The Teaching of Balaam


This article was originally a Torah commentary. Because of the flow of the story, it actually involves three portions, Balak, Pinchas, and Mattot. You can see all the scripture references in this footnote.[1] The entire focus of this study is on the Teaching of Balaam. Thus, I felt it was better suited as topical article. I fully believe that the teachings of Balaam are alive and well in our assemblies and we are unaware. My desire here is to look at what the Word has to say on this subject so that we are empowered to remove this wickedness from our own hearts and assemblies. Those of you familiar with Dr. Alewine’s Creation Gospel model will also find this article helpful as it is the foundation behind my thinking.

The Story

Near the holy place, where the Ark dwelt, an Israelite sees a beautiful woman. Her eyes tell him everything he wants to know. He approached her; and as they say, “the rest is history”. Out of nowhere, a holy man named Pinchas bounds toward the couple with a spear raised high in the air. The couple, already in the throes of passion, doesn’t even see him coming. Pinchas releases the spear with great force and it skewers the couple like a human kabob; first the Israelite and then the woman beneath his naked body. The deadly plague grinds to a halt and the masses are spared.

Torah portion Balak ends like the scene out of a graphic action/drama movie. It’s pretty explicit, but that’s exactly how the drama is presented to us in the Hebrew text. This Bible story is definitely for mature audiences only!

pinchasYet this brazen act by Pinchas not only stayed the plague that had broken out on the people, but earned him a permanent covenant of peace and a covenant of perpetual priesthood before YHWH. Wow. The seriousness of the peoples’ sin is illustrated by the harsh and detailed judgment mete out by Pinchas. Thankfully, we know who and what placed Israel in this position. Balaam could not curse what YHWH had blessed, but he sure knew how to work around the system or find the loopholes.

If you only read parsha Balak, it may not be very clear exactly what the prophet Balaam did that was horrible enough to earn him a name that is forever associated with wickedness. (Micah 6:5, 2 Peter 2:1-22, Jude 11, Revelation 2:14-15) After all, YHWH did let Balaam go to Balak and he only blessed the Children of Israel. Surely, there is more to this prophet than hearing a talking ass. So, what happened? We learn the rest of the story two portions later in Mattot.

Num. 31:15-16  And Moses said to them, “Have you spared all the women?  (16)  “Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD.

At some point in his dealings with Balak, Balaam gave him some wicked advise. The fees for divination and recognition are indeed a mighty snare. Balaam found a way (so he thought) to have his cake and eat it too. Balaam could truly hear the voice of YHWH, but he did not fear or reverence the Holy One. He obviously told the Midianite king how to get around the Word of YHWH. What do you do when you want to curse what God has blessed? You put a stumbling block before the other person’s feet; a temptation that is almost irresistible. And there has never been a greater temptation for a man than a scintillating woman.

Causing a brother or sister to stumble, especially on purpose, is equivalent to high treason in YHWH”s economy. Balaam may have earned the respect and the wealth of a pagan king, but YHWH brought judgment to his door rather swiftly. Again from Torah portion Mattot:

Num. 31:8  They killed the kings of Midian along with the rest of their slain: Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the five kings of Midian; they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword.

Jos 13:22  The sons of Israel also killed Balaam the son of Beor, the diviner, with the sword among the rest of their slain.

The Israelites ended up killing Balaam with the sword. Now, let’s fast forward all the way to Book of Revelation. Yeshua has some interesting things to say to the assembly at Pergamum.[2] This is a little lengthy, but I urge you to read each verse and notice the parallels of word usage.

Rev 2:12-17  “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:  (13)  ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.  (14)  ‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.  (15)  ‘So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  (16)  ‘Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.  (17)  ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’

What sort of judgment comes to our door when we go the way of Balaam? A quick and piercing double edged sword. The sword of Truth is in Yeshua’s mouth; it is the Holy Word of God.

Heb. 4:11-12  Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.  (12)  For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

The corrupt couple was pierced by the Word of YHWH (sword) by the hand of Pinchas. Balaam received the same judgment as those he placed a stumbling block before and it came swiftly. There was no mercy for either party. Wow, that all sounds so harsh. I’m not writing to put an unholy fear in your bones, but to point out the actual sin and penalty that occurred in these portions. The Holy One included quite few verses warning us about the teaching of Balaam; therefore, His desire is that we learn from these examples in order to avoid this type of judgment.

