“And Balak said unto him, Come, I pray thee, with me unto another place, from whence thou mayest see them: thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all: and curse me them from thence.” – Numbers 23:13
We recall the story. The Israelites are traveling through the wilderness, and are approaching the domain of Balak king of Moab. Balak is frightened, and sends for Balaam, the Mesopotamian wizard, and asks him to curse Israel. But Balaam has been told by the Lord that he must speak only what the Lord will put in his mouth, and so, looking out from the height overlooking the encampment of Israel, he pronounces a blessing. Then it is that there occurs to Balak the idea which is recorded in the text. Perhaps if the prophet did not see the whole host in its multitude, he might be able to curse them, So King Balak says: “Thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all: and curse me them from thence.”
It was a vain expedient. The blessing came pouring forth more richly and abundantly than before. It was not the numbers of Israel but what they represented that drew forth the blessing.
There is always and everywhere in the Word something that applies to us. Balaam, as we know, would gladly have done what Balaam asked him to do, but his experience on his journey made him know that he had to obey the Lord, for he says, “If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the commandment of my God to do less or more.” The Word is a consistent whole, and obedience to it, so far as we are able to see its meaning and application, brings a full blessing.
It is a belief in the Divine purposes for us that gives life its meaning and its glory. But there are those who willfully take partial views, who do not want to see life as a whole, who are interested only in the plans or pleasures of the moment. This was Balak’s effort. Life is a whole. We cannot know the full depths of its meaning, yet there are fundamental truths which we should not seek to overlook or to evade.
We are so prone to seek what we think is for our present advantage, shutting our eyes to everything that does not favor our desires. Then we willfully refuse to look upon the whole of things, and see only those things which minister to our immediate desires or prejudices. We know very well that as far as the natural world is concerned we may travel from one place to another and outward circumstances may thus change and yet internally we may remain in the same state. But spiritually this is not so. Changes of place mentioned in the Word signify changes of state. So Balak, after Balaam had pronounced his first blessing, says, “Come, and I will take thee to another place.” It is the will that decides what position we shall take.
There are those who will to see only a part of the truth, lest they should be compelled to abandon a position which they love or to adopt a position which they dislike. So one man says that present day civilization as a whole should be denounced. Another thinks that the educational system is very deficient; it does not properly fit children for the work of life. So he curses education in general. Another sees society as selfish, exclusive, narrow, and insincere; so he denounces the whole social structure. Still another sees our marvelous progress in science but sees that it has brought no improvement in the hearts of men; so he says that it will destroy the world.
All these accusations have their truth. Each of these great areas of human activity is guilty of the sins charged against it. But it is only when one shuts out all but a little portion of it from his view that he sees only its faults and sins. If we take in the whole of civilization, or education, or society, or science, we can see its graciousness, its achievements, and its beauty, and cannot curse but bless. There are parts of it and aspects of it which, if they were all, would make existence hopeless. “Come,” says the pessimist, “you shall not see the whole. I will set you where you shall see only a part, and curse me it from thence.” This is where pessimism is born. He who sees the whole of life must be an optimist. There is a Divine plan which the Lord has for the world, and slowly He is working it out, as He declares: “I shall speak, and who shall let it?” And of His Word He says, “It shall accomplish that which I please, and shall prosper in the thing whereunto I sent it.”
The Lord, when on earth, saw life in its completeness. He saw the end from the beginning. He saw the evil, but He also saw the good. He saw the light from the darkness. He did not curse life but bestowed a blessing upon it.
Everyone’s career is made up of struggles, of victories and defeats. More defeats than victories there are in most men’s lives. But, however that may be, we should not measure our lives by our failures. The question is, “Have we made progress?” The Lord does not condone sin. He knows its harmfulness and destructive nature. But there is such a thing as repentance. He did not see only the faults and weaknesses of men. He saw the good in them, and their possibilities. We should not place ourselves in a position where we see only the faults in others.
And there is the other side. Some insist that you stand where you can see only the good. Though this may appear to be a more kindly and generous attitude, in reality it is not so. Evil cannot be removed if it is not seen and acknowledged.
Neither of these viewpoints is just or true, because neither of them is complete. Both are partial. It is a blessing that we should always want to give, and the quality of a true blessing is that it is complete. Life is a mixture of darkness and light, of evil and good, of defeat and victory.
Jesus “led his disciples out as far as Bethany, and he lifted up his hands and blessed them.” There was no curse on His lips, though He knew that they were ignorant, sometimes willful, and always stumbling men.
The text applies also to our attitude toward religion. Some see only parts of it or perversions of it. They do not see it as a whole, as life lived in the light of belief in God. They see perversions of the Christian life, they see self-righteousness, they hear false teachings about Christ, and see professed Christians who live hard and selfish lives. Standing willfully where we can see only the tomb, we shall not see the Christ, and we shall reject the thought of the resurrection and believe that it was a fraud. This is true of many questions concerning religion. If we take our mental position where we cannot see its truths but see only its mistakes and failures, then it will fail to bear witness to the truth.
The subversion of this rule has constituted the grand trouble of Christian doctrine. It is this that has divided churches, created sects, aroused the din of conflicting opinions, and rent Christendom into warring fragments. It is the taking of particular passages of the Word and rejecting others which has caused the perversion of the Word and created disbelief in it.
It is the same mistake which causes bitterness and despair when pain or afflictions come upon us, the tendency to see only the pain and not the outcome of it all. Under the Divine Providence no affliction comes to an individual or to the world but that they may become purer and better. He who sees the whole is full of hope. The reason is that he who sees the whole comes into contact with the Lord. This is not blind complacency. What we cannot see with our eyes we may see with our faith. So should we go through life, not cursing along the way, but hopeful – trusting and believing in the Divine love, which can only bless.