Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

February 03, 2004

Encouragement (3)

You will find a good example of Biblical encouragement in the 13th and 14th chapters of Numbers--the story of a military reconnaissance mission. The Israelites had been wandering by this time for forty years in the Sinai desert, and had at last come to the very borders of Canaan. This was the land of promise. Again and again God had told them, "I will give you this land."

And now that they had reached its borders, He commanded them to send twelve spies, one from each tribe, to scope out the land. Information was what God's people needed at this point. The charge of Moses to the 12 spies was this: "Go up this way into the South, and go up to the mountains, and see what the land is like: whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, few or many; whether the land they dwell in is good or bad; whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or strongholds; whether the land is rich or poor; and whether there are forests there or not. Be of good courage. And bring some of the fruit of the land."

Well, You know the story. The twelve spies were a hung jury. There was a majority report, representing the perspective of ten of the twelve, and a minority report, offered by Caleb and Joshua. Keep in mind that all twelve had seen the same sights. There was no disagreement on the essential facts. But two among them, Caleb and Joshua, had drawn a radically different conclusion from these facts.

First, the facts: "We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan." (Numbers 13:28,29)

And the people, hearing all this, are frightened out of their wits. They're terrified. But now Caleb, keeping his head, speaks up. Caleb is an encourager, and he speaks the can-do of the Lord. "Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it." (Num. 13:30)

Ah, but now the ten are frightened. They really don't want to do this thing. They can't let Caleb's persuasive words sway the Israelites. So they begin to spin the information. Their fearfulness (and perhaps also their majoritarian pride) will not allow them to hear Caleb, or let anyone else hear him. They quickly drown him out with words intended not to encourage but to discourage. They say, "No, we can't do this. The people there are too strong, the cities too well-fortified. Not only that, but we saw giants there. Giants! Next to them we were like grasshoppers. If we were to go up against them, they would simply devour us."

And these words have the desired impact. The people go absolutely nuts. They are convinced that certain death awaits them in Canaan. Moses and Aaron have led them into a trap! Suddenly a full-scale rebellion is in progress. They're going to pick new leaders and head back to Egypt.

Here is where Joshua speaks up. It's interesting to note that, prior to the reconnaissance mission, his name had been Hoshea, which means salvation. But Moses, who was calling him to a new level of leadership, renamed him Joshua, which means salvation is from the Lord. It is an appropriate name. This is what he says: "The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, 'a land which flows with milk and honey.' Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them."

There is more, much more, to this story, but I simply want to make a few observations about discouragers and encouragers.

About discouragers:

1) The discouragers often out-number the encouragers. Furthermore, there is a persuasive power in numbers to which fearful men often retreat. The majority view is self-justifying. Something becomes so as long as enough people can be convinced that it's so. This is the classic tactic of the demagogue.

2) The discouragers, driven by fear, exaggerated the threat. The discouragers, in others words, slanted their information so as to influence the conclusions that would be drawn from it. They were not trustworthy reporters.

3) The discouragers mistrusted God. They wilfully point people away from God. For example, notice that they tried to scare the Israelites simply by naming the many different "nations" they had encountered. Amelekites, Hittites, Jebusites, etc. But they fail to metion, because they didn't trust, what God had previously promised them through Moses: "Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, 'To your offspring I will give it.' I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites."

About encouragers:

1) Biblical encouragers always point people to God. They remind people of who God is and what He has done. They see things, and they encourage others to see them, from a Heavenly perspective. The reason that Joshua and Caleb were not afraid was because they remembered and trusted God's promise to them. Nothing they'd seen on their reconnaissance mission could make them doubt their Lord.

2) Biblical encouragement is far more than aglass-is-half-full kind of optimism. It is, instead, what I will call wise optimism. What did Joshua say? "If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land . . ." If the Lord delights in us. And as every descendent of Abraham surely knew, the Lord delights in those who trust Him and seek to follow in His way. Joshua and Caleb were simply reminding the Israelites of their part in the plan of God.

That's all I've got time for today. I pray that God will encourager your heart, too, dear reader. "If the Lord delights in a man's ways, He will make his steps firm." May the Lord delight in you today. Amen.


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