Last month I found myself sitting for coffee with a pastor of a nearby church that was actually ashen-faced as he described a challenge that we both held in common. He described a scene I knew all too well: a member of his congregation of over 25 years was leaving in an uproar over a recent hot-button political issue. The anxiety and sorrow were evident and immediate as he asked for prayer. Sadly, we also have experienced this. Our elders also had received a letter from a family that felt the greatest threat to the church in the 21st century was in some way connected to a recent election, and my own apparent lack of addressing this issue fully and regularly from the pulpit endangered the church in the mind of this person. And so, this pastor and I found ourselves praying for one another, and wondering aloud how it is possible that someone could throw away so much over something so little in the light of a sovereign God.
His words still resonate with me: “I just don’t understand what is happening!”
In Joshua 14, we can read about what Caleb saw as he reconnoitered the land that Israel was supposed to move into: “I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the LORD my God (Joshua 14:7–8).
And what did he spy to cause this fear? Caleb is retelling here an old story to Joshua of an event that took place some years prior. Whatever it was that he saw so troubled his brothers, who were with him, that their hearts melted in fear. The enemy possessed and consumed their hearts before the battle for this land had even begun! So the question becomes: what did they see? Later on, Caleb tells us: “So now give me this hill country of which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said (Joshua 14:11–12).
It turns out that this story is 40 years old! Caleb is now 85 years old, and he calls what he saw Anakim. Although scholars are unsure of precisely what he means, we think they are some sort of larger-than-normal, scary-looking warriors. Giants even! Certainly their appearance was enough to frighten people into faithless disobedience right away.
But a single question for you: did Joshua or the Judges ever actually come across the Anakim? They did not! The Giants were not the central problem Israel faced in the book of Judges. The thing that God hated the most, the thing that God warned them over so often, and the thing God told Gideon to tear down and uproot and never build again had nothing to do with Anakim. It is what lived in the shadow of the Anakim that so entangled Israel, confused her, and ultimately led to her ruin: her idolatry. It is the overarching and repetitious story of Judges: “They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth (Judges 2:13).
By looking at our perceived enemy, our imagination runs away with us. We strategize and formulate battle plans with culture, all the while overlooking the real danger, a danger that the Bible prescribed and warned us about over and over: planted on the ground or set out in a field were small, innocuous, carved idols in the shadow of giants. Instead of being afraid of the big and most obvious thing, it was the little things that got ’em. Israel should have been far more worried about synchronizing with a fallen and idolatrous surrounding culture. And she should have been far more afraid of trusting in created things instead of her Creator.
In other words, to put it in Peter’s terms, as we tend to focus on the stormy waves of culture, we tend to lose sight of Jesus. Our fixation on current events is highly spiritually forming, often filling the place of the heart formerly held by our love and admiration for our Savior, to use the words of Jonathan Edwards. The giants of the land and their strategies and even their conspiracies rise to a level of equality with God in our hearts and minds; He seems undone, His Church endangered, and the Gospel muted in some way. We melt!
Beloved, this isn’t for you! Happily, Caleb reminds us the God of Gideon that used 300 men with shouts and trumpets to confuse and destroy almost the entire Midianite army is not tested by Anakim. It isn’t even going to be close! Our very real challenge is the ignorance that grows in their shadow. Have we placed our trust in created things for our salvation, significance, satisfaction, or security? The central proposition of the Book of Judges just may be “idolatry is spiritual adultery.” Have we remained pure and unstained by the idolatries of this fallen world? Because Christ labored at great cost to “…sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:26–27)
Beloved of Christ, our most solemn concern is to remain pure in a stained age. Instead of focusing on the latest (and possibly greatest!) program or model for ministry as a counterweight to our perceived enemy, let us instead focus on purity. Jesus is trustworthy. We have been entrusted with the Gospel, and it is still the transforming power of God. Jesus saves. The Groom still has a plan for His bride. And above all, it might be time to stop reporting on, and melting in the face of, giants in the land. Let us instead share Good News!
We join with Caleb and affirm ‘it may be that the Lord is with (us!), and (we!) shall drive them out just as the Lord said.’ Amen! May it be so with you and I.