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The Star of Stars

The Star of Stars

Sermon Transcript

The Star of Jacob was promised long ago and points us to the coming child. Join Dr. Marty Baker as we take a look at Numbers 24:15-25 and unpack the prophecies of The Promised King.

Sometimes life’s greatest, most treasured gifts are the seemingly most insignificant.  Take, for example, this small green handmade card assembled with a metal pin.  I remember when I received it from my father’s ten sisters in 1981 after the death of their mother and my grandmother, Lilly.

As I opened it, on the lefthand side of card it gave me her birthdate the day she died.  On the right handside were seven dimes scotch-tapped in the rows.  Below the coins it read: Merry Christmas from you grandmother. How much did my dear, godly, humble, and poor grandmother leave me? Seventy cents.  Those seven dimes might as well have been seven golden coins worth millions of dollars.  In her poverty, my grandmother reached out and blessed me, really loved on me with this precious, simple gift.

When you read through the progressive prophesies concering the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, they bear a resemblance to my grandmother’s card. How so?  Each prophecy seems so insignificant; however, in the scheme of revelation they are a most precious, simple gift from the living God to us.  Each prophecy tells us not only that God loves us and devised a plan to deal with our sin after our fall, but He has given us ample evidence to know He is with us and He is guiding human history to a most glorious consummation.

  • Genesis 3:14-15 tells us a promised Seed would come one day to deal with the Devil and our sin problem.
  • Genesis 12:1-3 tells us God would bring the promised Seed through Abraham and the Israelites originating with him.
  • Genesis 49:8-12 tells us the Seed would come through the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve tribes forming the divinely chosen nation. The prophecy also tells us the Seed would be a mighty king equipped to bless the earth in a profound, Edenic fashion.

See what I mean?  These three prophecies are like three little dimes in my grandmother’s gift to me.  They seem insignificant, but they are most significant, for they tell us about the Father’s plan to give sinners hope and purpose.

To these “dimes,” we can add one more tucked neatly away in Numbers chapter 24.  Before we consider it, however, I must explain the immediate context.

The divinely ordered forty-year wilderness wandering was over for Israel, and the new generation of two million people was camped on the planes of Moab directly across from Jericho.  Balak, the king of Moab received an intelligence briefing notifying him how the rag-tag group of former Egyptian slaves had utterly defeated the feared forces of the Amorites, under the leadership of Sihon, located just north of their encampment (Num. 21:21-32).  After this stunning victory, Israel’s forces marched north and took the sixty fortified cities of Og, king of Bashan (Num. 21:33-35; Deut. 3).  God, of course, not only told them to seize these lands as part of their inheritance, but He said He would empower them so they would be victorious in battle despite their disadvantages (Deut. 2:36-37; 3:3).

            Balak’s knees buckled when the briefing concluded.  Knowing he couldn’t defeat Israel on the battlefield, he resorted to using the black arts to curse Israel.  His thinking was simple: Hire a sorcerer to tap into the realm of the gods, viz., demons, and challenge him to motivate the gods to work against the foe in question, Israel. A. Noordtzij explains how the ancient curse was supposed to operate:

[curses were] connected with a series of mysterious manipulations, reinforced by the incantations pronounced in the required tone, whose purpose is to separate an individual, group, or nation from its god. This will reduce its vitality and make it a victim of the sinister forces and demons that always lie in wait to assail man, torturing and finally destroying him when he lacks divine protection.[1]

Can’t you see the battle prophesied in Genesis 3:15 here between God and Satan and between God’s forces/people and Satan’s forces/people?  Satan knew the Seed would come through this nation, so he inspired his man to utter curses against the nation God chose to bless.  I guess the Devil didn’t get the memo: Nothing or no one will ever definitively thwart God’s promise to bring the Seed, Savior, and King to earth to accomplish His divinely appointed mission to mankind. Let this sink into your mind and heart, especially as you see modern-day Balak’s seeking to oppose all that is decent, moral, logical, and holy.  So, let me repeat this timeless premise in the prophecied battle between good and evil and God and Satan: Nothing or no one will ever definitively thwart God’s promise to bring the Seed, Savior, and King to earth to accomplish His divinely appointed mission to mankind.

