Twelve spies have just returned from scoping out the Promised Land. A homeless nation stands at the border and awaits their report. It’s a report on which the future of their people hangs; caught between a rock and a hard place, the Hebrews who fled Egypt now want to know if they’re ever going to be able to settle down somewhere new, if they’re ever going to stop running. But the news isn’t what they wanted to hear.
“We can’t enter the land,” say ten of the spies, “There are giants there.” And you can almost understand their trepidation, their fear at facing the descendants of a primal, near-supernatural enemy. Except…
Except they’ve also lived through encounters with the powerful. They’re the ones who walked away from slavery while Egypt was left picking p the pieces. And yet listen to these former slaves now: “Let’s go back!” they cry, forgetting that their great escape lead to plagues and darkness and death. The Hebrews had somehow convinced themselves they still had a home back in Egypt, expecting death if they move forward and a warm welcome back into captivity if they return. Talk about getting things backwards. Joshua and Caleb argue against this, but to no avail; they’re trying to get their comrades to remember that God’s been with them all this time, but the majority of people are telling the wrong stories.
They’re telling stories of the past, stories about the power of their enemies, stories of giants and pharoahs and a golden age that never was. And God is left out of those stories, his power and love and competence called into question.
And as a result, Israel spends another forty years in the desert. The generation that grew up on stories about the might and Egypt and giants pass away; a generation grows up whose formative memory is God saving his people. The only adult survivors of that first generation were Joshua and Caleb, two men who started telling that new story in the first place.
They needed to become a nation of survivors, not of victims.
But stories of giants and kings and monsters under the bed still get told. Not in horror movies or Stephen King books, but in the way we talk about ourselves and our history. We’re too sinful, too stupid, too young, too past it. We’re too lonely, too ugly, too much of a failure. We gather together and we tell stories of the past that may as well be eulogies – our churches were better years ago, when the Sunday School was packed, when we were young and dynamic and our presence was respected. Or we sit at home and look back on our private stories, on the ruins of our lives, on relationships gone wrong, on our habits and addictions and failings.
Yes, we still speak of giants. They walk alongside us, taunting us from all sides.
And yet God looks ahead of us, shows us a new world. And we don’t have to fight for it, not really, because this is his battle. He walks before us, he stands next to us, he watches our back.
But that’s so hard to believe, because giants loom on the horizon while God is sometimes hard to see. And those giants get closer and closer and, if you’re looking me, you stop looking for God and fumble for your own sword instead. You know it’s not enough, that it’ll soon be over-whelmed, but what else is there to do? Sometimes it’s easier to hold on to a sword than it is to God, even when we’re aware of just how limited our own resources are.
And yet God remains, bigger than any giant, teller of the greatest tales. We just have to put one foot in front of the other and follow him; follow him into a new future, follow him into a new story.