Reading 1 - Numbers 13:31--14:4
"But the men who had gone up with him said, 'We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are.' And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, 'The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.' That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 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 desert!' " (Num 13:31-14:1).
Spiritually, they did "die in Egypt", for they never completely left. Physically, they died in the wilderness, short of the Promised Land (Num 14:28,29) -- all that generation, except for Joshua and Caleb, perished before reaching the land God had promised to them.
" '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?' And they said to each other, 'We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt' " (Num 14:3,4).
Egypt was the symbol of sin and bondage (Joh 8:34; Rom 6:16; Tit 3:3; 2Pe 2:19). It had held their fathers in bondage, until death, and now although this generation was "free" of Egypt -- physically -- it still held their souls, their minds, and their hearts in bondage; and they would never really escape!
"One bold push forward, and their feet would tread on their inheritance. But, as is so often the case, courage oozed out at the decisive moment, and cowardice, disguised as prudence, called for 'further information,' that cuckoo-cry of the fainthearted" (J Sidlow Baxter, "Explore the Book" 1:179).
Reading 2 - Proverbs 10:22
"The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it" (Pro 10:22).
Does this mean that there will be no trouble in life for those who are blessed by God? Of course not! It means that -- while there will inevitably be troubles in life for EVERYONE -- the special spiritual blessings that come from God will never add more troubles to those which must come.
"Material blessings, however real and desirable they may be, always bring an accompaniment of sorrow. It is a blessing to live as a human being, but 'man is born to trouble'. It is a blessing to have good parents, but the better they are the sadder it is to lose them, and go they must. It is a blessing to have health and strength, some say the greatest of personal blessings, but the strong man who has never ailed feels most keenly the loss of strength when his time comes. It is sad for a man to be cut off in his prime while still he had seemed capable of doing good work, but it is still sadder for him to live on until all powers have failed. Yet in merely human life it is one end or the other for all of us. It is a great blessing for a man to find a 'help' 'meet for him'. The Proverbs express this thought more than once. 'Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.' Yet from this blessing arises the most poignant sorrow that a human being can experience, for the years pass by like the turning of the pages of a book, and the time of inevitable parting is only a few leaves further on.
"It is a great blessing to have children, yet all parents experience the addition of sorrow, for even if the children all live, even if they are strong, virtuous and fortunate, they have nevertheless entered an evil world, the way cannot be all smooth for them and parents must share their troubles and anxieties as long as life may last. So even at the best there is an addition of sorrow and too often we do not experience the best. Disease and death or folly and misfortune so often add to the sorrows of parents.
"If we wanted to imagine a human being who should be free from all such pain, we should have to think of one without blessings, without friends or companions; one leading an animal life and finding it hard work to live at all. He would have no real sorrow because he had no real joys, and death would not be an enemy, because life had never been a friend.
"Sometimes we have seen the close of an unusually serene and happy life. It seems that nearly all possible blessings have attended. Husband and wife have spent an ideal married life and have grown old together without any serious failing of their mental powers or any of that hardening angularity which so often mars the last chapter. They have grown mellow with the advance of years, and when nearly all of their generation have passed away, they have lived feebly on, commanding the love and respect of all who knew them. Then one day the messenger of death has arrived, hastening as if to make up for delay. One of the lives is taken by disease and the other nickers out through the shock of parting. 'They were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in death were not divided', as we heard quoted over the grave of such a pair. A sympathetic observer remarks on the sadness of the end. The one spared by disease could not survive the shock of separation after so many years of close companionship, and so quickly followed to darkness and silence. It is rightly described as sad, and yet it is the best that human life has to offer. It is far more sad to be torn in two while there is still sufficient strength to survive the shock and so live on. Saddest of all perhaps for life to become so painful that death is a release...
"It is so with all ordinary blessings of life, but not with the special blessing offered by God to all who will hear His call. Spiritual riches which can be ours even now, bring no conclusions of disgust or sadness, nor any fear of being robbed. They will not save us from the sorrows of human life, but they will help us to bear the pain. They do not arrest the process of decay in the dark streets of a Gentile city, but they give us hope of a better city to come" (Islip Collyer, "Principles and Proverbs" 191-194).
Reading 3 - Luke 23:11
"Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate" (Luk 23:11).
The KJV calls these soldiers "men of war" -- a phrase which is true enough to the original text, but is especially apt, as an example of supreme irony! What "men of war" they were! Courageous and unrelenting in their mockery of a man who could not -- or, more precisely, would not -- defend himself!
We cannot help but remember that an earlier Herod -- father of this one -- had sent his "men of war" out to the village of Bethlehem, where they seized the babies from their mothers, and butchered them (Mat 2:16)!
The world has such "men of war" today -- they may be seen executing innocents and raping young women, stealing from the poor, and polluting themselves with every vice, in the "third-world" backwaters of the world... whose sole claims to legitimacy are cheap uniforms and deadly weapons, who serve men every bit as vile as the Herods.
May the true "Man of war" return soon, riding on a white horse, and leading the armies of heaven, to destroy once and for all such would-be "men of war" (Rev 19:11-14)!