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15. Seeing by insight not by eyesight

Bible readings: Numbers 13vs28-33; and chapter 32. My life (put) alongside God's word, volume 1.

Have you ever been in a situation where people coveted land for grazing their herds? Do you know of people who will fight to get land that is not rightfully theirs? Both situations are found – and commented on – in Numbers 32.

Two of Israel’s twelve tribes “had very large herds and flocks” and “saw that … lands … were suitable for livestock”, v1. They asked Moses, Eleazer and community leaders: “let this land be given to your servants as our possession” v5.

There was something very reasonable about this request, but there was also something very wrong. The reasonableness can be seen in the fact that large herds need a lot of good grazing land. No one can possibly argue with that.

But the wrongness is seen in that the land they asked for was not the land God had promised them – no matter how right and good it seemed to be, vv7, 15. Moses cited the example of the spies in Israelite history, who also found reason for not even trying to enter the land God had promised them, vv8-13.

In both cases the issue was not about what was visibly seen. In case one “the people who live there are very powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large” Numbers 13:28. The inhabitants Israel would have to fight were people who “are stronger than we are … of a great size. We … seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes …” vv31-33. In case two “the lands the Lord subdued before the people of Israel … are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock” Numbers 32:4. To the naked human eye, in two different situations, case one had huge obstacles and case two offered a good solution. But, in relation to the hearts of God’s people, both cases showed that their hearts were in the wrong place.

In cases one and two God’s people discounted God’s promise clearly given to them. “And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites … a land flowing with milk and honey” Exodus 3:8,17. This omission was to arouse the Lord’s anger against the entire community of God’s people, Numbers 14:21-23, 32:10-13, which in turn disqualified the doubters from being able to claim God’s promises, vv11-12.

What brought God’s anger to both cases was when God’s people chose on the basis of what they could see, instead of trusting with all of their hearts in God’s spoken promises.

This brings us around to our questions in the opening paragraph of this chapter:

How should we respond Christianly to issues of land and living?

In Jesus’ sermon on the mount He urged His followers “do not worry about your life” Matthew 6:25. He said the birds we see everywhere around us day after day are constant visual aids that God will provide for us when we work hard, going where we can, gathering what is available to us, feeding ourselves and our family, v26. This includes both agriculturalists – those who plant crops, and pastoralists – those who graze herds of animals. God can and will provide for all of His people who seek the right way first of all.

In His message summary Jesus draws a distinction between pagans – who are members of groups professing a polytheistic religion or any religion other than Christianity, Judaism or Islam; and people without any religion, heathens – a distinction between them and Christian believers, vv32-34.

We must challenge ourselves with these hard questions:

  • Is my reaction to these issues more pagan than Christian?

  • Am I pleasing my Saviour with this, or am I simply pleasing myself?

“All these things will be given to you as well”, v33. God promises everything necessary for life itself to those who fully trust in His promises.

Jesus ends His sermon with the well-known parable of the two builders. To be a life-builder who pleases God we Christian disciples must be “like a wise man who builds his house on the rock”, “who hears these words of Mine (Jesus’) and puts them into practice” 7:24. Hearing alone is not enough! Action must be taken.

Perhaps when all of us put this into practice – trusting God’s promises rather than trusting our own eyesight or traditional values – many inter-tribal wars would cease?

It has to be worth giving it a reasonable time of trying.

Discussion questions:

1. In Genesis 9:22 God promises continuous “harvest”, crop collection, the fruit of working in the right conditions. Sometimes this does not appear to happen. Why?

2. What would help in bringing a solution to the African problems of drought and hunger? How could these things be brought about?

3. From Matthew 6:25-34 describe how nature, birds and flowers especially, point to God’s provision.

4. How does James 2:14-18 tell Christians to respond to others in need?

5. Where does Isaiah 42:5-7 tell us our focus should be?


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