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Excerpt from Jesus' Words Only:

 

Lesson on How True Prophet of Christ Can Become a False Prophet

 

Balaam's Star Prophecy of Messiah (1290 B.C.)

 

Most Christian commentators acknowledge the false prophet Balaam did originally give true Messianic prophecy in the Star Prophecy. (See Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge, Wesley, Henry, JFB, and Gill.) This is why Matthew identifies the Magi following the star to Bethlehem. (Matt. 2:1, magos.)

Let's see how amazing is Balaam's prophecy of Numbers 24:17 to realize how Balaam was a true prophet of Christ at one time but who later turned false. In Numbers 24:17, we read Balaam's words:

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh; there shall step forth a star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite through the corners of Moab, and break down all the sons of tumult. (ASV).

Friedman, in the modern Jewish translation, renders the first key part "a star has stepped from Jacob...." (Commentary on the Torah, supra, at 511.) The "scepter" implied this star would identify a new king. The last part on someone ruling the "sons of tumult" was interpreted by ancient Jews as meaning "rule the world." The Targum of Onkelos from circa 150 A.D.--the Aramaic interpretation of the Law--restates this passage to have a Messianic application: "a king shall arise from the house of Jacob, and be anointed the Messiah out of Israel." Clearly, Numbers 24:17 was deemed a Messianic prophecy by Jews long before Jesus appeared. 10

 

Balaam Was Not Saved Despite Believing in Messiah To Come

 

The fact Balaam uttered a Messianic prophecy has important meaning in salvation doctrine. It answers the question whether believing in a Messianic prophecy and knowing about Christ, as did Balaam, saves you. Balaam's destruction at Moses' request proves such belief alone did not save Balaam. Yet, indisputably, Balaam was one of the first under inspiration of the Holy Spirit to believe in and prophesy specifically about the Messiah. He saw Christ and believed in Him. Yet, Balaam later apostasized by teaching Jews that they could eat meat sacrificed to idols and they could fornicate. (Num. 31:8, 16; Rev. 2:14.) (See Ch. 7.) Balaam clearly became lost. (Rev. 2:14.)

 

Why Do Paulinists Ignore Balaam's Prophecy?

 

Why would Paulinists not want to focus upon this amazing Messianic prophecy in Numbers 24:17? You rarely hear any discussion of it in Paulinist-oriented congregations. It actually is necessary to know about this story to make sense of why the Magi arrived at Bethlehem and why they were following a star. There is no excuse to not help people understand the Star of Bethlehem and its key role in the nativity.

 

This prophecy is ignored for three reasons.

 

First, it shows how one of the most amazing inspired prophecies of Messiah came from a man who later apostasizes and is certainly lost. Such a possibility is denied by eternal security advocates, relying principally on Paul for their teaching. Thus, any mention of Balaam's prophecy causes embarrassment to proponents of eternal security.

 

Second, the background on the Star Prophecy shows that people steeped in error and pagan practices, like the Magi, could still hold onto true Messianic prophecy of the Bible. Yet, believing in Messianic prophecy did not make them saved Christians. It likewise does not make someone a Christian who thinks they can believe the intellectual side of a prophecy with no change in the heart. The Magi's doctrines (Zoroastrianism) taught them they were saved if they used the right verbal formula for belief, known as a mantra. They also believed they could pray to those in the afterlife. (Lucian, Mennipus 6-9.) Their teachings about mantras thereby violated the Law given to Moses, which preached salvation by repentance from sin, atonement, and faithfulness. Moreover, the Magi's teachings about talking to the dead also violated the Law given to Moses. (Deut. 18:11; cf. Isaiah 8:19; 19:3.) Thus, for those steeped in eternal security, it is difficult to mention the Magi were unsaved people who believed in Messianic Prophecies.

 

Lastly, the Magi (from Babylon) in Matthew 2:1 make us uncomfortable for another reason. Their presence proves how Jesus wanted us to understand the symbolism of Babylon in the Book of Revelation. The Magi of Babylon came from a culture steeped in a certain type of doctrinal error. They must have correctly worshipped the God of Daniel.

 

First, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged Yahweh. Lastly, King Darius also later specifically decreed that "the God of Daniel" was the true God and that his entire vast empire had to acknowledge this. (Dan. 4:34-37; 6:26). Thereafter, Daniel obviously had ample opportunity as the chief officer over the Magi to inculcate faith in the true God among the Magi. (Dan. 6:1-2.) Based on Matthew 2:1's mention of the magos (Greek for magi), there is every reason to be believe this Jewish component of Babylonian religion continued. Babylonian religion must have absorbed this as part of Zoroastrianism--a monotheistic religion. In it, Daniel's God must have continued to be their one true God for some significant period.

