Training Up Victors Not Victims

In our society today, we hear a great deal about “victimization,” where certain people or groups are targeted through oppressive acts or outright violence. As Christians, we know that it is never right to look down upon others, or to treat others worse than we would want to be treated. That said, we should never use the poor treatment that we receive from others as a justification for our own shortcomings, or an excuse to not be all that God wants us to be or to do all that God wants us to do. Neither should we label others as victims if they don’t even see themselves as such. For example, the Israelites in the wilderness labeled their children as future victims, when God had something completely different in store for them.

In Numbers 1:2-3, we read how God told Moses in the tabernacle of meeting, while encamped in the Wilderness of Sinai, “Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male individually, from twenty years old and above—all who are able to go to war in Israel.” Moses and Aaron obeyed and held a census, and verse 46 says, “all who were numbered were six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty.” The Levites were not included within this number. This census occurred in the second year after their exodus from Egypt. Then approximately 38 years later, we get to chapter 26, where God tells Moses and Aaron’s son Eleazar to take another census of the men of Israel from twenty years old and above. And verse 51 says, “These are those who were numbered of the children of Israel: six hundred and one thousand seven hundred and thirty.”

We can easily read over these two censuses without thinking much of them, especially since both census totals are nearly the same. But these were not the same 600,000 people. There were only two people counted in both censuses. The Bible says in Numbers 26:64-65, “But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest when they numbered the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sinai. For the LORD had said of them, ‘They shall surely die in the wilderness.’ So there was not left a man of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.” Why is it that only Joshua and Caleb were numbered in both censuses? What happened to other men from the first census? They died in the wilderness. When God sent the twelve spies from the twelve tribes of Israel to spy out the land of Canaan, only two came back with a positive report, Caleb and Joshua. The others became fearful of the residents and giants of Canaan and did not believe that God could help them defeat the peoples and conquer their kingdoms. After hearing the negative report, the people of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron saying, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the LORD brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims?” (Numbers 14:2b-3a). 

The people of Israel saw the challenges ahead of them and assumed the worst for themselves and their children. They would rather have died in the wilderness, than to walk in faith and trust in God’s deliverance. Therefore, God granted them their desire. They preferred dying in the wilderness, and so God says to the Israelites through Moses in Numbers 14:29-32, “The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness.”

How does all of this relate to us today? When we see the increasing godlessness of this world, and the various challenges that Christians face today, we can become greatly discouraged, and even feel like surrendering at times. We begin to fear for our own future and wonder what our children’s future will look like one day when we start a family. All of this negativity can blind us to God’s presence and make us forget how God has helped His people in the past. The Israelites had witnessed God’s incredible defeat of Pharaoh and his army; surely God’s great power would have been sufficient to defeat the people of Canaan as well. The Israelites didn’t need to worry about their children, because God never changes and would be with them and help them just as He had helped those who escaped Egypt and crossed the Red Sea. We know this to be true because we know how the story continues. All the parents would die in the wilderness, and their children would conquer Canaan. How? Through their faith in God and their obedience to God’s leading. 

It’s natural for us to compare ourselves to past generations and see how different the world that they grew up in was, compared to the world we live in now. We might worry about how our future children will navigate their circumstances and the challenges they will face. God’s word reminds us that we don’t need to worry about them, or think of ourselves as victims, because we all have access to the same God who faithfully helps us to live a victorious life for Him. What future generations need are good examples to follow. Even as young people ourselves, we are called to be a good example, and to show those younger than us what it is to know God through Jesus Christ. We can demonstrate how they can start and foster a relationship with Christ, and how they can walk in faith and trust in God’s help and leading, no matter how godless our world becomes. With the Holy Spirit’s filling we can show our peers, and younger generations, how the Spirit empowers God’s children to live holy lives filled with His fruit, equipped with His gifts, and sent into His ministries. We should never see ourselves, or the next generation, as victims of the world’s godlessness, but as potential victors in Jesus Christ. 

 David Knelsen 

Hamilton, ON

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