Numbers 22: Lessons Regarding Balaam’s Seven Deadly Sins

Introduction: God’s enemies realized that they could not defeat the Jews on the battlefield on their own. Here, the Moabite King Balak hired a sorcerer named Balaam to curse the Jews. God warned Balaam not to participate. But Balaam tried in vain to deceive God. Through Balak and Balaam actions, God reveals several deadly sins to avoid. These include: (1) sorcery, (2) deceit, (3) pride, (4) covetousness, (5) disobedience, (6) spiritual blindness, and (7) idolatry.

Background: Balak’s Plot Against Israel. Nu. 22:1-7.

  • Balak pleads with Balaam to curse the Jews. After God defeated the Ammonites, King Balak of Moab became fearful that his kingdom was next. Thus, he turned to a sorcerer for hire named Balaam, to curse the Jews: “Then the sons of Israel journeyed on, and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan opposite Jericho. 2 Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. 3 So Moab was in great fear because of the people, for they were numerous; and Moab was in dread of the sons of Israel. 4 Moab said to the elders of Midian, ‘Now this horde will eat up all that is around us, as the ox eats up the grass of the field!” And Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time. 5 So he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, at Pethor, which is near the Euphrates River, in the land of the sons of his people, to call for him, saying, ‘Behold, a people came out of Egypt; behold, they have covered the surface of the land, and they are living opposite me.’ 6 Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.’ 7 So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian left with the fees for divination in their hands; and they came to Balaam and repeated Balak’s words to him.” (Nu. 22:1-7). Satan used Balak and Balaam in a failed effort to prevent God’s promises from coming true. But God is sovereign and faithful. Thus, their efforts failed.

Balak attempted to use Balaam to curse the Jews1

  • The flesh wars against our spirit. After defeating the Amorites, the Jews traveled back to the plains of Moab where they would stay until God gave the word for Joshua to take them into the Promised Land (Nu. 22:1). The Moabites feared the Jews (Nu. 22:3). They worried that the Jews’ vast numbers would consume all the economic resources around them (Nu. 22:4). Solomon warned that the fear of men brings a snare (Prov. 29:25). The Moabites were also no strangers to snares. Moab in Hebrew meant “from the father.” They, like the Amorites, came from the daughters of Lot. They committed incest with their father (Gen. 19:30-38). Balak was their king. His name meant “to lay waste, to destroy.” (Nu. 22:2). His father Zippor’s name meant sparrow, a small bird that symbolizes a child (Nu. 22:2). Thus, Baal was one who preyed on the children. The Midianites were the descendants of Abraham through Keturah (Gen. 25:1-6). Moses later married the daughter of a Midianite priest (Ex. 2:15; Acts 7:29). Both kings symbolized the flesh. They formed a pact against the nation of Israel, the descendants of Isaac. Isaac was the child of faith or God’s promise (Nu. 22:4). Your flesh is likewise constantly at war with the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:17).

  • The devil conspires against you. The fear of the two nations competing for the same land replayed a conflict that once plagued Abraham and Lot. Their herdsmen disputed over the same lands. To avoid conflict, Lot took Jordan, and Abraham took Israel (Gen. 13:5-15). Because Jordan belonged to the descendants of Lot, God told Moses not to attack them (Dt. 2:9). Yet, the king of Moab did not know this. Thus, he sought to hire the sorcerer Balaam to cast a spell on Israel (Nu. 22:7). He reasoned that Balaam’s spell might cause enough confusion within Israel to allow his troops to defeat them in battle (Nu. 22:6). The battle against Israel continued on. David later cried out to the Lord for protection from the evil men that conspired against him (Ps. 140:1). The devil is also actively plotting against you. Are you seeking God's protection? (Ps. 7:10; Prov. 30:5).

1. Sorcery. Nu. 22:6-7.

  • Balaam was a sorcerer. James, the half brother of Jesus, warned against those: (1) who go the way of Cain, (2) rush “headlong into the error of Balaam”, and (3) perish in the rebellion of Korah (Jude 1:11). The warning about Cain’s murder of his brother Abel is clear (Gen 4:8). The warning from Korah’s rebellion against Moses and God should also be clear (Nu. 16:1-32). But what errors of Balaam should we seek to avoid? Sorcery was one of seven.

