************ Sermon on Numbers 24:17a ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 18, 2011
"A Star Will Come Out of Jacob"
I An Amazing Prophecy
A In this season of Advent we've been looking at the promises of God. In the book of Numbers, one of God's promises concerns a star: "A star will come out of Jacob" (Num 24:17).
Three things are amazing about this promise. First, it is radical. In that time and place, stars were worshiped and praised as deities. People looked to the stars for guidance. It was believed that the stars controlled the destinies of men and nations. So, the children of Israel were warned, more than once, not to worship the stars (Deut 4:19; 17:3). Yet, God promises a star.
When we fast forward thirty-five hundred years and consider the astrology section of most newspapers today we see man has not progressed very far, has he? Man still worships the stars and many still look to the stars for guidance and believe the stars control the destinies of men and nations. Here is another argument against evolution: man is not evolving; he is simply repeating the sins of long ago.
B "A star will come out of Jacob" (Num 24:17). Do you know what else is amazing about this promise? This promise was not given directly by the Lord as was the case when He promised a Savior to Adam and Eve Who will crush Satan's head (Gen 3:15). It wasn't given directly by the Lord like His promise to Noah to never again destroy all living creatures as He did with the flood (Gen 8:21-22). It wasn't given directly by the Lord like His promise to bless Abraham and make his name great (Gen 12:2-3). Nor was this promise spoken by a believing prophet such as Isaiah or Jeremiah or Elijah. What is amazing is that we hear this promise from an unbelieving prophet by the name of Balaam.
Who and what was Balaam? His name in the Hebrew literally mans "he who destroys the people." As we will find out, that is what he did. Balaam was a kind of diviner who looked at animals, birds, ants, and the livers of sacrificed animals to predict the future.
Though Pastor Godfrey preached on Balaam a few months ago, let me remind you of what happened. After wandering around the wilderness for forty years, the children of Israel were finally ready to enter the Promised Land. When we look at a map of the Middle East it should surprise us that Israel approached the Promised Land from the wrong direction – she approached the Promised Land from the East rather than the West. On the East side of the Jordan were the Amorites and the Moabites and the Ammonites and the Edomites. Israel defeated Sihon king of the Amorites and Og king of Bashan. When the people of Moab saw this, they were terrified. Their king, Balak, sent messengers four hundred miles north to Balaam and asked for his help.
What was Balaam supposed to do? Balak wanted Balaam to curse Israel. Balak thought he could defeat Israel in battle if Israel was under a curse.
The Lord told Balaam not to go so Balaam sent Balak's messengers away. But Balak was persistent. He sent more messengers who were more distinguished than the first ones and promised Balaam even greater rewards. This time the Lord allowed Balaam to go, but only if he said what the Lord told him to say (Num 22:20).
So Balaam went with Balak's messengers. But he already forgot that he could say only what the Lord said he could say and decided he would find some way to curse Israel. You see, Balaam hated the children of Israel. And, by extension, he hated Israel's God.
Remember how God warned Balaam? God used an angel and a talking donkey. The talking donkey opened Balaam's eyes to see the angel. And, Balaam finally realized he could say only what the Lord told him to say (Num 22:34-35).
When Balaam arrived seven altars were built and on each altar a bull and a ram was offered. The Lord put a message in Balaam's mouth – however, it was a message of blessing rather than curse (Num 23:5). King Balak tried again at another place. Again Balaam blessed Israel. They tried a third time and a fourth time. They tried seven times in all to curse Israel but not a single curse came out of Balaam's mouth. King Balak, of course, was furious. But Balaam could only say what the Lord God Almighty put in his mouth.
Included in Balaam's prophecy was a promise about a star: "A star will come out of Jacob" (Num 24:17).
Isn't this amazing? Although Balaam was a wicked diviner, God spoke truth through him (Num 23:12, 26; 24:12-13). This should not surprise us. If God could speak through the mouth of a donkey, He could also speak through the mouth of Balaam.
C "A star will come out of Jacob" (Num 24:17). The third amazing thing about this prophecy is when it was given: fifteen hundred years before its fulfilment. As I said before, who remembers promises that long? And, who keeps promises that long? Not you. Not me. We have problems keeping the promises we made yesterday. But God doesn't have problems keeping His promises. You see, God is faithful and true to all His promises. As I also said before, one commentator has found over five thousand promises in the Bible. So far, God's record is absolutely perfect: He doesn't break a single promise; He keeps every single promise He has ever made.
Somehow Balaam realized this. "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob" (Num 24:17). It is not happening now, says Balaam, but they will happen. These words spoken from such an unlikely source, these words spoken almost thirty-five hundred years ago, are sure to be. God's promises, no matter how far they are beyond our understanding, do not fail and fall.
