When the Israelites were at the edge of the Promised Land, as recounted in Numbers 13, the Lord told Moses to send twelve men to spy out the land, one leader from each of the twelve tribes. So, these twelve went up and hiked all over the mountains, valleys, and plains of the land. They found that it was lush and fruitful, just as the Lord had promised. They also saw large, fortified cities and tall, powerful people living in them, descendants of Anak, who are sometimes referred to as giants. After forty days, they went back to report to Moses and the Israelite community.
They reported the good and the bad, the desirableness of the land and the considerable strength of the people who lived there. Then came the recommendations. The majority of the spies, ten of them, “spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored (v. 32),” saying that the inhabitants of the land were bigger and stronger than the Israelites and that they could not be conquered. Two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, recommended going forward, because the Lord would give them the land he had promised, despite the perceived difficulties.
What effect did the reports have on the community? As often happens, they listened to the majority. Ten spies were advocating fearful retreat. Only two said they should not be afraid, that they could certainly take possession of the land, because the Lord was with them, protecting them and he was not with the people of the land. The bad report won out. The people cried and complained against Moses, were fearful for their lives and the lives of their children. They wanted to pick a new leader and go back to Egypt.
How often are we like the ten spies, imagining every dreadful thing that might happen and spreading fear among others? Only two, Joshua and Caleb, reminded them of the Lord’s promise to be with them, to protect them, to fight for them and to give them victory. Granted, there are times when the Lord directs us not to proceed with a certain endeavor, and we would be foolish to go on with it. But when we know he means for us to move forward, may we have the courage to stand up for his word and not shrink back, even if we’re in the minority.
Because of their rebellion, the Israelites endured forty years of wandering in the desert until all the adults, those who had been twenty and older at the time, died. Only the children they had been so worried about and Joshua and Caleb survived to enter and enjoy the land. It’s a lesson to think about in these days when we seem increasingly to have to choose between the supposed security and safety of the familiar or the accepted, and the courage to lay claim on what our Lord has promised, no matter what the perceived danger. When the next opportunity arises, will we be like the ten, or like the two?
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