Israel believed God, and God greatly blessed them in the land of Egypt. They submitted themselves to the will of God and carefully followed the instruction of Moses. They applied the blood of sacrificial lambs to the doorposts, sat down to eat a sacred meal, and prepared themselves for departure. When morning came, because they believed God, they walked out of Egypt with their firstborn sons, their animals, and much of Egypt’s wealth.
Israel continued to believe God, and God greatly blessed them in the Wilderness. Their travelling accommodations were not all they had hoped and dreamed for; it was hardly first class and club level, but God was faithful. As they believed God and followed his appointed prophet and priest, Israel enjoyed God’s salvation, fellowship, guidance, provision, and protection.
Israel is now found at a decisive moment in her history. Will they continue to believe God and be blessed? Or will they disbelieve God and add unnecessary sorrow to their lives?
Presently, they are being led by God’s Cloud to the edge of Jordan. It is God’s intention that they cross the river, execute his justice upon the wicked, idolatrous nations, and take possession of the Land of Promise. Such a mission is difficult, dangerous, and potentially deadly. While God has promised them success, he has not promised that none of them would be killed in the ensuing battles. Will Israel believe in God’s word and power and march into Canaan?
In their discussions, the benefits of an undercover spy expedition surfaces. (Deut. 1:19-23) Some modern-day teachers view this as a sinful request. Israel does not need espionage; they need obedience. To them, this shows they are already disbelieving, and they are looking for an excuse to disobey the Lord. Others scholars are more charitable in their interpretation. To them, Israel is being wise and planning their nest best step. They are “counting the cost” or performing proper due diligence. All of this is mere speculation, for their motives are not revealed in the Scripture. Ultimately, we know that Joshua, Caleb, Moses and God approved this plan. Spies were an acceptable next step.
God instructs Moses to select twelve spies. One undercover agent is to come from each of the twelve tribes. Only the best of leaders are to be selected; each of the spies must be a chief or elder.
Moses makes his selection and gives them their charge. They chief elders were to travel throughout the entire length and breadth of the country and bring back a report. They were to take note of the people; were they few, many, weak or strong? They were to carefully examine the cities, villages and towns; were they more like camps or strongholds? And as they travelled about, they were to appraise the quality of the land. God had said it was a land flowing with milk and honey. Moses may have remembered some of its fare when he banqueted in Egypt. Perhaps these men could bring samples back to the Hebrew camp since it was the height of grape season.
Showing great courage, the spies left the camp and their families and headed into Palestine. For forty days they showed great obedience, bravery and skill as they travelled behind enemy lines.
When the spies return to base, Moses, Aaron and many in the congregation gather to hear their report. Someone begins by expressing that the land is just as God had promised. It is indeed a wonderful and fruitful place; the land does flow with mike and honey. Grape, pomegranates and figs are presented before the congregation. But, not only does the land have great produce, it also contains great warring nations, walled cities, and walking giants. All of this is true. In the giving of their report, nothing is fallacious; all is factually correct.
However, what conclusions or applications will come from their true and factual report? Will they believe God and be blessed? Or will they disbelieve God and add unnecessary sorrow to their lives?
At this point, many in the congregation become concerned; uneasiness spreads throughout the assembled people.
Caleb steps up and seeks to quiet the people. He presents what will be noted in the minutes as a “Minority Report:”
Yes, there were great nations. Yes, there were great cities. Yes, there were some tall people. But we have the God who has rained down plagues, parted seas, and destroyed Pharaoh and his chariot-driven army. The Angel of the Lord marches before us. The promises of God are sure; they never fail. Therefore, man up! Let’s go! Let’s go at once! We are stronger. We are able.
Such is the position of Caleb and Joshua – Israel’s two faithful elders.
However, such a view is not the “Majority Opinion.” They are convinced the land and the people will eat Israel alive. The nations are too big. The cities are too strong. The people are too tall. They are like giants; we are like grasshoppers; we are not able. Such is the presentation of the other ten chief elders. They disbelieved God.
How will the nation of Israel respond? Will the Chosen People trust and obey God, or will they turn aside and prefer their own wisdom? Will they walk according to the counsel of God, or will they walk in the counsel of the ungodly, stand in the way of sinners, and seat themselves in the midst of scoffers? Will they give more credence to God or man? Will they believe God and be blessed? Or will they disbelieve God and add unnecessary sorrow to their lives?
Sadly, the Children of Israel disbelieved Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua. Most importantly, Israel disbelieved God. They focused too much on the giants and they bad report, and not enough on God and his good promises.
