3Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
4The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.
Balaam was gifted in divination and also prophecy. While he knew of God and spoke with God, he also used other evil means to get information from the spirit realm. Balaam came from a long line of similarly gifted family and also was considered the best in delivering blessings and curses. He was sought after by Kings and known among important circles. So, when King Balak came to offer money for Balaam to curse Israel, it would almost seem noble that Balaam refused. However, In studying the life of Balaam today, I was struck by his behavior. On the surface level, Balaam doesn’t seem like such a bad guy, and if we look at the whole picture, it looks like he obeys God by actually blessing Israel rather than cursing them. It would even seem upon first appearances that God was the one who appeared confusing. Hadn’t he told Balaam no the first time only to allow him to go the second? Once God let Balaam go He sent an angel in his path to confront Balaam for going. Wait, why would God do that? Is God picking on poor Balaam here? The answer lies in the deeper recesses of the heart of which God is the master of reading.
In the Bible, Balaam is referred to as a wicked man but also a prophet and a diviner. Simply put you can be gifted by God in an area while using it for evil. Balaam clearly had a gift of prophecy, but God was one of the many deities he associated himself with. He was the middle man, acting as an agent to give those who paid what they asked for. He was double minded which made him dangerous. Balaam tried to appease all sides while making money simultaneously. Similarly, those who say they are true followers of Christ but support the annihilation of millions of unborn children are double-minded as are those who say they want a godly man and then engage in premarital sex. I am not referring to past mistakes here, but actual Bible believing Christians who cherry pick the scriptures and water down the gospel. To have an intimate knowledge and relationship with the Living God is to follow His Word especially when it means crucifying the flesh.
Requests Rather than Repentance
A closer look at Balaam shows that when Balak asked him to curse Israel, he went to ask God permission. A man who was as renowned as Balaam surely would be aware of who God blessed and cursed and furthermore would know that the Israelites were His jewel. However, the fact that Balaam asked Balak’s men to spend the night revealed his true heart. The start of Balaam’s unrepentant journey began with pride. To even conceive that Yahweh would curse his own people to benefit Balaam’s pockets was proof already that while He may have had the ability to hear God he did not KNOW God. Before even asking God, God confronts Balaam in Numbers 22:9, “That night God came to Balaam and asked him, “Who are these men visiting you?” Similar to asking Elijah what he was doing hiding in the cave God was confronting Balaam’s sin but casually Balaam then uses the opportunity to share Balak’s request treating God more as a means to an end rather than the Great I Am. Still, with the promise of riches in his sights, he asked God anyway, and God said no. Balaam then sent the men on their way.
Resists Temptation but Does not Hate Sin
Still, Balak came again this time with more honorable men and even more riches trying to appeal to Balak’s greed. In Numbers 22: 18-19 Balaam honors God with his mouth to look good appearance wise, but his heart is far from God. Even the pagans believed that one God was the head of all the other gods and it is to this God that Balaam was charged with convincing. Claiming God as his and heightening the power of God to impress Balak it is clear that Balaam’s motives served several manipulative purposes which included attempting to appease God with worshipful language. Here, Balaam responds, “But Balaam responded to Balak’s messengers, “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the LORD my God. 19 But stay here one more night, and I will see if the LORD has anything else to say to me.” The truth of Balaam’s heart is in the beginning of the word “but”. He put on a good show with words, but the motive of his heart is revealed when he seemingly refuses the temptation but yet decides to ask God again. A heart that resists temptation is not necessarily a heart of repentance. There are those who resist temptation by sheer will power born of pride. Behavior modification is not repentance. Repentance is also not “just” a change of mind. The true meaning of repentance is a change of being, a heart change and a hatred for the sins once engaged in. Balaam honored God with his mouth to appease God yet also appeased Balak’s messengers. A repentant heart is an uncompromised one.
Infects the Mind
Scholars disagree with the account of Balaam’s going to Balak. Numbers 22:20 says, “And God came to Balaam at night, and said to him, If the men come to call you, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say to you, that shall you do.” God agreed to let Balaam go with the men IF they called on him to, but that did not happen. Rather, Balaam saddled up the donkey with money on his mind. God did not give him permission to curse the Israelites. Still, in Balaam’s mind, there was a plan. Some scholars say that God did give Balaam permission to go, but it was conditional on what to say. Either way, there never should have been the second ask. As soon as Balaam saw Balak’s second attempt, he should have turned the men around. Asking God a second time in hopes God would change his mind corrupted his thinking so much so that Balaam thought partial obedience was correct. A wicked heart corrupts the mind in that the thinking is irrational. What is disobedience becomes obedience when twisted the right way. Similarly to Saul who instead of killing all of the livestock from his Enemies camp saved the best as a sacrifice to God when God clearly instructed him otherwise; The twisted mindset says that it’s okay to compromise a little bit if it can benefit all parties involved. But obedience is not about accommodation it is about intimacy. Obedience flows from intimacy and if Balaam had intimacy with God he would have seen how manipulative he was. He also would have seen the warning of God before his donkey did. Numbers 22:2 says, “And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.” Balaam, a seer, could not see the angel in front of him while his donkey could. The corrupt heart corrupts the mind, in turn, blinding us to the truth. The corrupt heart also abuses those around him who do see the truth which is why Balaam struck the donkey which he had ridden on his whole life three times. Balaam had an agenda.
