Deuteronomy 1:25-27 “Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they (Israel’s spies) brought it down to us and reported, ‘It is a good land that the LORD our God is giving us.’ But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. You grumbled in your tents and said, ‘The LORD hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us.’”
“Backwards” is the opposite of progress. Backwards ways of doing things are inefficient and don’t accomplish what they are supposed to. A backwards person isn’t very intelligent. If you pull your shirt on backwards, it’s on wrong and it looks funny. You need to turn it around and get it on right.
Backwards can be a bad direction for us spiritually as well. “Backsliding” leads us away from God and closer to sin and unbelief. Anyone who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for service in the kingdom, Jesus says. Don’t forget what happened to Lot’s wife when she looked back.
When the Lord led Israel from Mount Sinai more or less directly to the southern border of Canaan, the Israelites sent spies into the land to get an idea of what they were up against. They didn’t like what they saw. Then the nation rebelled against God’s command to go up and take possession of the land. The Lord had no intention of playing real estate agent. He wasn’t going to show them place after place until they found one with just the features they wanted. This was their new home. It wasn’t optional. God was sending his people forward to take possession of the land, but they were refusing to go.
Today our Lord has broadened the scope of his people’s work. He sends us forward to take possession of the entire world, but not in a political or military way. He is sending us to capture hearts for his kingdom by telling others the good news about Jesus. Our congregations support this world-wide conquest through our gifts and offerings to missions. But part of the campaign goes on right in our back yard. The inhabitants of the land he wants us to conquer live next door to us. They go to work with us and shop in the same stores. God still sends us forward to take possession of hearts and souls that need Jesus.
And that is not an option. Neither as a church nor as individuals does he allow us to shop around for a different mission: “I’m sure that winning souls is great, Lord. But I’m not much into that sort of thing. What else have you got?” No, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” He has not decreed specific roles we have to take. They may be different according to our individual gifts. But we are not to hide behind the walls of our homes and churches, frozen where we are. God sends us to possess the hearts and souls of our neighbors.
Is that a reason to complain? “You grumbled in your tents and said, ‘The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us.” Compared to the desert they had left behind in Egypt, Canaan was a rich and fertile land. Compared to the slavery they had left behind in Egypt, this was chance to experience freedom and prosperity. For Israel to stare at this rich and undeserved gift from God, and then accuse him of trying to kill them, has to be the worst kind of blasphemy. Imagine how you would feel if you poured yourself into finding an expensive, extravagant, yet completely practical gift for someone you loved deeply. You made sure that it fit them to a “T.” Then your friend not only snubs your gift. He accuses you of trying to hurt him. It’s no wonder the Lord threatened to wipe the whole nation out for the second time since leaving Egypt. Moses had to plead to have them spared.
Do we complain about the privilege of our mission? Here we are, people for whom our Lord sacrificed his only Son to pay for our sins and save us from death. He has graciously shared this good news with us and led us to faith. Now he has equipped us to make our family of faith even bigger, to be surrounded by more people who love us and whom we can love in return. Are we tempted to look at all this grace and mutter, “The Lord hates us. It costs too much to support. It takes too much of my time. He has brought me into this faith and into this church just to drain my resources and deny me the pleasures and treasures I have worked so hard to earn and enjoy”? God give us mercy to see past our own comforts and interests to recognize the incredible gift and opportunity we have been given. Don’t go backwards. Forge ahead. The mission itself is designed to bless you.