Bible Study Series: The Book of Jude - The Acts of the Apostates
Bible Study: Jude 11 Balaam: Beware the Prophets of Profit
By Fraser Gordon
Jude 1:11 Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.
In verse 11 Jude again uses 3 examples to make his point. The first example is the way of Cain which was our message last time. We saw that Cain, just like a false teacher, was a religious man but had no need of a substitute; the blood and the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. The second example is the greed of Balaam which we will look at today.
Curse this people!
Israel has been journeying toward Canaan, they have spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness and are about to go into Canaan.
Numbers 22:1 Then the children of Israel moved, and camped in the plains of Moab on the side of the Jordan across from Jericho. 2 Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. 3 And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel. 4 So Moab said to the elders of Midian, "Now this company will lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field." And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time.
Israel camped right next door to the Moabites and Balak the king was afraid because Israel was so numerous and would eat all the stores they had.
Numbers 22:5 Then he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying: "Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me! 6 Therefore please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed."
If you needed a prophet to curse a nation, one who speaks as the voice of God, you went for the big guns, and Balaam was that man. He had a reputation as God's voice. Balaam comes from the area of the Euphrates and his name means consumer of the people. We don't know much about him other than he had a reputation as a major prophet, someone that could bless as well as curse. He was powerful enough to be sought out by the King of the Moabites who would offer him a diviner's fee.
Numbers 22:7 So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the diviner's fee in their hand, and they came to Balaam and spoke to him the words of Balak.
This people are blessed
Numbers 22:8 And he said to them, "Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me." So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam. 9 Then God came to Balaam and said, "Who are these men with you?" 10 So Balaam said to God, "Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, 11 'Look, a people has come out of Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come now, curse them for me; perhaps I shall be able to overpower them and drive them out.' " 12 And God said to Balaam, "You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed."
First God said to Balaam you're not to go with these people, don't have any part with them, and second, you shall not curse them because they are blessed. Remember Israel had just walked forty years round and round the wilderness, always moaning and complaining. They had many weaknesses, and failings. But God said this nation was blessed. You might ask, “Why?” and God would probably say, “They're my people. Even though they have many weaknesses, I've called them and I've chosen them. They are a people set apart for me, and the blessing of my hand is upon them.”
Numbers 22:13 So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, "Go back to your land, for the Lord has refused to give me permission to go with you." 14 And the princes of Moab rose and went to Balak, and said, "Balaam refuses to come with us."
An open door
The first mistake Balaam makes is that he only tells half the story. He reported to the Princes’ that the Lord had refused to give him permission to go. He left the door slightly open. He didn't tell them it was a waste of time because God’s blessing was on the Israelites. He's not being fully obedient to God's word. He should have said you cannot curse them, a blessing rests on them, they are a special people set apart to God for His plans and purposes. But he doesn't. He only says that he’s not allowed to go with them, leaving the door open for a response.
Numbers 22:15 Then Balak again sent princes, more numerous and more honourable than they.
In other words, more important people came the second time. Men of reputation.
Numbers 22:16 And they came to Balaam and said to him, "Thus says Balak the son of Zippor: 'Please let nothing hinder you from coming to me; 17 for I will certainly honour you greatly, and I will do whatever you say to me. Therefore please come, curse this people for me.' " 18 Then Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, "Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more.
This time their offering of riches was much more, potentially more gold and silver, but they also offered more honour for Balaam. Everything had been increased.
Has the plan changed?
Numbers 22:19 Now therefore, please, you also stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me."
This is the second mistake Balaam made. The will of God was clear. Balaam was not to go with them, or curse them because Israel was blessed. Balaam left the door open and a new delegation arrived. Now he thinks that maybe the rules have changed. These are more important people and maybe God will let him go with them. This reveals what is really ruling the heart of Balaam. He was a diviner for hire, and profited from his gift. He marketed his own gift for the highest price. He left the door open so that when they came back they would offer more. More honour, more esteem, more gold and silver. Balaam returns to God to see whether the plan has changed. The will of God was clear and He had already given Balaam a direct command. God hadn't changed, but Balaam wanted the situation to change. He thought this new delegation might change the rules. In this he reveals that his heart is ruled by greed and covetousness.
2 Peter 2:14 having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. 15 They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;
He loved the wages of unrighteousness and this is why he typifies false teachers. They come in the same character of Balaam professing to serve God and do his will but their hearts are ruled by greed and the lust for more. Balaam offered for the men to stay the night with him while he inquired what more the Lord would say. God hadn't changed his mind, but Balaam, in his wicked heart, wanted things to be different.
Ruled by greed
In Genesis 14 Abraham fought in the battle of Siddim after Lot was taken captive. On his way back from the battle Abraham met Melchizedek, a type of Christ, who blessed him. The King of Sodom wanted Abraham to take the goods from the victory but Abraham refused saying that he would take nothing from him. Having just had an encounter with Melchizedek he did not want anything the world had to offer. Elisha also refused payment when God's gift to him was used in the healing of Naaman, and the early church went forth with simple dependence upon the Lord, taking nothing at all from the Gentiles. There were others in Scripture such as Elisha's servant Gehazi, who ran after the healed Naman seeking payment on the side. Balaam is exactly the same, seeking to profit through his gift, just as many do today in the name of religion - but at its heart is greed.
Covetousness ruled Balaam’s heart. We need to beware saints of the deceitfulness of the human heart. Balaam professed to do God's will yet he hoped for a payout and the reputation that came with it. He marketed his gift professing to only do and say what the Lord told him yet all the while his heart was ruled by greed and covetousness. There is a warning here for all of us and especially for those that get paid for ministry. Beware that our hearts are not like Balaam.
