Pastor James J. Barker

Text: NUMBERS 31:16; 25:1-18


1.     This morning we are going to look at one of the strangest men who ever walked across the pages of the Bible.  We are introduced to him in Numbers 22:1-5.

2.     A few chapters later, we read that Balaam was killed by the Israelites when they defeated the Midianites. His death is recorded in Numbers 31:8.

3.     His life and death are spread over a few chapters in the book of Numbers, but he is also referred to in the book of Deuteronomy (23:4, 5), the book of Joshua (13:22; 24:9, 10), the book of Nehemiah (13:2), and the book of Micah (6:5).

4.     Furthermore, he is referred to three times in the New Testament.   

“Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteous-ness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet” (II Peter 2:15, 16).  

“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).  

“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” (Revelation 2:14).


5.     Numbers 31:16 refers to “the counsel of Balaam” (cf. Rev. 2:14).  Here we see that 1,500 years later “the doctrine (i.e., the “counsel”) of Balaam” had corrupted the church at Pergamos.

6.     And yet 3,500 years later this wicked doctrine of Balaam is still polluting churches and hindering the work of God.

7.     Peter refers to “the way of Balaam.”  Jude refers to “the error of Balaam.”  In his letter to the church of Pergamos, our Lord refers to this “doctrine of Balaam.”

8.     And going back to Numbers 31:16 we see “the counsel of Balaam.”  The counsel of Balaam refers to Balaam’s suggestion to ruin by fleshly seduction the people who cannot be cursed by divine permission. 

9.     Revelation 2:14 applies it to corruption in the local church – modern day Balaams advocate an unholy alliance with the worldly and with the ungodly.  Its emphasis on the flesh pollutes and defiles the church.

10. Balaam is certainly a complex character.  He had a great reputation as a soothsayer (fortune-teller), and is referred to as a soothsayer in Joshua 13:22.  Numbers 24:1 tells us that Balaam used “enchantments” (magic spells, sorcery).

11. Divination, sorcery, and fotune-telling are strongly condemned in the Bible.  Nowhere in our text is Balaam referred to as a prophet. Peter refers to Balaam as a “prophet” – a “mad” prophet (II Peter 2:16).    

12. There is no doubt but that Balaam acknowledged the true God of heaven, and that God came and spoke to him (Num. 22:8, 9).

13. Therefore, Balaam is an enigma.  He was a soothsayer and a hireling, and yet he uttered some of the most beautiful words in the Bible (Num. 24:17).

14. “To good and evil equal bent, And both a devil and a saint” – Ralph Erskine.

15. Balak, the king of Moab, heard of Balaam’s reputation as a powerful soothsayer and sent messengers to go and fetch him (Num. 22:1-5).

16. These messengers had to go quite a distance to get Balaam.  Numbers 22:5 tells us he was from the land of Pethor, by the river Euphrates.

17. Deuteronomy 23:4 tells us that Pethor was in Mesopotamia.  This was about 400 miles from Moab!  Travel in those days was very difficult.  It probably took Balaam and the messengers about three weeks to make the trip.      







1.     When I use the word “service,” I use it here not in the sense of Christian service, for Balaam was not a saved man. I use the term simply to describe Balaam’s employment as a hireling prophet.  Balaam was hired by Balak, the king of Moab.

2.     Balak, the king of Moab was worried.  He had heard great reports about the Israelites.  Numbers 22:3 says he was “sore afraid” and “distressed because of the children of Israel.

3.     Balak felt it would not be worthwhile to fight as long as Israel was enjoying the blessings of God.  He was coming to the realization that Israel’s God was far superior to the Moabite gods.

4.     But rather than humble himself and seek the true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – Balak had another idea.  He would seek to neutralize his enemy through some magic spells or a curse.  He had heard interesting stories about Balaam and so he sent messengers to go and fetch him (Num. 22:1-6).

5.     Balak chose to use not arms of warfare but the powers of the spirit world to defeat the Israelites.

6.     Balaam seemed to have had some misgivings as to the lawfulness of their request for he did not immediately agree to it (Num. 22:7, 8).

7.     His misgivings were soon confirmed by the express prohibition of God upon his journey (22:9-12).  That should have been enough to end all of the discussions with the Moabite messengers, but Balaam was a devious man – a hypocritical man, a double-minded man, a crafty man.

8.     A true man of God would not have wavered.  Balaam should have clearly and unmistakably refused to go with the men of Moab.  A true prophet of God would have explained he could not curse those whom God had already blessed. 

9.     But Balaam was crafty.  He was covetous. Jude 11 tells us Balaam was motivated by greed.  Balaam saw “the rewards of divination” (22:7) in the messengers’ hands. 

10.Our Lord warned in Matthew 6:24, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”  But Balaam thought he could get away with serving both.  You may recall this was Judas’ problem also.

11.So Balaam told the messengers, “The LORD refuseth to give me leave to go with you” (22:13).  False prophets are known not only by what they say, but what they don’t say! (cf. 22:12).

12.Notice that Balaam held back part of the LORD’s message.  Balaam told them that the LORD refused to give him permission to go to Balak, but he left out, “Thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed” (Numbers 22:12b).

13.Balaam was not being straight with this Moabite delegation. He was subtly hinting that he would really like to go, but the LORD would not allow him to go (22:13).

14.The Moabite delegation picked up Balaam’s hint and returned with bigger and better bribes and offers (22:14-18).

15.The devil knows how to work a man over till he finally gets him to yield.  This is what happened with Balaam.

