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-- © GodSpeak International 2003 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from <copyright@godspeak.org> --

Author: Teresa Seputis ts@godspeak.net http://www.godspeak.net
Editor: Elvi Glass

Detecting The Spirit of Deception

Lesson 6

By Teresa Seputis

Balaam was a false prophet and spiritualist who was deceived by the devil into thinking that he was a prophet of God. Let's spend a little time looking at his story. It is recorded in Numbers chapters 22 to 24.

Balaam was a man of mixed motivations, part of him wanted to obey and honor God and part of him wanted to seek for his own material gain. Balaam used sorcery to get his "words" (Num 24:1). Sometimes he heard from demons imitating God's voice and sometimes he really heard from God. The problem was that he could not tell the two apart, he did not know how to detect when it wasn't really God speaking to him. I will expand on that in a little bit, but let me give you some background first.

Balak was the king of Moab when Israel crossed through his territory on their way to the promised land. The bible tells us that his people were "sick with dread because of the children of Israel." As the king and leader, Balak wanted to do something about this, so he decided to hire a spiritualist to curse the Israelites, hoping to destroy them.

That is why Balak offered Balaam a lot of money to come out and curse the Israelites. But Balaam did not simply accept the offer. First he went to check it out with God. Balaam used sorcery to inquire of God and he was unable to tell the difference between when God spoke to him and when a demon lied to him. Still, he desired to please God, so he said he had to check with God before he could accept their offer (Num 22:8). God spoke to Balaam in verse 12 and said, "You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed."

Even though Balaam was a deceived prophet, his motives were good -- he wanted to honor God. "So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, 'Go back to your land, for the Lord has refused to give me permission to go with you'" (Num 22:13).

The messengers went back to king Balak and told him that Balaam would not come. So Balak sent more prestigious messengers and bigger bribes. Balaam's first reaction was to refuse this. He said, "Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more." That was the right reaction and he would have done well if he simply stuck to it.

Balaam had already sought God on this matter, and God had already shown him His will, which was, "Don't go with them!" With one breath, Balaam claimed that he would obey the Lord no matter what. But with his next breath, he backtracked on that. He said, "Now therefore, please, you also stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me" (Num 22:19). Why would Balaam invite them to stay and go inquire again? He did it because he was greedy for the rewards they promised him. 2 Peter 2:15 comments on his motivation, "Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness."

Balaam loved money and wanted it. He claimed to want to please God -- unfortunately he did not really know God. He lived in deceit, hearing God through sorcery. The "god" he knew was not the real God; what he heard "from God" was really a mix of both God and demons deceiving him.

He would have been ok if he just stuck to what he originally heard, but his greed drove him back to inquire a second time. The second time, he got a demon imitating God's voice and telling him what he wanted to hear. "If the men come to call you, rise and go with them" (Num 22:20). That "if the men come" is kind of a joke, since Balaam had already instructed them to spend the night in town and come back the next morning. They came back as they had been asked, and Balaam went with them. Why? He wanted the money they offered him.

Now this is where it gets interesting. Verse 20 says, "And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, "If the men come to call you, rise and go with them." But verse 22 says, "Then God's anger was aroused because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as an adversary against him." This may make God sound dyslexic if you don't understand what is happening here. The problem is that Balaam was deceived. He thought he was God's prophet but God did not think of Balaam that way. Balaam approached God in ways that God found unacceptable -- sorcery and divination (Num 24:1), so his hearing was very suspect. Balaam had originally heard from God and when he went back to ask again, God did not answer him because He had already spoken on this topic. So the voice that Balaam heard was not God. It was a demon imitating God's voice to deceive him.

God was angry at Balaam. I believe that He was angry for two reasons. First, He was angry because Balaam disobeyed God -- he went with Balak's men when God told him not to do so. We know that from the text, God says so in Num 22:22. I also believe God was angry because Balaam asked a second time after he got his answer; and his reason for asking was because he did not like the first answer -- he wanted the money that Balak was offering him. We get a hint of that from Jude 1:11, "Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit."

The story goes on that God sent an angel to kill him. However, Balaam's donkey saw the angel and skidded away from it and saved Balaam's life. When Balaam became aware of the angel's presence, he repented for his disobedience and was willing to turn back and go home. At that point, God told Balaam to go ahead and go to Balak, but that he must only speak what God tells him to say. So Balak took Balaam to a mountain top to see the Israelites. But instead of cursing them, Balaam blessed them. So Balak took Balaam to a different place for a different view, hoping to get Balaam to curse them. But again he spoke blessings instead of curses. One would think that Balak would get the message and give up. But he did not. Instead, he took Balaam to a third location.

Balak may have been slow, but Balaam began to get the message. Num 24:1-2 says, "Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times, to seek to use sorcery, but he set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam raised his eyes, and saw Israel encamped according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him." In other words, the third time Balaam finally approached God in a way that God found acceptable. That means that he had approached God in unacceptable ways the first two times. Despite that, God had spoken to him. Why? Because it served God's purposes to use this deceived false prophet to speak a true word. God wanted the Israelites blessed, and king Balak wanted them cursed. So God turned the tables on Balak and used his own false prophet to speak God's true message of blessings on His people.

God will sometimes speak a true word through a false prophet. Why? Because He is God and He can do what He wants. God used Caiaphas, the high priest, who was one of the Pharisees plotting to kill Jesus, to prophecy about His death. It is recorded in John 11:49-52. Verse 51 tells us, "He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation."

Sometimes God speaks true words through bad (or false) prophets, as he did with Caiaphas and just as He did with Balaam.

To finish Balaam's story, he blessed the Israelites the third time that Balak tried to get him to curse them. So Balak got mad at Balaam, and in response, Balaam spoke a fourth blessing over the Israelites. (Was that like rubbing salt in a wound?) Then Balaam went home. That is pretty much the end of the story, as recorded in Numbers.

Numbers 31:16 adds a footnote to the story. It talks about Balaam giving Balak advice about how to destroy the Israelites, to get them to sin against God. In fact, Jesus commented on this in Rev 2:14, where He said, "You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality."

In other words, Balaam did not convert and become a true prophet after his encounter with God. He remained in his deceit and later gave Balak advice on how to get the Israelites to curse themselves. Balaam is treated as a false prophet in all three New Testament references to him.

God spoke through the false prophet Balaam to bless His people. Sometimes He truly speaks through false prophets, in order to send His truth to those who are being deceived. This is why we must not give a false prophet instant credibility if they speak one good word. God is all powerful and He can glorify Himself through anything, even deceived false prophets. When God speaks through a false prophet, He is not targeting His own people, but those who are in deception. God is a gracious God and He desires to shine His truth and light into people's lives and set them free from their deception. He will sometimes send them truth through surprising means, such as speaking through a false prophet.

However, when God wants to speak to His own children, He will use credible messengers, people known to honor and obey Him and who are known to hear His voice clearly and speak His words. If God wants to send the same message that He gave through a false prophet to His own people, He won't use the false prophet to do it. Instead, He will send them a true prophet with the same message.

-- © GodSpeak International 2003 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from <copyright@godspeak.org> --

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