10 Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, 11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, 13 suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. 14 They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15 Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, 16 but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. – 2 Peter 2:10b-16 ESV
So, what is it that these false teachers are guilty of? What is their primary crime? For Peter, it was not one particular thing that indicted these individuals. It was a plethora of actions and attitudes that condemned them and set them up for the judgment of God. First of all, Peter describes them as “bold and willful”. They are daringly presumptuous, saying and doing things that are unheard of. They are arrogantly self-willed, doing what they do in order to please themselves, and not God. These individuals have no regard for the will of God, but do what will best benefit themselves. And they show no fear or apprehension when it comes to speaking disrespectfully of those things closely associated with God. The word Peter uses is doxa, and it can refer to that which belongs to God, such as His majesty or glory. These people have no reservations whatsoever, speaking words of dishonor and disrespect about those things that God considers holy and righteous. The vast majority of places this word is used in the New Testament, it is used to refer to the glory associated with God. While it can mean “angels”, it seems unlikely that this is what Peter is talking about. In fact, when referring to angels in these verses, he uses the Greek word, aggelos. While it is possible that these false teachers were denying the existence of angels, it seems much more likely that Peter is accusing these men of diminishing the glory of God by treating with disdain those truths associated with God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter accuses them of “blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant” (2 Peter 2:12 ESV). And yet, angels, who are much more powerful and majestic than these false teachers, do not dare to come before God and say a negative word against those whom God has created. They show restraint and do not dare step into God’s presence and utter disparaging words against these men – in spite of the fact that they are “ like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed” (2 Peter 2:12 ESV).
And it is not as if these people are guiltless and undeserving of judgment. Peter pulls no punches in describing their true nature.
13 Their destruction is their reward for the harm they have done. They love to indulge in evil pleasures in broad daylight. They are a disgrace and a stain among you. They delight in deception even as they eat with you in your fellowship meals. 14 They commit adultery with their eyes, and their desire for sin is never satisfied. – 2 Peter 2:13-14 NLT
They have done damage to the body of Christ and deserve the just judgment of God. Their very presence in the body of Christ has left an indelible mark. Peter describes them as spilos and mōmos, two Greek words that convey the stain and blemish they have caused to God’s reputation by sullying the holiness of His people. The Message paraphrases verses 13-14 as follows:
They’re so despicable and addicted to pleasure that they indulge in wild parties, carousing in broad daylight. They’re obsessed with adultery, compulsive in sin, seducing every vulnerable soul they come upon. Their specialty is greed, and they’re experts at it. Dead souls!
Not exactly a flattering description. And Peter is far from done. He compares them to an Old Testament character named Balaam. His story is covered in the book of Numbers. He was a pagan prophet and, therefore, a false prophet, who, Balak, king of Moab hired to curse the people of Israel. God, speaking to and through this false prophet, forbade him from issuing a curse against the people of God. And God did this on three separate occasions. But King Balak kept asking Balaam to curse the people and he had to keep turning the king down. But we learn from the New Testament writers, that Balaam tried to circumvent God’s express command not to curse Israel by giving Balak some helpful advice. He evidently told the king that if he could get the people of Israel to intermarry with the Moabites, they would end up worshiping the Moabite gods and practicing the ritual immorality associated with those gods. And it worked. Jesus, speaking to the apostle John on the island of Patmos, spoke of Balaam’s sin, using him as a representation of the sin of the church in Pergamum.
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. – Revelation 2:14 ESV
Balaam, like the false teachers in Peter’s day, knew that the people of God were susceptible to committing iniquity in the form of immoral behavior. If he could get them to break God’s law by worshiping false gods and committing immoral acts, they would prove to be a weaker enemy. They would lose the blessing of God. And that is exactly what the false teachers were doing that Peter is attempting to expose. They were tempting the people of God to sin against God. It had worked for Balaam, so why wouldn’t it work for them? This strategy is not new. It has been around along as Satan himself. And he is still implementing this tactic in an attempt to disqualify and defeat the people of God. The book of Numbers tells us that Balaam’s advice to Balak proved successful.
1 While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. 2 These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. 3 In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT
Balaam didn’t have to curse Israel. In essence, they cursed themselves by giving in to the temptations of the Moabite women. It started out with false worship and ended with immoral behavior. And it resulted in God’s judgment against them.
God had made it perfectly clear to Balaam that he was not to do what Balak had requested. He was not to curse the people of God.
“You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” – Numbers 22:12 ESV
And Balaam listened to God. He informed Balak’s emissaries that he was not going to be able to return with them to Moab. He even turned down their very tempting offer of treasure. So, Balak sent even more emissaries, hoping to sweeten the pot and put even more pressure on Balaam. And this time, God gave him permission to go. But something interesting happened.
20 And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” 21 So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. – Numbers 22:20-21 ESV
Yet, the text tells us that God became angry with Balaam.
But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. – Numbers 22:22 ESV
God knew Balaam’s heart. He knew full well that Balaam was going to because he planned to aid Balak and get the treasure he had offered. So God positioned an armed angel in the path. And while Balaam failed to see the angel, the donkey did not. And it drew back in fear, refusing to move forward. So, Balaam beat and cursed the donkey, attempting to make it proceed. But the donkey stubbornly refused. So, Balaam intensified his attack on the donkey, until something remarkable happened. The donkey spoke.
“Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” – Numbers 22:30 ESV
Then, miraculously, Balaam’s eyes were opened and he was able to see the angel standing in front of him and he became deathly afraid.
32 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” – Numbers 22:32-33 ESV
Balaam is convicted of his sin and confesses it to the angel, offering to return home instead of proceeding to Moab. The angel gives him permission to continue his journey, but reiterates that Balaam is only to say what God tells him to say. And yet, we know that somewhere along the way, Balaam disobeyed God and gave Balak advice that led to the men of Israel having sexual relationships with the women of Moab.
Peter compares the false teachers of his day with Balaam. They are liars. They are in it for themselves. They have no real concern for the people of God and no fear of disobeying the will of God. Balaam sought treasure. So did they. And while Balaam appeared to be doing the right thing, in his heart he was planning to do the wrong thing. So were the false teachers. And while Balaam got rebuked by a speechless donkey, the false teachers were being rebuked by an apostle of God – Peter. When all is said and done, the real sin of these people was that “They lure unstable people into sin, and they are well trained in greed” (2 Peter 2:14 NLT). They preyed on the spiritually weak and morally vulnerable. And they did it all for personal gain. And they were leaving the body of Christ stained and soiled by their efforts.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
– 2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV