Faith and a Punch in the Mouth

Eventually you have to stop preparing and start moving.When some people prepare for a road trip, they spend weeks planning, packing, and making checklists. Other people throw some clothes in a backpack and hit the road without so much as a route mapped out in advance. Based on my own experience, I know which one I’d bet on reaching their destination and having more fun while there, but to each his own.

Of course, some journeys require more planning than others. There’s going to the grocery store and then there’s going off to college. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t know which is which and sometimes there’s just no time for thorough planning.

The Hebrews spent a lot of time moving from place to place in the wilderness. They spent very little time preparing for each move, but those moves didn’t require or allow extensive planning. Is the cloud moving? Then it’s time to go. But on either side of their wilderness journeys there were two moves that were of a very different sort.

God gave them one day to get ready to leave Egypt and had them prepare by asking their Egyptian neighbors for silver and gold. God told Moses to tell the people, “Go ask your neighbors for money. God is sending one more plague tonight, and Pharaoh’s going to let us go in the morning.” They didn’t have years to save their pennies or to collect survival gear. They didn’t have weeks to pack up for the movers. They had one day.

Which was more than Yeshua gave to his disciples one time:

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff–no bread, no bag, no money in their belts–but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:7-11 ESV)

Just like with the Hebrews many centuries before, Yeshua wanted to teach his disciples to trust in Providence. When God tells you to go, he will also provide the means. When the “what” is certain, but the “how” seems unimaginable, trust God to provide the means or an alternate route.

God provides. To reinforce that point to the Hebrews, he led them to a dead end, trapped between the sea and Pharaoh’s chariots. Failure appeared certain, yet he made another way. God parted the sea and brought it back together again to drown Israel’s enemies.

Once in the Wilderness, God transformed them from bitter, defeated, and dependent slaves into a cohesive nation with a powerful faith in him. He spent forty years preparing them for their next mission, the conquest of the Promised Land.

If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve learned that no amount of planning can ever account for every possible eventuality. Stuff happens. Roads fork. Children. As Mike Tyson says, “Everybody has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.”

At some point, you have to move from planning to execution. You have to stop training, contemplating, brainstorming and start storming castles.

You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward. (Deuteronomy 2:3 ESV)

After an entire generation had died in the wilderness, it was finally time to stop moving from one campsite to another. It was time for Israel to turn north toward Canaan and start confronting the peoples whom God said had lost all claim to the land.

They had the Torah and the Ark of the Covenant. They had the priesthood and new, aggressive set of leaders. They were hardened and free, no longer thinking like slaves. The Hebrews were as prepared as they could ever be and nation after nation fell before them.

And then they came to Jericho.

They looked at each other and asked, “Now what?” It seemed that nothing they had experienced had prepared them for the impregnable walls and well trained soldiers of Jericho.

But that wasn’t quite true. It was true that their swords, slings, and arrows were no more effective than feathers against that wall, but all of their weapons and tactics were the least of their tools. They had one weapon that was mightier than all the armies that have ever existed: faith.

Faith brings obedience and obedience brings victory.

When no weapon was of any use, they obeyed God. They marched, blew trumpets, marched some more, and then shouted for all they were worth. Against all reasonable expectations, Jericho’s walls collapsed before the weight of their faith and the city was theirs.

Planning and preparation is important–nothing about any of these stories should lead you to believe that God doesn’t want you to prepare for life or ministry–but planning isn’t everything. Eventually you have to stop circling the mountain and turn northward.

When God told the Hebrews to ask their neighbors for traveling money, when he told them not to fear Pharaoh, when he told them to move from camp to camp, and when he told them to march around Jericho he was preparing them by building their faith in him. Without faith, all of our plans and maps will come to nothing. Whatever we might accomplish in life, wherever we think we have gone, without faith in God and the obedience that inevitably follows it, it will all turn to dust before the end.

On that day, when everyone and everything is getting punched in the mouth, only those things solidly built on a foundation of faith and obedience to God will survive.

The Conditions Under Which God Sent Israel to War

In Deuteronomy 1-3, Moses recounts to Israel their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, including all of their triumphs, tragedies, and embarrassments. “Remember when we did this and we went there, and then we fought those people, and I told you this thing, then you did that, and we had that other war with those other people, and God was really mad at you about this thing, and don’t mess with these people, but don’t be afraid of these others…” It’s all quite a story.

Most of Torah is concerned with how people are to relate to each other and to God as individuals, but this passage is much more interested in how Israel had behaved as a nation in relation to other nations. There were essentially three ways that God told Israel to treat with the peoples they encountered:

  1. They attacked you. Destroy them.
  2. I’ve given their land to you. Destroy them and take it.
  3. If they leave you alone, you leave them alone.

Does this resemble American foreign policy? Not even remotely. We are constantly meddling in the internal affairs of foreign nations for any number of reasons. We invade countries all over the world because we don’t like how they do business or how they treat their own people or their neighbors. The precedent that God set with Israel and her neighbors is simple: If they’re not actively attacking you, then stay out of their business.

It’s not isolationism to avoid military adventurism. Would you call a neighbor antisocial if he didn’t break down your door and shoot one of your children before borrowing a tool? You don’t have to shoot and bomb people to have a relationship with them.

It’s not a bad idea to have a “big stick” at hand, though, just in case.

Peace is not isolationist

∞ > 10: God Is Not a Grasshopper

Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22
Isaiah 1:1-27
Acts 9:1-22

Deuteronomy 1:23-33 “The plan pleased me well; so I took twelve of your men, one man from each tribe. And they departed and went up into the mountains, and came to the Valley of Eshcol, and spied it out. They also took some  of the fruit of the land in their hands and brought it down to us; and they brought back word to us, saying, ‘It is a good land which YHWH our God is giving us.’… Yet, for all that, you did not believe YHWH your God, who went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go, in the fire by night and in the cloud by day.

When Moses recounted the story of the twelve spies, he left out an important detail: ten of the twelve spies brought back a bad report. “The land is bountiful and beautiful, but we are grasshoppers next to the inhabitants!” Is it any wonder that the people lost their faith? Why did Moses make it sound as if the Israelites doubted God for no good reason?

Because they did! God promised to bring them into the Land. He destroyed Pharaoh’s army and spectacularly broke Egypt’s power. The whole world was soon talking about Israel and her God in fear. Yet when ten men told them how mighty were their enemies, they turned on the God whose presence was physically manifested among them in a gigantic pillar of fire. What were they thinking!? It didn’t matter how many spies came back with a bad report. It didn’t even matter that two of them spoke truthfully. No handful or army of men can stand in the way of God fulfilling his promises to us.

But we can.

If you say that you are inadequate to the mission God has assigned to you, then you are completely misunderstanding your mission. The problem with saying that “We are grasshoppers in our eyes” is that we are irrelevant. Stop looking at yourself and start looking at God! Is He a grasshopper in our eyes?

Fear is so easy. We entertain it and feed it our whole lives while we starve faith. It’s no wonder we don’t see miracles when by our constant expectations of disaster we accuse God of faithlessness.

How God sees you vs how you see yourself.
How God sees you vs how you see yourself.