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Shadows in the Evening

by Tim O'Hearn

Did you ever wait until late in the afternoon to play “shadow tag” because they were too short around noon-time? When you were a kid, did you ever look at your shadow of an evening and think, “I’d like to be that tall.” (Do short people of any age do that?) We know that who we are is not defined by our shadow, but sometimes we look at shadows and judge the threat by them, rather than the size of the person.

Numbers 13 and 14 give the account of the spies who were sent into Canaan after the exodus from Egypt. The spies brought back fruit of the land, including a cluster of grapes that had to be carried on a pole between two men. They showed the congregation of Israel how fruitful the land was. Yet when Caleb said, “Let us go up and take the land,” ten of the other eleven spies balked. Their evil report of the land was:

The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight. (Num 13:32-33)

Tradition says that God had arranged that wherever the spies went, numbers of the inhabitants died. Thus the people were too busy burying their dead to notice the spies in their midst. The ten spies didn’t understand why there were multiple funerals everywhere they went. They believed that the funerals they saw must be the norm, and reported that the land “eats up its inhabitants.” They thought that the land must be unhealthy, and that God must be leading them into a dangerous land, in spite of the evidence of the fruit.

At the same time, they point to the fruit as evidence that the land must produce giants. After all, look at the size of the fruit.

But the argument that really hit home was that they had seen the people of the land and “all the people were of great stature.” They concluded that “we were in our own sight as grasshoppers.” They add that they must have had the same stature in the sight of the inhabitants, perhaps because they had not even been noticed.

What is significant here is their perception of themselves. No matter how tall the people were, they were probably about the size of their later descendant Goliath. Even in his sight David was a boy, but certainly not a grasshopper. The spies exaggerated the size of the inhabitants, as if they were judging them by their evening shadows.

How often do we do the same thing? Do we look at a problem and judge it by its shadow? Do we worry about how we perceive our problems, and not about the reality of the problems themselves? As a result of the perception of the spies, Israel spent forty years in the wilderness. As we approach our problems, is our worry condemning us to the wilderness, or do we say with Caleb, “Let us go up and take it.”

Many of our problems are real. They might be giants. Or they might just be shadows in the evening.