BALAAM IN OUR STREETS - A Bible Study Special
Speaking to the Church at Pergamum, Jesus says, “But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality” (Revelation 2:14).
Jesus warned us hundreds of years after Balaam died that Balaam’s disciples were active in the world. And He is warning us through His word today that there are such disciples active in the here-and-now, on our streets and even in the Church.
Balaam’s teaching is a timeless tactic used throughout human history – invented by satan in Eden (as we shall see), it continues to be employed with great effectiveness down to the motivation for the violence in our streets today.
Why study it?
God’s Word is as relevant today as it has ever been. Studying what God’s Word tells us about evil is relevant for Christ’s Church to discern the devil’s traps – for our own safety and to warn our neighbors. The reality is we are always in danger of being ensnared by the tireless work of evil people to make us, our families, our neighborhoods, and our nations a prey. Consider the testimony of Scripture:
“Those who seek my life lay snares for me; And those who seek to injure me have threatened destruction, and they devise treachery all day long” (Psalm 38:12).
“They hold fast to themselves an evil purpose; They talk of laying snares secretly; They say, ‘Who can see them?’” (Psalm 64:5)
“The wicked have laid a snare for me, yet I have not gone astray from Your precepts” (Psalm 119:110). This is the cornerstone of this message today. The wicked have laid a snare for me and for you. My prayer is that you and I will not stray from God’s Word as we are pushed and pulled by the “word” of the world through Media and the powers that be.
For it is by being in God’s Word, with the counsel of the Holy Spirit, that we expose these traps and destroy the strength of their lies and arguments.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). This is our second cornerstone verse to remember as we go back out into the world today. This is the calling of the Believer as we engage with the “word” of the world.
This then is why we study Balaam today. Let’s look at what he did to Israel before we examine it more generally.
Many of us only remember Balaam as that “silly guy on a donkey that talked back to him” from the cartoon stories in Sunday school. It is almost as if the devil himself has focused our attention on this humorous story to distract us from the actual meat of what Balaam did.
Those who study more, know that the full story begins with Midianite king Balak who was “freaking out” because Israel was coming into the Promised Land as an unstoppable force wiping out every nation that stood against them. He knew he could not defeat them in open battle, so he went and found Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet who knew God, and offered him a blank check if he would curse Israel. Balaam attempted to do so many times, but every time he tried to curse Israel for Balak, God returned the curse as a blessing. And here the story seems to end. But it does not. We pick it up again later:
“While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel…[so God sends a plague as judgement and] Those who died by the plague were 24,000” (Numbers 25:1-3; 9).
Because of this, God tells Moses, “Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; 18 for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor.” (Numbers 25:17-18).
Eventually the Israelites go to war and wipe the Midianites out, but they spare the women and children, and in this exchange we learn the important truth about who’s mind was behind this whole situation: “And Moses said to them, ‘Have you spared all the women? 16 Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the Lord” (Numbers 31:15-16).
So we see here Balaam is the architect of what happened to Israel. Now in the specific case of Balaam, it all started because Israel was an unstoppable force conquering the Promised Land. They were unstoppable because God was protecting them and fighting for them. The only way to get Israel out from under God’s protection, was to get the people to do it themselves – Balaam needed the Israelites to abandon God’s Law and embrace the things of the flesh, which would make them unclean and they would fall under God’s judgment. Peter says the disciples of Balaam go about “enticing unstable [UNSETTLED] souls” (2 Peter 2:14a). To be unsettled is to be discontent. Discontentment comes from our flesh and to entice discontented souls is to encourage them to focus on their flesh – the desires and “needs” of the corrupted body and mind.
That makes a lot of sense, right? For Israel, they’d just left the sexually “open” Egypt and now were under very strict Levitical laws about such behavior, which was bound to create discontentment among some of the people and Balaam zeros in on this discontentment as a weak spot and entices them to feed that discontentment of the flesh with the incredibly sexually sinful worship of Baal. Balaam didn’t do this for fun and games or to “free them” from oppression, he did this to get them out from under God’s protection and the protections of their family and government to make them a prey so they could be conquered.
How does that work? “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Romans 8:7). Setting your mind on the flesh makes you God’s enemy, for these things harm you and your neighbor and are rebellion against God’s plan, which is to maximize good for all His creation (great and small). It drives a wedge between you and God. Now, that you are hostile to God and His good plan for your life, you are no longer under His protection and you are no longer unassailable and can be easily conquered.
A key verse to remember:
“Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit” (Pro. 25:28). You don’t have to fight that man - he has no control over his flesh, his desires, his passions. He is unstable and will damage everything he touches in his society. You can easily entice him to feed his flesh and he’ll do your work for you among his own people.
The technique of Balaam is used by evil people to get unsettled, unfounded, unstable souls (youths, often) out from under the protection of God, their government, their family, etc – It fools people into think they’re freeing themselves from oppression and tyranny so they can do something they want or get something they want, when they’re actually wandering out into danger from what keeps them free and safe.
