The Star of Jacob (Numbers 24:17)
Sermon from All Saints - Num. 24:17 says, “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.” Light shines on Christ’s face and the shadows cast back into history. We see a resurrected ascended Christ in full humanity glorified. The light from Him shines forth. One shadow that is cast is a crown from the crown of thorns, another the rod of iron, another is pierced hands. And just as shadows are distorted and look grotesque, His shadow makes a bloody tabernacle and temple. In dim images of Him we see the scapegoat and the pascal lamb. In the beauty of the drama of redemption, we see humility leading to exaltation. As Matthew 12:20 says, “Till He sends forth justice to victory.”
In our text, recall the familiar story of Balaam’s donkey. There is a vivid painting of this by Rembrandt in which one can see the anger in Balaam’s face and the words almost bursting from the ass’s mouth. The donkey could “see” (Hebrew, RAAH), but Balaam could not. The first word of the Hebrew narrative is "see" (Num. 22:2); "see," "look," provide a repetition of the theme of "sight." All the while, Balaam is blind as a bat to the real world of angels about to chop his head off. Finally, he is granted sight, not unlike the servant of Elisha (2 Kgs. 6:17). Numbers 22:31 says, “Then the LORD opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the Angel of the Lord...”
In verse 17 he receives even more sight from the Lord. "I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near.” We see an increase in Balaam’s “seer”/visionary powers throughout the whole episode. In the first oracle, he has normal physical sight. In the second, he has the spiritual power to see Israel’s invulnerable state in the present. Finally, his vision goes over the horizon into the future. Note that the same verb “RA’AH also means “to divine” (e.g., 1 Kings 22:19).
What does he see, then. He sees a star arising from Jacob which means a ruler, hence the parallelism of “scepter.” Peter would later speak of the whole revelation of Messiah in these terms of light and darkness: “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” ( Peter 1:19).
This star is certainly related to David who struck down the Moabites (Num 24:17; 2 Sam 8:2) and the Edomites (Num 24:18; 2 Sam 8:13, 14; 1 Kings 11:15, 16; 1 Chron 18:12, 13). But surely the fulness of the prophecy speaks of “Great David’s Greater Son,” Jesus Christ. His birth was connected with astral events (Matt 2:2) and he received the name of “the bright Morning Star” (Luke 1:78-79; Rev 22:16) in connection with his descent from the line of David. Surely, the Magi events are related to this prophecy:
Matthew 2:8-11: When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Along these lines, we sing,
O star of wonder, star of light, Star with royal beauty bright, Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect light.
We have been saying in our Call to Worship, with Isaiah, “Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.” With sagacious and saintly Simeon we say, He is “a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Lk. 2:32). The light of the knowledge of the gospel has been shining. The star has arisen. The scepter has also come.
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more
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