The Word for today:
Numbers 27, 36
For the past couple of days, we have been wondering about Balaam. There is no more bizarre character in scripture. He’s a prophet-for-profit, a religious racketeer, and yet God gives this man of murky morals one of the Bible’s most shimmering and significant visions of the future:
“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:14-17)
Coming from Pethor on the Euphrates River, Balaam was a rare Gentile (non-Jew) among biblical prophets. Therefore he would continue to fascinate both Hebrew and pagan scholars for centuries. Throughout the “east,” his visions would be ceaselessly pondered and studied.
His prophecy was why Babylonian Magi (“Wise Men”) had known, for centuries, where the great “Light King” would be born.
But how did the Magi know when the time had come to saddle up the camels and gift-wrap the gold, frankincense, and myrrh?
Their answer, again, came from a prophet in “the east.” This prophet was not a Gentile like Balaam, but a Hebrew who had been forced into exile in Babylon. His name was Daniel and he possessed such striking intellectual gifts that he rose to become superintendent in charge of the Babylonian Magi.
Thus the Wise Men of Christmas came to know when the Star would appear by reading (and doing the math) in the 9th chapter of the book written by what amounted to their college’s former president!—
God had, over 17 centuries, managed to arrange the itinerary of these eastern Wise Men through voices available to them in their own libraries. Balaam told them where to look; Daniel told them when to leave.
When they got to Jerusalem, they asked Herod (who thought he was King of the Jews) where the King of the Jews could be found! Herod, of course, was enraged. So, with murderous intent, he summoned the leading Bible experts to tell them where the Christ would be born:
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ “ (Matthew 2:5-6, quoting Micah 5:2)
So the Magi traveled south for just a few miles until the Star stopped to reflect its Light back to its Source.