So, what did Balaam teach?

wolf-sheepYeshua says he taught the people to “eat food sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality”. Fortunately, we have more clues given to us in 2 Peter and Jude.

2Pe 2:15-17  forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;  (16)  but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.  (17)  These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved.

Balaam wanted a REWARD. He had a problem with a lust for recognition and wealth. This lust caused the prophet to try and profit off the people of YHWH. Let’s look at the metaphors that Peter uses to describe the followers of Balaam. What is a spring without water? It is a natural well that fails to give forth the waters of Life. Wells, springs, and water are all idioms for the Holy Spirit, Wisdom, and the righteous woman (Bride). In other words, there is indeed a spirit at play here; it’s just not the Holy Spirit. It brings death rather than life. Mists driven by a storm gives us a similar picture. Jude uses equivalent expressions in his warning; thus, the action/spirit we are to avoid is definitely cohesive in the minds of the writers of the Holy Bible.

Jude 1:11-13  Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.  (12)  These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted;  (13)  wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

Again, we see that reward or pay is what drives the spirit of Balaam. But what is scary is that these followers of Balaam are not outside the assembly; they are in the midst of even our feast celebrations! These people lack sacrificial love and only really care for themselves. Like Peter, Jude compares them to something that should bring life and water, but they do not. They are “clouds without water”. Instead of being driven by the wind of the Ruach HaKodesh, they are powered by another wind/spirit. Thus, they are incapable of producing holy fruit. They are not the “stars” of Abraham’s seed; in fact, they are the tares among the wheat — ready to be burned and reserved for black darkness.

So, if all this is true, we should be able to pick a follower of Balaam out in heartbeat, right? Wrong. If it were that easy, there would be no need for all the warnings given to us in Scripture. I believe there is a very specific reason why it is so difficult. And, most of you won’t like my answer. The difficulty we have, or you might say our lack of discernment in this area, is because we each struggle with the same temptations that are encompassed in Balaam. I will let Jude explain:

Jude 1:14- 19 (14)  It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones,  (15)  to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”  (16)  These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.  (17)  But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ,  (18)  that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.”  (19)  These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve ran into many grumblers, fault finders, and divisions in those groups returning to YHWH’s Torah. As a matter of fact, I have to admit that in my earlier years of this walk, I even participated in such things all in the name of holiness. I know it’s terrible, but it’s the sad truth. At the time, I would have thought I was anything but a follower of Balaam!

What I have learned (and often write about) is this very dichotomy between the Truth and a Lie. Between a man and the beast. Between the harlot and the righteous woman. Between the Spirit and the flesh/evil inclination or a wicked spirit. Between a Prophet and a Diviner. Between a Sheep and Goat. Between the Wheat and Tare. You get the point. As it turns out, the difference is often “subtle” and the battle ground is most often within — not outside of a person.

Close, But No Cigar

There are seven wicked spirits that counterfeit the seven holy spirits of YHWH (Pr. 6:16-19, Is. 11:2). In Holy Writ, we are constantly forced to deal with two brothers, two women, two houses, two “ways”. One is always righteous and one is always wicked. Nevertheless, they often can be found in the same places, doing similar things, wearing similar clothes, and calling to the same people. King Solomon the Wise, tried in earnest to teach his son and us this very simple truth. The enemy truly masquerades as an angel of light. (2 Cor. 11:14)

But what is not always immediately apparent is that this duplicity is within us! Overt wickedness is easy to detect if you know the Word. But, a heart set on self-righteousness, pride, and grandeur is not always so obvious. This is because we cannot escape our flesh or nephesh — the part of us that is shared with the beasts of field. Like them, we have instincts and a desire to survive at all costs. We get hungry, thirsty, tired, and sexually aroused and seek to gratify these appetites. At our core, the flesh seeks to preserve self.

Contrary to the old Greek philosophers, this does not mean that the nephesh is evil. It serves a godly purpose even in the lives of a holy people. Without it, we’d be no earthly good. We must eat, drink, sleep, and procreate or our species would die off. But, these passions are not to be what rules a child of the Most High; the Holy Spirit must sit at the helm of our ships.

Balaam was ruled by an unholy spirit fueled by his flesh/nehpesh. Though there was a part of him that could hear YHWH’s voice, the desire to please his own desires was much stronger. Have you ever “given in” to the desires of your flesh? I know I have and sadly sometimes still do. No one is exempt from this dilemma. It is a daily battle.