16.Balaam showed what a phony he was by telling the servants of Balak, “Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will say unto me more” (22:19).  But the LORD already told him not to go with them (22:12).

17.I hear people say this all the time.  They ask me to pray for them when they are going against God’s Word.


II.      THE FOLLY OF BALAAM (22:20-35)

1.     The LORD knew well enough what was in Balaam’s heart and mind.  The LORD knew He could not trust a man like Balaam.  Can God trust you?

2.     Can God trust you with money?

3.     Can God trust you with spiritual obligations?

4.     The LORD knew He could not trust Balaam so He allowed Balaam to go on to Moab (22:20, cf. 22:35).

5.     I think the best way to understand Balaam is to consider that God never called him to be a prophet.  Balak, a heathen king, called him, but God never called him.

6.     Then, after Balak hired Balaam, God intervened and tried to stop Balaam, but Balaam was determined to do things his way, not God’s way.

7.     The LORD knew Balaam was greedy for Balak’s money (that is why 22:22 tells us “God’s anger was kindled”) and He tried to deter Balaam from his sin without violating Balaam’s freewill. 

8.     The Lord often puts obstacles in our way to deter us from sinning, but man has a choice in the matter.  Some men, like Balaam, are determined to sin regardless of all the roadblocks God puts in their way.

9.     The LORD tried to obstruct Balaam from continuing on in his service to Balak (22:22-26).  Second Peter 3:16 says God even used a “dumb ass” to rebuke him for his iniquity.



1.     Three times Balaam approached the LORD on behalf of Balak against the people of Israel.

2.     Before each approach seven altars were built, and seven bullocks and seven rams were offered.  This is all explained in great detail in Numbers 23.

3.     But each time Balaam was made to bless those whom he wanted to curse (cf. Num. 24:10).

4.     When Numbers 24 comes to a close, it appears that Balaam is quietly going to head back home to Pethor, but there is a sordid sequel to this story (cf. 25:1-3; 31:16; Rev. 2:14).

5.     First of all, we learn later on that Balaam never made it back home (24:25; cf. 31:8).

6.     Secondly, we learn that between Balaam’s prophesyings and his departure, he gave Balak certain subtle and immoral advice which nearly ruined Israel (25:1-9).

7.     This horrible sin is referred to several times in both the OT and the NT.  The apostle Paul refers to it in I Cor. 10:8.

8.     Balaam’s name does not appear in Numbers 25 because the sin of “the people” is the point of attention (25:1, 2).

9.     But Numbers 31:16 identifies Balaam as the sneaky villain who gave the terrible counsel.

10.This reveals to us that while God had certainly gifted Balaam as a prophet and a poet, Balaam was basically a reprobate and a degenerate at heart. 

11.I have met preachers who could preach up a storm but deep down they were nothing but sexual degenerates.

12.I have known preachers who knew the Bible inside and out but I would not trust them to be alone with a woman for thirty seconds!

13.Yesterday, Bro. Rampersad told me about an adulterous pastor in Trinidad. This wickedness seems to be everywhere.

14.Balaam was behind this horrible sex scandal (Num. 31:16).  He told Balak, “Listen, I cannot curse Israel because God has already blessed them….but here’s my advice…let your beautiful Moabite women come around at night and before you know it the Israelite men will be worshipping Baal-peor, and committing adultery with them” (25:1-9).

15.What are some of the lessons from this story?  Well, for one thing, we need more men like Phinehas (25:6-9).

16.Secondly, it is not at all uncommon for a carnal man to hold a spiritual office.  There are men like Balaam in churches and ministries all over the world.

17.Balaam was covetous. He was enticed by Balak’s “rewards of divination” (Numbers 22:7).  Second Peter 2:15 says Balaam “loved the wages of unrighteousness.” Dr. Ellison told me of a young preacher (fresh out of Bible college) who demanded a high salary.  I hear stories like this all the time.

18.And it is not just money that ensnares people.  The Scofield Study Bible says under Jude 11 that the reward modern day Balaams seek after “may not be money, but popularity, or applause” (cf. Numbers 22:17).  

19.A third lesson from the life of Balaam: Balaam knew the will of God but stubbornly ignored it.  How many people know God’s will but refuse to get right with God?

20.How many young people have been called by God into Christian service but have refused to yield to the call of God?

21.How many Christians have been joined in wedlock with partners whom God never intended for them, only to find out later that it is foolish and painful to depart from the will of God (cf. II Peter 2:15, 16)?



1.     As we draw to a close in our study of this strange and enigmatic man, let us consider his statement in Numbers 23:10 – “Let me die the death of the righteous.”

2.     There are many people like Balaam today – they want to die the death of the righteous but they are unwilling to live the life of the righteous!

3.     Let me remind you of a Biblical principle: people die the way they live (cf. Rev. 22:11, 12).

4.     Balaam wanted to die the death of the righteous but he died an untimely death on the battlefield (Numbers 31:6-8).

5.     I believe false prophets such as Balaam are in the hottest regions of hell.  The Bible warns of those who have forsaken the right way and are gone astray, following “the way of Balaam.”

6.     Second Peter 2:17 tells us, “These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.”  

7.     Our Lord referred to this as the place of “outer darkness,” where thee is nothing but weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).

8.     Unsaved friend: if you continue to resist the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, as well as your own God-given conscience, you are slowly but surely forging the chains of your own damnation.

9.     God gave Balaam plenty of warnings, and He is warning you as well. 

10. The Bible says, “Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15).

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