Fully Engaged

For the week of June 25, 2022 / 26 Sivan 5782

Message info superimposed on an image of a man striving to climb a mountain

Sh’lach L’kha
Torah: B’midbar/Numbers 13:1 – 15:41
Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24

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The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” (B’midbar/Numbers 13:1-2)

When God delivered the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt it was with the stated goal of bringing them into the land he promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In fact, we could say that God staked his life on it (see Bereshit/Genesis 15:12-21). As a result, Israel could count on acquiring the land. Still, God directed Moses to send twelve men to check out the land prior to the nation going in. I imagine he could have just told them to take the land sight unseen, but he didn’t.

As it turned out, while the land was as good as expected, ten of the twelve men were greatly intimidated by the strong people and fortified cities that they had seen. They believed that Israel would not succeed at this venture. Two of the twelve, Joshua and Caleb, disagreed, asserting that God would help them. Tragically, the fearful ones won over the nation to the extent that they were ready to choose a new leader and return to Egypt. It would be another thirty-eight years before Israel would get another opportunity to enter the land. That time too, scouts were sent in first.

So, why didn’t God just send the people in? It wouldn’t have been the first time that they had to face a seemingly impossible challenge. Perhaps it’s necessary in certain situations to grasp the nature of the challenge before facing it. Obviously, succeeding at such a venture required a level of sustained trust in God. It wasn’t as if God was expecting them to think of this as a nothing. The difficulty was not a concoction of their imaginations. At the same time, after all the people had gone through from the ten plagues, the Red Sea, and all that happened in the wilderness, God expected the people to be ready to trust him amid this great challenge. But they didn’t.

People often say things like, “But if God knew this would happen, why put them through it?” Some may attempt to resolve this by claiming that it had to happen. This is a way of saying that everything worked out according to plan, that at this point of Israel’s development they, of course, would behave this way. I find this reasoning completely unhelpful. What could be learned by such a “solution”? To simply accept what will be will be? I don’t think so.

There’s something far deeper going on here. God has no interest in simply commanding his people as if we are mindless puppets. True faith is not blind. Trusting in God requires keen understanding of life’s challenges. But not in isolation. We need to see all of life within the context of God’s love, power, and faithfulness to his people. God wanted the people to know exactly what they were going to be up against. That they thought they were helpless against this great challenge exposes how shallow their understanding of God was despite all he had done for them.

God calls people into an intelligent engagement of life. Designed to be his representatives on earth, we humans are to reflect who he is to the world: his wisdom, his goodness, his righteousness, and so on. This requires an understanding of the world from God’s perspective. We do this by learning his Word and developing the skill to apply it to every area of life. This also requires weighing truth and discerning appropriate solutions to the myriads of problems we face. We must learn from our own experience and the experiences of others. We need to be responsible for our lives, each of us fulfilling whatever God has given us to do.

None of this is easy. But we were never promised easy. To be fully human is to be fully engaged in life as God so directs. He never intended for us to float through life via some sort of detached spiritual emptiness. Far from it. We have been made to fully engage life as he so directs.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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