II The Darkness of Sin
A I couldn't sleep one night this past week so I got up just after 3:30 and went to my office. I couldn't see a thing. Not only was it dark but there was fog. It was cold, wet, dark, and miserable outside.
However, this doesn't compare to the darkness of Balaam's heart. Balaam was an evil, wicked man. It was Balaam who suggested using beautiful religious prostitutes to entice the men of Israel to worship Baal (Num 31:15; cf Num 25). Balaam hated the Lord and the Lord's people. Balaam may have been the Lord's mouthpiece, but he was full of darkness.
B Our hearts are as dark as Balaam's. We are born into the darkness of sin. The shroud of death's darkness covers all of us. And, our fallen, darkened, sinful human nature flees from the true light. We don't want our secret sins, our evil desires, and our wicked thoughts to be exposed. We don't want the nooks and crannies of our life displayed for all to see. You know – or should know – what Jesus said about this:
(Jn 3:19-20) This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (20) Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
C You know what we all need: you, me, Balaam, Balak, and every other person who has ever lived. We all need the light. Light that chases darkness away. Light that shines in the darkness. Light that shows the way.
A couple of weeks ago Ruth and I stayed overnight at Whistler Mountain in British Columbia. Whistler was the venue for the downhill skiing in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
We went for a walk after supper in the dark, freezing night with snow and ice underfoot.
One of the things we noticed – besides the cold – was a series of moving lights way up on the mountains. When I asked about them, we learned those moving lights were snow cats grooming the snow. Even though they were almost a mile above us, the lights stood out in the darkness of the mountain.
"A star will come out of Jacob" (Num 24:17). God's message for you, me, Balaam, Balak, and every other person is that He is sending light to shine in the darkness of sin and misery.
III The Star of Bethlehem
A Fifteen hundred years after Balaam said his prophecy, God sent a star. You know the story:
(Mt 2:1-2) After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem (2) and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
Scripture leads us to conclude that the star was a supernatural star. Stars do not appear and disappear from one day to the next; but this star led the Magi from Babylon, disappeared when they arrived in Jerusalem, and then appeared again as they made their way to Bethlehem (Mt 2:9-11). Stars do not normally stop their course through the sky; but this star stopped over the place where the child was (Mt 2:9). Stars do not normally change direction; most stars travel from east to west across the heavens; this star traveled from east to west and then did a left turn to Bethlehem which lies south of Jerusalem (Mt 2:2,9).
Genesis 1 tells us that God made the stars (Gen 1:16). The book of Job reminds us that God
(Job 9:9) ... is the Maker of the Bear and Orion ( ri n), the Pleiades (pl d z) and the constellations of the south.Only God can bring forth the constellations in their seasons (Job 38:31-32). If God can do all this doesn't it make sense that He made a brand-new star to announce the birth of His Son and that He did this in fulfilment of our text from Numbers?
"A star will come out of Jacob" (Num 24:17). And it did. It pointed the way to Israel, to Jerusalem, and to Bethlehem. It pointed the way to Jesus. Telling us what? Telling us sinful man cannot come to Bethlehem on his own. Telling us sinful man needs to be led to the light of Christ. Telling us sinful man on his own can only remain in the darkness.
"A star will come out of Jacob" (Num 24:17). The magi followed the star. The Jewish priests, knowing the Scriptures, ignored the star. Herod was upset by the star.
B "A star will come out of Jacob" (Num 24:17). In this candle light service we rejoice that Christ is the star prophesied by Balaam. Listen to these two texts:
(Rev 22:16) "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star."Jesus, according to the Nicene Creed, is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.
(2 Pet 1:19) And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
(Cf Lk 1:76-79)
"A star will come out of Jacob" (Num 24:17). Balaam is talking about the light of the Gospel that shines in our darkness. This is the Star that shatters the darkness of sin by bringing the light of forgiveness.
God promised to send His Son into our darkness. The Son took on our sin and our guilt and our shame. He suffered and died in our place. He ransomed and redeemed us.
So, as you go through the storms of life, when the waves of the world toss you around like a sailor at sea and the winds twist you in every direction, do not despair. Do not give up hope. Look to the one, true Star, even Jesus Christ. After a storm, sea-sick sailors are strengthened and encouraged upon seeing a star so also Jesus brings us hope. He will not fail you nor forsake you.
Isn't our God marvelous? When a pagan sorcerer plotted against God's people, God put wonderful words of promise in his mouth. Words about a Savior and His light. Words about the real star of Bethlehem. "A star will come out of Jacob" (Num 24:17).
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