Observations from today’s readings and today’s Spiritual Workout of the Day (S-WOD), Sunday, 7 March 21:
Numbers 22:7 – “So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand. And they came to Balaam and gave him Balak’s message.”
The story of Balak and Balaam is quite fascinating and full of important lessons for us. Balaam was a false prophet who God used, much like God uses many wicked people, to fulfill His greater purposes. Through the story of Balaam, we can learn much about false prophets and the dangers of trying to use God’s word for selfish, man-centered ends.
At first glance, Balaam might appear somewhat noble in this chapter. Afterall, he does say to Balak and his princes, “I [can] not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more…. [and] The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.” (Numbers 22:18, 38) However, if we look closer, we will see the true heart of Balaam, which is wicked.
Balaam earned a living ‘speaking for god’ and practicing divination for profit, which is clearly prohibited in God’s word (Deuteronomy 18:9-14), and he served as the agent of godless governments which practiced idolatry. The Bible has many warnings about false prophets, one being a warning against those who pedal the word of God for profit – “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” (2 Peter 2:3) What did Jesus say, “You received without paying; give without pay.” (Matthew 10:8)
Peter further expands upon his warnings about greedy false prophets, using Balaam as his example – “They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.” (2 Peter 2:14-16) Again, we should be careful not to assume that since God used Balaam to speak truth, Balaam was a worthy prophet. Likewise, we must be careful not to believe every preacher who claims to be sent by God. Judge the tree by its fruit.
- Matthew 7:15-23 — “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
To understand more about the dangers of false prophets, consider ‘the rest of the story,’ mentioned in Revelation, “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.” (Revelation 2:14) Balaam would later counsel Balak to sabotage the Israelites by enticing them to practice sexual immorality and idolatry, and it apparently worked as described in the verses below:
- Numbers 25:1-9 – “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.” And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.
- Numbers 31:16 – “Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.”
God’s people suffered by the teachings of an ungodly prophet supported by government officials, perhaps under a theme of maintaining peace among diverse population groups. God eventually dealt with Balaam the false prophet, “Balaam also, the son of Beor, the one who practiced divination, was killed with the sword by the people of Israel among the rest of their slain, (Joshua 13:22), but not before Balaam induced many Israelites to fall to sin. “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24) Today, not only has the government changed laws to support sexual immorality condemned by God, many churches now are endorsing it, even celebrating it. Who are the Balaks and Balaams of our day? Where do we stand?
A final point is that we must be careful personally not to make the mistake of Balaam by trying to uses God’s word for our personal gain, such as to win an argument, to impress others, or to simply support our own sense of ‘righteousness.’ Whenever we use God’s word in a selfish or self-centered way, whenever we are representing our own self-interests, we are no longer serving as Christ’s ambassador; we have lost our authority, and have become false teachers – teaching from false motives.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 7 Mar 21: Pray that God will give you the heart of a good Berean, who tests the words of others with your own diligent prayerful Bible study, and pray that God will give you a heart that uses God’s word rightly, as a true ambassador for Christ on the ministry of reconciliation.