“The sons of Israel also killed Balaam the son of Beor, the diviner, with the sword among the rest of their slain” (Joshua 13:22). The prophetic ministry of Balaam and God’s judgment of his sin provide several sobering lessons for all who would minister in Christ’s name, including grave warnings to those who serve in positions of great responsibility and prominence within the church.
First, a great reputation before people in service to God does not guarantee God’s favor. Balaam’s notoriety preceded him as the king of Moab sought him for his prophetic gift, saying:
Please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may 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 (Numbers 22:6).
God, however, was not impressed. When Balaam adopted an ungodly motive for his prophetic ministry, God rebuked him sharply—through a talking donkey, no less. Most of us can recall when God used children or unbelievers to correct our course, sometimes in painful ways. But, to be reproved by a real, bona-fide jackass? That honor goes to Balaam. God also judged Balaam for “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). And while his reputation as a prophet may have garnered status and privileges before men, it could not appease God. Perhaps it even gave him a false sense of invincibility that contributed to his demise. Eventually, Balaam died by the sword when God judged the Midianites, the very nation that sinned against God according to Balaam’s counsel.
Balaam’s fall especially warns those of high visibility in the church today. While we sometimes grant people of rank more license, God is no respecter of persons and will judge His people with equity, according to His holy standard. In fact, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). Just ask Moses. God denied him entry into the promised land for one act of disobedience, a man with whom God spoke face to face, who God called the humblest man “on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).
Second, faithfulness in some areas of service to Christ does not excuse unfaithfulness in others. To his credit, Balaam dutifully and accurately delivered God’s message to a disappointed Balak, even at the risk of imprisonment or death at the hands of the angry king. In response to Balak’s plea to curse Israel, Balaam replied,
Did I not tell your messengers whom you had sent to me, saying, ‘though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything contrary to the command of the Lord, either good or bad, of my own accord. What the Lord speaks, that I will speak’?
Yet, God still judged Balaam for His disobedience; God does not ignore sin in some areas of our life because we are obedient elsewhere. For instance, faithfulness in ministry or business does not justify the neglect of our responsibility to love our spouse and children. As an extreme illustration, imagine fathers and mothers travelling the country teaching others how to raise children while their own children languish at home. Perhaps we should all spend less time on the internet and social media and spend more quality and quantity face time with our family, doing the many things that make a house a home. Kids suffer when they see themselves as an adjunct to other priorities.
Third, Balaam’s office or role as a prophet of God did not excuse his sin or ease God’s standards. God elevated Balaam to his privileged position as prophet and just as easily demoted him. No one serves by divine right. God allows us to participate in His purposes by grace alone, while the people He chooses for service remain as accountable to Him as anyone else, if not more so.
Lastly, God will severely judge false prophets that use His name for mere profit. Yes, “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim. 5:18), and the short changing of ministers is shameful, but neither should we serve to amass riches at the expense of the sheep. God’s opinion of those who use Him for greedy gain is frightening:
Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam…. These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves…. These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage (Jude 11, 12, 16).
Having eyes full of adultery and that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; forsaking the right way they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:14-15).
God’s condemnation of Balaam stands as a fearful warning to all who profess to minister in the name of Christ. From Balaam’s demise, we learn that a great reputation in service to God does not guarantee His favor; faithfulness in some areas does not excuse unfaithfulness in others; ministry does not excuse disobedience; and, God will judge the greedy that use His name to amass riches. May we take stock and take heed that we might avoid the terrible errors of Balaam, to the honor of God’s name and the blessing of His ministry in and through us.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1995. Used by permission.
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