Friday, 7 February 2020
They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 2 Peter 2:15
It is such a fascinating verse to study. Peter, still speaking of the false teachers, now brings in a real-life example from Israel’s past, Balaam the son of Beor. The main story of him is found in Numbers 22-24, though he is mentioned at various times in both the Old and New Testaments. This is the first of three times in the New. Peter says of the false teachers, that “They have forsaken the right way.”
The Greek more literally reads, “Having left the straight way.” They have left, and they continue on that departure. The word “straight” signifies that which is correct or proper. Peter is possibly referring to his words of verse 2:2 where he notes that “many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.” There is the proper way of following Christ as outlined in God’s word, and there is that which departs from this path.
In their departure from this proper path, they have “gone astray.” The Greek word signifies roaming into error. Peter spoke of this concerning those he addresses in his first letter, saying, “For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
One can stray intentionally, or one can simply wander off the right path and into error, but either way, that person is no longer walking in accord with what God intends. Of the false teachers, Peter next says that they are “following the way of Balaam.”
What is remarkable is that Peter speaks of “the way of Balaam.” The introductory story of Balaam is found in Numbers 22, in the span of just a few verses. The Hebrew word, also translated as “way,” is found 8 times. Balaam was on a way which was perverse before the Lord. Peter uses this thought, which comes from his own history as is recorded in Scripture, and he applies it to false teachers in the time of the New Covenant. Of this, Charles Ellicott notes –
“Are gone astray. — The main verb of this long sentence. Here parallels with Jude begin again. In the historical incident of Balaam, as in that of Sodom and Gomorrha, our Epistle is more detailed than Jude (see on 2Peter 2:7). The past tenses in this verse are quite in harmony with the view that this chapter is a genuine prediction. (Comp. Genesis 49:9; Genesis 49:15; Genesis 49:23-24.) The future foretold with such confidence as to be spoken of as already past is a common form for prophecy to assume.”
Ellicott says that Peter is using a literary technique which takes past tense verbs and applies them in the sense of future prophecy. There are, and there will continue to be, false teachers who depart from the word. He is referring to them – throughout the age – as assuredly following this contrary path which Balaam had set out on.
Next, he calls Balaam, “the son of Beor.” This is an incorrect translation. The text from which the NKJV is translated says, Βοσόρ, or Bosor. The translators, thinking they need to help Peter’s words, have changed “Bosor” to read “Beor.” The reason they did this is because Balaam’s father is “Beor.” This is seen, for example, in Numbers 22:5 –
“Then he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying: ‘Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me!’”
Maybe thinking that Peter was sleepy when writing out his epistle, they change his word “Bosor” to “Beor.” But Peter made no error. Here is an example of what Peter is doing –
“And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you.” Luke 10:6
Jesus wasn’t saying that the person’s father was named “Peace.” Rather he was saying that the person emulated the noble trait of PEACE. Peter is doing the same thing here. One Hebrew word which is commonly translated as “flesh” is basar. Peter is using that Hebrew word and calling Balaam “son of the flesh,” meaning he was a carnal man – exactly how he is describing these false teachers. As he said in verse 2:10, they are “those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority.”
In this, Peter is then making a play on words. He knew very well that Balaam’s father was Beor, but – as we do all the time – he purposefully mispronounced the name to make a theological point. The Hebrew letter ayin, when pronounced in an especially guttural way, would make the name sound like Bosor, and would then correspond to basar. In other words, he makes a pun by calling him “Balaam, Son of the Flesh,” which speaks of his pursuing the carnal lusts of the flesh in his madness to get rich. As he says to finish out this verse, it was this Son of the Flesh “who loved the wages of unrighteousness.”
Peter uses the same term that he just used in verse 2:13, “the wages of unrighteousness,” to again tie the false teachers he has been speaking about with that which is improper. The account of Balaam shows that he was highly influenced by the call of profit, and he set about to enrich himself as outlined in the story. The path he followed was a reckless one, but despite that, the Lord used him in order to bless Israel. The story of Balaam is an ongoing story of those who perversely follow after riches, power, sexual domination, or whatever other perverse things they put before their love for God and His word.
Life application: In Revelation 2:14, Jesus speaks of Balaam in this way –
“But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.”
Compare what Peter says here to the false teachers Jesus warned us of. Jesus says they do three things to hinder their followers –
1) putting a stumbling block before the congregation
2) eating things sacrificed to idols
3) committing sexual immorality
When evaluating a supposed religious leader, look for such things in his character. Notable figures of the past that held to such practices are Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, David Koresh of the Branch Davidians, etc. Even a host of televangelists have engaged in unrepentant sexual immorality.
Jesus gives strong warnings that such leaders will take their congregants down paths which lead to condemnation. Pay attention to who you follow. If he is not leading you to Christ, or if he is doing it in a way contrary to Scripture, then flee from him and his wayward teaching.
Heavenly Father, may we never put our trust in man who is fallible. Give us the wisdom to follow Jesus alone and to attend a congregation which is solely devoted to fearing You and adhering to Your word. Keep us from the false teachers who would lead us astray for the sake of money or some other immoral precept. Amen.