Positive v. negative: Which prevails?

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 …

Numbers 13:31-32

 

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.

Perspective

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?

Attitude

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.

 

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God’s benediction prepares us for each moment

The LORD bless you and keep you;

The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;

The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26

 

I heard this benediction many times in church as a child. It’s a warm, positive, uplifting way to send a congregation out of the sanctuary and into our big, bad world.

This blessing rests in the middle of a lecture from God to Moses for the people of Israel camped at Mount Sinai, as they were beginning their wanderings in the desert before reaching the Promised Land. This part of the lecture included rules for the Levites, whom God designated as the priests for the entire nation.

Numbers is a book about holiness. Israel is set apart from all other nations. The Levites are set apart from all other Israelites. Break the rules, and you die. Literally.

Not every rule was punishable by death, of course – at least for the perpetrator. God instituted plenty of sacrifices for the people, including the Levites, to regain their holiness when they become “unclean” or when they sinned.

Those sacrifices meant that an animal had to die for a human’s errant ways.

Serious stuff. And bloody.

Most of Numbers 6 talks about the meaning of a nazirite vow, “to separate themselves to the LORD” (v. 2). We’re familiar with this vow because Samson broke all of it, reaping a heavy price while still receiving many blessings from God (his story is told in Judges 13-16).

So, while this blessing asks God for favor, we have a role to play as well. If we turn our backs on God and reject His laws, we can’t expect many blessings from Him, can we?

I frequently test God this way. I want to do things my way, then ask God to bless it and make it good. Most of the time, my way is a cheap imitation of what my Lord and Savior really wants to give me, and wants me to do.

I know that God wants the best for me. If I only understood what that really means …

The LORD bless you …

Dictionary.com offers six definitions of “blessing:”

  1. the act or words of a person who blesses.
  2. a special favor, mercy, or benefit:

the blessings of liberty.

  1. a favor or gift bestowed by God, thereby bringing happiness.
  2. the invoking of God’s favor upon a person:

The son was denied his father’s blessing.

  1. praise; devotion; worship, especially grace said before a meal:

The children took turns reciting the blessing.

  1. approval or good wishes:

The proposed law had the blessing of the governor.

God wanted to give the Israelites favor, mercy and good wishes. He wants the same for us today.

… and keep you

This blessing also asks God to “keep you.” This means that God will protect Israel and keep them from harm. http://www.gospel.com/bookmarks/Lord-bless-keep-Christian-perspective/12210/

God protects us today as well.

The LORD make his face to shine upon you …

This implies that God does not shine on everyone. He causes His face to shine on those who seek His face and want to be a blessing to Him. Several times in the Bible, people asked that God not hide His face from them (Job 13:24, Psalm 27:9, 44:24, 69:17, 88:14, 102:2, 143:7).

http://storage.cloversites.com/makinglifecountministriesinc/documents/What%20does%20His%20face%20shine%20on%20us%20mean.pdf

… and be gracious to you

Dictionary.com offers these definitions of “gracious:”

  1. pleasantly kind, benevolent, and courteous.
  2. characterized by good taste, comfort, ease, or luxury:

gracious suburban living; a gracious home.

  1. indulgent or beneficent in a pleasantly condescending way, especiallyto inferiors.
  2. merciful or compassionate:

our gracious king.

  1. Obsolete. fortunate or happy.

I like the “merciful or compassionate” definition for Numbers 6, although “kind, benevolent, and courteous” certainly could apply as well.

We’re asking God to be on our side, not because we deserve it or we even know what “merciful” or “compassionate” mean, but because we know God has the best plan, the right plan, for each of us. By giving us mercy and compassion, God wants us to give those away – ie, share mercy and compassion with literally everyone we meet.

The LORD lift up his countenance upon you …

What is countenance? Dictionary.com explains it this way:

  1. appearance, especially the look or expression of the face:

a sad countenance.

  1. the face; visage.
  2. calm facial expression; composure.
  3. approval or favor; encouragement; moral support.
  4. Obsolete. bearing; behavior.

Countenance is a person’s face or facial expression. It doesn’t have to be positive, but it often is. Moses is asking God to smile for us, because of us. What a thought that is.

… and give you peace

Peace is a tough concept to understand. Dictionary.com lists many possibilities:

  1. the normal, nonwarring condition of a nation, group of nations, or the world.
  2. (often initial capital letter) an agreement or treaty between warring or antagonistic nations, groups, etc., to end hostilities and abstain from further fighting or antagonism:

the Peace of Ryswick.

  1. a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations:

Try to live in peace with your neighbors.

  1. the normal freedom from civil commotion and violence of a community; public order and security:

He was arrested for being drunk and disturbing the peace.

  1. cessation of or freedom from any strife or dissension.
  2. freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, an obsession, etc.; tranquility; serenity.
  3. a state of tranquility or serenity:

May he rest in peace.

These definitions say “peace” is the absence of war, but it’s much more than that. Absence leaves a vacuum. If not war, what replaces it? Mutual harmony? Tranquility or serenity?

I think peace is more than those things.

Here’s a few Bible verses on peace:

 

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Hebrews 12:14

 

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7

 

The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.

Psalm 29:11

 

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34:14

 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

 

We are to pursue peace; it’s not in our human nature to do this. We prefer to defend ourselves, even if that means we antagonize others. Jesus “gives strength to his people” to pursue peace.

Jesus is called the Prince of Peace 700 years before He is born. Jesus claims this by saying peace is one of His objectives for us. The world doesn’t understand peace; only Jesus offers peace that “transcends all understanding,” that “overcomes the world.”

Benediction

There’s a lot in this Old Testament benediction. If we do our part, God will surely do His.

Blessings will follow. That’s a promise.