It’s all there in Numbers 13, another of those Sunday school stories I read as a kid and scratched my head, wondering how God’s chosen people could be so completely stupid sometimes. I mean, here they were, at the gates of the Promised Land, and they come back with the report, “Yeah, it’s awesome. It is a land flowing with milk and honey and all, and, hey, would you LOOK at these GRAPES, people! But there’s one huge problem, dudes. There are giants in the land. Scary, mean men who’ll tear us limb from limb, given the slightest chance. We can’t possibly take them on. Maybe we should just pack it all up and head back to Egypt. This was a huge mistake, y’all…”
Then one voice came out of the crowd, the voice of Caleb, “Hey! Shut up a minute! We can so take them! Let’s do it!” …because Caleb remembered the Promise. He remembered who was guiding them, giving them power to take the land.
The people, well, they decided to listen to the doubters. They threw a colossal fit all night and started a committee to stone Moses and Aaron and head back to Egypt, because in Egypt at least they knew what they were getting into. I mean, they may have been slaves, but at least they had a sure thing. And it looked pretty sure that either way, they were doomed.
10 But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. 11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?12 I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”
13 Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. 14 And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, Lord, are with these people and that you, Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. 15 If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16 ‘The Lordwas not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ Numbers 14:10-16
So, what was at stake here, as Moses wisely saw, wasn’t really the fate of the Children of Israel or where their next meal was coming from, it was the reputation of Yahweh. God’s glory was at stake here, and Moses saw that. I think that knowing that was likely the one thing keeping him less concerned about the mob outside his door calling for his execution and more concerned that God’s name not be smeared by a bunch of malcontents who forgot the promises of the God who’d pulled off miracle after miracle to get them where they were that night. Moses had seen God’s glory, and he would never be the same. He knew what was on the line, and he remembered the promise.
So, the Children of Israel… they were pretty ignorant, right? I mean, we’d never do something like that –witness God throwing his worst -ten whole plagues, each one worse than the other- at our enemies, parting the Red Sea and completely decimating our enemies, and carrying us through a long journey– just to give up at the moment His promises were about to come true? Right?
Let me tell you a story. A story about a silly girl who heard a calling. She listened to wise people around her who noticed that she had a gift for words, who enjoyed a good story and who loved nothing better than to retell those stories to remind the people around her that there was a God who once walked among us, who gave himself in love to the people of the world, and whose hand she could see at work in the lives of those around her.
She’d been looking for a long, long time for her calling. She thought it might be art, and put her efforts into that, but nothing really resonated with anything she created. Not like it did with words. She’d be writing in her mind all the time, wondering what the stories were of the people she’d meet, listening to others talk about God’s moving in their lives, and thinking of how incredible it would be if someone could put that person’s story out in the world in a way that would point them to Truth, and remind people that even the tragedies of life could be dug through to find a foundation of God’s love and working in our life.
But she felt she didn’t have the tools she needed to do it. You see, she left college after two years, because even then, she was starting to realize that where she thought she was called wasn’t really her calling. She’d dreamed about going back one day, but life carried her to places far and wide from the possibility of going back, and even if she did, she wasn’t sure where to start.
And then one day, after she’d listened to the wise folk around her and found her calling, God put her back within reach of where she started, at the college that -though she though it didn’t help her then find her calling- set the foundations of finding that calling.
And she knocked on the door.
And it opened. She went in, looked around a while, expecting to fail, and didn’t. One semester. But she’d already paid off all her student loans, and the fruit of that one semester wasn’t enough to conquer the giants of finding finances to finally finish. She knew in her heart that God was at work here, but she turned around and walked away, because she didn’t believe God could really, truly do it, and she couldn’t bear the disappointment of one more thing started and not finished.
Guilty as charged. That girl, me, decided that the giants in the land were bigger than God’s working in my life and His ability to provide. And, two miserable, confused years later, I’d had enough.
Knowing the basics of his story, I read the autobiography of George Mueller with the intention of shaking my head at the foolishness and irresponsibility of building an orphanage with no funds, of putting himself and his family at the mercy of God’s direct provision, following his personal conviction that he would not make his needs known to people around him, but only to God Himself in prayer. But what I found in that book was a normal, human man who also had his doubts, but let his belief in God do the walking, and trusted. And God did not let him or those in his charge go hungry or suffer want.
Was he foolish? Irresponsible? Absolutely, by the standards of this world. But he heard God, and believed what he heard and walked in that belief.
Once again, what was at stake here? The glory of God, not the reputation of a man, not the story of a successful orphanage, but purely God’s glory. Because George Muller understood that, he was able to see beyond the apparent irresponsibility and foolishness of what he was doing, and trust that God will never let His name be anything but faithful and true. George Mueller trusted God, and God got the glory.
And now I see it differently, this journey back to school. It’s not about a pride in being debt-free. It’s not about me looking responsible or even me getting a degree so I can consider myself on equal footing with most of my peers, who are college educated. It’s not about “bettering myself.” It’s not about being an example to my kids, at least not in the sense of being an example of worldly success. It’s not even about me getting a job. It’s about the glory of God, and following the calling He put me on the road to fulfilling.
That’s not going to make a whole lot of sense to a whole lot of people, and I think I’m getting okay with that. It doesn’t have to, because at the end of days, it’s not about me. It never was. It’s about His glory, and I’ve seen shadows of that glory and I know that God’s glory changes people. It has changed me. I know the string of stories He’s woven in my life that point to His hand of faithfulness in impossible and dark places. I know that I am loved. And that, really, is all I need to know that He will get me through. Giants or no giants.