“they have given themselves over for money to the error of Bil'am” Jude v11 (CJB)

The Error of Balaam

Who was Balaam (NIV) or Bil'am (CJB), and where might we meet his error today ?

The error of Balaam is mentioned in verse 11 of Jude’s letter to the Church. He said,

“they have given themselves over for money to the error of Bil'am” (CJB)

Who is Jude warning the church about?

“certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you.“

He is warning about people within the Church. And he calls them

"wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever."

It is worth reading the whole letter of Jude to get the context.

The error must be serious since it is associated with the way of Cain (Genesis 4 – he murdered his brother) and the rebellion of Korah (Numbers 16 – he rose up against Moses)

Peter also uses Balaam in his warnings to the church (2 Peter 2 v15-16

They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey--a beast without speech--who spoke with a man's voice and restrained the prophet's madness.
These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.

According to the Mishna,(quoted in JNTC)

The characteristics of the talmidim of Bil'am the wicked are an evil eye (stinginess and greed), a haughty spirit and a proud soul.... [They] inherit Gey Hinnom ( Hell) and descend to the pit of destruction.

Jesus refers to Balaam in Revelation 2 v14

Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: 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.

David Stern comments (JNTC) that although God did not allow Bil'am to do what Balak had hired him for .......... Bil'am made up for the king's disappointment by showing him how to trap Israel into sin ( Numbers 25)

The Bible record in Numbers 25 does not explicitly show Balaam leading Israel astray, but they were led astray by associating with the people of Moav. In Numbers 31 v8, we read that Bil'am was killed in Moav, along with the kings and in v16

Moshe asked them, "You let these women live? Why these are the ones who - because of Bilam's advice - caused the people of Israel to rebel..... (CJB)

It appears that Balaam became guilty by continuing to associate with those who sought, and eventually achieved, Israel's downfall. The significance of Balaam's actions clearly passed into Jewish understanding, to be mentioned even by Jesus himself.

Who was Balaam?

A prophet - Numbers 23 v5

The LORD put a message in Balaam's mouth and said, "Go back to Balak and give him this message."

But he was not an Israelite apparently.
He came from Assyria /Iraq - Num 22 v4-5
So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the River, (Euphrates) in his native land

He was evidently known, among the pagans, to be a seer, soothsayer or diviner who could be hired. But we see as the story unfolds that the LORD used him while he was attempting to use the LORD.

The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination.

It was the King of Moab who sought his services.

"Balak brought me from Aram, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains. `Come,' he said, `curse Jacob for me; come, denounce Israel."

But what about the mystery of a prophet, able to demonstrate his credentials, but prepared to lead God's people astray. Surely God could not have sent him? Check out Deuteronomy 13.

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere.

Beware of blindly following prophets or miracle workers; check what they are saying!

But Balaam is best remembered as the man whose donkey spoke to him.

What was Balaam’s error?

The core issue is that Balaam had been commissioned by an enemy of Israel and was on his way to curse the Israelites; whom God had blessed.

However, the way in which Balaam acted contrary to God’s will is more difficult to discern.

When first asked to go and Curse Israel he enquired of God, and was told "Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed." and he sent them away.

When they asked again he enquired and, v20

That night God came to Balaam and said, "Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you."

When he went, his donkey was stopped by the angel who eventually appeared to Balaam, causing him to acknowledge his error . v32

I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her." Balaam said to the angel of the LORD , "I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back."

The details of Balaam's error are not spelt out in Numbers alone, but the New Testament references to him make clear the understanding of the story that his guilt (as a prophet of God) was in associating with and working for those who wanted to curse Israel, while God had determined to bless Israel.

Perhaps Balaam (Bil'am) stands as a warning against asking God again after already having been told, "No." God told him he could not curse Israel for Balak, but Balaam still continued to hang out with the pagans.

Indeed we see that God does not allow Israel to be cursed but has Balaam pronounce three beautiful blessings . (v 7-10 and 18-25 and 24 v2-9)

And yet there are Christians within our churches who happily associate with charities and causes that have an anti-Israel, even anti-Semitic agenda, and are eager to find favour and acceptability with secular society by cursing Israel.

What is meant by cursing Israel? It is worth remembering Genesis 12 v3

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse

While the same word is used for both instances of "bless", two different words are used for "curse". A curse on Israel is any form of derogatory comment while God’s response is a violent response in terms of spewing out.

See Torah Pearls - Balak for a helpful study about Bilaam / Balaam, and how he came to pronounce the first Messianic prophecy in the Bible.


If Balaam and his error are in such bad company in Jude’s letter, being drawn into despising Israel must be a serious and dangerous path. And talking donkeys appear to be in short supply these days!


Updated 12/12/21

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