Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error and perished in Korah's rebellion. (Jude 1:11)
They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. 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. (2Pe 2:14-16)
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. (Rev 2:14)
Balaam is another old testament character who is mentioned repeatedly in the New Testament as a warning for the people of God. In fact he serves as a double warning, for Balaam's error can refer both to the error the prophet himself made and the error he led others into. It is thus a warning to avoid becoming like him, and also to avoid those who would lead us down his path.
Balaam is a curious character. He was a pagan soothsayer who heard from God. He is described both as prophet and false prophet. A man of contradictions. He came to curse the people yet restrained himself to only speak the words of blessing that the Lord gave him. Yet it was his lack of restraint that was his undoing. For he thought that he could be obedient to the Lord and persist in the rebellion of his own heart. The Lord resisted his path in many ways, even causing a donkey to speak - yet he persisted to the end. Even after he had seen the blessing that was on the people of God he sought to destroy them by leading them into immorality and unfaithfulness to God.
The error of Balaam thus represents the folly of those who know the Lord and know that the course that they are on is unrighteous in his eyes, yet for the love and lure of sinful pleasure they persist in it anyway!
It also represents the cunning scheme of our enemy. For he knows that he cannot defeat us by direct attack. Even his worst curse (if he has any power to curse at all, rather than manipulating the righteous curse of God for his own twisted means) cannot touch those whom the Lord has blessed. Failing to destroy us himself, he will seek to get us to destroy ourselves instead with the subtle lure of temptation into compromise. He is not called the tempter for nothing!
Just as with Cain, the stark contrast to the clear way of God may cause us to dismiss Balaam as irrelevant to our walk. But before we do, perhaps we should ask ourselves a few questions:
Are we more devoted than David?
Are we wiser than Solomon?
Are we stronger than Sampson?
All these three, despite the call of God on their lives, despite their clear gifting, fell into temptation and succumbed to Balaam's error. The only enemy that could defeat them was their own unfaithfulness in pursuing a path of sinful indulgence.
Let us heed the warning and avoid that path. A remarkable calling or gift is no guarantee of automatic continuance in the will of God. Balaam's error was that his life was in stark contrast to his prophetic gift, and he failed to bring any adjustment.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. (Eph 5:3 NIV)