syrian who lived in Pethor, a town situated near the Euphrates just south of Carchemish (Numbers 22:5). His prophecies result from an attempt to curse Israel in exchange for the money and honor of a frightened king of Moab, Balak son of Zippor (verses 2-7). To make matters worse, unlike any other prophet, he leads the Israelites into sin and brings a curse upon them, succeeding in getting 24,000 of them killed.

Since that time, his name has been a watchword denoting evil and avaricious character. As early as Deuteronomy 23:4-5, he is shown as an enemy of God and Israel and degraded as a hired mercenary. Joshua positively notes his death at the hand of Israelites (Joshua 13:22), and he also repeats Balaam's overthrow by God in a list of His victories for Israel (Joshua 24:9-10). Nehemiah and Micah recall him to the people of their days as an evil man whom God defeated (Nehemiah 13:2; Micah 6:5).

The New Testament mentions Balaam three times, all negatively. Both Peter and Jude describe him as the personification of greed in using religion for personal gain (II Peter 2:15; Jude 11). Revelation 2:14 credits him with "the doctrine of Balaam," which is inducing others to sin, specifically to idolatry and sexual immorality.

Certainly, Balaam was no paragon of virtue. Yet, as unrighteous as he was, his prophecies remain in God's Word—and they are true!

To understand Balaam's prophecies properly, we must delve into his background and the situation at the time. Balaam himself, biblical historians believe, descended from a line of diviners whose reputation for cursing had spread over the whole region. Balak's delegation to Balaam had to travel about 400 miles to petition the soothsayer at his home (Numbers 22:5).

Scholars surmise soothsaying to be Balaam's "family business" from his wide reputation as well as the meaning of his and his father's names. Balaam means "devourer of the people" or simply "devourer" or "destroyer," a fitting name for someone whose livelihood depends on cursing various people(s). His father's name, Beor, means "burning," another allusion to destruction.

Further, the Bible never calls him a "prophet" or "seer" as it does true prophets of God, but it names him a "soothsayer" (Joshua 13:22; see Isaiah 3:2, where "diviner" is antithetical to "prophet"). It is widely supposed that Balaam was a bārû, a Mesopotamian priest-diviner, who used various dreams, omens, and auguries as part of his trade.

How do we reconcile this with his claim in Numbers 22:18 that the Lord was his God? We have two choices. The first is that Balaam, a confirmed polytheist, knew of the true God by reputation (whether by His works on Israel's behalf in Egypt—see Joshua 2:8-11—or from local folklore, as the cities of Haran and Nahor, associated with Abraham, were located nearby) and professed devotion to Him to enhance his chances of receiving an oracle. The second and more cynical option is that he was trying to convince Balak's emissaries that, as an intimate of Israel's God, he had the pull to change His mind about cursing His own people, no matter what restrictions He put on him. From what we know of Balaam's general character, the second seems more likely.

Another necessary piece of background information is that this scenario takes place in the months just before Israel's entrance into the Promised Land. Moses was about to die, and before he did, he wrote the book of Deuteronomy in preparation for Israel's taking possession of Canaan. In a similar vein, the content of Balaam's prophecies reiterate the main points of God's promises to Israel, reminding the people that God was fulfilling them before their eyes. In addition, the sequel of these events—Balaam's suggestion to the Midianites that they tempt Israel to dally with Moab's women and idols—provided one last test of the Israelites, to prove the faithful and purge the sinful.

Finally, the structure of these three chapters in Numbers is important. Numbers 22 consists of Balak's delegation, Balaam's response, the trip to Moab—during which the Angel of the Lord blocks his path three times and Balaam's donkey speaks—and Balak's reception of the diviner at the border. These events, of course, set up the prophecies in the next two chapters, but they also highlight the two main themes of the story.

First, the narrative often repeats the admonition, "The word that God puts in my mouth, that I must speak" (Numbers 22:38; see verses 18, 20, 35). This is the condition God puts on Balaam when He allows him to go to Balak, and it is reiterated throughout the oracles (Numbers 23:3, 12, 26; 24:13). This constraint of Balaam, supposedly the world's most powerful cursing diviner, directs the glory to God and certifies that His purpose through Israel could not be hindered.

Second, Balaam's encounter with the Angel brings out the other theme: The supposedly "spiritual" person is often blind to what the simple see plainly. Similarly, John the Baptist tells the Pharisees, "God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones" (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8), meaning that Abraham's real children are those who live as Abraham did (John 8:39; Romans 4:16; 9:7; Galatians 3:29). The Angel's explanation is telling:

Behold, I have come out to stand [margin, as an adversary] against you, because your way is perverse before Me. The donkey saw Me and turned aside from Me these three times. If she had not turned aside from Me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live. (Numbers 22:32-33)

Balaam replies, "I have sinned, for I did not know You stood in the way against me" (verse 34). Like the majority of people in the world, Balaam, a professing religious person, could not see God at work, not even when He was personally opposing him! Yet, the dumb donkey, a lowly beast of burden, saw God at work and deferred to Him, and by its submission, the donkey made it possible for "blind" Balaam to see (compare Isaiah 42:18-20; Matthew 11:5; Luke 4:18; John 9:39-41; Revelation 3:17-18).

This latter theme is vital to understanding Balaam's prophecies. God gives them through blind Balaam to open the eyes of Balak, the Israelites, and Bible readers down the centuries to what His purpose is.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Prophecies of Balaam (Part One)


 

The inclusion of four prophecies or oracles attributed to the Mesopotamian soothsayer Balaam has troubled some Bible students through the years. Not only was Balaam a polytheist, he led Israel into sin by suggesting that Moab's women seduce the Israelites into sexual immorality and idolatry, causing about 24,000 Israelite deaths (Numbers 25:1-9; 31:16). Why would God leave the sayings of such a vile man in His Book?

Part of the reason stems from what Paul writes in Romans 3:23: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." With the exception of Jesus Christ, all of those through whom God has spoken have been sinful. For the most part, God has chosen to work through "vessel[s of] honor," that is, men and women who have submitted to Him and lived righteously (Romans 9:21; II Timothy 2:20-21), but on occasion, God has spoken the truth through dishonorable vessels to display His power and bring Him glory (see John 11:49-52).

Another reason is that the incident involving Balaam is more important than most people think. It was the final test of Israel before entering the Promised Land, and they—typically—failed it. Nevertheless, throughout Balaam's oracles, God stresses that He will fulfill His promises to Abraham. Despite the rebellions of Israel, God will not only make Israel great and prosperous, but He will also complete His plan—even to the coming of the Messiah as King of kings (Revelation 19:11-16). Through this incident, we see in Balaam that even His enemies must yield to God and the outworking of His plan.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Prophecies of Balaam (Part Two)


 

Balaam is what is called a Baru, a priest-diviner. He considered himself a devotee of every god, believing that he could communicate, work, and curse for any god. He was much like any multiculturalist we see today—willing to dabble among all the different religions, tolerant of all, willing to take something from here and another thing from there and make a syncretistic mix. He attempted to be spiritual without being religious—without confining himself to one specific way to live but embracing all ways. He was willing to work with any religion for any reason.

