When the king of Moab was unable to entice Balaam to curse the people of Israel, it seemed that the nation might be safe. After all, how great is it for Israel to be totally protected by God from outside attack? Thus, at the end of Numbers 24, it looks like the people of Israel are set up for a great success as they face down their enemies from Moab.
But Balaam was a bit more clever than all that. Balaam had to obey the sovereign command of God. He could not pronounce a binding curse over Israel. God was protecting the nation. But Balaam had another strategy. Balaam knew what to do to make Israel fail. Balaam advised King Balak of Moab, and they hatched a plan that still works against men today. Moses points it out a few chapters later.
Numbers 31:15–16 – 15 Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live? 16 Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.
Jesus also mentioned this in his letter to the church of Pergamum in the Book of Revelation, which indicates to me that it is a serious point that should not be forgotten.
Revelation 2:14 – But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.
What was the trick? Balaam knew that God would not let him curse Israel. So, this evil man devised a simple plan. He would send Moabite women to seduce Israelite men. These women would lead the Israelite men into idolatry as the worship of Baal was tied together with immoral sexual activity.
Numbers 25:1-3 – 1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.
Note, this is not some sort of nasty, anti-woman indictment. There is nothing here to say that women are the temptresses and men are innocent pawns. It simply was the structure of that culture, these women, including priestesses of pagan idols, were able to entice the men who were leaders of Israelite clans. The men who fell into the sin were just as guilty as the women who tempted them.
But here is the key for us to consider. Sexual sin is deeply dangerous. This has always been the case in Scripture. And, strangely, though Christians talk about sex a lot in our modern culture, we so often seek the approval of the culture around us that we seldom speak the truth about the deadliness of rebellion against God in our sexuality. So, let me say it very clearly. Sexual immorality is deadly. To rebel against God in your sexuality is deeply sinful, self-destructive, and dangerous.
Is this true because God is a prude, all dull and anti-sex? No, that is not at all the case. God invented humanity, and thus he invented our sexuality. Song of Solomon, among other places in Scripture, speaks very clearly of the beauty of a sexual relationship between a husband and his wife.
What is true is that there is seldom a more tempting, more clinging, more personal form of fighting against God and his design than when we fight against his will in our sexuality. The drive is great. The emotion is deep. And once we have decided to compromise here, we will compromise in a variety of other areas to continue to have what we desire.
Christians, I will now say something that many are refusing to say. Sexual immorality is not just the same as every other sin. Many are teaching from pulpits that all sins, especially sexual sins, are equal, because they want to be seen as loving and not condemning. And there is a grain of truth in the notion. All sin is damnable. All sin separates us from the Lord God. All sin merits hell for being an infinite offense against an infinitely holy God.
But the Bible does not present every sin as just the same. Look to the beautiful law of God. A thief must pay back what he steals with interest. A murderer must be put to death. Those are clearly not equal sins. Paul talks about sexual immorality as being a sin that is uniquely personal in 1 Corinthians 6:13-20.
I’m surely not writing this from a position of superiority or perfection. But, I do need to tell the truth regarding this topic. God is clear that sexual immorality is uniquely a big deal. And Balaam shows us that sexual temptation is one of the most common ways that the enemy of our souls will use to draw us away from the Lord and into destruction. And so we must see this sin as uniquely a big deal, and we must guard ourselves with everything we’ve got even as we run to Christ for grace and mercy.