Balak’s desperation and arrogance moved him to do the illogical. Yes, it is true. Sometimes unbelieving leaders will do the most useless things in order to halt the advancement of God’s people and purpose. What did Balak do? As I stated, he hired the best sorcerer money could buy to attempt to do the unthinkable: get demonic spirits to weaken Israel.  Whom did he hire? The infamous Balaam, a Mesopotamian sorcerer who lived some 550 miles north of Moab (he was the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River . . . a term in the OT which always denotes the Euphrates, Gen. 31:21; Exo. 23:31; Deut. 11:24; 2 Sam. 8:3; Isa. 8:7, 11:15, et al.).

His first money-laden delegation to hire Balaam came back empty-handed because God spoke personally to the sorcerer and told him not to curse the people He promised to bless (Num. 22:21).  Balak responded by sending a larger second delegation to coerce the sorcerer to come to his country’s aid quickly (Num. 22:17).  God spoke a second time and gave the sorcerer permission to go with the delegation.  Don’t you find this all so interesting?  The Devil worked behind the scenes to thwart the coming of the Seed, and God controlled the Devil’s man to safeguard His purposes.  Is this not the epitome of irony? God never promotes evil; He permits it, so His will is ultimately realized.  Don’t ever forget this next time the news overwhelms or depresses you.

Scholars theorize that Balaam’s motivation shifted from doing God’s bidding to doing the sorcerer’s deed for pay. This would help us understand how God became angry with Balaam, resulting in Him sending the Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ, to block his advance (Num. 22:22ff).  Balaam tried to get his donkey to go through a narrow pass three times but the donkey basically freaked out and stalled. Eventually, the donkey just laid down.  That’s when Balaam angrily beat the poor beast (Num. 22:27).  Funny, isn’t it? The donkey could see into the angelic dimension to gain the understanding that God opposed the movement of the sorcerer, but the sorcerer, who was supposed to be privy to these things, couldn’t have been more clueless. God finally opened his physical eyes so he could see into the angelic dimension.

How did Balaam respond? He repented of his sinful activity (Num. 22:34).  God, then, graciously permitted him to proceed with his journey with this one proviso: he had to speak only what God told him to communicate (Num. 22:35).  From chapters 23 through 24 King Balak took Balaam to three mountainous locations just east of the plains of Moab so he could see the Israelites encampment and then curse them.  The ancients also believed mountains were closer to the realm of the gods/demons; hence, from these perches (Bamoth-Baal, Pisgah Peak, and Mount Peor, moving from south to north), the sorcerer could more easily tap into the demonic power.

How did this turn out? Not well for King Balak or Balaam. He moved to three mountain peak positions, and after offering seven bulls and seven rams on seven altars at each location to gain the attention of the gods/demons, Balaam offered only prophetic blessings on Israel, not curses: Prophecy #1 (Num. 23:1-12), Israel, a vast people, will be blessed of God; Prophecy #2 (Num. 23:13-24), Israel, like a lion, will be victors no matter what (so much for divination!), and Prophecy #3 (Num. 24:1-14), Israel, like a lion, will dominate the nations one day. Why the prophetic emphasis on Israel being like a lion? Because the lion-like tribe, the tribe of Judah, led their forces to victory as prophesied by God in Genesis 49:8-12.  Why the emphasis on the domination of the nations?  Because in Genesis 49:8-12 God prophesied how the ultimate king, Shiloh, would come, and through His military prowess, all of the godless nations would be defeated so His empire of peace could be established worldwide (Isa. 2; 9).

Think about this for a moment.  Since Jacob died around 1876 B.C., and Israel entered the promised land around 1406 B.C., this means that 470 years of geo-political intrigue and even sin among His chosen people in the wilderness did not thwart God’s promise to bring the Seed, Shiloh, the King of Kings.  The ancient prophecy to Judah was not just on God’s mind; it was at the forefront of His mind; hence, God wasn’t going to let a sorcerer do anything to derail His magnificent plans for Israel and sinners who would become saints.

