Killing the Messenger

You are likely familiar with the scene in Numbers 13-14 when the twelve spies sent to scout out the Promised Land come back and give their report to the people of Israel. The report is unanimous that it is a good land but ten of the twelve spies are focused more on the fact that the land is occupied by giants. “Now way,” they say, “can we take this land. We are like grasshoppers compared to those guys!” Caleb and Joshua, though, tell the people that their focus is in the wrong place, that God has promised them this land and therefore they have nothing to worry about. God is on their side! Verses 6-9 of Numbers 14 read like this:

And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

Sadly, the people do not listen to Joshua and Caleb. They are not swayed by the reminder of the fact that God will surely deliver the land to them. This is a pattern with the Israelites, of course. Despite all of the incredible things they saw God do, from the ten plagues in Egypt to parting the Red Sea, from providing water from a rock to manna from the sky, and oh-so-much more, the Israelites had an incredibly short memory. Every time the going got rough they started longing for Egypt again. “Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” they ask in verse 3. “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.” In their defense, the Israelites are equal-opportunity forgetters–they also forget the terribly conditions and the way they were treated when they were in Egypt.

The incredible thing about this story, though, is that the people do more than say, “No, we’re sticking with the ten–it’s too hard and we’re not going to try.” Not satisfied with opposing those who take a stand for God, the crowd wants to kill them. Verse 10 of Numbers 14 says, “Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones.” The rest of verse 10 makes it clear that God intervened and protected Joshua and Caleb. Still, I find it striking that the Israelites could not just disagree with them, they wanted to kill them.

I think we live in a day and age when this will becoming more and more the reality. We already live in a world when taking a stand for biblical truth is unpopular, when those who speak the truth are shouted down and told to shut up. They are labeled as intolerant or having some kind of phobia. Eventually, though, I think we could find ourselves in a situation like Joshua and Caleb found themselves. Such an environment already exists in some parts of the world, and we would be naive to think it could not happen here. Freedom of speech no longer means what it used to. We already see economic repercussions for having an opinion or taking a position that is not politically correct, from city councils asking for pastor’s sermons to cake shops being find exorbitant sums for declining to bake cakes for homosexual marriage ceremonies. Non-profit organizations fear losing tax-exempt status if they stand for biblical principles. In other words, we’re already heading down this road.

Yes, I know it is a long way from fines to executions, but I am not sure it is quite as long a way as we think. Standing for the truth will become more and more expensive, I fear, and the cost may soon be much more than money.

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