David Holloway

THE ISRAELITES have left Sinai and are camping in the Desert of Paran. Spies were sent out into Canaan. On their return the majority showed a complete lack of faith. There were four marks to their faithlessness. One, they saw problems but forgot God. [The land] does flows with milk and honey … but the people who live there are powerful. And they exaggerated the problems: we seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes. Two, they were relying on themselves and not on God: we cant attack those people. Of course they couldn’t. But as Joshua said years later as the Israelites entered the promised land: Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (Josh 1.9). Three, they were negative, backward-looking and disloyal at the same time, and they infected the people: if only we had died in Egypt! … wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt? … We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt. Four, they did not experience Gods blessing: not one of you will enter the land.

But two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, were examples of true faith. Four things marked them off as well. One, they were in a minority. Today in 1996, if you are going to be faithful to Jesus Christ, you will often find yourself in a minority. It will not be easy. It wasn’t for Joshua and Caleb. Two, they saw problems but remembered God. They faced the facts. Being a person of faith doesn’t mean we run away from reality. What made them different was that they saw God before they saw the problems. Three, they were positive: the land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good … only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid … the Lord is with us. Four, they were totally committed: my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly. Are you wholeheartedly following Jesus Christ, or are you a half-hearted Christian?

Once you start talking about faith and wholeheartedly following Jesus Christ, before long you can get false faith or fanaticism. True faith is acting according to Gods will and word. Fanaticism is acting on your hunches. Eventually the Israelites came to their senses. But then they said: we will go up to the place the Lord promised. But God was not commanding them now. Moses warned: Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies. But did they listen? Do strong willed Christian people listen when they claim a venture of faith of this sort? Sadly, no. So the Amalekites and Canaanites defeated the Israelites.

Moses himself was tempted in this direction to careless faith. Later on (Numbers 20) the people again lacked water. The Lord said to Moses, Take the staff … speak to that rock … and it will pour out its water. But Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice. Moses slipped from God- centredness to self-centredness. God had said speak to the rock; but Moses struck the rock. Why? Well, this is how he did it before in Exodus 17. Perhaps Moses was too confident in himself. He thought he’d seen it all before. Its so easy to get familiar with the things of God. Now these things are warnings for us (1 Cor 10.6 RSV). What is your faith like this Autumn?

David Holloway is Vicar of Jesmond in the diocese of Newcastle.