How did King Balak respond to these three blessings for Israel? Like any anti-semitic, he exploded all over the man who told him what he didn’t want to hear.

10 Then Balak's anger burned against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, "I called you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have persisted in blessing them these three times! (Num. 24).

He was predictably emotional when he didn’t get his way.

Sometimes the truth is bothersome and painful, but it is what you need to hear, especially if it is from God and God’s Word.  You don’t need to remove truth speakers from your life as Balak did. You need them to speak into your life so you can move from sin to holiness and from spiritual error to spiritual truth. You don’t need to run to a safe space, so you are shielded from the truth.  You need to run to an open space where you are exposed to the truth so you can live pleasing to God, not yourself.

Now what is most interesting is how Balaam responded before he headed back home without payment:

13 'Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything contrary to the command of the LORD, either good or bad, of my own accord. What the LORD speaks, that I will speak '?

At this juncture, like the sorcerers of Pharoah (Ex. 8:19), Balak admits the limitations of his sorcery skill. The will of the living God trumps that skill. Even if Balak wanted to speak a curse, only a blessing would have come out of his mouth, for that is what God willed. This is humorous, at best, and it shows God’s commitment to bringing the Seed to mankind through the chosen nation, Israel.  And you think evil people, who seem to be advancing all kinds of unthinkable evil in our day, will seriously derail God’s Seed, Savior, and King(dom) prophesied program? You had better think again. He laughs at them from His heavenly vantage point (Psalm 2:4; 37:13).

Like a puppet that cannot control the content coming out of his mouth, Balaam then turns and makes this parting statement:

 14 And now behold, I am going to my people; come, and I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the days to come.

In the ensuing freebee prophecy, God revealed to Balaam this major premise:

God Will Bless The World Through Israel’s Ultimate King (Num. 24:14-17)

Balaam had just told King Balak how Israel would one day have a king who would definitively overpower her enemies (Num. 24:7). It sounds a lot like the prophecy of Shiloh, or the Prince of Peace, the Messiah Jesus of Isaiah 9:6 fame.  Concerning this King of Kings, Balaam, speaking by way of divine inspirations, makes two astounding prophetic points:

The King’s Road To Blessing Is Clear (Num. 24:9, 14-16)

Imagine giving this geo-political truth to the king, who was not only angered by what you previously said about his enemy but also held to power of life and death in his hand.

14 "And now behold, I am going to my people; come, and I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the days to come." 15 And he took up his discourse and said, "The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, and the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, 16 The oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered (Num. 24).

Balaam basically says, if you didn’t like the other three prophetic oracles, well, then you might as well try and wrap your evil, power-hungry mind around this last divine word God has allowed me to hear and see.  What he told him first concerned the Moabite people “in the days to come.”  This prophetic prepositional phrase has a near and far emphasis in Hebrew (  בְּאַחֲרִ֥ית הַיָּמִֽי) and Greek ( ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν, LXX, or the Greek Septuagint or Greek version of the Hebrew OT).  In Deuteronomy 4:30, 31:29, and Jeremiah 49:39, the phrase is used with the near future in mind.  Taken in this fashion, Balak learned that the Israelites would be victorious over him and his people. This prophecy proved valid some 360 later when King Saul and King David (the prophecy was given around 1406 B.C., and Saul and David ruled from 1051-1011 and 1011 to 971 B.C., respectively) subdued the wicked Moabites (1 Sam. 14:47; 2 Sam. 8:2, 12, 14; Psa. 60:8; 108:10.  Again, God does not forget what He has prophesied and promised, and nothing or no one deters Him from His plan, not even the complexities or passing of vast amounts of time.

