Series: Uncommon Prophecies Of A Coming Savior
BALAAM AND THE DONKEY
Balaam was a pagan prophet who had a donkey. His story begins in Numbers 22.
One day Balaam was called by Balak, the king of Moab, to assist in solving a problem. The nation of Israel, wandering in the wilderness, was wandering too close to Moab for comfort. So Balak wanted Balaam to curse the Israelites. Balak knew that blessings and curses were Balaam’s speciality (Numbers 22:6).
Balaam knew that he should talk to the God of Israel about this cursing, just as a courtesy. Don’t think for a second that Balaam was a true believer. He was a pluralistic pagan prophet. He believed in many gods, and Israel’s God—the true God—was another that he had to deal with.
Perhaps to Balaam’s surprise, God answered him. God told him not to do it, so he told Balak that he wouldn’t curse the Israelites. Balak kept pressing and Balaam wore down. Finally, God told him he could go ahead, but he could only say what God wanted him to say (22:20).
People think it strange that, right after this, God gets angry with Balaam for going ahead—didn’t God just say he could? But as the rest of the narrative shows, God was angry with Balaam because Balaam still thought he was going to get to curse the Israelites. Balaam’s motivation was a paycheck from Balak.
This is when his donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road—Balaam could not see the angel. Like any donkey who sees an angel, the donkey decided it would be better to go in a different direction.
Balaam started hitting his donkey to get her to go in the proper direction. Then Balaam’s foot got smashed between the donkey and a stone wall. The angel continued to block the path, and the donkey, overwhelmed with it all, finally just fell down.
Now Balaam was furious and began hitting his donkey with his staff. And that’s when the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey and she said: “What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?” (Numbers 22:28).
Do you know what Balaam did when his donkey asked him that question? I love this—he answered his donkey! We humans talk to our animals (and our cars), but we never expect them to answer us. If they did, we’d be running! But Balaam acts like it’s an everyday thing. He says, “You made fun of me; I wish I had a sword, I would kill you!”
Then God gave Balaam the ability to see the angel and warned him again only to speak what the Lord wanted him to say. And so begins a cycle of Balak taking Balaam to a place where he could curse Israel, but Balaam ends up blessing them instead.
After every curse turned into blessing, Balak gets angry, saying, “I brought you here to curse my enemies, but you blessed them instead!” Then he takes Balaam to another place and tells him to try again, but the result is the same. Israel always gets blessed.
Finally, in Numbers 24, we find Balaam blessing Israel for a third time. After Balak blows up at him a third time, Balaam goes on to tell an unsolicited prophecy—
14 And now, behold, I go unto my people: come therefore, and I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days. 15 And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, And the man whose eyes are open hath said: 16 He hath said, which heard the words of God, And knew the knowledge of the most High, Which saw the vision of the Almighty, Falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: 17 I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: There shall come a Star out of Jacob, And a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, And shall smite the corners of Moab, And destroy all the children of Sheth. (Numbers 24:14–17)
STAR LIGHT, STAR BRIGHT (24:14-17b)
Numbers 24:14 And now, behold, I go unto my people: come therefore, and I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days.
Balaam, in his prophecy, states that he is going to tell about the future. The phrase, “latter days,” can simply mean “sometime in the future” or it can have more of a end times sense to it, as in “the final days.”
Then Balaam goes on to say,
Numbers 24:17a I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh:
Again, Balaam is saying that this prophecy wouldn’t happen soon. It would be far in the future, and not near.
Numbers 24:17b There shall come a Star out of Jacob, And a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel,
“Jacob” refers to the whole of Israel. What is the “Star” that shall come out of Israel? There’s a sense in which it is to be taken figuratively, to refer to a person—namely, the coming Messiah. The KJV translators recognized this and capitalized the word. (It can also be taken literally, and we’ll come back to this in a moment).
We also see this figurative sense in the next part about the “Sceptre.” Again, this is referring to a person, a ruler or king. You can picture a king on a throne with a crown on his head and a sceptre in his hand.