He was internationally known—it was 400 miles between Moab and Balaam's home. Word had gotten around that Balaam was skillful at cursing people. It was his family's specialty.

Balak took gold and went to hire the best curser in the known world. He had a formidible enemy, and he wanted it crushed. So he pulled the chains off his wallet and began offering it to Balaam.

Balaam, knowing Balak's position, negotiated pretty doggedly for the job. He was not only willing to negotiate with Balak, but later on he was also willing to negotiate with God, just for a little more for himself. It is an important part of his character.

Balaam may have known about the Patriarchs because the place where he lived in Pethor was only miles away from Haran. Some have even conjectured that Balaam himself may have been a Hebrew—a descendant of Eber, though not of the line of Abraham, because the people who lived in that general area were closely related. They were not Syrians but Hebrews, from which there were several different lines. However, this is just conjecture.

One of the main things about Balaam's character is that he was greedy for wealth and prestige. He was willing to get ahead at any cost. In his mind, whatever would benefit Balaam was good! It did not matter if it was money, prestige, honor, or whatever. If it was good for Balaam, then it was good!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

Genesis 6:1-7  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This vignette deals with the prevalence of ungodly marriage practices leading to disastrous results. The gist of this section is that, after a few generations of multiplying, men as a whole began to leave God out of their lives. They chose wives—probably several of them, like Lamech—based solely on their physical beauty, not on their depth of character. Their children, though they became mighty, famous leaders, grew into wicked adults whose every impulse, thought, and plan was corrupt. Violence became a way of life. Once conditions reached this point, God decided to destroy them before they became so totally depraved that they could never repent, even in the resurrection.

The Bible pictures a society of unrestrained sin of every kind. The New Testament frequently mentions it in the same context as Sodom and Gomorrah and Israel's sins caused by Balaam and Korah. The underlying factor in all these situations is rebellion against and rejection of God. Cain, Lamech, and mankind in general never took God into account when they committed their iniquities. As Psalm 10:4 says, "The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts."

Has our present society reached this nadir of behavior?

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'As It Was In the Days of Noah'


 

Numbers 22:1  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The forty years of wilderness wandering were about over. The Israelites had spent all this time coming out of Egypt, wandering from camp to camp, sometimes staying quite long in one place and perhaps just a night in another, moving again, sometimes coming back to stay at a place where they had been then moving onward again. Nevertheless, they were always marching inexorably toward the Promised Land—Canaan.

At this time, they camped across from Jericho, just steps away from going into the Promised Land. They were ready to cross the Jordan, and begin the conquest.

As recorded in Numbers 21, they had just defeated the Amorites under King Sihon, and they had smashed them—crushed them! Sihon and the Amorites were the big power on the East Bank of the Jordan, but their defeat was like swatting a fly to Israel.

Then they went next to Bashan and defeated King Og and his armies. They decimated them. In this way, the whole East Bank of the Jordan River became Israelite territory. Also on the East Bank, farther south on the east side of the Dead Sea where the Jordan enters it, was the country of Moab. The Israelites had marched right along their northern border, opposite Jericho.

Israel was nothing like we see on the movie The Ten Commandments (or some other Bible movie about the Exodus), where the depict the entire children of Israel as about 15 people with maybe four or five sheep. Realistic estimates conclude that Israel consisted of perhaps 2 to 3 million people, plus all the livestock and all the gear that they had brought with them. This was a train of people that stretched for miles! It took them a day or two to pass any one point from the first to the last person. Isreal was a huge, mobile nation! Moab was perhaps about the same size as the children of Israel, and they watched all these people pass through northern reaches of their territory. They had heard what Israel had done to Sihon, Og, and all their people. They were frightened witless!

As Isreal approached this region, God had told them not to mess with the Moabites and the Edomites because they were distant relatives of the Israelites (Deuteronomy 2:8-9). Evidently, the Moabites and the Edomites were not aware of God's edict because they figured that these 3 million people were a threat to them.

While they were camped across from Jericho, Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy. He would also go up Mount Nebo and view the land Israel was to inherit (Deuteronomy 32:48-52). After that, he would die, and God would bury his body in a valley opposite Beth Peor (Deuteronomy 34:6).

Many events were to happen in these final months while the Israelites were camped next to Moab. Much had to be done before they went in. This is the time setting of the events concerning Balaam.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)


 

Numbers 22:3-4  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This whole passage is quite ironic.

The name Balak means "devastator," a very evil name. However, his father's name, Zippor means "sparrow," which are among the flightiest of birds. A person cannot creep close to a sparrow, as they fly at the slightest movement. So, here is mighty Balak, the Devastator, the son of Zippor, the Sparrow, and "Moab was exceedingly afraid"! The Devastator was afraid, acting like a sparrow!

The Moabites were so afraid that they were "sick with dread." Hebrew is a rather colorful language. This means that they were so terrified that they were throwing up. Their fear was visceral; it made their guts wrench. What makes this so ironic is that they had nothing to fear: God had told Israel not to harm the Moabites but pass them by (Deuteronomy 2:8-9). If Moab had left well enough alone, if they had not let their fear get the best of them, then nothing like the following story would have happened. Many people died because of Moab's fear and the resultant actions. In reacting to their fear, they really made a mess of things.

Another irony is what is said in verse 4 concerning a possible economic problem. Moab says that Israel would come through and "lick up" all of their goods, that is, eat all their wealth. At the time, their wealth was mostly on the hoof or in their grain storehouses. They thought Israel would come in, take all their livestock and grain, and leave Moab destitute. Again they had nothing to fear because God was still giving them manna six days a week and double on Friday. Israel was not going to invade, devastate their land, kill their people, and take all their wealth. Thus, the second element they feared was also bogus. They had made it all up in their own heads; their fears were figments of their imagination.

They were functioning by human nature, and it was only natural for them to think that, if two or three million people came in, they would eat up everything and take over the territory, but that is the irony of all this. Nothing like that would have happened, especially if they did not move to make Israel their enemy.

All of this could have been avoided with a little bit of communication between Balak (the Devastator) and Moses. If he had come to Moses instead of Balaam, everything would have worked out differently. Instead, Balak makes some sort of alliance with the Midianites, who, as the book of Judges details, became a thorn in Israel's side. Thus, here is the beginning of an alliance against Israel that lasted for many years.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)


 

Numbers 22:5-6  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The Moabites did not have much of an army to field against Israel, which is why they did not try to block its way by force of arms. Until recently, they had themselves been subject to the Amorites and had suddenly been freed by Israel's conquering of Sihon and Og of Bashan. However, they were not at all grateful and decided that they would have to stop Israel themselves.

