Our world today is a place that bombards us with reasons to fear. I do not think there are many who would dispute that statement. Our own country, which used to be fairly insulated from the general worldwide chaos and disintegration, is no longer a safe haven, and we who have spent many years enjoying America’s restful bubble are now adjusting to a country where most of what we have always held dear is being discarded or demolished. Stability and security are fading memories and the future is anything but bright. As a result, the fuel for fear is bearing down upon us and we fight for joy.
Despite this situation, for followers of Jesus, the mission has not changed. We are still charged to “Fear not” (Isaiah 41:10; 43:1; etc.) and to “Rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16; Phil. 4:4) and to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Since that is the case, the question becomes, “How do I do that?” How do we continue to see the world through the eyes of faith and not succumb to the pressures of fear?
This study will look at the narrative from Numbers 13-14 to draw out answers to these questions. In this story, the children of Israel have made their exodus from Egypt, have crossed the Red Sea, and have traveled to Kadesh Barnea at the southern end of the land of Canaan. From there, Moses sends twelve spies into the land of Canaan to give him a report of the nature of the land. When the spies come back, there is a sharp disagreement about the nature of the land. Some of the spies have faith and some do not and that makes all the difference in how they respond to the call to invade the land. This, then, is a study in contrasts. It is a study of FEAR and of FAITH. At the conclusion, we will try to learn some lessons from their challenges that we can apply to our own increasingly shaky environment.
SETTING THE STAGE
Before we begin to look at the spies, it is important to notice that the LORD had decided to give the children of Israel the land before the spies went in. In Numbers 13:2, the LORD commands that the men be sent to spy out Canaan, “which I am giving to the sons of Israel.” Since the LORD has given the land already, the only correct response was to go in, for victory was assured. To add to this case, when Moses sent the twelve spies into the land, he did not ask them to decide whether the rest of the people should go in. He gave them ZERO executive authority. Moses wanted a report and some fruit (13:17-20). That was the extent of their assignment. So, again, they had no authority to persuade the rest to refuse to go in and to decide to head back to Egypt.
When the spies go into the land of Canaan, they go up and down the whole length of the land from north to south. They also see the people of the land and the fruit of the land. Two verses are key, 13:22 and 13:23. In Numbers 13:22, the Bible tells us that “the spies came to Hebron, where the descendants of Anak were.” The Anakim were giants, men of great height and strength. (It is likely that Goliath (1 Samuel 17) was a descendant of Anak.) Even from spying distance, it was obvious to all twelve spies that these giant men would make scary enemies. Numbers 13:22 is all about fear. Then in Number 13:23, we read about the fruit of the land of Canaan. There in the valley of Eshcol, the spies find a single cluster of grapes that is so large that it must be carried on a pole between two of the men. This giant cluster of grapes is a testimony to the goodness and provision of the LORD, that He is giving them a very fruitful land. Numbers 13:23 is all about faith. Thus, the twelve spies return to the camp of Israel in Kadesh.
THE TWO REPORTS
(For simplicity, I am going to refer to the ten unfaithful spies as either TEN or as FEAR. I will refer to the two faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb, as TWO or as FAITH.)
The TEN spies give their report first. After a brief mention of the land and its fruit (13:27), they go on to say, “Nevertheless (which is a word that effectively negates what was said before), the people who live in the land are strong (13:28).” Their report quickly descends into a terrified account of people who are all enormous and of cities that are large and fortified and of a land that “devours its inhabitants.” Basically, they describe a death trap and imply that all the people are doomed.
Caleb interrupts the TEN with his own account of their reconnaissance of the land, saying, “Let us go up at once and occupy the land, for we will surely overcome it (13:30).” How can two reports be so vastly far apart?
Despite Caleb’s FAITH, the TEN hold sway and succeed in striking FEAR into the heart of the entire congregation. The people lament their leadership, they blame the LORD for their imagined desperate situation, and they want to find a new leader to take them back to Egypt (14:1-4). This is all specific rebellion and wicked disobedience.
The TWO once again gain the floor and try to speak sense and FAITH into the people. The land is “an exceedingly good land (14:7; contrary to the brief mention of 13:27).” The LORD will bring us into this land that “flows with milk and honey.” “Do not rebel against the LORD and do not FEAR the people of the land. The LORD is with us, so do not FEAR them (14:9).”
Finally, the LORD Himself brings down the verdict. “How long will this people despise Me and how long will they not believe in Me, in spite of all the signs I have done among them (14:11)?”
OBSERVATIONS OF FEAR AND FAITH
- The LORD was giving the land to the sons of Israel (13:2). FAITH accepts the LORD’s gift and prepares to go into the land. FEAR is all doubt and uncertainty and keeps retreat as the preferred option.
