Craig Detweiler directs the Center for Entertainment, Media, and Culture at Pepperdine University, and is the author of a new book called iGods. This week he wrote a column: “What Amazon Is Priming Us For: Speed, convenience, and other values of our culture’s gods, announced at Advent,” contrasting Jeff Bezos’ expressed plans to deliver Amazon products by octocopters with the patient waiting associated with the onset of Advent. He concludes: “Amazon may deliver what we want, but it may not be what we need. There are cravings that can be solved in thirty minutes or less. There are interests we have that can be piqued by overnight delivery. But our deepest longings and heartfelt cries may not be met by an octocopter. It may takes years or at least seasons of life, before they are satisfied. . . . O Come O Come Emmanuel and save us from our insatiable need for speed.” In the strange incident of Balak, king of Moab, seeking to have Balaam curse Israel, you see in Numbers 24:17 a contrast between the desire for immediate victory and God’s patient outworking of his plans in the coming Messiah.
Recognize the Star out of Jacob. Balaam saw a distant figure. The setting of this prophecy is unusual. Israel is camped in the plains of Moab, preparatory to entering the promised land. Balaam is not one of the prophets of Israel, but is a free-lance, self-appointed prophet, from Mesopotamia, whose services are available to the highest bidder. Moses’ language hints that this man really does not have the claimed intimate contact with Israel’s God.
Balak, king of Moab, has hired him to curse the Israelites in an effort to eliminate a nation he saw as a threat. For the king, religion has its place—as a tool in accomplishing one’s goals. Balaam has come, but only after warning the king that he could speak only what the Lord says.
God does not allow his people to be harmed. Finally Balaam sees a figure on the horizon, too dim to recognize, except to note that he is a royal, majestic figure.
The figure Balaam sees is described as a star out of Jacob, a scepter from Israel. Perhaps all that Balaam recognizes is that from this nation will come a king who will defeat the Moabites and Edomites. The conflict with Edom was long standing. It goes back to their ancestors, as Jacob deceived Esau, to the time just before our text, as Edom opposed Israel as they came up from Egypt, thus incurring God’s curse. But God is providing a protector for his people. Balaam sees the day when a king of Israel will defeat Edom and Moab. This begins to be fulfilled in David, cf. 2 Samuel 8:2,12.
As you look at this passage in the light of later prophecies which associate the Messiah with the defeat of these enemies of the Lord (Isaiah 11:14; 25:9-11), you can begin the see the fulfillment of this in the Messiah. Then, appropriately this imagery can be picked up in the New Testament. In a sense, as the Magi followed the star from the east they were following in the steps of Balaam. Christ uses this imagery in describing himself, Rev. 22:16; 12:5. He is the one who defeats his an our enemies, but the foe is greater than Moab. Ultimately it is the serpent’s head that Christ crushes. Greg Beale summarizes: “The climactic point of Balaam’s discourse to Balak comes in Num. 24:17-19, where a messianic-like king from Israel will defeat its enemies. . . . Both Judaism and the NT identify this figure with the Messiah and his eschatological defeat of God’s enemy. Revelation 2:28 (‘and I will give him [the overcomer] the morning star’) and 22:16 (‘I am . . . the bright morning star’) allude to Num. 24:17 and apply it to Christ (as does possibly 2 Pet. 1:19) This shows that the early Christian community understood ‘the latter days’ of the Num. 24 prophecy commencing fulfillment with the first coming of Christ.” (A New Testament Biblical Theology, pp. 100-101).
See him as your King. See this Ruler who has come and who is coming. Balaam emphasizes his own clear seeing, v.15,17. The claims are ironic, considering the earlier blindness when his donkey saw the Angel of the Lord and Balaam did not.
You have a better viewpoint than that of Mt. Peor. You can view this majestic figure from the perspective of his finished work. You can understand that David’s defeat of the Moabites was also a foreshadowing of the victory of a greater King. Look beyond the Baby in the manger to the reason for his birth. You can appreciate his victory won, not by force of arms in the plains of Moab, but by his obedient suffering, death, and resurrection.
Recognize that his kingship is not limited to victories over the Moabites, Edomites, and surrounding nations, but that he comes as the King of kings. Walk by faith, not sight, as you look for the triumph of this King.
Submit to your King. Balaam claims that his oracle is of “one who hears the words of God,” v.16. And it is true that Balaam heard and spoke the words of God. Despite all the motivation of Balak’s wealth, Balaam could speak only what God wanted. The God who could and did control the donkey’s mouth could use Balaam’s vocal cords to pronounce blessings on his people.
The unrepentant character of Balaam’s heart is seen in his suggestion that the Moabites seduce the people of God into joining them in the sexual immorality of their idolatrous rites. Then God sends upon Israel the judgment which Balaam was not allowed to pronounce. What Balaam recognized unwillingly you can submit to joyfully. Own him as your Lord, serve him in what you do. Experience his protection, his care for you, his provision for your needs.
God calls you to follow the star. He summons you to bow to the scepter, waiting patiently for the full revelation of his kingdom. The sovereign King calls you to acknowledge him in the conduct of your daily life.