Giant Enemies or Giant Grapes? (Number 13-14)

            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

Joshua 2: Christ in the Scarlet Thread

MAIN IDEA: The main idea in this writing from Joshua 2 is that the writers of the Old Testament narratives, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wove into their stories pictures of Jesus which foreshadow His life, His salvation and His gospel. And while Jesus Christ appears many times in the Old Testament (Hebrews 1:1; Luke 24:27), He often appears in disguise and here in this passage is a beautiful example of how Jesus Christ and His salvation are hidden in an Old Testament narrative.

In this article I will carefully go through this passage from Joshua 2 showing how Jesus and His gospel are here in disguise. Then I will lay out for you the TYPICAL CHARACTERISTICS of these “Jesus-in-disguise” passages so that you can begin discovering them for yourself.

As you read through Joshua 2, the story sounds a little unusual, with the spies coming inside the walls of Jericho and then talking to Rahab, the harlot. Nothing may catch your eye as significant as you continue to read. Then suddenly you see it: the scarlet thread. “Tie this cord of scarlet thread in the window . . . (2:18)” At once you should be drawn to full attention, for the “scarlet thread´ is a big neon sign shouting “Jesus is hiding here!” SCARLET, like the stain of sin that can only be removed by Jesus’ blood (Isaiah 1:18). A SCARLET thread, like a thin trickle of blood running down from where a thorn has pierced Jesus’ sinless brow. A scarlet thread, like the red drops dripping down the rough wood of a Roman cross. Yes, the scarlet thread is an obvious clue intentionally placed in the text to catch the disciple’s attention and to quietly announce for those who have listening ears that the Messiah is hidden here.

Now that the scarlet thread has decisively alerted us that the hidden Messiah is near, we begin the next part of the study, which is to mentally “rope off the passage” (in this case, 2:1-21) and to become a spiritual detective bent on finding all the clues which the Holy Spirit has hidden in this story so that you can clearly see Jesus.

I remember when I was a child there was a children’s magazine that would have a drawing or a picture on one of the pages of the magazine. The drawing was a pencil sketch in its own right, but also in the drawing or sketch were many hidden objects and the point of the game was for the observer to find all the objects hidden in the drawing. This spiritual detective work that we are doing now is very similar to finding the disguised or hidden objects in the picture. In this Bible study, the goal is to find all the hidden clues in the passage until you can see Jesus clearly. Here are the things that I found in the passage.

  • The main character in this chapter is Rahab the harlot, a prostitute in the pagan town of Jericho. Thus she is a condemned sinner from a people who are doomed to destruction. As such she is in urgent need of salvation. So this is a story about a sinner in urgent need of salvation and thus pictures for us all doomed sinners who need to find the means of salvation. Jesus comes to save sinners from destruction.
  • Rahab appeals to the spies for mercy, asking that she and her family will be spared when the destruction comes (2:12-13). (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:20) Even so, we are saved as an act of God’s mercy.
  • Rahab is not spared (saved) by her good works, for she has none. Rather she is spared only because of the scarlet thread and the oath.
  • The two spies are from the people of Yahweh and are the agents of salvation for Rahab. Notice some interesting details about the spies from the story.
    • The spies/saviors are to hide themselves for THREE DAYS (2:16). In my view, this foreshadows the three days the Lord Jesus lay in the ground after His crucifixion. In this case, “three days” is a messianic clue, almost as obvious as “scarlet thread.”
    • When the spies (saviors) will return to Jericho, they will bring a sword of destruction on all those who do not have a scarlet thread in the window of the house. Just so, when Jesus returns, He will bring a sword of judgment (Rev. 19:11ff) on all those who have not believed in Him.
    • The spies explain to Rahab the way of salvation (2:17-20). In this way they are acting as ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) or witnesses (Acts 1:8; Isaiah 43:10). They are messengers of salvation from the people of God.
    • The spies are bound by their oath (2:17-20) to save Rahab from death. In the same way, God through Christ binds Himself with an oath (promise) to save all those who will trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
  • Only those who are gathered into Rahab’s house, the house with the scarlet thread in the window, will be spared from the sword (2:18-19). (Remember Exodus 11-12 and the Passover. Also remember Genesis 7 and the closing of the ark.) All those who are gathered into the house with the scarlet thread will be saved and all those who are outside will perish, regardless of any other factor. In this same way, all those who are called into the house of God, the true Church, and who truly believe in Christ will be saved and all who remain outside will perish.
  • Rahab’s soul and the souls of her family will be delivered from death because of the oath and the scarlet thread. The oath and the thread are matters of life and death. Even so, believers are delivered from eternal death through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the scarlet thread and faith in Him is the oath.
  • Rahab believes the spies and demonstrates her faith by putting the scarlet thread in her window (2:21). In the same way, those who follow Jesus make their faith visible through baptism and through boldly identifying with Jesus. Figuratively, they display Jesus Christ by placing Him in the window.
  • Rahab must remain faithful to the oath she had accepted (2:20). If she is unfaithful to the terms of the oath then the oath is null and void. This says that there are conditions that must be met to receive the benefits of the oath. Just so, everyone who merely goes through the motions of believing in Christ, but who is never truly converted will not be saved by Christ (Matthew 7:21-23).

Now it is certain that not all of these clues are equally strong. In fact, some of these may be too much of a stretch and may not actually be intended by the Holy Spirit to foreshadow the Lord Jesus. My point is that, in passages where Jesus is intentionally disguised or hidden, there are often many clues that point forward to the coming Messiah.

And what were the results for Rahab? Rahab and all her family who were gathered into her house were spared by the spies (Joshua 6:22-25). “By faith Rahab did not perish along with those who were disobedient (Hebrews 11:31).” Rahab the harlot even finds herself in the lineage of the Messiah (Matthew 1:5).

TYPICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THESE STORIES:

While all these stories do not follow exactly the same pattern, because our God is an infinitely creative God who writes stories uniquely, there are typical characteristics that mark out these stories.

  • Theme of the story is about salvation, rescue or redemption;
  • Clues are intentionally placed in the text to catch the diligent reader’s attention and to flag the story as needing to be read more slowly and carefully (scarlet thread, three days, MORE
  • The story is often obscure or even odd (Making the story odd or obscure is done as a clue to catch attention.);
  • The story often has almost no historical significance, since it is about people who make no difference in world history.;
  • The story seems almost to have been placed in the text for the express purpose of piquing your curiosity.
  • Study of the passage reveals many images or ideas which foreshadow the life and mission and salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So the next time that you are reading along in the Old Testament and encounter an odd passage that seems to have an obvious clue (like a scarlet thread) which is associated with Jesus, begin to look for more clues. It could be that Messiah is hidden there.

SDG        rmb        4/27/2017