“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth.” (Numbers 24:17, NASB)
Our portion this week contains one of the first Messianic prophecies in the Torah – Yeshua is literally in this parashah! Almost universally, Jews have understood this reference to the star and scepter as being about the Messiah. Even before Yeshua came, texts such as the targumim (amplified Aramaic translations of the Bible) confirm this understanding. Let’s examine the concept of Messiah as “scepter” and “star” and how the New Testament shows that Yeshua fulfilled this prophecy.
An even earlier prophecy of Messiah is contained in Jacob’s blessing of his son Judah, Genesis 49:10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Here we’re shown that scepter means kingship. The monarchy of Judah over Israel will ultimately lead to one of Judah’s descendants ruling over the whole earth, not just Israel.
The next Messianic passage about this scepter is Psalm 45:6-7: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows.” Notice how the verses address God, yet also address an anointed One (mashiach): the same person. Hebrews 1:8-9 carries this quote into the Epistles, and interprets it exactly how it sounds – as referring to Yeshua, the forever King. He is King of Israel first and then also of the entire earth. Sometimes believers overlook just how majestic and powerful Yeshua is and will be at the end of days. He will reign with complete goodness and righteousness; we won’t worry anymore that murderers and terrorists will destroy our way of life.
The apostles in Acts 4:24-30 use another text to play up this theme of the anointed King crushing His enemies. They quote Psalm 2:1-2: “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, And the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord and against His Christ,’” and then explain, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” Right within the Brit Chadashah, the apostles virtually explain how Yeshua fulfills Balaam’s prophecy, only this is a fulfillment He accomplished at His death instead of His return. If He prevailed over evil then, how much more will He do so at the end!
Now we come to the star. Stars, plural, is a common term for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so it would make sense that the singular Star is the ultimate descendant and representative of Israel, Yeshua. Out of His own mouth Yeshua says He is the “root and offspring of David, the bright and morning star” (Revelation 22:16), meaning He is the promised King. The most famous star in Scripture led the magi from the East to Yeshua. They called it “His star” and they sought Him as the King of the Jews. Second Peter 1:19 talks about how the Word should give us light through the dark days before Yeshua’s return – when “the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” That Star will one day reign in every person’s life. Once again, the Brit Chadashah confirms that Yeshua is the One who fulfills Balaam’s messianic kingship prophecy. This is just one of many such prophecies that Yeshua has and will satisfy!
As Yeshua’s followers, we, too, have the privilege to be like stars. According to a beautiful picture in Daniel 12:2, if we lead many to righteousness (as Yeshua did), we will shine like the stars forever and ever. Revelation 2:26-28 explains how those who overcome the wiles of Satan and keep Yeshua’s teaching receive star-like authority: “He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.” Notice how that ties in with Balaam’s prophecy about the star ruling over a host of nations (Numbers 24:17ff).
One day circumstances will be turned upside down and Yeshua will physically reign over the whole earth, and His disciples will rule under Him. No longer will we be oppressed (a message currently more impacting to our persecuted brothers and sisters). Though many things can obscure the stars in the sky, they are always there; and when the conditions are right, they glitter like diamonds, are in specific positions, and guide the traveler to his destination. Yahweh calls them all by name and not one is ever missing (Psalm 147:4; Isaiah 40:26).