Let’s take the story of Balaam for example. How many of you read this story, realized the utter wickedness of his actions, and associated YOURSELF with Balaam? I would gander that very few, if any, of you did. Our nephesh always makes excuses or justifies its actions. It’s never wrong in its own eyes. This is why it’s so hard to come to a place of repentance or even “hear” the gospel unto salvation. The flesh is always concerned that it will be uncomfortable, restricted, or robbed of pleasure and fun.

The real lesson we are to learn from Balaam is to recognize these “negative” attributes in ourselves, correct them, and help others to do the same. The Bible brings correction, but it is mostly to us as individuals. Rarely is our job to point the finger at another. There is a time for this (which we see in Pinchas), but having a burning desire to do so more often exposes a nephesh ruled person. The nephesh always wants negative attention to be on someone else, because self-preservation is all it really cares about.

Thus, I put together the following chart for your personal introspection. If all you can “see” when perusing it is someone else’s sin, then you’ve just revealed the one seated on the throne of your heart. Here’s a clue, it’s not the Holy Spirit; it is the beast (nephesh). But fret not, you are not alone. Kick the beast down and bring it into obedience to the Ruach HaKodesh!

Balaam/Beast                                                                   vs.                             Holy Spirit/Man

Lusts for profit


Seeks to produce godly fruit


Desires recognition from others


Seeks to please YHWH


Looks for loopholes to obedience



Hears and obeys because of love


Urges others to compromise or conversely to be rigid and merciless (in the name of holiness) Strong sensations of either greasy grace, or a controlling Torah Terrorist. Extremist on either side of the scale.
Urges others to obey, but is tempered with compassion, mercy, and patience. Constantly seeking balance in all things. Allows freedom within the boundaries of Torah.

Killed by the Sword


Lays flesh on the altar by allowing the Sword of the Word to purify the heart.


Tries to get YHWH do go along with his desires/will.


Accepts the will of the Sovereign of the Universe and knows it is best even if it hurts.


Appears righteous (clouds without rain)


Does righteousness (joins the great cloud of witnesses)


Speaks blessings to others, but counsels curses in the dark.


Speaks blessings to others and means it.


Hears and turns into the way of the harlot.


Hears and turns into the way of wisdom (righteous woman).


Takes pleasure in immorality. May even participate behind closed doors. (hidden/dark)


Runs from immorality. (Like Joseph)


Uses flattery for personal gain/promotion.


Speaks truth, allows YHWH to promote them.


Grumbles and Complains (gossip/slander) which drags others into their derision against people, leadership, and assemblies. This happens under the banner of no compromise, holiness, and righteousness.


Turns from gossip/slander/lashon Hara. Knows that complaining about the way things are done, the leadership, other people, or families is only following the way of Cain, Korah, and Balaam.


Brings strife and division as a result of the above. Seeks to attract others unto themselves. Desires cookie cutter versions of belief and thought with Self as the head. They split and divide families, friends, and assemblies in the name of holiness. No unity. The house is continually being torn down. New group often latter splits again as a result of the same spirit at work. Strong sensation of feeling unwelcome, unholy, and condemnation. Run!


Seeks mercy, compassion, loving-kindness, and patience with family, friends, leadership, and assembly. Manages to disciple and mature new comers rather than condemn them for ignorance in matters of obedience. Seeks to build others up. (A wise woman builds her house) There is an overt sense of love, belonging, and warmness in these groups. Critical and judgmental spirits are not welcome.


Loves the wages of unrighteousness. Loves being right. Loves putting others in “their place”. Looks for ways to profit from the sheep.


Loves YHWH and the Body. Seeks to produce the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.


In a nutshell, Balaam teaches you to turn in to the house of the harlot[3] by appeasing the appetites of the flesh. What feels good and right is truth to a Balaam. Going the way of Balaam is serving or demanding to have your own preferences, desires, wants, and gain. It is the opposite of a humble, caring, patient, and loving servant of the Most High.

If we recognize the teaching of Balaam in our own lives (no matter how miniscule), we need to repent and put YHWH back on the throne of our hearts. I have found a great tool that helps me to keep the “beast” or nephesh/flesh in its proper place. That tool is the Jewish practice of Mussar. If you’ve ever used a Chesbon Nephesh (accounting of the Soul) chart to help you find hidden or forgotten sin in your life before Yom Kippur, then you have had a tiny taste of Mussar.

