What a pathetic phrase, “if only.” It’s all about yesterday, the milk is spilled and the people whine. Oh, if only I hadn’t said that or done that or gone there or looked there. So sorry. If only I could change it back to the way it was.
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! 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?” [Numbers 14:2-3, NIV]
If I hear myself actually use this phrase in regular speech, I’m going to excise it as fast as I can.
This was the Israelites lament in the desert after Moses had sent a representative from each clan to scope out the promised land. Out of all those emissaries, only two came back with courage, trusting God to fulfill the promises. After all, this was the same God who had poured out lamentations about the Egyptians and who rested on the Tabernacle in a cloud by day and a pillar by fire at night. This was the God who had orchestrated the great escape from the Egyptians through the Sea (one way or another). This God had shown God as miraculous and specifically in their cause. Why was this day different? What made the giants and foreigners of the land of Canaan so frightening, so indomitable?
Did the Israelites forget what God could do? Why? The only thing I can imagine is that their eyes became stronger than their faith. What they saw overwhelmed what they could not see. And lastly, the messengers themselves were suspect.
Had the spies who went into Canaan come back with confidence, the people would have followed. Instead, those men sowed fear and discord, questions and distrust. It was those few who did not believe who led the majority astray. And that’s a lesson as well.
Who do we believe? Who do I believe? The Press? The politicians? The blogs?
In some ways, I think it’s my own fault when I am so easily swayed. I am turned when I don’t have enough reliable information. I am unsure when I have not invested in discovery and latched on to the easy answer. And then, what about those trustworthy characters? What exactly draws me to trust in a leader?
I remember how appalled I was the other day when a person I have always admired in politics, suddenly took a turn in a direction I could never have foreseen. Has the person’s character changed or merely his/her point of view. Do I move my point of view along with the person? Or was the person’s change merely politically advantageous or necessary for success or advancement?
The Israelites chose to believe their representatives and in the end, as a result, they lost the promise altogether and were “banished” to the desert for forty years, two full generations. They paid a steep price for their herd mentality.
They were afraid of the unknown future so much that the past, as wicked as it was seemed more appealing. They remembered the foods and some of the minor comforts, but forgot the violence and the slavery. The future is always a surprise. That’s true. But, if we have just enough confidence in God, to believe that our lives are ultimately fashioned by the Spirit, then we should never go back. It’s unproductive to even contemplate it. In fact, it’s Lot’s wife, looking back toward Sodom & Gomorrah.
If only. . . no more. Instead, I will say when.