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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Balaam sees the approaching King
Text:Numbers 24:17-19 (View)
Occasion:Christmas Eve
Topic:Christ's Kingship

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 148:1,4                                                                                

Ps 36:1,3

Reading – Numbers 22:1-21; Numbers 24:1-14

Ps 108:3,4,5

Sermon – Numbers 24:17-19

Hy 19:1,2,3,4

Hy 41:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters, around Christmas we’re often reminded of what the old prophets said about the coming Saviour. Think of Isaiah’s familiar words, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (7:14). Or from Micah, “And you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the clans of Judah, out of you will come one to be Ruler in Israel” (5:2). When we listen to all these prophecies again, it’s amazing to think how God had everything about Jesus’s coming planned and prepared.

But God didn’t just speak about the Christ through the mouths of the holy messengers Isaiah or Micah or Malachi. He pointed to him already long before these men. And He even pointed to Christ with the hand of a Gentile prophet!

Earlier we read Numbers 22, the first story of Balak and Balaam. This was when Israel was just outside the Promised Land. They’d been led through the wilderness by God and had defeated all their enemies along the way: the Egyptians, the Amalekites, the Amorites. Now the Israelites stood on the plains of Moab, separated from Canaan by only the river Jordan.

They were a large people, perhaps two million strong. Far larger than any Canaanite tribe, and as yet undefeated in battle. No wonder Balak, the king of Moab, was getting nervous. A mighty people was camped out in his backyard, and they were getting ready to move into the neighbourhood permanently. He also knew that the conventional warfare of soldiers and chariots will not work against Israel. So he sends for Balaam. Balaam was a sorcerer from Mesopotamia, a pagan prophet—we might call him a wizard. He had a reputation for being able to speak with the gods and to get them to do what he wanted.

His job is simple: throw a curse on God’s people, so that they crumple in battle against the Moabites. Attracted by the promise of a rich payday, Balaam comes. But try as he might, with animal offerings and elaborate incantations, Balaam just cannot curse the Israelites. He actually blesses them! Balaam comes to understand he can only open his mouth with God’s permission, and that even then, he must speak God’s words. In our text he does so yet again. And so this pagan sorcerer joins the prophetic chorus, and he points to the coming Christ! I preach God’s Word to you from Numbers 24:17-19,

From a distance Balaam sees the approaching King:

1) His coming will be spectacular

2) His enemies will get pulverized

3) His people will do valiantly


1) His coming will be spectacular: As Balak listens to Balaam speak this final time, he’s probably dreading what will come from his mouth. He is already highly frustrated with Balaam’s work—so much for this certified sorcerer!

He begins his oracle with an elaborate introduction: “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…” (vv 15-16). Like a long drum roll, Balaam piles up the words before he says what he has to say.

God has given him a vision, the Almighty has given him knowledge. That was true—even if he was a pagan, an expert in the black arts, the Lord decided to reveal things through him. God can use any instrument that He pleases. And at this great revelation Balaam “falls down,” hits the ground in shock and surprise.

Remember that he has “received” many visions and oracles before. Balaam is a man who has talked to many so-called gods about things like war and finance and politics. To receive and proclaim these messages was Balaam’s specialty—his day job. But now he is burdened with a real prophecy, given by the one true and living God. So he humbles himself.

From the ground, with his eyes wide open, Balaam looks ahead. He gazes into the murky fog of time, strains to see what’s on the distant horizon. And Balaam (who just proudly said that his eyes see clearly), confesses that he can see only dimly: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near” (v 17). There’s something there, but he can’t quite make it out.

It is as if Balaam sees something one moment, but as quickly as it comes, it fades from view: “I see him, but not now…” It’s like when the kids are outside at night, playing one of those games when everyone hides to avoid the person who is “it.” Ducking low, straining your eyes, you think you see someone sneaking through the shadows, but you’re not sure, and then they’re gone. “I see him, but not now.”

But though it’s a shadowy vision, God allows Balaam to see enough. He sees two objects, “A star shall come out of Jacob, a sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (v 17). Of these two symbols, the sceptre is the easier one to understand.

A sceptre is a staff or a rod that is often very ornate, usually decorated with gold and jewels. You can still see a sceptre (or a mace) today in many capital buildings. And who holds a sceptre? A monarch, a king or queen, would take the sceptre in hand as they made their judgments. So in Commonwealth countries, the sceptre represents the authority of the Queen. She’s not there in person, but everyone can see that constant reminder of her dominion.

Balaam sees a sceptre arising from Israel. From this vast people in front of him will arise a ruler; someone from these tents of the Hebrews will sit on a throne and exercise power. Now, in itself, the idea wasn’t so earth-shattering. The nations had their sceptres too: Pharaoh of Egypt held one, Balak probably did, so did many kings in many nations. If there was a ruler, there was a sceptre! It was standard equipment.

But Balaam sees more than just your average ruler. For from Israel would arise a sceptre, and from Jacob would come “a star” (v 17). A star is a heavenly light, an amazing creation that displays God’s great power—like in Psalm 8, “When I consider the stars…what is man that you are mindful of him?” The stars are glorious in their brightness and endurance.