Submits Only Temporarily
When Balaam realized the severity of the situation, he took a posture of submission to the Lord and the angel that the Lord sent, “Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.” Numbers 22:32. Again, going back to the fruit of repentance is important here. The fruit of repentance is a changed life. This isn’t to say that people won’t make mistakes, but Balaam had an established pattern of behavior of putting himself first. He did not care about the Israelites and worse he did not care about what God valued most. One would think that after this encounter Balaam would have changed, but unfortunately, he did not and ended up figuring out a way to cause division between God and His chosen people.
Cannot Fool God
Upon first reading the account of Balaam it would seem that Balaam was complying with the demands of the Lord but while we are not privy to Balaam’s thoughts, God is and what HE saw was perversity. Balaam had plans and while he spoke blessings with his mouth Balaam’s heart was far from God’s, “ And the angel of the LORD said to him, Why have you smitten your ass these three times? Behold, I went out to withstand you, because your way is perverse before me” Numbers 22:33 While God is not fooled, and the Donkey was not fooled, Balaam blinded from the truth abused the one that protected him from death.
I have sinned would have been enough along with the action of turning back from going. Balaam made excuses, “And Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I knew not that you stood in the way against me: now, therefore, if it displease you, I will get me back again.” Numbers 22:34. First Balaam says he did not know that God was there standing against him. Second, he says IF it displeases you then I will go back. The Lord made it clear that he was not to curse the Israelites, made it clear that he was displeased by Balaam’s disobedience and rebellious nature yet still Balaam bent on having his own way uses the word “If.” That word alone reveals the heart of a man trying to negotiate and manipulate God through the premise of false obedience. What is Balaam admitting when he says I have sinned? He is admitting his sin of abusing the donkey but adding the excuse along with it. A conditional admittance is not repentance. If we were to read it in modern day English, it would read. “I have sinned in harming the donkey because I did not know that you stood there against me.” Again there is no evidence of hatred for his sin.
Is No Match for God’s Power
When the angel said to go with the men it was not a command but a concession seeing what was already in Balaam’s heart, “And the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak to you, that you shall speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.” Numbers 22:25. The key here is that God will leave us to our own devices. Balaam tried to manipulate God by saying one thing to God but another to Balak. This is seen when he attempts to sound pious at being a vessel of the Lord and forced to speak only what the Lord commanded,
“And Balaam said to Balak, See, I am come to you: have I now any power at all to say anything? the word that God puts in my mouth, that shall I speak.” At this point Balaam had no choice but to be used as an instrument of blessing rather than the curse he intended for profit.
Taints Worship Through Pride and Idolatry
When Balak took Balaam up to the high places of Baal he showed him Israel from there, “And it came to pass on the morrow, that Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into the high places of Baal, that there he might see the utmost part of the people.” Numbers 22:41. This is symbolic of Balaam’s corrupted heart for he could only “see” from the vantage point of evil. His sight had been compromised. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Baal was an idol and through the eyes of evil was Balaam meant to curse the Israelites. Further evidence that suggests idolatry is the seven altars that Balaam told Balak to prepare, “And Balaam said to Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams.” Numbers 23:1. Only one altar to God was necessary, but seven altars was a badge of idolatry. While it’s clear that Balaam was searching for a message from God, placing seven altars with seven sacrifices in the high places of idol worship tainted the true worship of God. The corrupted heart taints worship by offering God service rather than a clean heart. Sure, seven altars look impressive on the outside, but the reason for the sacrifice was to get God to work on behalf of Balak. However, God turned it around by making Balaam speak blessings over Israel frustrating the King who fell into the trap God set for both Balaam and Balak. The same God who spoke through the donkey was now speaking blessings through a wicked mouth.
