Tag Archives: Balaam

Ungodly Men in the Church

The book of Jude — which I’ve blogged about quite a bit — addresses ungodly men in the church, not those outside the church.

Jude’s key passage is verse 11, where he compares ungodly men in the church to Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

It’s noteworthy that each of these men has an overlooked connection with God, as do ungodly men in the church. Despite this, it’s their failings for which they are noted. But even in these, we may be looking at things too simplistically. Upon deeper consideration:

These examples give us pause. The ungodly in the church: do not control sin, mix different religious ideas, and oppose God’s leaders.

Given this, we have much to guard against, less we become the very people in the church that Jude warns us against.

The Fallacy of Syncretism

Although many of the mentions in the Bible of Balaam are negative, in the primary account of him, he seems to basically be a good, God-fearing guy.

Balaam’s issue wasn’t his connection with God, but instead his attempt to meld the God of the Bible with other, contrary beliefs, in this case sorcery and divination. These are incompatible with God.

This practice continues today; it’s called syncretism, the fusion of differing belief systems or an attempt to reconcile religions. Consider:

  • God and Hinduism
  • God and Confucius
  • God and Buddha
  • God and voodoo
  • God and crystals
  • perhaps even God and Yoga
  • or what about God and prosperity?

But God is a jealous God. He doesn’t want to be shared; he doesn’t want his peoples’ attention split between himself and someone or something else. He wants all of us, undivided and undistracted.

It is only human arrogance that suggests otherwise; this is the fallacy of syncretism.

[See Balaam’s story and other mentions of Balaam]

More Thoughts on Balaam

In reading the story of Balaam, it is difficult to see what he may have done wrong.  Indeed, based on this record alone, he seems like an upstanding guy.  Therefore, we can only speculate as to what his error might have been.

However, there are several other references to Balaam in the Bible.  These all portray him in a negative light.  Consider that Balaam:

  • Practiced divination (and was ultimately killed for doing so).
  • Taught and advised Israel’s enemies on how to distract them from God and sin against him.
  • Was willing to do the wrong thing, as long as there was remuneration.
  • Tried to curse Israel, which God turned it into a blessing.  (This would explain why the king gave him three chances to issue a curse and why the king blamed God for Balaam not receiving his promised reward).

This certainly provides a different view of Balaam.  Apparently he wasn’t so good after all.  As such, he exemplifies an ungodly man within the church, just as Jude said.

[Numbers 22-24, Joshua 13:22, Revelation 2:14, Numbers 31:16, 2 Peter 2:15, Joshua 24:9-10, Deuteronomy 23:4-5]

The Error of Balaam

We’ve covered Cain’s path and Korah’s rebellion; now it is time to address Balaam’s error.

Frankly, I am perplexed to as to what Balaam’s error actually was.  In reading his saga, I see a man who affirmed God as “my God,” heard God’s voice, and fully obeyed God’s instructions.  Indeed Balaam had a better track record them me.

God told Balaam to not go and he stayed.  Then God told him to go and he went — but God was angry because he did.  Based on this, it would not be a stretch to conclude that God was bipolar.  However, I will reject that diagnosis as being inconsistent with God’s character, instead seeking a different explanation.

Perhaps the first time that God said “no” should have been enough.  Balaam had no need to ask again — unless he didn’t like the first answer.  It might be like kids pestering their folks for something.  Eventually the parents relent, not because they changed their mind, but because they want to teach their offspring a lesson about making good choices or learning what happens when bad paths are selected.

Another consideration is the implication that Balaam was mixing his pursuit of God with divination, a practice strictly verboten.  This is a common practice today, where practitioners cherry pick the choice parts of various religions or philosophies, forming their own belief system.

Is there any expectation that their outcome will be different from Balaam’s, who was ultimately killed for his error?

[Numbers 22-24, Joshua 13:22]

 

Cain, Balaam, and Korah

In Jude’s brief exposition of ungodly people in the church, he evokes three Old Testament characters: Cain, Balaam, and Korah.  Cain, we know to be a murderer; Balaam, greedy; and Korah, rebellious.  However, it is simplistic to see them merely as evil men, for they also had an air of godliness to them, seeking God or having a connection to him.

It is astonishing, but each of these men did things that were seemingly right and godly.  Despite that, the results of their actions went badly awry.  The outcome renders them as emblematic of ungodly people in the church.

As we study what they did, we might find that we may be a lot closer to falling into their errors than we would normally dare to think possible.

Carefully consider then, the lives of Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

[Jude 1:11]

The Third Time’s a Charm

In Jude’s short letter, he often writes in triads, listing three items or offering three examples.  He does this with such regularity that when he deviates from this in verse 12, I thought I had misread the text.  Consider the following triplets:

  • three actions of God: called, loved, and kept (and if you implicitly see the Holy Spirit in doing the calling, then the Trinity is implied here as well: Holy Spirit, Father, and Jesus); verse 1.
  • three blessings: mercy, peace, and love; verse 2.
  • three historic warnings: leaving Egypt, deserting angels, and Sodom and Gomorrah; verses 5-7.
  • three negative actions: pollute their bodies, reject authority, and slander angels; verse 8.
  • three bad examples: Cain, Balaam, and Korah; verse 11.
  • five negative allusions: shepherds who feed only themselves, clouds without rain, dead autumn trees, wild waves, wandering stars; verse 12.
  • three characteristics of ungodly men in the church: cause division, follow natural instincts, and do not have the Spirit; verse 19.
  • three prescriptions: build up your faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, and stay in God’s love; verses 20-21.
  • three ways to show mercy: help doubters, save others from destruction, and carefully rescue others without being taken down; verse 22.
  • three attributes of God: keeps us from falling, presents us without fault, and has great joy; verse 24.
  • four praises for God: glory, majesty, power, and authority; verse 25.

As someone who also has a propensity of writing in threes, Jude’s style is especially appealing to me.

[read Jude 1]

Biblical References in Jude

As covered a few weeks ago, the book of Jude contains three cryptic references to ancient non-biblical texts.  In addition, Jude also includes references to biblical accounts.

The first is in verse 6, where Jude mentions angels who abandoned their role and their home.  This is likely a nod to Genesis 6:1-4, which talks about the son’s of God marrying the daughters of man.  That is a bit perplexing itself, but at least it is the Bible.  (Alternately, some scholars think Jude is referring to an ancient non-biblical text, The Book of Enoch.  I opt for Genesis 6.)

Another non-biblical reference is found in verse 17-18.  Here Jude cites other apostles who warn that in the last days there will be scoffers who follow ungodly desires.  Although the New Testament of the Bible did not exist at the time of Jude’s writing, he may have been privy to Paul’s and Peter’s letters or more likely, he simply heard them — or heard of them — issuing this warning.  Jude’s words are recorded almost verbatim by Peter in 2 Peter 3:3, as well as being alluded to in 2 Peter 2:1-3.  Likewise, Paul, in his letters to Timothy, covers this theme in 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1-5, and 2 Timothy 4:3-4.

Last, and perhaps most significant, is references to CainBalaam, and, Korah, which I will address in future posts.

Jude was certainly well read and well-informed, peppering his letters with many references and illustrations.  Though they would have been helpful to his audience then, that is not so much the case today.  Even so, Jude’s central warning to guard against ungodly people in the church is well founded — and timeless.

[Jude 1:6, Genesis 6:1-4, Jude 1:17-18, 2 Peter 3:32 Peter 2:1-3, Timothy references]