We live as exiles. We’re called to be pilgrims.
I am journeying through Scripture, stopping at a few oases along the way, in order to contemplate our exile experience. I’ll also offer some helpful thoughts about how Christ can reshape that identity and reorient our journey so we live as pilgrims. To read earlier posts in the series, click here.
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I value the vocation of visual artists. Their essential work jars us to look at the familiar in fresh, sometimes-arresting ways.
We see what we expect to see, unless someone comes and hands us a different set of lenses we can use to view the world.
Nowhere is this truth more evident than in the account in Numbers 13-14 when God told Moses to choose one leader from each of the twelve tribes to head into Canaan to do some reconnaissance work. The Israelite people had been wandering the Sinai since God had escorted them out of Egyptian slavery. The barren, blazing hot terrain exposed their mistrust, their idolatry, and their immaturity. Again and again, through the miraculous and the mundane, God showed them who he was, and they were as ready as they’d ever be to go home to a home in which none of them had ever lived.
The twelve sent by God, chosen by Moses did forty days of scouting across a wide swath of the beautiful territory, and came back with a small amount of fruit to show Moses a sample of what was growing there. But the taste of the sweet fruit went sour as ten of the men insisted that those who residing in the land would annihilate the children of Israel if they were to attempt to follow God in and claim the territory.
“We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:31-33)
Only two of the scouts, Joshua ben Nun, and Caleb ben Jephunnah, disagreed with the dramatic negative assessment of their ten traveling companions. Moses gave Hoshea (Salvation) the name Caleb, which means Faithful, perhaps to differentiate him a bit from the other scout named Salvation, Joshua. These two men had the lens of the character of God – the God who had saved them, the God who had faithfully provided for all their needs – through which to view the land they’d reconnoitered.
The behavior of the other ten is understandable, given all that generations of the children of Israel had been through as slaves in in Egypt. They’d been trained to do what they’d been told. To survive meant to bow low before those in power. They had no experience as fighters. The closest they’d ever come to battle was when they were fleeing the Egyptian army.
God had done the fighting on their behalf. This should have been a point of reference for them as they got an up-close look at the people who were living in Canaan at the time, but it wasn’t. The negative report of ten of these scouts upon their return reflected what they saw, not what was true. They were acting out of their exile identity, and the nation to whom they brought their report responded as they had so many times before: hysterics, and a hue and cry to return to Egypt, stat.
In the face of an entire nation gone wild with fear, Caleb and Joshua tore their garments in grief, then spoke the words of pilgrims: “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:7-9)
It takes a new set of lenses to step into an uncertain, scary future and do so pilgrim style.
When you’ve been on the brink of something new, how have your past experiences shaped your perception of the present? What do you do with that very real sense of fear that may be telling you to go back, go back, go all the way back?