One of the key challenges of parents is teaching their children who they can trust and who they should be wary of. We teach our kids that they should trust policeman, firemen and teachers. We try to get them to be wary of strangers and people who touch them in ways that make them uncomfortable.
As adults we face similar challenges. We struggle with whether to trust the salesman who wants us to buy his product that will “revolutionize our lives”. We struggle with the trustworthiness of the charities that call us on the phone. We wonder whether we can or should trust the person with the bad reputation. We wonder who we can trust with the secrets and hurts of our lives. The issue of trust is important.
It may not seem like it at first, but the story of the Israelites in Numbers 13 and 14 is really a story of trust. The Hebrews who had been freed from slavery, miraculously cared for, and instructed by the decrees of God, are now standing on the threshold of the land God promised them. They are on the verge of entering the land of milk and honey (a euphemism for a land rich with resources) This passage neatly illustrates three common philosophies of determining who to trust.
“SEEING IS BELIEVING”
The account begins with the Lord telling Moses to send spies on a reconnaissance mission of the land of Canaan. But we don’t learn the “rest of the story” until we read about this event in Deuteronomy as Moses looks back on this event.
See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.” The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe. (Deuteronomy 1:21-23)
Apparently the Lord had told the people to get ready to take the land and the people decided that they should check it out first. So, 12 men are selected to make the journey through the land that was promised; one man from each tribe. These men went into the land and for 40 days journeyed the 250 miles north and back again.
Like so many of us, these Hebrews believed that seeing was believing. It was not enough that this was the land that was promised. The Israelites wanted to see for themselves. They were like Thomas in the New Testament. He heard testimony of the resurrection of Jesus, but he said he would not believe the testimony unless he could see the nail prints in his hands and feet and the wound in his side. (John 20:25).
This is a very popular approach. We often do the same thing. God says trust me . . . we say, “not so fast!”.
- we want to see the reasons for God’s actions
- we want to know “when” God will fulfill His promises
- we want to see the evidence that we are going to be alright.
- we want to know “how” He is going to provide for our needs
We want to see the plan. We want to sign off on God’s intentions. Yet the Biblical approach is that you believe first . . . then you will see. Jesus said, “blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.” (John 20:29)
Please understand, Jesus is not saying that faith means believing even though it doesn’t make sense. He is not advocating a blind leap into the darkness. But we should be willing to believe in God’s promises for the future based on his faithfulness in the promises of the past. We should trust God because his character has been proved over and over. We should trust that the Lord can help us defeat our enemies because of the enemies He has defeated in the past. God doesn’t ask us to assassinate our brains . . . but he does ask us to trust Him.
Any time we enter new territory in our lives we must take a step of faith. If we wait until we can be sure of everything before we do anything, we will never extend beyond the safety of our own little world. We must trust that God will fulfill us and equip us for whatever He calls us to do. We need to remember three things.
We need to remember that our sight is unreliable. We are often guilty of seeing what we want to see.
- the Lord tells us a potential mate is wrong for us because they are an unbeliever, but we see someone “who will change”
- the Lord tells us to leave judgment to Him . . . we see an opportunity to “even the score” and teach someone a lesson
- the Lord calls us to a new challenge . . .all we see is the security of what is comfortable
- the Lord calls us to repent of some sin . . .but we see all kinds of reason why we are not responsible for what we have done.
We need to remember that we don’t see the whole picture. In every circumstance we see only part of the story. We don’t see what led up to the events we witnessed. We don’t see the mitigating circumstances. We don’t know what God is doing through the circumstances around us.
We must remember that it is hard to imagine what you have never seen. Try to imagine death, or Heaven, or our human spirit. It’s hard for couples without children to imagine what life is like with children. It is hard for single people to imagine what it is like to be married. It’s hard for a Cub fan to imagine your team in the World Series. Try describing to a blind person the color blue, or the beauty of a rainbow, or the exquisite colors of a flower. We can’t see what we have not experienced. And if we wait to see before we experience anything, we will never see!
The spies that we sent out return after 40 days. They bring with them a huge cluster of fruit (it took two men to carry the cluster of grapes) and tell stories of how great the land is. They report that the land is “indeed a land flowing with milk and honey”. Everybody began to get excited. Their eyes got big and their smiles broad. But then the men report that the inhabitants of the land were strong, their cities were well-fortified, and there were even giants in the land!
Now we get two different interpretations of what these facts mean. Caleb (apparently accompanied by Joshua) quiets the crowd (they were getting all riled up) and says, “By all means let’s go get them, we can take these people!”
The other ten spies had a different evaluation of the situation. They conclude that they are hopelessly outmatched. They say,
The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:32,33)
At this point the ten spies are given to a bit of hyperbole (they are exaggerating). They compare themselves to grasshoppers tying to take on the proverbial giants who were the descendents of Anak.
The people now have a choice, do they believe the majority report or the minority report? They respond probably the same way we would respond. They are swayed by the majority. After all it is ten to two. They conclude that any hope of entering the land God promised is hopeless. They have made this trip for nothing. The people despair. They speak these fateful words,
If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:2-4)
Have you ever been in that situation? Have you been tempted to trust the majority rather than the Lord?
- maybe it was the majority report that you were worthless, or stupid
- or the majority report that said you could not handle the rigors of college
- or the majority report that said God would never be able to forgive someone like you
- or the majority report that said only fools believe in God
- or the majority report that says you can’t live by God’s ethics and survive in business
- or the majority report that says there is nothing wrong (since everybody does these things) with sex before marriage, or cheating on your taxes, holding a grudge, or spreading gossip.
There is a problem with basing your confidence on the majority opinion. The majority could be wrong.
