Balaam makes four major predictions called “parables” (see Num. 23:7, 18; 24:3, 15, 21, 23), which are actually prophecies concerning Israel.
The First Prophecy (23:9-10)
Balaam’s first prophecy predicts that Jacob (Israel) will become a countless multitude as plentiful as dust. God gave Abram (Abraham) a similar prediction when He said Abram’s seed would be numerous as dust (see Gen. 13:16). Balaam says Israel will “dwell alone” and not be “reckoned among the nations.” From AD 70 to 1948, Israel did not exist as a nation; thus, other nations did not recognize her. Since 1948, the Jewish state has often stood alone as enemies have risen from within and without, and Israel has conducted six major wars. The “fourth part of Israel” may allude to the division of the camps into four sections around the tabernacle. From the mountain, Balaam could not even count one-fourth of the number of people in one section of the camp.
The Second Prophecy (23:21-24)
Balaam states that Israel has maintained its spiritual integrity, avoided perverseness, and is destined to become a ruling nation. He mentions a great lion and a young lion, a statement similar to Jacob’s final words of blessing to his son Judah. Jacob predicted Judah would be as a lion and that the ruler would come from Judah (see Gen. 49:9-10).
The Third Prophecy (24:5-9)
The promise of blessing on those who bless and cursing on those who curse Israel (v. 9) is the same promise given to Abram (Abraham) at the beginning of the Abrahamic covenant (see Gen. 12:3). The phrase his seed shall be in many waters (v. 7) may allude to the Jewish people who will eventually dwell throughout the world. As in the second prophecy, the lion emblem represents Judah, the tribe of David, and Jesus Christ.
The Fourth Prophecy (24:17)
The prophecy “a Star out of Jacob” is believed to be what the wise men allude to when they search for the infant Christ Child and report, “We have seen his star in the east” (Matt. 2:2). The word Sceptre used in Numbers 24:17 relates to rulership; Jacob used the word when he predicted that the sceptre would not depart from Judah until Shiloh (a name used to identify the Messiah) comes (see Gen. 49:10). Christ’s birth, accompanied by a unique cosmic sign, occurred in Bethlehem of Judea (see Matt. 2:1).