If you’re called a “star” today, you’re being praised for things like your beauty and strength and skill. So this sceptre coming from Israel won’t be a passing power. This ruler won’t be a light bulb that shines for a while, then fizzles. He’ll be like a star, strong and spectacular!

This is what Balaam sees, yet only a glimpse, for this great King is “not near” (v 17). He was so distant from that moment in time. Many years stood between these words and their fulfillment, more time than Balaam could ever know. Think of it: Balaam speaks these words around 1500 years before Christ’s birth. This great king, radiant as a star, was light years away!

All the same, it was good news for Israel—very good news, for they needed a king to lead and protect them. It would be seen many times over the years, that the life of the king and the people were bound up together. As the king went, so went the people. For the years under David and Solomon, Josiah and Hezekiah, the people would thrive under a strong and righteous sceptre. But sin afflicted even the greatest of Israel’s kings. And if a king was wicked, everyone suffered. So an unfailing star and a mighty sceptre were good news!

But no, He wasn’t near. At this time, the Israelites didn’t even have a king. So as centuries passed, you imagine the people wondering: What did Balaam so dimly see? Could they really trust the words of that Gentile? For that matter, what had Isaiah and the other prophets meant with their words? As the years went by, the promised Saviour was still nowhere to be seen. Would He ever arrive?

For God’s people in any time and place, the struggle is well-known. It’s the struggle to believe what God has said, to keep looking ahead with the eyes of faith. Because sometimes hope seems far away. The reality of God’s care can feel like it’s shrouded in fog. In the midst of stress or despair we wonder if his hand is really present with us. “I see him, but now.” Do we trust what God said? Can we be sure of his Word, even if we don’t see or feel how it’s possible?

But in the previous chapter, Balaam said it so well: “God is not a man, that He should lie…Has He said and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (23:19-20). A sceptre will arise. A star will come! There will be grace. God’s Word is always sure!

One shining proof of that is how the one whom Balaam saw did arrive, just as God promised He would. The “star from Jacob” was a great King and a radiant light. Remember that it was a star in the heavens that the wise men followed to where Jesus was! Or think of how Peter calls our Saviour, “A light that shines in a dark place… [as] day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet 1:19).

By his coming, Christ shines on the people who once walked in darkness. Our hearts are black with sin and fear, but Christ chases away the shadows with his glorious brightness. We hear it in the blessing every Sunday, that God makes his face to shine upon us, for He grants us his favour and protection. He says to us: “I’ve given you a new day. You don’t need to live like those who love darkness, who hide their sin and shame in the shadows. But you can walk in the light of Jacob’s star!”

To be sure, Jesus looked like no “star” when He came. Next to the heroes of that world, Jesus was no bright light, and he faded all too soon. Yet the light that shone at his birth wasn’t put out at the cross. Christ rose again, and like a star He endures forever! As He says to us in John 8, “I am the light of the World. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).


2) His enemies will get pulverized: As he continued his fourth prophecy, Balaam probably gave up his last hopes of getting paid. Here he was, hired by Balak, and what was his message for the king of Moab? This sceptre from Jacob is going to “batter Moab’s brow!” (v 17). The brow or forehead is a very strong part of our body, but it’s pulverized with the mighty sceptre! The coming ruler won’t just shine brightly on Israel, but go to war against their enemies.

With less dramatic language, but no less certain results, this sceptre will conquer Edom and Seir (v 18). Edom was a nation on the east of the Jordan, and Seir was another name for their territory. So the one who holds Israel’s sceptre will dispose of the nations in no time at all!

The destruction will be complete, and none will escape. As Balaam says in verse 19, “Out of Jacob one shall have dominion, and destroy the remains of the city.” Whatever city or town there was in the land of Moab or Edom, each will be emptied of life—even the survivors of the battles will be wiped out.

It’s a violent message about the coming King! Do you wonder why these peoples and nations? And why now? At the Messiah’s arrival, why drag onto the scene some obscure tribes from the Middle East to have their foreheads crushed? Is it really necessary?

We should understand that Moab and Edom weren’t just insignificant nations who harassed Israel from time to time. First, the Edomites were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin. Which is important: Edom had a deep strong tie with Israel—Israel and Edom “brother” nations. Both Jacob and Esau had grown up as covenant children. Yet as they got older, they parted ways. Already in the womb they had struggled, which was a sign of things to come! Remember how Jacob cheated Esau out of his birthright and blessing, and how Esau had left in anger.

Esau still received God’s favour, and had many descendants. But the Edomites forgot their roots. They grew powerful and proud and rejected God. Just a few chapters earlier, in Numbers 20, Edom refused to let the Israelites pass through their territory. Israel had to make a long detour around. Edom was a brother nation, yet they hated God and his people.

Moab was no better. They were also relatives of Israel, for Moab was descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot. Despite the close ties, the Moabites were a nation with a lot of animosity towards God’s people. After all, here was Balak, trying to get them cursed and sent back into the desert to die.