Balaam’s technique entices people to FEED their discontentment in their lives and to serve their self-interests. It encourages people to “free their flesh” by promoting “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19b-20a).
Every person in the world has at least one thing on that list that they are discontent and “weak” in. You do and I do. The disciples of Balaam just need to figure out which one is your weakness so they can leverage it and encourage you to feed it in your life. Why?
All of these works of the flesh disrupt the healthy bonds of trust and love in family, neighborhood, and government, causing the breakdown of the strength and unity of a people and removing their mutual protection. More importantly, they bring God’s just judgment.
MODERN USES OF BALAAM’S TACTIC
The teaching of Balaam has been employed throughout history—in the 20th century it was used widely by Marxists to overthrow governments from the inside by sowing class envy, jealousy, and discontent among the people—weaponizing the people against themselves, their government, and society to destroy the walls from within. It has been used extensively so far in our 21st century to “entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality” (2 Pt. 2:18b) to weaken our society through sowing discontent with life, inspiring envy, immorality. Think of all the advertising that preaches the message, “If you buy this ‘thing,’ you’ll be happy and satisfied.” Why do you think pornography is free and saturating our culture? It feeds this societal breakdown, same as what Balaam did to Israel.
And Balaam’s technique has been used in 2020 to great effect, sowing fear, distrust, and racial discontentment, fractioning us up into the fleshly affiliations of politics, race, creed, sex, etc breaking our nation apart from the inside.
“Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit” (Pro. 25:28). Doesn’t that remind you of what is happening out there? The enemy weaponizes these discontented and unstable men and women to do their work for them by tripping them up with the works of the flesh.
Discontentment is the fulcrum that Balaam’s disciples use to break society apart. It is exactly the same technique satan used on Adam and Eve. Satan invented it and this is why it is so serious – it goes right back to man’s first fundamental sin.
In Eden, the satan sowed discontentment, by marketing the lie that the ONE tree God didn’t want them eating from was the very tree they needed to make them happy and fulfilled, and God was purposefully keeping them from what He knew would make them happy! He led mankind out from under God’s protection by arousing the lusts of the flesh to see God’s protection as a prison. Thinking they were freeing themselves from an oppressor, they instead became a prey to satan and prey to sin and death.
Discontentment comes from buying into the idea that you are entitled – to do something or have something – or entitled to not have to do something or not have to go through something. We’ve been seeing a “culture of entitlement” grow up around us that rejects their duties, responsibilities, and accountability to each other, but most importantly to God. And that is by design.
THE PROBLEM OF ENTITLEMENT – THE UNFAITHFUL AND DISCONTENTED
“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16:10).
There are a growing number of self-entitled people who are expressing their discontentment with life by abandoning responsibility in it. Why should they be saddled with a spouse who isn’t their ideal? DIVORCE. Why should they spend the better part of their lives raising children? ABORTION. Or watch out for their neighbor’s interests or care about their good? I LIVE FOR ME.
This is bad enough, but they don’t stop here – they evangelize their discontent with the cultural values of a self-sacrificial life and seek to undermine it, tearing down the walls of society in their eagerness to free their flesh and free your flesh too. They reject the traditional family with its commitment and responsibility to God, family, and neighbor – a sacrificial life that lives for others. This is in direct opposition to Scripture, which tells us “to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). God’s Word warns that “he who troubles his own house will inherit wind” (Proverbs 11:29a). Solomon isn’t talking about a breeze, here – He’s talking about a hurricane that will wipe out that house and those of his neighbors and community also. Likewise, “The wise woman builds her house, But the foolish tears it down with her own hands” (Proverbs 14:1).
It is self-evident that they have fallen under the influence of Balaam’s modern disciples who are weakening our society to make it a prey.
The terrible irony here is that these people, who are so committed to their causes, are the same ones who can’t seem to commit in their personal relationships – they can’t even remain faithful to the people they claim they love intimately, but they want everyone to entrust their lives to them? These are the people who won’t take responsibility for the children they conceive, but they want us to entrust our children to their leadership? They refuse to accept accountability for their actions, but they want all of us to be accountable to them. They can’t even keep their bedrooms ordered, yet they want to manage the world.
These are the people violently demanding that they be allowed to FIX the world inherently broken by Man’s fall into pride? Talk about pride! They can’t fix anything, and they’ll make the world a hundred times worse! Being unfaithful in the small things is a clear demonstration that they cannot be trusted to be faithful in the big things. The danger is unfaithful people getting access to bigger things.
And this is what Balaam is counting on – empowering faithless people feeding their fleshly appetites so that they will assist in breaking down the trust and faithfulness in society between family, neighbor, and community, fracturing everything up by the works of the flesh.
Only Jesus can fix this problem – man’s prideful, sinful, discontented heart. Only Jesus can make the unstable stable. Only Jesus can make the discontented content.