However, Israel was under a command from God to leave Moab alone. The Moabites ended up acting upon what was essentially a figment of their imaginations. They really cannot be blamed; they were merely acting according to human nature. Nevertheless, the whole story of Balak and Balaam was all very unnecessary.

Balaam means "devourer," and some linguists add "of the people." The longer definition is probably correct. It is also interesting that it is a very negative, destructive name (like Balak's, "devastator"). Devastator and Devourer were joining forces to block Israel's passage into Canaan. Balaam's father's name, Beor, which means "burning," also fits into this. This story contains several names that are negative and destructive.

Balaam lived at Pethor. "Pethor" has made some historians wonder, but they think they know where it is. It is located 400 miles north of Moab on the banks of the Euphrates River, twelve miles south of Carchemish. Carchemish was the location of the early seventh-century BC battle Pharaoh Necho was hastening toward to aid the Assyrians against the Babylonians, when he was confronted by King Josiah of Judah. Josiah was, at the time, allied to Babylon. He took his army and met Necho at Megiddo—the famous place of battles, Armageddon. Judah was defeated there, as Necho had a much stronger army. A stray arrow happened to hit Josiah, and he was taken from the battlefield, mortally wounded.

However, the engagement at Megiddo stalled Necho long enough for the Babylonians to defeat the Assyrians, probably near Haran where Abraham had lived for a while—where Terah, Abraham's father, died. The defeat forced the Assyrians to retreat. A couple of years later, Nebuchadnezzar faced the Assyrians and Egyptians again at Carchemish. This colossal battle changed the direction of the Middle East at that time, because, by defeating Assyria again, Nebuchadnezzar gained control of the entire region.

Balaam lived just a stone's throw away from this place of future fame. This is important to know because of the connection between Abraham and Balaam. They were from the same general area near Haran, which was less than fifty miles away. It was generally known that where Balaam lived, Pethor, was famous for its baru, "priest-diviners" (which some have tried to connect them with the Magi, but the evidence is scanty). They were sorcerers, magicians, diviners, soothsayers, and such.

It is believed that Balaam was from a long line of celebrated diviners, and that he and his family had made their living for several generations cursing or blessing people. It was their family trade. They passed it down, giving their sons names that went along with it, names like "Burning" and "Devourer." Their family reputation had traveled throughout the entire region. If anyone wanted someone cursed, they would send for a baru from Balaam's family, since they were the best in the world at cursing people. These baru—regardless of the requester's religion or political stripe—would, for a price, perform their auguries, say their incantations, make their sacrifices to some particular god, and then curse the other party in the name of that god.

This is what King Balak of Moab was doing, sending for the most renowned curser in the known world—Balaam—to come and curse Israel. Balak had heard about all the things that God had done for Israel, so he needed the very best to go up against the God who could part the Red Sea and rain manna from heaven every day for 38 years. This God could bring ten plagues upon the people of Egypt and could find water in the desert for 2.5 or 3 million people. King Balak, needing the very best, was willing to give up just about all his wealth to Balaam, who he felt could do the job of cursing Israel.

What have we learned about Balaam?

  • He was internationally renowned and may have been considered the best soothsayer in the known world. This sets him up on a pedestal. He was accustomed to doing things like this. He was also likely a pricey individual to contract with.

  • He was probably from a family of soothsayers who specialized in blessings and cursings. He was very well read and knowledgeable in all the methods of cursing and blessing, as well as all the world's gods and goddesses. He probably kept an ear to the ground for any unusual things happening and had reports of such sent to him. He probably knew all about what was going on with Israel: it was one of those "international news stories" that made the rounds.

  • He was probably a baru, a priest-diviner of Mesopotamia who worked enchantments, auguries, sorceries, and any kind of divining necessary. The baru did not consider themselves devotees of any one god but of every god. They would work for or against any god for a price.

  • He probably knew of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or at least had heard things about them from local stories or legend, as they were important people in their own right. Abraham, a direct descendant of Shem, had given up a great deal to follow God's calling, and had come through the area where Balaam and his family lived. Abraham was not a person who could pass through a place without leaving an impression, for he was an important and wealthy person, a man of conviction. Also, once Abraham arrived in Canaan, he and his descendants had sent back to the area of Haran for wives: Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah were all from the environs of Haran. Thus, the Israelites had ties with the area, even genetic ties.

It would not be out of the realm of possibility, therefore, that Balaam had a fair amount of information about Israel's beginnings, and perhaps even known of some of their beliefs. He may have had an interest in them from a local history standpoint. He certainly knew about Israel, about Israel's God, and what He had done miraculously for Israel for forty years.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)


 

Numbers 22:7-14  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The princes come to Balaam and tell him what Balak has asked. Then, when Balaam goes to God, he leaves out some of what the princes said. After God gives His answer, Balaam reports back to the princes, this time leaving out some of what God said. Finally, when the men return to Balak, all they say is, "He is not coming."

So, we can see a great deal of deception going on, in which each party tries to slant the conversations to its advantage. The princes certainly do not want Balak angry at them because they failed in their mission, and Balaam did not want to tell the princes all that God had said to him because he wants them to come back with more money.

We cannot take this story at face value. This is what Balaam did for a living; this is how he made his money. He was a sorcerer for hire—for pay—and he is negotiating here. We have just read a sorcerer's negotiation for his hire.

The first thing Balaam did wrong (from our perspective) he did immediately: The princes waltz into his courtyard, saying, "Balak wants you to come and curse Israel for him." Balaam replies, "Oh. Let me think about that. In the meantime, why don't you stay the night? Here, I'll put you up and feed you." He probably entertained them—perhaps he performed parlor tricks for them. But, in such a situation, what should a Christian have done? What should just a good person have done? He should have said, "Go back to your master!" and not even listened to them.

The apostle John tells us what to do should anyone come to our house and wants us to do evil, to go against the Lord God:

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (II John 10-11)

Immediately, then, Balaam becomes complicit in the sins of Balak. He should have said, "No. I'm taking my shingle down. I will not curse Israel." But instead he says, "Why don't you stay the night? I'll see if God gives me guidance in this matter."

It is probable that he did not expect God to say a word to him. His words were merely a ploy to get the princes interested and drag the negotiation out. He was putting on his diviner's hat and doing a little acting here. "Oh, I can't make this decision on my own! I must consult the gods. Stay here overnight, and in the morning I will tell you if God has come to me in a dream or a vision to tell me what I can do!"

He was playing the charlatan with them because most of the time, a demon did not come to him and say, "Okay, go ahead and do this," or "Don't do that." Balaam probably manufactured most of his "visitations." However, if a demon did communicate with him and was behind his sorcery, it makes Balaam even more evil. At the very least, he was giving the princes his pitch.

