The Fourth Sunday of Advent December 19, 2010
14, 72, 70, 65
So he took up his oracle and said: “The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor, and the utterance of the man whose eyes are opened; The utterance of him who hears the words of God, and has the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, who falls down, with eyes wide open: “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult. And Edom shall be a possession; Seir also, his enemies, shall be a possession, while Israel does valiantly. Out of Jacob One shall have dominion, and destroy the remains of the city.” Then he looked on Amalek, and he took up his oracle and said: “Amalek was first among the nations, but shall be last until he perishes.” Then he looked on the Kenites, and he took up his oracle and said: Firm is your dwelling place, and your nest is set in the rock; Nevertheless Kain shall be burned. How long until Asshur carries you away captive?” Then he took up his oracle and said: “Alas! Who shall live when God does this? But ships shall come from the coasts of Cyprus, and they shall afflict Asshur and afflict Eber, and so shall Amalek, until he perishes.”
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
If you feel a certain way in your heart, can you show it with your hands? Yes, you can. When I was little boy I remember asking my Dad why his dad would always rub his hands together after dinner and say, “Yup!” Dad told me that grandpa was showing that he was satisfied with the fine meal grandma had prepared.
So what do you think King Balak, enemy of Israel, did with his hands when he heard Balaam bless Israel for the third time? Did he rub them together because he was satisfied with the job Balaam had done? Or did he clap his hands together in anger?
We are told that “Balak’s anger was aroused against Balaam, and he struck his hands together.” Then he said to Balaam: “I called you to curse my enemies, and look, you have bountifully blessed them these three times! Now therefore, flee to your place. I said I would greatly honor you, but in fact, the Lord has kept you back from honor!” (Numbers 24:10-11).
So Balak told Balaam that by listening to the Lord he had lost his chance for wealth and honor! After making the fourth prophecy Balaam did go home. However, eventually Balaam returned because of the gifts Balak promised him.
In later chapters of the Book of Numbers we read that Balaam advised Balak to use the Moabite women to seduce the men of Israel and get them to worship the false god, “Baal of Peor.” We are told in Numbers 31 that because Balaam set aside God’s Word and followed his lust for riches, the Lord had him killed by the sword.
The world is constantly promising us that if we follow its “me first” ways then wealth and honor and pleasure will be lavished on us. But we should learn from the sad story of Balaam that if we look to the ways of the world to gain for ourselves, we will end up spiritually empty and eternally dead! How much better for us if we pay close attention to the prophecy of Balaam before us today—a prophecy that came from our God.
Notice that once again God closed the physical eye of Balaam and opened his spiritual eye so that he might prophecy the truth about God’s believing people. In this fourth and final prophecy concerning Israel, Balaam declares: BEHOLD YOUR KING! — THE ONE WHO CAME AND WHO IS COMING!
Who is this King? Do you see Him in this prophecy? In v. 17 Balaam declares:“I see Him, but NOT now; I behold Him, but NOT near.” This King surely wasn’t Moses who was both “now” and “near,” from where Balaam stood. Rather, Balaam tells us that he saw “a Star” that “shall come out of Jacob” in the future.
The Star Balaam saw in the distant future was Christ, the Light of the world. We know that Balaam’s prophecy refers to the star of Bethlehem which guided the Wise Men from the east to Jesus. These Wise Men or “Magi,” were more than star gazers. They were among those Gentiles who had become acquainted with the promises made to the Jews as the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The people of Israel had been scattered all over the eastern countries when they were conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and then by the Babylonians in 606 B.C. Wherever believing Israelites went they spoke of the promises concerning the Savior King that would be born to them and to the world.
But there is more! The Wise Men had probably come from the same area in the east from which Balaam had come (cf. Numbers 23), and they were well acquainted with astronomy and Balaam’s prophecies. When they saw the star shining in the western sky, the Holy Spirit convinced them through the Old Testament Scriptures and the prophecies of Balaam. They said, “We have seen His star!” (Matthew 2:2).
But what will the Christ-King do? By Him, through Him, and because of Him all the enemies of His people will be defeated! Balaam sees “a Scepter rising out of Israel.” [v.17] A scepter is a rod held by a king as a symbol of his ruling power. The scepter in this prophecy represents Christ, the King.