The late Senator James A. Reed, of Missouri, in one of the most forceful speeches ever delivered before the Senate, observed with great truth: “The majority crucified Jesus Christ; the majority burned the Christians at the stake; the majority established slavery; the majority jeered when Columbus said the world was round; the majority threw him into a dungeon for having discovered a new world; the majority cut off the ears of John Pym because he dared advocate the liberty of the press.”Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : [A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers] (Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979).
When we are guided by majority opinion we are succumbing to peer pressure. We warn our children of the dangers of peer pressure and Paul warned us, ” Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom. 12:2) Paul warns us that we must resist living by the majority opinion or we will never be able to find God’s will for our lives.
THE LORD SAID . . . .
The children of Israel heard the majority report and began weeping and wailing. They determined that it would be better if they died back in Egypt, or even in the desert. Their imagination started getting carried away. They imagined their wives and children being taken from them and then be devoured by the giants. They were making plans to elect new leaders to lead them back to the slavery of Egypt!
In the midst of this complaining and weeping Joshua and Caleb were the voice of reason,
“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:7-9)
The reasoning of these two men was simple . . . we can take anyone because God is on our side. God had promised us this land . . . and God will fulfill his promise. These people had seen God force Pharoah’s hand, they had seen the sea open for them and close on the Egyptians. They had seen God’s provision of manna. They saw God turn bitter water into sweet water. They saw the quail. They were led by the cloud and the pillar of fire. They heard God’s voice. They should have known better. And so should we.
We have heard how God protected the Hebrews. We’ve read about the life of Jesus. We’ve read about the miracles (healing people, providing bread, calming the seas, and raising the dead.) We know He died for our sin. We’ve read the eyewitness testimony of the resurrection. We’ve heard the stories of God’s marvelous provision for the early church. We’ve heard enough history to know that God has helped His people again and again and again. We have seen God work in our own lives. We’ve seen His provision, we’ve experienced His protection, we have known His strength. We should know better.
Look what happens. God’s judgment strikes down the ten leaders and the people are told that they will spend the next 40 years (one year for each day the spies were in the land) in the desert until every one of the adults has died in the desert (just like they wished for). So what do the people do? They recognize that they have sinned against the Lord but instead of repenting of their sin . . . they continue in that sin. Instead of taking God at His word they believe they can force God’s hand. They get ready and attack the land. Moses warns them that God is not with them . . . but to no avail. The people are massacred.
How much easier life would be if we listened to the Lord rather than ignore His commands until it is too late. Do you need examples of the kinds of commands we ignore,
- saving sex for marriage
- telling the truth in all circumstances
- doing what you promise to do (be faithful in marriage, being involved in the body of Christ, paying your debtors, showing up to do what you said you would do)
- giving God a tithe of our income
- putting God first in your life (not just Sunday . . . every day!)
- extending love and mercy to those in need
- forgiving those who hurt you
The list could go on. God wants us to do what He says because it is Him who is saying it. We should know His character. We know His track record. We understand that He loves us because that love was demonstrated in Christ. We don’t do these things because we think we can earn heaven by them. We trust Him because we believe that God’s wisdom is best and obeying Him is not only right, it is the wise thing to do.
Rebellion Against the Lord is Costly
Did you realize that the reason the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness was because they were waiting for an entire generation of people to die off? They could have entered the Promised land in under a year if they had trusted the Lord.
This is always the way it is. When we ignore God we get in trouble. God’s commands are not to enslave us but to free us. God is trying to point us to the way of life and joy. When we ignore God’s direction, when we decide to do it our way . . . we always experience negative consequences.
We lie and we get caught in a web of deceit that erodes our character. We ignore God’s commands about morality and we end up in one superficial relationship after another. We put other things before the Lord in our life and we find our hearts drifting from the truth and God’s peace and power seem far away. Life becomes a chore rather than a celebration. The list goes on and on. When you turn from the Lord it is costly.
When Our Faith is Lacking Problems seem bigger than they really Are
Notice that they talk about giants and grasshoppers.
A student was talking with Ruth Graham and opened his heart to her admitting defeat in his Christian life. The depth of her wisdom was veiled only by the simplicity of her response. She told him of the twelve spies in Numbers 13.“Now,” asked Ruth, “what was the difference between the two sets of spies? Just this … ” She paused for effect. “The ten compared themselves to their problems, but the two compared their problems with God!”Morgan, R. J. (2000, c1998). From this verse : 365 scriptures that changed the world (electronic ed.) (January 18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
The more we focus on the problems the bigger they seem. But when we put our problems next to the greatness of our Lord, they get smaller.
We Must Be Willing to Stand Against the Majority If That is What it Takes
The final lesson is from the example of Joshua and Caleb. Sometimes you and I will have to stand against the majority. And when those times come, it may not be pleasant. The crowd will turn against us, it would be easier to cave in. But it will not be better. We must stand with the Lord.
In the early church when our forefathers refused to compromise their faith many were persecuted. In the Protestant Reformation members of the church saw the church slipping from the truth. They could have “gone with the flow” but they didn’t. They stood up for the truth of justification by faith alone, the truth of salvation through grace alone, the authority of the scriptures alone, and they did it all for the glory of God alone. Some of those men and women died for their faith, but the rest kept speaking out for the truth of Scripture and because of that, we stand on their shoulders today.
We owe it to the Lord . . . and to our children to place our trust in God. Whether it is easy or hard. In times of war or peace. In times of loss and success. When Israel finally entered the promised land there were only two people who entered the land who stood in the assembly that day when the spies returned. They were Joshua and Caleb. And after the conquest was completed, Joshua gathered the people together and he gave them this challenge:
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (KJV Josh. 24:14-15)
May God give us the faith and the courage to choose to trust and serve the One who is trustworthy and true.