Back in my early Christian days, Bible teachers would see the journey of Israel in the books of Exodus and Numbers as an analogy of the Christian walk. The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; the New Testament is the Old Testament reveled.
God brought His people out of the tyranny of Egypt by blood and by power. This correlates with Christ bringing us out of the penalty and power of sin.
Israel was then to make a couple of days journey until they cross the Jordan in to the Promised land. In like manner, we Christians move towards Christian maturity – assimilating and appreciate the fruit of redemption – serenity, inner peace, joy and love for neighbor – as well as disposing the enemies of our soul – resentment, bitterness, lust and the like.
In this desert analogy, it was supposed to be a short journey of trust and obedience from redemption to maturity but it turned out to be a forty year dead end where they all died in the desert. What happened?
Israel rebelled at least seven times in this short desert walk but the one that truly arrested their development was the refusal to go into the land when God told them to. God instructed them to send over spies to survey the land – presumably to figure out the best point of entry and other strategies. It was never intended to be a collaborative group discussion as to whether or not they were to obey the very purpose for which they were brought out of Egypt.
In the end, the people of God rejected the will of God. How can this be? How does the unthinkable become the unquestioned? How does the very sin no one would think of committing become the very thing that popular opinion lays hold of as the only option? How does rebellion become accepted?
Here are the three steps they took:
- Legitimate Problem
The giants in the land were a clear problem. I don’t want to trivialize this. People face huge problems in their life that I cannot even imagine. There are forces and obstacles much bigger than us over which we have little control.
Admittedly, some of my problems are not big problems at all but issues common to everyone which my mind tends to make larger than life.
- Panic and Catastrophe
While the problems are real, the catastrophe isn’t. “We are all going to die,” said Israel. “We are as grasshoppers in their sight.”
When I move to panic and fear, I can’t make discerning decisions or put things into perspective. Such a state of mind makes it least likely that I will do the right thing and not make things worse.
Telling myself scary stories and believing will set me up for disaster. Israel began to buy into the narrative that God had abandoned them. Worse yet, God was capricious – bringing them out to the desert to suffer and die.
- Irrational Thought
Dwelling in fear and calamity only leads to irrational thought. How else would you explain this common embracing of the idea that the days in bondage were good? This is the mind of an addict who truly wants to believe that their substance or behavior that had devastated their life will now solve all of their problems – even though it has never worked in the past. Let’s go back to sin – to the shame, secrets, and guilt. Let’s go back to the demeaning behavior that put us at odds with ourselves and those we love.
The end of this path is disaster in the desert.
If I am to look into my heart, recognize this tendency towards unbelief, and want to do something different, what do I do? What is it that gave Caleb the emotional energy to make choices in the right direction? Here are suggestions:
M. Scott Peck opens his famous 1980’s pop culture book The Road Less Traveled with the immemorial opening, “Life is difficult.” He goes on to say that as soon as we accept the fact that life is difficult, it ceases to be quite so difficult.
I do not have a right to a problem free life in spite of my sense of entitlement. Problems are real, sometimes insurmountable, and I legitimately have a sense of powerlessness over them. I cannot control the actions of others nor most circumstances in my life. Choosing to live life on life’s terms is the first step.
- Choosing To Trust
Though I am powerless, I am not helpless. God is greater than me. “So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.” says Israel’s poet. This is where I had to make a choice against the legitimate feelings within, get on my knees and commit to God my trust in the specific area of fear and repulsion.
I do it specifically. Whether it is personal problems or social unrest – too much to do or fear of where society may be heading – in all things I acknowledge that God is bigger than me and no matter which way things turn, I trust that God has my best interests at heart.
- Taking Action
Simply trusting in my head is not enough. Over forty years later when Israel entered the land as they were supposed to, the Jordan river did not yield until the priests actually set their foot in it.
Trust is substantiated through action not by simply having the right beliefs in our head. In a particular situation where I was stuck spiritually, it was only when I began to pay attention to suggestions by some spiritual mentors and taking action that my life began that deliverance from the impediment began to take place.
If I am fraught with fear that I have too much to do, I commit to God my trust, look at my list and choose one item to begin working on.
If I am confronted with a person I need to learn to love. I trust that God can change my heart to love this person. However, it is when I make steps to reach out to this person and make amends for my part in the relationship breach that healing takes place and love is born in the heart.
When I accept my problems as they are, commit to trust God that no matter what, He has my best interest at heart, and then take appropriate action – these are tools from slipping into the irrational decision that going back to Egypt is the better way.