Though this passage from Numbers 24:17 is not mentioned in the New Testament, it is clearly a prophecy pointing to the future Messiah that was promised. The Book of Numbers is a combination of a history of the Exodus and a compilation of laws. It begins and ends with censuses taken by the Hebrew people at the beginning of their forty year sojourn in the desert after their liberation from Egypt and another when they had reached the border of the Promised Land.

This specific passage is from the fourth oracle of Balaam. “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh; a star shall come forth out of Jacob, a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Early Christian writers as well as rabbinic interpreters understood this prophecy in messianic terms. For the prophet and the Hebrew people, the promise of the Messiah is present, it can be seen in their imaginations. It is the source of their hope. While they can see the promise in their mind’s eye, they can not see it in the flesh. They can behold the Messiah in their imaginations, but they know not his closeness. He remains a distant dream.

For Christians, the star clearly refers to Jesus, the Messiah who has indeed come. The scepter is the symbol of his rule. For our ancient ancestors in faith, the Messiah was dear because of the promise he represented to them, and the hope that that promise held out for them. For Christians that promise has come to be, that hope has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We are the blessed and joyful beneficiaries of the promise, the hope that our ancient Jewish ancestors kept alive. The dream of the Chosen People from the time of Abraham has come to be. It is no longer a dream but a reality.

During this Advent season each year we are given the opportunity to remember this coming of the Messiah into the world. We are given the opportunity to reflect again on the great mystery, the awesome gift of the Incarnation of Jesus at Christmas. During this time of preparation, we are to prepare our hearts and minds to recognize the reality of what the ancient prophet here in Numbers could only imagine. We have seen the Messiah and he is here. He is here with us now in his Holy Spirit. Our duty in faith is no longer to live in hope for his coming, but to live as he has taught us to live with his life, with his self-sacrifice on the cross. We are to live as a people who know and love the Messiah personally. We are no longer faithful to a promise, but to the One who is the fulfillment of that promise. The Savior has come. Let us give him honor and glory by the way we live our lives today, by the way we love one another as he loved us in his life among us. We are the people who have received the Messiah. Let us bring him to those who do not know him with great joy.

Lord, you are no longer a promise or a dream; you have come among us and made your presence known. Help us by your grace to live lives that make a difference in the world. Walk with us in our daily struggle and joys. Let our joy be the evidence of your presence among us today. We pray this in your most precious and holy name, Jesus. Amen!

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