God surprises him by actually answering him! He starts off by asking him, "Who are these men with you?" making the man explain himself, which Balaam does. Then, incredibly, Balaam makes his pitch to God! "God, let me curse them!" God responds emphatically, "No! No! No! You shall not go with them. You shall not curse them. I have blessed them."

In the morning, Balaam tells Balak's princes, "Go back to your land. The Lord refused to give me permission."

We can give Balaam credit for this: He actually does what God told him and sent them away with their diviner's fee in their hands. He made no money. However, we can read into this that he did it, not because of the fear of God, but because of the thought that, "Hey, maybe this will help the negotiations if I send them away, because they might come back, and bring a bigger bag of gold with them to try and convince me. If I play hard to get, and they really want me, I could make a killing."

We need to remember that all the authors who mention Balaam after this write about him being greedy for profit at Israel's expense. We must include this fact in our understanding of what was happening here. God obviously inspired it to be written several times in His Word that this was how Balaam worked. He was avariciously negotiating a higher fee.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)


 

Numbers 22:15  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Balak upped the offered price, as well as the honor he would bestow. Perhaps he sent his son, possibly his firstborn—the heir to the throne. It would have been quite honorable for Balaam to have entertained the next king of Moab in his home.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)


 

Numbers 22:18  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God continuously warns Balaam, "Do not go beyond what I tell you to do," and every time, Balaam tries to anyway. He fights God at every turn because He wants his own way. He wants the gold, the honor, and the reputation he would have by cursing Israel (who had defeated mighty Egypt and most of the nations they came in contact with). The true God was the "game in town," and if Balaam beat Him, he would be on the top of the pile. This is Balaam's plan; he was "working his magic," trying to move himself into first position among diviners.

This brings out his major flaw, one that many in the world also have. He believed that the end justifies the means. He was willing to set aside principle (if he had any) to achieve his goals. He functioned by self-interest rather than by belief or standards. His standard was "anything that is good for Balaam," which is self-righteousness and self-interest. These were the principles by which he felt he could live a successful life. He did not base them on anything godly or even ethical but strictly on human reason.

He was willing to do anything to get his way. By putting together different parts of the Bible on him, Balaam comes out smelling like manure, not roses.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

Numbers 22:20-21  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

One can almost hear Balaam saying to himself, "Great! God gave me permission! I can go! Load the gold!"

How Balaam replies to the embassy of Balak is one of the main themes of this whole account. In verse 18, he says, "I cannot go beyond the Word of the LORD my God to do less or more." And then in verse 20, God tells him quite specifically, "Only the word which I speak to you, that you shall do."

God is on to him, giving Balaam enough rope to hang himself with - and he just sticks his head right into the noose. The noose is the "if" statement: "If the men call on you, then you may go." The Bible, however, gives no indication whatsoever that the men came to call on him. It says only that Balaam awoke, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab.

What did Balaam do here? We might call it bending the rules. God gave him conditional permission to do something. And what did Balaam consider it to be? Absolute permission. It is almost as if he failed to hear God say, "If the men come to call on you." All he heard was, "Then you can go."

How many people do that? In our modern way, we have turned it around: "Well, the Bible doesn't say that you can't do this." Others put it as, "There is no 'Thus saith the Lord' about this" - though there may be dozens of verses that say that one should not do it because of this, that, or something else. Or, there may be a whole story about someone who does something, illustrating a principle of a way we should not go. Nevertheless, because Scripture does not specifically say, "You shall not do this," then many people think it is okay to do it.

Consider smoking. No place in the Bible says that a person shall not smoke cigarettes. It does not say anywhere that one should not breathe in the smoke of any kind of flammable substance. However, there are huge principles - love toward God, neighbor, and self; not defiling the temple of God's Spirit; slow suicide - that people totally ignore. This is similar to what Balaam did.

His thinking process may have gone something like this: "God didn't say that I could not go. He gave me a condition, but I'm sure it will be all right this time if I go. If He was willing to give me permission in this case, it must be okay." So, he went. He did not believe God.

Consider I Peter 2 in terms of what Balaam did. What Peter had been telling his readers to do was submit - submit to government; submit to the king; to governors; to anyone in authority - for the Lord's sake, because that is what God wants us to do. He wants us to learn to submit to authority, especially to God's.

For this is the will of God, that by doing good [submitting to government] you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men - as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. (I Peter 2:15-16)

God gave Balaam conditional permission. He made him free to do a certain thing, which was to go with the men, but He put a condition on it: "If they come to you." Well, Balaam used his freedom, his liberty, as a cloak for vice. Balaam's vice was money; he wanted riches. He was going to get his riches by cursing Israel - another vice! Cursing people is not a good thing - certainly, it does not show love for them.

As Christians, we have been given grace, freedom, and God-given gifts to do good. He warns us, "Do not use this freedom to do evil. I have given you, not freedom from the law, but freedom within the law - to do good and not evil."

Yet, how many have used the liberty given to us by Christ as license to sin? "God will forgive us! That's what God does best! So, if we do it just this once, it will be okay!" That is what Balaam did. He received permission from God in one small area, under a certain circumstance, and Balaam interpreted it as freedom to do generally as he pleased.

Does that not sound like mainstream Protestantism? This is why within Protestantism there is an overriding emphasis on grace. Truly, grace is a wonderful thing. God has given us so many freedoms, but there are also law, responsibility, and submission to the will of God, things Balaam totally left out of the picture. He ignored the conditions God placed on his liberty. All he wanted was the freedom. And his taking license came back to bite him severely in the end.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)


 

Numbers 22:22  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God was angry because Balaam went when He had specifically told him, "Don't go unless they come to you and ask you." Nothing in God's Word says that they did. Instead, it says that Balaam got up in the morning and saddled his donkey, and off he went.

God gave conditional permission. The condition was only if he was asked again, but he was not asked again yet went anyway. Balaam was one of those people who, if you give him an inch, he takes a mile. If he was not specifically told, "You shall not go," then he thought that meant he could go ahead and leave.

In like manner, there are those who think, "Well, because the Bible does not say 'Thus saith the Lord,' it is okay!" We can see many things in Balaam's character that are similar to what many people today mimic due to the fact that they are not listening to God either. God was very specific with Balaam, but all he heard was, "Go ahead!" He tuned out the part that began with if.

This is why God was angry with him. He was so angry that He came out against him, to stand in his way. Maybe the most intriguing detail here is that the word adversary is, in Hebrew, satan, which means generally "adversary, enemy, foe." God came out against Balaam the same way that Satan comes out against us, when God allows him to do so. God set Himself up as Balaam's enemy.

In reality, by leaving without fulfilling the conditions, Balaam chose to join Satan's side. God, then, visibly to the donkey but invisibly to Balaam, set Himself up as the adversary to Balaam.

