Today’s reading includes Numbers 32:1-33:39, Luke 4:31-5:11, Psalm 64:1-1-10, Proverbs 11:22.
In today’s reading we see the sad account of two of the tribes of Israel. They experienced the same journey as the other 10 tribes. They endured the wilderness, they saw the miracles, they experienced the fear, they worked through the complaints, they saw the discipline of the Lord when they sinned. And now they were on the edge of the Promise land. They had finally arrived. And what did they want to do? They wanted to stay back. They wanted the safety of what they knew rather than step out in faith into all that God had promised them. They wanted their wives and children to be safe, wanted to thrive in their occupation of raising livestock. And from their perspective, the safest route to success was staying put. So they took their petition and proposal to Moses. They decided, like the prodigal son, to request their inheritance early, and went a step further by dictating what they wanted their inheritance to be. Though Moses granted their request, he did so with much disgust.
6 Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, “Should your fellow Israelites go to war while you sit here? 7 Why do you discourage the Israelites from crossing over into the land the Lord has given them? 8 This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to look over the land. 9 After they went up to the Valley of Eshkol and viewed the land, they discouraged the Israelites from entering the land the Lord had given them.
We see that Moses was disgusted for several reasons. First, these two tribes were unwilling to receive the great gift God was offering them. They were shrinking back for the safety of the known. They were unwilling to step out in faith. But just as our actions always have a domino effect, so was the case in this situation. Their decision was discouraging the other ten tribes from crossing over into the promises God was offering them, too. And this is what their ancestors before had done at Kadesh Barnea. What happened there?
Kadesh Barnea was the infamous place of a huge failure of faith. This is where they were previously on the outer edges of entering the promise land, the place “flowing with milk and honey”. Moses sent 12 spies to scout out the land and to bring back samples of what was available there. They brought back beautiful examples of grapes and other wonderful samples of the bounty of the land. But they also brought back unbelief and fear. All but two of the spies—Joshua and Caleb—discouraged the people. They all agreed that the land was beautiful and bountiful, but instead of focusing on the blessing and promise of the Lord, they focused on their fear. They said that there were giants in the land and that they seemed like grasshoppers in comparison.
So their fear replaced their faith and it spread like a contagious disease to all the people. As a result, they all had to wander for 40 years. And here they were once again on the edge of the Promise land and Moses was hearing a repeat of what happened at Kadesh Barnea. And Moses knew what could easily come. Their lack of courage would discourage the other Israelite. “Dis” is a prefix, derived from a Latin root. It means to have a negative or reversing force. When we are discouraged, we are experiencing the reversing of our courage. It is a covert tool the enemy of our soul often uses, especially to divert us from a path God wants us to take.
What can we learn from this account? We are at times tempted to settle for less than the beautiful things God has planned for us. We want to settle into a life of spiritual mediocrity. We want to feel the safety of what is known rather than step out in faith into what is unknown. As our courage wanes, we become the source of discouragement for ourselves and others. And what should we do in these times of discouragement? Turn our eyes to the One who can keep us steady and help us stay the course. We can remind ourselves of the truth and proclamation Moses said to Joshua, just before he led the people into the Promise land.
9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”