Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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Minority Report

Numbers 13 & 14

 We finished up last week with the Israelites at Mt. Sinai.  They stayed there for a year, as they received the covenant, before they were finally told to move on to the Promised Land.  And today in our Scripture lesson, they have come to the “doorstep” of Canaan, a place called Kadesh.  It was in the desert called the Negev, south of Judea.  

 God tells Moses to send out 12 men to explore the Promised Land.  We often call the 12 “spies” but I think “explorers” might be better.  Their purpose was not so much to spy out the enemy as to explore and report back to the nation about the goodness of the land God was giving them.  

 One was chosen from each tribe, and they are described as “leaders.” That’s important because, of course, people in positions of leadership have a lot of influence over how the rest of the nation will respond.  A leader who trusts God and moves forward in faith will hopefully inspire others to do likewise, but a leader who fails to trust God will likely influence others to do the same, and that’s pretty much what we see in this story.

 Bible scholars point out that most of these men had “theophoric” names.  They had names whose meanings spoke of what God did for his people or about the glory of God.  For example, Joshua, the Hebrew name that becomes INSUS or Jesus in Greek, means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.”  One of the few exceptions is Caleb, whose name means “dog.”  How strange that he is one of only two who trusts God, while so many others turn against their own namesakes?  It’s also kind of strange that his parents named him Dog, but that’s another matter.

 They travel throughout the whole land, from south to north and back again.  It takes them 40 days, and depending on how exactly they traveled, it was a trip of 350 to perhaps 500 miles.  Quite a backpacking trip!  

 And they find a land of great abundance:  Grapes, pomegranates, figs, milk, and honey and all that jazz.  But they find it’s also a land occupied by powerful nations.  There were the Amalekites, a nomadic people who lived in the Negev desert.  There were Hittites from Turkey, Jebusites, and and Amorites from Mesopotamia living in hill country.  There were Canaanites living in the lowlands along the coast and in the Jordan Valley.  There were even Anakites there, a fierce tribe of warriors known far and wide for their great size.  These guys show up later in a story called David and Goliath.  It

might seem strange to think that there were these “giant” people living there in Bible times, but there are actually reports from Egypt from the same time that spoke of people living in Canaan who were seven, eight, or even nine feet tall.  Now, since the meaning of a foot, or in the case of the Old Testament, a cubit, depends on the average size of a person, and since most people weren’t as tall then as they are now, Goliath and his relatives probably weren’t 9 feet tall by our feet, but they were still pretty big.  And certainly, this could be very intimidating for the Israelites.  

 And when these explorers come back to report, they talk in frightening ways about the size and power of these nations.  And the people are frightened.  Panic begins to spread through the nation.  Caleb and Joshua speak up and say, “We can do it!”  But the majority say, “No, we can’t!”  The majority report is one of doubt and fear in the face of God’s promises.

 We live in a society that places a great deal of emphasis on the majority.  We believe that the majority vote decides which way we should move forward.  Majority rules, we say.  The problem with that philosophy is that it doesn’t usually leave a place for God’s opinion.  And often, the majority is not on the same side as God.  

 Those of you who have read the book “Transforming Church” that we on the Vision Team read earlier this year might recall the story of Fairfax Community Church in the suburbs of Washington DC.  The church was growing and needed to move to a larger facility, especially since the aging building they had was on a dead end road with no room for expansion and little traffic going by.  So in the 1960s, they made plans to move to a better location, but just before they did, they were told that a clause in the church deed would not allow them to sell their property.  The majority of the members agreed that if they couldn’t sell their property, they couldn’t afford to buy a new one.  So they decided to stay put.  For forty years, they stayed put, trying to be relevant in an outdated facility.  They felt like they were wandering in the desert with no “place to go.”  Until finally, someone decided to take a new look at the church deed, and found out that they were in fact able to sell the property.  They did, and they moved on to a newer, larger, more relevant facility and experienced growth.  But for forty years, they had “wandered aimlessly,” all because they had accepted the “majority report” without consulting God.  

 Just because an idea is popular doesn’t make it right.  And just because the majority says X, Y, or Z, doesn’t mean it’s what God desires his people to do. 

Sometimes, to stand with God is to stand against the majority, just like Joshua and Caleb.  

 The second thing I want us all to see in this story is that where we focus our attention determines how we will proceed.  For about five years now, I’ve been trying to become a respectable whitewater paddler.  I’m making progress, but not as much as I’d like to.  One of my problems is that I focus on the wrong things.  When you’re paddling, your body follows your eyes.  If you look at something, you’re going to head toward it.  So if you look at the rock in the middle of the rapid, instead of looking at the smooth water beside it, you’re going to hit the rock instead of sailing through the smooth water.  

 What do we focus on?  Do we focus on God’s power and provision in our lives, or do we focus on the challenges and obstacles we face?  The Israelites chose to focus on the “giant men” in the Promised Land instead of the “giant cluster of grapes.”  One represented the challenges, the other God’s abundant provision.  And because they focused on the challenges instead of God’s provision, they became afraid and unwilling to move forward.  

 Because of their fears, they were unable to remember all the ways God had come through for them from their slavery in Egypt to this very day.  In chapter 14, God says that 10 times they had doubted or tested him since they left Egypt.  And that number might be rhetorical, just meaning many, because you can probably count more times than that if you go looking through Exodus.  

 The way of the world is to look at your resources, evaluate what you can do with them, and then proceed accordingly.  That is how most churches operate.  They look at how much money they have, consider their people and other resources, and then decide what they can do.  The problem is that often we forget the greatest resource of all:  God.  We don’t include God in our list of assets.  We only think about what we can do instead of what God can do.  The real question should be not “What can we do?” but “What is God calling us to do?” and “What can God do for us and through us?”  

 Because the Israelites acted like the world, evaluating everything only from a human perspective (“Those nations are more powerful than we are.”), they denied God, denied his presence, denied his power, denied his provision, and denied his miracles.

 Fear can be devastating.  Fear can destroy our faith and our memory, cutting us off from what God has done for us in the past.  Fear can distort reality.  In verse 32, the

explorers say, “All the people were huge!”  Wait a minute:  I thought it was just the Anakites who were huge, but now all of them are huge.  Every single one of them, so big that the Israelites were just like grasshoppers to them.  Reality became distorted by fear.

 And I’m afraid most churches operate out of a position of fear rather than a position of faith.  They fear change.  They fear new ideas.  They fear running out of money.  They fear turning people off and having them leave the church.  The modus operandi becomes “What will keep us safe?” rather than “What is God calling us to do?”  

 The result of this failure to have faith is that the Israelites were not allowed to go into the Promised Land.  The majority report said, “We can’t do it,” and the few who spoke for God could not carry the day.  God’s judgment was that every single Israelite over the age of 20, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, would die in the wilderness.  They would wander aimlessly for 40 years till an entire generation, a lost generation with no future to look forward to, passed from the scene.  They had accused God of bringing them to the Promised Land so that they would die and their children would be taken as slaves and plunder.  God reversed their accusation and said that only their children would receive his blessings.  

 God will bless his people.  God will bless us if we cling to him.  But often, the timing of God’s blessing depends on our faith.  If we have faith and trust God, we will experience his blessing sooner rather than later.  But if we take the way of the world and listen to the doubting majority, we too may spend time in the desert before we experience his blessing.  

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