Balaam showed God that he would do what Balak wanted him to do. In counterpoint, God will do something to try to get Balaam to change, to turn. God does not come out against Balaam as a normal enemy would—to do him harm—but to turn him around and give him a chance to repent. But Balaam would have nothing to do with that. He had set himself up as an enemy of God, and he never turns himself around.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

Numbers 22:23  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Balaam tries to do to the donkey what God was trying to do to him!

At this first appearance of the Angel of the Lord, the donkey changes course (good donkey!). Balaam tries to put her back on course—on his course. The donkey proves to be smarter than Balaam. When God stands against a person, the wisest course of action is to turn away and stop moving in the direction he is going because God has a sword and is ready to cut him off.

But Balaam is too blind. He does not see God at all in this, though the donkey does. The donkey knows that Balaam's path leads to destruction, and it wisely turns aside. Blind Balaam continues down the path of sin.

Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on. (Proverbs 4:14-1)

This is exactly what the donkey is trying to do, but what does Balaam do? He stupidly continues on because he could not see the danger. The donkey shows itself wiser than the "Wise and Powerful Balaam, the Renowned Enchanter"!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

Numbers 22:24-25  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

What does God do? His first attempt to get Balaam's attention fails—not with the donkey, but with Balaam. The man is totally oblivious to what is going on. So God narrows him in or hedges him in. The path that Balaam was taking led between two hedges or walls. There was enough room,however, for the donkey to turn aside, which is what she did. She turned away, but in doing so, Balaam's foot became crushed against the wall, causing him pain. Perhaps God thought that a little pain would help him come to his senses.

However, Balaam does not think about God at all. He thinks, "You stupid donkey! Why did you do that to me?" He does not say anything at this point but beats the poor donkey. His injury does not cause him to consider at all that God may be trying to get his attention. It never comes to mind that God may be telling him something. He takes all his pain and rage out on this innocent donkey, which was only trying to obey God.

Think of the donkey in terms of this passage:

But my eyes are upon You, O GOD the Lord; in You I take refuge; do not leave my soul destitute. Keep me from the snares they have laid for me, and from the traps of the workers of iniquity. Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I escape safely. (Psalm 141:8-10)

The donkey who saw God would have avoided the trap and escaped, if it were not for Balaam controlling her. He made her go back into the trap—and on to his own ruin.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

Numbers 22:26-27  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Again, the donkey proves herself wiser than Balaam.

God frequently does this: First, He gets us in a wide place and allows us to make our decisions. It soon becomes apparent which direction we are going, which path we are taking. Then God begins to narrow the way, especially if He sees us going in the wrong direction. He catches us in a place where we can turn around and gives us an opportunity to make a right decision. If we do not do what He wants us to do, He will go a little further down the path—a little bit later in our life—to catch us in a place where the answer is obvious, and we can do nothing except stop, and say, "God help me! I've gone the wrong way, and I need You to open the path for me."

He does this to Balaam. He gets him to the point where there is only plunging on to destruction on one hand, and on the other, stopping and retracing his steps to where he can head in the right direction.

This is the point where Balaam is in these two verses. The donkey simply lies down, as that is all she can do. Proverbs 22:3 says, "A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished." The donkey is the "prudent man" here, and blind Balaam is "the simple." He is so without any spiritual acumen that he is just like a foolish simpleton. He cannot see wisdom; he cannot make a wise choice. However, the dumb donkey can!

As a last resort, God takes matters one more step. He is always full of mercy, willing to give us that one more chance to make the right choice. But now He has to do something drastic!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

Numbers 22:28-30  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

It is incredible that Balaam even replies to the donkey. If an animal spoke to one of us, would we respond? Perhaps he thought, "Well, I've talked to her enough. She was bound to answer me sometime." This is obviously a miracle—there is only one other place in the Bible (Genesis 3, the serpent to Eve) where an animal speaks—yet Balaam acts as if it happens to him every day! The donkey asks him questions, and he answers!

Balaam is totally, spiritually out of it. He has no thought for God or for spiritual things. He is so self-possessed, so full of self-interest that he cannot think beyond the end of his nose! All he is thinking about is, "What am I going to do when I get to Balak? He's going to pile all this money on me! How am I going to set up the sacrifices? What am I going to do? How am I going to say this? I know God will let me do it because I'm just a wonderful negotiator, and that's just the way it is. All the other gods have done exactly as I've bargained, so I think. . . ." As he travels, he talks to himself like this, thinking only about the wonderful job and the wealth he has ahead of him. He is heedless to anything else.

When these amazing things happen, they fail to faze him. They fail to make him wonder what is going on. He does not even ask why the donkey was treating him in a way she had never had before. She was totally out of character! She speaks, and he answers! It illustrates the depth of his spiritual blindness. He could not see God if He had bit him!

In today's lingo, we would call Balaam totally materialistic. Everything was based on what he could see, feel, hear, smell, and taste. He could not understand beyond that.

He was involved in spiritism, with augury, enchanting, and such, but there is nothing spiritual about him. He had no depth. And this made him thoroughly evil. He bore a nice façade that made him look spiritual, but in reality, there was nothing there. The donkey was more truly spiritual than he was!

He may have had some spiritual knowledge, but it did not work in him properly because he never put it into practice. He may have known about Israel, about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, perhaps even of some of God's instructions to Israel. He certainly knew God was, in all His power and sovereignty, working for them. But none of this knowledge that he may have had did him any good. He even talked to God, and God talked back to him! God was doing all these things in his life, and he was thoroughly blind to all of it.

The incredible thing here is that Balaam acted as if these things happened to him every day. But they did not! These were once-in-a-lifetime events, but he was so self-centered that he shrugged them off, ignoring them as if they did not matter. Here was the great sovereign God saying, "Wake up, Balaam! I'm here! Can't you see Me? Can't you see Me working?" But Balaam is blind to the true reality of Him. The "seer" can see nothing because he is so stuck on the here and now, on what he has in his hand and in his pocket.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

Numbers 22:32  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God does not demand, "Why did you leave your house when I told you not to unless they came back to you," but he asks Balaam why he struck the donkey. God was quite concerned about this donkey; one could say He was more concerned about the donkey than about Balaam at this point, because the man was not on God's "good list." God has a soft spot for the weak—"the poor" the Bible calls them. And such are we.

Yet, here was Balaam, who had pretensions of being a good person but who was thoroughly evil, taking out his frustrations on the righteous, symbolized by this donkey—those who see God and try to do what He says. Balaam, in the seat of power over the donkey, beats her for obeying God. So God's concern is rightly for His oppressed creature.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

Numbers 22:32-33  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Perverse (verse 32) is in Hebrew yarat. It does not quite mean "perverse"; the preferred meaning is interesting: "to precipitate; to be precipitant; to push headlong; to drive recklessly."

God says to Balaam, "Your way is headlong and reckless before Me. It is precipitant." It is as if Balaam were driving 90 mph down a steep hill, heedless of the danger at the bottom. He had no foresight. God says, "That's perverse. Balaam, you are not looking ahead to the consequences! Your way is going to get you into trouble."

