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Numbers 24:17

17 1I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: 2a star shall come out of Jacob, and 3a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall 4crush the forehead[a] of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.

Numbers 24:17 Meaning and Commentary

Numbers 24:17

I shall see him, but not now
Meaning not Israel, for he now saw him encamped, and at no great distance; but one that should descend from him, a famous and excellent person, and who is no other than the Messiah, as appears by what follows; him he should see, not spiritually with an eye of faith, nor corporeally with his bodily eyes in his state of incarnation, but at the day of judgment; and now, indeed, he saw him by a spirit of prophecy:

I shall behold him, but not nigh;
signifying, that the coming of this illustrious Person, who should smite the borders of Moab, was not near, and therefore Balak had no reason to indulge any present fears; and that when he was come either into the world to save men, or to judgment, Balaam would have no nearness to him, nor interest in him; he would see him at the last day, but not for himself, as Job says he should, ( Job 19:25-27 )

there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of
which Aben Ezra interprets of David, though he says many interpret it of the Messiah; and there are some writers, both Jewish and Christian, that understand it partly of David, and partly of Christ, and chiefly of him, and of David as a type of him; the fulfilment of which was only in part in David, but principally and completely in Christ. Maimonides F3 parts the prophecy between them: the whole undoubtedly agrees with Christ, and belongs unto him: the "star" and "sceptre" may be considered as names and titles of the Messiah; he is called the "morning star", ( Revelation 22:16 ) for his glory, brightness, and splendour, and for the light that comes by him, and the influence of his grace, and the blessings of it on the sons of men; and hence a false Messiah took the name of Bar Cochab, the son of a star, to answer to this prophecy; and he may be called a "sceptre", that is, a sceptre bearer, because of his royalty; he not only has the name of a king, but has a kingdom, both of nature, providence, and grace, and rules with a sceptre of grace, mercy, and righteousness; and as he was to spring from Jacob or Israel, so he did, being a son of Abraham, a descendant of Jacob, of the tribe of Judah, and family of David, ( Matthew 1:1 ) ( Romans 1:4 ) ( Romans 9:4 Romans 9:5 ) , but I rather think that the star is to be considered as a sign and circumstance of his coming, and that the words may be rendered, "when a star steers its course from Jacob", or "unto Jacob, then a sceptre", or "sceptre bearer",

shall rise out of Israel,
or "rise up unto Israel"; for the particle (m) sometimes signifies "unto" F4; and that the appearance of a star in Israel was a sign of the Messiah's coming is certain from ( Matthew 2:1 Matthew 2:2 ) of which the Magi were informed by Zoroastres F5 their founder, who, being of Jewish extract, had got it from this prophecy of Balaam; and it is as evident that the Jews expected the appearance of an extraordinary star at the time of the Messiah's coming; for so they say more than once, in an ancient book of theirs F6, that when the

``Messiah shall be revealed, a bright and shining star shall arise in the east;''

which expectation must be founded on this prophecy:

and shall smite the corners of Moab;
not only the corners of their houses and cities, but the extreme parts and borders of the land, even all the sides, and the whole of it; or the princes and great men of the land, sometimes called "corners", see ( Zechariah 10:4 ) and so the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan,

and shall kill the princes of Moab
or the mighty ones of Moab, as the Jerusalem Targum; this was literally fulfilled in David, ( 2 Samuel 8:2 ) ( Psalms 60:1-12 ) and figuratively and mystically in Christ, by subduing his enemies, signified by Moabites, as being the enemies of Israel; either by reducing them through the power of his grace to obedience to him, or by smiting and breaking them in pieces with a rod of iron; and which will be more plainly and fully accomplished when he shall destroy those Moabites, the antichristian nations, ( Revelation 19:15-21 )

and destroy all the children of Sheth;
some take Sheth to be the name of some famous king among the Moabites, as Grotius; others, the name of some city of Moab, which David utterly destroyed, as R. Nathan F7; others suppose some particular nations are meant, as either the Edomites, so called because they put confidence in their foundations, and fortified places, so Vitringa F8; or the Egyptians, from Seth or Sethos, one of their kings, who was known by the name Egyptus, as a late learned writer F9 of ours conjectures; but rather by the children of Seth are meant all nations, as Jarchi observes, for all come from Seth, the son of the first man; and so the words may be rendered, as they are by Onkelos,

``he shall rule over all the children of men;''

which will be fulfilled in Christ, when he shall have put down all rule and authority, and all will be subject to him, and his kingdom be from sea to sea, and his dominion from the river to the ends of the earth; unless rather by the children of Seth are meant the special people of God, in distinction from others, and in allusion to the distinction between the Sethites and Cainites, the one being the people of God, the other not; and so it may be interpreted of Christ's gathering them to him, by clucking as it were for them, as a hen gathers her chickens; so the word is used in Jewish writings, and of God himself; for it is said

F11 the holy blessed God (rqrqm) , clucks over them, as hens do, which is the simile our Lord himself uses, ( Matthew 23:37 ) the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan interpret this prophecy of the Messiah by name; and so do many other Jewish writers, both ancient F12 and modern F13.

F3 Hilchot Melachim, c. 11. sect. 1.
F4 Vid. Nold. Concord. Ebr. part. p. 545.
F5 Abulpharag. Hist. Dynast. p. 54.
F6 Zohar in Exod. fol. 3. 3, 4. & in Numb fol. 85. 4. & 86. 1.
F7 Apud Lyram in loc.
F8 Comment. in Isa. xxii. 5.
F9 Clayton's Chronology of the Hebrew Bible p. 445.
F11 T. Bab. Taanith, c. 4. in En Jacob, par. 1. fol. 143. 4.
F12 Debarim Rabba, fol. 234. 4. Pesikta in Kettoreth Hassammim in Numb. fol. 27. 3. & 28. 1.
F13 Abarbinel. Mashmiah Jeshuah, fol. 4. 2, 3. Abendana in loc. R. Isaac Chizzuk Emunah, p. 71, 72.

Numbers 24:17 In-Context

15 And he took up his discourse and said, "The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened,
16 the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered:
17 I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.
18 Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly.
19 And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!"

Cross References 4

  • 1. [Numbers 23:9]
  • 2. Matthew 2:2; Revelation 22:16
  • 3. Genesis 49:10
  • 4. Jeremiah 48:45; [2 Samuel 8:2]

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. Hebrew corners [of the head]
The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.