15” Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, 16 but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.” (2 Peter 2:15-16)
What does it mean to go astray? The Prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 53:6 that, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The Hebrew word for astray is “tainu” meaning to wander, to err and to literally and/or spiritually stagger. It is a condition which the sinner brings upon themselves.
Within today’s text from 2 Peter, the apostle also used the word astray (πλανάω; planao) meaning to lead astray, to deceive, to cause someone to stray from the truth. Within the context of 2 Peter, the word astray takes on a darker and more ominous tone. False teachers are not only individuals who lead themselves astray from the Word of God but also lead others down the broad road which leads to destruction. These are they who are forsaking (καταλείπω; kataleipo) or abandoning the right way or the correct manner of life before God.
Having forsaken the truth of God’s Word, who, or what, are they following instead? Peter says they have followed the way of life demonstrated by the Prophet Balaam. Who exactly was Balamm? The following information is taken from the Tyndale Bible Dictionary.
Balaam was Beor’s son, a prophet or soothsayer from northern Mesopotamia who was hired by a Moabite king, Balak, to curse the Israelites who had arrived at the Jordan Valley opposite Jericho after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Israel’s defeat of the Amorites (Num. 21:21–25) had instilled fear in the heart of the Moabite king (22:3). Because curses and blessings were considered irrevocable (Gen. 27:34–38), Balak reasoned that if he could hire a prophet to curse the Israelites in the name of their own God, Yahweh, he could easily defeat them in battle and drive them away from his borders. Balak sent messengers to Pethor, where Balaam lived. The town is believed to be located near Haran along the Habur River, a tributary of the Euphrates. Balak offered Balaam an impressive sum to come down and curse the Israelites.
Balaam, however, was warned by the Lord that he should not go to Moab. The king of Moab would not accept Balaam’s refusal and sent his royal messengers back with offers of greater wealth and honor. Balaam revealed an inner lust for wealth and position by returning to the Lord to ask whether he should go. His words to the messengers, however, were very pious: “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God, to do less or more” (Num. 22:18, rsv). Although Balaam would do only what the Lord allowed, he became a prime example of someone who does the right thing for the wrong reason.
Balak had sent along with his messengers “the fees for divination” (Nm 22:7, rsv), which shows that he considered Balaam a diviner of the type pagan nations commonly used. The Israelites were forbidden by the Lord to consult diviners or practice divination (Deut. 18:10–11). A true prophet would not have even considered the possibility that serving Balak might be right. God’s final permission to let Balaam go, with the stipulation that he say only what God told him, was the Lord’s way of frustrating Balak’s cause and showing God’s care for his chosen people.
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “Balaam served as an illustration and example of such false prophets. He was an OT compromising prophet for sale to whomever paid him, who preferred wealth and popularity over faithfulness and obedience to God (Num. 22–24). Through a talking donkey, God kept him from cursing Israel (2 Pet. 2:16; cf. Num. 22:21–35).
Peter’s text parallels Jude 10-11 when it says, “10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion.”
In a recent interview in the September 2019 issue of Tabletalk Magazine, Coti W. Hinn, the nephew of prosperity preacher and televangelist Benny Hinn, explains why he left the prosperity gospel movement. In the interview, Hinn explains what he believes are the most significant errors of the prosperity gospel movement.
There are numerous errors, but let me break down four. First, it’s an assault on the sovereignty of God because it teaches people that they can control God with an offering or positive confession. People think they are the puppet master and God is the puppet. Growing up, I viewed Him as a magic genie, thinking that if I asked Him right, I would get whatever I wanted.
Second, it’s an assault on the atonement. Prosperity theology teaches that health, wealth, and happiness are earthly guarantees because of the atonement. The truth is, Jesus took the full wrath of the Father as a substitute for His people. The purpose of the atonement is to provide salvation, not “stuff.”
Third, prosperity theology does not have a biblical theology of suffering. God’s Word has answers regarding trials, sickness, pain, and loss. People need those right answers.
Fourth, prosperity theology twists biblical teaching about wealth and stewardship. Money is not evil, but we all must keep an eternal perspective (Matt. 6:19–24).
False prophets may sound very pious, but inwardly they are seeking to fulfill their lust of the flesh, their lust of the eyes and their pride of life (Gen. 3; Matthew 4; Luke 4; I John 2:15-17). They want big houses, expensive clothes and private jets and they want their listeners and supporters to pay for it. Resolve to not listen to what these false prophets have to say.
Soli deo Gloria!