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B'Midbar/Numbers 24:14 "Come, I will disclose to you what this people will do to your people in the Last Days."
These words introduce Balaam's fourth and final pronouncement concerning Israel to Balak, the king of Moab. During each of the preceding speeches, Balaam's focus has been moving away in time and now he sees far ahead to the Last Days, the .Nachmanides describes the sequence: in 23:7-10, Balaam first says that Israel is now the people that dwell apart, "For the L-RD's portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance" (D'varim 32:9, NASB); in the second oracle 23:18-24, Balaam adds that HaShem is with them and that they will conquer the Land and kill its inhabitants; in the third prophecy 24:3-9, Balaam sees Israel dwelling and multiplying in the Land, appointing a king who will defeat Agag, and David's kingdom being exalted, "David realized that the L-RD had established him as king over Israel, and that his kingdom was highly exalted, for the sake of His people Israel" (1 Chronicles 14:2, NASB). Now, in the fourth and longest declaration 24:14-25, Balaam uses the phrases "in the Last Days" (v. 14) and "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near" (v. 17, NASB) to show that he is glimpsing far beyond the centuries of history to the times of Messiah. The Sforno proposes that Balaam is telling Balak that "the evil that this people will do to your people will not happen in your day, and you will have nothing to fear" and connects it with a wider prophecy about the Messianic age when Judah and Ephraim "will swoop down on the slopes of the Philistines on the west; together they will plunder the sons of the east; they will possess Edom and Moab; and the sons of Ammon will be subject to them" (Isaiah 11:14, NASB).
The word - a 1cs Qal prefix form, "I will", from the root , with a 2ms object suffix, "you", could have several meanings. Davidson suggests "to counsel, advise; to take counsel, decree; to direct or to instruct". The Sforno claims that this refers to the advice Balaam gave Balak later, off camera, to cause Israel's downfall by sexual temptation. Nachmanides, while agreeing that the normal meaning would be "I counsel you", prefers "I will tell you the purpose", aligning it to the verse "This is the purpose () that is purposed () concerning the whole earth" (Isaiah 14:26, ESV) and "Therefore hear the purpose of the L-rd () that He has purposed () against Edom" (Jeremiah 49:20).Targum Onkelos, wanting to make sure that both aspects are covered translates the one verb as if were two: "I will advise you what you should do and I will point out to you ...".
What is is that Balaam, a gentile prophet or some would say sorcerer, can see in his vision? His words "a star shall come out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel" (v.17, ESV) have long been considered part of the Bible's messianic prophecies: that a mighty ruler should arise from the Jewish nation.Rabbi Akiva changed just one letter in Shimon bar Kochba's name ( to ) to name him "Son of the Star" and give him messianic status during the second Jewish revolt in 132-135CE; the rabbis later named him "Son of Disappointment" () and the significance of the prophecy has been played down in Jewish expectations since. The sceptre had previously been mentioned by Ya'akov's final blessings to his sons: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples" (B'resheet 49:10, ESV).
The star motif re-appears in the birth narratives of Yeshua. The magi who have come from the east ask, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him" (Matthew 2:2, NASB). Ancient peoples would "read" the stars in order to determine the occurrence of events and Balaam's prophecy had spread far from its original saying in the land of Moab, so that the whole world would have known that the Jewish people were expecting a king figure to rise from among them who would rout their enemies and restore the Davidic dynasty. In Roman times, messianic expectation was acute and we know that there were several messianic "pretenders" who claimed to be the Messiah around the time when Yeshua was born.
Yeshua Himself claims the title in the book of Revelation: "I, Yeshua, have sent My angel to give you this testimony for the Messianic communities. I am the Root and Offspring of David, the bright Morning Star" (Revelation 22:16, CJB) and it is applied to Him by Peter, both confirming Him as the object of prophecy and looking to His return: "We have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19, NASB).
We, then, are placed in a similar position as Balaam. While our knowledge does not come from divination or occult practices, we can nevertheless see the days of Messiah. Those days must be at least 3,500 years sooner now than they were then, so the Sforno's suggestion that Balaam meant "it won't happen in your day" is no longer valid for us; in fact, many followers of the G-d of Israel - be they Christians, Messianic, Orthodox or Chassidic Jews - live in a high state of excitement. We see biblical prophecy being fulfilled before our eyes and are eagerly awaiting Messiah's arrival. We too have the privilege of being able to say, "Come, and let me tell you about the Last Days", but we have the hope that Yeshua will return in our lifetimes.
How thrilling to be able to share the Gospel with those same words: "a star shall arise in Jacob; the sceptre shall come from Israel", and know that we are talking about the Yeshua that we know in our hearts as the risen L-rd and Messiah. When He returns to Jerusalem, "in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle" (Zechariah 14:4, NASB). He will subdue all the nations under His authority "and his rule shall extend from sea to sea and from ocean to land's end" (Zechariah 9:10, JPS). G-d's judgements and standards will apply through out for the whole earth "for out of Tziyon will go forth Torah, the word of ADONAI from Yerushalayim" (Micah 4:2, CJB). This is good news indeed and not only do we have it, but we also have an obligation to share it with all who will hear, that the days might be shortened and His return hastened in the earth.
Further Study: Hosea 3:4-5; 2 Timothy 3:1; Revelation 11:15-17
Application: How could you present the good news about the imminent return of the L-rd to someone who needs to hear? A good place to start is by asking Him to share His urgency with you so that, like Balaam, you find yourself speaking out G-d's word in the most unlikely places!
© Jonathan Allen, 2010
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