Mussar means correction and is a simple daily practice that guides you to develop or strengthen godly traits such as gratitude, compassion, honor, simplicity, generosity, loving-kindness, responsibility, trust, faith, etc. It only takes a few minutes a day, but the payoff is immense! Hopefully by now, you have a much better understanding of what the teaching of Balaam actually was/is. In closing, I will link to some Mussar resources that are sure to keep Balaam at bay! Don’t wait until you have to hear it from an ass…

Websites:

Riverton Mussar

Aish.org 

Books:

Everyday Holiness by Dr. Alan Morinis

Mussar with the Messiah by Vickie Howard

Expect to see more articles from me on the teachings of mussar in the future. (:


[1] Balak: Num. 22:2- 25:9; Micah 5:6- 6:8; 2Pet. 2:1-22; Jude 11; Rev. 2:14-15

Pinchas: Num. 25:10- 29:40; 1 Kings 18:46-19:21; Ps. 106; John 2:13-22

Mattot: Num. 30:1 -32:42, Jer. 1:1- 2:3, Mt. 5:33-37

[2] Note to Creation Gospel students: Notice that Pergamum is the 2nd assembly. It is on the stem of “separation”. The question becomes, separated unto what? Balaam causes separation unto division — leading to death. We know that separation is only good if it leads to gathering like the third day of creation and the spirit of resurrection.  We see this same picture with the sharp double edged sword. The Word separates the righteous unto life and the wicked, like Balaam, unto death.

[3] Proverbs 7

Categories: Messianic Issues, Torah Portions | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “The Teaching of Balaam

  1. I thought the most interesting comment of Bila’am was when he opined, “Let me die the death of the righteous.” However, he died the death of the treacherous. It seems good intentions aren’t enough. Thanks for another warning that there are Bila’ams among us. Pinchas, as a Levite, was responsible for offenses against the sanctuary (miskan.) Moshe and Aharon (also Levites) stood by without acting. Perhaps phase one of the Bila’am protocol is to entice the Sons of Israel over to the idolatry and immorality of the Midyanite camp, and phase two is to bring this back to the camp of Israel.

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    • Great points, Chaya!

      I hadn’t connected Balaam’s comment with his character before. Hmm… sounds a lot like those of whom Yeshua said, “I never knew you: Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity,” (Mt. 7:23) So you’re right, good intentions aren’t the way. I hadn’t considered the inaction of Moses and Aaron in this situation either. I must ponder on that for a while. This could be to show the authority of the priesthood in general? Which makes me all the more curious that Pinchas’ actions earned him a “perpetual” priesthood. He was after all, already of the priestly line as a grandson of Aaron.

      Two phases. Two prongs. I think your right about the strategy!

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      • I’ve wondered about the inaction of Moshe and Aharon also, and the only conclusion I can arrive at is that even the most trusted, the most godly can have their moments of indecision and inaction, as well as their moments of overreaction. I wonder if Moshe, aware of his history of rash behavior, was fearful of acting lest he take things too far? Isn’t it difficult to act according to the anger of the Holy One without mixing one’s own fleshly emotions into the stew?

        Last week I wrote another, of course offensive and out-there, article about the nexus of Balak/Bila’am/Midyan as it relates to the end of days.

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        • Chaya,

          I just read your post… very convicting and true! I’ve had a very busy couple of weeks, sorry it took me so long to respond. Based on the thought process from your post, I now wonder the same thing about Moses… When the rubber meets the road, what will we do? Will we seek to preserve our own skin above all else? Most will choose to save their own life rather than stand for righteousness. All of this reminded me of Yeshua speaking about if you wish to save your life, you must be willing to lose it (for the sake of the Kingdom and righteousness). When I searched for these verses, I was amazed (as usual) with the context. It fits perfectly with the portions of Balak and Pinchas.

          Mat 16:21-27 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. (22) Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” (23) But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (24) Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. (25) “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (26) “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (27) “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.

          Even a true disciple (Peter) can be an enemy (satan) to righteousness, and like Balaam, place a stumbling block before those seeking the will of Adonai. Oh Chaya, this makes me shutter. We all battle with mixing our fleshly emotions into the “stew”. And emotions are certainly running high right now around the globe over Israel. May our zealousness be like Pinchas’ and spare many lives rather than take them. May we discern the difference between holy anger and fleshly anger.

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  2. Pingback: Pierced hearts & Pierced Bellies | Obadiah's Cave

  3. Pingback: Are You shittim me? | Obadiah's Cave

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