October 25, 2021
Numbers 14:1-4 (NIV)
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.”
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13)
It’s today again! ;0)
It’s interesting to note the difference between discouragement and encouragement. Discouragement is like a contagious disease. Note, however, encouragement is not a cure. Encouragement is more like an immunization. Diseases spread without effort. Immunizations must be administered, one person at a time.
As the two reports of the twelve spies settle over the camp, the diseased contagion of discouragement has landed on the people of God. It has spread through them like the plague. The text is careful to tell us “all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud,” and “All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron.”
Discouragement produces despair: “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness!
Discouragement produces self-pity: Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?
Discouragement produces a preemptive spirit of defeat: Our wives and children will be taken as plunder.
Discouragement produces retreat: Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?”
Discouragement produces dissension and mutiny: And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
Did you notice what is missing from today’s text? Faith in God. When people get discouraged they don’t deal with God. They attack their leaders. This is why anyone attempting to live a life of faith and obedience and even remotely pursue an assignment or calling from God must be encouraged.
Rehearsing now: encouragement is not the cure but the immunization. Without the ongoing, daily immunization of encouragement we are susceptible to the contagion of discouragement. Discouragement leads us into the deception of sin and onward into the condition known as the hardness of heart. So if encouragement is not the cure for discouragement, what then is the cure? I believe it is empathy. It is to come alongside a person who suffers from discouragement and enter into it with them; not attempting to correct it or solve it but to feel it and to some degree absorb it. It is to enter into the darkness with them.
Perhaps I’m stretching here, but I see some measure of this in Moses and Aaron’s response to the angry hard-hearted people in v.5:
Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there.
They were clearly taking on the posture of an intercessor here, standing between the people and God, preparing to intercede. Intercession requires empathy—deep identification with the pain of another. Empathy requires humility—leaving behind one’s own point of view and frame of reference in order to enter into that of another. They were not preparing to make a noble speech of encouragement. They were preparing to deal with God.
There is a lot here to reflect on and ponder. Let’s give ourselves to such work today, asking Jesus to reveal himself to us through this scene and to tutor us in the unlikely way of the Cross unfolding.
Father, we perceive great pain in today’s text, great discouragement, deepening empathy, and even compassion in the face of stinging criticism. We perceive the profound mystery of the Cross here. Lord Jesus, show us where you are in this text. Come Holy Spirit and give us the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation that we may know Jesus better. In his name we pray, Amen.
What do you make of this notion of encouragement as immunization against the disease of discouragement and empathy as the cure once discouragement takes hold of someone? Encouragement is meant to prevent discouragement more than to respond to it. Make sense? Have you ever tried to talk someone out of their discouragement?
For the Awakening,