Numbers 14:1-12 (Part 1 of 2)

The People Rebel

President John F. Kennedy said the following in a speech at Rice University’s football stadium on September 12, 1962, almost fifty-four years ago when I was a mere 18 days old. In the swiftness of rate of human history in which we find ourselves in this age, that almost seems centuries ago. But his words, and he was a most eloquent speaker, ring with truth even these 5 ½ decades later. He, when speaking of America’s push to explore space, said,


“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”


He concluded the speech by saying,


“Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.”


I do not remember the era from personal experience. I was too young but the Kennedy years engaged a whole new generation in the hope of what our nation could be. My parents’ generation was captivated by Kennedy. With the young President leading the way, there was a feeling that the sky was the limit. The old guard was gone and it was my mom and dad’s generation’s turn to take on the world’s problems. The old ways would not do anymore and a new era had done. Kennedy was the stalwart of that hopeful generation. He was a charismatic leader who spoke of a world that we needed to have rather than the world we just accepted “as is”. What if President Kennedy had not been elected? What would our nation be like now? He galvanized a generation that into believing that the world could be a better place. Even after his assassination, that generation felt that they owed it to JFK to, indeed, change the world. The world, and our nation, had serious issues to deal with and he challenged a generation to take on those challenges not because they were easy but because they were, indeed, hard. When other leaders just wanted to maintain the status quo because it was the easier thing to do, JFK challenged us to take on the challenges and make change. It ignited my mom and dad’s generation.


That speech at Rice University that day in September 1962 was quintessential of the spirit of the Kennedy years. Exploring space and taking on all the other challenges of our society in the early 1960s (some of those challenges are still with us today) was going to be hard. It was going to be tough. Just look at the galvanizing call to reach the moon by the end of the decade. Would we have made it to the moon by the Summer of 1968 if it were not for a generation of men and women challenged by the dreams of one, John F. Kennedy. Just think of our space exploration since then without that galvanizing goal of achieving something thought unattainable. Our space program is practically dead right now because of it. The challenge of Kennedy was also echoed by his brother, Ted, when delivering JFK’s eulogy, he paraphrased a quote from G.B. Shaw’s play, Back to Methusalah, when he said, “Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?”


That was the spirit of my parent’s generation, inspired by the eloquent visionary voice of John F. Kennedy. Sure there are those who say Kennedy is idolized as a great leader now because he was assassinated not because of any particularly great thing that he did in office and that Kennedy make backroom deals to get things done just like every other President. However, Kennedy’s legacy was not that he was assassinated but rather that he had brought hope and vision to a new generation of American. He may not have been a great tactical president but you ask anyone who is in their 70’s now like my dad who was the President that they most loved. They will to man say John F. Kennedy. If he had not been that visionary lightning rod they would not be saying that 50 years later.


The visionary leadership of JFK that changed the American political landscape and gave hope to many and energized all was what I thought of today when reading through this passage. It reminds of the difference in America under Kennedy’s vision and the “malaise” speech of Jimmy Carter a decade and a half later and the America of Donald Trump. Kennedy spoke of what could be and challenged us to get there. Carter and Trump tell us what is wrong with America but give us no vision to replace it. It is easier to say what’s wrong with something than it is to have vision of a better future. That’s the same thing that I see in the Israelites in this passage:


14 That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”


5 Then Moses and Aaron fell face down in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. 6 Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8 If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. 9 Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”


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.”


In this passage, when the chorus of despair went up, everyone joined in. There greatest fears were being realized. Losing their perspective, the people were caught up in the emotion of the moment, forgetting what they knew about the character of God. What if the people had spent as much energy moving forward as they did moving backward? They could have enjoyed the Promised Land, but, instead, they never entered it because they were fearful of the difficulty that lied ahead. It was just easier to wish for the past that they knew and now idolized rather than have to trust God and plunge headlong into the unknown of the Promised Land.


My takeaway from this passage today is that there is a huge difference between vision and complaint. Vision says this is the world in which we live but it can be better. Complaint whines about how bad things are and does nothing but complain. To quote a fictitious President Andrew Shepard (played by Michael Douglas) from the movie, The American President, when speaking of his opponent in the upcoming election, he said,


Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.


So, having mentioned multiple Presidents, fictitious and real ones, and a candidate for the president right now, and the difference between vision and complaint, what does all this mean for me as a Christian. It means that we need vision as Christians too.


Too many times, we defeat ourselves before we even start. In churches, more often than not, you will hear “we can’t do that! We don’t have the money or the people!” Too often, we keep silent as our ability to express our faith in Jesus Christ publicly is eroded away because it is too hard to stand against the tide of public opinion. Too often, we do not share our faith with others because we convince ourselves before we even speak that we will be rejected. Too often, we as churches will not take on social problems in our cities because it would be too much work, require too much time, and too many volunteers. We just know our people won’t do that. We will talk ourselves out of following God’s calling on our lives and on our churches to go and be and do and share the gospel because it’s too hard.


That’s is where we must be visionary. We must love the world around us with such great passion that we are willing to take on those mighty things that are wrong and right them and do so in ways that we must trust God to make them happen. We must dream the big dreams that God gives. We must see a need that our fellow man has and fill it so that we can have the right to speak to him about Jesus. We must be unafraid and bold in sharing the gospel with people groups here at home and abroad. Let us step boldly into the public arena and be unafraid to challenge the world with Jesus, the Messiah. Let us be less concerned with winning public praise and more concerned with hearing Jesus say, “well done, good and faithful servant!” As a leader in my church, I must be able to dream the big dreams that God has given us and not be afraid and talk myself out of what dreams he has given.


Let us be, as Christians, just as Kennedy challenged all Americans to be, those who “do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard” and because God has never failed to honor those who honor Him. He may call us to hard work on hard problems. He may call us to do big things beyond our capabilities. He calls us to do big things and have big dreams so that we will know that He is God and we will know that it is only because of Him that we achieve. So, let us be bold. Let us break the mold. We do have an almighty God on our sides. As long as we honor Him by what we do (and not ourselves), He will always honor our obedience to His call. He will never leave us high and dry. He will be never leave or forsake us. He is God.


Nuff said.


Let’s get to work doing what God called us to do and trusting Him to make it happen! Amen and Amen.

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