The Christ in the Book of Numbers—Part 6: A Star Out of Jacob
A Bible Study Series based on “The Christ in the Book of Numbers” by
Shen Chuan Chen
From the ten plagues that heralded the departure of the Israelites from
Egypt, to the signs and miracles that took place during their forty-year
journey in the wilderness, news of these earth-shaking events of the
Israelites reached the surrounding nations, inciting great fear (Josh
As the Israelite army approached the land of Moab, King Balak became
“exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was
sick with dread because of the children of Israel” (Num 22:3). For
Balak, not only was the sheer magnitude of this nation a fearful
prospect, but also the fact that they had defeated the mighty kings of
the Amorites and Bashan (Num 21:21–35). Therefore, having decided that
he had no hope of defeating the Israelites, he sent messengers to summon
Balaam, the renowned prophet from the land of Pethor by the Euphrates.
Balak wanted him to use his powers to curse this formidable enemy.
Despite God’s warning, Balaam set off to meet the king.
Although the Israelites were an unruly group whom God had to
occasionally punish, they were His chosen people nonetheless. For this
reason, He was willing to protect them: He stopped Balaam from uttering
a curse and instead made him give a blessing. With this blessing came
the prophecy “A Star shall come out of Jacob, A Sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17).
When Balaam realized that the Israelites could not be cursed, he
proclaimed their special status: they were a chosen race, a people
dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations (Num 23:8–10).
In the end, the covetous Balaam was killed by the sword (Josh 13:22).
However, he left behind an amazing story of how God prevented him from
uttering a curse and, instead, made him give a blessing and prophesy
about the Star of Jacob, namely the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would
manifest in the flesh (Num 24:17).
Prefiguration of Christ
The Bible often uses stars as a symbol for angels and saints (e.g. Gen
37:9; Job 38:7; Isa 14:12; 1 Cor 15:41; Rev 1:20). However, the Star of
Jacob in Numbers 24 is unique as a symbol of the Messiah: “…A Star shall
come out of Jacob; a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17). This
particular prophecy depicts how Jesus Christ would appear to the world:
as a Star out of Jacob, coming in the flesh to bring salvation to
mankind (Mt 2:2; Lk 1:78–79), and as a Sceptre—denoting authority and
sovereignty—rising out of Israel to judge humanity (Mt 24:29–31; 1 Thess
A Star Shall Come Out of Jacob
Two thousand years ago, God heralded the birth of Jesus Christ with a
bright star (Mt 2:1–2). His incarnation became a testimony that enabled
the world to see the great plan and work of God.
Balaam, the son of Beor, was an evil prophet who “loved the wages of
unrighteousness” (2 Pet 2:15) and walked on the erroneous path for
profit (Jude 11). However, God obstructed his plan to curse the
Israelites and made him speak four beautiful oracles. In the first
oracle, he proclaimed the Israelites to be a consecrated nation (Num
23:7–10); in the second, that they had the abidance of God (Num
23:20–24); in the third, that they possessed the fountain of life (Num
24:4–9); in the fourth, that Christ would come forth from the line of
Jacob (Num 24:16–19).
Concerning the fourth oracle, we know that Jacob was the grandson of
Abraham, the son of Isaac and the progenitor of the twelve tribes of
Israel (Gen 30). Indeed, up until the time of the prophets, the name
Jacob was synonymous with the nation of Israel (cf. Isa 27:9; 58:14;
Ezek 20:5; Obad 17).
When God chose Abraham, He revealed seven great promises (Gen 12:1–3),
which were at the core of His salvation plan and signaled the coming of
the Messiah from the house of Jacob (cf. Gen 28:3–4, 14). Hence, Luke
notes, “Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of
age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli…the son
of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham…” (Lk 3:23, 34).
The prophecy concerning the Star of Jacob was proclaimed some 1000 years
before the birth of Jesus Christ. In the eyes of man, Jesus was the son
of Joseph the carpenter, the descendant of Jacob, Judah and Abraham; in
the eyes of God, He was the Savior promised since the time of
creation—the fulfillment of the divine plan.
In the apostolic era, many Gentiles converted to Christianity, and so,
when Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, he pointed out,
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there
is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And
if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according
to the promise.
From Paul’s words, we appreciate that, as Christians, we have received
special grace: we have been baptized into Christ and put on Christ.
