This article is about the prophet Balaam in Numbers 22 and Numbers 23, and about false prophets.

Source: The Banner of Truth, 1986. 10 pages.

Numbers 22 – The Prophet Balaam

You are all no doubt familiar with the chapter that has been read to us, the 10th chapter of John, and you are aware of the richness of that chapter and the glorious truths that our Lord Jesus Christ set forth there concerning His atonement, the calling of His sheep, the feeding of His sheep, and the preservation of His sheep; and I have no doubt that, as under-shepherds yourselves of the flock of God, this is a chapter to which you have often come, not only for your own spiritual edification but also for instruction in the manner in which you should fulfil your own calling.

You will therefore be aware of the great prominence in that chapter of one particular issue, an issue concerning the enemies that confront and threaten the welfare of God's flock. In verse 1 we have the person climbing into the sheep fold some other way. We find mention in verse 8 of 'thieves and robbers' who came before the Lord Jesus. In verse 10 we read of the thief coming 'but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy'. We read of the hireling who flees when he sees the wolf coming; and no under-shepherd of God's flock could read this chapter without con­cluding that one of his principal functions must be the preservation and keeping of the flock of God by God's grace from those enemies that confront it. You are aware, of course, that this would have been in a way more powerful to those to whom it was originally spoken, because flocks of sheep in those days were threatened by literal wolves and bears and lions and so on, which, given the opportunity as we know from the life of David, would come in and plunder and destroy the flock.

So this subject that we are dealing with, that of the prophet Balaam, is a subject that is brought before our attention here in John's 10th chapter. But not only here, for the Lord Jesus, when He was speaking in the Sermon on the Mount, says

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.Matthew 7:15

Identifying the False Prophet🔗

I ought, perhaps, to give some brief account of how I was led to speak on this subject. Someone said to me the other day, 'Are you speaking on it because you consider that there are many people like Balaam present here?' Actually it never crossed my mind that that was the case. It is true that we, as ministers of the gospel, are no doubt tempted in varying ways as was the prophet. I very much doubt whether there is any minister here who has not at some time wondered about the smallness of his flock and the desirability of having a larger one; and, to be honest, I imagine that many of you ministers might feel from time to time that increase in your remuneration would be very welcome. And so the sort of temptations that came to Balaam on a large scale come to all ministers in one way or another. However, that was not the reason why I decided to speak on this subject.

When you read such a verse as 'Beware of false prophets', or when you read a verse at the conclusion of the life of the Lord Jesus where He says, 'There shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect' (Matthew 24:24), you have to ask yourself, how a false prophet, a wolf in sheep's clothing, is to be identified? I speak as a minister of the Word to ministers. If someone from your church comes to you and says 'Tell me, how should I identify a wolf in sheep's clothing?', you may have a ready answer. But, as I have said to my own congregation on numbers of occasions, remember that false prophets do not come along with a large notice on their chest: 'I am a false prophet, a wolf in sheep's clothing'. Such people are likely to be plausible, agreeable, persuasive, pleasant and exceedingly able to deceive. You are no doubt familiar with the picture that is given us in the 13th chapter of Revelation, of one who is compared to the beast — a second beast — coming out of the earth. He has two horns like a lamb and he speaks as a dragon. He does great wonders. He makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, and deceives them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the first beast. Now, brethren, I would suggest to you that it is a very difficult matter to identify false prophets. If it were not so, then they would not have done such enormous damage to the church of God.

If you read Spurgeon, you look at the situation towards the end of the 19th century. When you look at the situation in our own country today — I am speaking of the United Kingdom, of course — you say to yourself, 'How is it that the prosperity of the church towards the end of the 19th century has given place to the terrible chaos and confusion and ruin that prevails now?' This has not come about through persecution from the State; it has come about through corruption within the church by the people who have got into the church, poisoned its life, and brought surely upon it God's displeasure. The ruination caused by such people is enormous, but I say their identification is exceedingly difficult. A similar problem confronted the New Testament church, and particularly towards the conclusion of the New Testament era, although undoubtedly there were such evil persons during the first Christian century. You will be aware, no doubt, of how Peter in his second Epistle, says,

There were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruc­tion. 2 Peter 2:1

Peter says here that if you would understand the character of the false teachers who at that time were threatening the church of Christ, then you must examine the character and behaviour and procedure of the false prophets in Old Testament days.

