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Friday, December 18, 2015

Living by Fear or Faith --- Numbers 13-14 ---

Another mass shooting–  terrorists around the corner: we live a world of uncertainty with concerns in that back of our thoughts that we or one of our loved ones might be the next victims of this kind or some other senseless tragedy.  How are Christians to respond?   I believe that God’s Word have much to say on the subject, but I would like to focus on chapters 13-14 of Numbers. I highly recommend Dr. Dennis Cole’s commentary on the book [ ]

Because the section is rather lengthy, I will only refer to it and not quote the entire two chapters here. In chapter 13 you will remember, Moses had led the Israelites through the desert from Egypt to the borders of the land which God had promised to give them. Twelve spies are sent out check out the land– Was it good or bad? How are the people, the cities? Notice that Moses’ request implied the possibility of something bad and getting information about the situation was not bad in and of itself— they needed the report in order to adequately plan attacks. So, checking out the situation was not a lack of faith, but at this point, strategic planning.

For 40 days the 12 cover the land and bring back the report: The land and its fruit are indeed great, but 10 of the 12 shared a negative evaluation: [1] the people were more powerful, [2] their cities were too fortified and large, [3] there were giants.  Notice that their evaluation only took into account what they thought they could do. They had forgotten all that God had done for them and the miracles that had happened.  God knew about the people, the cities, and the giants, but He also knew what He would do if they would but trust Him. Caleb speaks up giving a counter perspective, one that counted on the power of the God that had delivered them, but the 10 countered with repeating and then even adding their own evaluation “ We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” Their focus was on their own ability, but God had never commanded that, but that they trust Him. Their failure to believe was a rejection of the promise of God, and of God, Himself.

Chapter 14 retell the grief of the people weeping all night: “[2-4].  Their focus was on the problem: “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Focusing on the problem and not God made them forget all that God had already done for them.  They were “stuck” in thinking only about the giants and walled cities and never mentioned the beatings they had received as slaves in Egypt. Fear, and wrong focus causes us to forget or disregard the negative.  Living by fear rather than by faith will lead us to make poor choices.

Moses and Aaron fall down in complete distress at the lack of faith of the people, tearing their clothes as a sign of their grief.  God’s people had forgotten all that God had done and were rejecting the promise that God had given them, and in doing so rejecting Him as God. Joshua even tries to persuade the people, but to no avail. God suddenly appears in the cloud in view of all and declares: “How long will they treat me with contempt?”

What does it meant to “treat with contempt?”An online dictionary states: “The feeling or attitude of regarding someone or something as inferior, base, or worthless; scorn. 2. The state of being despised or dishonored” How were the Israelites treating God as inferior, worthless, and dishonored?   [ ] Anytime we disregard what God says, we are responding in contempt of who God is, and God does not take it lightly.

Moses pleads on behalf of God’s honor [Egyptians will say God was not strong enough to do what He said He would do] and on God’s own nature and character: [God is patient, loving, kind, and forgiving]. V. 20-38   What is God’s response? [1] He forgives, but declares the consequences for their disobedience. Here God shows the balance of love and justice.  Rather then wipe them all out instantly, they will return to the wilderness where they will die, [something they said that would have been better anyway - v. 2-4], but in the process learn to trust God. The children for whom they feared would be spoils of war will inherit the land, and God will bring glory to Himself in how He accomplishes all of it.

V. 39-45 Once the people heard that they were going to have to wander in the desert for 40 years, they decide that they had made a mistake and were now “ready to obey.”   Late obedience is still disobedience. In fact, Moses told them to specifically not to go, but they disobeyed again, proving that they really had not learned their lesson.

What can we learn from this that can help us today? When fears seem to overtake you, or you are facing overwhelming circumstances, here are ten things to ponder and I pray will be of help:

1. God is faithful to His promises, even though we are not; we can trust Him and we can believe He knows what He is doing. God said He would give them the land, they just failed to believe Him.

2. Strategic planning is not a lack of faith as long as at its center is trust in God, not human ability.

3. Caleb did not try to deny the negative but put it in perspective. God was the One that was fighting for them. We do not pretend that the danger does not exist; we place our trust in the One who is our Protector, Provider and God.

4. Lack of faith and negative reports spread like wildfire. We tend to forget what God has done in the past and only worry about the unknown.

5. Failure to believe is a rejection of the promise of God, and of God, Himself. We must focus on God, not the circumstances.

6. When we take our eyes off of God and His power, we are left with the hopelessness of our own efforts. We will become “stuck” and unable to think rightly. We need to refocus on who God is and all that He has done.

7. Living by fear rather than by faith will lead us to make poor choices. We tend to minimize the bad of the past and forget the great things God has brought us through. We must continually remind ourselves of God’s goodness and faithfulness.

8. When we reject God’s commands, we are rejecting His promises as well. In rejecting His commands, we are rejecting Him and all that He wants to do for us and through us. We are showing “contempt” toward God.

9. God will forgive sin if we confess it. However, sin always has consequences. It can be forgiven, but damage done remains as a reminder and a warning to avoid that road that leads only to defeat and despair. Sin affects innocent people related to the sinner. The children under 20 years of age and Joshua and Caleb, who were innocent had to wander in the desert for 40 years, as well. Our sin doesn’t just affect us.

10. God can and will use the consequences for our good and His glory. During the 40 years, the Israelites learned valuable lessons about how to fight, how to trust God and the nations around them became fearful of the God of the Israelites.