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In Numbers 24:17, with reference to Balaam's fourth Oracle, it is written, (NIV)

"I see him but not now,

I behold him, but not near.

A star will come out of Jacob, a sceptre will rise out of Israel.

He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth.

What is the meaning of this text?

Is it a reference to King David or the Messiah, or a double meaning? Rabbi Moses ben Maimon suggests the latter:

I shall see him, but not now. This is David - I shall behold him, but not nigh. This is the king Messiah - A Star shall come out of Jacob. This is David - And a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel. This is the king Messiah - And shall smite the corners of Moab. This is David, (as it is written, 2 Samuel 8:2 : And he smote Moab, casting them down to the ground) - And shall destroy all the children of Sheth. This is the king Messiah, of whom it is written, (Psalm 72:8), He shall have dominion from sea to sea.

Source: Gill's Expository Bible. Bible Hub. Numbers 24:17

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Since you are using the New International Version, do you expect the answer to be from a Jewish perspective or a Christian perspective? – Double U Feb 15 '14 at 19:14
@Anonymous-I just want to understand what the text means.The quote from Rabbi Moses ben Maimon,is the best i have found as yet. – Bagpipes Feb 15 '14 at 19:51
But Rabbi Moses ben Maimon is a medieval Jewish rabbi and philosopher. The New International Version is from the 20th century. There may be differences in bibles in that the chapters and verses may be labelled differently or books are or are not part of the canon. I think it's best to retrieve the exact quote from Maimonides. – Double U Feb 15 '14 at 20:09
After rereading the question's description, it is unclear why you put Maimonides there. Does Maimonides believe that the said biblical verses are referring to King David or Messiah, or does Maimonides believe that those verses have double meaning? – Double U Feb 15 '14 at 20:33
@Anonymous,Yes Rabbi Moses ben Maimon obviously does believe the text is referring to King David and the Messiah.This is where the double meaning comes into play.Read his words. – Bagpipes Feb 15 '14 at 20:56
up vote 2 down vote accepted

"The Star" is a reference to the Messiah, and "out of Jacob" is interpreted even by Jewish commentaries as "the son of David" which you quote. Interestingly, many in Matthew's day called Jesus "son of David"(Matt. 9:27,12:23,15:22,20:30,20:31,21:9,21:15) so the teachers of the day must have taught that the Messiah was the "son of David".

In the KJV it says:(Num.24:17-18)

"I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly.

The "corners of Moab" are different than the "foreheads of Moab"; since both Moab and Edom became territories(Moab is modern day Jordan), (Edom is Northwestern Arabia), the future reference to the prophecy is territorial-Moabs 'corners' are in contention today-although God gave Moab their land(Dt. 2:9). Part of Edom(Sinai Peninsula) is in Israeli hands, the other part in Saudi Arabia's-fulfilling the prophecy.

What one must remember is that the context for this prophecy is "the latter days"(vs 14), therefore, the "Dual Fulfillment" spoken of by Maimonides by both "David", and the "son of David"(Messiah). The enemies are the same, yet the reference is greatly expanded. Numerous expositors have commented on "the sons of Sheth" as meaning the "sons of Seth", essentially all mankind, as Noah came from Seth.

Keil and Delitzsch had this to say:(from Commentaries, Numbers 24)

And neither the Samaritan text nor the passage in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 48:45), which is based upon this prophecy, at all warrants an alteration of the reading קרקר into קדקד (the crown of the head), since Jeremiah almost invariably uses earlier writing in this free manner, viz., by altering the expressions employed, and substituting in the place of unusual words wither more common ones, or such as are similar in sound (cf. Kper, Jerem. libror, ss. interpres atque vindex, pp. xii.ff. and p. 43). - כּל־בּני־שׁת does not mean "all the sons of Seth," i.e., all mankind, as the human race is never called by the name of Seth; and the idea that the ruler to arise out of Israel would destroy all men, would be altogether unsuitable. It signifies rather "all the sons of confusion," by which, according to the analogy of Jacob and Israel (Numbers 24:17), Edom and Seir (Numbers 24:18), the Moabites are to be understood as being men of wild, warlike confusion. שׁת is a contraction of שׁאת (Lamentations 3:47), and derived from שׁאה; and in Jeremiah 48:45 it is correctly rendered שׁאון בּני

Therefore, it is possible that instead of "Sheth" meaning "Seth", it means "Heth"; which was the 2nd son of Canaan:(Wikipedia)

Heth is, according to Genesis 10:15, the second son of Canaan, who is son of Ham, son of Noah. Heth is the ancestor of the Hittites, second of the twelve Canaanite nations descended from his sons, who lived near Hebron (Genesis 23:3,7).[1] In Genesis 10:15-16, Heth is placed between Sidon and the Jebusites, Amorites, Girgasites, Hivites, Arkite, Sinite, Arvadite, Zemarite, Hamathite and other peoples, showing their descent through their children, called "Children of Heth"(Genesis 23:3, 5, 7, 10, 16, 18, 20)

who's 'daughters'(descendants) married Esau(Edom) and lived in Mt. Seir. The "Hethites" were a part of the Canaanite nations to be destroyed; this prophecy is to be fulfilled in Zech. 14:21. It is significant to note that although God gave Mt. Seir to Edom(Dt.2:5), they obstructed the passage of the children of Israel(Num. 20:18), and frequently attacked them without provocation(Ps. 137:7)

To conclude: these "traditional enemies" who attempted to conjure Balaam to prophecy against Israel show up again as "modern enemies", which the Lord will destroy when "His feet touch the Mt. of Olives".(Zech. 14:3-4)

Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.

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You may find this – Bagpipes Feb 18 '14 at 15:42
Thanks for your answer and being brave enough to 'take it on.'It certainly opened doors for me concerning the Edomites and the Moabites. – Bagpipes Feb 28 '14 at 13:55

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