Today’s Reading: Numbers 13:1-3, 25-33, 14:1-10
We all have our favorite Bible characters – characters who inspire us with their bravery, honesty, or compassion. As we have moved through our devotionals this year (each on a Bible character and the lessons we can learn from her/his life), I’ve found myself drawn to write about the characters I admire most. I think, though, that I might be taking the easy way out by only writing about those whom it’s easy to like! This week, I decided to write about a character with whom I struggle: Joshua. According to the writers of the Old Testament, Joshua is a hero! He is appointed by Moses to be the new leader of the Israelite people and he leads them into the Promised Land, which will become Israel. The problem is that the land is already inhabited, so Joshua’s story is stained with violence and genocide. How do we deal with having such violence at the heart of the story of our faith? How do we grapple with having a celebrated leader who perpetrated so much violence? What lessons might such flawed but relentlessly faithful character have for you and me? That’s what we will explore this week.
Joshua’s story doesn’t begin so badly. In fact, it’s pretty inspiring. Joshua is one of the twelve spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land to check it out. When they return, they give their report: the land is amazing, full of fruit, with fertile ground and plenty of land for keeping livestock. But there’s a problem – the land is already inhabited and it’s not just inhabited by normal people. The spies tell stories of giant who live in well-fortified cities. There is no way they can take the land! Yet there are two among the twelve – Joshua and Caleb – who disagree. They try to reassure the people that with God on their side, they will be able to take these cities; there is no need to fear! But the people do not listen and instead try to stone Joshua and Caleb. Because the Israelites are not willing to go into the land, the Lord condemns them to wander in the desert for 40 years. None of them, God says, will be allowed to step foot in the Promised Land. None of them, except for Joshua and Caleb, that is. Joshua and Caleb survive and after 40 years, they get another glimpse of that land in which they were spies so many years before.
I remember being younger and having a Sunday School teacher use this story as a way of teaching about the importance of being optimistic. Joshua and Caleb were glass-half-full people, she said, and that’s how we are called to live our lives! While it’s great for us to try to be positive, I’m not so sure that’s what this story is really about. Instead, I think it’s about trust. Reread Numbers 13:1. The Lord had given the land to the Israelites, yet the people are unwilling to accept the gift, believing that God could not or would not protect them. Their punishment is just what they have asked for – to not go into the land. But Joshua and Caleb have faith in the promises of God, believing that God will be present with them and help them to do what they’ve been asked to do.
How are you at trusting the promises of God – that Christ will always be with us (Matthew 28:20), that in all things, God will work for good (Romans 8:28), that love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8)? When you are faced with big obstacles, are you more like Joshua and Caleb or more like the other spies? Do you struggle to have faith that God will walk the hard path with you and that things will be alright on the other side? Which of God’s promises bring you the most comfort in this time of stress, where we are all called upon to shelter in place?