 

So what does Babylon represent? A pagan religion? No! Babylon represents a faith with the right emphasis on the true God and the true Christ but adulteration by adding salvation and legal principles at odds with God's Law.

 

How do we know the Magi had the right emphasis on the true Christ? That they were waiting for Messiah's birth?

 

Because Babylon's spiritual & political leaders (the Magi) were clearly aware of Daniel's prophecy of Messiah's date for being cut-off (i.e., killed). (Dan. 9:25-26.) Daniel was the chief of the Magi, by appointment of the king (Dan. 6:1-2). Thus, Daniel's prophecy would be well-known by the Magi. This prophecy, uttered in 604 B.C., said the Messiah shall come and be cut-off after sixty-nine "periods of sevens" (viz., a sabbath cycle of seven years) 11 -- 483 years -- from the "order to restore and to build Jerusalem." (Dan. 9:25-26.)

 

The Jewish Encyclopedia says this order went forth in 444 B.C. Nehemiah "arrived in Jerusalem in 444 BCE with an appointment as governor of Judah... [and his] first action was to rebuild... Jerusalem [including the temple]." ("Nehemiah," The Jewish Encyclopedia of Judaism (1989) at 520.)

 

What year could the Magi deduce Messiah's being cut-off?

 

The year 33 A.D. The Jewish calendar year is a lunar-based year. There are only 360 days in the "year" of which Daniel is prophesying. Daniel's prophecy of 483 lunar years thus represents 173,880 days (483 x 360). This equates to 476 solar years in our calendar. If you subtract 476 years from 444 B.C., you hit square on 33 A.D. How amazing!


For an elaborate discussion, see Why Is Daniel's Prophecy Rarely Presented.

 

Thus, from Daniel's prophecy, the Magi would know the date of the Messiah's being cut-off is 33 A.D. The Magi then could piece this together with the Star Prophecy of Balaam to determine his approximate time of birth.

 

How did the Magi know of the Star Prophecy?

 

Again, the Magi no doubt were also trained by Daniel in the Messianic Star Prophecy from Numbers 24:16-19. Daniel mentions his continued use of the Law of Moses while living in Babylon. (Dan. 9:11-13.) Daniel would then have shared this Star Prophecy in the Law of Moses with his Magi.

 

Why would this Star Prophecy tell the Magi that a star's rising would mark the birth of the Messiah? After all, the word birth is not mentioned in Numbers 24:16-19?

 

For two reasons. First, a star rising (which for ancients included planetary conjunctions) was ordinarily claimed by the ancients to mark the birth of important future rulers. This is why the Romans understood the Star Prophecy in the First Century A.D. to signal such a birth. For example, Suetonius tried claiming a star in that period augured the birth of one of their own emperors who would rule the world in fulfillment of the Star Prophecy from the East. 12

 

Second, history proves the Magi understood the Star Prophecy as a birth augur. Christian historians have traced the prophecy of Balaam after 600 B.C. within the Babylonian religion. Abulfaragius (1226-1286) in his Historia Dynastarium 13 says that Zoroaster 14 was a student of Daniel, and that Zoroaster taught the Magi that a new star would one day signal the birth of a mysterious child whom they were to adore. 15

 

Thus, the Magi would understand the Star Prophecy to be talking of the birth of the same person who is cut-off in 33 A.D. in Daniel's Prophecy. Therefore, the Magi of Babylon would be naturally looking backwards one adult life-time (40 years approximately) prior to 33 A.D. This would identify the birth-time for this Messiah to be approximately 7 B.C. Thus, the Magi were on the look-out for this star precisely at about the time Jesus was born in about 3 B.C.

 

The Magi of Matthew 2:1 are thus following Balaam's Star Prophecy and Daniel's Messianic Prophecy to the letter. This is what squarely allows them to arrive at the right time in Bethlehem to give presents to the infant Jesus.

 

Yet, throughout Revelation, Babylon is synonymous with the harlot. What does this mean? God is telling us that Babylon, led by its Magi rulers, was a nation whose faith is like that of Balaam: it knew the true God and His Christ but it taught its people to violate God's commands. It taught salvation by mere mantras (i.e., verbal formulas). Furthermore, it was a nation built on legal apostasy. In other words, Babylon had the correct faith in the true God and waited for the true Messiah and even rejoiced at finding Him. Otherwise, it had the wrong salvation principles and all its behaviors were contrary to God's Law. Babylon is thus depicted in Revelation as a harlot--prostituting itself to base desires.

 

Consequently, the lessons of Balaam for us are many. We need to examine how important it is that we can alone say the right mantra of faith, and be sincere, and want to know Christ, like the Magi did. But what happens if we trust a mantra (like the Magi did) to save us despite our rejection of the Law which Yahweh gave Moses?