Yesterday, we introduced the story of the Israelites on the edge of the Promised Land, when their own spies convinced them that although the land was good, they were not in any position at all to take it for themselves. They grumbled against the Lord, who gave them exactly what they asked for - they would die in the wilderness - and then reaffirmed His promise for future generations, inspiring them to go boldly into an unapproved battle and be soundly defeated.
Caught up? Okay.
Here's why this story is so important for us today: because we are not fundamentally different than the Israelites.
One of the temptations that we have as Christians is to read the Bible and to believe that every word that God ever said is the same word that God is saying to us right now. In fact, this is one of the greatest errors that we make in biblical interpretation, and it can lead us very far astray.
For example, take the story of the rich young ruler. This young man comes to Jesus to brag about how good and righteous he is, but Jesus sees right through him and challenges him to do the one thing that would be most difficult in all the world for him to do - sell everything, give the profits to the poor, and then come, follow Me.
We read this story, and we think that what Jesus said to the rich young ruler, He is saying to all of us. We come up with all kinds of theology about how we're not supposed to have pleasures in this world, about how we should not own any possessions at all, about how we have to give up everything that we hold dear and give it to those less fortunate than us. We are always looking to empty our hands...and our shelves...and our lives. But these were not the words of Jesus to everyone; they were the words of Jesus to one man.
At no point in this story does Jesus turn His attention to the crowd and declare, "Actually, you know, this is good advice for all of you." Of all of the men and women gathered around Him, there is only one that Jesus tells to sell everything, give the profits to the poor, and follow Him. Just one. Dozens, if not hundreds, of others are standing there, but Jesus isn't speaking to them.
What makes us think He is speaking to us?
(As an aside, if you want to know the moral of this particular story, it's that we have to be willing to break free from whatever it is that binds us away from Jesus. In the rich young ruler's case, it was his wealth/status/money, but that might not be the case for us. The story, then, is not a pronouncement against wealth/status/money, but an indictment of our relationship to the things that keep us self-righteous and prevent us from following Jesus.)
But then, we wonder how it is that our lives get so messed up, why they seem so off-track. Why we keep running head-first into defeat, just like the Israelites. And it's because we're guilty of the same sin that they are - we have accepted a word of the Lord outside of His timing for it. We have taken something that He said in a temporal sense and made it eternal. We have not listened to what He is doing now but instead, have figured He's just doing now what He's been doing all along and that the formula for faith is the same as it has always been.
When the truth is that when God tells you to turn around, He's no longer going with you into the fight.
When God speaks to one man, He may not be speaking to you, too.
We have to be careful about this. We have to be mindful about the way in which we read Scripture, or else we fall into this trap. We come to an understanding where every single word that God ever spoke was a word He was speaking into our lives, without context. Without relationship. Without timing. And that's just not the case.
Part of being a people of a God who is right here with us is our being right here with Him. And that means that we have to pay attention not just to what He says, but when He says it. Not just what He's said, but what He is saying now.
Lest we run off into battle and find ourselves soundly defeated.
There is, of course, something else troubling about all of this. We will look at that tomorrow.