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Numbers 24:14-17

Context
24:14 And now, I am about to go 1  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.” 2 

Balaam Prophesies a Fourth Time

24:15 Then he uttered this oracle: 3 

“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. 4 

A star 5  will march forth 6  out of Jacob,

and a scepter 7  will rise out of Israel.

He will crush the skulls 8  of Moab,

and the heads 9  of all the sons of Sheth. 10 

1 tn The construction is the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) suffixed followed by the active participle. This is the futur instans use of the participle, to express something that is about to happen: “I am about to go.”

2 tn Heb “in the latter days.” For more on this expression, see E. Lipinski, “באחרית הימים dans les textes préexiliques,” VT 20 (1970): 445-50.

3 tn Heb “and he took up his oracle and said.”

4 tn Heb “near.”

5 sn This is a figure for a king (see also Isa 14:12) not only in the Bible but in the ancient Near Eastern literature as a whole. The immediate reference of the prophecy seems to be to David, but the eschatological theme goes beyond him. There is to be a connection made between this passage and the sighting of a star in its ascendancy by the magi, who then traveled to Bethlehem to see the one born King of the Jews (Matt 2:2). The expression “son of a star” (Aram Bar Kochba) became a title for a later claimant to kingship, but he was doomed by the Romans in a.d. 135.

6 tn The verb is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive; it is equal to the imperfect expressing the future. The verb דָּרַךְ (darakh), related to the noun “way, road,” seems to mean something like tread on, walk, march.”

7 sn The “scepter” is metonymical for a king who will rise to power. NEB strangely rendered this as “comet” to make a parallel with “star.”

8 tn The word is literally “corners,” but may refer to the corners of the head, and so “skull.”

9 tc The MT reads “shatter, devastate.” Smr reads קֹדְקֹד (qodqod, “head; crown; pate”). Smr follows Jer 48:45 which appears to reflect Num 24:17.

10 sn The prophecy begins to be fulfilled when David defeated Moab and Edom and established an empire including them. But the Messianic promise extends far beyond that to the end of the age and the inclusion of these defeated people in the program of the coming King.



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