The spies reported “But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there.” Numbers 13:28 (NIV)
You may remember from beginning grammar that conjunctions are words that connect words or ideas. “But” is the conjunction that joins contrasting ideas. When “but” appears in Scripture, it highlights something God wants us to notice, to learn from. We’re looking at some of these contrasts.
In Numbers 13, the nation of Israel is poised to enter the Promised Land. Moses sent a team of twelve spies to check out the land in preparation for its conquest. On their return, they gave Moses their report: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.” Numbers 13:27
In other words, the land is everything God promised it would be. It is beautiful. It is fruitful. BUT… The people are powerful. The cities are fortified. There are giants.
That report is enough to make the people decide they don’t want any part of the Promised Land.
As the narrative continues in chapter 14, Joshua makes a last-ditch effort to encourage the people to take hold of the land God is giving them.
If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites. Numbers 14:8-10 (NIV)
Joshua said, “Do not be afraid. The Lord is with us.” BUT the people wanted to stone him for suggesting that.
This moment represents one of the greatest failures in Scripture, and the lessons we can take away are important.
A sense of entitlement is destructive – It hadn’t been that long ago that the nation of Israel were slaves in Egypt. Most recently, they have been dependent on God for their provision as they trekked across the desert. Now they presume to treat the gracious gift of a homeland and the abiding presence of God with the critical eye of a used car buyer. They were critical, ungrateful, and rebellious. Joshua was right. The Promised Land lay before them. All they had to do was step out in faith. They chose to sit back in hard-heartedness.
If we aren’t careful, we can nitpick God’s grace. We can determine He really doesn’t care. He really isn’t good. His gifts aren’t great and we deserve more.
Leaders who don’t follow God can lead us astray – The ten spies were handpicked representatives of their tribes. They were well-respected, but they were completely wrong. Not only that, but their report was designed and delivered to maximize its impact. Scripture doesn’t record their motive. We don’t know if they were looking to push Moses out or if they were genuinely opposed to taking the land. But clearly they lacked faith in God and His promises.
We can embrace leaders who are more pragmatic than Kingdom-minded. Joshua, Caleb, and Moses returned again and again to God’s clear commands and His character. The other spies were pushing comfort, safety, and ease, but ultimately disobedience.
We have to trust God more than we trust our own assessment of the situation -The ten spies were not wrong. The people of Canaan were powerful warriors. The cities were well-fortified. There were giants. However, like Joshua said, “But the LORD is with us.”
Carrying out the gospel, making disciples, living like Jesus day in and day out is a difficult assignment. There is no question about that. Culture is hostile. Temptations are a real struggle. The enemy is active and fights dirty. But the LORD is with us. The Holy Spirit lives in us and Jesus promised that we will reap if we don’t faint.
Don’t be like the spies. Be like Joshua. Be bold. Cling to His promises. Encourage others to do the same.
Next week: David