And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Num.14:4)
The children of Israel were on the verge of the good land God had promised. Moses had sent 12 men ahead to spy out the country, and they all agreed the land was truly full of good things. However, ten of them focused on the size of the inhabitants and the impossibility of defeating them. Two, Joshua and Caleb, saw the same giants, but measured them against the power of God and found them puny. The ten were looking at human strength and were full of fear. The two who looked at God’s strength were full of faith.
The fear of the majority was infectious and soon swept through the whole camp. Despite seeing for themselves the miracles of God parting the Red Sea and visibly going before them in pillars of cloud and of fire, the people put their trust in their own abilities instead of in God. And they demanded that their leaders fear what they feared – that those in authority be their followers instead of their leaders. When that didn’t happen, they were ready to kill Moses and Aaron – the leaders God had established – and choose their own guides to take them where they thought they wanted to go. The Israelites were determined to go back to Egypt, the place of their slavery and oppression.
In spite of everything, Moses intervened to save them from the immediate punishment they deserved. But as a consequence of their rebellion, they got exactly what they feared; all the grumblers would indeed die in the wilderness instead of entering the promised land.
These tendencies to trust in themselves instead of in God didn’t change in the centuries that led up to Jesus’ coming. This time it was those who were already earthly leaders – and were intent on staying that way – who refused to recognize God’s ultimate authority in the person of his Son.
Just as the people had wanted to kill Moses and Aaron, the leaders in Jesus’ day wanted to kill him because he wasn’t following them. He was attacking the traditions they had established and was threatening their position in the community:
The chief priests and teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. (Mark 11:18)
“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:48)
We can also fall into the trap of wanting the church and its leaders to operate under our authority instead of God’s. Taken to the extreme, this sense of ownership over “our” church can result in enough anger to wipe out those who have God’s authority in order to establish our own supremacy. Instead of moving into what God has promised, we revert to the slavery of trusting in – not to mention exalting – ourselves. We ignore the truth that Those who trust in themselves are fools . . . (Prov. 28:26)
When adversity comes, where do we put our trust?
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Prov. 3:5)
A half-hearted trust isn’t trust at all. Fear of man doesn’t leave room for fear of God – the reverent awe which is more than due him. If we only trust in what we understand, we land in the category of fools, putting ourselves on the same level with God. Trust means total confidence, in spite of what we see. When we acknowledge that God is fully worthy of our trust, then he will show us how we should move forward. When we trust in ourselves or our fears, we move backward into slavery.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
Joy, peace and hope come from trusting God whatever the circumstances, and are only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. Adversity will cause us to overflow with whatever fills us: fear, anger, or hopelessness; or the joy, peace and hope that only God can give.
Keeping the balance of our trust account high ensures we’ll have sufficient to draw from when we need it most. May we fill it to overflowing.