Then you will be aware that, as Peter goes on to speak of this matter in that second chapter, he speaks of those who,

have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet. Peter 2:15, 16

In Joshua 13:22 Balaam is called a soothsayer — the margin gives 'diviner' — a person who engaged in occult practices of some kind to try to discern the future. Here he is spoken about by Peter, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as a 'prophet'. This is very strange. Again, in the Epistle of Jude, where the same kind of subject is being dealt with, those who creep in unaware, secretly, he speaks about those who 'ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward' (v 11). And again, in the second chapter of Revelation where the Lord Jesus is speaking to the church at Pergamos He says this,

I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.Revelation 2:14, 15

These three references and their contexts indicate quite clearly that in some peculiar way the kind of people who threatened the church at the close of the New Testament era partook of the spirit of this man Balaam, and if you would understand the character of these men and the manner in which they proceed it is necessary to study Balaam. And I have no doubt that what is said there is applicable today. If you would understand the character of a false prophet at his most dangerous and subtle, then you need to think much about Balaam.

The History of Balaam🔗

So we will turn to the book of Numbers and its 22nd chapter. But before we begin to look at Balaam there are two preliminary considerations. Firstly, Balak, the king of Moab, sees the children of Israel proceeding on their way and defeating Sihon and Og who militarily were very powerful. In consequence he becomes exceedingly troubled about the effect that they will have upon the people of Moab, and it is in this context that he seeks the help of Balaam. However, his fears were ungrounded, because in the second chapter of Deuteronomy and the ninth verse Moses says:

And the LORD said unto me, Distress not the Moabites, neither contend with them in battle: for I will not give thee of their land for a possession; because I have given Ar unto the children of Lot for a possession.

Therefore Balak's fears were totally unwarranted. And today, you wonder how many troubles experienced by the church of Christ arise because people or nations or rulers consider they are threat­ened in some way by God's people, when in no way are they to be troubled. Moses was told specifically to leave Moab alone, so Balak's whole procedure arose out of a misconception.

The second thing I would comment on, and again merely in passing, is Balak's willingness to pour vast sums of money into (as I understand it) manipulating God. Notice that he is prepared to spend much to get his own way in the area of religion. I comment about this because I have read recently about some particular movement that someone said, 'Oh well, look at all the money that they've got; that indicates that God must be blessing them'. Now, brethren, I have no doubt that if God does bless His church and, given reasonable economic prosperity, they will give most kindly and generously and willingly, but it is a complete delusion to think that, because money is poured into a project, therefore it must be of God. The children of Israel were willing to give up their gold and jewellery to make a golden calf, to make sacrifices, and Balak is willing to pour out much money if he can obtain what he wants. This sets the whole picture of the situation into which Balaam comes.

Balaam first of all appears on the scene in Numbers, chapter 22, but evidently he already had some kind of reputation. We read that Balak speaks to Balaam, and says:

Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail ... because I see that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed. Numbers 22:6

So Balaam appears on the scene already with an established reputation for some kind of real though unsaying relation­ship — it is not easy to determine what it is — with the God of Israel. He already has a reputation, and I think that he is very jealous of his reputation. I think, too, that some of the things he says are meant to promote his reputation, because the greater his reputation in this area, the more likely it is that Balak will give him what he wants. If you were to come to Numbers 22, reading through the Bible for the first time perhaps and not reading very carefully, it may be that you would come to the conclusion that in fact, although Balaam was a man with faults and deficiencies, as you and I have faults and deficiencies (obviously he was rebuked by the dumb ass and the angel saw him and so on), nevertheless basically he is a man in whom grace prevails. I assume you are familiar with these chapters, and have noted that Balaam keeps on saying, "Well, I just cannot say anything else but what God tells me, and though you give me a house full of gold and silver I still will not say what you want".

Such words may cause you to think to yourself, 'What a goodly character; that is precisely what a minister ought to be like'. You find that he speaks wisdom, he speaks truth, he speaks prophecy that is fulfilled, he speaks of Christ, and apparently at the end he remains in his integrity — Balaam goes one way and Balak goes the other way, and Balaam has acted as a minister. Given that he has his faults, given that he fails; nevertheless he is a man of real integrity.

