Bible Readings for May 15th
Numbers 24 contains the final two of Balaam’s four prophetic oracles, and they take us from the beginning of the Bible all the way to the end, tying together the whole story at once. In his third oracle, in Numbers 24:5–6, notice that Balaam describes Israel in terms of a garden: “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel! Like palm groves that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the LORD has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters.” We have discussed many times that Yahweh is establishing the tabernacle to be the new Garden of Eden where he can dwell with his people on the earth, but Balaam helps us to see the true significance of Yahweh’s arrangement with his people—by dwelling in their midst, Yahweh wants to make Israel the new, flourishing Garden of Eden.1
See also the phrase that Israel is “like cedar trees beside the waters.” This is a loaded phrase, as it comes up again in the Psalms to describe the blessed man: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Ps. 1:3). Ultimately, this image shows up in the New Jerusalem: “also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2).
This is the reason, then, why Balaam reiterates the blessing that Yahweh had promised to Abraham back in Genesis 12:3: “Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you” (Num. 24:9). Balaam recognized that God was raising up Israel to heal the nations in order to fulfill his promise.
And remarkably, Yahweh uses Balaam to announce that he would not do this through the collective righteousness of the nation but through a single figure who would rise up out of Israel. In Numbers 24:17, Balaam prophesies this: “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.”
Yahweh had called Israel to be a light to the nations, but like Adam, they failed in the task that they were given. Israel’s failure, however, did not catch Yahweh off guard—as we discussed yesterday, the disobedience of Israel was apparent even by this point in history. In fact, Yahweh had planned from the beginning to raise a single star out of Israel—his own, beloved Son—who would give his people eternal healing in the New Jerusalem.
Blessed is the one whose delight is in the Son of the Lord.
1 For more information on the links between Balaam’s prophetic oracle and Israel’s temple as the new Garden of Eden, see G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 124–26, 162, 243.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.