24 Days of Advent Scripture Devotionals

Day 9 – A Clue For the Magi

Numbers 24:17

Prophet Balaam and the Donkey – Rembrandt

You may have heard of Balaam. He’s the guy who had a conversation with his donkey. You can read about it in Numbers 22. Balaam was hired by Balak, an enemy of Israel, to curse the people of God. Balaam should have had the sense to immediately reject the offer but he entertained it and the Lord used him anyway to turn Balak’s plan upside down. Truth is truth, even if the mouthpiece is imperfect just as that donkey spoke to Balaam, Balaam in his rebellion spoke this prophecy about the Messiah:

I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel” – Number 24:17

Here we have another prophecy about a scepter (ruler) coming out of Israel, but what about the Star coming out of Jacob? Prophecy is often poetic and we could take this to be a metaphor like other names for the Messiah such as the “Bright and Morning Star”, “Sun of Righteousness” or the “Dayspring”.

But one group of science geeks from Persia took this literally. We know them as the Magi or the Wise Men and they believed that astronomical events always had some significance. But why would the Persian star gazers have even had this prophecy from the Hebrew scriptures on their radar? Could there be anyone who may have introduced the Hebrew scriptures to the Persian magicians and astronomers?

It was probably Belteshazzar, also known as the prophet Daniel. As a young man, Daniel was taken captive by the Babylonians and instructed in all of their ways and customs. God used him to miraculously interpret the dreams of King Nebuchadnezzar who made him the chief of his magicians and astronomers. I believe that the Torah (writings of Moses), wisdom books and other history books that we have in the Old Testament were brought to Babylon and became part of their library books. It is not documented, but I would guess that Daniel introduced this prophecy to the seers and that he knew that it spoke of the coming Messiah. Daniel himself wrote prophetically about the coming of the Son of Man (see Daniel chapters 7 and 9) and if anyone was paying attention to his prophecy of the seventy weeks they could have been able to estimate the time period when the Messiah would be born.

We don’t know exactly when Jesus was born but many scholars believe it was between 4 and 2 BC. There is evidence of astronomical conjunctions in 2 and 1 BC between the planets Jupiter and Venus and the star Regulus that would have been viewed as signs of a royal birth. The planet Jupiter “rose” in the East during September of 2 BC as seen from Persia and during the following months “traveled” across the sky to the West where there was a second conjunction with Regulus towards the direction of Judea. This very well could have been a sign to the Magi that they were to travel west to Jerusalem. Conjunctions between Venus, Jupiter and Regulus are common but it was a rarity that they would occur multiple times during the span of several months.

The gentile astronomers from the East were watching and were rewarded with being able to see with their own eyes, the star in the sky as well as the “Star” in the manger. Isn’t it interesting that most of the people of Israel were clueless in regards to the timing of Jesus’ birth but the Magi were watching and then obediently sought to worship the newborn King.

Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. – Matthew 2:2

Hymn: There’s a Song in the Air

There’s a song in the air!
There’s a star in the sky!
There’s a mother’s deep prayer
and a baby’s low cry!
And the star rains its fire
while the beautiful sing,
for the manger of Bethlehem
cradles a King!

There’s a tumult of joy
o’er the wonderful birth,
for the virgin’s sweet boy
is the Lord of the earth.
Ay! the star rains its fire
while the beautiful sing,
for the manger of Bethlehem
cradles a King!

In the light of that star
lie the ages impearled;
and that song from afar
has swept over the world.
Every hearth is aflame,
and the beautiful sing
in the homes of the nations
that Jesus is King!

We rejoice in the light,
and we echo the song
that comes down through the night
from the heavenly throng.
Ay! we shout to the lovely
evangel they bring,
and we greet in his cradle
our Savior and King!

Note: I used to make fun of old Slim Whitman’s greatest hits commercials when I was growing up. Here is my payback. LOL

Day 8 – Submit to the Remedy

Moses and the Brazen Serpent – Sébastien Bourdon

Numbers 21:8-9

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived. – Numbers 21:8-9

In just a few short verses in the book of Numbers we read how the people spoke out to Moses against God, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” (Numbers 21:5)

Manna, the miraculous bread from heaven had now become “worthless bread” and the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and those who were bitten died. God told Moses to make a serpent and put it up on a pole. Anyone who simply looked at the serpent would live even if they had been bitten.

I wonder how many perished because they would rather die than humble themselves and look at the foolish serpent up on a pole. It makes me think of my own stubborn heart when I have refused to admit my own fault. Or those of us who are parents may have had those times when we have required our child to apologize to a sibling and have waited for hours for those simple words, “I’m sorry” to be uttered.

What a strange story with eternal implications. The remedy was easily understood and did not require any particular skill: just look at the serpent on the pole. But the act of looking did require that each person admit their fault and submit to the remedy no matter how foolish it seemed. Sadly, with the cure freely given and right in front of them, many died in their stubbon pride.

On one occasion, Nicodemus, a teacher of the law and one very familiar with this story, came to ask Jesus about eternal life. Jesus, told him something that seemed foolish: you must be born again. He then told him how like that serpent that Moses put on a pole, the Son of Man must be lifted up and that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” So many people have heard those famous words from John 3:16 but few do what is required: admit their sin and submit to the remedy.

John 3:14-17

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

The apostle Paul wrote the believers in Corinth the following words which are just as true today as they were in the 1st century…

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18

Hymn: Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne

Emily Elliot wrote these words in 1864 and they were set to the tune “Margaret” in 1876. I love the way the verses tell the matter of fact story of Jesus’ life while the refrain is a personal plea for the Savior to make his home in my heart. There was no room at the inn but there is “room in my heart for Thee.”

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown
When Thou camest to earth for me
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang
Proclaiming Thy royal degree
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth
And in great humility
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee

The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God
In the deserts of Galilee
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee

Thou camest, O Lord, with the living Word
That should set Thy people free
But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn
They bore Thee to Calvary
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee

When the heavens shall ring, and her choirs 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