In continuing through the book of Numbers, I came to the passage in Numbers 13-14 where Moses sends spies to check out the land of Canaan. The Israelites must have been so excited! Finally! The land of Canaan! Twelve spies head out to survey the land. When they return, ten of the spies bear the news that, yes, the land is wonderfully fertile and promising, BUT there's big, bad guys in the land and there's no way we can conquer them. ("Big, bad guys" being my translation...) The people of Israel are devastated. Then, Caleb, one of the other spies, speaks up and declares that they should go up at once to take the land, for they are well-suited to do so. The other spies immediately refute Caleb's claim, describing the bad guys as being so big that the people of Israel would be as grasshoppers before them. The people begin to cry out and wail and bemoan this sorry state, reverting to their previous desire to go back to Egypt. They even go so far as the proclaim they should find a new leader!
Moses and Aaron fall on their faces before the people and before the Lord (14:5). Then, Joshua and Caleb tear their clothes before the people and plead with the people to reconsider their claims. "The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land, If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into the land, and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey" (14:7-8). There! Should that not convince them? Just think! The LORD had done so many wonderful things for them up to this point: think of all the provisions and the guidance and the protection! Think of the mercy and love he had shown them in bringing them this far; surely he would continue to do so if this truly was the land he had promised.
Joshua and Caleb continue to implore the people: "Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them" (14:9). Yes! Indeed! The LORD had mightily wiped out the Egyptian army; surely he would protect the Israelites. God's hand is stronger than any pagan army; let's go take that land!
Nope. What do the Israelites do? They take up stones to kill Joshua and Caleb (14:10). The Lord has had enough. His glory appears at the tent of meeting before all the people. God speaks to Moses, "How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? (14:11) God tells Moses he will disinherit the Israelites, strike them down, and raise up a new people under Moses. Moses pleads with the Lord to not do this, reminding the Lord of who he is, of his glory, of his promises, and of his great love (14:13-19).
The Lord listens to Moses and pardons the people, but- there's a consequence for the people's continued distrust of God. All those people twenty years old and up who grumbled against the Lord would die in the wilderness and never see the Promised Land. Their children would be shepherd in the wilderness for forty years, and all those people who grumbled against him would be buried in the wilderness before God would bring them into the land of Canaan. "Your children... shall suffer for your faithlessness... you shall know my displeasure. I the LORD have spoken."
Then, God kills all the spies who brought the bad report. Only Caleb and Joshua remained alive. When Moses shared this news with the people of Israel, they mourned and then, guess what they did? They decided to go up into the land.... oh bother. Moses warns them because they sinned previously by not trusting the Lord, the Lord would not be with them. Judgment had already been given. They went anyways and were royally defeated.
Ugh. What a story. What does this teach us? As I read through this, I kept going back to the two commands Caleb and Joshua gave the Israelites in 14:9: "Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not fear the people..." I am continually reminded how like the Israelites I am: prone to forgetting God, prone to complaining and criticizing, prone to wallowing-even reveling- in my sin and idol worship. And, this passage was another reminder of that. How easily I rebel against the Lord! I look at a situation which seems impossible and I begin to cry out for help or I just moan and complain about it. Instead of trusting in the Lord and his goodness and favor shown to me over and over and over and over and over, I rebel against him, choosing to look back (again!) at Egypt. Then, in that distorted view of my circumstance, I begin to fear people, situations, circumstances, and more. I wrote this in my Bible: "The rebellion came first because of a lack of trust [in God]. And in our own lives, we do not trust God, and in that rebellious state, we are taking control of the situations we can never control, thereby leading us into fear, anger, and further rebellion."
Control. The people wanted control (again). They saw the situation as out of control and tried to take control (electing a new leader, moaning about the situation, and so on). In this they trusted in themselves to solve the problem- and that led to grave consequences. Our distrust of God, our rebellion against him, our fear and anger does not affect only us. There are consequences to all our actions, and this situation is no different. And, then, even after God gave them the resulting consequence, they still tried to do things their own way. And, they were defeated.
What a lesson for us! How often are we personally trying to get our own way? And, then, we wonder why our spiritual lives are lacking in power? What about our churches? When we, individually, are complaining, taking control, not trusting God- that affects the church. And, as a whole, we then bear the consequence. The consequence of fear, defeat, lack of trust, bitterness, anger, complaining, and so much more! My personal rebellion against God does not affect just me- it affects my family, my church, my neighbors, my workplace, my friends. How terrible to think that my children would bear the weight of my sin because I chose to live life my way?? I tried that for a while- and it was terrible! And, there were (are!) consequences.
BUT: look at 14:17-18: "And now, please let the power of the LORD be great as you have promised, saying, 'The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty..." Here's the wonderful thing about God: while he groans and is angry for our sin, he will forgive. He does love. And in that love and forgiveness, he makes us bear the consequences- but, praise be to God! Because of Jesus, we do not need to bear the full consequence: death in hell. If Christ is your Savior, you have been saved from eternal punishment. This does not excuse your behavior here on earth. Just as the Israelites were punished for their sin, but they were still God's people. So it is with us. If we rebel against the Lord (choosing to trust in ourselves and take control of our lives), God will punish us. But, in that punishment, he also freely and abundantly loves and forgives.
His mercy is great toward those who repent and seek forgiveness. How our world would be changed if we could grasp these truths! "Do not rebel": stop trying to take control of your life! "Do not fear": God is in control! These things work together- and when we recognize that God is the one who holds our lives, we can then trust that his plan is best. He is with us; we do not need to fear. In what ways are you rebelling against the LORD and trying to take control of your life? Is it an addiction? Is it your family? Is it your work? Your home? Your spiritual life? What sins are you holding on to and allowing to run your life? These things lead to fear: "What will happen if God takes ____________ away (your health, your job, your family, your whatever-it-is that makes you happy)?
Let God run your life, dear ones. No one thing from Egypt can satisfy or provide or protect or make you happy like trusting God can. You are called to be his! And, has he not already shown himself abundantly faithful to you in the past? Why, then, are you continuing to wail for Egypt? Why are you trying to take control?
Give it up. Confess the ways you are rebelling against him: ways you are trusting in your own power or control. "Those who walk not in God counsels seek their own ruin... that affair can never end well which begins with sin" (Matthew Henry). Don't let your life, your family, your church, your friends be ruined and suffer because of your rebellion and fear.
Remember the Lord's mercies toward you and confess your sin before him. He is "slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love". Live each day to please him. Trust him to care for you. He will never fail you. And, in those moments of rebellion and fear, confess your sin- that you may not wallow in it any longer- and that you may "go up at once and occupy"the land God has promised! What wonders could he have in store for you if your only let him guide you!
Additional song for meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1GiZL60c80