39Moses spoke these words to the Israelites, and the people mourned deeply. 40Then they got up early in the morning and went up to the top of the mountain, saying, â€œLook! Here we are! Let’s go up to the place that YHWH said, because we have sinned.â€
41But Moses said, â€œWhy is it that you are still transgressing God’s word? This will not prosper! 42Don’t go up, because YHWH is not among you, so that you will not be smitten by your enemies. 43Because the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you and you will fall by the sword because you turned back from following YHWH and YHWH will not be with you. 44But they were presumptuous and went up into the hill country, though the Ark of YHWH and Moses did not leave the camp. 45Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in the mountain came down and struck them, and pursued them all the way to Hormah. — Numbers 14:39-45
You might like to read this whole story in Numbers 13-14. To summarize, the Israelites send spies into Canaan, who report that the land is good, but it is also defended by very dangerous people. Ten of those twelve spies don’t believe they can go up. First the Israelites rebel and say they won’t go, then after they find out they will have to wander for 40 more years in the desert, and they are now forbidden to go, they decided to go after all. Our text today is the response to that decision.
I don’t know for sure what the Israelites expected God to do. They complained about the land they were supposed to get, and God told them to go back to the wilderness. What third alternative was there? I suspect that the Israelites expected a third alternative, such as an easier way to get the land, or some alternative land. They didn’t expect to get some more wilderness wandering. Possibly they had hoped that Moses would wave his staff and their enemies would disappear.
Whatever it was, God’s plan was not satisfactory to them, no matter which way it went. First they disobeyed by refusing to go. Then they disobeyed by going when they were forbidden. Some days you just can’t win!
While I was meditating this morning I connected this text with some discussions I’ve been having with KJV-Only people. Now bear with meâ€”the devotional is not about the KJV-Only position. It’s just an illustration. For those who may not know, KJV-Only advocates are not people who love the KJV and like to read it. They are folks who think those who read other Bible versions are doing wrong and are not reading God’s word. They want a clear, single standard, and they think they have found it in the KJV. They frequently ask me what my alternative standard would be.
I will say that my standard is God as he has revealed himself, primarily in scripture. â€œAnd where is that scripture?â€ they ask. I find it in the source texts, Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew. â€œBut there are many different manuscripts. How do you know which one?â€ And the bottom line answer to that is that we don’t have absolute knowledge, but we do have a very solid idea of the text of scripture. But that isn’t good enough for them, so they grab hold of one convenient translation, and pretend that it’s the final, absolute authority, even over the source texts.
God has blessed us with incredibly rich resources in terms of copies of the Bible. We can know what the Bible looked like to people in early Ethiopia, in Armenia, in Georgia (the one in Asia!), and in some Early European languages. We can know the text used by both the western and eastern churches. God has chosen to providentially preserve his word in so many wonderful ways. One reason for this, I believe, is that by doing it that way, God affirms his people through the ages, not just then and now, not just one or two places, but worldwide.
But for many of us God’s way is simply not adequate. It doesn’t happen the way we think it should. Wouldn’t it be nicer if God would make it impossible to disagree over the text of his word or how to translate it? Wouldn’t it be great if he would miraculously prevent any possible disagreement? Then we’d have that one standard.
Many of us laugh at the KJV-Only folks. It’s so obvious that what they want simply didn’t happen. But hold the laughter for a moment. How many of us are dissatisfied with God’s plan for our lives, our churches, our families, our communities, or our ministries? How many of us think that God could do it better if he’d just listen to our advice?
There’s a saying I saw on a church sign recently. It reads â€œMany people want to serve God but only as advisors.â€
Listen to yourself next time you pray. Are you making the speech of an advisor, or are you holding a conversation with your savior, your father, your Lord?