The prepositional phrase also has a far future or eschatological meaning.  The point here to Balak is that not only will Israel dominate in the near future, but in the distant future, their ultimate King will lead them to lasting victory over all of their ancient foes (Moab, Edom, etc.). Consider how the phrase is employed in the prophets.

1 The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

 2 Now it will come about that in the last days (בְּאַחֲרִ֣ית הַיָּמִ֗ים ), the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. 3 And many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths." For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war (Isa. 2).

The picture here is of the Messiah ruling and reigning from His Davidic throne, as prophesied in Genesis 49:8-12.  Mount Zion is elevated after the tribulation to be the highest mountain on earth, and people from all  nations will travel to Jerusalem to sit at the feet of the Messiah and learn from Him.  It will be a time of truth, law and order, true justice, and peace.  Talk about the actual Great Re-set. This will be it.

How will this time of peace be made possible?

16 and you will come up against My people Israel like a cloud to cover the land. It will come about in the last days (בְּאַחֲרִ֙ית הַיָּמִ֜ים ) that I shall bring you against My land, in order that the nations may know Me when I shall be sanctified through you before their eyes, O Gog (Ezek. 38).

Without diving deep into this complicated prophecy, please permit me to summarize.  In the middle of the Tribulation, when Israel is at peace because of the peace treaty they will sign with the Anti-Christ, or leader of the western confederacy of nations, the Russian forces and their allies will attack Israel.  God states He will personally take them out in a spectacular, supernatural fashion, thereby protecting and providing for His people, so the Seed, Savior, and King can come to rule on His Davidic throne (Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:25). You are watching today as the nations set themselves up for this prophesied invasion and “battle.”  It will be to no avail because Israel’s ultimate King will have all the power He needs to repel and destroy them.

We, therefore, have great hope this Christmas season for the world stage is being set to usher in the second arrival of the King of Kings. The first time He came as our sacrificial servant to pay for our sins so we could come to know Him in the moment of faith.  The next time He comes, He comes as the regal victor. Blessing will follow His arrival like we have never seen before.

Second,

The King’s Rise To Blessing Is Clear (Num. 24:17a)

Watch how Balaam reveals this jaw-dropping prophetic point:

17 I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel, . . . and shall crush through the forehead of Moab, and tear down all the sons of Sheth.

Who did he see as God, who is outside of time and space, permitted him to look down the long halls of time?  He saw a man, also called “a star,” and the scepter he holds denotes he will be a king.  Concerning this enigmatic statement, Expositor’s Bible Commentary astutely remarks:

Without question, the most debated and the most important verse in the oracle corpus is v.17. The prophecy of the star out of Jacob and the scepter out of Israel is a specific prophecy of the coming messianic Ruler, the Lord Jesus Christ. Israel’s future Deliverer will be like a star and a scepter in his royalty and will bring victory over the enemies of his people (see also v.19). That this prophecy was given through the improbable prophet Balaam is remarkable, reminding us of the unexpectedness of the thoughts of God (Isa 55:8).[2]

Indeed, this verse causes us to stop and ponder the mysterious ways of God Almighty.

In ancient times, stars were viewed as the power which ruled the night sky (Gen. 1:16; Psalm 136:9), and they were also associated with the heavenly throne (Isa. 14:13). This royal star, or king, is prophetically pictured here as coming from Jacob (  דָּרַ֙ךְ כּוֹכָ֜ב מִֽיַּעֲקֹ֗). The term “will come” or darak is used in the OT of a warrior marching off to battle (Amos 4:13; Mic. 5:5-6).  When this star hits the world scene He will use His light to waylay darkness in a definitive fashion.  This is, of course, denoted by the presence of the specter he holds.  It means either a king’s long staff, which sat between his feet and rested on his should as he ruled from his chair, or it spoke of a short war club a king used in battle (Isa. 10:15; 14:5; Mic. 5:1).  Just as a star’s rising cannot be impeded, nothing or no one will stop the rise of this warrior star when He arrives, and arrive He did.  A glorious star guided the magi to His birthplace (Matt. 2:2-10), and the shepherds saw the brightness of God’s presence when the angel told them about the Messiah’s birth (Luke 2:9). We now await His prophesied Second Coming when He comes with great glory and power (Matt. 24; Rev. 19) to deal a final blow to sin, Satan, and those who reject Him as Lord of their lives.

