We are studying Numbers 13:1-14:10 for Sunday, September 22, focusing on Numbers 13:25-28 and 14:5-10. This is the beginning of the story of the spies, and the Israelites’ initial refusal to enter the Promised Land. [My notes on the text are here.] Here are a couple of questions about the text, which we might want to think about ahead of time or discuss in class:
Have we ever had to decide whose testimony to trust? What were the circumstances? How were they similar to those of the Israelites in this story, how were they different, would we say? How did we decide? Would our decision making criteria have helped the Israelites, do we think? Why, or why not?
If we were to write a headline for this story, what would it be? Why would we make that the headline? What other headlines would be possible? What difference does it make what we say about this story? That is, does it affect how we read the story? Why is that, do we think?
[More personal] Have we ever been in a situation that is like the situation the Israelites are in – that is, a situation in which we know what God is asking us to do, but we do not want to do it? [What was the situation? What did we do about it? How did it turn out? What if anything did we learn from that experience?]
How is this situation different from the situation in which we do not know what God is asking us to do?
Which situation is easier, do we think? Why is that? Which situation would we rather be in? Why is that? Which situation is more common, do we think? Why is that?
[More personal] Have we ever been in a situation similar in any way to that of Caleb and Joshua? What situation was that? In what way(s) was it similar? In what way(s) was it different? What did we do? Why? What happened? What did we learn from that? How does it affect the way we read this text?
Have we ever been in a situation similar in any way to that of the 10 other spies? What situation was that? In what way(s) was it similar, in what way(s) different? What did we do? Why? What happened? What did we learn from that? How does it affect the way we read this text?
I confess, here’s my biggest question about the text: in Numbers 14:3, the Israelites ask “why is YHWH bringing us into this land to fall by the sword?” That is, they assign a purpose to God’s action in bringing them out of Egypt, and it’s a malign one.
So I wonder: what makes the difference between that kind of thinking, and the kind of thinking exemplified by Caleb and Joshua? If we want to have Caleb and Joshua’s kind of confidence in God’s good intentions, what has to be kept in mind, or what has to be ignored, or what has to be thought about differently, or … what? Because this, it seems to me, is something that many people struggle with today, maybe even daily, or more than daily. And it would be helpful, it seems to me, to be able to encourage people in the Caleb and Joshua direction (assuming that’s the correct direction, which I understand it may not always be … keeping in mind Numbers 14:39-45), and to pull people back from the brink of the congregation’s response.
It seems to me it must be something in the people themselves, something in what they pay attention to, or in the way they interpret the evidence, or something they do. I say this because according to the story they have the kind of “empirical evidence” – pillars of cloud and of fire, water from rocks and manna from heaven, and tablets of Torah and the experience of the voice of God – that most of us would give a limb or at least a digit to have had even once in a lifetime. So if that kind of in-your-face presence-of-the-miraculous doesn’t automatically do it, what makes the difference? And is whatever that is anything we can … Activate? Cultivate? Educate? For ourselves? For our neighbors?
I would really like to know this.