Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Balaam’s Final Oracle: The Messiah Prophesied (Numbers 24:15-25)

Before Balaam acquiesces to Balak’s command to leave and return to his people in Aram, Balaam feels obligated to leave him with a final word from Yahweh, “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly. And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of the cities!” (vv. 17-19).

This is a prophecy of the birth of Christ. “A star shall come out of Jacob,” he says; and the magi said, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2). As Jesus’ blessed mother confessed, “because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high” (Luke 1:78). And as Jesus Himself said, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16).

“A sceptre shall rise out of Israel,” proclaimed Balaam. Jacob, named Israel, also prophesied of this sceptre, who is Christ, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between His feet, until tribute comes to Him” (Genesis 49:10). The genealogy of Jesus proves He is the sceptre from Judah and therefore Israel, the Son of David, who was of the tribe of Judah (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-28). And here also is the final warning to Balak, king of Moab, “it [the sceptre] shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.” Jeremiah would later speak of its fulfilment, “In the shadow of Heshbon fugitives stop without strength, for fire came out from Heshbon, flame from the house of Sihon; it has destroyed the forehead of Moab, the crown of the sons of tumult” (Jeremiah 48:45). What is the forehead of Moab? It is none other than their head—the head of the Moabite people. It is their king who shall be crushed. Balak would’ve understood what this meant.

“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near” is also our confession and hope. This is much like Job’s confession, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25). Christ was not yet incarnate, yet Job saw His resurrected Redeemer. We do not yet see Christ in all His glory at His Parousia, yet by faith we see Him, “for we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Theology Terms Used

  • Parousia: the second coming of Christ.
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