Controversy in the Wilderness 

As I was reading Numbers 13 and 14 this morning, I could not help but draw some similar conclusions about the controversy (silently) happening in churches all across America.

Numbers 13 and 14 takes place within the narrative of God having delivered the people of Israel from the bondage of the Egyptians and desiring to take them to the Promised Land, a land that he had sworn to Abraham hundreds of years earlier. Now the Promised Land was going to be a strategic center of God’s redemptive mission for him to display his glory to the whole earth (Num 14:21) by utilizing his people as the vehicle and conduit. So, it wasn’t that this land was going to be a new home for his people solely for them to enjoy and isolate themselves from other nations, but a strategic mission base where God would project his glory and nations be drawn in.  

Now the Promised Land became a contentious controversy when the spies returned from spying out the land. All but two spies (Joshua and Caleb) saw the land as too difficult to overcome. Although, they viewed the land as bountiful and fruitful, overcoming the land due to the inhabitants and cities overwhelmed them. As they shared this with the people, the people began to grumble and complain vehemently to the point of desiring a leader who would take them back to Egypt.

Caleb, on the other hand, spoke out exclaiming that they could overcome the inhabitants, especially if God has ordained it. The people responded to such an idea as if Caleb and Joshua were radicals, heretics, and villains that needed to be stoned.

This heated and intense controversy exasperated the Lord to the point he told Moses he would annihilate these people and start all over with him. Think about it, the people that God had went to extreme lengths to deliver, he would just knock out. Why? At the end of the day, it is about his glory, his name, his purpose, his mission. If people, particularly his people, get in the way of that—he will take them out. (Very sobering!)

While Moses pleads with God, interceding on behalf of the people and God’s glory, God relents from wiping them out; but, although he would not wipe them out in an instant, he would overtime. Rather than wiping them out in one sweep, God judged them that day and declared they would all die in the wilderness and none of them would see the Promised Land except Joshua and Caleb, as well as the children under twenty years of age.

Why is this controversy in the wilderness similar to what goes on in churches all across America? Just like the majority of Israelites refused to go to the Promised Land and be the vehicle and conduit by which God could display his glory and give a glimpse of his kingdom, many churches refuse to do the same. They much rather die in the wilderness or retreat back to a place of familiarity and comfort.

This is the reason why the majority of churches face plateau, decline, and imminent death. Just as the majority of Israelites wanted to waste away in the desert or return to Egypt and die, many churches, contrary to what they verbally say, would rather waste away (or exist) in their comfort and fear, or return to the place of familiarity.

Participating in God’s redemptive mission of rescuing people for his glory and kingdom is no easy mission. He never said it would be! There is so much I could write about in regards to this, but in an effort to keep this blog to a minimum, I will end with a couple of takeaways from this controversy in the wilderness.

1)   Humanly speaking, what God asks us to do seems impossible. Think of what Jesus communicated to his disciples throughout his ministry and especially the mission he left his disciples to carry one.

2) It is not about us! It is about Him! It is not about what we do for God, it is about what he wants to do through us. Again, we are the conduit and vehicle that God uses for his purposes. We can either choose to be utilized as a conduit and vehicle or choose not to. If we choose yes, we must become the conduit and vehicle through a faithful obedience to God in all of life. 

3)   Leaders have the weight of leading God’s people to be where he wants them to be, doing what he wants them to be doing. Therefore, leaders can either make or break the obedience of people fulfilling and participating in the redemptive mission of God.

4)   Many times, the majority of people are not willing to pay the price or make the commitment to displaying the glory of God to and in the world.

5)   There will be those, many times just a few, who are willing to take God at his word and make the commitment to seeing God’s plan unfold.  

6)   When one generation refuses and rejects being part of God’s redemptive mission, he turns to the next generation. Could it be that is what is happening today in America?