True, Balaam probably saw the rise of the star of King David, for he not only subdued Israel’s enemies but also became the king all kings were measured against.  For all intents and purposes, he was the King of Kings until THE King showed up, Jesus, the Christ. David brought temporary light and victory over the darkness about him and his people; however, it did not last as we see from Israel’s regal history as recorded in the books of 1 and 2 Kings (2 Sam. 8:2-14; 1 Kings 11:15-16; 1 Chron. 18:12-13). Balaam, therefore, looked beyond David to the more excellent David, the Messiah, Jesus, who would bring lasting spiritual peace to repentant sinners (Rom. 5:1), and worldwide peace at the end of the tribulation.

Ancient Jewish writers have typically seen this “star” as none other than the Messiah.

In early Judaism, Targum Onkelos reads on this verse: “When a mighty king of Jacob’s house will reign, and the Messiah will be magnified”; Targum Jonathan reads on this verse: “When there shall reign a strong king of the house of Jacob, and Messiah shall be anointed, and a strong scepter shall be from Israel.” In the Talmud this section is tied to Messiah in Jerusalem Taanith (68.4); Debarim Rabba (sec. 1); Pesikta Sotarta (58.1). Further, the Damascus Document (CD:vii.9–20) ties this verse to Amos 9:11, the raising of the fallen booth of the house of David; in the War Scroll from Qumran (1QM:VII), the star and scepter passage is tied to the final battle of good and evil. Indeed, the text was a particular favorite among the Qumran covenanters (see F.F. Bruce, The Teacher of Righteousness in the Qumran Texts [London: Tyndale, 1956], p. 10).[3]

Throughout their history, Jews looked expectantly for this regal “star.” Simon Bar Kosiba became the leader of the final Jewish war for freedom (132-136 A.D.).  He changed his name to Simon bar Kochba, “son of a star,” intimating that he was the long-awaited prophetic star.[4]  He wasn’t because the Romans killed him in A.D. 136.  The true star had already come in 5 B.C., and when the Romans killed Him He defeated sin and death by rising from the grave on the third day. His resurrection positioned him to be the rightful king who would bring spiritual peace to repentant sinners and world peace through His eventual judgment of evil.

The first question this Christmas is clear: Have you permitted this prophesied King of Kings to be your King? Nothing or no one stopped His first coming to deal with sin and Satan.  Not even wicked King Herod could find Him as a baby and prevent Him from accomplishing His mission to be the King of Kings after He became the Savior.  He waits now to take away your sin because only He can do this, as John the Baptist said (John 1:29 ).

The second question this Christmas is equally clear: Are you, as a saint, hopeful this Christmas, or are you downcast at the advance of evil in our world?  You should be optimistic for just as no one or nothing stopped the arrival of the Star the first time, He is working hard behind the world scenes, as He did in the past, to set up the world’s geo-political climate for His next and final glorious return to erect His empire.

All of this is why we sing with gusto the old hymn “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne,”

When the heav’ns shall ring and the angels sing
At Thy coming to victory
Let Thy voice call me home, saying,
Yet there is room – There is room at My side for thee.
My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
When Thou comest and callest for me!

[1]  A. Noordtzij, Bible Students Commentary: Numbers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1983), 202.

[2] Ronald B. Allen, “Numbers,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 909. “Targum” in Hebrew refers to a translation of Hebrew into any other language.  Targum Onkelos is the Jewish Aramaic translation of the Torah from 2 A.D. Targum Jonathan is the Babylonian Aramaic translation of the Nevi’im, or the prophets, from 2 A.D.

[3] Ibid., 911.

[4] Lawrence H. Schiffman, “The Bar Kochba Revolt,” accessed December 8, 2022, https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-bar-kochba-revolt/