GOD’S SOLUTION – BE FAITHFUL AND CONTENTED
“And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities’” (Luke 19:17).
Like the king in this parable, God expects us to take the responsibilities he’s given us seriously and to manage them well, before He gives us bigger and greater things (and He might even take away what He’s given us, if we prove ourselves unfaithful).
This is no arbitrary mandate or great mystery. It is obvious. We all begin as children. And our first task appointed to us by our parents is to manage our behavior, and then after we show our parents we can manage it, we are given responsibility for ordering and maintaining our bedroom – a little chunk of the world – see if you can keep this organized and productive. Once we demonstrate we can do that, we are given other responsibilities—and so on.
Similarly, God entrusts us with many things to take care of and be responsible over—things we may think are unimportant, pointless, or beneath us but to God they are steps to demonstrate our commitment, faithfulness, and responsibility—little things for us to master, leading to greater things if we show ourselves worthy. Everyone has at least one thing under their responsibility: managing your behavior, cleaning your room, doing your chores, doing school, starting at the bottom of a new job, ministering to the needs of your spouse, raising and disciplining your children, helping your extended family, supporting your church, etc. At the core, we are responsible to God.
Our culture has an epidemic of people who are neglecting the “small” responsibilities right in front of them, rebelling against them while complaining, begging, or conspiring for “greater” things that they think they deserve and which will satisfy their fleshly appetite for pleasure, authority, honor but without commitment or accountability.
This is sinful, human pride – this is where discontentment comes from that Balaam weaponizes.
Jesus declares the truth that “whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12). “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load” (Gal. 6:3-5).
If anyone forces their way into bigger and better things before they’ve proven faithful in the small, he will be humbled. (think of the young people surprised at their 10-year sentences or the youth who were killed once the Communists came to power and didn’t need their social agitation anymore). God’s Word tells us there is no shortcut—you must “humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (Js. 4:10). “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Pt. 5:5-6).
The antidote to Balaam’s poison is contentment. Be humble, committed, faithful, accountable – which only can come from a heart changed from its rebelliousness and pride by God through His Son, Jesus Christ. As Paul says, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11b-13). It is through Jesus alone by the grace of God that we can have this kind of contentment that completely disarms the disciples of Balaam at work in the world.
That’s what makes our communities a better place – contented hearts by the spirit of God living a sacrificial life, just as Jesus lived His life on earth to serve others by the will of His Heavenly Father. May we do likewise.
Just like the King in the parable above who entrusted something of value to his servants, which they were supposed to keep safe and invest in while he was away, Jesus entrusted His Bride – the Church – with her responsibility (her part) in their relationship – to invest in it. Jesus commits Himself to every Believer and every Believer commits themselves to Jesus. To believe in Jesus means to entrust your life to Him, and come under His headship – He becomes responsible for you and you become responsible to Him.
We celebrate this as a Body by taking Communion. In this way, taking Communion is similar to a husband and wife regularly acknowledging, reflecting on, and renewing their wedding vows. In marriage, when someone renews their vows, it is an opportunity to reflect on their relationship – they once pledged themselves to be committed, responsible, faithful, and accountable to each other. It is an opportunity to reflect: have we been? And to reinvest ourselves. This is why Paul tells us to examine ourselves before taking it – are you taking your vows seriously?
As the Bride waits for His return, we have responsibilities and duties that we are accountable to administer while He is away – are you a parent responsible for your children? Are you married and responsible to your spouse? Are you a child, responsible to your parents? These are the things God has put into your life. You may be bored, resentful, “needing” more, or frustrated with where you’re “stuck,” but to God these things are important and our contempt for what He has made us responsible for will undermine our growth in Him and poison what we do have.
Balaam is out there. Balaam wants you to abandon your responsibilities, to walk away from your commitments, to focus on your discontentment and feed your flesh – what you want, what you need, what you deserve. For the soul purpose of driving a wedge between you and God, weakening you, fracturing your family, breaking the bonds of trust between neighbors, to tear down the mutual walls of protection in our community. He wants you to serve yourself – to force your way into things that aren’t yours. To be his tool chiseling away at the walls.
And if we force our way into what WE want, how can we expect our efforts to be blessed by God and not end in catastrophic failure? “A man’s pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor” (Pro. 29:23).
May we be humble and recognize and value the “little,” “inconsequential,” “dreary,” “pointless,” “ordinary,” responsibilities that God cares deeply enough about to put under our care. May we learn the secret of contentment with Paul – a life lived in the image of the Son of God who condescended to be born into this world to live a life of complete self-sacrifice. He came to serve His Father, and to serve the good of everyone and not to be serve himself.
“I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38b).
For “you know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25b-28).
He “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).
May we sacrifice our discontent, entitlement, pride to God, waiting patiently upon His will and timing, showing ourselves faithful over what He has entrusted to us. Even so, Amen.