Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
The Doctrine of Balaam
by Randal Working
I preached my last sermon at First Presbyterian Santa Paula yesterday before moving to a new church in Ohio. Our text was Revelation 2:12-17, one of the seven letters to the churches in the Roman Province of Asia Minor. Jesus has words of rebuke, praise, warning, and commendation for the churches. Whatís he concerned about at Pergamum? The Lord says some people there hold to the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. Weíre not sure who the Nicolaitans were, but the point is clear. Balaam was a pagan prophet in the Old Testament. The book of Numbers tells how Balak, the king of Moab, was terrified of the horde of Israelites coming up out of Egypt defeating their enemies, so he hired Balaam to curse the Israelites:
- "And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
- I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
- But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
- So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
- Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
- He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it."Balaam tried to curse Israel, and to undermine their strength by seducing them with Moabite women. Numbers says Balaam is responsible for bringing about Israelís sin with the Moabite women, and that results in idolatry. The teaching of Balaam would become a catchword for both sexual immorality and idolatry in the New Testament, and not only here in Revelation. Peter writes,Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land: for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed. (Numbers 22:6)Later Jude, the Lordís half brother, would write,Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet. Peter 2:15-16)Sex and death were major themes in the pagan religions of the Old Testament times; thatís why there was child sacrifice, and itís why there were temple prostitutes. The ancient people thought they were buying insurance that the earth cycle of renewal would continue, and spring would come again after the dead season. It seems obvious that our culture is sometimes obsessed with sex and death. We see evidence of this in:Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. (Jude 11)∑ the multi-billion dollar-a-year pornography industry, ∑ the fascination we have with the love-lives of Hollywood stars, ∑ the perhaps 40 million babies aborted in our country since 1973, ∑ homosexual marriage, which begins in California on June 17?False teaching about sexual immorality and idolatry are a threat to integrity of our witness. Nearly all the New Testament writers warn about it, and we have to be on guard, too. Because if we line up with the broken values of our culture, we lead the church into idolatry. Thatís the Lordís warning for the church, and itís sobering. And the warning leads to his command. Repent! Jesus tells his church, ďRepent!Ē Thatís the Bibleís way of saying, turn around! Change your mind! Get it together! Start living for God! It means to change your mind about your condition as a sinner and your need for the saving work of Christ. Itís a part of faith. Authentic faith comes before repentance, but itís never without it, to show the faith is real. Before any of that itís the work of the Holy Spirit to reorient our hearts and regenerate us. Peter tells us in his first letter,Look at the way the thoughts are linked together: Godís word comes to you; his Spirit brings you to new life; your soul is purified as you obey the truth. Your repentance comes about, it is possible, because you have been born again. Dear friends, either we repent of our worldliness and compromised lives, we turn to Jesus and commit to living for him in the strength of his poweróor we face his discipline. His word is a double-edged sword, and his word always cuts both ways, toward truth as well as grace. We need to live in the Word, be students of the Word, because it is that word that gives us life and renews the mind with the mind of Christ. One more thingóJesus says ďHe that hath an ear, let him hear.Ē The words are for the whole church, but it begins with each one of us. A church that comes alive begins with each one of us; we have to hear and obey his voice today. His words are the truth, and not the words from the world that clamor for our attention. Amen!Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. (1 Peter 1:22-23)
Randal Working is the son of Presbyterian pastors, and a graduate of Whitworth College and of the University of Washington, where he completed a Masters in Fine Arts degree in drawing and painting. Randal later earned his Master of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary. For several years he worked as a campus minister with Youth for Christ, Switzerland, and as associate pastor for Christian Education at Celtic Cross Presbyterian Church, a church in Northern California. For the past five years he has served as Associate Pastor for Adult Ministries at the First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue, Washington. Randal teaches on issues relating to Christian faith and culture. He is the author of From Rebellion to Redemption, a 52-week devotional study based on the Heidelberg Catechism and the Book of Romans to lead small groups through a review of key doctrines of the faith. Randal is married to Evelyne, a native of Geneva, Switzerland. He and Evelyne have three daughters.