Just before entering the Promised Land, God had Moses take another census of the Israelites — men over the age of one month. And the census ends with this declaration: "These are the ones counted by Moses and Eleazar the priest when they counted the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai. For the Lord had told those Israelites they would surely die in the wilderness, and not one of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun." (vs 63-65)
The first step in establishing a foundation of trust with children is to teach them that you mean what you say. How do you do that, exactly? Well, you say what you’ll do, and then you do what you say. This teaches them to trust you. If you’re consistent in doing what you say, they will know that when you speak, you mean business.
I have experienced this personally in a powerful way in my life. Many years ago, before I had my own children, I began spending time with a then-five-year-old boy who lived in an abusive and neglectful home and had major emotional and behavioral problems. As much as possible, I saw him as regularly as his father would allow.
I had observed this boy in his kindergarten class for a while before ever taking him out in public, just the two of us. And I had seen firsthand his wildness. He was impulsive, out-of-control, and not prone to listening to anyone about anything. But I knew that if we were going to have a good time going out together (and in public!), he was going to have to be willing to listen to me and obey me — for his sake!
One of the first times we went out, I took him to a local water park. He was very good for quite a while, but after some time, he began to act up. First, he was running on the wet pavement (a no-no). Then, he was annoying other kids in the pool by getting close to them and splashing them out of the blue. Then, he wasn’t listening to one of the lifeguards who was trying to instruct him. At that point, I was standing at the edge of the pool, and I asked him to get out so I could talk to him. He glared at me from the pool. I asked him a second time. He didn’t move; he even started to smirk a little — ha! I’ll show her. She can’t force me to get out. In a calm voice, I then told him that if he didn’t get out of the pool, we would be leaving.
After a few more seconds of staredown and him not moving, I turned and went over to my poolside chair to begin collecting my things. Now he was out of the pool, running after me, saying, "Okay, I’m out. I’m out. We’re not leaving, are we?" I informed him that yes, we were leaving, because he would not get out of the pool when I asked him to come. He began to cry and shout a little bit, and I just ignored him and told him to get his things. Well, of course he wasn’t going to get his things. So I gathered up everything and began to walk away from him. It really hurt me to take him away from the water park when he had been having such a good time, but I knew that if I gave into his tantrum, I would have to face it every single time I wanted to take him anywhere. Eventually, he followed me out the exit, and I took him home.
I didn’t have another problem with him for a very long time. And then one day, about a year later, we were in McDonald’s and he was playing in the PlayPlace. When it was time to go, I gave him a ten-minute warning, letting him know that he would be able to play for a few more minutes and then it would be time to go. When it was time to go, he said he wasn’t ready to go and refused to put on his shoes. I told him again that it was time to go, and he repeated that he wasn’t going to put on his shoes. And so I leaned in close to him, looked him right in the eye and said, "Okay. I’m going to let you make the choice. You can listen to me and do what I ask; I know you don’t want to go, but it’s time. So you can put your shoes on and leave now, and we’ll come back another day. Or you can play now for as long as you want, and I will sit here and wait for you, but then I will never bring you back to McDonald’s again. Ever. You choose."
And with that, I sat back in my chair, gave him a sweet smile and ate a french fry. And after thinking it over for a few seconds, he went and put his shoes on. You see, by that time, he knew that I meant exactly what I said and that I would do what I said, because I had demonstrated that very lesson to him at the water park. And here’s the amazing thing to me: I spent 13 years as his "Big Sister," taking him out to spend time with him. During that time, he continued to exhibit wild misbehavior in school and at home, but I never had another behavioral problem with him. Ever. From that time on, he trusted me, and he listened to me — even when I was asking him to do something he didn't want to do.
I’d like to think that this was what God was trying to teach that new generation of Israelites at the end of Numbers 26, before they went into the Promised Land. He commissioned the second census so they could see with their own eyes that things had worked out exactly as He said they would. Please listen to Me. As you can see, I say what I’ll do, and I do what I say. When I give you My word, you can surely count on it!