He is like a daredevil, like Evel Knievel, who without thought or fear, endangers his and others' lives for his own selfish purposes. He rushes through life for everything that he can get out of it, never thinking about what will happen afterward, in the end. He is a man who cannot look past the end of his nose. He is so consumed with himself that he sees nothing down the road, only what is happening now. God says that is perverse.

A wise man looks ahead and sees where he is going to land. If a man like Balaam gets up a head of steam, he thinks that no one will stop him. Conversely, if we consider the donkey to stand for those who actually see God at work, we can notice a few things:

  • The donkey responds to God's direction.

  • The donkey is persecuted for her obedience.

  • The donkey, in her meekness, does not retaliate. Does she reach back and nip Balaam like he should have been? No.

  • God says that it is for her sake that He has not carried out His judgment on Balaam. This is interesting because the same thing happens because of us. Jesus calls us the salt of the earth, and part of its meaning is that we are the preservative in this world. If the saints did not exist, there would be no world. This donkey was the only thing standing in God's way of totally consuming Balaam. We are the donkey. Because God has mercy on us, we who see God are the only ones keeping the Balaams of this world from getting totally snuffed out.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

Numbers 22:34  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Balaam admits that he did wrong, but he blames his own blindness. He is terrified, but he does not beseech God for mercy. All he does is to confess that he had sinned, justifying himself with, "I didn't see you. I'm just a poor, ignorant person." His confession is really quite insipid.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

Numbers 22:35  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

If God repeats the same thing over and over again, it must be important. This is something God never got through Balaam's thick skull because throughout the entire account, he tries his best to curse Israel, to do more than God instructs, or to speak beyond what God put into his mouth. He keeps having to be restrained.

Why? Balaam wants the pot of gold and the honor! These are what are driving him.

God speaks to him time and again. He appears to him, visibly, as the Angel of the Lord. He speaks to him through a donkey! God changes Balaam's words in his mouth, causing him to speak blessings instead of curses. God puts His Spirit on him, and Balaam prophesies under the inspiration of the Spirit of God—and still Balaam tries to do his own will, not God's.

Balaam never really understood the connection between obedience and blessing, or, obedience and the relationship with God. Even the most easily understood command—"I will put a word in your mouth. Say that word, no more, and no less"—he fails to follow, though it is something a child could do. However, Balaam is being driven by gold, by pride, and who knows what else, so he constantly, consistently refuses to do what God tells him to do.

Balaam wanted to do all these things—to have a relationship with God, to be able to bless and curse, to be a real prophet—but he never wanted to obey. He wanted all the benefits and none of the responsibilities.

Balaam is an illustration of a person who has access to the truth—like a person who reads the Bible all the time—but never obeys it! Such a person is willing to cheat on his income tax, when he knows the eighth commandment says, "You shall not steal." There are "Christian" people who are willing to kill their unborn children, yet know that the sixth commandment says, "You shall not murder." There are "Christians" who lie all the time, knowing all the while that the ninth commandment says, "You shall not bear false witness." These people have access to the truth or have knowledge of the truth, but are never willing to put it into practice because they insist on doing what they want to do.

There are millions of people in the world like this. In fact, one branch of Christianity in particular—called Protestantism—was founded on this formula. One will not find more learned people than Protestant theologians; they know the Bible from cover to cover. Yet, they still keep and preach Sunday! They do more than this. They know—they admit—that God's law is "holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12), but they tell their congregations, "It is done away! We don't have the responsibility of keeping the law. Jesus kept it for us!"

Thus, they emphasize grace and make God's law of no effect because they want all the blessings of being a Christian but none of the responsibility. Just as Balaam did!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)


 

Numbers 22:35  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

In effect, God is saying, "Balaam is going to do what he wants to do, and I'm not going to stand in his way because he's set his mind on destruction." God, at this point, let the course of events take place naturally. Balaam was as good as dead already.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

Numbers 23:10  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Numbers 23:10 is one of Balaam's prophecies. He is looking out at all of Israel from a height, seeing their vast number, and he has just said that they have been blessed by God.

He then says, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!" What about his life between this particular time and his own death? He did not want to live as the righteous but to die as righteous. Put another way, Balaam did not want to live righteously; he only wanted to be considered a righteous man when he died. He wanted "heaven" without behaving heavenly while he was alive. He was perfectly fine with continuing his trade as a sorcerer and even cursing God's people—all he was concerned about was that, at the very end, he could make a death-bed repentance and squeak in between the bars of heaven's gate, so to speak.

Frankly, the religion of Balaam—his doctrine or teaching, his way of life—was the dominant religion of the time, just as Protestantism is dominant today. People then had the same human nature as people do now, and they wanted the best of both worlds. They were willing to do whatever they wanted—even to sin grievously—believing that in the end they would still be saved, because in their eyes what they were doing was not all that bad. They believed God would disregard their behavior. Remember, Balaam later advises the Midianites, "Get the Israelites involved in idolatry and sex with the women of Moab." A truly righteous individual would never even think of causing others to sin. Would God ignore such a thing?

This is the impression one gets from Balaam. He knew what was right, but would not take the responsibility to do it. Yet, he wanted all the rewards and blessings that would come from it.

Another idea that surfaces here is that he thought he could manipulate God. He thought he could bribe Him by giving Him sacrifices, cajoling Him, making a deal with Him—into cursing even His own people. Obviously, it did not work. He did not understand God in the least.

Balaam did not understand what is written in Deuteronomy 10:12-14, which Moses wrote at about this same time. In the New King James, this section is titled "The Essence of the Law."

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God [Balaam certainly did not fear God—he was willing to negotiate with Him], to walk in all His ways [he did not want to obey Him] and to love Him [certainly his actions did not show that he loved God at all], to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul [Balaam was in it for himself—his heart and soul were not with God], and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good? Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the LORD your God, also the earth with all that is in it.

Here puny Balaam was trying to match wits with the God of all the universe—and he thought he could win! Notice the next verses:

The LORD delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day. Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. (Deuteronomy 10:15-17)

Balaam did not understand this very simple point: In the covenant relationship we have with God, we are the junior partners. Our job is to submit, to obey, to fear and respect Him, and if we do that, everything will work out fine. However, when we step outside that role and try to take God's prerogatives from Him and do things that only He can do, then we start getting into deep trouble. This is where Balaam was—in very dangerous territory. He was trying to negotiate with God as if he were His equal.

He was attempting to impose his will on God, and make God change for him! Is that not basically selfish? Is it not self-interest above what's in God's interest? In a way, it is like saying to God, "You're wrong, and I'm right, so You should do it my way!"—as if we can see things from our vantage point better than God can.

