Sunday, July 26, 2020
“They brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report.” That’s the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. In another version, The Message, it reads, “They spread scary rumors among the people.” Why is this ancient history important for believers today?
Numbers 12 is a part of the Exodus story. The Hebrew people – God’s chosen people, according to the Old Testament – were slaves in Egypt. Working through his mighty prophet Moses, God led them through the Red Sea. God saved them from the Egyptians and went with them as they moved East toward Canaan.
Canaan was the land God promised to their ancestor Abraham. Having marched through the Sinai wilderness, in Numbers 13, the Israelites were at the front door, about to cross into the land. Of course, other nations occupy the land and they would have to drive them out, destroy them, or live with them.
Moses recruits a scouting party that is to see what the land is like, and assess the people who occupy the land (13:17-20). After 40 days they return and tell Moses, the land “flows with milk and honey.” They bring back a cluster of grapes to show how delectable the fruit is in this wonderful land.
What else could it be? God offers good things to his people. In Christ, we get to be included among God’s people. Romans 10:12-13 says, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek [Gentile]; the same Lord is Lord of all, and is generous to all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The promises God made to Israel in the Old Testament are extended to all who give their lives to Jesus. God promised his people a land flowing with milk and honey, flowering in wonderful fruit.
Today, God promises his followers a full life of joy, rich relationships, and unfailing hope. Jesus gives abundant life (John 10:10). Are you living in abundance, a life of absolute faith in Jesus? If not, what’s getting in the way? What fears prevent you from seeing and receiving the blessings God has for you right now? Numbers says the spies spread scary rumors. What scary rumors are you hearing and believing, and how are these rumors stealing the joy God has for you?
The spreaders of those scary rumors were the same scouting party members who brought the grapes and talked about flowing milk and honey. The scouting party was comprised of 12 men, a representative from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Joshua from the tribe of Ephraim and Caleb of the tribe of Judah, were ready! “Moses,” they said, “We can do this. We can take this land in the power of God.” The other 10, the scary rumor spreaders, didn’t think so.
“We are not able to go against these people, for they are stronger than we,” the other 10 scouts said. They mentioned the Amalakites and the Nephilim, ancient people said to be uncommonly large and fierce. Goliath the nine-foot tall giant David battled is thought to have descended from these enormous ancient warriors. The Israelites felt like insects about to be squashed.
Additionally, even though they had just said how fruitful the land was, the spies added that it was harsh. The land “devours its inhabitants” they said (13:32).
The people believed the10 and caved in, giving in to their fears. Did they have any reason to think otherwise? Well, the Egyptians were so mighty they held the people in cruel slavery and made their lives a misery. The people had seen God bring plagues through Moses and Aaron, plagues that brought Egypt to its knees.
Did they have any other reason to think they might have a chance against these giants in Canaan? When they finally got out of Egypt, because of the might of God, exhibited through the plagues, the Egyptians chased them on chariots and caught them. God dropped down a cloud of impenetrable darkness that the Egyptians could not get through. They were right there, and God held them at bay.
Then God, split the sea. The entire nation of Israel walked right through. Egypt, finally permitted past the darkness, pursued. God closed the sea on the chariots. No power at this point could match Egypt. God crushed them, and easily.
Did Israel have any other reason to believe God might be able to help against the giant Amalakites and super strong Nephilim? They saw Moses climb Sinai as the mountain top was engulfed in thunder and lightning. He came down aglow, so dazzling they couldn’t look him. They ate the manna and the quail meat God provided in the wilderness, and they drank the water God brought from the rocks.
What fears prevent you from seeing and receiving the blessings God has for you right now? What scary rumors are you hearing and believing? How are these rumors stealing the joy God has for you? Fear is real and has a powerful hold on us. We have COVID-19 related anxiety. We have other fears that paralyze us. Name the. Name the fears that haunt you. Keep that list at the forefront of your vision.