Wants to Die Righteous But Not Live Righteous
As Balaam was forced and compelled to speak blessings, he began to feel convicted, “Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his! “Numbers 23:10. The problem with this is that a heart corrupted will allow the seed of conviction to fall on the ground, but pride prevents the seed taking root. Dismissed conviction is part of the corrupt heart. The corrupt heart longs to die righteous but refuses to live righteously. The truth is to die righteously one must live righteously by dying to themselves. A corrupt heart cannot die to itself, and every time it stumbles upon the moment of dying to self it refuses. Let’s look at Balaam’s opportunities to die to himself. First, he could have never entertained Balak at all initially. He could have turned Balak’s men around the second time but didn’t. He could have refused to go with them and even after being confronted by the angel he could have turned around. Balaam had so many chances to die to his idol of wealth and greed, but instead of crucifying his flesh he fed it. The corrupted heart will always envy the blessings of others while avoiding the conviction that leads to their crucifixion and Godly conduct.
Attempts to Corrupt Others Through Division
One would think that after Balaam was compelled by the living God to proclaim blessings over the Israelites, he would have changed his ways. Still, Balaam found a way to counsel the king on how to destroy them. Numbers 31:16 says, “Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.” As a prophet, Balaam knew the way to create the wrath of God through idolatry, so he counseled the Moabite women to seduce the Israelite men and convince them to worship other gods in addition to God. It makes sense that the corrupted heart would attack through worship first. The Enemy knows how powerful worship is. It creates intimacy with Christ and ushers in His presence. Through his wicked counsel to Balak, the Israelites went wayward creating division between God and His chosen people. The corrupt heart is always divisive.
Dies by the Trap it Lays for the Righteous
Balaam did not die righteously but in fact, died without honor. Balaam focused on making his reputation more powerful through profit. However, not only was he killed by the sword of those he led wayward but was also used as an example throughout the Bible. Joshua 13:22 says, “Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, did the children of Israel slay with the sword among them that were slain by them.” When we looked at how Balaam was stripped, we see the sad ending to a corrupted heart that remains unrepentant. He died without honor, and his reputation was stripped from him. He is known as the “what not to do” example for prophets. In fact, Balaam is mentioned throughout the Bible.
The Character of Balaam
Jude 1:11 Greedy- “Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.”
2 Peter 2:15-16 Spiritually Blind- “They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer,f who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.”
Joshua 24:8-10- Prideful- “ ‘I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands. I destroyed them from before you, and you took possession of their land.When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand.”
God reminds the people of how Balaam was an Enemy, but here it is also shown how prideful Balaam was in thinking that God would curse His own people so Balaam could be monetarily compensated.
Micah 6:5- Wicked- “Don’t you remember, my people, how King Balak of Moab tried to have you cursed and how Balaam son of Beor blessed you instead? And remember your journey from Acacia Grove to Gilgal, when I, the LORD, did everything I could to teach you about my faithfulness.” Balaam is used as an example of how God crushes His enemies imposing His will upon those who attempt to corrupt His people.
Nehemiah 13:1-3 and Deuteronomy 23:3-6 Not Trustworthy “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim[a] to pronounce a curse on you. However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.”
Revelation 2:12-17 Compromising- “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”
Jesus was speaking to the church who compromised the gospel of Christ with idolatry and other beliefs. Jesus is clear as to what happens when churches allow compromise to enter into His Temple. Pergamum comes from the Greek word meaning marriage. The relationship of the Christ and the church is as a bride to a groom. It is a covenant relationship. Letting any form of idolatry in the house of the Lord violates this covenant. It also creates stumbling blocks and hindrances to other believers. Balaam was referred to here as he was a stumbling block to the Israelites. The reason it was known as the seat of Satan is that Satan is the Father of Lies. From the Garden, the enemy twisted the word of the Lord and created division between Adam and Eve and broken covenant between man and God. By making the tree an idol, Satan convinced Eve she deserved what God had been seemingly holding back from her. Idolatry introduces compromise and is due to lack of identity. This is why Jesus says that those who overcome idolatry will receive a stone with a new name.
When we look at Balaam’s story, it is easy to get caught up in the fact that he was greedy. We can comfort ourselves with a false sense of security if our idol is not money. Yet idolatry comes in many forms, and when we believe we are above it, we are susceptible to blindness like Balaam. The truth is that idolatry corrupts our heart slowly because it promises something we believe God will not give us. In Pergamum, there was a bronze bull that Christian martyrs were placed in called the altar of Zeus. The victim was placed in the bronze bull which was hollowed out and a fire placed under the bull would slowly roast the victim. Their cries were heard echoing through the pipes of the bull making it seem as if the bull was alive. While the martyr had no choice, we do! When we create a covenant with idolatry, we are aligning ourselves with a spirit that is intent on killing us slowly. Like the bull, a look inside will reveal the hollowness of its offering. People worship idols because there is an initial reward that blinds us to the fact we are in bondage. Balaam wanted to die righteously, but because he refused to live righteously, God used him as an example and a lesson for those who ARE righteous. The irony cannot be lost here. Balaam was treated as an enemy of God and God’s children because God is an uncompromising God. Are we willing to live a life for God without compromise regardless of the cost?