King Balak has ordered Balaam to go home. The king, in his attempts to get the upper hand over Israel, has accomplished nothing but hearing the prophet bless Israel three times. Balaam is going to go, but before he does he will pronounce four other prophecies regarding Israel, and in all of these Israel is victorious over her enemies.
Today we will look at the fourth message and tomorrow we will conclude this passage with the short fifth, sixth, and seventh messages. Today's message is a prophecy regarding kings of Israel: one who will reign in the not-so-far off future and one who will not be born until about 1,500 years after Moses' lifetime. The two kings represented by this prophecy are David, the first king of the line of Judah, and the Messiah, the final king from the line of Judah who will be the eternal king over the entire world.
We don't find Balaam building any more altars or offering any more sacrifices on them. I believe he is still standing in the same spot where he delivered his third message. The king has told him to go and I don't think the king is going to participate in or stand by and watch any further rituals. Whether or not Balaam wants to provide these final four messages, he is compelled to provide them. I don't think he has any choice but to provide them because God is going to have His say. Nothing He says will be music to the king's ears.
"Then he spoke his message: 'The prophecy of Balaam son of Beor, the prophecy of one whose eye sees clearly, the prophecy of one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, whose eyes are opened:" (Numbers 24:15-16) The prophet speaks of himself in a self-aggrandizing way just as he did before delivering the third message. But in both these introductions to the messages he makes mention of falling prostrate before God and having his eyes opened. This is probably a reference to the encounter he had with the angel of the Lord in the roadway on the way to Moab where the Lord informed him, in no uncertain terms, that he would be able to say only what the Lord told him to say. The words coming out of Balaam's mouth are the Lord's and there's nothing he can do about it. It is clear to him, and he want to make it clear to King Barak, that he is helpless to do anything but bless Israel. The king is very angry with Balaam for not telling him what he wanted to hear, but Balaam is not able to tell him what he wants to hear.
Next the prophet sees a vision of a coming king, and like many Bible prophecies, this vision is twofold. The test of a Biblical prophet was that he must be able to predict something in the near future so that his prophecies regarding the far off future could be trusted. For example, if I claimed to be a prophet and I said it was going to start raining Friday night at 10pm, and if I also said that it would rain for forty days and nights beginning on a Friday night twenty years from now, if my prophecy for this week didn't come true then no one is to pay any attention to my prophecy for twenty years from now. There are certain groups in our society today who make various predictions and prophecies but the test is whether or not their short term prophecies actually take place at the time and in the manner they said they would. If a person or group prophecies that a particular thing is going to happen on a particular day, and it does not, that person or group is no prophet according to the Bible. If they said something specific was going to happen tomorrow, for example, and it did not, then no other predictions they make should be given the time of day. The Lord provided us with the test of a prophet so we could avoid being deceived. If someone claiming to be a prophet or "in the know" tells us a specific thing is going to happen on a specific day or in a specific way and it does not, we are not to waste any more time listening to their predictions. God has given us a method for preventing ourselves from being deceived and we are being foolish and disobedient if we ignore what He has said about how to discern a false prophet from a true prophet.
"I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near." (Numbers 24:17a) Even in ancient times the remainder of Balaam's fourth message was considered Messianic even though militarily it will be fulfilled in King David's day. "A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel." (Numbers 24:17b) Israel has no king at this point in the Bible. The scepter speaks of a time in which she will have a king over her, but in no way can we suppose this message speaks of Israel's first king who will be Saul of the tribe of Benjamin. He couldn't be referred to as a "star" in the positive connotation of verse 17 because he could light no one's way and he could be no one's inspiration. He was a disobedient and man from whom the Lord took the Holy Spirit and whom the Lord allowed to fall prey to his own delusions and madness. In addition, militarily speaking, Saul is not in view here because he didn't accomplish the military victories of which Balaam will momentarily speak. And David, although he was Israel's mightiest king and ruled over Israel at the height of her power and unity (he ruled over all twelve tribes but in his grandson's day the nation split apart), is not referred to in the Bible as a "star". But the Lord Jesus Christ is. Not only did a special heavenly event take place to announce His birth to those who knew what to look for (the Star of Bethlehem) but He refers to Himself in the Bible as "the root and the offspring of David, and the bright morning star". (Revelation 22:16)
Some scholars believe the reason the wise men of the gospels knew to look for a star to herald the birth of a great king originated here in Numbers 24:17b. If the wise men were descended from the Persians who knew the prophet Daniel, as is commonly believed, they would have been familiar with Old Testament prophecies. Daniel and a large number of other Jews lived among the Persians for many years after the Medo-Persian Empire conquered the Babylonian Empire. The Babylonian Empire had conquered the kingdom of Judah and Judah's capitol city Jerusalem and had taken scores of Jewish people captive back to Babylon, including Daniel. Daniel himself was a wise man both under Babylonian rule and Medo-Persian rule and it's possible that the wise men of the gospels who showed up after sighting the Star of Bethlehem were operating in response to our passage from Numbers 24. They were looking for a star to arise to announce the birth of a great king: the Messiah whom their ancestors heard about through the Jewish people who lived among their forefathers.
Balaam's words are bad news for Moab, the people over whom King Balak rules here in Numbers 24. "He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the people of Sheth. Edom will be conquered; Seir, his enemy, will be conquered, but Israel will grow strong. A ruler will come out of Jacob and destroy the survivors of that city." (Numbers 24:17c-19) King David brought the Moabites and the Edomites under subjection to Israel. But he did not have dominion over "all the people of Sheth". Some scholars believe the word "Sheth" should be rendered "Seth" and that it refers to the third son of Adam and Eve and all his descendants. Others believe it is derived from the word "shayth" which can be translated as "tumult", maybe as a reference to the nations and tribes who made themselves Israel's enemies or perhaps as a reference to "the nations" meaning the entire world over which the Messiah will rule, for the Bible says He will rule the nations with an iron scepter. (Revelation 2:27) Either way, David never ruled over all the descendants of Seth or over all the nations of the world, so another king of Israel must be in view here who will fulfill the remainder of this prophecy. No king who has ruled Israel has fulfilled verse 18 and none will until the King of kings comes and rules over the world eternally from the throne of David as foretold by the book of Revelation and as foretold by the prophets of old.
The word rendered as "city" in verse 19 can also be rendered as "civilization". A number of scholars believe that when Balaam says the great and coming King destroys the survivors of that "city" he is speaking of the day in which the Messiah will put an end to the great rebellion against God's kingdom in the end times. Or they think that Balaam may be speaking of a literal city of the last days: the "Babylon" of Revelation, the capitol city of the one who will be known as the Antichrist. Man's final rebellion against God will take place in the last days and the Lord Jesus will destroy the capitol city of their wicked leader and He will destroy their wicked leader with "the brightness of His coming" and along with the Antichrist the Lord will condemn those who "have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness". (2 Thessalonians 2:8b, 12)
God is having the last word in the prophet Balaam's encounter with the king of Moab. God didn't allow the prophet to say what he wanted to say. God didn't allow the prophet to say what the king wanted him to say. God is having the last word in Numbers 24 and God will have the last word in the end times. Only His kingdom will stand forever. Only His chosen king---His Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords---will reign forever. If we are on the Lord's side then we are on the winning side and, when the Lord Jesus Christ is seated in the throne of David as king of the whole world, we will "reign forever and ever" with Him. (Revelation 22:5b) No matter how dark our personal circumstances may be right now, and no matter how worried we may be by the condition of the world, our future in Christ could not be brighter. His crown is assured. His throne awaits Him. We will live and reign forever with Him in a world where sin and death have been done away with. No human being and no devil of hell can change that.