“They...have abandoned themselves for the sake of gain [it offers them, following] THE ERROR OF BALAAM” (Jude 1:11 Amp.).
“Having eyes full of adultery 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 2:14-16 NASB).
“I have a few things against you: you have some people...who are clinging to THE TEACHING OF BALAAM, who taught Balak to set a trap and a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, [to entice them] to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols and to practice lewdness [giving themselves up to sexual vice]” (Revelation 2:13-15 Amp.).
In the above three portions of Scripture we see three different aspects of one truth concerning Balaam, and it is expressed as the ERROR, the WAY, and The TEACHING. Because I see them all caught up into the one expression, i. e., “the ERROR,” I have changed the sequential order of their introduction into Holy Writ, but the proper order found is the WAY, the ERROR, and the TEACHING. This is significant when compared to the fact that Jesus Christ is expressed as the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE in John 14:6.
In the life of our Lord we see the WAY as the way of suffering, the way of the cross (the way of death unto life); in the life of Balaam we see the way of deviation, avoidance of suffering, avoidance of the cross means to life. The “eyes full of adultery” which marks the way of Balaam is based on greediness of desire and an inordinate love for the wages of unrighteousness or sin (which is death). This way is really an anti-way, because what is behind this way is a relinquishing of responsibility or a letting off of effort to do righteousness. Behind it is the belief that God’s way is too hard, which flies in the face of the fact that “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Spiritual laziness tends downward into baseness, down into our fallen nature; we must always rise with the Spirit to mortify our flesh. If not, we will crystalize our characters along the wrong lines. To be carnal minded is death, and internal rationalization leading to external compromise is the evidence of that death. And Balaam’s way is this way of carnal death. Ultimately, it is the broad way that leads to destruction.
Jesus Christ is the TRUTH—the personification of Scripture; in Him, there is no lie. In Balaam, it is not so much that he lied factually (which of course he did—ultimately and immediately), but that his very person was dispositionally off-center (he personified himself after the mold of the character of his fallen nature). The error of Balaam is found in the limited scope or tight parameters of this false mold; he “abandoned” himself as God originally constructed him to be. “One thing I have learned [ found]: God made people good [virtuous; upright], but they have found all kinds of ways to be bad [ sought out many devices]” (Ecclesiastes 7:29 EXB) to avoid their responsibility to maintain that good and virtuous and upright (straight) mold of character God provided. Balaam—like Solomon and the Galatians after him—started out well, but also like wanton Solomon and the fleshly Galatians, he went the way of his lower nature; this is the error of Balaam. Abandoning self for the sake of gain is to throw off all restraint; but it is ironically and ultimately to lose rather than to gain (just as “godliness with contentment is great gain”—see 1 Timothy 6:6—so ungodliness with discontentment is great loss).
The teaching of Jesus Christ—the LIFE—glorified God not man; He affirmed God’s righteousness and condemned man’s unrighteousness always in the expression of that life. Balaam, contradistinctively, taught man’s rights and God’s stinginess always. His skewed perspective, born of greed, made him believe a lie concerning the true nature of things. Whenever we see God—but not ourselves in relationship to that vision—we misinterpret His teaching and misrepresent His intent. When flesh is enthroned in our hearts, our spiritual sight is less than partial; it is faulty even in its partiality! Compromise is making concession to flesh, and making concession to flesh is to teach false doctrine. This is the teaching—the LIFE—of Balaam: COMPROMISE. It is a teaching (or life) expressed as divided loyalties (eating both at the table of demons and communing with God); it is often expressed as sexual looseness (being given over to the appetite of sex without restraint or conscience), but also, in symbolic terms, being given over to anything else that takes the place of God in our lives.
The name Balaam means “destruction of the people” or “swallowing up the people”—and in a ravenous appetite way; he had a gluttonous appetite for ruining Israel. Beor means “torch” or “lamp” and is from the root word meaning “to consume, to burn up, to depasture (to denude of pasture by constant grazing).” Balaam is therefore the overwrought seer, the over-penetrating eye, the flash of too much light too quickly upon the subject matter of man (it is enlightenment without purity—a dangerous mix!). Thus, in the ministry of Balaam, the pure in heart (the Israel of God) that sees God—but before purity of heart is achieved—is brought too quickly to the throne of God (where judgment is). Inevitably, therefore, those that come to God in their own righteousness—in their native impurity—are consumed by a Consuming Fire rather than merely salted with fire (and thereby preserved).
Just as there are false apostles who show great signs and wonders and yet know not God, so there are false prophets who see accurately and speak correctly and yet know not God. Though the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable, fruit is judged according to merit. And just as only men who KNOW women know fatherhood, only those who KNOW God bear fruit. And the fruit of righteousness grows only on the tree of life, and the tree of life—in the midst of the garden of our hearts—is only arrived at through the flaming sword which guards it. If we eat of it in an unworthy manner, we crystalize our character into the mold of our sinful nature. Only death to ourselves as presently constructed—and then life from that death—makes us able to eat of the tree of life without harm. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule (of the new creation spirit), peace and mercy be upon them (their entire person comprised of body, soul, and spirit), and upon the Israel of God (the new creation spirit at the center of that person)” (Galatians 6:15-16 NKJV).
So, in other words, only those willing to be cut and cauterized by the “flaming sword” reach the tree of life. Balaam—associated with Moab—is someone (by inference to Moab) associated with incest, someone inordinately absorbed with self; someone who inverts the stream or river of their life (greedily returning it back into themselves) rather than distributing it outward in blessings to others. The error of Balaam is to be close to the river of life, but not in it, nor to drink from it. The first mention of Balaam in the Bible finds him “by the river of the land of the children of his people” (Numbers 22:5 KJV). This first mention is the telling mark of his nature, and it characterizes him—and all those who never lay hold of life—as antilapsarians (those who deny the Fall of Mankind). They are near life, but never in it. This is the error of Balaam.
Later, the prophet tells us how to know the righteousness of God by looking at how Balaam answers the Moabite dilemma (we are all born of spiritual incest, but what we do with that fact determines our destiny). “O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim (“plains or meadows of acacia”) unto Gilgal (“liberty” or “rolling away”); that ye may know the righteousness of the Lord” (Micah 6:5 KJV). The plains or meadows of acacia trees in the land of Moab is representative of essential or native human nature, and the liberty given by God in Christ Jesus—and the rolling away aspect that creates that liberty—is suggestive of God rolling away the stone off of the graves of our deaths, the removing of the force of our essential or native nature. This is to “know the righteousness of the Lord,” but the antilapsarian spirit of Balaam removes any chance of this righteousness by removing the fundamental ground of repentance upon which to build it.
The error of Balaam is therefore the error of not embracing God’s way when once we are brought to it (all those who heard the gospel but never obeyed it are included here). We cannot be righteous until we admit unrighteousness; we cannot know the narrow path of life until we get off the expansive plain of death. And then, once there, we must maintain that separation. The error of Balaam is the error of not embracing the circumcision of the cross that separates us away from our baser fallen nature in perpetuity (we must die daily to maintain that separation). The cutting edge of reality is the cross of Christ in sharp relief; God on the resurrection side of it must be encountered regularly to keep one's self out of hell, death, and the grave. As the apostle asked, “What partnership have right living and right standing with God with iniquity and lawlessness? Or how can light have fellowship with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and Belial [the devil]? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement [can there be between] a temple of God and idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16 Amp.). The error of Balaam is the antithesis instruction to guard ourselves from idols. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols (false gods)—[from anything and everything that would occupy the place in your heart due to God, from any sort of substitute for Him that would take first place in your life]” (1 John 5:21 Amp.).