Later in Numbers chapter 25, we read of how the Midianites and the Moabites with their women corrupt the Israelites and bring upon them God's judgment. Twenty-four thousand are slain, and Phinehas acts, but this seems to have nothing to do with Balaam. Observe the way in which the Scriptures are written. We are not told that the events of chapter 25 had anything to do with Balaam. Balaam has just disappeared and then the children of Israel are corrupted. But when you get to chapter 31, you suddenly find in verse 8,

And they slew the kings of Midian ... Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword. And then it says (v 16), Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.

Now it is really strange, (is it not?), in the way Scripture is written, that you are not told, to start with, that Balaam was at the root of the corrupting of the children of Israel. But later, humanly-speaking almost incidentally, you are given this vital piece of information. It causes you to turn back to say to yourself, 'Well, I had better look more carefully into this matter. Here is a very strange man. I thought he was a tempted minister, who failed, and who was not always what he should have been, but when it came to real issues he spoke the truth and he would not be bought by Balak at all'. And yet the judgment you would make would be totally wrong in terms of Balaam's character.

From many points of view Balaam's conduct was exemplary. The enemies of God's people came to him and wanted to engage him to help them, and when they came what does Balaam say?

And he said unto them, Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the LORD shall speak unto me: and the princes of Moab abode with Balaam. And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee? And Balaam said unto God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me, saying, Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which covereth the face of the earth: come now, curse me them; peradventure I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out. And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.Numbers 22:8-12

It seems to me, as you examine this, that in one sense these words ought to have been the end of the whole matter, because God told Balaam that the Moabites were endeavouring to use him against the people of His blessing. 'But Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes of Balak, Get you into your land: for the LORD refuseth to give me leave to go with you', which was not actually what God had said to him.

The fact is that evidently they came with the rewards of divination, they came with gifts, and it seems that Balaam was reluctant in some way to lose the opportunity of obtaining a portion of what the Moabites brought.

And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they. And they came to Balaam, and said to him, Thus saith Balak the son of Zippor, Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from coming unto me: For I will promote thee unto very great honour, and I will do whatsoever thou sayest unto me: come therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people. And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more. Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will say unto me.Numbers 22:15-19

But the Lord had already said unto him that this people was blessed and he was not to curse them. Why therefore does he go to God again? It is strange, is it not? He seems to want God to change His mind. You understand the phenomenon? God has made something perfectly clear to a person in your congregation through His word, and he says, 'Well I am going to pray about it'. But you say to him that it is clear that the proposed action is not right. He replies, 'I am going to pray, I am going to pray'; perhaps it will become right somehow.

Such too was Balaam. We read,

God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do. Numbers 22:20

Commentators vary in their comments, but I think the commentators are right who point out that Balaam did not wait for them to come. It says, 'Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab'. He shows a strange willingness to go with the enemies of God's people. All I can say as we go through this chapter is to point you to certain places which seem to me to illustrate the lessons that God intends us to learn from this. As Balaam goes, Balak meets him, and says:

Did I not earnestly send unto thee to call thee? wherefore camest thou not unto me? Am I not able indeed to promote thee to honour?Numbers 22:37

I said Balak is willing to pour his money into this scheme and Balaam has big ears to hear these things. If he can possibly do what Balak desires, he aims at doing it; but God, of course, will overrule, God will prevent him God will turn the curse into a blessing and Balaam will be subject to the sovereign will of God. Balaam may utter glorious truths as, for example, verse 10 of chapter 23,

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!

So Balaam goes. I have no time to go through all the occasions when he goes up to offer his sacrifice. God meets with him, God speaks to him, the Spirit comes upon him, and he speaks, and he is obedient. His words are meticulous in their accuracy and he is meticulous in his obedience. He speaks of his experiences, wonderful experiences, as in verse 2, for instance, of chapter 24:

Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes; and the spirit of God came upon him. And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said: He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open.

Balaam was not speaking falsely. He did have experiences of God. God did meet with him, the Spirit did come upon him. And not only so, but he spoke of Christ, and some of the most exalted, and glorious testimonies to the coming of the Messiah are here. I will quote one of them:

I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.Numbers 24:17

But all the time it seems that Balaam has this hankering, if possible, to please Balak who is an avowed enemy of God's people. He keeps on saying, I will go to another place and will offer more sacrifices and see what happens. Now why is this? Because — and this comes out in subsequent history and the reference to him particularly in Peter — Balak's rewards — honour, power, position — drew him on. How could he get them? The only way he could get them ultimately was by pleasing Balak. God over-ruled, but in the end, of course, Balaam would find a way by which he could obtain those things for which his heart really longed.

