March 1, 2018

By Rev. Dr. Tom Choi, First UMC of Honolulu, Hawaii District

Numbers 13:16

These were the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses changed the name of Hoshea son of Nun to Joshua.

A few weeks ago, I was in San Diego for a committee meeting for the Western Jurisdiction. We began our meeting with devotions. Our leader had us read selections from the Book of Numbers, chapter 13. This chapter describes how Moses selected one representative from each of the twelve tribes of Israel to spy on (or I prefer to say survey) the Promised Land they were to be given after leaving centuries of slavery in Egypt. The list of names was long, hard to pronounce, and included father’s names, so our leader invited us to read them later. For some reason, I decided to read through the names anyway. I was surprised to read Number 13:16, which recounts that Moses changed the name of one of the surveyors from Hoshea to Joshua.

Curious, I looked up the meaning of the two names. I found that Hoshea means simply “salvation.” Joshua means “Yahweh is our salvation.” Moses changed the name of one of the surveyors very specifically before the journey, as if he wanted to make sure that this surveyor would be constantly reminded that salvation was in the hands of God and not anything or anyone else.

When the twelve surveyors returned, they brought back evidence that the land was fertile and would bring many blessings. Ten of them, however, were filled with fear about the giants that also lived in the land and warned the others that they should not try to occupy the land. Only two of the surveyors, one of them Joshua – whose name means “God is my salvation” – passionately argued that the land was worth occupying despite the giant challenges. Unfortunately, virtually all of the people chose not to enter the land for fear of the giants. And a journey that should have taken only a few weeks took 40 years until nearly all of the original group passed away, never entering the Promised Land.

We are living in a time of fear in our nation and our world: the threat of nuclear war; a divided nation on so many issues; some, like the DACA “Dreamers,” whose future is very uncertain. In many churches, there is great fear: aging members, dwindling resources, the absence of younger generations, deferred maintenance on facilities.

People begin to panic and look for ways to save their churches. I know, for example, that some people insist that “if only we had contemporary music, we could save our church.” Or, “If we only had the right pastor, then our church would be saved.” While change can help, it is not the source of our salvation.

In other areas, I am deeply disturbed that many Christians have apparently decided that at all cost, politics is their salvation, or that an individual political leader is their salvation, even if that political leader or political position often seems antithetical to the Gospel.

Moses’ decision to find a way to remind people that God is our salvation – and nothing else – was an important one. And Joshua, with his very name providing the appropriate focus, was the one who eventually led the Israelites into the Promised Land. May we do the same.

Prayer: God of salvation, as we journey through our own wildernesses and facing our own giants, may we be reminded constantly that You are our only source of our salvation. Amen.