Consequently, they spent the night as emotional basket-cases. All night long the Israelites, unnecessarily, but loudly, cried and wept.
Then, in the morning, their disbelief led to a host of additional sins. They grumbled against Moses and Aaron – the appointed and ordained ministers of the Lord. Then they turned their anger towards the Lord himself:
It would be better for us to stay in the wilderness and die here than take a chance and follow God. As a matter of fact, it would have been better if we had left Egypt. It would have been preferable to die in our bondage than to follow the Lord. Now that we think about it, the Lord does not love us. Neither was he honest with us. He did not bring us out of Egypt to help us enter the Promised Land. He brought us out here to kill our wives, our children and us. Enough of Moses! Enough of God! Let’s find a new chief, elder, prophet, priest, or minister who will lead us back to the land of leaks, garlic, fish, and pyramids.
Israel did not believe God to be all-wise. They did not believe him to be all-powerful. They did not believe him to be all-good.
The Children of Israel are tempting God again. They are on shaky ground. They are playing with fire – literally. Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb realize this and go to work. They play the role of good ministers. Moses and Aaron hit their knees and pray. Joshua and Caleb rip their outer garments and preach:
It is a good land. He is a good God, and he delights in us. Do not rebel. Do not fear. The Lord is with us. The Canaanites are left without a proper defense. They are like people with knives about to engage in a gunfight. They are people without God, getting ready to go to war against God.
God’s people hear God’s minister, and they respond poorly to Caleb’s faithful preaching and painful exhortation. They are the first of many who wish to take out the messenger instead of submitting to the message. They don’t like what they are hearing. Their ears are not being sufficiently tickled. The spiritual medicine is hard to swallow. Word of a public stoning beings to circulate throughout the camp.
Then it happens. The Shekinah Glory that dwells within the Holy of Holies moves out and appears before all the congregation. The dangerous God of the Holy of Holies – the one who executed Nadab and Abihu – left his earthly throne room and came out to take care of business. However, before he exercises his mighty arm, he speaks to his friend:
How long? How much more? These people despise me. They do not believe me. They have seen sign after sign, plague after plague, miracle after miracle, smoking mountains, audible voices, dripping rocks, and an illuminated tabernacle. I will disinherit them. I will exterminate them now. I will start over with you Moses. You can be the new Adam, the new Noah, the new Abraham.
Moses is the perfect mediator. He loves both God and God’s people. He intercedes:
Perhaps there is another way. Consider your reputation among the nations. Consider your word. Consider your character; you are one who consistently shows unmerited mercy and grace to your Chosen People. Please pardon.
Moses is correct. The Lord is one who consistently pardons his unworthy people. God states his intention to do so again. And he will use this people-group to accomplish his immutable purpose, “As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.”
However, pardon does not imply the lack of consequences. Alongside complete pardon will come severe, generational discipline. God notes ten specific times Israel has tempted him. This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Therefore, none of this generation, above the age of twenty, will be allowed to enter the Promised Land. They will receive the same punishment as Moses and Aaron did for striking of the rock the second time.
And the consequences of their disbelief will affect their children. They will enter the land, but only after they have wandered in the desert for forty years. God intends to visit the iniquity of the father’s on the next generation
God then turns his attention to the ten unfaithful elders. With position comes responsibility. They are held to a higher standard, and they are immediately killed by a heaven-sent plague.
There are two exceptions. Caleb, who has a different spirit, and Joshua, who has been discipled by Moses, are spared from the plague. They will have to wander for forty years as well, but after this divine time-out, they will be able to enter the Promised Land with their family and nation.
When the Children of Israel hear the decree of God and see the death of their elders, they respond naturally with grief and remorse. They hated the consequences of their sin. They wished they could go back and redo things. But, despite their sorrow and mourning, they were still not repentant. They were still filled with disbelief and disobedience. How does one know this?
Consider their next move. God had told them to turn back to the wilderness. God had told them not to go forward into the Promised Land. They should have accepted God’s will and believed it to be best. But on the next day they arise and determine to march into Jordan. They will show God how much they love him. They will be men and women of faith after all. But they do not have faith; they have presumption. They are naming and claiming their will, and attaching God’s blessing to their own desires. True faith leads to faithfulness. True faith leads to sacrificial and painful obedience. The Israelites were not ready to obey. They were not men and women of faith. They still disbelieved that which God said.
Sadly, they marched on in victory, only to be defeated. Without God, his prophet and the Ark of the Covenant, they were slaughtered. Perhaps upon their deathbed they finally believed that God does what God says.
