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Balaam and The Issue of Compromise

A quick glance at Numbers 22 - 24 could leave a person with the impression that Balaam was a godly prophet, who provided an exemplary model of devotion and loyalty to the God of the Bible. However, a closer look at these chapters, as well as at references about Balaam found elsewhere in the Bible, reveals that his superficial piety covered up a deceitful and corrupt heart.

Below, we examine various issues which are related to Balaam and the events that came about because of him.

Throughout the account (chapters 22 - 24), even though Balaam frequently seems to have a willingness to do only what God tells him to do, there are continual hints that something is wrong on a deeper level.

  1. Balaam was a diviner for hire. (Numbers 22:7; Joshua 13:22)

  2. After God tells Balaam that Israel is blessed, and that he must not try to curse them (22:12), there should have been no further questions about it. Yet when King Balak offers a greater reward, Balaam asks God a second time. (All the while, he acts very "spiritual" about it - 22:18.)

  3. The fact that God allows Balaam to go (v. 20), yet is angry with him for doing so (v. 22), shows that something is wrong.

  4. Wealth and riches are often mentioned in these chapters (Numbers 22 - 24), as a reward for Balaam, if he succeeds at cursing Israel.

  5. When Balaam speaks his prophetical oracles, he constantly affirms that he can only speak what the Lord has told him to say (Numbers 23:12, 26; 24:13). This may have the appearance of "spirituality," but in reality, he had no choice. He was helpless to do otherwise, for God would not let him do so (23:8, 20). Remember that God had already threatened him with death (22:33)!

Various issues show that Balaam is not a true prophet of God, and that there are spiritual problems in his heart.

  1. As already mentioned, Balaam claims to have loyal devotion to the Lord, yet he practices divination and related occult activities - a thing which God hates. A true prophet of God would know God's will on this issue, as much as he would know God's will on other issues! (In this case, once Balaam realized these practices were not working - Numbers 23:23 - he stopped using them - 24:1. But it wasn't because he considered them wrong.)

  2. Balaam and Balak made sacrifices together (Numbers 23:1-2), even though Balak served a false god (Baal). A genuine prophet of God cannot tolerate the worship of a false god, and will always oppose anything that usurps the rightful place of the true God. Balaam, however, was willing to cooperate in worship with an idolater.

  3. Balaam's influence was the cause of the problems Israel had in Numbers 25.

Concerning Israel's sin and the judgments that followed.

  1. They were deceived or tricked into compromise, through the allurements of the Moabite and Midianite women (Numbers 25:1-3, 6, etc.).

  2. These women were following Balaam's advice, according to 31:16.

  3. The Midianites provided the leadership, and the women were examples for the others to follow (compare to 25:15-18; 31:16). Because of the nature of their sin, their judgment was death.

  4. The Moabites, were not killed because of this sin. (This also suggests that they were not the main instigators.) They were judged, but for other matters.

Comments about the judgment against Israel and Midian.

  1. This was a sin against God, more than it was a sin of one nation against another. And being such a serious sin against God, it required the death of those who were guilty in both nations.

  2. Today, some people take offense at the way God judged Midian. Some even try to compare it to "genocide" - in which one group of people attempts to annihilate another group of people. Here, however, it was not an issue of one nation against another, but of individuals from both nations against the God who made them, and who alone has the right to their loyalty.

There are several things we can learn from Balaam and these events in Israel's history. Among them are the following:

  1. The apostle Paul tells us that the events in Israel's history were written down to teach us, to warn us of the consequences of sin - 1 Corinthians 10:6. He uses this very judgment (Numbers 25) as an example of this. (See 1 Corinthians 10:8, where he tells us that 23,000 Israelites died in one day.)

  2. These events show us that God takes the sin of compromise very seriously. It is not something for us to take lightly. We must completely reject Balaam's teaching, that compromise is an acceptable practice (compare to Revelation 2:14).

  3. The fact that God can use a person to accomplish good things is not a guarantee that the person is saved. God used Balaam to say good things about Israel, even though Balaam had an evil heart. All this proves is that God can use people in spite of who they are. He can even use a donkey, if he wishes (Numbers 22:21-33).

  4. We are under the New Covenant (New Testament), and do not have the right to kill compromisers who may exist in the church. However, we still have the mandatory obligation to deal with the sin and to remove the offenders from the church, if they refuse to repent. [This was also illustrated at the church of Corinth. In chapter 5, Paul told them to expel a certain individual who was guilty of sexual sin.]

  5. Note that this sin of compromise involves issues in which truth and error are deemed compatible. It involves attempts to encourage "fellowship" between moral opposites. (See 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1.) It does not have reference to instances in which people try to reach an agreement on differences of opinion that do not involve moral and spiritual issues, or to "compromises" such as may be suggested in Luke 12:58-59.

Dennis Hinks © 2002