The Lessons🔗

These things deserve far more detailed attention than I am able to give to them, but the lessons supplied by Balaam certainly need to be noted by and applied to all of us. Consider again what happens in chapter 25.

Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.Numbers 25:1-4

Balaam's counsel is most effective in procuring the temporary ruin of God's people, the temporary corruption of God's people, and it was Balaam who had the understanding — oh, perverse understanding! — that since God was holy, the way to destroy the people of God was to lead them into sin which would cause God's displeasure to come upon them and they would cease then to be any effective menace to others. That is Balaam!

What lessons may we learn from Balaam's character? Dare I say it, I have got ten lessons — and then a few more afterwards! First of all, Balaam had great gifts. He had great gifts, but no grace. He had great gifts. Let me make some passing comments. We live in an age when people are boastful of their gifts. Frankly, I am neither persuaded by them biblically nor pragmatically. But even if a person comes to you able to boast of genuine gifts, it does not mean to say that you would necessarily be wise to follow him. Judas had gifts, he was an apostle, and he was a devil (John 6:70). The Bible says that genuine gifts may co-exist with a wicked heart.

Now, this is not a new phenomenon. We read about it in Scripture. John Owen in his work Of Spiritual Mindedness, chapter 3, remarks on this. He is actually speaking about the gift of prayer, but that does not really matter because it is applicable generally.

He says this:

No persons are in greater danger of walking at hazard with God than those who live in the exercise of spiritual gifts in duties unto their own satisfaction and that of others, for they may countenance themselves with an appearance of everything that should be in them in reality and power, when there is nothing of it in them. And so it has fallen out. We have seen many earnest in the exercise of this gift who have turned vile and debauched apostates. Vol. 7, p 287

So, first of all, Balaam was a man with great gifts but no grace.

Secondly, he was a man of great enthusiasm, but he had no grace. He is very active, is he not? 'Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab' (Numbers 22:21). He is very active, he is doing lots of things, he is very zealous. There is no slackness in Balaam. Whatever the motivation, there is no slackness in him. Look what he does. He goes round, he sacrifices, he goes up into the high place, he seeks the face of God in some manner — but he has no grace. There can be great enthusiasm, there can be great zeal, where there is no grace. We know this from the New Testament, that the Jews had a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. Zeal is good, we should be zealous, but the existence of zeal in the area of religion is not an indis­putable evidence of grace.

Thirdly, Balaam had great experience. After all, an ass spoke to him. Calvin comments, 'God spoke to Balaam through an ass (I am adapting it) to show that God could speak through a man like Balaam who was an ass!' Can you imagine the reaction of some people today if an ass spoke to them? Can you imagine the capital they would make out of it? And the ass genuinely spoke, and God spoke, and he saw an angel, an angel with a flaming sword. And let me just remind you that in chapter 23:4 we read,

'And God met Balaam'. God met Balaam. In 24:4, 'He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty'. In verse 16 of the same chapter: 'He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open'.

These were not spurious experiences, they were genuine experiences brought about by the sovereign purpose of Almighty God — but Balaam had no grace. We ought to observe here that he spoke much about his experiences. Now, of course, there is a place for speaking about experiences, a place for saying what great things the Lord has done for us. We know this. But we learn also, for instance, in 2 Corinthians, that Paul had a certain experience including the hearing of things that were not lawful: but he did not speak about it to others apparently for many years. The fact is that if you belong to a certain circle and a certain kind of constituency, if you wish to be advanced, you had better get some experiences of an extraordinary nature, and then you had better talk about them, and everybody will be most impressed and promote you to great honour. It has been pointed out that the more Balak was impressed with Balaam's knowledge of God, the more useful potentially Balaam would be to Balak, and therefore the more money it was likely to be that Balak would part with to obtain Balaam's help.

Fourthly, Balaam had great orthodoxy, but no grace. Now we are all for orthodoxy, we really want to be orthodox, so we should be orthodox. We believe in sound doctrine — no doubt about that, none whatever! — and we have nothing to do with people who decry, or speak lightly of doctrine. But it is a fact, given to us, for instance, in Numbers 23:19, that

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

Sound doctrine, is it not? I have also pointed out to you verse 17 of chapter 24. But you could go through all Balaam's prophecies. He speaks about God and what he says is true. It is not error, he does not speak error. He speaks the truth — but he had no grace!