  • The devil has real powers to deceive you. Balaak had a reputation for being successful in blessing and cursing those around him (Nu. 22:7). He was not alone in his dark powers. Pharaoh’s magicians were able to turn their rods into snakes (Ex. 7:12). His magicians also copied God’s first plague by turning water into blood (Ex. 7:22). They also replicated His second plague by making frogs come up from the Nile (Ex. 8:7). Thus, Satan has real powers to deceive. Because people fail to recognize these powers, Jesus warns that even the most educated people among us will be deceived in the future when Satan comes with supernatural signs and wonders (Matt. 24:5, 11, 24; Mk. 13:22; 2 Thess. 2:9-10; Rev. 16:14).

  • Using the devil’s power is an abomination to God. God warns: “Let no one be found among you…who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls upon the dead.” (Dt. 18:10-11; Lev. 19:26; Is. 47:13). The penalty for these things was death (Lev. 20:27; Ex. 22:18). Saul was punished with death only one day after he visited the witch at Endor to have her speak with the dead spirit of Samuel (1 Sam. 28:7-20; 1 Chron. 10:13-14). Jesus likewise warned: “Outside [of the gates heaven] are the dogs, those who practice magic arts . . ..” (Rev. 22:14-15). For those who repent, Christ fulfilled the penalty for sorcery. Yet, sorcery is still something that you and your kids need to avoid today.

  • Test every spirit. We are told to test every spirit (1 Jo. 4:1). In Acts, Peter rebuked Simon, a sorcerer who wanted to mix God’s truth with his sorcery: “You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.” (Acts 8:20). Some early church writers claim that Simon was a source of many false teachings in Christianity’s early years. Throughout history, there have been many people who have claimed that there were prophets as opposed to scorers, mediums, or spiritists. This includes the founder of the fastest growing religion in the world, Islam. Do you know the test for determining if its founder was a prophet or a spiritist? (Dt. 18:17-22). Do you know enough about religion to answer someone who seeks to convert you?

  • Protect your kids and your mind. The occult is made popular through books and movies and countless vampire and werewolf movies. The occult is also made popular by board games like Ouija boards. It is also celebrated when people dress up as demons, witches, warlocks, and the dead at Halloween. If you let your kids celebrate these things or if you watch these things, who are you glorifying?

  • Narcotics. Most Christians will claim that they have no reason to concern themselves with sorcery because they would never practice it or follow others who do. Yet, the Bible warns that we engage in sorcery when we consume narcotics. In the New Testament, the Greek word for “witchcraft” is the “pharmakia” (Gal. 5:20; See also Rev. 9:21; 18:23). From this word, we get our “pharmacy.” Although a pharmacy today is where we obtain prescription medications, the context in the New Testament referred to mind altering substances that put people in communion with the devil. We are not to become slaves to this kind of addictive and destructive sin (1 Cor. 7:23) Have you protected your mind from the sorcery stemming from narcotics? Do your kids know the link between narcotics and sorcery?

2. Deceit. Nu. 22:8-14.

  • God tested Balaam, and Balaam sought to deceive God. God came to Balaam in a dream and asked him about the people from Moab. Balaam tried to deceive God to gain money: “8 And he said to them, ‘Spend the night here, and I will bring word back to you just as the Lord may speak to me.’ And the leaders of Moab stayed with Balaam. 9 Then God came to Balaam and said, ‘Who are these men with you?10 Balaam said to God, ‘Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent word to me: 11 ‘Behold, there is a people who came out of Egypt, and they cover the surface of the land; now come, curse them for me; perhaps I will be able to fight against them and drive them out.’’ 12 But God said to Balaam, ‘Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.’ 13 So Balaam got up in the morning and said to Balak’s representatives, ‘Go back to your land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.’ 14 And the representatives from Moab got up and went to Balak, and said, ‘Balaam refused to come with us.’” (Nu. 22:8-14). Because God is omnipotent, Balaam could not deceive Him.

  • Balaam’s deceit against God. Although God asked Balaam who the men were and what they wanted (Nu. 22:9), He knew who the men were and what they wanted. His questions were a test. While explaining what Balak wanted, Balaam left out Balak’s concern that “they are living next to me.” (Nu. 22:5(b); 10-11). The Jews had never attacked Moab. Thus, they posed no military threat. Balaam merely relayed the concern that the Jews had covered the face of the Earth. Balaam tried to make it appear as if the real concern was a threat to Moab’s survival. Balaam knew the identity of the real God of Israel. Rather than referring to God by the generic term Eloheim, he referred to God by the term “Yahweh.” (Nu. 22:12). Balaam hoped that God would allow him to curse Israel for the money that he would receive. Yet, he was delusional. God’s action of parting the Red Sea was known throughout the world at that time (Josh 2:10). He previously told Abraham that He would bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him (Gen. 12:1-3). Today, countries around the world are again scheming against Israel. Should we expect our county to be blessed if it fails to protect Israel or forces it to give up its lands?

