When they had come to the land of Canaan … the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
Genesis 12:5, 7
“We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.” So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out …
How easy we forget a promise. Or, perhaps because we know all about broken promises, we just won’t take God at His word.
In the first book of the Bible, God promised Abram (later renamed Abraham) a land flowing with milk and honey for his descendants. A few books later, God is ready to fulfill His promise by leading Israel into the Promised Land.
Before entering the land, Moses wanted to see what (and who) was there, so he sent 12 leaders, one from each of Israel’s tribes, to spy out the land. They reported that the land indeed was flowing with milk and honey.
They also noted that the inhabitants of Canaan were strong with large fortified cities – which they didn’t think they could conquer.
Two of the 12 spies, Caleb and Joshua, remembered God’s promise to Abram, saying, “If the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us …” (Numbers 14:8)
The nation’s response? “The whole congregation threatened to stone them.” (v. 10)
The majority opinion
You know the story. God forced Israel to wander in the desert for 40 years until that entire generation (except for Caleb and Joshua) died, and their descendants entered the Promised Land.
As I studied this familiar story recently, one I’ve read many times, a new thought came to me. (God does this all the time, as regular Bible readers know.)
The nation in the wilderness supported the majority opinion. Ten v. two. Ten spies said the inhabitants were too strong to overcome. Two said God was able to keep His promise, and that somehow God would lead Israel into the Promised Land.
It’s easy to judge the 10 in hindsight, because of course God eventually did help Israel conquer Canaan.
At the moment, however, I’m sure the 10 were very persuasive.
The big picture
It’s so easy to focus on our circumstances and lose sight of the big picture, as those 10 spies did. Who cares that God made a promise many generations earlier? These enemies are too strong for us. We can’t do it.
Caleb and Joshua saw the same situation that the other spies did. All of them saw the fruit of the land, how good it was, and the inhabitants, how big and strong they were.
The difference? Their attitudes.
Caleb and Joshua had seen God’s power as Israel escaped Egypt: the plagues, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the 10 Commandments, manna in the wilderness that just appeared every day – all of it. They saw and experienced God’s power.
When they spied the Promised Land, they did not forget.
The other 10 did.
How easy it is to leave God in the wilderness, to focus on the challenges facing us and not on the God who promises to overcome the challenges.
The majority saw the negative. Caleb and Joshua saw the positive.
As a (retired) journalist, I am by nature cynical. It’s so easy for me to see the negative side. I have trouble finding joy in life, even though I know it’s there, because I see all the strife and turmoil around me.
I experience it every day. Road rage. Companies downsizing, including the one I worked for a few years ago. The opioid epidemic, which makes the news nearly every day around here. People on their phones instead of interacting face-to-face. And I haven’t even mentioned politics, which is its own special case.
How do I experience such things? With pessimism or optimism?
It’s the popular thing to complain and criticize. Even, perhaps especially, if we’re the majority.
But does that make it right?
What if the majority is off-track? What if most of us are missing the big picture?
I get upset when someone cuts me off at 65 mph because he or she is in a hurry to get somewhere. If I turn that into road rage, a fleeting incident would have lasting consequences, perhaps life-taking consequences.
Let it go and move on. Pick your battles. I’m on the highway because I’m going somewhere, and I want to get there. That’s the big picture. Suck it up and swallow my pride. I just hope that speeder doesn’t cause a crash down the road that takes or ruins an innocent life.
Do I see life in a positive or negative fashion?
Can I find the good in you? It’s there, of course.
Or, do I focus on the bad in you? That’s there too.
As it is in me.
If you want to find fault with me, you certainly can. If you focus on that, you might draw that out of me.
If you focus on the good in me, you might draw that out instead.
Attitude. That’s the difference.
Caleb and Joshua did not see an insurmountable obstacle. They saw a way to conquer the land. They didn’t know the details of how it would happen, but they trusted their God and His promise.
Even when the other 10 leaders and the entire nation of Israel didn’t see it.
Human nature is selfish. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own world and miss what’s really going on around us.
If we seek a positive outcome, we just might find it. This is one reason I believe in God, and try to see life through His lens. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, what Promised Land I will enter.
I need to remind myself of this all the time.
My cynical, self-centered, critical attitude is only part of the picture. When God offers a positive outlook, I need to pursue it.
I saw a John Eldredge movie last night with some friends. The author and adventurer says each of us has a story, and we need to discover it. That story involves not only adventure, but beauty.
If the world is such a bad place, Eldredge, says, where does beauty come from?
Perspective. Attitude. What we’re looking for.
Beauty or evil?
Which do you see?
Don’t trust the majority on this one.