Therefore, not only do we belong to Him, we also have a right to the
promise that God made to Abraham. We are thus part of a great nation,
with Jesus Christ as our king. We can look forward to our spiritual
inheritance in the heavenly kingdom.
The Wise Men Who Followed the Star from the East
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod
the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His
star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
On discovering the star in the east, the wise men embarked on a journey
to Palestine to find the King of the Jews. Arriving with hearts of
reverence, they paid their respects to the baby Jesus and offered Him
their best gifts (Mt 2:1–12). This demonstrated their true wisdom—one
that was duly rewarded; for having followed the star, they found the
door to salvation.
Within the story of the wise men is a lesson for Christians, which is
the importance of pursuing both wisdom and the truth. Without truth, a
“wise man” is devoid of real wisdom. Hence, Paul makes this observation:
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this
age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in
the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it
pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save
those who believe.
(1 Cor 1:20–21)
The wise king Solomon also taught, “The fear of the LORD
is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is
understanding” (Prov 9:10).
The world is full of so-called wise men: intellectuals and scholars who
pursue knowledge. But what are they really striving for? Fame and
status, perhaps? Yet if they cannot emulate the wise men from the east
to search for salvation in the Lord, their learning is in vain. No
amount of academic study can bring about solutions for man’s uncertain
future. The prophet Isaiah says, “…For the wisdom of their wise men
shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be
hidden” (Isa 29:14). Only wisdom that is based on God’s truth is
The Bright and Morning Star
Before daybreak, there is usually a profound darkness over the earth. It
lasts until the morning star appears in the sky, shining brightly to
herald the arrival of dawn. The Lord Jesus is not only the Star out of
Jacob, He is also the Bright and Morning Star (Rev 22:16), providing
humankind with a guiding light that breaks the darkness (Isa 60: 2, 3).
In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul teaches that the church is the
body of Christ, “the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:23).
The church is to serve as a bright light in the darkness, bringing the
Lord’s salvation to humankind and providing access to the living
fountain for the forgiveness of sin (Zech 13:1).
This present age is one of darkness, where sin is prevalent. Cruelty,
violence, deceit, love of money and sexual immorality abound. The level
of wickedness in this generation surpasses that of previous generations.
It is a clear sign that the end of the world is imminent. But what is
worrying is that many Christians still do not realize the need to
consecrate themselves, and to watch and pray (1 Pet 4:7). As such, there
is a danger that some will be swallowed up by the darkness.
However, since we know that Christ is the Bright and Morning Star that
brings salvation, and that the true church is the light in this world,
we should resolve to rid ourselves of sin and fleshly desires and submit
to the will of God, so that we can lead godly lives. The church as a
whole should endeavor to remain upon the foundation of the apostles and
the prophets and to have Jesus Christ as her cornerstone (Eph 2:20). She
should uphold the truth, promote righteousness, and strive after peace.
The Star in the Hearts of the Believers
We also have the prophetic word made more sure,which you
do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day
dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
(2 Pet 1:19)
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who
has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the
glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
(2 Cor 4:6)
Jesus Christ does not only shine as a guiding light of salvation; He
will shine right into the hearts of men through the Holy Spirit. When
the Spirit appears, He will illumine darkened hearts, enabling them to
understand the truth.
Ezekiel already prophesied:
Then I will give them one heart, and
I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart
out of their flesh,
and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My
and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I
will be their God.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will
take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of
I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My
statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
Here, the “stony heart” refers to a heart that is hard, cold and
callous, while the “heart of flesh” is a heart that is gentle, warm and
humane. Today, many people have stony hearts. However, when the Holy
Spirit comes upon them, even these will be transformed into hearts of
flesh. This means that man will submit to the law of God and the
darkness of their hearts will be replaced by light.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who
is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given
to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s
wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual
things with spiritual.
(1 Cor 2:12–13)
When the Morning Star shines into the hearts of men, the people of the
world will be able to understand even the spiritual matters of God.
In the Book of Numbers, we find the earliest biblical reference to the
star from the east. It records a prophecy spoken by the prophet Balaam
concerning the Star of Jacob, pointing to the birth and salvation work
of the Messiah. Jesus would emerge from the house of Jacob, coming to
the world as the Bright and Morning Star, shining His light upon the
world and illumining darkened hearts through the power of the Holy