We live in a fast food, instant gratification culture. In the strange incident of Balak, king of Moab, seeking to have Balaam curse Israel, you see in Numbers 24:17, not only the triumph of the kingdom of God over its enemies, but also 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. The words of the prophecy are spoken from the overlooking mountain Peor, Numbers 23:28. 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. Though he claims to be conversant with JHWH, Moses’ frequent use of the name, “God” (Elohim), may hint 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 (after he was warned by the Angel of the Lord), that he could speak only what the Lord says. God will not allow his people to be harmed. After three attempts at cursing, which resulted only in pronouncements of blessing, with Balak frantically trying to get Balaam to shut up and go home, Balaam proclaims what will happen in the future, the “days to come,” verse 14. Balaam sees a figure on the horizon, too dim to recognize, except to note that he is a royal, majestic figure. His coming is future. He is neither “now” nor “near.”
This Star out of Jacob is your Savior. The figure Balaam sees is described as a star out of Jacob, a scepter from Israel. The language was not unusual as a description of a royal figure in the ancient world. It does not in itself indicate divinity. 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 8:12.
“Nothing stands in the way of . . . believing that this is a . . . foretold description of the meteoric rise of the veritable eschatological king. He falls like a star into the field of Balaam’s vision.”Geerhardus Vos, The Eschatology of the Old Testament, p. 109
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.
“Balaam, the unwilling prophet, prophesied of a coming royal mediator. As in the prophecy of Jacob concerning Judah (Gen. 49:8-12) there was the twofold reference to David (and his house) and to David’s great Son, Jesus, the Messiah (Christ), so Balaam spoke to Balak of Israel’s coming victorious kings—David and Jesus Christ.”Gerard Van Groningen, From Creation to Consummation, p. 405
See him as your King. See this Ruler who has come and who is coming. Balaam emphasizes his own clear seeing, verses 15, 17. The claims are ironic, considering the earlier blindness when his donkey saw the Angel of the Lord and Balaam did not. Yet there has been progress in Balaam’s seeing. For the first two attempts at pronouncing a curse, the sacrifices apparently involved auguries, magical attempts at divination. But the third (and this fourth) oracle are done without sorcery, verse 1.
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.
“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.” (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, pages 100–101
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,” verse 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 confrontation with the Angel of the Lord, Numbers 22:21–35, illustrates that. Ironically, the seer is blind to the threatening angel. His donkey repeatedly saves his life. And the final humiliation comes when the donkey opens its mouth and its words explain the situation to Balaam! 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.