Terrible Unbelief

Terrible Unbelief

For the week of June 29, 2024 / 23 Sivan 5784

Message info over a terrified man

Torah: B’midbar/Numbers 13:1 – 15:41
Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24

If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.” Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel. (B’midbar Numbers 14:8-10)

This week’s parsha (weekly Torah portion) is so crucial in at least two ways. First, it recounts a most tragic turn of events in the early history of ancient Israel. Generations were anticipating the moment when the promise of acquiring the land of Canaan would be realized. As foretold to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob hundreds of years earlier, God’s announcement to Moses at the burning bush was not simply one of deliverance from slavery in Egypt, but also of acquiring the Land (see Shemot/Exodus 3:8). After years of oppression, the people of Israel were witnesses to great acts of God’s power through his securing their release from Egypt, the powerful experience of receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and his protection and provision during the two years of wilderness living. Yet, despite all that they had experienced, when the time came to enter the land, the people could not or would not connect all that God had done for them with what he would do for them going forward. Their unwillingness to embrace the next stage of their history resulted in their remaining in the wilderness until that whole generation died out. God’s plans and purposes for Israel as a nation were not thwarted, but the current generation sorrowfully missed a great opportunity.

It’s also crucial for what this demonstrates. Lack of trust in God results in harm to ourselves and to our communities. Highly destructive paths await those who allow fear to cause them to reject God’s specific direction in their lives. How this story reflects the negative results of lack of faith is obvious, but there is something else lurking here that we would do well to note.

The people reacted extremely negatively upon receiving the report of ten of the twelve men who were appointed to scout out the land. However, Joshua and Caleb, the two scouts who believed God would give them success, tried to encourage them. Their encouragement was based on their experience of God. Why wouldn’t they try to help the others to think positively on this matter? Wouldn’t you? But then, look at how the majority reacted: “Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones.” They wanted to kill them.

The people’s murderous desire reflects the depth of their fear. Perhaps they believed that Joshua and Caleb had sufficient clout in the community that their minority opinion would win out, an option that the majority could in no way tolerate.

Think about it. Have you ever been so afraid that you found people’s encouragement threatening? I am sure most of us have experienced situations when the encouragement of others helped us to do something that we were afraid of. And I suspect that we have appreciated most, if not all, of those times: “Try it, you’ll like it!” “Jump in, you’ll get used to it!” “Make the call, you won’t regret it!” But perhaps there have been other times when you didn’t appreciate such encouragement. Note that I am not referring to situations where people encourage us to do wrong. This is about confronting a great fear of something that we should do, but we are so afraid that we can’t handle people’s encouragement.

When this happens, it’s like a living nightmare. You want everything to stop. Perhaps you wouldn’t actually kill anyone, but the desire to shut out undesirable forces, no matter how well-meaning, can be overwhelming, not to mention, destructive.

Let’s face it, from time-to-time God takes us into situations that are not just intimidating—the kind of thing that makes us feel apprehensive or nervous—but full-out terrifying. And yet, they are God’s best for us. From confronting issues from our past to venturing on something greatly unfamiliar, or how about being called to something that previously resulted in great failure? Make your own list.

It can take a lot of courage to do God’s will sometimes. But, may I encourage you to acknowledge the source of your fear and look to God to enable you to overcome it before you cause irreparable damage to yourself or others.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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