JACOB'S STAR AND ISRAEL'S SCEPTER
"There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel." Numb. 24:17.
Jesus is here sweetly preached—but from a heart, which never loved Him, and by lips, which never more shall praise Him. It is indeed a solemn personage, who now speaks. A cloak of fearful mystery enwraps him. He journeys far to curse God's people. But when he comes, he cannot choose but to bless them.
His name is BALAAM. His mind, his motives, and his frightful course, are a deep study. They are a sign-post, showing hell's downward road. Thus they present a vast expanse of profit, of which the barest outline only can be touched.
His dwelling was amid the mountains of the East. His intellect had there acquired some knowledge of the living God. His name was wide-spread, as a man enriched with heavenly gifts. He was revered, as having mystic influence in the unseen world.
Hence Balak, Moab's king, dismayed at Israel's conquering course, thinks, that Balaam's aid would avail more than armaments. Therefore he calls him, saying, "I know, that he whom you blessed, is blessed—and he whom you curse, is cursed."
Common reputation thus made him more than man. But all his outward sanctity concealed a graceless heart. Disguised in holy livery, he was the slave of this world's prince.
The messengers arrive. Their errand is declared. Balaam's first answer suits his fame. God seems the foremost object of his thoughts. He thus professes, that God's will is his only guide—"Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the Lord shall speak unto me." And can so fair a morn be soon a rayless night? Alas! a good commencement secures not a good end. The bud may never blossom, and the blossom may not ripen into fruit. Many a lost one once looked heavenward.
He tells the matter to his God. The clearest answer is returned. "You shall NOT go with them—you shall not curse the people—for they are blessed." And can it be, that God thus communes with unrighteous men? Yes! Truth may pass the threshold of the mind, and not subdue the heart. Alpine snows reflect the sun, but are not softened by it.
Balaam's half-heartedness now creeps from its disguise. His ear received God's plain reply. But his eye looked on Balak's rich rewards. He cannot but dismiss the princes. But his weak words betray his hankering heart. He slightly says, "The Lord refuses to give me leave to go." Here is not truth in its full stature. The prohibition is withheld—"You shall not curse." The grand decree is cloaked—"For they are blessed."
Unhappy man! one honest speech would have uplifted him above temptation's reach. Alas! for those who halt and linger on the borders of untruth. The timid clippers of God's word, the trembling fritterers, suppress reality, and so deceive.
Satan has cast a wily net. His arts succeed. Balaam told less than God's reply. The princes hasten back, and they tell even less than Balaam's words. Dilution is diluted more. They only say, "Balaam refuses to come." God is now totally left out—and man's demurring will appears the sole hindrance.
The temptation is thus courted to return. And it will not be slow to seek the half-inviting door. Balak sends mightier princes, with larger entreaties, and more costly bribes. Balaam's mask now further drops. He frowns them not away. Professing loyalty to God, he urges them to tarry, while he sought further guidance. But he fully knew God's will. Still, regardless of this, a secret longing lurked, that he might get some doubtful word, which seemingly might make compliance guiltless. Alas! for those, who, while they scruple to impinge against a bolted door, seek by some crevice to get out.
God speaks again; but the restraining rein is slackened. Those who shun light, will soon be left to stumble in the dark. Balaam now only hears, "If the men come to call you, rise up, and go with them." Here is a lowered barrier. And, intent on gain, he quickly overleaps it. Uncalled, he early rises. And so he rushes down the stream to earthly treasure, and soul-death.
But now a prodigy bars up his course. The Angel of the Lord thrice stands an adversary in the way; and then "he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—a beast without speech—who spoke with a man's voice and restrained the prophet's madness." 2 Peter 2:16. Heaven and earth miraculously restrain him. Still his desire of lucre will not stop. He is surrendered to his evil will. Restraints diminish. He gains the terrible permission to advance. "Go with the men." He deserts God. God deserts him. Thus Balaam reaches Moab's land. And here he still pretends devotedness to God, while his whole heart worships the idol of cheap reward.
What scenes ensue! Altars are raised. Victims profusely bleed. The king beseeches, tempts, caresses. The wretched prophet struggles to comply. He seeks all means to curse, that so he may grasp the cursed bribe. He mounts the summit of the lofty rock. He thence surveys the outstretched camp. He opens his mouth—and longs for words to blast God's people, and secure the gold. But all is vain. As a reluctant instrument in mightier hands he cries, "How shall I curse, whom God has not cursed?"
Surely he will now desist. Ah! No. A hateful passion has become his lord. Another vile attempt is made. He moves to Pisgah's heights. Thence but the outskirts of the camp are seen, and there he tarries, courting a seeming license to oppose God without open rejection of a servant's garb. The Lord again distinctly overrules. The struggling traitor cannot but cry, "Behold, I have received commandment to bless—and He has blessed—and I cannot reverse it." Will he not yield to this clear voice! Will he not turn, and rather heap his curses on God's foes!
