Chapter 42 The Star And The Scepter

There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel (Numbers 24:17).

One of the strangest characters in the Bible is Balaam. He is made to speak some of the sweetest prophecies concerning the coming of the Lord’s Messiah, but these things did not come from his heart, nor did they rise from spiritual affections. In this man we see some of the deep workings of the human soul—how a person can be affected by the Word of God and the happiness of God’s people, yet still take the downward road to hell’s dark pit.

Balaam’s Hire

The hire of Balaam came about by the distress of Balak, king of Moab, over the constant conquests of Israel. Balaam was a Mesopotamian soothsayer who, living in close proximity to Israel, had learned to speak their spiritual language about God. He thus could wear a holy guise over a graceless heart. At first he gives the impression of really wanting to know God’s mind. God’s answer to his seeking is clear and plain: “Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed” (22:12). But he does not dismiss the representatives from the king of Moab. They return again and again, and both Balaam and the princes lessen the effect of each other’s words until God is left out of the deal.

Balaam’s eye is upon the costly bribes of Balak. When he rises early to go with the men, a dumb ass is made to speak to block his way: “The dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet” (2 Peter 2:16). But the love of reward drives him on. So the tale goes on until both Balaam and Balak are thwarted. God put words into Balaam’s mouth which are some of the sweetest words concerning the coming Messiah, and thus Christ is set forth even by a soul dead in his sins and most certainly an instrument of unrighteousness. But God makes him a vessel of dishonor to speak His truth.

The Star of Jacob

“I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob.” Could any word of prophecy be more sweet and comforting? Could any words glow with greater brightness? It means that in the background this world is sunk in darkness—heathenish gloom. All is the blackness and darkness of a godless world, a world in which all the excellencies and beauties of God’s character are utterly unknown, and where the realities of His grace and love and truth are unseen. It is a jungle world where, because of the darkness, evil beasts creep abroad and prowl to vex the sons of men and tear them to pieces. It is a world black with spots, blemishes, and many infirmities.

But into this black night of man’s awful sinning the promised Saviour is to come. He is to be the Star of Jacob, and a star is a glittering orb set in the canopy of universal darkness. It sparkles in the gloom. It sends forth its cheering light into the pall enveloping the earth. Such is Jesus our Lord. Oh, what loveliness there is in Him! He who is “over all, God blessed for ever” has become visible to the sons of men and has shone into our black night as “the brightness of His [the Father’s] glory, and the express image of His Person” (Hebrews 1:3). Light from Heaven shines in the Star of Jacob. All that God is, is made manifest in Him. What brightness shines when He appears! What loveliness is spread upon the soul when it perceives the Star of heavenly light!

The Scepter of Israel

“A Sceptre shall rise out of Israel.” There is a mystic union between the Star and the Scepter. He, who first came to shine as light into our darkness and bring with Him a cheering ray of hope in a hopeless world, comes also to reign and rule in the hearts which He conquers. They lay down their arms of rebellion and acknowledge that He is Lord. In this generation, “the kingdom of heaven is within you”—that is, our Lord has a spiritual and beneficent rule in the hearts of His redeemed ones. There is no peace until He sits upon the throne of the heart. There can be no love until He is loved as Saviour of our souls and the ruling King on the throne of our lives.

But more. He is the Scepter which shall smite this rebellious world until “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). This is what is meant by the word: He “shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth” (Numbers 24:17). The wicked are to be overthrown by Him at His appearing. They are to lie down in sorrow. They are to be destroyed. Alas for those who have to say with Balaam: “I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh.” The wicked are to see Him come in power and glory. When He calls His ransomed ones, these are to stand afar off. How sad the words—“but not nigh.”

When the Scepter rules over the Father’s vast dominions, His elect bride, the company of the redeemed, will be at His side to share His governmental authority and rule. This is the completion of believers’ prayers and joys. They shall have nothing more to ask for; no more, indeed, could they want. All hail, Thou Star of Jacob! Make haste, O Thou Scepter of Israel!

Hail, Thou once despised Jesus!
Hail, Thou still rejected King!
Thou didst suffer to release us;
Thou didst free salvation bring.
Through Thy death and resurrection,
Bearer of our sin and shame!
We enjoy divine protection,
Life and glory through Thy Name.

Jesus hail! enthroned in glory,
There forever to abide;
All the heavenly hosts adore Thee,
Seated at Thy Father’s side:
There for sinners Thou art pleading,
There Thou dost our place prepare,
Ever for us interceding
Till in glory we appear.

Worship, honor, pow’r, and blessing
Thou art worthy to receive;
Loudest praises, without ceasing,
Meet it is for us to give.
Help ye bright angelic spirits,
Bring your sweetest, noblest lays;
Help to sing our Saviour’s merits,
Help to chant Immanuel’s praise.

John Bakewell