  • Balaam’s deceit against Balak’s emissaries. God expressly told Balaam that he was not to go with Balaak’s emissaries. He was also clear that Balaam could not curse the Jews because they were blessed (Nu. 22:12). Balaam, however, did not convey this to Balak’s emissaries. Balaam merely told them that God had prohibited him from going with them (Nu. 22:13). Thus, Balaam left open to the emissaries the possibility that he might be permitted to go and curse the Jews in the future for a higher price. God abhors the man who uses deceit (Ps. 5:6; 34:13; 55:23). Those who practice deceit will not dwell with Him (Ps. 101:7). We are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). Is there any deceit in your business practices? Do you allow yourself to do business with those who are deceitful toward others?

3. Pride. Nu. 22:15-19.

  • Balak and Balaam were too prideful to drop the matter. Balak’s pride caused him to believe that he could convert Balaam, and Balaam’s pride led him to believe that he could convert God: “15 Then Balak sent representatives once again, more numerous and more distinguished than the previous. 16 They came to Balaam and said to him, ‘This is what Balak the son of Zippor says: ‘I beg you, let nothing keep you from coming to me;’ 17 for I will indeed honor you richly, and I will do whatever you tell me. Please come then, curse this people for me.’’’ 18 But Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, ‘Even if Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the Lord my God. 19 Now please, you also stay here tonight, and I will find out what else the Lord will say to me.’” (Nu. 22:15-19). Because pride comes from Satan, both Balak and Balaam would fail in their efforts.

  • Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall. Unaware of God’s true statements to Balaam, Balak assumed that the price was not high enough. So he sent a more prestigious delegation and promised more money (Nu. 22:15-17). Balak was too full of pride to take no for an answer. He later demanded to know why his first request was rejected (Nu. 22:37). God later condemned Moab for its pride (Jer. 48:29). Balaam, however, was flattered by his pride. He knew God’s will. But he invited the delegation to spend the night out of the hope that God would change his mind (Nu. 22:19). “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall.” (Prov. 16:18; Is. 4:4; 10:12). You also cannot effectively serve Him if you are filled with pride (Phil. 2:3, 5; Matt. 23:12).

4. Covetousness. Nu. 22:20-22; 2 Pet. 2:15.

  • God became angry with Balaam because He knew that Balaam planned to deceive Him. Although Balaam agreed to do what God said, he was in fact motivated by greed: “20 And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, ‘If the men have come to call you, rise and go with them; but you shall do only the thing that I tell you.’21 So Balaam arose in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the leaders of Moab. 22 But God was angry that he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him.” (Nu. 22:20-22). Balaam could not hope to hide his sins from God.

  • The desire for money is the root of many evils. God permitted Balaam to go with Balaak’s dignitaries on the condition that he only say what God commanded (Nu. 22:20). Balaam later became filled with greed and planned to earn his money by cursing Israel (2 Pet. 2:15). Yet, God knew his thoughts and became angry with Balaam for his plan to deceive Him (Nu. 22:22). The way of Balaam was covetousness. The Tenth Commandment prohibits coveting (Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21). The desire for money is also the root of many evils (1 Tim. 6:10). Solomon wrote: “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me. Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, who is the Lord.” (Prov. 30:8-9). Are you content with what God has given you? Or, are you filled with greed for more?

5. Disobedience. Nu. 22:22.

  • Balaam was a counterfeit Abraham. Balaam was from the Pethor, near a major river (Nu. 22:5). Most believe that this was near the Euphrates more than 370 miles away. The journey would have taken between 20 and 25 days. The four journeys in this story took 90 days. He traced the same route that Abraham did when God told him to leave with Sarah to the Promised Land (Gen. 11:31; 12:1-7). Abraham was remembered for his faith in obeying God’s voice (Heb. 11:8). By contrast, Balaam was remembered for his disobedience (Jude 1:11; 2 Pet. 2:15). We are likewise commanded not to be disobedient to God (Ro. 1:30; 2 Tim. 3:2). Are you praying for the strength to be obedient (Jam 1:5). Are you willing to be obedient in His calling for you, even if it may not seem to be the most prosperous calling?

