“Accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed THE WAY of Balaam” (2 Peter 2:14-16).
“They...have abandoned themselves for the sake of gain [it offers them, following] THE ERROR of Balaam” (Jude 1:11).
“I have a few things against you: you have some people...who are clinging to THE TEACHING of Balaam” (Revelation 2:13-15).
In the above three portions of scripture we see three different aspects of one truth concerning Balaam: THE WAY, THE ERROR and THE TEACHING. In John 14:6, we see three different aspects of one truth concerning Jesus: THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE. This message is about contrasting error (Balaam) with truth (Jesus), and that contrast is made along these “three different aspects of one truth” I mentioned above.
First, the way of Balaam vs. the way of Jesus:
THE WAY of Balaam is the wide way of unbridled covetousness and its resulting pleasure for a season that ultimately leads to a narrow way of destruction and unending sorrow in the outer darkness of hell. THE WAY of Jesus, by contrast, is the narrow way of the cross and its resulting pain for a season that ultimately leads to the wide way of eternal life and joy inexpressible in the expansive and Lamb-lit mansion of heaven.
Second, the error of Balaam vs. the truth of Jesus:
THE ERROR of Balaam is specifically “turning the grace of ... God into lasciviousness” (Jude 1:4), and greedily seeking “the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:15). THE TRUTH of Jesus is specifically about how he personified truth. First, “The Word [clearly identified as Jesus incarnate] became flesh” (John 1:14). Secondly, “Truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Thirdly, Jesus said “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). And lastly, in no uncertain terms, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
Thirdly, the teaching of Balaam vs. the life of Jesus:
THE TEACHING of Balaam (whose father is Beor) is born out of his innate character; his name means “destruction of the people” or “swallowing up the people.” Beor means “torch” or “lamp” and is from the root word meaning “to consume, burn up, or 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. It is enlightenment without purity—a dangerous mix! By molding the Christian after the Moabite image, the teaching of Balaam taught the Pergamum church an incestuous and idolatrous lesson. To despoil purity of heart with sexual immorality and idolatrous adherence is to bring the carnal Christian to the throne of God (where judgment begins). Rather than being salted by a fire (and thus preserved) the impure are liable to be assaulted by a Consuming Fire (and thus reduced to ashes). By contrast, THE LIFE of Jesus is also the teaching of Jesus; the moniker “Teacher” is therefore indicative not only of Jesus’ function, but also of his nature. Jesus ALWAYS personifies what he teaches. The fact that—“In him [Jesus] was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4)—suggests that enlightenment is caused by looking to the Teacher model truth in all that he says and does. Moreover, Jesus’ teaching is never merely academic; it infuses the hearer of his words and observer of his life with enlightenment: “I [Jesus] am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
In summation, THE ERROR OF BALAAM is essentially teaching derived from carnality rather than spirituality. Balaam had the gift of spiritual sight, but not the righteous character to use it properly. Whenever we see God (by the gift of spiritual sight)—but not ourselves in proper relationship to that vision—we misinterpret his teaching and misrepresent his intent. When flesh remains 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. 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 good fruit.
Balaam—associated with Moab—is someone associated with incest (how the Moabites were created), someone inordinately absorbed with self; someone who inverts the river of their life (greedily returning it back into themselves) rather than distributing it outward in blessings to others. THE ERROR OF BALAAM is about being close to the river of life, but not in 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). This first mention is the telling mark of his nature, and it characterizes him—and all those who never lay hold of life—as unconverted at worst, and carnal at best. They are near life, but never REALLY in it. This is THE ERROR OF BALAAM.