Now, look at the enemies mentioned in the following verses whom Balaam sees in the distant future. Balaam sees the destruction of Moab and Edom. The people of Moab were descended from the family of Jacob’s great uncle, Lot. Edom was descended from the family of Jacob’s brother, Esau. Both of these nations had been hostile toward Israel. But Balaam foresaw the total destruction of Moab. He also saw how Edom would be completely dominated under David and Solomon and defeated by “The ruler out of Jacob.”
Balaam also prophesies concerning the nation of Amalek. The Amalekites were the first nation to attack Israel in the wilderness (cf. Exodus 17:8 ff). But Balaam sees the destruction of Amalek which happened during the reigns of Saul and Hezekiah, Kings of Israel and Judah (cf. 1Samuel14:48, 15:22 ff, 1Chronicles 4:42,43).
The Kenites had been friendly toward Israel for some time, but only on an external basis. They had never accepted the faith of Israel in the true God of grace (cf. 1 Samuel 15:6). Therefore, their captivity under the Assyrians would become a judgment of destruction.
The final prophetic word given by God to Balaam frightens the heathen prophet because it’s about his own descendants—the people of Assyria in the east. “Alas! Who shall live when God does this? But ships shall come from the coasts of Cyprus, and they shall afflict Asshur and afflict Eber, and he also perishes.” [vv.23-24] Asshur, or Assyria, represents the descendants of Shem in the far east, and Eber represents the descendants of Shem who settled in what we call the “Near East” today.
The nations whose ships would come from the coasts of Cyprus to humble Assyria and Eber are not named by Balaam, but we know from later Scripture passages and from history that these conquering nations were the Greeks and the Romans. These great world powers sent their ships across the Mediterranean Sea by way of the Island of Cyprus to afflict the nations to the east. But the Graeco-Roman Empire also perished as Balaam prophecies. [v.24]
So where are all the nations today that opposed God’s people back then? Where are they who waged war against God’s chosen people while He was preparing and preserving them in order to bring the Savior-King to all the nations They were all destroyed by the King’s Advent-Coming! That’s what Balaam had prophesied in his third prophecy when he said that those who blessed Israel would be blessed, and those who cursed Israel would be cursed! But now your King who came, is coming one more time to judge the nations!
What should we and all His believing people be doing while our King is coming? Surely He wants us to have the same zeal and compassion for lost souls that He has and to maintain that zeal until the very last day. This He made clear in His Great Commission to His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew. 28:18ff).
Balak hired Balaam to curse Israel, but God intended for Balak to get the message! Four times God spoke through Balaam to Balak inviting the enemy king to see the blessings of Israel and receive them for himself. But Balak refused. The chief work of God’s Old Testament people was to hold their Savior-King before the eyes of all the people with whom they had contact. The Lord did destroy nations such as Moab, Assyria, and Rome, but there were many who were brought to faith in the promised Savior-King. We think of Ruth—the Moabitess, the Wise Men from the land of Assyria, and the Roman Centurion to name a few.
Our work is the same. The King who came to the cross by way of the cradle is coming at any moment to curse all who do not accept Him as their only Savior from their sins. The unbelieving souls who are outwardly kind and good but indifferent to the Gospel will suffer eternal damnation right along with those who openly hate and oppose the Gospel!
What shall we be doing about this as the New Testament spiritual Israel—the believing people of God? Shall we be uncaring and unwilling to be the salt and the light God has called us to be for those who are rotting and sitting in the darkness of their sins? No, rather let us pray daily, preach, and proclaim the Good News to those who are still sitting in the Devil’s dungeon. Let us spring into their world of despair with the light of life in Christ!
May we receive grace to speak clearly and boldly in love as Peter did, telling our friends and neighbors that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). In the midst of our own trials and afflictions, let us show others the eternal blessedness of our Savior-King by our own peace, patience, and rejoicing in connection with the Lord” (cf. Philippians 4:4, et. al.).
O Lord God, You have blessed us far beyond our dreams and deserving. Make us a blessing to others through the knowledge of salvation which You have so freely and graciously given to us in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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