If we try to change God's will on some matter that He has clearly shown us, we are saying, "I am God, not You." We want our will to be followed and not His. There are several verses in the Bible that say, "Who are we before God?" We are the clay—He is the Potter! Balaam had it all backwards.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)


 

Numbers 23:13-24  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Balak tries again, taking Balaam to a field atop Mount Pisgah, where he could see only the outermost part of the camp (Numbers 23:13). His rationale for this is that Balaam could not curse Israel while faced with the mystical power of the whole people. If he could see just a part of Israel, the odds would be more even and a curse more likely. So, the diviner again offers a bull and a ram on seven different altars (verse 14).

In both of the first two prophecies is an interesting phrase: "God [or, the LORD] met Balaam" (verses 4, 16). This is a very personal and close form of communication. How God met him is unknown, but it is obvious that he knew God was present and giving him the words to speak to Balak (verses 5, 16). In the next chapter, the narrative says explicitly that "the Spirit of God came upon him" to inspire his next prophecy (Numbers 24:2).

We have a hard time understanding why God would work this closely with such an evil, unconverted man yet never appear to us or even seem to inspire us with fitting words, a skillful reply, or an instruction on what to do in a difficult circumstance. However, we must understand that God was in this man making a great witness of His power and glory. As hard as he tried, not even the most famous diviner of his day could curse God's people, and the word of Israel's blessings and their prophesied conquests gave notice that God's plan would go forward despite the efforts of the surrounding nations. Thus, for its impact, God deigns to speak through an unworthy vessel.

In the first paragraph (verses 19-20), the soothsayer admits his powerlessness before God. Since at least the days of Abraham, God had been foretelling what He would do for His people, and there was no way He would renege on it now that it was about to unfold! On such a pivotal part of His plan, God would not be forced or cajoled to change His mind.

The first half of verse 21 has had many wondering how it could be true, since the entire account of Israel in the wilderness is a sad commentary on how sinful Israel was! The idea here is not that God does not see their sin—the Pentateuch is full of God's observations about their iniquities—but that their wickedness has not reached the point that He would be persuaded to curse them.

Certainly, He would not be bribed into cursing His own people by their—and thus His—enemies! For, as the verse goes on to say, He is with Israel as their King! Why would He curse His own kingdom and people? And why, after going to the trouble of leading them out of Egypt with such a strong hand (verse 22), would He allow them to be defeated just before reaching their destination? This interpretation becomes clear in verse 23: There would be no sorcery or divination against Israel because of what God had done for them.

The final verse highlights Israel as a lion, a symbol of regal power and predatory mastery. This is an allusion to Jacob's prophecy concerning the tribes of Israel in Genesis 49:9: "Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; and as a lion, who shall rouse him?" In this case, Judah stands for the whole nation (as it later came to rule all Israel in David). A nation often resembles its leadership—and vice versa—so it can be said that under God's inspiration Balaam saw Israel through the lens of the royal tribe of Judah. This is especially interesting in light of the description of God as Israel's King in Numbers 23:21 and the upcoming prophecy of a great King to come.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Prophecies of Balaam (Part One)


 

Numbers 24:13-14  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Balak, of course, is furious with Balaam for thrice predicting such a rosy future for Israel. The soothsayer reminds him that he warned him from the start that he "could not go beyond the word of the LORD, to do either good or bad of [his] own will; but what the LORD says, that [he] must speak" (Numbers 24:13). It is difficult to decide which of these two characters is more ludicrous: Balaam, for thinking that God would give in and let him curse Israel—or at least put in a good word for Moab; or Balak, for listening to and putting up with Balaam!

As if trying to mollify his employer, Balaam adds, "Come, I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the latter days" (verse 14), but his words are hardly comforting to the Moabite king.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Prophecies of Balaam (Part Two)


 

Numbers 25:1-5  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Israel fell into idolatry through fornication. The physical fornication produced spiritual fornication, which is idolatry.

In Revelation 2:14, within the comments to the seven churches, we find this problem still haunting the church. It actually surfaces in Revelation 2:6, where it speaks of the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which God hates, but it is more clearly stated in verse 14 to the church in Pergamos.

But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.

It is a problem in two of the first three churches, and it surfaces again in verse 20, this time in Thyatira.

Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.

Today, we are bombarded on every side with sex. It is something that, even if one is blind, cannot be escaped because we hear about it. It is presented to us as an inducement to do something.

In Numbers 25, the inducement is to idolatry. Today, the inducement is to get us to buy, to get us in debt, to get us to be slaves of the lender. So sex is thrown at us in things in which it should not even appear—selling pipe wrenches or automobiles. It is used as an inducement, and we have to be very careful because it is so incessantly shoved in our faces.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Passover and I Corinthians 10


 

2 Corinthians 11:3  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Simplicity means single, without ulterior motive, pure, sincere, and unambiguous. Vincent's Word Studies (vol. 3, p. 346), defines it as "single-hearted loyalty." It is the opposite of deceit, guile, error, and wandering.

Some things in God's Word are difficult to understand (II Peter 3:16), but the Bible nowhere tries to produce doubt, confusion, or division by any means (I Timothy 6:3-5; II Timothy 2:14). Even Balaam knew that "God is not a man, that He should lie" (Numbers 23:19)! Jesus says, "[God's] word is truth" (John 17:17). The doctrines of God follow a logical and true sequence, locking together like a picture puzzle to comprise the true gospel.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Damnable Heresies


 

2 Peter 2:14-15  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The apostle says false prophets have "eyes full of adultery." While this may apply literally, it can also more generally describe unfaithfulness—a willingness to abandon an agreement if they feel it is in their interest to do so. They also worry little about resisting sin. Their hearts are especially trained in covetousness, and like Balaam, they are willing to do just about anything for personal gain.

David C. Grabbe
What Is a False Prophet?


 

2 Peter 2:15  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Balaam means "devourer," and Beor means "burning." From that, people have surmised that they were a family of cursing priest-diviners.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

2 Peter 2:15  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Balaam loved the wages of unrighteousness. His love was not for God, for truth, or for anything that is good and righteous. His love was for wages that derived from sin. He was a thoroughly evil character with an effective façade.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

2 Peter 2:16  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Peter puts it plainly: Balaam was insane—he was totally willing to oppose God Himself. He was not insane in the sense that he needed to be locked in a mental facility, but he was insane in his willingness to fight the Maker and Ruler of the entire universe! Moreover, Balaam was not backed into fighting Him—he went seeking Him to get his own way. That is certainly insane and why Peter used the phrase, "the madness of the prophet."

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)


 

Revelation 2:6  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Although prior studies on this phenomenon had been done, the church's interest in Nicolaitanism coincided with the breakup and scattering of the church in the early 1990s. Papers on the subject, often linked with ideas about the heresy of Balaam, circulated from hand to hand and across the Internet. One can even argue that these papers' definitions of Nicolaitanism spurred and intensified the scattering of the brethren.