Ah! what can change the heart, which worldly passions hold in bonds? Once more he seeks an eminence. He fully looks upon the multitudinous company. Again his bad lips open. Again God conquers, and the truth is heard, "Blessed is he, who blesses you, and cursed is he, who curses you."
Do any read, who, against conscience and clear light, would touch forbidden ground? Balaam's case cries, Forbear—forbear! Be firm—be resolute—at once, forever turn away. Dally not with an unholy wish. Now to escape, may not be hard. Tomorrow, resistance weakens, while the lure strengthens.
The prophet vexed—the king enraged, now part. Balak reproaches—Balaam recriminates. They both are foiled. The evil union ends in evil. But Balaam's lips speak once again. Unhappy man! he must proclaim a Savior, in whose salvation he shall have no share.
"I shall see Him, but not now—I shall behold Him, but not near—there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth." Numb. 24:17.
Thus is the Gospel preached by a dead soul. Let preachers search their inmost hearts. Christ only in the mind—the lips—the pulpit, will not save. Many, many show, who never shall behold, Him. They raise the cross, yet turn away themselves. They praise the blood, yet never wash. They tell of wounds, which they touch not. They open out redemption's scheme, but never clasp redemption's Lord. They teach the truth, and live a lie. They point out the source of life, and pass by it to death. The apostle Judas from the side of Jesus went to his own place. The prophet Balaam thus preached to others, and yet he died the vilest of the vile.
But his clear prophecy now asks attention. Where can more glowing terms of Christ be found? A Star—a Scepter—a two-fold phase of the most glorious sight, which men or angels can behold.
"There shall come a STAR out of Jacob." A Star, what is it, but a glittering orb set in the canopy of night? It sparkles, as a gem amid surrounding gloom. It darts a cheering ray on the black pall around. It smiles with lovely radiance on a dark ground.
Such is Christ Jesus. Where He beams not, it is unmitigated night. It is the skies without a star. What is such blackness, but a chilly type of ignorance, and wretchedness, and sin? Take the poor soul, in which Christ never shone. All these vile troops there brood. Is God there known? Far otherwise. There may be vague idea of some supreme director. But the realities of God's grace, and love, and truth, and justice, are utterly unseen. There is no basking in a Father's smile. Each step is through the maze and thickness of impenetrable doubts. There is no joy of a felt pardon. There is no knowledge of sins blotted out. Such is each Christless soul. But let the Star appear—what loveliness pervades the scene! So when Christ rises in the heart, that brightness comes, before which sin and misery flee.
Balaam proclaimed this Star. But his beclouded eye discerned it not. Reader, say, do you see its beauteous light? All, who behold it, reflect its rays.
Next Jesus, who thus enlightens, exercises sway. His presence cheers and also subjugates. Another aspect therefore is adjoined. "A SCEPTER shall rise out of Israel." These types of Christ may seem most diverse. But they have mystic union. Is not a Savior seen most surely loved? Is not a Savior loved most warmly served? As surely as we cannot love, until we know; so surely we cannot know and fail to love—so surely we cannot love and not desire to please. Thus the Gospel-beams always give sanctifying warmth. Thus the Star brings a Scepter with it.
Experience proves this truth. The holiest man is always he, whose soul is the widest flood of Gospel-light. The more the Star is seen, the more the Scepter is outstretched. The more Christ shines within, the more ungodly weeds decline. The Gospel-truth makes all its subjects willing in a day of power. And, when made willing, they no longer live to self, but unto Him, who governs by His love. Balaam proclaimed the Scepter with a rebel-heart. Reader, submit to this most righteous rule.
Mark finally, that Balaam is forced to utter TERROR to a Christ-refusing world. "A scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth." Numbers 24:17. As His willing subjects are exalted, so the rebellious world must perish. They, who submit, are saved. They who resist, are dashed to powder.
Reader, now answer, what is your state? Are you among the happy heirs of this Star's kingdom? If not, take warning. His coming is at hand. His glorious chariot draws near. A blessed gathering throngs it. They sing. They triumph. They give praise. The rebel mass lie prostrate at His feet. The crushing wheels destroy them, and from His presence they are driven to that woe, where no Star rises in the endless night—and the one Scepter is hell's iron sway.
Think, think again of Balaam. He had an inward hell, while yet he lived on earth. Where is there misery like this foresight of woe? "I shall see Him, but not now. I shall behold Him, but not near." His eyes shall see the Lord—too late. Yes. They must open to His glorious view. "But not near!" What! when He calls His ransomed to His side, and bids them occupy His throne, and gaze forever on His beauty, and never leave Him more—what! then to be cast out! Reader, beware! Soon will each doom be fixed!