Shela Lekha
For the week of June 28, 2003 / 28 Sivan 5763
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 13:1 - 15:41
Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24
Originally posted June 20, 1998

When it’s Wrong
To Do the Right Thing

We will go up to the place the LORD promised...
(Numbers / Bemidbar 14:40).

This weekís portion includes the story of the exploration of the Promised Land by twelve Israelites. Ten out of the twelve did not believe that the people of Israel were able to take the land. Only two, Caleb and Joshua, believed that God would enable them to do what he had promised. The ten succeeded in discouraging the people. As a result God decreed that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for another 38 years until the present generation would die out. The only ones who would enter the land from the current generation would be Caleb and Joshua. In addition the ten were struck down by a plague.

When Moses reported all this to the people they were saddened and admitted their wrong. Having confessed their sin of unbelief, they now purposed to enter the Land. The right thing at the wrong time!

But Moses said, "Why are you disobeying the LORD's command? This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the LORD is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, for the Amalekites and Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the LORD, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword" (Numbers / Bemidbar 14:41-43).

Even with this warning, some of the people did it anyway:

Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the LORD's covenant moved from the camp. Then the Amalekites and Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah (Numbers / Bemidbar 14:44, 45).

The Torah calls what they did presumption. The people thought they could figure out the right thing to do based on what God had previously said. But that no longer applied to their current situation. While it was God's will for Israel to enter the Land, which they would do one day, due to what just happened, God had other plans for the present.

To deduce the will of God apart from God himself is presumption. It is easy to forget that God is a living being who calls us into relationship with himself. We need to learn to daily depend on him, instead of laying down our own rules for living.

Because we find it so difficult to walk with God in this way, we tend toward systems, which lay down guidelines to live by. These systems are often in his name, yet they become barriers to true relationship with him. Here are some examples.

It is important to note that none of theses are bad in themselves. It is when they are disconnected from a vital, dynamic relationship with God that they keep us from seeing him for who he is and hearing his voice.

Principle-based living

The Scriptures contain many helpful life principles, which are greatly beneficial to us as individuals and to society at large. But instead of depending on God for how to live, we can become committed to our own understanding of the meaning of these principles. This commitment often prevents from seeing how to properly apply his principles in different times and places.

Doing the right thing

Similarly, some are committed to doing the "right thing." Obviously there is nothing wrong about doing what is right. But how do we know what is truly right in a given situation. We are not God, who knows everything. In all our own efforts, we still fail. Our righteous acts are imperfect, no matter how hard we try or how sincere we are. Unless we learn to depend on God, our right acts may be worthless.

Standing on the Bible

A Bible-based life may sound good, but not if we separate the God-inspired writings from the Author. It is easy to deduce the teaching of Scripture into neat little man-made morals and rituals. The author of this Book is alive. To depend on these writings without relying on its author is to deny the writings we say we believe.

Religion

It is so easy to confuse religious acts with following God There is no sufficient amount of religious or spiritual acts that make up for knowing our Heavenly Father.

A life of service

Living a life of good works is certainly honorable, yet like the other examples, to focus one's life upon others without Godís leading is presumption. We are not the savior of the human race. Any good we do is partial and temporary. Only God can make a lasting difference in someoneís life. How are we to know if we are doing the good we should be doing, if we are the ones calling the shots? In our neglect of God we strive to do good things, thinking that God will approve.

Follow your heart

Some think that being true to one's own heart is true spirituality. But this presupposes a personal spirituality, which is really pride. While God desires to dwell within our hearts, how can we assume that God always wants what we want? He is the Master of the Universe, who is bigger than ourselves.

The right thing at the right time

All these are good in their place. If we put God first, then the good things discussed above will result. Striving after them will not bring us to God. On the contrary, we need God to lead us in these things. Only then will they become life to us and to those around us.

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