In the main, these papers defined Nicolaitanism as the belief and practice of hierarchical government, the scapegoat for all the church's problems, with an emphasis on tithing and using a paid ministry. This definition derives from the meaning of the word Nicolaos in Greek: "conqueror of the people" (Balaam in Hebrew has a similar meaning). The authors of these papers on Nicolaitanism assumed that, since God names things what they are, the title "Nicolaitan" must therefore refer to a practice of abusive and dictatorial government and administration, which they assumed to be hierarchy. This assumption is based entirely on the authors' emotional reactions to their circumstances at the time—not upon biblical or even logical reasoning.

First, Nicolaos may have nothing to do with Nicolaitan doctrine. Not every name in the Bible is significant spiritually. For instance, Luke means "white," and any spiritual connotation it has to him or his work is pure conjecture. Many biblical names are simple common names within the culture and time in which the person lived.

Second, the meaning of Nicolaos is not necessarily negative. Although its natural connotation is "one who conquers the people," it can have a positive, possessive sense: "the people's conqueror," that is, a champion of the people, one who fights for the people's best interests. It may refer to a tyrant or despot, but it can just as easily speak of a popular hero.

Third, the name has a military association, not a governmental one. It primarily suggests conquering by might and strategy on the field of battle. Granted, such conquerors usually also governed as kings or emperors, but ruling is a separate activity from conquering, occurring as its consequence.

Fourth, this means that Nicolaos nowhere suggests any form of government. Those who believe the word to refer to hierarchy assume that a conqueror would rule as a tyrant or dictator, whether he is called king, emperor, president, chancellor, or first citizen. While this may be the rule, a few historical exceptions (for example, American military-heroes-turned-rulers George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, Dwight Eisenhower, etc.) prove this assumption faulty.

Finally, people can be conquered in ways other than "abusive and dictatorial" hierarchy. Socialist democracy in America and Europe has by mostly "benevolent" means cowed millions into a complacent and controllable herd. Populaces have been overcome by trickery, disease, famine, natural disaster, and their own sheer stupidity. Limiting Nicolaitanism to hierarchical government is arbitrary and subjective.

The Bible itself does not define Nicolaitanism. Revelation 2:6 declares, "But this you [the Ephesian church] have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." Jesus later says to the Pergamos church, "Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate" (verse 15). While these verses provide no definition, they tell us three things:

1. Nicolaitanism is a belief system, like a religion or a philosophy.
2
. Nicolaitanism results in ungodly behavior.
3
. Christ hates it vehemently.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Nicolaitanism Today


 

Revelation 2:13-16  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Pergamos means "thoroughly married," like in a binding relationship. However, the context of these verses shows that they are in a relationship with a system—the wrong one! The doctrines of Balaam are in their congregation, as well as the doctrines of the Nicolaitans. Thus, He tells them to repent because some there, unlike Smyrna, had drifted away from what they had previously learned. They had not been faithful in the relationship to Him, even though they gave lip service to the doctrines.

John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 4)


 

Revelation 2:14-15  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The structure of this paragraph ties together the doctrine of Balaam, the sins of eating things sacrificed to idols and committing sexual immorality, and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Christ implies that all three are the same basic heresy under different guises. This antinomian teaching affected the church in Thyatira as well (verses 20-21).

Moses records Balaam's story in Numbers 22-25, 31. Balak, king of Moab, hires Balaam to curse the Israelites, but every time he tries, Balaam instead blesses them. He then counsels Balak to send Moabite and Midianite women into the camp of Israel to seduce the men and invite them to the sacrifices of their god (Numbers 25:1-2; 31:16). Clearly, Balaam's instruction included getting the Israelites to commit idolatry and sexual immorality.

Interestingly, these two practices arise in the Jerusalem Council in AD 49. Paul and Barnabas, with Peter's help, convince the assembled elders that Gentile converts to Christianity should not be required to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, Judaism's rigorous "yoke" of picayune laws (Acts 15:10). However, the Council enjoins the Gentiles on four points of typical Gentile religious practice:

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell. (verses 28-29)

Obviously, the Council's decree does not exempt Gentiles from keeping the Ten Commandments, for it is clear from many New Testament passages that Jesus and the apostles taught them to both Jews and Gentiles (e.g., Matthew 19:17-19; Romans 13:9; etc.). These two issues - idolatry and sexual immorality - became a flashpoint in the conflict between true Christianity and Hellenistic Gnosticism, and a person's stance on them exposed which side he favored. Thus, Nicolaitanism and Balaamism are biblical symbols or representatives of the larger Gnostic, antinomian influence on Christianity.

Is Nicolaitanism passé? Evidently not, for Jesus' admonitions in Revelation 2 indicate that this antinomian influence will remain until His return. Notice His warnings to Pergamos and Thyatira:

Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. . . . But to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, and who have not known the depths of Satan [another allusion to antinomianism], as they call them, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come. (verses 16, 24-25)

This does not mean that the particular sins of eating meat sacrificed to idols and sexual license will pervade the church until the end, although idolatry and sexual sins will certainly exist in it. He is more concerned about the antinomian spirit, the attitude of lawlessness, that allows these sins to infest the church. When members of the church teach and practice that they are not obliged to keep the laws of God, sin will inevitably break out vigorously. When this occurs, Christians are no longer under grace but under the penalty of the law and the wrath of the Judge (Romans 6:11-23; Hebrews 10:26-31; 12:25).

Jesus, Paul, Peter, Jude, and John warn against the encroachment of antinomianism or lawlessness. In His Olivet Prophecy, Jesus says: "Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold" (Matthew 24:11-12). What will happen to such lawless people? Jesus Himself answers:

Many will say to Me in that day, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matthew 7:22-23)

Among Paul's end-time prophecies is his prediction of a great apostasy that results from the unrestrained assault of "the mystery of lawlessness" (II Thessalonians 2:1-7). This comes

with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. . . . Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught. . . . (verses 10-12, 15)

Peter and Jude use similar language in their books to counter the antinomian teaching extant in their congregations (II Peter 2:9-10, 12-13, 15, 18-19; 3:17-18; Jude 3-4). John's epistles are likewise full of warnings against antinomian heresies. For instance, notice these passages:

» Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (I John 2:3-4)

» Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. (I John 3:4)

» In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. (I John 3:10)

» By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. (I John 5:2-3)

» This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. . . . Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. . . . If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (II John 6, 9-11)

» Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. (III John 11)

In addition, the gospel of John uses Jesus' own words during His ministry to attack antinomian heresies in the church. This much scriptural attention along with its prophetic implications warrants our taking careful notice.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Nicolaitanism Today


 

Revelation 2:14  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

If we consider that these letters are written not only to the historical churches since the first century, but also to the seven churches that exist at the end time—churches that have the attitudes described in these letters—then this verse brings Balaam and his doctrine (his error, sin, rebellion) right down to our time. It is something we should think about and be wary of.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)


 

Find more Bible verses about Balaam:
Balaam {Nave's}
 




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