When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “. . . See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many.” – Numbers 13:17-18 (NIV)
After some forty years of wandering through the Sinai desert, the Israelites finally arrived at Canaan, the land they believed God promised them. But before the Israelites took possession of their promise, they thought it prudent to investigate the land of Canaan and the people living there.
So Moses, the Israelite leader, sent spies into Canaan on an intel mission. The spies were to bring back a detailed report on the quality of the land and its produce. In addition, the spies were to bring back an assessment of the Canaanites. How did they live? Were their cities structured and fortified? Were they a strong or weak people?
But the instructions Moses gave to the spies overlooked something very critical. A true assessment of who people are cannot be fully derived by observing their numbers, or their infrastructure, or their military, or their environment.
A full assessment of any people or person must involve an understanding of their values, both personal and communal. Aside from people’s everyday existence, for what causes/ideals are they willing to serve and sacrifice? And how are those causes/ideals reflected in the ethos or guiding principles of the people?
Beyond what people possess, incomplete assessments of who people are lead us into battles that we are not prepared to fight and into confrontations that could have been avoided. And beyond the knowledge of how people live, an investigation of what people live for requires much more than empirical observation from a distance.
It requires honest person-to-person communication.
Lord, for the good of all people, help us to get past social observation to real interpersonal communication. Amen.
Kenneth L. Samuel is Pastor of Victory for the World Church, Decatur, Georgia.