What was behind this hatred? Who was behind it? Consider carefully. Recall that Israel was on the way to the Promised Land, on her way to peace and stability at last. And in their midst was the seed of the One who was coming, the sceptre and star from Jacob. In Israel’s tents—somewhere among the families of Judah—was a future King!

So besides Balak and his associates, who was keen to stop this king from coming? Actually, who was worried about the well-being of his own head, seeing it was also scheduled to be crushed one day? Satan, of course, who heard his demise spoken of already in the beginning. Of course he wanted to prevent the royal star from arising! Because if he could stop him, the devil’s domain would be secure. The people walking in darkness would stay in the dark!

But here is God’s certain word: Moab will be crushed, Edom conquered, Satan’s kingdom destroyed—and Balaam gets to see the preview. Those who hate God’s people will be overcome. Destroyed with a swing of the sceptre, right to the forehead!

It’s not really a text you would put on a Christmas card, like “Peace on earth, good will to men!” But Balaam tells us about something that’s actually a big part of the coming of Christ: He is a king who builds a new and victorious kingdom.

And that’s what we see in Scripture. Think of how the wise men seek the King of the Jews. Mary sings of her son as a Mighty One, who brings down rulers from their thrones, and Isaiah prophesied about the government being on the shoulders of the Messiah. And yes, Balaam announces a king, a radiant ruler who holds a strong and conquering sceptre.

It’s because we need a king! We need a champion and Lord! For there’s a war to fight, and many enemies from whom we need protection. The power of sin is real, and so are the constant attacks of the devil, together with the pressures of all those in league with him. But Christ is a mighty king who saves and preserves us. The only way that his glorious light can shine is when the darkness is chased away. The only we can have peace is through war.

A King was born in Bethlehem. At the cross He went to battle, and on the third day He announced his victory. Today, He is enthroned on high where He rules over every president and king, where He has dominion over every foe. From his throne in heaven Christ governs all things, great and small, visible and invisible.

What’s the message in this for us? We often hear bad news for Christ’s church in this country and around this world: the godless and lawless agenda continually advances through the slick persuasion of the media, anti-Christian people take power in government, churches get pushed down and pushed back. If we think about it too long, we fear what is coming.

But when we start to get scared, Christ reassures us. The sceptre is in his hand, so evildoers can only do as He permits. Jesus reigns! It’s what we see in the story of Balaam, how even when God’s enemies try their very hardest to curse, God is able to turn it to blessing. It’s what we see through church history, how even persecution is turned to good. For everything stands under the rule of our great King! So we celebrate Jesus, King of Kings, Lord of Lords—our king, and our Lord.


3) His people will do valiantly: For Balaam there was one last mystery. For he declares that as Moab and Edom get destroyed, “Israel does valiantly” (v 18). This was a mystery, for Israel already looked pretty strong. They’d left their recent enemies in tatters, and were ready to do the same in Canaan. Israel be valiant? How much stronger could they become?

But in reality, Israel was a weak and spineless nation. If Balaam had gone a few miles in their sandals, he would have seen it. All the way from Egypt to the Jordan, Israel had complained, tried to give up, or lost faith altogether. By Numbers 25, just one chapter after this triumphant prophecy, Israel has fallen again. What did they do this time? Thousands commit adultery with the women of Moab. Forget curses and spells—a huge threat to God’s people remains our love of pleasure. Satan doesn’t have to be too creative to get us to fall.

Left to herself, Israel would be swallowed up by the desert, her enemies, her own sin. And we still need so much help. We easily surrender to our enemies. We’re quick to doubt God’s promise. We’re hardly strong enough to say no to Satan’s offers.

But Christ can change all that. He makes his people “valiant.” What is valiant? Brave. Boldness combined with strength, courage with conviction. It’s rooted in knowing who stands with us, who goes before us, who died for us: Christ our King!

That’s the power of great leader: He inspires those around him to be stronger. Even if nothing has changed outwardly, with someone powerful in the lead, people are willing to follow. When you know Christ, you can be valiant in battle. When you know Christ, you can be brave facing the enemy. By what Christ did, by who He is, He makes us men and women and children of courage.

In Christ, be bold against the sins and temptations that you fight every day. Ask him for help to be holy, and rely on his strength to stand firm. Be valiant to say no!

In Christ, be courageous in stepping forward to answer his calling. Maybe that calling is for taking leadership in your family, or it’s for beginning something new for God’s glory, or simply for doing his good will. Have courage that He is with you, to equip you and help you.

In Christ, be valiant when people oppose you for Jesus’ sake. Ask him for new strength, and then act in faith. Do not fear, because his power is great, and his victory is sure!

Balaam, the pagan prophet, looked into the fog and saw a passing image. He caught just a glimpse of the everlasting star. So many years later, you and I are allowed to look at the Messiah and see him clearly. The star has risen, the sceptre has come—Christ is born! And in his cross, sin’s curse has been taken away. Instead of being cursed, God’s forever blessing rests on you. So look to your King in faith. Look to him, and then walk bravely in his shining light!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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