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 (Manna 68: Succession: Generation Next)
The Christ in the Book of Numbers: Part 6—A Star out of Jacob
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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 5:1).

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 4:15–18).

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.

The Prophecy

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.

(Gal 3:27–29)

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.”

(Mt 2:1–2)

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 everlasting.

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 statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.

(Ezek 11:19–20)

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 flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.

(Ezek 36:26–27)

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.

Paul says:

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 Spirit.

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Author: Shen Chuan Chen