Much of the second half of the Old Testament is story after story of the Israeli’s betraying God, repenting, being forgiven, and betraying God all over again.
It’s easy for me to get all self-rightous about this. Until I’m reminded that their story is my story. The reason that we’re told this history is to apply to it our own lives. To recognize that most of us live by these same patterns.
I read Numbers 14 today. It’s as good an example as any of this.
One member of each tribe is sent to check out the land that is promised to them. They come back reporting that there are amazing things in that land– but also fierce warriors. Only two of the spies– Joshua and Caleb– want to do what God says to do.
The rest of them lead the whole nation and are preparing to stone Moses and Aaron. God shows up. Moses seems to talk God out of destroying the entire nation and starting over with him.
God explains that of all the people who were alive when they left egypt, only Joshua and Caleb will actually enter into the promised land. He says that the whole nation will spend one year in the wilderness for each day the spies spent in the land– in other words, 40 years.
The nation, at this point, decides they’d like God’s original offer back. God tells them not to do it, but they don’t listen.
Here’s some things that resonate with me about this:
#1) God’s offers come with expiration dates. To obey God after the fact is really to disobey him. Sometimes, it seems, that he might have protected us and been with us if we did what he wants in His time. When we try and do things in our time, we do it with out his support, guidance, and protection.
#2) We don’t protect our kids, God does. The nation cites protecting their children as the reason for disobeying God. God, with a brutal sense of irony, delivers the kids and only the kids to the promised land.
#3) Sometimes, when we’re filled with fear and the promise of consequences, we start moving before we think about what we’re doing. Before God showed up, they wanted to do nothing. But once he does, when these people are looking at forty years of hard labor. In their panic, they try to go back to God’s old deal.
#4) I wonder if you could apply the whole denial-rage-bargaining-acceptance thing to all this. These are the stages we go through when dealing with a loss.
It seems to me that the whole nation begins in denial. Denial that Egypt was that bad. Denial that God’s in charge. Denial that they’d be smart to obey.
When the spies come back they are so enraged at Moses and Aaron that they nearly kill them.
When God shows up, they attempt to bargain with him, “We’ll take you first offer, God.”
And acceptance? Well I guess that’s a little later.