If the Book of Revelation is a vision of the end times, then the Apostle John’s message to the seven churches of Asia in the first three chapters is a prophetic snapshot of what the end-times church will face.
In his letter to the church at Pergamum, John warns about the spirit of Balaam, suggesting it will be a rising force just before Christ’s return:
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. (Revelation 2:14 NASV)
Balaam was a prophet mentioned in the Book of Numbers and, using the vernacular from the 1960s, he was one “strange” cat.
Balaam was from Petheor, in Amah near the Euphrates River, a country actually mentioned in Egyptian records. This puts Balaam in Mesopotamia where Abraham originated (Deuteronomy 23:3-6).
But his unfamiliarity with Israel tells us he was a gentile.
He may have been associated with a group that followed Melchizedek who was also from Mesopotamia. We know that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek who was called the King of Salem and the Priest of the Most High God (Genesis 14:18-20).
In Psalms 110:4, Melchizedek is pictured as a type of Christ. This suggests that there was a group in Mesopotamia who God revealed Himself to.
If Balaam was part of this group, he would have had a similar understanding of Jehovah. In fact, the Hebrew word that Balaam used for Lord (Numbers 22:8) is “Jehovah.” the proper name of the one true God.
But Balaam was also a prophet of some renown who actually heard from God. This meant he was a wicked prophet, but not necessarily a false one.
Under Moses, Israel had just defeated the Amorites and was now on the border of Moab. King Balak was nervous and he sent officials to Balaam offering him money to curse Israel. When God told Balaam not to go, Balak asked again:
15 Then Balak sent other officials, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. 16 They came to Balaam and said:
“This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, 17 because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me.”
This time Balak sent celebrities, a large group, with even more money. Important, influential people were encouraging Balaam to curse Israel. The pressure was on.
This time Balaam agreed to go, but told the group that he could only prophecy the message Jehovah gave.
So Balaam joined Balak on Mount Bamoth-Baal overlooking Israel’s camp and after constructing seven altars and sacrificing 14 animals to Jehovah, Balaam spoke words of blessing over Israel.
Outraged, Balak gave Balaam a second chance on Mount Pisgah where the Bible says Balaam “met with the Lord.” Again he blessed Israel instead of cursing them:
16 Then the Lord met Balaam and put a word in his mouth… (Numbers 23:16 NASV)
Desperate, Balak gave Balaam a third chance on top of Mount Peor and this time the Bible tells us that the Spirit of the Lord fell upon Balaam (Numbers 24:2). He not only blessed Israel, but even provided revelation of the coming Messiah:
“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17 NASV)
Though Balaam could not curse Israel, he still desired the money Balak offered and eventually provided the Moabite king with information on how to defeat Israel. If Balak enticed Israel into immorality and idol worship, God would judge His people (Numbers 31:16).
Balak followed this advice. God judged Israel and Balaam received his payoff.
New Testament writers warned repeatedly about Balaam. Peter compares false teachers, who loved their wages of wickedness, to Balaam (2 Peter 2:15) and Jude warns of those who “for pay” have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam (Jude 11).
So what is the spirit of Balaam. In a nutshell, it refers to Christians perhaps even ministries who are influenced by money and popularity.
This is what makes it most difficult, because like Balaam, these ministries hear from God. They are anointed by God. They do prophesy accurately and there may even be legitimate miracles.
But they subtly adjust their message to what sells the most books, brings in the most donations or gives them the most popularity.
We are all susceptible to this, particularly in this new social media age where you are rewarded by people who like your message or video. We now track the number of followers we have on Twitter and the people who retweet our message. We encourage people to like our Facebook page and promote the page to increase the number of likes.
There are seminars on how to grow your influence on social media. Now in itself there is nothing wrong with any of this. In fact, I would encourage people to take courses and find out how they can best take advantage of social media in this fast changing world.
But it can become a problem, if growing your social media presence is more important than the message.
Because of social media’s increasing influence in the world, we will be tempted to be “liked” by people instead of God.