Read: Numbers 13:1-33; Numbers 14:1-9; Mark 9:18-27
The best teachers seem to find ways of bringing lessons to life, often finding relatable ways to teach their many students. I learned from an Old Testament teacher some of the little details of culture that made the writings in the Old Testament come alive to me.
Jesus, the greatest teacher Who ever taught students met His hearers with illustrations and examples that they could grasp and learn from if their hearts were open to do so. He spoke to them using flowers, birds, coins and seeds to name only a few of Jesus' lesson starters, Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 15:8-10; Matthew 13:1-8. I'm thankful that the Lord continues to teach each of us who belong to Him in ways we can understand. He meets us where we are, often teaching us through our every-day circumstances. Therefore, you can be certain that the Lord never drops a nuclear physics lesson into my lap; however, sometimes, He uses an ordinary small incident that has to do with my blindness to remind me of His truth. Such an occurrence happened this morning.
My husband was wiping down the globe bulbs in the bathroom. He asked me to come in and together because his eyes are also very poor, the two of us tried to determine which, if any of the six bulbs wasn't shining. It is hard for us to discern which one is bad since the light from the shining ones can mask the deficient one. After taking a few out and putting them back, I took the one we thought might be dead and put it into the living room lamp. Voila. Though when the bulb was clustered in a group, we couldn't determine if the bulb was still good, when it stood alone, we could easily see it was dead. No reason to keep it.
In today's scripture readings from Numbers 13-14, we meet twelve prominent men. These were the ones sent out to survey the promised land. The Lord told Moses to choose chiefs and, Moses found one man from each tribe. Each was a leading man among the people. Knowing this, we would expect these to be bright lights for the Lord who would shine for Him. They indeed did their jobs, even bringing back some wonderful produce from the land, Numbers 13:23-27, along with some encouraging words. Oh, why couldn't the majority report have ended right there? Why do we have to read the "however" found in Numbers 13:28. The word that exposed the darkness in their lives. It was the darkness of blatant unbelief. Although we read of Caleb and Joshua's shining words of belief and hear how they longed to spur the people into action, sadly, the people chose the dark lies of unbelief, and they even tried to snuff out the light of truth. If we had met the ten men whose names have faded into history before they left on their mission, we would have thought them to be lights for the Lord. However, when the test came, and they had to choose for themselves whether to believe God or not, they showed they had only darkness to give.
Let's stop for a moment and remind ourselves what the twelve men knew. They had not been sent to discern the feasibility of taking the land. Yes, they were to describe it, but it was the land God had promised them. Victory was as certain for them as the miracle of the manna which they gathered each day, Exodus 16:14-24. Yes, there were tall and strong fortifications and people in the land; however, the power to ensure victory wasn't their power. It was the Lord's. As Joshua and Caleb assured them, their enemies were like bread to them. Their protection was gone. Victory was sure, Numbers 13:31; Numbers 14:6-9. Sadly, scripture tells us that the people chose the darkness rather than the light of truth which Joshua and Caleb held up. These two men boldly held out truth, but the people didn't want it. Instead, they chose the darkness and sadness of unbelief.
Matthew 5:14-16 reminds us that we are the light of the world. We are not to hide the light so it won't be seen by others. Surely, Joshua and Caleb didn't hide the light of God's truth. They, without hesitation, tried to spur the people on with the truth of God that they knew. Though the people rejected both them and their words, God rewarded them for their faithfulness, and in His time, God fulfilled His promises, Joshua 21:43-45.
Let's take a glimpse into Mark 9:18-27 to meet an unnamed father who teaches us that believing God doesn't have to look rock solid to be honored by the Lord. Here was a man whom we learn had a son who had been tormented and abused by a demon all of his life. It appears from what we are told here that the wicked spirit had tried to kill the man's child many times. At this point, we don't know this man's age or the length of his child's suffering, but no doubt for many years, this dad had dealt with this pain and uncertainty. How hopeful he must have felt when he asked Jesus' disciples to cast out the evil spirit, and how sorrowful he must have been when the darkness remained. Even so, when he saw Jesus, he asked again for relief for his son. One more time. Would the darkness be dispelled? When Jesus told the man that if he believed that all things were possible, the father said he did believe. However, on the heels of that response came the honest words. Help my unbelief. No doubt the disappointments and the sorrow of many years made the man's belief shaky, and he admitted that to Jesus. Notice the difference between this kind of "unbelief" and the rebellious unbelief of the children of Israel. The dad longed to believe, and he wanted the light of truth Jesus offered him. He reached out with a shaky hand, but he reached out.
In contrast, the children of Israel who had a rock-solid promise from the Lord and who had seen His mighty power in many ways wanted nothing to do with the comforting words of Joshua and Caleb. They didn't come to God with fear and trembling asking for help with their unbelief. They simply spurned the light of truth.
Two truths stand out in my mind that apply to us.
First, sometimes we are like Joshua and Caleb. Even though we hold out God's light, it is rejected. Perhaps we even hold it out with winsomeness and grace, but it is spurned anyway. The good news is that God is glorified even if His light is rejected, and honoring God is never in vain.
Second, sometimes, we are like the man in Mark 9. We long to believe all that God has said, but the brokenness that circumstances have brought into our lives causes our hands to tremble. We need Jesus' help to believe and continue to receive the light of His truth.