Fifthly, Balaam had pious sentiments. Pious sentiments, but no grace. In chapter 23:10 (at which we have looked):

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!' In verse 26: 'Balaam answered and said unto Balak, Told not I thee, saying, All that the LORD speaketh, that I must do?

If you hear a man speak like that, you are inclined to say, What a pious person he is! It is not simply that he speaks the truth. He says, 'Oh, I desire to be with the righteous, I desire to do the will of God'. In verse 13, he repeats this: 'If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the commandment of the LORD, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; but what the LORD saith, that will I speak?' He has pious sentiments — but no grace.

Sixthly, he had great usefulness for God's people. Down through the succeeding centuries people would look back to the prophecies of Balaam concerning the Messiah. If you want to learn about the Messiah, and the glorious blessings and purposes of God in His covenant and His kingdom, read Balaam, and you will get much blessing. Balaam was a great blessing to the people of God! Great usefulness — but no grace!

Seventhly, and I want to say this, surely he had little true knowledge of God! There is a mystery here. He speaks of God, he speaks truth of God, he meets with God, and yet you say, How can a man who seems to know so much about God be found with the enemies of God, and be found promoting the welfare of the enemies of God against the people of God? You say, What madness, madness! But then there is little true knowledge and no saving knowledge. It is very difficult; you have to think about this yourself. What knowledge did Balaam have? Much? Surely he had little! Surely the fear of God in some sense would have kept him from these people; the fear of God would have inhibited his vile advice.

Eighthly, Balaam was a great enemy of God's people and God's work. He speaks truth, he has pious sentiments, yet he is a very wicked man, he is a very bad man, and he is a very dangerous man. And those things that I have said as it were positively concerning him make him more dangerous than ever, because he is not coming stumblingly, haltingly, confusedly. You would pick up, people would pick up a man who obviously did not desire to serve God and had no pious desires. Work this out for your­selves. So Balaam is very dangerous.

Ninthly, Balaam had great desires for money and honour. Now this has got nothing to do with ministers being properly remunerated, I have no doubt about that at all; we are not talking in that area. But he was controlled by the desire for honour, the desire for position. And you will remember, will you not, how the Lord Jesus in the 5th chapter of John's Gospel says,

I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?John 5:43, 44

Remember also how in John 12:42, 43 it says most sadly, 'Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God'. My brethren, I do not believe that you are as Balaam, but I do believe that we as ministers can be tempted along this line. We can be tempted to tailor our message to curry favour with people who fundamentally are at enmity with God. That is Balaam!

My tenth point is this. He had great subtlety, and his actions, ultim­ately, contradicted his sentiments and his theology. His actions were fundamentally contradictory to his sentiments and his theology.

The Outcome🔗

Next I want to mention certain further lessons concerning the procedure and the character of Balaam and the manner in which he was promoting the injury of the people of God. What is the significance of his advice, what is the fearful and evil character of this man? First of all, he mixes truth with a degree of very dangerous poison. In The Log College by Archibald Alexander mention is made of a Mr. William Tennent.

At New York Mr. Tennent went to hear a sermon delivered by a transient clergyman who was often and well spoken of but whose manner was singular and who frequently introduced odd conceits into his sermons, which tended to excite mirth rather than edification. Upon leaving the church a friend asked Mr. Tennent's opinion of the sermon. He said it made him think of a man who should take a bag and put into it some of the very best superfine wheatflour, a greater quantity of Indian meal and some arsenic, and mix them all together. A part of the sermon was of the very best quality, more of it was coarse but very wholesome food, and some of it rank poison.(p 141)

What was the advice of this evil man? As I have already explained, he seems to be behind the mixing of the children of Israel with the daughters of Moab. What is the significance of this? I turn again to John Owen on this matter, and again I quote from Of Spiritual Mindedness:

This proved the great means of the apostasy of the Christian church also, for, to maintain some appearance of spiritual affections, men intro­duced carnal incitations of them into evangelical worship, such as singing, with music and pompous ceremonies, for they find such things needful to reconcile the worship of God unto their minds and affections, and through them they appear to have great delight therein. Could some men but in their thoughts separate divine service from that outward order, those methods of variety, show and melody wherewith they are affected, they would have no delight in it, but look upon it as a thing that must be endured. How can it be otherwise conceived of among the Papists? They will with much earnestness, many evidences of devotion, sometimes with difficulty and danger, repair unto their solemn worship, and when they are present understand not one word whereby their minds might be excited unto the real actings of faith, love and delight in God! Only order, ceremony, music and other incentives of carnal affections make great impression on them. Affections spiritually renewed are not concerned in these things. Yea, if those in whom they are should be engaged in the use of them, they would find them means of diverting their minds from the proper work of divine worship rather than an advantage therei.Vol. 7, pp 424-5

