Numbers 22 brings us to the story of Balaam, a man we often remember because he talked back to a donkey. But that's not the only important thing that happened in his life.
In the previous chapter, Numbers 21, the Israelites just finished defeating the king of Bashan, added him to the list of conquered nations, killed all the inhabitants, and took over the land. Needless to say, the king we find in Numbers 22, King Balak of Moab, is rather terrified as to what will happen to him if he's next on the line. In fact, the whole nation of Moab was overcome with fear because of the Israelites. What they didn't know was that God had commanded the Israelites not to attack Moab because they were given that land by God and they were descendants of Lot.
So Balak calls on Balaam. Balaam is noted in Scripture as being a false prophet. He practiced magic and divination, but Balak acknowledged that Balaam's blessings and curses actually worked at times. Therefore, Balak sent messengers to Balaam with money and a plea for him to come and pronounce calamity on Israel. Though Balaam did not have any relationship with the Lord God of Israel, God did speak to him. Twice Balaam refused to go with the messangers Balak sent, telling them that God commanded him not to go. The third time, the Lord permitted Balaam to go with the condition that he could only speak the words God gave him. So Balaam went...and that's when the story of the talking donkey comes in. ;) Balaam went to Balak, but for the wrong reasons and with the wrong motives. Through the angel and the mouth of the donkey Balaam is brought into submission to God's command. Three times Balaam seeks to do as Balak requires of him and curse the Israelites, but three times God prevents this and causes him to bless them instead. So here you have a false prophet, who is involved in magic and contact with spirits, but he's blessing Israel through the words God gives him. Balaam proclaims that Israel wasn't like all the other nations of the world, that she was blessed greatly by God, shown mercy because God was with her, and she would have victory over her enemies.
Balaam's fourth blessing on Israel holds an important prophecy. God uses a false prophet to foretell the coming of the long-awaited Messiah, Israel's future King!
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. Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly. And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities! (Numbers 24:17-19)This Star of Jacob and Scepter of Israel was none other than the Lord Christ Himself. Jacob, the patriarch, in blessing his sons before his death, pronounces this blessing on Judah:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him. (Genesis 49:10)The wise men inquired of Herod where the Christ was for they had seen "his star" and had come to worship Him. The star in that night sky at Christ's birth overshadowed the place where the eternal Star of Jacob was residing. John records the words of Jesus as He fulfills Balaam's prophecy:
I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. (Revelation 22:16)And so, despite the fear of a king and the words of a false prophet, God chooses to use these men to proclaim His future Messiah who had come once before, and who would come again to rescue His people from spiritual bondage. Hope did indeed prevail despite what God's enemies tried to plan.
But that is not the end of Balaam's life, for though he failed to curse the Israelites, he caused the women of Moab to seduce the children of Israel, inciting God's anger on the nation. The Israelites engaged in immorality and idolatry with Baal forgetting the command to have no others gods but the Lord of Israel. Yet from this wickedness, hope did indeed come again for the Israelites, for Aaron's grandson, Phinehas, displayed his zeal for God in executing a man and the Midianite woman as they came near the tabernacle. For this action, the plague that had broken out on the Israelites because of their sin was stopped, and to Phinehas was granted a "perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel". (Numbers 25:13) From the line of Phinehas would come all future, legitimate high priests.
Though one day, the Israelites' Messiah did come, the High Priest who ended animal sacrifices with His one perfect sacrifice. Hope was born even out of wickedness, and vengeance was meted out to the Midianites who had incited the anger of the Lord and caused the Israelites to sin. In a similar way, Christ will return for a second time to those who look for His coming, and He will provide justice over the earth. Sin and death will reign no more, and we will fellowship together with the Giver of hope. This promise is sure and steadfast, and it will be accomplished.
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprighteness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. (Psalm 45:6-7a)