Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 2, No. 6 Page 7 June 2000

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

The Star and The Scepter

Text: Numbers 24:17.

By D. Gene West


1.         As strange as it might seem, the great books of Exodus and Leviticus have no specific predictions of the coming, and the work of Jesus Christ.

2.         The sacred record that we call the Bible, reveals only three Messianic prophecies that date to the time period in which Moses lived.

3.         One of these came from the mouth of Jehovah himself, one came from the hypocritical prophet Balaam, and one from the great lawgiver Moses.  None of these are found in the Books of Exodus and Leviticus, but are found later in the writings of Moses.

4.         The utterance of our text, namely Numbers 24:17, was the fourth prophecy that was spoken by the soothsayer Balaam when he was employed by Balak, king of the Moabites, to curse the children of Israel when they were camped in the plains of Moab.

5.         It can be dated to the fortieth year after the Exodus from Egypt, and therefore, was given about 1407 B.C.

6.         Three times Balaam tried to pronounce a curse upon the people of God, but each time Jehovah turned his curse into a blessing.  Before he left Balak, Balaam volunteered to portray the future of Israel prophetically.

7.         In this last oracle by Balaam, the personal Messianic element appears. Through the mouth of the two-faced prophet, Jehovah continued to develop the theme of the royal Messiah which is found in Jacob’s prediction regarding Shiloh’s rule in Genesis 49:10.

8.         That this is a prophecy of the coming royal Messiah is supported by the following facts:

a)         The prophecy describes what Israel would do to her cousin Moab in the “last days,” a phrase frequently used in the Old Testament to point to the age of the Messiah.

b)         The prophecy focuses on a great Israelite king who would crush the enemies of the people of God.

c)         Verses twenty through twenty-four, of Numbers Twenty-Four, appear to establish a framework of time for the rise of the great king.  He would arise after the defeat of the Greek empire, and in the days of the Roman Empire.  (See: Daniel 2)

d)         The early writers in the church, whom we commonly call “Church Fathers,” whose writings date back to the end of the first century, testify that in this passage there is a reference to the coming of the Christ.

9.         The Jewish Rabbis always regarded the star and scepter as a reference to the Messiah.  So, for these reasons we believe this prophecy has Messianic implications.

I.          Balaam’s Description of the Coming Messiah.

A.        In verse seventeen, Balaam said, “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, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult.”

1.         One can see from the words I have highlighted in the text that Balaam is talking about a person who was to be a Ruler. Of this Ruler three things are said:

a)         He was not to arise in the near future, that is, near to the time that Balaam spoke this oracle.

b)         He would be a glorious Ruler, like a star, that is shining in glory for the world to see.

c)         Jesus is called the “Bright and Morning Star” in Revelation 22:16, and the “Day Star” in 2 Peter 1:19.

2.         This Ruler was to be a mighty one.  Balaam, figuratively, spoke of him as a “Scepter.”

a)         Jacob saw him as “Shiloh,” the Peacemaker, but Balaam saw him as a “Scepter,” which is a mighty Conqueror.

b)         Jacob, in Genesis 49:10, focused upon the relationship of the Shiloh as Ruler of Israel.

c)         Balaam describes the reign of the Scepter as it affects those who are outside the Kingdom of God.  Christ conquers them with the Gospel.  (Romans 1:16-17)

B.         The victorious conquests of the coming Messiah.

1.         The one who is the Star and Scepter of Israel will be victorious over the enemies of God. There are two examples of his conquests that are foreseen in this passage.

a)         The Ruler was to crush Moab due to the fact that the King of Moab, Balak, had shown his hatred and disdain for the people of God when he hired Balaam to curse them while they were camped in the plains of Moab.

b)         In this same time frame the Edomites had refused to allow the people of God, (Israel) to pass through their land on their way to the promised land.

