Balaam’s Error and Replacement Theology

The account of Balaam is given in Numbers 22-24 and 31. Balaam was a Gentile who worshiped God, but he was enticed by Israel’s neighbors to curse them and to put stumbling blocks in their way. The story is easy to overlook as just an odd event that happened in the days of Moses. Balaam is mentioned several more times, in Deuteronomy 23:4-5, Joshua 13:22 and 24:9-10, Nehemiah 13:2 and Micah 6:5, but these other Old Testament references are in the context of remembering the things that the Lord had done for Israel. It is not until the New Testament that we see a grave warning about following after Balaam. In fact, Peter, Jude and John all mention Balaam in connection with the end times and Christian believers that have fallen away. Let’s look at closely at those references:

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 1:11, 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

In two of these verses, money is mentioned along with Balaam, and the other verse mentions sexual immorality. The typical understanding of the reference to Balaam, therefore, is that he is a symbol of Christians who go after ill-gotten gain, such as found in 1 Timothy 6:5-10, or of those who entice others to sin, such as found in 2 Peter 2:18. But there is another option that I don’t think has received much consideration, and your Bible commentary probably won’t be of much assistance, either. Why? Because most people, including the commentators, overlook the primary classification of who Balaam was. Balaam was a gentile “holy man” who was asked by Israel’s enemies to help them curse the Israelites. Said another way, he was a gentile believer who helped the surrounding pagan nations (now comprised of Islamic Arab countries) to fight against Israel. Therefore, applied more broadly and assuming we really are now in the Last Days, I believe that the full meaning of these verses is not just talking about Christians who have a love of money, but more pointedly they are talking about Christians who are embracing Replacement Theology, opposing Israel, and supporting the Palestinian cause, Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS), and other anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist movements. 

Replacement Theology is the idea that the Church has not just been grafted into the promises of Israel, as taught by Paul in Romans chapters 9-11, but it has instead completely replaced the nation of Israel as the inheritor of God’s promises. To borrow from an Old Testament example, to affirm Replacement Theology is like believing that Israel has become Esau, and that the Church, like Jacob, has stolen Israel’s birthright, with God’s blessing. But Paul is very clear that the heart of Israel will only be hardened “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25). [For further reading, here is a good article on what’s wrong with Replacement Theology.] 

Also, if you haven’t heard of the BDS movement, it is a Palestinian-led organization that seeks to delegitimize the state of Israel and hurt them economically. Their justification is based on a very revisionist version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As an example, many Palestinians deny that the Holocaust ever happened. They also deliberately forget that it was Jordan, Syria, and Egypt that invaded Israel on multiple occasions to wipe them out, not the other way around. If you don’t know the true history of the conflict, then their claims may sound reasonable and just, but when you know the truth, their accusations amount to a robber trying to call the police on a homeowner for defending their family and property from the robber! So when well-meaning Christians support these movements, it is also like supporting and believing in the lies of the Iranian regime against America. In fact, the Iranians are big supporters of Hamas and Hezbollah, the terrorist allies of the Palestinian governments in Gaza and the West Bank. 

It is important to say that not everyone who embraces replacement theology is anti-Semitic, but you will rarely find someone who does that also wants to bless Israel and pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Furthermore, I should also mention that I have visited and enjoyed the hospitality of peace-loving Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria. I have found many of them to be kind and honorable and deserving of a chance to have a better life than the current contentious situation allows. Under the right conditions, many of them would make wonderful Israeli citizens. However, that does not apply to their current leadership, nor does it apply to a significant percentage of the population, whose hatred for Israel is palpable and dangerous. The world needs to stop trying to blame Israel for the current state of this conflict. In reality, it is almost entirely the fault of the poor leadership that has directed the Palestinians for over five decades and the outside nations that have encouraged them.

Here is the warning, though. Look at Revelation 2:14 again. God says, “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you.” If the reference to Balaam is truly a reference to Christian’s that are against Israel and are siding with her enemy neighbors (I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse – Genesis 12:3), then “whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” I hope that Christians who are following after Balaam’s error will repent and turn back to a sound understanding of God’s Word and love and support the Jewish people. Not because I say so, but because of “him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.” Nevertheless, to avoid being unbalanced, I will also point out that Jesus commends them for remaining true to his name. Consequently, this means that we need to be patient and loving with our Christian brothers and sisters who don’t yet understand the significance of God’s plan for the Jewish people, because they have believed the lie of replacement theology. Pray for them. Love them. Warn them. “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”

To the Church in Pergamum

12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

14 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. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

Revelation 2:12-17, NIV

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