- FEAR fixes our gaze upon the threat (13:22) or the enemy and dreads the coming disaster, but FAITH fixes our gaze upon the LORD (14:9) and anticipates His power being displayed. (Hebrews 12:2)
- FEAR magnifies and multiplies the adversaries (13:28-29, 31-33), but FAITH trusts the LORD to vanquish my adversaries (14:9).
- A spark of FEAR can quickly grow into an inferno (13:31-33), so snuff it out quickly.
- FEAR causes a person to project evil upon the LORD (14:3), a grievous sin, when the LORD is always and only good.
- To act out of FEAR is “to rebel against the LORD (14:9).” This is no minor offense but is calling into question the very trustworthiness of the LORD. The LORD has declared and demonstrated that He is trustworthy. Therefore, we must not FEAR.
- FAITH exhorts people with the words, “do not FEAR (14:9).” FEAR discourages the people to have no FAITH (14:1-4).
- FEAR is a word of the devil and of the world and of the once-born. FAITH is word of the LORD and of the fellowship of believers and of the born-again.
- To not trust the LORD is to “despise” the LORD (14:11). Again, we may imagine that not trusting the LORD is just a small chink in my discipleship armor, but the LORD views this lack of trust as “despising” Him.
- To not trust the LORD is the same thing as not believing in the LORD (14:11). This is sobering, indeed, for if we do not believe in the LORD by the LORD’s own assessment, are we not ‘unbelievers?’ To not trust the LORD is a serious thing.
- FAITH commits to the course and, thus, eliminates options of retreat.
- When Joshua and Caleb went to spy out the land, they were inspecting their new home. By contrast, the TEN were visiting a strange land to see if it was safe.
- Joshua and Caleb spied out the land as conquerors. On the other hand, the TEN spies went in as tourists.
- Joshua and Caleb spied out the land with the LORD at their side (14:9). The TEN went into the land under their own strength (13:31-33).
APPLICATIONS AND LESSONS
Going through this list of observations about faith and fear (above) can be instructional as we evaluate our own attitudes toward threats. It is certain that our natural response to threats and instability is fear. This is a result of the sin of Adam in the Garden and the Fall that followed. Therefore, the natural man always responds to threats with fear. But it is also true that the “old man” and the “flesh” within the follower of Jesus still draws us toward fear. Because that is the case, the disciple of Jesus must intentionally learn to resist and to reject fear and instead to respond to threats with faith, regardless of the nature of the threat. In this light, I have several thoughts about ways we can move away from fear and move toward faith.
- Always consciously CHOOSE to trust the LORD. This is the habit that Caleb had developed. He certainly saw the same Anakim (giants) that the other spies saw, but he CHOSE to let his thoughts dwell on the LORD and His power. Just so, when we are confronted with something that threatens us (job loss, COVID-19, widespread violence and anarchy, serious illness, relationship turmoil, persecution, personal loss, etc.), our first act must be to CHOOSE to turn to the Lord and trust the Lord and seek the Lord.
- Ask the question, “What would be the OBEDIENT thing to do?” In the face of threat, the person of faith strives to continue to obey the Lord. Ideally, all actions are obedient actions.
- Ask the question, “How would the Lord want me to act in this situation?” Consider examples of heroes from Scripture. How would they respond? Or what would be a response that would be pleasing to the Lord? Go, and do likewise.
- Develop strong habits of prayer, especially during seasons of relative calm, so that the weapon of prayer will be available when the battle is joined. Therefore, pray:
- To remind myself of the Lord’s faithfulness in the past. (Psalm 42:4, 6 “remember”)
- So that I remember His love for me and His delight in me (Psalm 147:9-10; 149:4; Romans 8:31)
- That the Lord would clarify the task in front of me so that I know the right path (Psalm 119:105)
- That the Lord would give me the resolve to take action, when He has made known to me the path
- To request the Lord’s help and to ask for His power
- Be aware of my thinking and recognize when I am allowing my mind to dwell on fear or to drift into areas of spiritual unpreparedness.
- When fear begins to well up, arrest those thoughts and turn my mind to obedient thoughts, like 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Psalm 131; 46; 56:3; 27:14; 34:4-6
- Maintain the attitude of a soldier and be on the alert and be battle-ready (2 Timothy 2:3-4; Nehemiah 4:17; Ephesians 6:10ff; 1 Peter 5:8)
Caleb and Joshua saw all the same obstacles and threats in the land of Canaan that the other ten spies saw, but because they were men of faith, they chose to fix their eyes on the Lord and to act in faithful obedience to the Lord. Like these two heroes, we, too, see that same obstacles and threats that the rest of our world sees. Yes, there is no argument that the sources of potential fear and discouragement are many, but because we are people of faith, we can choose to trust our great God and we can continue to joyfully live out the mission that our risen King has given us. SDG rmb 7/9/2020