Yesterday for his sermon, our pastor gave a thoughtful examination of the relevance and importance of Balaam for believers, a matter that has gotten little discussion at least in my memory . Balaam has what amounts to a cameo role in the Bible where he enters the story as a prophet-for-hire from Mesopotamia who is given significant inducement to curse Israel, who ends up comically blessing them instead, and whose subtle advice on how the blessing can be taken away through encouraging sexual immorality with Moabite and Midianite women ends his privileged relationship with God and earns him an ignominious death. Indeed, there are few more poignant ironies than the juxtaposition of his death with his unfilled wish expressed in Numbers 23:10: “Who can count the dust of Jacob, Or number one-fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, And let my end be like his!” Alas, it was not, and a big part of the reason why was his connection with sexual immorality.
It is for his greed and connection with immorality that has made Balaam one of the emblematic figures in the Bible for these sins, as it is written in Jude :11: “Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.” 2 Peter 2:12-16 expresses the same point but with a bit more detail: “But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet.”
While none of us wishes to be labeled as having followed after the sins of Balaam, it is easy to see that the type of sin he represents is alive and well in our day and age. Indeed, the corruption and greed of Balaam, the desire to receive the wages of unrighteousness, can be found as a major temptation for us. Likewise, our age is certainly one where sexual immorality abounds, to the point where something is thought to be wrong with someone if they are not involved in the carousing and casual adultery and fornication that go on. We know what God thought about this in the book of Numbers, as the Bible is unambiguous on the matter, as it is written in Numbers 25:1-9: “Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab. They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and hang the offenders before the Lord, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Every one of you kill his men who were joined to Baal of Peor.” And indeed, one of the children of Israel came and presented to his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Now when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel. And those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.”
Nor has the opinion of God changed since then, as it is written in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” Whatever changes there have been in the general level of morality within God’s church or within the world at large, God’s standards for personal behavior have never changed. He expects believers to live godly lives, and where this is not done there is the expectation of judgment for that lack of godliness. To be sure, it is not easy to restrain ourselves from immorality given our own frustrated longings for love and intimacy and the corrupt state of the world around us, but that is the fight some of us are called to engage in at this time.
It is helpful and encouraging in this light to realize that one of the most notable examples of godliness in this regard comes from a Moabite woman, namely Ruth. Ruth 2:5-10 gives a touching record of her own gentleness of spirit and her own absence of the immorality that plagued many of her forebears: “ Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” So the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered and said, “It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came and has continued from morning until now, though she rested a little in the house.” Then Boaz said to Ruth, “You will listen, my daughter, will you not? Do not go to glean in another field, nor go from here, but stay close by my young women. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Have I not commanded the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.” So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?””
When we reflect on being outsiders and strangers ourselves, in being forsaken and lonely, it is worthwhile to think about the story of Ruth. Here was a Moabite woman who forsook the sins of her country and became an adopted citizen of the people of Israel, and of the tribe of Judah in particular. Despite her origin, she married a godly man, who had himself long remained a bachelor despite being the sort of gentleman who deserves happiness in love, perhaps remaining single because of his own complicated family background (he was the son, after all, of that famous prostitute/innkeeper from Jericho, Rahab), and was counted worthy of being part of the family line of David and Jesus Christ. Here was an exception to the rule, demonstrating that the problem with Moabite women was not their ethnicity but rather their mindset and their culture. If we happen to meet up with any Moabite women in our lives, let us hope we end up with Ruth, and not with those who led the children of Israel astray. There ought to be some reward, after all, for striving to do what is right in a wicked age.
 See, for example: