Most often what you find hinges on where you look. Hope shines in many different directions. The first scripture story deals with finding hope by looking forward. In a forward focus we usually find renewed optimism. Yet even here we must choose what to see in the future. One of my favorite Old Testament stories is in the book of Numbers. When Moses and the children of Israel were preparing to enter the promised land, they sent twelve spies ahead into Canaan, a leader from each of the tribes, to search the land and report on what they saw. The spies traveled throughout Canaan for forty days, assessing, observing, and gathering information. When those twelve men came back, two different reports were given.
Joshua and Caleb, the two spies representing Ephraim and Judah, gave their report to the listening people, along with a visual aid. “They came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs” (Numbers 13:23). They described the land with a phrase that is now proverbial: “And surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it” (Numbers 13:27). There, for all of Israel to see, hangs a large cluster of grapes. (In fact, the symbol of Israel’s tourist industry today is a depiction of Joshua and Caleb carrying a huge bunch of grapes on a pole between them.) These two spies saw the fruits of the land: the grapes and the pomegranates and the figs. It was the milk and honey they were focused on. Within that focus, hope, desire, and courage were born.
The report from the other spies was not as rosy: “Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great. . . . We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. . . . And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak . . . and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:28, 31, 33). That is quite a different report. Yet, if we think about it, both reports were essentially true. It is not the case that one was correct and the other incorrect. Each was a reliable statement of the facts. The point that this story makes, however, is that we need to look beyond the walls and the giants to the grapes and the pomegranates. We need to look to the milk and honey that we can see if we look farther forward.
Frequently in life we need to move forward with hope in spite of all the distractions and obstacles, even when we perceive that they are “stronger than we.” I work with young people a great deal and have observed that, at times, they need hope to move forward in their schooling or in forming an eternal marriage. We may face giants and walls in financial concerns, in the development and growth of a child, in employment, in mastering a talent or skill. The list can be extensive, but the principle remains constant in all areas. Whatever challenge we may face as parents, as spouses, in callings, with trials, even at the death of a loved one, we need to move forward by looking forward. As we look forward, we have a choice of what we can focus on. We can gaze on the fruits that are ahead. We can see the grapes and the figs and the pomegranates, the rewards, joys, and fulfillments that are awaiting us. Or we can see the walls keeping us from them. We can stare at the giants, and, in our own sight, appear as grasshoppers in facing those great challenges. But if we will learn to look at the fruits that await us, not the barriers, not the walls—there will always be walls, and giants to fight—our courage and hope will be enlivened. We will be assured that the fruits on the other side are worth it.