Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
I am rereading the Old Testament. It is like life, full of interesting and at times, tragic stories.
I have heard people say they often stay away from the “OT” because it is full of names and places that are impossible to pronounce let alone commit to memory. Another reason offered for skipping over that large section of the Bible is that the OT really doesn’t have much significance since we now have the New Testament — a better covenant through the blood of Christ.
There is no doubt the “NT” is a better covenant (Hebrews 7:22), but the OT provides the foundation for the NT. Yet, another reason that sometimes goes unsaid is in the OT, God doesn’t appear to be as loving as the NT God.
As a point of clarification, it is the same God in both testaments. Rather than take the remainder of space to illustrate that, I will simply cite a short verse from Malachi 3:6 “I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”
I have been looking at one portion in particular where the nation of Israel is preparing to move into the “Promised land.” If you are not familiar with the story, it was an 11 day walk that turned into a 40-year journey. The journey included the loss of an entire generation of people who forfeited their opportunity to go to a land “flowing with milk and honey.”
For some, perhaps, I have just made a point: “See that is not the loving God I believe in.” The NT God would have … That’s the problem. It’s the same God. So why did God not allow them to go in? Moses had sent out 12 men representatives, one from each of the tribes of Israel. Their assignment was straight forward according to Deuteronomy: “Bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.”
The 12 returned and said, yes, the land is just as advertised “flowing with milk and honey.” It has an abundance of everything, it is a wonderful place — but we should not go. There are giants in the land and we are no match for them. We had better stay here. Two of the 12 said “we can do this,” but their voices were lost on people too afraid to move forward.
They refused to go in, so God let them wander for 40 years. There are several potential lessons from this story. In part, 10 of the 12 spies, as they are sometimes called, lost sight of their commission, their task. They had not been asked to make a judgment call about the ability of Israel to conquer the land. God had already promised them the land. Their task was reconnaissance.
When they lost their focus, the result was a lack of faith that led to unbelief, which led to disobedience. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, or put another way, what is the assignment for people of faith, He replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39 NIV
That sounds like a straight forward task, but to be honest, it is easy to lose our focus, to take on assignments and responsibilities we were never given. We can spend so much time worrying about the giants that we miss the promise.
Bill Upton is chaplain of the Tooele City Police Department.