What, it seems to me, is, being said here by Balaam is, 'You give the people what they want. There is in man, there is maybe to be found in the professed people of God, carnality. Feed their carnality, feed their carnality. That will destroy them'. Do you understand? Owen says again and again here that error comes into the church because of the carnality of people who want some kind of excitement, something to replace that which is really spiritual. It seems to me that this is one of the ways in which Balaam is operating: Give them what they want.

Secondly, there is — and one must say this — there is here, I fear, terrible corruption on a sexual level. I do not really want to go into this, but I was hearing a discussion about dancing in worship, and someone commented, 'Well, you don't find the lady dancers are women of 55 who have passed the flower of their age; you find they are young and attractive women'. And if, someone says, you take an ordinary hot-blooded man into such a congregation and ask him what he thinks is going on, he will have more sense than some of the supposedly pious and super-spiritual people there. And the fact is that certain kinds of evangelicalism are mixed up with the most appalling sensuality, and you can find people, (God have mercy on us!), you can find people who are professed evangelicals and if you were to look at them you would find them dancing around with half-naked women; and they are supposed to be evangelicals! You know it, and you say to yourself, This is precisely the way that Balaam operated; this is the way that Balaam corrupted the people of God. He introduced women into prominence, and he used the sexual proclivities of the people of God to destroy them. All this arises from his lust for the wages of unrighteousness.

In Numbers, chapter 25, we see certain things. We see first of all that Balaam's advice elicited the inward corruption that was in the people of God. As we know from 1 Corinthians, it must needs be that divisions, heresies, come about, that those who are approved may be made manifest. And Balaam's advice brought out the true character of many people. Alas, it was the occasion for the manifestation of the corruption of the leadership, not all the leadership but some of it, because it says here,

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 the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. Numbers 25:6

This man was a leader. He showed great defiance and great contempt for God, and great hostility to any opposition to his fulfilling his lustful desires; he was filled with contempt.

Thirdly, this was the occasion for the showing of zeal by Phinehas. In our own day we ministers surely think to ourselves how on occasions we have been harsh and unkind when we should have been loving and encouraging. And it is true to say that although we do not use the methods of Phinehas, yet there are occasions when it is necessary for those who are zealous in the cause of God to take action against evil. Remember how Paul writes to Titus. He is speaking of the dangers that confront the church, and he says here, "For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped."

You ought to be shutting the mouths of people. There are some people who need this response from us. But, do not think that they will pat you on the back, or compliment you, if you try to shut them up. They will try to kill you in some way; they will try to eliminate you in some way. There are times when there is a great battle among the people of God. But Phinehas showed his zeal. Balaam's wickedness was the occasion of the manifestation of Phinehas' zeal. And I would remind you of this. It says here,

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying, Phinehas, the son of Eleazer, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy. Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace: and he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel. Numbers 25:10 -13

So the occasion of such corruption in the church manifests those who are inwardly rotten, and also is the occasion for those who are zealous for God to show their zeal against iniquity.

In conclusion, I mention Nehemiah, chapter 13. We have to look at the overall, sovereign mercy of God in this situation. God confounds those who are enemies of the people of God.

Because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them, that he should curse them: howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing.Nehemiah 13:2

Secondly, let us be found brethren with Phinehas, and not with the Midianites. Let us be found with those who are the friends of God, those who are the upholders of God's truth, and not with those whose policies and actions and corruptions and worldliness will destroy the church of God.

Finally, I do believe that people like Balaam, and such experiences of the corrupting of the people of God, as ensued from his advice, can be very depressing for God's people, and that is why I began by referring to John 10. Brethren, we are under-shepherds, but we have a Good Shepherd, and He sees the enemies of God's people, and He died. He died to overcome the wolf and to destroy the thief, and to prevail against the murderer, and we can entrust our congregations and our churches to His sovereign, powerful, faithful love. He, He, HE will destroy His enemies, He shall reign till all His enemies are put beneath His feet. Let us thank God for that.

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