6. Spiritual Blindness. Nu. 22:23-38.

  • God used a donkey to expose Balaam’s spiritual blindness. When Balaam tried to force his donkey to help him rebel against God, God had the donkey speak to rebuke Balaam: 23 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn in his hand, the donkey turned off from the road and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey to guide her back onto the road. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path of the vineyards, with a stone wall on this side and on that side. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pressed herself against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall, so he struck her again. 26 Then the angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?’ 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, ‘It is because you have made a mockery of me! If only there had been a sword in my hand! For I would have killed you by now!’ 30 But the donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been in the habit of doing such a thing to you?’ And he said, ‘No.’ 31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his sword drawn in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground. 32 Then the angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was reckless and contrary to me. 33 But the donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away from me, I certainly would have killed you just now, and let her live.’ 34 So Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, ‘I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the way against me. Now then, if it is displeasing to you, I will turn back.’ 35 But the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, ‘Go with the men, but you shall speak only the word that I tell you.’ So Balaam went along with the representatives of Balak. 36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, which is on the Arnon border, at the extreme end of the border. 37 Then Balak said to Balaam, ‘Did I not urgently send word to you to call for you? Why did you not come to me? Am I really unable to honor you?’ 38 So Balaam said to Balak, ‘Behold, I have come to you now! Am I really able to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that only shall I speak.”’ (Nu. 22:23-38). Like Balaam, most people are spiritually blind to things of the Spirit.

Rembrandt Hermensz van Rijn (1606-1669) (painted 1626)2

God exposes Balaam’s spiritual blindness3

  • God opens and closes doors through your struggles. Balaam was spiritually blind. He could not see the angel standing before him (Nu. 22:23-27). Nor did he even comprehend God’s miracle that allowed the donkey to speak (Nu. 22:28, 30). The angel informed Balaam that he would have killed Balaam if the donkey had not turned away (Nu. 22:33). Rather than interpreting the signs of his donkey as a true prophet, Balaam showed that he was spiritually blind by beating the donkey three times (Nu. 22:23, 25, 27). The donkey’s three acts of disobedience towards his master symbolized Balaam’s subsequent attempts on three separate occasions to utter curses against Israel. Balaam was not alone in his spiritual blindness. Elisha’s servant was later blind to the angels that protected him (2 Ki. 6:15-18). Paul was also initially spiritually blind in persecuting God’s believers (Acts 9:3-9). Paul then preached that others were also blinded from the truth (Eph. 4:17-19; 2 Cor. 4:3-4). You are also to walk by faith, not your sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Do you become annoyed when things around you go wrong? Or, do you see obstacles as God closing doors to redirect your path?

  • God can speak through anyone. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise ... ” (1 Cor. 1:27-29). He used a donkey to foreshadow His use of a sorcerer to bless Israel. He can speak through anyone. Are you only looking for direction in the powerful people around you? Or, are you also looking for His direction from the lowly people around you?

  • Our nation is spiritually blind. God later lamented: “An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s manager, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand.” (Is. 1:3). Our nation’s early settlers sought the freedom to worship God without a state dictating how they did so. That freedom of religion was included in the Constitution. Today, it has become common for some to believe that the founders meant for the freedom “of religion” to be a freedom “from religion”. We as a nation have become spiritually blind.

7. Idolatry. Nu. 22:39-41; 23:1-4.

  • Balaam instructed Balak to build altars to all the gods. Even though God had directly rebuked Balaam, Balaam proceeded to build altars to all the Canaanite gods: “39 And Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. 40 Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent some to Balaam and the leaders who were with him. 41 Then it came about in the morning that Balak took Balaam and brought him up to the high places of Baal, and he saw from there a portion of the people.” (Nu. 22:39-41). Balaam could not let go of his idols. He also hoped to still collect his fee as a sorcerer from Balak.

  • There is only one altar that leads to heaven. Before being asked to curse Israel, Balaam instructed Balak to build seven altars (Nu. 23:1). Balaam knew that he was dealing with Yahweh (Nu. 22:12). When God came to Balaam, Balaam then pointed out to God that he had sacrificed a bull and a ram at each altar (Nu. 23:4). But there was only one altar for burnt offerings under God’s Law (Ex. 27:1-8; Lev. 1:3-17). Balaam was in effect making sacrifices to other gods and then boasting to God that he had done so. He was in effect saying that there were many ways to reach Him, and he would try all of them to be safe (1 Cor. 8:4-5). This is relativism. Christ was sacrificed at one altar called the cross (Heb. 13:10). He is the only way to get to heaven (Jo. 14:6). Are you willing to defend the claims of Christianity? Or, are you willing to accept the view of Balaam that all roads lead to heaven? If all roads were equal, Jesus needlessly died on the cross (Gal. 2:21).