Sunday, October 28, 2007

can't we just agree to disagree?

In Numbers 13, the 12 spies come back with the same report but two different conclusions. All 12 saw the tremendous fruit of the land, but recognized the tremendous fight that might be required. Although Caleb and Joshua had faith that God would empower them to do what He had promised, the other 10 spies lacked faith and were frightened by the prospects. They had the same data, but their different worldviews and theology led to different conclusions.

Coming into Numbers 14, it's an open question-- how the people would respond to the report and the different inferences about the data. Up to this point in the narrative, their record has not been impressive. But at times, the Israelites were surprisingly solid, so one could hold out hope. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out so well...

14:1-4 is a brutal start to the story-- as the Israelites combine their penchant for grumbling with some "crazy talk". In 14:6-9, Joshua and Caleb still try to persuade them-- with remarkable courage, passion and tact. The people's response in 14:10a is one of the saddest and funniest moments in all of Scripture: let's kill them! It's interesting (and pathetic) when people go from agreeing to disagree-- to shouting down their opponents, oppressing them, or threatening them.

After that, God intervenes and threatens to destroy them. Moses intercedes and the punishment is reduced. But after this debacle, this generation would die in the Wilderness and not be able to go into the Promised Land-- one of the key moments in Israel's history.

It's interesting to consider whether God punishes them so severely because they had treated Him with such contempt "one too many times"-- or whether this particular episode was just that egregious. In any case, whenever a prophet (teller of truth) is shouted down, they can know that they're in the good company of the courageous men of God, Joshua and Caleb.


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