2 Peter 2:15-22
“Forsaking the right way, they went astray, having followed the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the hire of wrong-doing; But he was rebuked for his own transgression: a dumb ass spake with man’s voice and stayed the madness of the prophet. These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm; for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved. For, uttering great swelling words of vanity, they entice in the lusts of the flesh, by lasciviousness, those who are just escaping from them that live in error; Promising them liberty, while they themselves are bondservants of corruption; For whom a man is overcome, of the same is he also brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse than the first. For it were better for them to not known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered unto them. It has happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog turning to his own vomit again, and the sow that had washed to wallowing in the mire.”(ASV)
The false teachers that were mentioned back in the beginning of the chapter are shown in these last verses that they knew the true way of salvation, but never accepted it because they saw monetary profit in leading God’s people astray. They would be less likely to lead anyone astray if they believed and accepted the offer of salvation as the people they deceived had.
They have followed the path of Balaam, who so desired to sell out Israel with his prophecies. The story of Balaam and the Moabite king Balak is found in Numbers 22-24. In the account, Balak seeks out Balaam, a hireling prophet to curse Israel. Balaam makes it clear on more than one occasion with Balak that he could not go beyond the word of God. Numbers 22:1-22 show Balaam’s character and where his heart truly was. The Lord instructed Balaam to go with the men of Balak only if they invited him a second time to come with them. They did not, and Balaam saddled his ass and went with them nevertheless.
False prophets, in the manner of Balaam, come to realize that they cannot separate Christ from His people. They know they can however, separate His people from Him. And so with extravagant words devoid of any truth, they entice the flesh with what it longs after.
Peter uses three references three things in describing false teachers: wells or springs, clouds, and mist or fog. In scripture, wells are often a picture of a source of spiritual truth. They are Proverbs 16:22 states: “Understanding is a wellspring of life...”. Proverbs 18:4 says: “The words of a man’s mouth are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook.” There are many other verses found in the Bible that pertain to wells with spiritual truth connected to it. Wells that provide no water would be deceptive towards anyone who thirsts. It is just the same spiritually as it is physically. False prophets present themselves as having refreshing words of wisdom for earnest students of God’s word. But in reality, they give no satisfaction.
They are also clouds carried by a tempest. Clouds usually indicate rain, and rain usually symbolizes blessing in scripture. But tempests, or storms are not generally symbols of blessing. In the OT it is generally associated with visitations by God upon the wicked (Psa. 11:6; Psa. 83:15; Isa. 29:6). In the NT, the word for tempest in 2 Peter 2:17– transliterated lailaps– is found only in two other places. Mark 4:37 and Luke 8:23 give the same account of the Lord calming the sea while He and His disciples are crossing the sea of Galilee when a might storm comes upon them. His disciples fearing death, wake the Lord. The Lord rebuked the wind and calmed the sea to be still, and the positive results were immediate.
When false teachers come into your assembly or Bible study seeking to cause division and lead some astray, this passage in 2 Peter is a good one to remember about their character and intention. Another good passage with similar use of words is in Jude 12-13. Together, the passages show that false teachers only appear to bring blessing but really bring discord. Then, remember the account of Christ calming the sea in Mark or Luke’s gospel. Christ has the power to rebuke these tempests that come our way. We shall not fear when we gather together, for wherever two or three are gathered together in the name of Christ, He will be there also. And if He is there, then we can take courage in knowing that our Lord has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, and love and of sound mind.(2 Tim. 2:1:7).
The judgment for false teachers is spelled out in the final clause of verse 17: “the mist of darkness is reserved forever.”(emphasis mine) These false prophets who have gone in the way of Balaam may ask as he did to die the death of righteousness. But it will not be granted unto them.
Peter gives a description of what manner in which they speak that causes so many believers to be led astray. There were many heretical sects when this epistle was written, and Peter’s audience would have come in contact with a great number of teachers of these sects. There were the Cerinthians, Nicolaitans, and the Gnostics, just to name a few of the groups that produced apostate teachers. Verses 18-19 could easily be applied to those three heretical sects as well as many others. Each of those groups were known for advocating sinfulness in its followers. They were also known for having teachers who were great orators.
The false teachers of these sects offered liberty apart from Christ, that one can claim Christ as Savior, even Lord, but continue in a life of sin. While these groups do not exist today, many popular groups today have adopted the teachings and practices. The Emergent/Emerging Church, the Charismatic movement and others advocate a lax attitude towards sin and unbelief in the name of tolerance.
The great danger in promising liberty to sin to believers is that they suffer a loss of reward, but Peter directs the warning towards unbelievers who have not experienced salvation. If a professing believer who is not a true believer receives and accepts the teaching from a false teacher that there is liberty to sin while keeping a relationship with Christ, their end will be worse than when they first professed faith in Christ. For a true believer to be convinced that they can practice sin and have a license to do so as a result of their standing with God is sad enough. At least they are truly saved, they may lose out on rewards and a fellowship with Christ for a temporal amount of time.
The second chapter concludes with Peter citing a part of a “true proverb”. The verse in its entirety reads from Proverbs 26:11: “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.” This verse brings to mind the familiar story of Moses and Pharoah. Most of us probably know the account from our youth. Moses is sent by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Pharoah withstands Moses, thereby withstanding God. In the eighth chapter of Exodus however, we read that Pharoah appeared to have a change of heart for here in Ex. 8:8 says: “Then Pharoah called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Intreat the LORD, that He may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; And I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the LORD.” So it sounds like he repented, he was going to submit to the Lord. The verses that follow reveal that Moses and Aaron went unto the Lord and cried out to Him over the matter. The Lord did according to the word of Moses and the plague of frogs was stayed. Now here’s the kicker: “But when Pharoah saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.” (vv.15)