Balaam: Saint or Sinner?

Arno Froese

He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them…Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!” (Number 23:21, 23).

The one who utters these blessings is a Gentile prophet by the name of Balaam. This figure has confused many, who have attempted to disassociate him with the God of Israel. 

Chapter 22 contains the story in detail.

Checking with rabbinical authorities, we receive diverse answers regarding Balaam. He is vilified in the Midrash. Nechama Leibowitz wrote a study called “Prophet or Sorcerer?” And Rabbi Jacob Milgrom titled his article, “Balaam: Saint or Sinner?”

The late Dr. J. Vernon McGee wrote in his commentary: “Did you know that there is more said in Scripture about Balaam than there is about Mary, the mother of Jesus? More is said about Balaam than about any of the apostles. The New Testament mentions him three times, and each time it is in connection with apostasy.”

We are safe to say he was a prophet of God, for chapter 22:12a reads: “And God said unto Balaam…”

It is of interest that the prophet Balaam had knowledge, connection and, quite apparently, access to the God of Israel. But he makes a very strange determination about Israel: no iniquity, no perverseness, no enchantment, no divination. We quickly learn that while he is a prophet of God, he is not allowed to look into the family of God: the nation Israel.

Back in chapter 14, verse 22, we read the direct words of God: “Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice.” 

At the end of Moses’ life, he makes this declaration: “For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the LORD; and how much more after my death?” (Deuteronomy 31:27).

Even at the very beginning, when Israel moved out of Egypt toward the Promised Land, we see their rebellion: “And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:11-12).

Here we learn the difference between Israel’s position and their condition.

Israel’s position is based on God’s oath: “The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).

What a mighty message for the Church! Romans 5:8 exclaims: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” What happens when we as sinners come in repentance to God through Jesus Christ? Ephesians 1:4 is fulfilled: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” God chose us; it was the work of God the Holy Spirit. That’s our irrevocable position, but our condition is our responsibility: “holy and without blame before him in love.”

During my 53 years of work in the ministry, the question, “Why the Jews?” has been asked innumerable times. The answer is still the same: God chose Israel, regardless of their condition, just as the Church. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

In recent months, some have taken it upon themselves to point to the often negative and extremely liberal tendencies of the Jews. Indeed, much can be said, but still it does not change one iota of what is written in Zechariah 2:8b: “for he that toucheth you [Jews] toucheth the apple of his [God’s] eye.”

A practical example may help. If I observe my neighbor’s children misbehaving, I do not have the right to punish them; it’s not my family. I am interfering in an office not appointed to me. My neighbor’s children are subject to the authority of their parents.

Is Israel perfect today? Far from it, yet their condition does not invalidate their position. In the end, Israel will be victorious. In the not-too-distant future, when the last one from among the Gentiles is added to the Church, Romans 11:26a will be fulfilled: “And so all Israel shall be saved.”

Midnight Call - 04/2021

Arno Froese is the executive director of Midnight Call Ministries and editor-in-chief of the acclaimed prophetic magazines Midnight Call and News From Israel. He has authored a number of well-received books, and has sponsored many prophecy conferences in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. His extensive travels have contributed to his keen insight into Bible prophecy, as he sees it from an international perspective.

Read more from this author

ContactAbout UsPrivacy and Safety