Balaam Prophesies Yet Again, 1-14

24:1  When Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go as at the other times to seek for omens, but he set his face toward the wilderness. 24:2 When Balaam lifted up his eyes, he saw Israel camped tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God came upon him. 24:3 Then he uttered this oracle:

Balaam Inscription (Right).  Inscription mentioning Balaam son of Beor from Tell Deir Alla, 9th or 8th century B.C.E. Amman Archaeological Museum, Amman, Jordan. In 1967, this inscription was discovered at Tell Deir Alla, on the east bank of the Jordan River, a flourishing city in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. The inscription, which was originally written directly onto a wall by a professional scribe, mentions Balaam, son of Beor, a seer who is most likely the same person as the biblical figure who was hired to curse the Israelites but whom God compelled to bless them instead (see Num 22-24). Motifs in the Deir Alla account also appear in the biblical story, and the fragments were found in Transjordan, where the biblical story takes place, attesting to a tradition shared by ancient Israelite and Transjordanian peoples. (

“The oracle of Balaam son of Beor;
the oracle of the man whose eyes are open;
24:4 the oracle of the one who hears the words of God,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
although falling flat on the ground with eyes open:
24:5 ‘How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob,
and your dwelling places, O Israel!
24:6 They are like valleys stretched forth,
like gardens by the river’s side,
like aloes that the LORD has planted,
and like cedar trees beside the waters.
24:7 He will pour the water out of his buckets,
and their descendants will be like abundant water;
their king will be greater than Agag,
and their kingdom will be exalted.
24:8 God brought them out of Egypt.
They have, as it were, the strength of a young bull;
they will devour hostile people
and will break their bones
and will pierce them through with arrows.
24:9 They crouch and lie down like a lion,
and as a lioness, who can stir him?
Blessed is the one who blesses you,
and cursed is the one who curses you!’ ”
24:10 Then Balak became very angry at Balaam, and he struck his hands together. Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, and look, you have done nothing but bless them these three times! 24:11 So now, go back where you came from! I said that I would greatly honor you; but now the LORD has stood in the way of your honor.”
24:12 Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not also tell your messengers whom you sent to me, 24:13 ‘If Balak would give me his palace full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the commandment of the LORD to do either good or evil of my own will, but whatever the LORD tells me I must speak’? 24:14 And now, I am about to go back to my own people. Come now, and I will advise you as to what this people will do to your people in the future.”

Balaam Prophesies a Fourth Time, 15-19

24:15 Then he uttered this oracle:
“The oracle of Balaam son of Beor;
the oracle of the man whose eyes are open;
24:16 the oracle of the one who hears the words of God,
and who knows the knowledge of the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
although falling flat on the ground with eyes open:
24:17 ‘I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not close at hand.
A star will march forth out of Jacob,
and a scepter will rise out of Israel.
He will crush the skulls of Moab,
and the heads of all the sons of Sheth.
24:18 Edom will be a possession,
Seir, his enemies, will also be a possession;
but Israel will act valiantly.
24:19 A ruler will be established from Jacob;
he will destroy the remains of the city.’ ”

A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel – This was widely regarded, around the time of Jesus’ birth, as a Messianic prophecy.  It may well be appropriate to link it to the star of Bethlehem, which was probably a bright comet, with its tail representing a sceptre.  See the notes on Mt 2 and Rev 12.

Both ‘star and ‘scepter’ frequently symbolised rulers (Gen 49:10; Psa 45:6; Isa 14:12).

Nicholl (The Great Christ Comet) says that the Babylonian Talmud specifically refers to a comet as a ‘scepter star’.  Indeed, a number of scholars, and also the NEB, REB and GNB render the word here translated ‘scepter’ as ‘comet’.  This would suit the paralellism.   There is, therefore, a double meaning in Balaam’s words: they are both literal (referring to a comet) and metaphorical (referring to a ruler).

Was David the scepter-star?  2 Sam 8 shows that he conquered Moab and Edom.  But this did not lead to a permanent subservience.  Moreover, the is no hint the Scripture that David’s birth was attended by any unusual astronomical phenomena.

Mt 2:2 probably contains an allusion to this verse.  2 Pet 1:19 and Rev 22:16 also appear to allude this verse and apply it to Jesus as Messiah.  But the strongest link is with Rev 12:5, a passage clearly about the birth of Christ, and which represents the comet at it rising as a shining scepter.

Early Christian teaching linked this verse not only generally with the birth of Christ, but also more specifically with the magi and the star of Bethlehem:-

Eusebius linked this verse with the magi: ‘We are told that Balaam’s successors moved by this [the star of Bethlehem] (for the prediction was preserved most likely among them) [the Gentiles] when they noticed in the heavens a strange star besides the usual ones, fixed above the head, so to say, and vertically above Judea, hastened to arrive at Palestine, to inquire about the king announced by the star’s appearance.’

Chryostom maintained that Balaam prophesied the coming of the Messiah: ‘Listen to the Evangelist’s words about Caiaphas, the high priest of the Jews: “He did not give this as a personal opinion, but in his capacity of high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was destined to die, not for the person alone but to bring together into one also the nations that had been scattered.” You will find something like it occurring again in the story of Balaam also: When urged to curse the people, he not merely did not curse them but even prophesied great and wonderful things, not merely about the people but also about the coming of the Savior.’

Leo the Great linked this prophecy with the wise men following the star: ‘Although it was a gift of divine favor that the birth of the Savior should become recognizable to the nations, nevertheless, to understand the wonder of the sign, the wise men were also able to be reminded through the ancient pronouncements of Balaam, for they knew that it had at one time been spread abroad in a famous and memorable prediction: “A star will appear out of Jacob, and a man will rise up from Israel. He will rule over the nations.” So the three men, stirred by God through the shining of this unusual star, follow the course of its gleaming light ahead of them, thinking that they would find the indicated child in the royal city of Jerusalem.

When this conjecture had failed them, however, they learned from scribes and teachers of the Jews what the sacred Scriptures had told about the birth of Christ. Encouraged by the double evidence, they sought him out with an even more ardent faith, the one to whom both the brightness of the star and the authority of prophets pointed.’

Caesarius of Arles thought that the magi had copies of Balaam’s prophecies: ‘If God’s prophecies were inserted in the sacred books by Moses, how much more so were they copied by men who then lived in Mesopotamia, for they considered Balaam splendid and certainly were disciples of his art! After his time the profession and instruction of the seers is said to have flourished in parts of the Orient. Possessing copies of everything which Balaam prophesied, they even have it written: “A star shall advance from Jacob, and a man shall rise from Israel.” The magi kept these writings more among themselves, and so when Jesus was born they recognized the star and understood that the prophecy was fulfilled more than did the people of Israel who disdained to hear the words of the holy prophets. Therefore, only from the writings which Balaam had left, they learned that the time was approaching, came and immediately sought to adore him. Moreover, in order to show their great faith, they honored the little boy as a king.’

(The above quotations from ACCS)

Balaam’s Final Prophecies, 20-25

24:20 Then Balaam looked on Amalek and delivered this oracle:
“Amalek was the first of the nations,
but his end will be that he will perish.”
24:21 Then he looked on the Kenites and uttered this oracle:
“Your dwelling place seems strong,
and your nest is set on a rocky cliff.
24:22 Nevertheless the Kenite will be consumed.
How long will Asshur take you away captive?”
24:23 Then he uttered this oracle:
“O, who will survive when God does this!
24:24 Ships will come from the coast of Kittim,
and will afflict Asshur, and will afflict Eber,
and he will also perish forever.”
24:25 Balaam got up and departed and returned to his home, and Balak also went his way.