In Numbers 13, the Lord speaks to Moses and tells him to send 12 spies to the land of Canaan, one from each tribe of Israel. Accordingly, Moses chooses 12 men and instructs them, “Go up this way into the South, and go up to the mountains, and see what the land is like: whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, few or many; whether the land they dwell in is good or bad; whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or strongholds; whether the land is rich or poor; and whether there are forests there or not. Be of good courage. And bring some of the fruit of the land” (Numbers 13:17-20).
The spies went out as he said and followed Moses’ directions. It took them over a month to spy out the land (Numbers 13:25). Their initial report answered Moses’ questions: “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan” (Numbers 13:27-29).
This initial report is pretty factual: it’s a good land, but strongly fortified. However, there does seem to be a certain amount of emphasis on the strength of the inhabitants instead of on the goodness of the land. God had said that He had given this land to them, and their initial impression seems to have been, “Well, it’s nice, but...” The report seems to have caused a stir, because Caleb—one of the twelve—stood and quieted the people. His recommendation? “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30).
Here is where events take a nasty turn. Ten of the other spies—everyone except Joshua and Caleb—reiterate the scariness of the land’s inhabitants and advise against entering the land. “‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.’ And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight’” (Numbers 13:31-33). The children of Israel responded as they were wont to do: they complained. They cried. They accused God and Moses of wanting to bring them out into the wilderness to die. And they started casting about for another leader, one who could lead them back into slavery in Egypt.
“But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: ‘The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in 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, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them’” (Numbers 14:6-9). Joshua and Caleb emphasize the good of the land, but especially the Lord’s strength and purpose for Israel. Unfortunately, their words do no good: the Israelites try to stone them.
Because of their rebellion, the Israelites would wander for 40 years in the wilderness, until all of that older generation had died. Well, almost all. In Numbers 32:10-12, Moses reminds the children of Israel,“So the LORD’s anger was aroused on that day, and He swore an oath, saying, ‘Surely none of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and above, shall see the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because they have not wholly followed Me, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh, the Kenizzite, and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the LORD.’”
Joshua, in fact, would be the physical leader of the people as they entered the land. And what about Caleb? In Joshua 14:6-12, we see that Caleb hadn’t changed a bit: “You know the word which the LORD said to Moses the man of God concerning you and me in Kadesh Barnea. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was in my heart. Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I wholly followed the LORD my God. So Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children’s forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.’ And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in. Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said.”
Caleb hadn’t forgotten the Lord, and he hadn’t forgotten the giants: he came back to the land of Canaan ready to go up against people—no matter their size—who temporarily stood in the way of his receiving the blessing that God had promised.
The moral of the story? We can learn a lot from these events. What struck me was this: ten of the original spies couldn’t really see the goodness of the land or the goodness of God. They saw fear, and it was shaped like giants. They allowed their fear to turn them into faithless leaders who led the people into rebellion and cost a generation their inheritance. Caleb and Joshua, though, looked right past the fear, right past the giants, and into the inheritance promised by God. Because their hope was in God, they were filled with courage.
We are being led into an inheritance, and it’s going to involve some testing. Peter writes,“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).
God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). When we look at our lives, what are we focusing on? Are we looking at the giant-shaped hurdles in our way? Or are we glimpsing the milk and honey of God’s promises? Most of all, are we focusing on what God’s power can do instead of on our own strength? If we keep our focus right, we can rest assured that if God is for us, no one can be against us (Romans 8:31)!
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