Israel sent a committee of twelve men to spy out the land of Canaan—the land that God had promised to give the nation of Israel. Although the idea of sending spies to search the land before the invasion originated with the people (Deuteronomy 1:19-24), God approved of it (Numbers 13:1-24).
Many of the issues Christians face in their lives and in their churches boil down to a choice between faith and doubt, between believing God and deciding not to believe what He has said. The children of Israel faced at least six trials of their faith prior to this one, and they failed each one:
1. In Exodus 14, the Israelites despaired as they were being
overtaken by the Egyptians.
2. In Exodus 16, the people murmured in the wilderness of Sin because they were hungry.
3. In Exodus 17, the people murmured at Rephaim because they were thirsty.
4. In Exodus 32, the people despaired when Moses did not return from Mount Horeb.
5. In Numbers 11, the people angered the Lord through their complaining at Taberah.
6. In Numbers 11:4-35, the Israelites and the mixed multitude lusted for flesh to eat at Kibroth-hattaavah.
Their seventh trial, in the wilderness of Paran at Kadesh-barnea, was the big test for the Israelites. Their failure there led to the tragic extension of the wilderness wanderings and the deaths of thousands in the desert who were never allowed to complete the journey to Canaan.
No less tragic than the Kadesh-barnea failure of the Israelites is the failure of Christians today to believe God, and of churches to fulfill His plan to bless the world through their witness. The results of this unbelief in believers include wandering and death, the aimless wandering of Christians and churches, and the eternal death of the multitudes left unwarned in the darkness of sin. What shall we do with the promises Jesus made just before He went back to Heaven?
“But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Will we believe God, or will we doubt Him like Israel did? Unbelief is still the great obstacle stopping churches and individual Christians from fulfilling their role in the world. The report and recommendations of the Kadesh-barnea committee still haunt us with assertions of doubt. Here is what they said:
Although the committee found Canaan to be a desirable land, they reported that there would be obstacles to conquering it. God, however, had already told them about these obstacles, and He wanted to help them overcome the difficulties and give them a supernatural victory. The enemy, in order to discourage us from going forward with God’s plan, uses the “nevertheless” argument yet today. Not everybody in town will appreciate the evangelistic efforts we make. Some of the opposition to our plans will come from within the church—not just from unbelievers. The voices of unbelief say, “Acts 1:8 is a good idea, but there are going to be real problems.” Caleb’s response ought to be ours: “Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30).
Victory in Christ is, by definition, a matter of overcoming obstacles. And faith is the victory that overcomes the world. By faith, we “are well able to overcome,” and to see God glorified in the fulfillment of His promises. The problems should not stop us from believing God.
2. “Not Able”
We might be stunned by the response of the ten to Caleb’s inspiring words. “We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we” (Numbers 13:31). Caleb said that Israel is “well able” to do what God told them to do, and they said that Israel is “not able.” It reminds me of the devil’s bold words to Eve, calling God a liar. Satan is a liar, and every time we entertain denials of God’s promises, we are listening to the voice of Satan. One of the most disturbing developments of our time is the propensity of preachers and teachers to explain away plain statements in the Bible. Liberals simply deny statements in Scripture, but evangelicals and fundamentalists explain them away. We must have discernment to detect the perversion of unbelief even when we hear it from good people.
3. “As Grasshoppers”
The next objection the committee raised about following God’s plan was that all of the people there were “men of a great stature” so that “we were in our own sight as grasshoppers.” They believed the invasion of Canaan was sure to be a disaster and that terrible consequences were sure to follow if the people followed God’s plan. This type of thinking arises out of the pit of unbelief—it could be called “grasshopper religion.”
Fear must be answered by faith, not embraced by unbelief. Jesus said, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” Paul reminded Timothy, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Timothy 1:7). It is interesting that while the fearful, faithless majority report of the committee spoke of being eaten, the minority report of Caleb and Joshua said that the Canaanites would be “bread for us.” In unbelief, men thought they would be eaten, but in faith, men knew they would eat the enemy! The outcome was determined by the perspective of God’s men.
4. “Let Us Return”
God’s judgment fell on those who would not believe Him. But it did not happen until one more recommendation was presented to the nation. The entire nation turned against their godly leaders and determined to not only abandon the idea of invading the Promised Land, but also to return to Egypt. Unbelief always sends people back to bondage. We either progress or regress on the journey of faith—we do not stay in the same place. The Christian life is a journey of faith, and if we refuse to go forward and believe God, we will go backward and lose the freedom we have enjoyed in Christ.
The people did not even get a chance to go back to Egypt. They suffered serious consequences because of their unbelief. The ten unbelieving spies who gave the majority report for the committee, as well as the whole generation of adults that concurred with the faithless conclusions of that committee, wandered for forty years in the wilderness. They died before ever getting to Canaan, and their carcasses fell in the wilderness. Likewise, many Christians and many churches have wandered for years after making a decision based on doubt, and those who have not awakened to their unbelief have seen their lives whither to the point where they bear a striking resemblance to carcasses fallen in the wilderness.
Faith is the key to finding God’s will, answering God’s call, doing God’s work, and fulfilling God’s plan. Revival in lives and in churches is blocked by unbelief.
We can be thankful that the story in Numbers 13 and 14 does not end with devastating results for everyone. Caleb and Joshua were rewarded for their faith, as anyone who decides to give God the benefit of the doubt will be. In Numbers 14:24, we read that Caleb “had another spirit with him,” and followed God “fully.” To believe God in the time of trial is simply to follow Him fully. Follow Him all the way, even when the way of obedience looks frightening or hard. Believe that He is with you as He said He would be, and that He will always fulfill what He has promised.