The book of Joshua begins right after the death of Moses. Moses’ death signals the last of a generation God had patiently endured while he waited for them to die. Numbers 13 and 14 record the story of when Moses sent 12 spies into the land and they returned with conflicting reports. All of the spies agreed the land was amazing, but 10 of them believed its inhabitants were too strong to defeat. Though Caleb and Joshua plead with Israel NOT to follow their “bad” report, the 10 other spies made strong arguments that filled all of Israel with fear. In fact, the 10 spies are so convincing, that Israel begins to cry, hide behind their families, and threaten to overthrow the current leadership.
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14.1-4)
No matter how you look at it, the people disobey God. They make all kinds of excuses, some sounding quite reasonable, others emotionally satisfying, but ALL simply ways to justify their disobedience. We make the same kinds of excuses to not follow God on mission. Here are five of the most common ones, not the only ones:
1. IT’S TOO HARD: It’s not that we misunderstand what God has commanded us to do, quite the contrary. We understand exactly what God has asked us to do, and it just appears too hard. We fear men or circumstances, more than we fear God in all circumstances. The truth is, God commands the impossible and then leads the charge up the hill himself, making all things possible.
2. I’M TOO WEAK: Those who say this hold to a man-centered theology. When someone says, “I am too weak”, our response should be, “No duh!” The Bible declares that we are weak, broken, rebellious, and dead in our sin. We are weak, but God is strong. Claiming you are weak completely ignores who God is. The truth is, God never commands what he himself won’t accomplish.
3. I’M TOO SCARED: The problem here is that in the mind of this individual, people are big and God is small. I’m not sure what we’re scared of losing exactly. If we consider for a moment what we are MOST AFRAID of losing, and that “thing” is not God, we are guilty of idolatry. I believe it was martyred missionary Jim Elliot who said, “He is not fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain which he cannot lose.” The truth is, we should be very more fearful of NOT following God on mission. Scary.
4. I’M TOO WORRIED FOR______: The men of Israel, in order to justify their rebellion in Numbers 14, hide behind their wives and children. We’re tempted to empathize with these guys because it reads as if they are doing what they think is best for their families, protecting them. The problem is, God has commanded they go; it is the very BEST thing for their families. The truth is, most of our anxious feelings are genuine, but many of them (when held up to Scripture) are sinful.
5. I’M TOO COMFORTABLE: People hate change. A lot of our refusal to follow God on mission is because we are comfortable. It is uncomfortable to voluntarily enter the battlefield, it is uncomfortable to make sacrifices, it is uncomfortable to follow God when it doesn’t make sense intellectually or feel good emotionally. The truth is, if the WORD of GOD doesn’t govern what we do…what does? Emotions that change? Intellects that are marred by sin? Experiences that are deceiving?
Those who refuse to go on mission will be left, as the Israelites were, to wander aimlessly in the wilderness. It is a place where it is more comfortable, where there is less sacrifice, where there is a confusing sense of purpose and direction, where you do what you want despite what God’s Word actually says.