Nevertheless I have a few things against you, for you have there those who hold to 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 fornication… (Rev 2:14)
By the end of the fourth ‘parable’ of Balaam, both he and Balak the king were fully aware of God’s purposes for Israel. The utter impossibility of using any kind of divination against Israel was now obvious to the badly shaken king and to the seer also – whose eyes God had opened.
They would go their separate ways, although the prophet Micah records an exchange between the two of them – Balak inquiring in utter fear and trembling, “What would it take to appease this fearful God?” Balaam’s inspired reply would become one of those much-loved verses that few realize who it was that the Lord used to utter.
My people, remember what Balak King of Moab counseled and what Balaam son of Beor answered…with what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
Balaam, still under the influence of the Holy Spirit answered,
He has showed you oh man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:5-9)
It is unfortunate that neither Balaam nor Balak listened to the inspired counsel. What does the Lord really require? Balaam by the Spirit offers a concise summary of what God requires – righteousness, mercy and humility.
He requires nothing less than perfect righteousness. But because of the complete lack thereof, He also requires the reception of His own mercy, which is forgiveness – propitiation by substitution – and the humility, which would accompany such a faith. The real God requires righteousness, but what He requires, in mercy He provides! This should inspire utter humility before Him.
But Balak and Balaam each worshipped their own gods. Balak’s god had already proven impotent, unable to stop the Israelite advance, nor to even allow them to be cursed. Balaam’s gods were money, prestige and position. He would not defect from them even in the face of the power of the God of Israel!
It would be a long trip home for Balaam, this time he would not be accompanied by the Arab nobles who had crossed the four hundred mile desert twice previously to court him. There would be lots of time to think though. But there would be no reward, no honor nor prestige for him, he had failed to successfully overcome Genesis 12:3, he simply couldn’t curse Israel. The God of Israel could not be induced to turn against them.
It was perhaps on this trip home that the inspiration came to him, the idea that rather than cursing Israel, perhaps by luring Israel into gross and abominable sin, she might be induced into bringing the judgment of the holy God upon herself. This is the doctrine of Balaam that Jesus warned about.
Balak and Balaam met again apparently, and organized a Pagan festival at Baal Peor, that is ”Lord of the Opening”, within range of the encamped children of Israel. Paganism was and is a sensual affair – altars to Baal were set up, choice offerings of beef were set upon the grills, sensual music was conducted and the wives, daughters and virgins of Midian and Moab were presented as sacred prostitutes to any and all who were drawn to the party.
And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people did eat and bowed down. And Israel joined herself to Baal Peor, and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.(Numbers 25:1-3)
To the ones who left the camp of Israel, following the siren sound of the pagan music, the festival to Baal could be rationalized as just a sensual experience and nothing more. The aroma of the choice steaks cooking on the altars of Baal, the pleasures of the wine and women of Midian was all just a little relief from the monotony of a lifetime in the desert eating manna. We don’t really believe in Baal, we just need to blow off a little steam.
But to God these experiences represented so much more. “Israel has joined herself to Baal Peor, she has yoked herself to an alien god, she has played the harlot”! So it is today that too often even a confessing Christian can also rationalize that compromise with fornication, pornography, worldliness and false religion are meaningless when it isn’t. Perhaps a similar soul killing plague is broken out among us also, and we just don’t realize it!
When a plague broke out in the camp of Israel, it almost looked as though Balaam’s teaching would obtain the intended result. God had not turned against Israel, but by Balaam’s counsel, Israel had turned against God, and would now pay the price of judgment against them.
But Moses quickly responded to the divine command to hang the leaders of the defection, thus transferring the curse that had come upon the nation, onto the cursed ones hanging on the trees. The swords of the judges of Israel also destroyed the men who had corrupted themselves. Decisive action is required in the face of such defection and apostasy.
But in the midst of such a scene we encounter another very modern and relevant phenomenon, the blatant gall of evil. Evil has become so bold it is almost paralyzing to those who seek to overcome it. It no longer hides; it has come out into the open and challenges us to our face.
And behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto His brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all of the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
There was a faithful remnant in the camp, who fled to the tabernacle and assembled in the fear of God, weeping, repenting and clinging to God.
But into the camp, an Israelite Prince came in boldly, with a prominent Midianite Prince on his arm, “in everyone’s face”. There were in the camp, hanging scaffolds or trees suspending the corpses of the rebellious leaders of the apostasy.
The congregation was trembling , burying their own among the twenty four thousand who had died of the plague. The faithful remnant huddled at the tabernacle, crying out to God for mercy. But into the camp strode a prince of Israel and a Midianitish princess. both of whom had the gall to openly flaunt the sin that had caused such suffering.
This is the blatancy of evil and it called for some kind of reaction, for it was a direct challenge to the congregation of Israel.
It was as though this Israelite Prince was declaring before the whole congregation, “I do what I want to do…Moses, and God mean nothing to me…I am my own master…”.
But Phineas, the grandson of Aaron the High Priest, without hesitation stood up in the congregation and with spear in hand followed the brazen couple to their conjugal tent, where he ran them through with his spear. Thus Israel – through Phineas in his representative capacity as their priest – rejected the idolatry and fornication and the plague was stopped. Balaam had again failed to curse Israel.
But the consequences for listening to Balaam were forthcoming for Balak and his people and they would be severe. Deuteronomy tells us that because of the doctrine of Balaam, none of the next ten generations of Moabites would be admitted into the congregation of Israel. A war of extermination was commenced against Balak’s kingdom.
The utter destruction of this culture of evil as recorded in Numbers 31 has caused many to accuse the Israelites of genocide – and the God who commanded them of being barbaric. But what kind of culture would be so intent on resisting Genesis 12:3, that it would offer its women and girls as prostitutes in order to destroy Israel? Certainly a death loving culture for whom marriage is nothing and where there is nothing sacred – nothing could compare with the desire for revenge and destruction.
This part of the story also is eerily relevant to today. The spiritual, moral and in some cases physical descendants of the Moabites and Midianites also hate Israel so badly that they are willing to use sex and sexuality to destroy them. In its current manifestation, this involves the promise to miserable, frustrated, unemployed young men the eternal use of 72 perpetual virgins – if they would be willing to commit mass murder of Jews. What do you suppose the future holds for this toxic culture?
Balaam had once prophesied wistfully that he would want to die the death of righteous Israel, rather than curse them. But alas for him, he took his stand rather with the wicked and is in hell today, having been found among the corpses of the princes of Midianites. Like Judas, he knew all too well what the truth was but his inward affinities took him elsewhere.