Now, there’s another list, just as important and just as real. When we stay focused on our fears, we miss this list. Cite all the ways God has provided, surprised you with blessings, and exhibited his power and love for you. This list –demonstrations of God’s presence and might – makes it possible to face our fears. But we have to discipline ourselves to see and believe the blessings are real.
The fears certainly are. There are dangers we cannot overcome. Those 10 spies were right. The inhabitants of Canaan would crush Israel. But Israel wasn’t going alone. Joshua and Caleb were also right. God went with them. What grips us, fear, or belief in God’s presence and help?
The Israelites sided with the 10 scouts who spread doom through the camp. The people turned on Moses and Aaron. Why couldn’t we have died in Egypt or in the wilderness? They grumbled, whined, and lamented. Then, they decided to fire Moses and Aaron. They said, “Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt” (14:4).
Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in a panicked prayer of grief and sorrow before the people. Meanwhile, Caleb and Joshua are over here yelling “We can do it!” Caleb and Joshua saw the same giants the other 10 spies saw. But Caleb and Joshua saw God. They said, “The Lord is with us; do not fear them” (14:10).
The people didn’t share the faithful optimism. They wanted to shut Joshua and Caleb up so much, they threatened to stone these scouts who were eager to conquer the land God had promised them. They were terrified of the Amalekites and Nephilim. They weren’t at all afraid of Joshua and Caleb.
“Then,” the Bible says, “the glory of the Lord appeared” (14:10b). God decides to wipe out the Israelites and start over with Moses. Probably Joshua and Caleb would be part of the new beginning. Moses does what Moses always did. He steps into the gap.
In Numbers 14:13-19, Moses argues with God on behalf of the people who threatened to fire him and kill Joshua and Caleb. He quotes God’s own words back to God. He threatens that if God kills the people it will ruin God’s reputation as well besmirch God’s character. I can’t imagine how much Moses’ voice quavered. The people worried about standing as grasshoppers before the mighty Amalekites and Nephilim. How small did Moses feel arguing with God?
How small do we feel, when life gets too big and too fast? How often do we wish we could run and hide under the covers until the monsters go away? Where could Moses go? Stuck between an angry nation and a furious God, he turned to to God. God said, OK, you win. I will again forgive these people as you have asked.
This though was not “forgive and forget.” The people would march for 40 years, a year of marching for each day the scouts had been in the Promised Land. The generation would die off. They had wailed that their children would become booty taken by the giants of the land. God told them those children would occupy the land and establish his nation. Only Caleb and Joshua of the Exodus generation would enter the land.
We will walk in circles, wondering how life can be better, if we keep our focus on our fears. COVID-19; personal injury; worry about our children; financial struggles; worry about our country; uncertainty about our church’s future; so many struggles confront us. Only a fool would pretend these things are unimportant. They are real threats. Life can be very hard. But that’s not all that life is.
Along with the fears that stress us out, along with all the traumas that haunt our memories, we need to clearly see that other list. God is real. God defeated the Egyptians. God gave the law, which showed the people how to live. God provided in the desert and ushered them into the Promised Land.
God came and walked among us – Jesus of Nazareth. He died on the cross, taking our sins and our death on himself. Rising from the grave, he defeated death.
God created you. You are made in God’s image, His image bearer. God created this church to welcome you no matter where you are. In the 21st century, the internet allows us to stay connected and with people everywhere. You aren’t alone. You have us and you have God with you. God the Holy Spirit is with all people at all times. Even when you can’t sense God’s presence, God is with you.
We have to confront the list of challenges in order to face them. We have to face the giants and put the scary rumors to rest. We have to keep in mind the list of blessing and remember we don’t face our challenges alone. The power of God carries us forward.
Caleb and Joshua are ready. “Come on,” they tell us. “God’s got this.” And God has us, each and every one of us. No longer will our fears hold us back. We step forward into his blessings, into the abundant life he has promised.