For about the past two months or so, I have been engrossed in the book of Numbers. It really is quite fascinating when you know the story of the Israelites. Even if you don't, I highly recommend that you read this book. You will most definitely see some people you know in this epic story, including perhaps yourself.
For now I will just share with you what has captured me this week from this remarkable epoch. I won't write out the entire passage here because I want you to read the story for yourself. You simply must do so to really gain a perspective on what's happening here. I will highlight some verses to drive home a point but trust me. You've got to read it.
Let me set it up for you. Moses is about to send some dudes out to go scout the land of Canaan. He chooses one leader from each of the twelve tribes of Judah. Not sure why he did this but Moses changed one of their names from Hoshea to Joshua. If you have a son or a relative named Joshua I know you are glad he did that. I don't like the name Hoshea either. Anyway, enough chasing rabbits.
Those men are sent out. You probably know the story. They bring back a great report about the riches of this land flowing with milk and honey. They bring back a single cluster of grapes so big that it takes two of them to carry it on a pole between them. What? We are getting ripped off people! Have you ever seen a cluster like that in your local grocery store? Me neither.
The people were on pins and needles listening to their report and were in awe of the rich fruit born from this land. Then smack dab in the middle of their glowing report, the shoe drops. "BUT." Don't you hate it when you can feel a "but" coming? Everything is all good until someone says, "but."
"They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there." Numbers 13:27-28
Okay, a bit of history before I go on. Hearing that about the descendants of Anak really meant something to the Israelites because they knew who those people were. They're ancestry was from the Nephilim which were the offspring of the sons of God (angels) and daughters of the earth (Genesis 6:1-4). That's how beautiful you are daughter of God, but that's a totally different blog. I won't get on that soap box here.
So you see, this word from the negative ninnies held some weight with God's people. If that wasn't enough, they went on to make the situation sound even more dire.
But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” Numbers 13:31-33
Now these are God's chosen people, right? The people of His promise... The people He rescued from the hand of Pharaoh by miraculously parting a sea and then closing it back up again with their pursuers engulfed within it's waters. These are the same people whom He supplied food for in the middles of the desert, right? And these twelve scouts are LEADERS from each of their tribes. Right? Okay. Glad we got that settled. I just want to make sure we all get it, including me because there is a reason I have been stuck in this book of only 36 chapters for several months even though I have only made it to chapter 14.
Did you catch that phrase I put in bold print for you?
"And they spread among the Israelites a bad report..."
Every time I read that my eyes well up with tears, even now as I am writing this I am having a hard time keeping them back. That is because I know what a bad report can do. I know the poison it possesses and the ability it has to undermine, to thwart and to destroy the person or situation towards which it is directed against. We've all seen it and perhaps even experienced it. If you haven't, you will at some point.
As a result of that bad report being spread amongst the Israelites, here is how they replied.
That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! 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.” Numbers 14:1-4
What? Now I'm sorry but that's just stupid! Yet with a report like the one they had been given, it's a bit difficult to judge them. BUT GOD. Had they forgotten Him? Well, DUH! Ya think? Obviously they had but then there were two.
Caleb had tried to speak out earlier to rally the troops and bring things back into focus, but the naysayers had overtaken his words with their arsenic. Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it." Numbers 13:30
But what happened next is much too humbling for me to fully comprehend. Four men, amidst thousands... Four men whose hearts must've been broken because of the rebellious hearts of God's people... Four men who had the courage to stand in the midst of a volatile people and speak truth, did just that.
Aaron and Moses fell face down in front of God and everybody (probably deeply embarrassed that they were the leaders of these habitually insane people), and Joshua and Caleb, two from among the twelve scouts, tore their clothes (most likely to expose their ripped abs and toned biceps - so that the other ten could see what real men looked like) because they were about to lay it down for the Israelites in plain English, or whatever the language was of the day. (Cheryl interpretation added in parenthesis for extra emphasis.)
“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” Numbers 14:7b-9
In essence, what they said was, "What the heck?!! Are you stupid? Do you know who our God is? Let's go get the land! God is with us, not those people in the land. They have no hope but not us. We've got God." At least that's how I interpret it. But God bless those poor Israelites who had clearly been mistreated from the time they stepped into the dessert because the next thing you know, a stoning was being planned for Caleb and Joshua because they believed a totally different report.
I'm going to stop there and let you read the rest of the story for yourself because I just wrote something that I want to linger in for just a bit because it just caught me by surprise. Read chapter 13 and 14 on your own.
I wonder what was so different about Caleb and Joshua that made them believe and give a different report? You know we live in a very cynical and resigned world - resigned to believe the worst in others intentions and in the systems of this world. I have been in organizations and structures where the bad report of just one or two all attempted to destroy the reputation and/or effectiveness of an individual in that specific arena. I have been the one to whom that sort of venom was directed. It is pure evil and it destroys, but God... But God is near to the brokenhearted and to those who fear him. (Psalm 34:18)
Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?
He whose walk is blameless
and who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from his heart
and has no slander on his tongue,
who does his neighbor no wrong
and casts no slur on his fellowman...
When we begin to realize that our negative words, our condemning words, and our judgemental words contain power to persuade and to destroy, and that they also bear consequences for us, then we will start making a conscience effort to stop speaking them. Joshua and Caleb knew this which is why they warned their people not to rebel against the Lord. They saw the danger coming.
Can you see the danger coming, maybe not for you but possibly for another who cannot see the trap they have set for themselves? If so, take them to the throne room and do what Moses later did in this passage. He interceded for his people because God was ready to just flat out start over using Moses as the vessel. But God changed his mind when Moses prayed. (Numbers 14:11-20) I love that! Did you know that God could actually change His mind because of our prayers?
Maybe for the first time you are seeing this truth for your own life. You have been the one spreading poison to whomever would listen. Let me caution you. Stop it! Stop it now and do what Moses and Aaron did. Fall face down before a merciful God who alone has the power to cause those words to fall like dust to the ground. "Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity." Joel 2:13
Surround yourself with people who speak no evil against any man and who themselves yearn to be like Caleb. This verse so gripped my heart this morning that it prompted me to write this message.
"But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it." Numbers 14:24
I want to have a different spirit! I want to experience every promise, every joy, every victory, every gift the Lord has in store for me. Yet, I fall ridiculously short so often of achieving that goal but I want to have a different spirit - one that will believe the good report and that will believe that my God is bigger than the obstacles before me. I want to live in that place every day of my life.