Grasshopper or Locust?

One of the key moments in Israelite history, a moment that we don’t always place in the first rank, comes with a supreme lack of faith in Numbers 13, when a dozen spies/scouts/explorers are sent to obtain a report on the Promised Land and come with a good news/bad news result.

The land is fabulous, they insist, leading with the good news.

But the people who live there are giants, they quickly continue. “To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them,” they conclude in Numbers 13:33.

A grasshopper–or a locust, the Hebrew word is the same–is a creature that, on its own, is pretty vulnerable. The biggest locust is no match for the smallest human. If these critters had human-level thinking skills, they’d be just as scared as the Israelites that day.

But there’s another aspect to these insects and actually something that differentiates them from grasshoppers. While both locusts and grasshoppers spend a good part of their lives as solitary beings, jumping around and munching on plant matter, locusts have a gregarious phase when they gather together. National Geographic describes the phase like this:

When environmental conditions produce many green plants and promote breeding, locusts can congregate into thick, mobile, ravenous swarms.

While a single locust is no match for a single foot, millions of these things can wreak havoc. One of the ten plagues of Egypt had been the worst infestation of locusts of all time; thus, the Israelites should have known about them. The prophet Joel refers to an infamous locust plague to speak of the coming Day of the Lord:

What the devouring locust has left,
the swarming locust has eaten;
what the swarming locust has left,
the young locust has eaten;
and what the young locust has left,
the destroying locust has eaten. (Joel 1:4)

To this day, a swarm or plague of locusts is a largely irresistible force in an agricultural setting. In recent years these swarms have posed a problem in Middle Eastern countries.

So did the scouts of Numbers 13 mean relatively solitary and harmless grasshoppers or swarming, devastating locusts? We can’t really know for sure, but clearly they didn’t see themselves as terrifying creatures when they called themselves chagab or locusts/grasshoppers.

As individuals, those Israelites were perhaps no match for the individuals in the Promised Land. But God had not called them to conquer the land as individuals. They were supposed to operate together. As a group together, they would be seen as locusts–a plague of terrifying locusts–by the land’s inhabitants. Sure, the Canaanites, giants or not, might squash a few of them, but the swarm would prevail.

What’s more, this swarm had God on its side. This wouldn’t be some mindless, instinct-driven mob but rather the army of the Lord. These people had seen what God could do without requiring them to take any significant action. Did they believe that they’d become less powerful when they joined in at his guidance?

Those who follow God cannot be ultimately defeated. When we follow Him, we’re, like Paul says in Romans, “more than conquerors.” That’s what Caleb must have known when, in Numbers 13, he urged his countrymen to go on the offensive. But the others resisted and delayed the entry into the land by forty years.

Christians, we’re more than grasshoppers. We’re locusts!

The Shocking Truth about Atheism

Hang out with electricians and you might think that a padlock is their favorite tool. Any protocol-following electrician, when shutting off a breaker to safely work on a circuit, will slap a padlock on the box to ensure that some bozo doesn’t come along behind and turn the breaker back on.

The scene might look something like this: “Hey, why doesn’t my bagel toaster work in the office? No worries, I know where the breaker box is. Well there it is–number 13 is tripped. I’ll just turn it back on. (Click.) Who was that screaming?”

While Proverbs 9:10 tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, an electrician might amend that to say, at least while at work, that the fear of the current is the beginning of wisdom.

That well known verse is the flipside of Psalm 14:1:

The fool says in his heart, “There’s no God.”

Our electrician friend would adapt that easily enough. The fool says, “There’s no way that this circuit is hot.”  The electrician switched the power off himself and then placed the padlock on to ensure that it stays that way. Only then is he not a fool.

But here’s the deal. Anybody who has worked around electricity for a while knows that you can get away without locking circuits most of the time. You don’t really have to treat every connection as if it were live. That’s just a safety guideline that takes care of matters in the worst case. It’s just like you can ride around in your car without a seatbelt most of the time without a problem.

That’s how it is with ignoring God. People can go through their lives for decades ignoring God and apparently prospering. Read through Psalm 14 for its dismal view of humanity. Not until Psalm 14:5 do we read the key word: “Then.”

Eventually, the fool who says there’s no God will discover the error of that assumption. Eventually. But in the intervening years, that fool can do a lot of damage.

What’s a God-follower to do? We can learn something from electricians. We can start by trying to live every moment of every day as if there truly is a God, as if the wires are hot. Do you already do that? If so, you’re ahead of me. We can also protect ourselves by trying to put locks on situations to avoid danger.

You see, that electrician can avoid danger in two ways. First, he can simply stay away from the system. That’s not his calling. Second, he can practice safe methods, including locking circuits, to keep some bagel-toasting yahoo from shocking him.

The reality is that electricians and Christians sometimes get hurt when they deal with these dangerous things. But the electrician is paid to deal with that danger. The Christian is expected to engage a dangerous world in an effort to set its current right.


Recalculating from the Wrong Turn

A friend of ours just moved to Dillingham, Alaska. After finding this town of 2,300 on the map, we were curious as to its distance. When I asked Google maps to give me directions (and that distance), here’s what I received: “Sorry, we could not calculate driving directions from “Your location” to ‘Dillingham, Alaska 99576.'” So in this case, you can’t there from here. Happily, we can get most places by car. To the best of my knowledge, we can’t drive anywhere that leaves us trapped.

Sunday, our fill-in preacher, speaking on the tenth commandment, instructed us that coveting is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. There are things we should covet. He went on to enumerate some of those covet-worthy items. One of them, he suggested, was faith.

You need to desire the faith that right where you are today is right where God wants to bless you and use you.

That’s what his message notes said, but when he spoke on Sunday morning, the words were a bit different:

Do you have faith that where you are right now is right where God wants you to be and that he intends to bless you there?

Do you see the difference? The first statement, the one that is more defensible in my opinion, says that God can and will (and desires to) bless us wherever we might want to be.

The second statement says that wherever we are is where God wants us to be and that he’ll bless us there. I have to differ.

  • When Adam and Eve ate from the wrong tree, they were not where God wanted them to be. He still blessed them from that place, but he didn’t want them to be there.
  • When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then committed murder to cover his sin, he was not where God wanted him to be. God still blessed David from that (wrong) place.
  • When I drove my old van on the same oil for far too many miles and blew out the engine, I wasn’t where either God or I wanted to be. However, he could and did still bless me from that bad situation.

If I use GPS to reach some more reasonable location in Alaska–beautiful Ketchikan for example–I might well make a wrong turn. When I head east when I should have headed west, that’s not where the GPS wanted me to go. I wasn’t supposed to be there, but I’m not abandoned. Typically, the GPS will pause and say, “Recalculating” before providing newly updated directions.

My sin will take me down many wrong roads and into many bad neighborhoods. That’s not what God wants. But just like the GPS, each time I take a wrong turn, God recalculates and blesses me from that new location.

I understand what our fill-in preacher intended by his words, but we should remember that God doesn’t want us to be heading down that wrong road. Regardless of where we’ve gotten ourselves, though, he won’t leave us stranded in the spiritual equivalent of Dillingham, Alaska.