Thursday, May 5, 2016

Numbers 14:39-42 -- On Listening to and Following God

"And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly.
And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised: for we have sinned.
And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord? but it shall not prosper.
Go not up, for the Lord is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies."
Numbers 14:39-42

This is near the end of an interesting story.  The Israelites had finally gotten to the promised land from Egypt, and they sent scouts out to observe and see the land the Lord had promised them.  When the scouts came back, all of them save two (Joshua and Caleb) complained about it, saying that there were scary giants and that they would never be able to take it over, etc.  Moses and the other scouts told the people not to worry, because the Lord was with them, had promised it to them, and he would come through... but despite the reassurance, the people decided that they just wanted to go back to Egypt and resume being slaves.  Because of that, God said, okay, not happening.  Go back into the wilderness and live there for 40 years, until everyone who still wants to rebel and go back has died.  Your children will inherit the promised land instead of you.  And then these verses.

Knowing the greater story as we do, lots of the things that the Israelites did seem insane to us.  How could they dismiss all the miracles that had gotten them this far?  How could they want to go back into slavery?  Why couldn't they trust God after all of the proofs that they had already seen?  And yet, I think if we look at our own lives, it is easier to understand.  It's hard to get ourselves out of a rut.  It is hard to work rather than being taken care of, even if we have to give up some freedom for it.  It's hard to trust God that things will work out, no matter what miracles we've seen in our lives, because we still fear the future, and wonder what is in store.  We often want our version of the future and not God's... where things are easier, and we don't have to face the giant scary things.

In these verses, the Israelites try to solve the problem the wrong way.  They get up an army, and they say, okay, we screwed up, but now we are ready to do what God wants... we're going to go take over the land he promised us.  And Moses says, sorry guys, too late.  God has now asked that you return to the wilderness.  Are you going to disobey him yet again?  And instead of learning their lesson and really being repentant like they were pretending to be, we find out that they are again just trying to get things their way.  They go and try to fight the giants without the strength of the Lord, and they get beaten.

We try to solve our problems the wrong way as well.  We want to do things our way until it gets to the point where we make everything fall apart... and then when we go to the Lord for help, instead of doing as he asks, we often try acting like we never rebelled at all, and want to put our lives back the way they were before we munched them... again, not listening to God.  The lesson in these verses, and really throughout the scriptures is that we need to listen to God.  Hopefully we start learning to listen the first time, and if so... awesome.  God will help us fight our battles and we will enter the promised land.  But if not, then we still have to learn to listen the second time.  We wait, and teach our children to appreciate the promised land more than we did, and make the wilderness work. :)  Listening, even then, has rewards, both for our children, and for us in an eternal sense.  We are learning to be those Zion people, and helping others to be so as well.  But if we instead continue not to listen, demanding a future that we previously rejected, then we're still putting ourselves before God.

We're not the ancient Israelites, but we are their descendants, physically or spiritually.  As followers of God, we need to learn to... you guessed it, follow.  It doesn't necessarily mean that we'll miss the promised land.  God is incredibly merciful, and I think all of us find our way to promised blessings greater than we can imagine, if we're willing to trust God... even the 2nd, 4th, or 92nd time.  But let's learn from this story of our rebellious forebears.  Instead of being willing to endure slavery for three square meals, and wanting to run away from something harder to achieve, but better long-term... let's be bold and strong, and stand up, willing to face the scary giants, knowing that God is on our side.  Let's listen, and face our fears, or wait, as the Lord asks.  If we learn to put the Lord first, and stop fighting against him, he will be able to lead us to places we could never go alone.

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