My annual Bible reading plan has me in the book of Numbers this week. I had forgotten all the great stories in that book. This week one of them jumped out at me like never before.
The people of Israel send spies out into the land of Canaan. They return with a good report about the land, but ten of the spies are also convinced they will all die if they try to fight its inhabitants. Only two, Caleb and Joshua, trust that God will take care of them in this new promised land like he did down in Egypt. God is disappointed with his people, and they will be confined to the wilderness until one whole generation dies and they will take possession of the land.
If you had listened to a children’s sermon when you were growing up, you are familiar with this narrative. In fact, there is even a song about this event where you sing out, “Ten were bad, and two were good.” It is a defining story in the history of the people of God.
I had never noticed until this week the story that follows the spying out of the land. Moses tells the people of God’s anger and disappointment. Suddenly a group of men has a change of heart. They see their sin and want to suddenly make things right. They decide to go up into the land and take it by force without God’s approval. Moses warns them, and they choose to go up anyway.
Then there is this interesting line in Numbers 14:44, “Nevertheless, in their presumption, they went up …” (New International Version 2011). Other translations say, “they presumed” and the message paraphrases the statement by saying they went up, “recklessly and arrogantly.” In other words, they assumed that since they claimed to be the people of God that he would be with them in whatever they did. They presumed that God would show up and save them even though they were outside of his will. They did whatever they wanted to do and believed God would bless it.
The people go up, and the Amalekites and the Canaanites came out and “beat them down.” The people were completely wrong in their presumption.
This passage caught my attention because it sounds like so many people I know in the Church. They do whatever they want and presume that God is in it. They hope and assume God will show up without ever considering his word. They make their plans, have their goals and pursue their dreams and just believe God will bless it.
Following God means that sometimes our plans are changed, our goals are removed, and our dreams do not come true. He is leading us, and we are called to follow him. We are not to ask God to follow us on our grand adventures but submit to his will no matter how difficult it might be at the moment. We are not to presume that God is going to give us whatever we want. Faith is about trusting God even when we must spend forty years in the wilderness because of our failures.