Who is the person who is a “Star” and a “Sceptre” that comes out of Israel? While Israelite kings like David partially fulfilled this prophecy, ultimately the “Star” is Jesus. Look at Revelation 22—
16 I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. (Revelation 22:16)
What do stars produce? Light. Jesus said that he was, “the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
What does it mean that Jesus is the light of the world? Think about what the opposite of light is—think about what darkness is.
- Darkness symbolizes lostness; itʼs easy to lose your way in the dark.
- Darkness symbolizes deceit and criminal activity; criminals operate in the darkness.
- Darkness symbolizes hopelessness because you canʼt see where you are going.
Everything that is evil is wrapped up in the idea of darkness. Paul said that our battle is against “the rulers of the darkness of this world” (Ephesians 6:12).
Darkness is wicked, deceitful, and unholy.
In contrast, Jesus is light. He wonʼt lie to us. He will tell us the truth about us and about our two possible futures. Jesus is pure, like light, and holy. As light enables us to see what is around us, so Jesus is truth and enables us to see the truth about who we are—we walk in darkness.
I have been in the Lewis and Clark Caverns a few times. About halfway through, the tour guide will conduct an experiment with total darkness.
You know how when you turn off the lights in your house, after a minute or so, you can see in the dark. Thatʼs because there is still light in the room, only itʼs very dim. Maybe itʼs moonlight or streetlights filtering through the window blinds. Your eyes can adjust to the low light.
Halfway through the caverns the tour guide will shut off the lights. After a few moments, you’ll discover that your will not adjust. You’ll remain in total darkness.
It would be impossible for you to get out of the caverns in total darkness. For one thing, which direction would you go? Not to mention that there were many dangerous areas where you could fall or slide.
That is the condition of a person who is unsaved. Without Christ as your light, thereʼs no way that you will be able to make it through life and into Heaven—you will trip and fall into Hell.
Back in the thirties, when the Civilian Conservation Corps was working in the caverns to build a walking path for tourists, there was one worker who thought to make some quick cash by selling some of the rock formations.
So, on Friday evening, he snuck into caverns. When he was deep in the caverns, his lamp went out. He spent the weekend in total, pitch-black, darkness.
When they found him on Monday morning, he was so disoriented that he thought he was standing up when, in fact, he was flat on his back. He was seeing and hearing things, and it took several days before he could see colors again.
This is the condition of sinners who walk in the darkness. They are disoriented, they believe that wrong is right. They see things that they believe are real, but are not really true.
Christians, we can fail to follow the light of Jesus in our daily lives—can’t we? We can follow our sinful natures and walk in darkness. Paul warned the Romans about this tendency we can have even as Christians. He said:
12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. 13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. 14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. (Romans 13:12–14)
The day is at hand. Christ could return at any moment. How do you want to be caught at that moment—walking in darkness or in the light? Obviously, we would want to be caught walking in the light. We would want to be caught thinking, speaking, and doing things the way Christ would have us think, speak, and do.
Therefore, we should cast off the works of darkness—and Paul lists six as examples. He says to cast off “rioting and drunkenness,” which are sins of excess and gluttony. Also cast off, “chambering and wantonness,” which are sins of sexual impurity—whether in your mind or in behavior. Finally, cast off “strife and envying,” which are sins of temper.
Which group do you have the most trouble with? We all are prone to walk in the darkness, which part of the darkness do you love to visit? Here’s some tests—
When you see scantily dressed women (or men) on a TV show, a commercial, a website, or a magazine rack, how do you respond? According to the light, or according to the darkness?
When you get involved in a discussion where another person is being slandered or demeaned, how do you respond? According to the light, or according to the darkness?
When something in church isn’t the way you like it, how do you respond? According to the light, or according to the darkness?
When you are embarrassed or your pride is hurt, how do you respond? According to the light, or according to the darkness?