2.         The subjugation of Moab and Edom by the royal house of Israel began with the conquests of King David.  (See: 1 Samuel 14:47; 2 Samuel 8:1-14.)

a)         During the period of Jeremiah’s prophecy, which was after the reign of David, Jeremiah took up Balaam’s oracle and made it future to his time.  (See: Jeremiah chapters 48-49.)

b)         It is therefore clear that the crushing of Moab and Edom could not have been fully accomplished by the great Warrior King of Israel.

c)         John Hyrcanus, a Jewish military leader during the intertestamental period, conquered Edom again in 129 B.C., and forced circumcision upon them, and incorporated them into the land of Israel.  They completely disappear from history after A.D. 70.

3.         The various conquests of Israel against Moab and Edom may be regarded as progressive accomplishments, on the part of Israel, of what Balaam had foretold.

a)         Every defeat that Moab and Edom suffered at the hands of the Israelites was a pledge of the final defeat of the wicked by Christ.

b)         These two nations, Moab and Edom, cousins to Israel, are forerunners of what would happen to all those nations which rebel against the Israel of Jehovah.

c)         It is common in Messianic prophecy to depict some ancient enemy of Israel as being defeated by the Messiah.

d)         The defeat of Moab and Edom, as well as other extinct nations, is the Old Testament’s way of saying that Jehovah will triumph over all his adversaries in the end.

4.         In the struggle against Moab and Edom Israel would act valiantly, according to verse eighteen.

a)         The struggle between the Seed of woman and the seed of the Serpent will continue right down to the end of time.

b)         It will continue until Christ returns to “. . . take vengeance on those who know not God, and obey not the gospel . . .”

c)         God’s Spiritual Israel, the church, must stand valiant against the modern Moabites and Edomites who are resisting the progress of the people of God.

5.         The victory over the enemies of Jehovah is to be accomplished by the divinely appointed Ruler, according to verse 19.

a)         The Star and Scepter of verse 17 is identified as a Ruler who would arise out of Jacob, that is, the descendants of Jacob.

b)         Of him it is said that he would “. . . destroy what remains of the city,” meaning that every stronghold of the enemy would fall to the Scepter, and this Ruler from Jacob, God’s Messiah, achieves total victory over all adversaries.

6.         It somehow seems appropriate that Balaam, a Gentile Seer, is the one who first proclaimed that Messiah would triumph over the hostile Gentiles by bringing them into his spiritual Kingdom.

II.        A Look at the Various Events Which Had to Precede the Coming of the Star and Scepter.

A.        The prophets of the Old Testament never taught that the Messianic age was just around the corner, on the contrary, the coming of the Messiah was for them the climax toward which all of history was moving; and so, at times they speak of some particular events which had to come to pass before the Messiah would appear.

1.         Balaam, in this passage, lists five things by which the spiritually alert Old Testament saints could gauge the progress of God’s divine plan for the ages.

2.         In the very first of these (v 20) he spoke of the destruction of the Amalekites, which is called “the first of nations” because she was the first heathen nation to attack Israel after the Exodus.  (See: Exodus 17:8-16.)

a)         Of Amalek, Balaam said, “. . . But shall be last until he perishes.”

b)         God commissioned Saul, first King of Israel, to “utterly destroy” the nation of Amalek, and although he struck a devastating blow against them, Saul did not carry out his assignment.  (See: 1 Samuel I5:1-35)  Saul lost his kingdom because of his refusal to carry out God’s command.

c)         It was three hundred years later when good King Hezekiah inflicted the death blow upon the Amalekites.  (See: 1 Chronicles 4:39-43.)

3.         Balaam next spoke of the protection of the Kenites.  (v 21)

a)         Jethro, Raguel, Ruel, who was a priest of the most high God, and father-in-law to Moses was a Kenite.

b)         Throughout the history of the two nations there was always cordial relations, and so Balaam predicted that the Kenites would be safe because their “. . . dwelling place was firm,” and “. . . their nest was set in the rock.”

c)         The Kenite people left their mountain home in Horeb to travel with the people of God who were looking for a home.  (See: Numbers 10:29-32; Judges 1:16.)

d)         Their casting their lot with the children of Israel gave them a habitation on a safer Rock, who was the God of Israel.  (See: Psalm 18:2)

e)         It is unfortunate that the Kenites never fully entered into full fellowship with Israel, but sought to maintain their independence throughout Old Testament history.