Friends, how does this ancient text intersect with our daily experience:
I. DISBELIEVING IS A CONSTANT TEMPTATION
Consider Adam and Eve. Even before they were tempted by their flesh and their world, they were tempted by the devil. Clearly, God communicated his good will to them. They were to abstain from the one, forbidden tree in the midst of the garden. Almost immediately, the serpent appears and encourages them to disbelieve God’s words and character.
Consider Abraham and Sarah. They too received the Lord’s will regarding Sarah’s pregnancy and Abraham’s progeny. In many ways they were models of faithfulness. However, in many other ways, including their combined procreation, they were models of faithlessness. The world, the flesh and the devil encouraged their disbelief.
Consider Moses, Barak and Gideon. All three men of God received revelation. They were to obey God and lead the Hebrew people into victory. However, all three men were tempted to disbelieve God would accomplish what he promised.
The disciples of Jesus are not exceptions. Jesus told them he would be arrested, prosecuted, and executed. He also told them he would rise from the grave. However, when the soldiers appeared and all hell broke loose in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples of Christ fled, hid, and wallowed in unnecessary fearful depression for three days. The temptation to disbelieve was hot and heavy.
Friends, consider the revelation we have received and how we are ever tempted to disbelieve. For example, take the Ten Commandments.
We disbelieve God alone satisfies, and we pursue satisfaction through other idols.
Then when we do worship God, we worship him wrongly according to the creative imaginations and inventions of men. We disbelieve God’s way of worship is the only right way.
We disbelieve the attitude of God towards those who take his name lightly.
And we disbelieve a one-in-seven rotation is required and beneficial.
When it comes to the second table of the Law we are no better. We are tempted to disbelieve what God has said regarding our duty to honor authority. We reinterpret God’s command to say, “Honor authority only when you determine it is good and wise.” We give ourselves an out when we think it is evil. We give ourselves an out when we think it is foolish. We forget that God is the one who ordains wicked and foolish parents, husbands, and governments when it serves his good purpose. We disbelieve in submission.
We are tempted to disbelieve what God has said regarding marriage. We understand that God hates divorce. We swore we would not pursue such – regardless of circumstances. But then we buy the world’s line that “God would not have you live the rest of your life in such an unfulfilled state. You must follow your heart. After all, you only live once.” We disbelieve that good worship comes from enduring a bad marriage.
We are tempted to disbelieve what God has said regarding the honoring of life. We rationalize abortion or murder when the trauma seems to great for the young woman. We disbelieve that every child, regardless of rape, is a gift of God. Kill the rapist, but keep the one created in the image of God. We are not to hate, and we are to forgive. But instead we harbor bitterness and do not forget wrongs that have been confessed. We seem to enjoy the process of keeping such sins in our back pocket so we can bring them up when needed to put the other person back in their place.
We are tempted to disbelieve what God has said regarding private property and theft. Sharing homework is something everyone does. Plagiarizing is OK as long as one does not get caught. We disbelieve that God is concerned with a little math fraud here and tax fraud there. We are tempted to disbelieve what God has said regarding honest business practices. God hates bribes, unjust weights and measures. There is a time when an interest rate is too high. Making money is not the most important thing. But we disbelieve this. We think money solves all life’s problems.
We are tempted to disbelieve what God has said regarding how to speak. We know we are to say nothing untrue or uncontrolled. We are to be slow to speak and slow to wrath. We are to be pure in conversation. But we disbelieve our vile language and communication is abominable before God.
We are tempted to disbelieve what God has said materialism. We are to know that nothing earthly satisfies. We are not to covet. We are not to covet. We are to be content. Instead, we spend ourselves and our families pursuing the American Dream and seeking to live like the Joneses. We are tempted to disbelieve what God has said regarding financial stewardship. We are to be wary of debt and live below our means. We are to reserve some funds for saving; some funds for supporting the church; some funds for loving our neighbor. But we disbelieve the wisdom of God in following such financial principles.
We have a wealth of revelation from God, and we have it in written form. He has not told us to march into Canaan, but he has given us laws and principles to guide us in life. Disbelieving God is an ever-present temptation.
II. DISBELIEVING BEGINS WITH WRONGLY CONSIDERING GOD
Like Israel, we focus too much on the giants. We have received God’s intentions. God’s will is in writing. We understand him clearly, but when we look about and rightly note the obstacles, hurdles and hazards, we conclude there are too many giants in the land. There are too many reasons to disbelieve what God has said. Following God often seemingly ridiculous. Believing is often very expensive and dangerous. It is rarely easy.
