In Matthew 7:23, Jesus, having been teaching his disciples about false teachers and the like, tells them this:

Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:23 (NIV)

In the text of the Old Testament, we see someone who spoke with God and could have been considered a prophet of God. However, this person didn’t know God and would have been someone that Jesus would have told to depart from him. This person was Balaam.

Who was Balaam? What did he do, and why is he important?

Balaam, the son of Beor, was a prophet who lived at Pethor near the Euphrates River (cf. Numbers 22:5). When the Moabite king Balak, saw all the Israelites had done to Amorites, he summoned the prophet Balaam to pronounce curses over them, hoping to weaken them for attack (cf. Numbers 22:3-11). Balak also offered Balaam money to curse the Israelites. Although Balaam was a pagan, he did communicate with God, mostly through divination.

Balaam refused to curse the Israelites because God told him not to, but he did end up going to Balak and pronounced blessings over the Israelites three times (cf. Numbers 22:12). Balaam was also the only person in the Bible to have an animal speak to him. While he was on the way to Balak, an angel of the Lord stood in his way to kill him, but his donkey kept stopping, which infuriated Balaam, so he beat it.

Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”

Numbers 22:28 (NIV)

When we read through Numbers about Balaam, it’s easy to miss that Balaam, though God speaks with him, and he appears to serve God, isn’t in a relationship with God. This is exacerbated by his prophetic utterances. One of which is a Messianic prophecy pointing to Jesus.

“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. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the people of Sheth.”

Numbers 24:17 (NIV)

When Balak has had enough of Balaam, he sends him away, and the last we read of him is in Numbers 24:25:

Then Balaam got up and returned home, and Balak went his own way.

Numbers 24:25 (NIV)

It’s not until we get to Numbers 31 that we find out that Balaam wasn’t the servant of God we thought him to be. All the time that Balak had been offering him money to curse the Israelites, it appeared that Balaam was an upstanding guy even though he was a pagan. It looked like he wasn’t taking the money because he could only bless the people and not curse them.

“They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people.”

Numbers 31:16 (NIV)

This might seem confusing because all we saw of Balaam was a prophet of God who couldn’t speak ill of the Israelites. However, right after Balaam leaves Balak in Numbers 24:25, we read this in Numbers 25.

While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.

Numbers 25:1-3 (NIV)

This doesn’t tell us that Balaam had anything to do with this, but it is a logical structure in the narrative about Balaam when we read about Balaam’s advice in Numbers 31:16. I’m not certain why I didn’t pick up on this the first couple of times I read through the Bible but one possible reason that comes to mind is that I follow a reading plan that has two days separating the events of Numbers 24 and 25, with Numbers 31. Of course, the density of the text could also be a contributing factor.

We also learn more about Balaam in other parts of the Bible.

They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness.

2 Peter 2:15 (NIV)

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.

Jude 11:1 (NIV)

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 (NIV)

If we didn’t pick up on it in Numbers 31, we certainly can see from these New Testament verses that Balaam, although he couldn’t curse the Israelites, did accept Balak’s money and taught Balak how they might be defeated. Through idolatry and sexual sin.

Balaam was a man who appeared, on the surface, to be following God, yet he was not. Balaam loved money and not God. Without a doubt, Balaam, and those who are like him, would fall into this category of people who might stand before the Lord, pointing at their works, thinking they knew him.

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’

Matthew 7:22 (NIV)

Many Christians worry that they will appear before the Lord one day and hear him tell them to depart. However, I find it paradoxical that these people will be the same the Lord doesn’t know because their concern reveals a desire to know him. If you find yourself wondering what you will hear from the Lord on that day, then I encourage you to seek the Lord, ask him to show you the way, and then look to your life and see what is there. Do you see the acts of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit? (Galatians 5:19-25).

Do you know God? God knows you, and He loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, right now, and He wants you to know Him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be freed from death, and live eternally with Him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart, and I receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.