“Then we set out from Horeb, and went through all that great and terrible wilderness which you saw on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, just as the Lord our God had commanded us; and we came to Kadesh-barnea. I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites which the Lord our God is about to give us. See, the Lord your God has placed the land before you; go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’
“Then all of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may search out the land for us, and bring back to us word of the way by which we should go up and the cities which we shall enter.’ The thing pleased me and I took twelve of your men, one man for each tribe. They turned and went up into the hill country, and came to the valley of Eshcol and spied it out. Then they took some of the fruit of the land in their hands and brought it down to us; and they brought us back a report and said, ‘It is a good land which the Lord our God is about to give us.’
Yet you were not willing to go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God; and you grumbled in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us. Where can we go up? Our brethren have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are bigger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified to heaven. And besides, we saw the sons of the Anakim there.”’ Then I said to you, ‘Do not be shocked, nor fear them. The Lord your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place.’ But for all this, you did not trust the Lord your God, who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go.” Deuteronomy 1:19-36
I love the power of God’s Word to change us. Last night, I was overcome with fear. A relentless volley of doubts and terrifying scenarios assaulted my mind, and I lay in bed, helpless, unable to sleep, trying to pray, but not feeling any better. Finally, I fell into a fitful sleep, only to wake up early with the same fears plaguing my mind. But then I got up and wrote a prayer to the Lord in my journal, expressing all of my fears, and asking Him to help me overcome them. Then I took out my Bible and read this passage in Deuteronomy, and it did wonders for my soul.
In Deuteronomy, Moses is addressing the children of Israel. It has been forty years since the people failed to go up and possess the land that the LORD had promised to Abraham hundreds of years before. Because of their unbelief, God has taken them on a winding path in the wilderness to test their hearts to see if they would obey Him and to show them that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deut. 8:2-4). And now it is time for the next generation to go into the promised land, but first Moses recounts their story.
In this particular portion, Moses recounts the disobedience that resulted in wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. The time had come for the Lord to give them the land, but after sending the twelve spies to search the land, ten of them said,
“We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey . . . Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are living in the hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan. . . . We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us,” (Numbers 13:27-29, 31).
It’s very interesting to me how the people of Israel responded to this news. They rebelled against the Lord, and I think that their grumbling reveals why: “Because the Lord hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us.”
Wow. Because the Lord hates us? That is an extreme response, particularly given the fact that the Lord had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. And, equally bizarre, they assumed automatically that the LORD must have brought them out of Egypt just to let the Amorites kill them.
In print, it looks very melodramatic, doesn’t it? The LORD is bringing His people to the promised land, and everything is great . . . until they find out who they will have to fight. And then they lose it and freak out, assuming the worst.
Their response is startling, yet when I read about the Israelites, there is something horribly familiar about their attitudes. It’s like looking at my own heart in a mirror. We have the same human nature they had, don’t we?
The root of Israel’s rebellion against God lay in their perspective. When it came to the work that God had given them to do, they thought it would be something that they could do. And they couldn’t. They were right about that much. But they stopped there, falling into despair (and all sorts of irrational thinking). And they refused to obey God because obedience looked impossible to them.
Moses had the right perspective, though. And He tried to encourage the people with the truth that God is able. He told them that the Lord their God was the one who would go before them, that He would be the one to fight for them. He reminded them of God’s goodness in that He had carried them so tenderly all through the wilderness and led them every hour of the day and night.
Sadly, the people did not listen to Moses and grieved the LORD with their unbelief. And they died in the wilderness because of it.
Do you remember the two exceptions to this fate, though? Caleb and Joshua, the two spies who believed the land could be taken. Here’s what they said:
“The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us—a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them,” (Numbers 14:6-9).
What was different about Joshua and Caleb? They believed God—that His intentions were good and that He was able and ready to do what He had promised. And you know what they weren’t doing? They weren’t analyzing their own skills or merit and comparing it to the task to see if they stood a chance. They just wanted to obey and knew that God could do what they could not.
The same can be true for us. The tasks God gives us will always be too much for us in our feeble, human strength. But they are nothing to God. He is the one who goes before and fights for us. And no matter how hard the way may be, He will always be there to carry us as a father carries his children, leading day and night. No need to fear. Just love and obey.
Father, we thank You for Your word and for the comfort it gives us in times of distress. We are human and prone to doubt Your goodness and forget about Your power. But You are gracious to forgive. Thank you for the example of Israel that shows us how our fear reveals what we actually believe. Forgive us for believing the lies—that we are the ones who have to be good enough or strong enough to do Your work or that You have given us a task only to hurt us or that You are not big enough and strong enough to accomplish Your purposes. Thank You for the examples of faith in Moses, Joshua, and Caleb. Thank You for Your work of grace in their hearts that enabled them to see You instead of their circumstances. Teach us like You taught them to love You most so that we may honor Your greatness through unwavering faith. We need You! Amen.