One day a pastor came home and said to his wife, “Honey, I just got a call from the church in the next town. You know our church, how it's quite small, there’s not many people, and they're always grumbling and complaining? Well, this church in the next town, it's bigger. You should see the building and there’s a lot more people, and they're fine people. They're good, upstanding citizens. Not like our lot who are always moaning and complaining. So I've been given this opportunity dear. Now I'm going upstairs to pray about it and find out what the Lord's will is.” His wife said to him, “You know what? That's a good idea, honey. I'll come up with you and we'll find out together.” No, no, no” the pastor said, “You stay down here and start packing”.
In other words, the pastor had already made-up his mind. He professed that he was going to do the will of God, but his mind had already been made-up. Balaam is the same. He professes to do the will of God, but in his heart he is ruled by a better opportunity, more money, wealth, and prosperity. There are many pastors and people in ministry that look at things in a similar manner to Balaam. A man who was looking for a pastor's job said, “This is available, and this one too. You should see the pay packet with this one! I'm inclined to take that.” Everything was determined not on the Lord's will, but on greed and a desire to prosper. That's what dominated his heart. These things should not be so with the Saints.
Rise and go with them
Numbers 22.20 And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, "If the men come to call you, rise and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you--that you shall do." 21 So Balaam rose in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab. 22 Then God's anger was aroused because he went, and the Angel of the Lord took His stand in the way as an adversary against him. And he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him.
You might ask “Why did the Lord allow him to go?” Sometimes if our hearts are set on our own path God allows us our independence. He had already given His direct will but Balaam had an ulterior motive. So God allowed him to go, and then His anger was aroused because Balaam went. It was never God's intention that he go, but He allowed it. Then God came out against him as an adversary. Balaam had no idea when Balak came to get his services that God would test and weigh him. We see this with the nation of Israel.
Psalms 106:13 They soon forgot His works; They did not wait for His counsel, 14 But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, And tested God in the desert. 15 And He gave them their request, But sent leanness into their soul.
Sometimes God will give us what we want but there is always a consequence. He gave Israel their request, but sent leanness to their souls. Their experience of Him was not pleasant. Balaam is about to be tested and tried. God was angry because he went, even though He had said Balaam could go, His direct will in the beginning was not to go or curse because God has blessed Israel. So God came out against him as an adversary.
The wisdom of a donkey
Numbers 22:23 Now the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way with His drawn sword in His hand, and the donkey turned aside out of the way and went into the field. So Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back onto the road. 24 Then the Angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on this side and a wall on that side. 25 And when the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord, she pushed herself against the wall and crushed Balaam's foot against the wall; so he struck her again. 26 Then the Angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left. 27 And when the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam's anger was aroused, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?" 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, "Because you have abused me. I wish there were a sword in my hand, for now I would kill you!" 30 So the donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden, ever since I became yours, to this day? Was I ever disposed to do this to you?" And he said, "No."
Here is the wisest man in the land who could curse and bless, hired because he has wisdom from God. But this great man as Peter says is rebuked by the wisdom of a dumb donkey. Balaam professes to know and serve the will of God but is silenced by a donkey. The donkey is the only one giving God’s wisdom. It doesn’t usually sit down or crush Balaam’s leg against the wall.
The heart of the matter
Numbers 22:31 Then the Lord opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way with His drawn sword in His hand; and he bowed his head and fell flat on his face. 32 And the Angel of the Lord said to him, "Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to stand against you, because your way is perverse before Me.
This is the heart of the matter. The way Balaam was behaving was perverse before God. God told Balaam His will but because Balaam’s heart was ruled by greed and covetousness his way had become perverse before God. This is what Jude is referring to; false teachers and false apostles are like Balaam. In other words, they use the gifts of God for their own personal greed and covetousness. Prosperity preachers are also in the likeness of Balaam. At the heart of it is greed for more, the desire for wealth, and the desire for fame and honour. To have it all. You cannot take the prosperity gospel and apply it to the suffering church. You cannot say that God wants them healthy and wealthy and if they aren’t, there's something wrong with their faith. That is not the gospel at all. Some of the persecuted churches are lucky to have a bowl of rice in the evening, while husbands and wives are separated and imprisoned for their faith. They meet in secret rooms in fear of governments that persecute them. Those involved in Christian ministry need to beware that our hearts are not ruled like Balaam’s, using his gift for personal gain.
Abraham Lincoln came home one day and both his boys were with him crying. His neighbour met them at the gate and said to Abraham, “What is the matter with your two boys?” Abraham responded “What is the matter with the whole world? I've got 3 walnuts in my pocket and both of my boys want 2.” I think he summed it up right there. At the heart of the matter is the desire for more. Balaam was after this likeness and his failure was that he professed to do the will of God but was ruled by a sinful heart that wanted more.
Hebrews 13:5 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
I love that scripture. For those that serve the Lord, walking in His ways and purposes, let our conduct be without covetousness. We are to be content with what we have. For Jesus said I will never leave you nor forsake you. Jesus is our true riches. If you have the Lord Jesus Christ, you have everything you need for life and godliness. You may not have everything you want, but you have everything you need. The greatest riches however, is that He said I will never leave you nor forsake you, He is with us always and for all eternity no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.
Jude warns us to look out for these people and also to be wary of ourselves that we don't continue in the same manner. Serve God in all integrity allowing him to provide what is needed for your life. Thankfully, if you continue reading the story of Balaam, he repents of his perverse ways and goes on to bless Israel, obeying the clear commands of a holy God.
That concludes our second example. Next time we will look at Jude’s third example, Korah.
God bless saints.