2 Peter 2:15-16
Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor…
To us the narrative as a whole is stamped visibly and broadly with the arrow-mark of heaven. As Canon Kingsley says, it is one which never would have been, never could have been, invented by the Jews. They never would have put into the mouth of a heathen prophet the sublime evangelic statements which Balaam utters. The character is evidently drawn from life, A few of those traits of truth and experience we shall proceed to notice.
I. The first thing which strikes us in Balaam's history is THAT WE HAVE HERE A VERY BAD MAN, THOUGH A TRUE PROPHET. He was covetous — "his heart was exercised with covetous practices," "he ran greedily after reward." Some of you may think that not a very great sin, but Scripture brands it as idolatry. Balaam, however, was worse than that. Like Simon Magus, he was desirous of turning the gifts of inspiration to low mercenary gain, and of making the things of the kingdom an affair of barter. Yea, worse than that. He rushed pell-mell to evil; and not only when remonstrated with did he refuse obedience, he became desperate in disobedience. There is no telling what a man may descend to I Gifts are not graces; great men are not always good men. Intellectual attainments, like some other things, may be valued too highly. Better the most drivelling idiot that crawls than the laurelled victor who, to attain his end, has prostituted his powers to the prince of darkness.
II. WE HAVE A STRIKING INSTANCE OF APPARENT OBEDIENCE TO THE DIVINE WILL MASKING AN INSINCERE HEART, Balaam has been called a conscientious man. We should demur to that. Still, he had a remarkably clear idea of the fidelity of God, of His unchangeableness, of His unimpeachable righteousness, of His inflexible truth. He had a conscience, though very poorly he used it. Conscience was strong enough in him to make a coward of him; to make him now this, now that. It was not strong enough in him to lift him above the fascinating power of evil. Hence those inconsistencies which, like the confusing influences of light and shade, render this man as much a problem as any in history. Oh, whatever we are, God help us to be true!
III. WE SEE HOW GOD FREQUENTLY CONCEDES IN JUDGMENT A MAN'S WISHES. Some of us have greatly wondered why God, the second time of Balaam's asking Him, said, "Go with the men"; and yet "that His anger should be kindled" because Balaam did precisely what He had told him to do. Now this difficulty is met by two passages of Scripture: one is in Ezekiel 14., where we are told certain of the elders of Israel came and sat before the prophet, and the Word of the Lord came to him, saying, "Shall I be inquired of at all by them? Therefore, thus saith the Lord God, every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumbling-block of his iniquity before his face and cometh to the prophet, I, the Lord, will answer him according to the multitude of his idols." The other passage is in 2 Thessalonians
2. "God will send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie." He "had pleasure in unrighteousness." Do you think God was going to give that man repeatedly right and gracious answers when he knew that the thing he asked was displeasing to God? No! to the froward God will show Himself froward. If a man "will have none of the Divine counsel," it is no use repeating and repeating what God would have him do, nor is it becoming the majesty of God. He will say, "Well, then, you will not take no for an answer; I have told you the consequences; be it then even as you wish." Often there would be no surer way to afflict us than to give us what we wish.
IV. HERE IS ILLUSTRATED THAT SECRET LAW BY WHICH THE SINNER IS ALMOST COMPELLED TO CONTINUE. He thinks he can stop when he pleases. No such thing! except the grace of God aids the endeavour. "Go with the men!" said the angel. I see that your heart still hankers after Balak's gold, you are not in earnest confessing your sin or in real acquiescence with the Divine judgment. "Go" then with them! Does not that illustrate the way of God's providence with thousands upon thousands? The sensualist no sooner has indulged a lawless passion than he begins to see the folly of it; but how few turn and implore help and ask pardon of Almighty God! Go on! says the angel. The fear of discovery, the growing power of habit, the augmented strength of evil passion, the shame of acknowledgment, the bonds of association, all, like the weeds around the drowning man, hinder endeavours at self-rescue. There is an inevitable pressure from behind which, once the false step is taken, almost necessitates continuance.
V. We have here presented us THE PICTURE OF A GOD-DESERTED MAN, NOT AT FIRST, BUT FINALLY. If we may say so, at first God seemed to have a liking for that man; as indeed for what finally reprobate transgressor at one time had He not a liking? "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked."
(G. Short, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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;