One rare but serious problem during a rainy-weather graveside services is the danger of a cave in. I know a funeral director who heard the rumblings of a cave-in and ordered everyone away from the tented area; a moment later the ground gave way! The reason the ground caved in is because the foundational soil had become too soft.
The term “cave-in” has become the up-to-date term for what we used to call “compromise.” It is a picturesque replacement and especially accurate. Compromise sometimes can be good thing, especially in relationships. Compromise is an art to develop (ideally before marriage). “Caving in,” however, implies making an improper concession because of pressure; we surrender a conviction, for example.
This kind of surrender is particularly bad when the conviction originates from a straightforward interpretation of Scripture. Sadly, many agenda-driven scholars work diligently to persuade us that the straightforward meaning of Scripture is not what is really intended. They are trying to pave the way so that we cave in with a clear conscience. Our answer must be, “Thanks, but no thanks!”
The temptation to cave in comes for a lack of trust in God’s word. Those who cave in wonder if the serpent’s statement to Eve might be right in relation to the issues under study: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1b). I emphasized the word “actually” to make the point. This is quite different from an “open-to-correction attitude” precisely because it is agenda-driven (not truth-driven).
We see something akin to this during the incident of the twelve spies in Numbers 13:1-33. This is an important portion of the Old Testament. We would be wise to become familiar with these verses because many New Testament verses are derived from them (midrashim). In a broad sense, the Book of Hebrews is a midrash (teaching) based upon Numbers 13-14. Knowing this helps us understand the sometimes-troubling chapter of Hebrews 6, for example.
Moses had sent out twelve scouts to spy out the land of Canaan as “phase one” of a conquest plan (the people actually initiated this idea, according to Deuteronomy 1:22). God had promised to deliver the people of Canaan into the hands of Israel, so the original intent of this expedition was not to determine whether to go to war, but rather how to proceed.
Each of the twelve scouts scoped out the land of Canaan; they all pretty much saw the same thing. They checked out the land, the crops, the people, and the fortifications. All agreed that the land was “flowing with milk and honey.” All agreed that some of the towns were fortified, and all agreed that some Canaanites were good sized.
Ten of the spies agitated one another and the crowd toward fear, exaggerating the situation to the point that they said the Hebrews were “grasshoppers” in comparison to the large Canaanites. This is, of course, quite ridiculous! When Joshua led the conquest a generation later, the enemies of Israel feared the Hebrews! The Hebrews were never once compared to grasshoppers.
The destruction of exaggeration
Exaggeration is nothing more than emotionally driven lying intended to persuade others toward our agenda. In this case the agenda was fear, panic, unbelief, and retreat. When people complain and whine to one another—and proceed to make mountains out of molehills—danger follows. It resembles focusing a harmless ray of sunlight through a magnifying glass and starting a destructive fire in the process.
The unhappy campers soon worked themselves up to become emboldened, eventually demanding their way. I have seen this process in action many times over the years: it destroys marriages, ruins friendships, and causes schisms in churches. And, it seems, people rarely learn from their mistakes or correct themselves. Some of you might remember the Y2K scare? That same bunch is still in panic about something or another.
These ten scouts rallied the people (who were fearful to begin with) and convinced them to forsake the idea of conquering the Land of Canaan. The idea of trusting God and going forward by faith—and having to take risks without a sense of control—was more than they could handle.
If these same people had taken their time and struggled with God’s Word and their doubt, they may have chosen to trust Him. It is not wrong to struggle over doubts or grieve over painful directions God gives us—the Psalms are full of such strugglings (Psalm 39, for example). It is no sin to wrestle with God in an attempt to align ourselves with God!
The issue was not uncertainty about God’s will. This was a case in which God told them clearly what to do! He had promised to bless their efforts in conquering the land and guaranteed He would grant them success. He would give them the land (Leviticus 25:38). Like the serpent in Eden, I think their minds asked a similar question: “Did God actually say…?”
Men of faith
Two of the scouts, however, were men of faith (Joshua and Caleb). Their eyes saw exactly same things the cynical, fearful, discontented group saw. Yet they saw these same facts through the eyes of faith. Sadly, they could not counter the contagious spirit of fear and panic that had swept over the people. Joshua and Caleb did not deny that some of the cities were fortified or some of the people large, but they asserted that God had promised to give them the land. Victory would be theirs. God would keep His word.
The people refused to follow the direction of the two faithful men, but sided with the majority, embracing this fad of unbelief. They did not become atheists, just as modern believers who cave in do not necessarily deny Jesus. But, they ask, not really wanting the straightforward answer, “Did God actually say…?”
As a punishment, the entire Hebrew nation was doomed to wander for 40 years; they were beyond reform and beyond repentance (which is the point of Hebrews 6:4-6). Though they tried to undo their wrong, it was impossible (Numbers 14). The problem was not their specific behavior; it was rather that their behavior flowed from who they were. The problem was them: unbelief, cynicism, and panic were symptoms of a deeper, stubborn attitude of self-dependence and conforming to the crowd—and a self-referenced attitude toward life.
Did God actually create Adam from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7)? Did God actually create Eve from Adam’s side to be his helper (Genesis 2:22)? Is Jesus really the only way to God (John 14:6)? Is the practice of homosexuality really wrong (I Corinthians 6:9-10)? Will Israel be viewed as God’s special nation as long as we see the sun and moon (Jeremiah 31:35-37)? Is hell for real (Matthew 23:33)? Did God ordain gender roles (Ephesians 5:22-29, I Timothy 2:12-15)?
Sure, the science of hermeneutics (interpretation) is important, and it takes hard work to interpret some verses of Scripture. True, Bible-believing scholars disagree over the meaning of a number of complex passages of Scripture. Yet clear and obvious passages take hard work to make them seem unclear; the reason they often “become unclear” is because of social agendas to make them so. We surrender our personal integrity when we make the Scriptures say what we want them to say or what others want them to say. If we really desire to grow as disciples, we must first become brutally honest with ourselves. And therein lies the problem!
Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic in Cicero, Illinois. During his senior year in high school (1974), Cicero Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute. He has served as pastor of Highland Park Church since 1983. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has written many weekly columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers at his church website. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul’s Teachings.