I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near: there shall come a Star out of Jacob…
Balaam appears before us here as one who "seeing, sees not. His "eyes are open," but he has no real vision of the eternal truth of things. He has a "knowledge of the Most High," but not that which consists in living sympathy with his character and will and law. He recognizes the blessedness of the ransomed people, but has no personal share in that blessedness. He discerns the bright visions of the future, the rising of Jacob's Star, the gleam of the royal Scepter that shall rule the world, the coming of the world's redeeming Lord, but he sees him only from afar. Not "now," not "nigh," does he behold him; not with a vivid, quickening, self-appropriating consciousness; not as the light, the hope, the life, the eternal joy of his own soul. It is a moral portraiture, a type of spiritual condition and personal character, with which we are only too familiar. The faith of many is thus destitute of efficient saving power. "It is dead, being alone." Their religious perceptions are thus divorced from religious life. They have just such a formal, ideal acquaintance with God, without any of that immediate personal fellowship with hint which renews their moral nature after his likeness. They walk in the embrace of his presence, but their "eyes are holden that they should not know him." So near is He, and yet so far; so clearly revealed, and yet so darkly hidden; so familiar, and yet so strange.
I. This is seen in THE INSENSIBILITY OF MEN TO THE DIVINER MEANING OF NATURE. The material universe exists for spiritual ends. God has surrounded his intelligent creatures with all the affluence and glory of it in order to reveal himself to them and attract their thought and affection to himself. "The invisible things of him from the beginning of the world are clearly seen," &c. (Romans 1:20). But how dead are men often to Divine impressions! They hear no voice and feel no influence from God coming to them through his works. They know none but the lower uses of nature, and never dream of entering through it into communion with Him who inspires it with the energy of his presence. Tribes whose life is nursed and cradled in the fairest regions of the earth are often mentally the darkest and morally the most depraved. The worst forms of heathenism have been found in those parts of the world where the Creator has most lavished the tokens of his glorious beneficence. The sweet associations of rural and pastoral life in a Christian land like ours are connected less than we should expect them to be with quickness of spiritual perception and tenderness of spiritual sensibility. Stranger still that men whose souls are most keenly alive to all the beauty of the world, and with whom it is an all-absorbing passion to search out its wonders and drink in its poetic inspirations, should fail, as they so often do, to discern in it a living God. Physical science is to many as a gorgeous veil that darkly hides him. rather than the glass through which the beams of his glory fall upon them, the radiant pathway by which they climb up to his throne. Their eyes are wondrously "open;" they have a "knowledge of the Most High" in the forms and modes of his working such as few attain to; "visions of the Almighty" in the glorious heavens above and the teeming earth beneath pass continually before them, and yet they see and feel and know him not. How different such a case from that of Job: "O that I knew where I might find him!" &c. (Job 23:1-10). There you have the passionate outbreathing of a soul that is hungering and thirsting after a God that "hideth himself." Here you have God urging, pressing upon men the signals and proofs of his presence without effect. There is no blindness darker and sadder than that of those who boast that their "eyes are open," and yet, in a glorious world like this, can find no living God.
II. It is seen in THE INDISPOSITION OF MEN TO RECOGNISE THE VOICE OF GOD IN HOLY SCRIPTURE. To know that the Bible is a revelation of truth from God, and to know God as he reveals himself in the Bible, are two widely different things. There are those to whom revelation is as a Divine voice uttered long ago, but "not now;" a voice coming down to them through the ages as in distant echo, but not instant and near. To them these old records may be sacred, venerable, worthy to be preserved and defended, but in no sense are they a channel of direct personal communication between the living God and our living souls; "inspired" once, but not instinct with the spirit of inspiration now. No wonder the word is powerless and fruitless under such conditions. It is of no use to tell men that the Scriptures are "inspired" if they don't feel God to be in them. dealing as a personal Spirit with their spirits to draw them into fellowship with himself. A new kind of consciousness is awakened, a new order of effects produced, when once a man begins to feel that the written word is the living voice of God to his own soul. He cannot despise it then. It carries with it an authority that needs no extraneous authority to support it - the true "demonstration of the Spirit." Apart from this, the soul in presence of all these Divine revelations is like one under the influence of some powerful anaesthetic, receiving impressions on the outward sense of all that is going on around him, but conscious of nothing. The "eyes are open," but there is no living, spiritual realization. "They seeing, see not, and hearing, hear not, neither do they understand" (Matthew 13:13; John 12:40; 2 Corinthians 4:3, 4).
III. It is seen in THE PURELY IDEAL RELATION IN WHICH MEN TOO OFTEN STAND TOWARDS CHRIST. By multitudes Christ is seen, as it were, "afar off." He is to them but as the vision of a dream, a vague, distant abstraction, a mere historic figure, the central actor in a tragical historic drama. They have never entered into any kind of personal relation with him, have never bowed before him in heart-broken penitence, adoring wonder, childlike trustfulness, grateful, self-surrendering love. "Virtue" has never gone forth out of him to heal the disease of their souls, because they have not yet "touched him." There is a wide distinction between the knowledge that comes by mere hearsay and that which comes by personal converse, between a distant vision and the living "touch." Though faith be in great part blind and unintelligent, yet if there is the quick sensibility of life in it, it is better than all the clear, unclouded vision of an eye that is no real inlet to the soul. There is a future manifestation of Christ. "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him" (Revelation 1:7). What shall be the relation in which we stand towards him then? There are those whose eyes will then be opened as they never were before. Shall it be only to have them closed again in everlasting night, "consumed with the brightness of his appearing"? You must be in living fellowship with Christ now if you would look with joy upon him when he comes in his "power and great glory." - W.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: I see him, but not now. I see him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob. A scepter will rise out of Israel, and shall strike through the corners of Moab, and break down all the sons of Sheth.