There are many other situations I could mention, but that gives you a start. What situations tempt you to walk in the darkness and respond in a way that is not according to the light that Jesus wants us to walk in?
Walking in the light of Jesus means that we value what he values, we respond the way he would respond.
WISEMEN FROM THE EAST
Jesus Christ is the Star. There is no doubt about that. But what if we took the star in Numbers 24:17 to be a literal star? What if someone had read, “There shall come a Star out of Jacob” and associated it with a real star, or something that looked like a real star—namely, the glory of God shining as a guide?
Turn over to Matthew 2. Here we find the narrative of the wise men.
1 Now when Jesus was born in Beth-lehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. (Matthew 2:1–2)
9 When they had heard the king [Herod], they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. (Matthew 2:9–10)
The wise men, or magi, were from Persian. Very little is known about them. We can gather that they were at the very least interested in stars; they could have been astrologers or magicians (Daniel 2:2). They were scholars, men of learning.
Look at what they knew: (1) They knew that a Jewish king had been born. (2) They identified a particular star and associated it with this new king. How did they know this?
It’s possible that they had read Numbers 24:17—
17 I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: There shall come a Star out of Jacob… (Numbers 24:17)
How would they have had access to this scripture? Remember that several centuries earlier, the Jews had been captured by Babylon and taken to the East. There they spent seventy years, more or less, before many, but not all, of them returned to Israel. Some did not return because Persia had become home to them.
And then we can turn to the book of Daniel. Daniel, as you may recall, was a Jew who became a high-ranking official in the secular Babylonian and Persian governments. His life holds many lessons for how we Christians can live and thrive in a secular world, but that’s another sermon series.
What was Daniel placed in charge of? Nebuchadnezzar “made [Daniel] master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers” (Daniel 5:11). What are those people? They are the wise men! And what do you think Daniel most likely taught those wise men while he was in charge of them? The Bible!
Now, granted, Daniel and his wise men lived hundreds of years before the wise men who came to visit Christ. But this shows us that the wise men could have had access to the Hebrew scriptures very easily. Then, as astronomers, when a strange star appeared, they would have sought the meaning of it in many religious books…until they found Numbers 24:17.
Here’s what is really amazing to me: God disciplined the Jews by sending Babylon to conquer and capture them. He planned their exile, knowing that, centuries later, one thing that would come out of it would be a group of wise men that could read and understand Numbers 24:17 and then come and visit the Christ child.
Why did God want wise men from Persia to come? Because it was a way to show that Christ was to be a light for all peoples—Jews and Gentiles.
When Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the temple, they encountered a man named Simeon. Simeon had been waiting for the Messiah. In Luke 2:28 we read:
28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart In peace, according to thy word: 30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, 31 Which thou hast prepared
before the face of all people; 32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. (Luke 2:28–32)
Jesus is the light of the world. Is he your light today?
The Bible says that if you are not a true believer in Jesus Christ, then you are walking in darkness. In fact, if you don’t love Jesus Christ, you love darkness—
19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)
What this means is that the unbeliever loves their sin—and sin is whatever God says is sin, not just what society currently says is wrong.
The core idea of sin is that we want to rebel against God and do what we believe is best for us.This is why Adam and Eve disobeyed God—they saw the tree was good for food, pleasant to look at, and able to make them as wise—maybe like God (Genesis 3:5-6).
Not walking in God’s way is walking in darkness. It won’t feel like that to you. You will think that you are walking in light—you will think that you are walking right.
You will be like that worker in the Lewis and Clark Caverns. You will think that you are standing up, when you are actually lying down. That’s what sin does…it makes us think that we are right when we’re wrong.
But when you come to Jesus the light, you will suddenly realize that you, like that worker, have been seeing everything in black and white. Then, when you trust Jesus as your Savior, you will start to see in color because the Lord will make you a new creature—
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
This Christmas season, won’t you become a new man or woman by trusting in Jesus Christ?