Do you remember playing the game, “Red Rover,” when you were a kid on the playground? I used to love playing that game when I was in elementary school. If you were deprived of this experience as a child, let me summarize. Two teams are selected and stand opposite each other. All of the team members join hands and form a line as long as their arms will extend. The game begins as one team calls out to someone on the opposing team, telling them to run over and try to break through the line. The team chants, “Red rover, red rover, send Johnny right over!” Little Johnny takes off running as fast as he can, crashing into the arms of the other team while trying to break through the line. If he is successful, he chooses someone from that team and takes them back to his side. If he fails, he is forced to become part of the other team. The whole point of “Red Rover” is to show the principle that your team is only as strong as its weakest link.
In many ways, this is a fitting illustration to use to describe the nation of Israel in the book of Numbers. They are like two opposing teams standing in two lines facing each other. The names of the teams are the Faithful and the Faithless. The “faithful” describes those who were full of faith in God, who trusted in His character and believed His promises. The “faithless” doubted God’s Word and relied upon their own wisdom. We really see this displayed in Numbers 13 and the example of the twelve men who were sent to spy out the Promised Land. They go in and explore the land for a period of forty days. Upon their return, the spies give their report to Moses and Aaron as they stand before all the people. They tell the congregation of Israel about the giants they saw in the land and all of the heavily fortified cities. Such a report arouses great fear among the Israelites. Two of the spies, however, saw things differently. Their names were Joshua and Caleb. What the majority saw as obstacles, Joshua and Caleb saw as opportunities for the Lord God to show Himself strong on behalf of His people. Unfortunately, the other spies provoke the whole congregation to fear and disbelief, and they are even ready to stone Moses. Because of their unbelief and lack of faith, they are forced to spend the next forty years wandering around in the wilderness. Those who were faithless outnumber those who were faithful, and the consequences are heartbreaking.
There is a lesson here that runs throughout the whole book of Numbers. A lack of faith will leave us in a spiritual wilderness. In fact, the word ‘wilderness’ is used some 48 times in the book of Numbers. Most of the events of the book are set in the wilderness of the Sinai peninsula where the people have to wander around until the unbelieving generation dies off. God wants His people to walk by faith, not by sight. The lesson from Numbers can be summed up in the question, “Will I trust the Lord, no matter what?” Even when we face obstacles like giants and fortified cities, we trust God. We live in a world that is filled with challenges, and life gets extremely difficult at times. But the message of Numbers, as well as the message of the whole Bible, tells me to place my faith in Christ. Fear and failure will dog our steps, but what we perceive as discouraging obstacles are merely opportunities for God to show Himself strong on our behalf, and it is all for His own glory.
(Adapted from Ken Baugh’s “Big Idea” in the introduction to Be Counted: Living a Life that Counts for God, by Warren W. Wiersbe, 1999.)