Grapes or Giants?
“In order to hold a different spirit, we need to see something different to everyone else. We need to see grapes instead of giants.”
In part 2 of our 5-week series on having ‘A Different Spirit’, we once again visit the story of Israel and the Promised land from Numbers 13-14. The liberated Hebrew slaves are camped across the Jordan River, just outside Canaan, a land Jacob and his family left during a famine 400 years before. God promised that their grandchildren would one day return to this land—the land God originally promised to Abraham & Sarah—so that through them all nations would be blessed. This is the land where the story of Jesus will many centuries later become Good News for all people everywhere.
From Egypt to Canaan. From slavery to shalom. From a hundred people to many thousands. But now comes their supreme test. Can they conquer the land?
Moses is a wise leader. He knows the people need real, concrete information about this land that none of them has ever seen. He chooses twelve men, including Caleb and Joshua, to spy out the land (Numbers 13:17-20). The 12 spies return after 40 days with a massive cluster of grapes, so large it took two men to carry it, and a report of the land to all of Israel. All 12 spies report the same two things – first, the land is exactly as God promised. “It does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.” Second, they agree about the people of the land: “They are very powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw giants.” Their report was of ‘grapes’ and ‘giants’. The ‘grapes’ speak of the promises of God - that the land is indeed as fertile as He had told them. The ‘giants’ speak of the problems in the land - that there are obstacles before them in their waiting inheritance.
Caleb and Joshua return focused on the grapes: “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the overwhelming majority of the spies—ten of them—come back focused on the giants: “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are” (v 30-31). Their fear causes them to spread scary rumours among the people. “We scouted out the land from one end to the other—it’s a land that swallows people whole. Everybody we saw was huge” (v 32 MSG).
Imagine what it would have been like for Israel to learn of these ‘grapes’ and ‘giants’. Grapes are small, each one insignificant. But as a cluster, as a collective, they are quite impressive. They are the living, tangible proof that God has not been lying to the Israelites. The land they have been promised is indeed a fruitful land. The grapes represent the true reality of the situation. This is what God is giving us.
The giants are the towering, overwhelming opposite of the grapes. These Giants are not hard to imagine. They are massive and intimidating. By their sheer size they block out everything else. When the people imagine the giants far away they quickly forget about the grapes hanging right in front of their eyes.
Here is what we all need to know: there will always be giants in the land of God’s promises. Giants are the obstacles that keep us from seeing and receiving God’s grace. Giants obscure God’s promises and give us a flawed perception of reality. Giants are designed to overshadow the promised reality of the land so we give up on our inheritance altogether.
“For us, Hong Kong is the place God has chosen for us in which to inherit his gift and live out the gospel.” But the reality is that right here in Hong Kong, and throughout the world, we are facing massive giants in this time we are in. These giants are personal and public, sacred and secular. A global pandemic, shifting political power, marginalization of ethnic minority groups, economic uncertainty. In fact we see ‘giant tactics’ all the time on our social media feeds. We have come to believe that volume and size equal truth. When we see that thousands or even millions of people ‘like’ a particular opinion, we find ourselves beginning to believe that it must indeed be true. This is the danger of social media, of algorithms on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and the like. The loudest and most liked voices win. Volume and frequency drown out smaller voices, sometimes the voices of truth.
Those with a different spirit understand that God’s truth often comes to us in the size of a grape, not in the size of a giant. As Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed…like a small bit of yeast in a large amount of dough…like a stone the builders rejected…” Those with a different spirit seize the grapes no matter how small they might appear against the giants. We constantly strain to hear the still, small voice of God’s truth amidst the howling wind of worldly opinion. There will always be loud, blustering giants, telling us to run and hide. But do we see the grapes?
In my first article last week I said we are at an inflection point for the gospel in the history of Hong Kong. This is a critical time where the church will either move forward with the hope of the gospel, or shrink back in fear and self-protection. God wants us to see the land around and ahead of us, and not be ignorant about the giants. All 12 spies saw the giants together, including Joshua and Caleb. God wants us to see the giants, but together to decide to focus on the grapes. God invites us to ponder the spiritual significance of the social and cultural issues in our city. With a different spirit we can develop the spiritual discipline that helps us see world affairs, cultural influences, and the critical social justice issues in God’s perspective. As we truly see the land, we are able to claim God’s promises and to live boldly as Kingdom citizens.
This is why we gather as church, as God’s people, as Kingdom citizens. When we meet we taste the goodness of the Lord together. We may be battle-weary from the past week, tired from all we have gone through and experienced. Together with God’s people we taste the grapes. We savour the sweetness of salvation as relationships are being transformed. With others we encounter the fruitfulness of our relationship with Jesus, and we encourage each other to be Kingdom citizens in our homes, workplaces and schools. We leave our gatherings with the sweetness dripping on our lips and flowing in our hearts. And that is the fuel that gives us a different spirit in our spheres of influence. The taste of the grapes becomes the fuel for our battles, not just on Sunday, but every moment of the week. We want others around us to also taste the sweet grapes of Jesus’ forgiveness and grace. We taste and see what God is doing – and in our amazement and joy, we want others to taste and see as well.
As the church of Hong Kong, we must not allow the giants, personal or public, to determine our future. By God’s grace we have a different spirit in us. We must open our eyes again to see God’s promises in this land, given to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The grapes can seem small and insignificant against the size of the giants, but we are his bride, chosen by him, redeemed by his blood. We are a citizens and ambassadors for his Kingdom.
May the sweetness of the grapes gives us fuel to battle whatever giants may come. Now is the time for a different spirit, to see beyond the giants to seize the grapes. To move past the problems and embrace the promises. To share Good News as we collaborate with God in creating a new future for this city we love.
So like Moses asked the 12 spies, let me humbly ask you - what do you see in this land of promise?