4.         The next historical milestone that had to be passed before the Star and Scepter came was the Assyrian captivity.

a)         Verse 22 tells us that the Kenites would maintain their distinctive existence until “. . . Asshur shall carry you captive.”

b)         Nearly seven hundred years after Balaam spoke his prophecy the Assyrians became a world power with imperialistic designs, and subjected various people dispersing them throughout the empire.  It was this nation that took the ten tribes of the North, the divided Kingdom of Israel, into captivity.

c)         This captivity started about 745 B.C. with the conquests of Tiglathpilser, the Assryian Emperor, and it ended in 538 B.C. when Cyrus the Persian allowed the captive Jews to return to their homeland.

5.         Balaam next speaks of the destruction of the Mesopotamian powers (Vv. 23-24) and introduces their demise with a word of sadness and woe, “alas.”

a)         A great invasion of the Near East by powers in the west is here prophesied.

b)         Kittim refers to the island of Cyprus, and other islands of the Mediterranean Sea.

c)         It briefly speaks of the things that Daniel saw in his visions in chapters Seven and Eight.

d)         Similar language is used in 1 Maccabees to speak of the invasion of Asia by the armies of Alexander the Great which came to pass in 332 B.C.

e)         The Greek armies were to afflict Asshur and Eber, Balaam said.  (Asshur refers to the eastern Shemites, the descendants of Shem who had settled in the Mesopotamian river valley.)

f)          Eber refers to the western Shemites who settled in Syria, Phoenicia, and Canaan.

g)         So, the near east was to be dominated by Alexander, and it was!

6.         Finally, Balaam seems to make reference to the fall of the Greek invaders, when he said, “He shall also perish forever.”  (NBV)

a)         The successors of Alexander dominated the political scene in the Near East until about 63 B.C. when the Roman armies became the masters of that region of the world.

b)         It was during the Roman occupation of Judea that the Star and Scepter, which had been spoken of by Balaam, appeared in history.

c)         So, it was with broad strokes of the brush that Balaam painted a picture of some of the major events which would have to come to pass before the coming of the Messiah.


III.       Some Interesting Observations to be Made Regarding This Prophecy.

A.        Briggs points out that this prophecy of “Balaam unfolds the royal side of the relation of Israel to the nations . . .”[1]

B.         This same Bible scholar pointed out, as we did earlier, that, “The prominent nations of the prophet’s time represent the hostile nations of all time who are subdued in turn by the kingdom of God.  The nations mentioned here are representative ones: those far and near in the range of the prophet’s vision.”[2]

C.        Briggs saw the prophecy as being generic in its makeup, and not speaking directly of the coming Messiah, but most other scholars take issue with him, and teach that the Star and the Scepter, who were the same person, speak of the Messiah who would be Shiloh and bring spiritual peace to the world.


1.         This prophecy is so thrilling to me because it gives a panoramic view of the future history of the world in Balaam’s day.

2.         Other Prophets of the Old Testament wrote about these same things at times closer to the actual events later on in history.  (Cite: Daniel as an example.)

3.         This prophecy can increase our faith by our learning two very important points, which are:

a)         When God plans and prophesies an event, it comes to pass!  Sometimes it does not come to pass as man wants it to, but it comes to pass according to the scheme of redemption that God planned before the foundation of the earth.  (See Ephesians 1:3-6.)

b)         This prophecy demonstrates that the Star and Scepter would eventually overcome every enemy that Satan can muster against him, and that he has the ability to take us safely home to be with him throughout eternity.  How can we fail to love and serve such a Master?


[1] Charles Augustus Briggs, Messianic Prophecy, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1886, p.108.

[2] Ibid.

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