Like Israel we focus too much on ourselves. We seem like grasshoppers compared to the giants about us.
Like Israel, we listen too much to the experts. Chief men contradict God, and we give them more credit than they deserve.
Like Israel, we forget what the character and attributes of the Lord. We forget who he is and what he has done. We have the testimony of Scripture, and we have our own story. God has been most faithful in the past, but we think he will abandon us in the present.
Too often we focus on grasshoppers, giants, and gurus. Too often we discount God and his revelation, and too often we wrongly conclude, “We are not able.”
III. DISBELIEVING RESULTS IN A MULTITUDE OF WASTED EMOTIONS
Because we are not communing with God, we find ourselves disquieted or troubled. We struggle with fear and anxiety. And because we have forfeited our “perfect peace”, we find ourselves unnecessarily spending entire nights or seasons of life crying loudly and weeping. We have forfeited the “peace that passes understanding,” and our insides are a mess.
IV. DISBELIEVING LEADS TO A MULTITUDE OF WICKED SINS
We sinfully grumble against God’s leaders. Forgetting that God is sovereign, we blame our upcoming difficulties on God’s elders, husbands, or parents. In reality, this leads to sinfully grumbling against God. We then end up slandering him. He is not all wise, all loving, and all good. When unaddressed, we transition to lusting for the people, places and practices from which we were saved. Like the dog returns to its vomit, so we long to return to our Egypt. Ultimately, we sinfully rebel against God and look for new ministers or gurus. We seek to harm those who would rebuke us. We seek another leader who will take us where we long to be.
V. DISBELIEVING RESULTS IN A MULTITUDE OF WOEFUL CONSEQUENCES
What is God’s assessment? We are full of iniquity, sin, wickedness, and transgression. We are despisers of the Lord. We are disobedient rebels who put God to the test. We have angered him, and in effect we are calling his hand.
Destruction and divorce is what we deserve. But due to the mediation of Jesus Christ, we are pardoned. But though we are fully and completely pardoned, we are not granted an escape from the consequences of sin or the discipline of a loving Father. He removed Adam and Eve from the Garden. He disallowed Moses and the Israelites to enter the Promised Land. And he changes not in his response to sin today. Because we disbelieve, we are disciplined.
And not only are we disciplined, but our children are affected. The sins of the fathers have consequences that reach the next generation. Many of our children and parishioners are struggling due to the transgressions of their chiefs, elders, fathers and grandfathers.
Additionally we harm our testimony and miss opportunities to victoriously expand God’s kingdom. We have been called to march on as soldiers of Christ. The gates of hell are real, but they will not prevail as God’s citizens expand his realm. Children are to be converted. Churches are to be planted. Cultures and civilizations are to be transformed. But too often Christians do not march on due to disbelief. Victory in Jesus is not experienced as God’s people wallow about in the wilderness due to their disbelief.
THEREFORE, WHAT OUGHT WE TO DO?
What ought we to do if we do not wish to be like Adam and Eve outside the Garden of Eden? What ought we to do if we do not desire to be like Abraham and Sarah with an Ishmael causing difficulty? What ought we to do if we wish to forgo an unnecessary wilderness wandering?
We ought to run to Christ. We need to see our sin; see our rebellion; hate our iniquity; and plead the assistance of the Best Mediator. Moses was able to secure pardon, but he was not able to perfect the people. Jesus Christ secures pardon, and he sends his Holy Spirit to enable men to more and more believe.
We ought to read with Christ and talk with Christ. We should remind ourselves daily of God’s character and will. We should focus regularly upon God’s good end for his children. We should also remember the promise of his fatherly discipline. He is the Wonderful Counselor and the Prince of Peace. From him comes renewed Sabbath rest. Our minds find perfect peace as they are fixed upon him. We are reminded that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
We should then distance and divorce ourselves from all those who speak contrary to Christ. No more will we pervert our thinking by walking in the counsel of the ungodly, standing in the way of sinners, or sitting in the seat of scoffers. We ignore the ten unrighteous elders and find truth from the lips of the two righteous chiefs.
Then, after recommitting to believe and obey, regardless of the cost, we enjoy our spiritually steadied emotions. We hear words of commendation from the Holy Spirit and not words of condemnation. We enjoy passing a blessing on to our children, and we are thrilled by experiencing missionary success as we work to advance the kingdom of Christ.
Friends, the old hymn is true. When we walk with the Lord, in the light of his Word, what a glory he sheds on our way. While we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.