Meditations in Exodus: 82. Refusal to Enter
Num 13:1-3 The LORD said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” So at the LORD’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites. I said in the previous study that I find this one of the two most depressing parts of the Old Testament and now we come to an episode that resulted in Israel wandering in the desert for forty years before being allowed to enter. It is a salutary lesson that only second generation Israel got into the land.
Now whether the Lord knew this would happen is debatable. He does know the hearts of men and so it is possible that He looked at the present older generation and knew they would not be up to that task. However, we cannot be sure. Anyway, we are told the episode of the spies was initiated by the Lord as we see above. The spies comprised one leader from each tribe and then, “When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees on it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)” (v.17-20) There is a sense that this is a pointless exercise because the Lord had told them He was giving them the Land and so that should have been it. This invited assessment and possibly even negative responses.
And that is what Moses got. “They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.” (v.27-29) Good news and bad, except, as we said, that doesn’t matter because the Lord had said he would drive out the inhabitants before them.
One of them Caleb, stand out and says they can take the land (v.18) but the others prevail: “But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “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.” (v.31-33) So what? God has said He will drive them out! Have you forgotten that? Obviously.
It gets worse: “That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “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.” (14:1-4)
Now we’ll stop at this point to consider more fully the folly of what has happened, and what follows needs seeing as a whole. This is one of those times when we need to consider the big picture from start to finish. God apprehended Moses at the burning bush and performed two miracles to help shore up his faith. When he went back to Egypt he did these before the elders of Israel. This was followed by ten incredible plagues, or major miracles, over the whole land by God. The Lord then led them out and when Pharaoh followed the Lord drowned him and his entire army. In the month or so trek down to Mount Sinai, the Lord cleansed water, provided bread and water and helped them defeat the Amalekites. At Mount Sinai He had come with thunder, lightning, clouds and trumpet sounds and spoken to Moses. The He had revealed himself to Moses and the 70 elders. After the rebellion He had brought plague to finish off the remaining rebels. On the way to Canaan He had provided quail in abundance and a plague to destroy the grumblers. When Aaron and Miriam had grumbled He gave Miriam leprosy for a week.
Take this whole paragraph and what have you got? An incredible catalogue of testimonies about the power of the Lord. Now remember that the Lord said a number of times that He would drive out the inhabitants and you have a cast iron case for taking the Land confidently. Except Israel were not confident in God and, if we accept that the Lord invited them to go and spy out the land, He knew that and wanted to reveal it.
This, I suggest, presents various challenges to us. First Moses could have questioned the apparent wisdom of sending in spies, because he did have that sort of relationship with the Lord. He could have said, “Lord, you have said you will drive out the occupants before us. Surely that is all we need. Can’t we just go straight in?” But he didn’t. Was he subtly doubting Israel’s current faith level?
Second, does it matter how bad the problem looks when the Lord is with you and the Lord has led you to confront this problem, whatever it is? There are times in life when we feel the Lord is with us and we press on only to be confronted by an obstacle that seems too large to be overcome. But the answer surely must be, too big to be overcome by us alone, but not by God.
I recently had a prophetic word for someone in which the Lord presented a picture of a mountain before them but said there were two ways to get to the other side of this mountain. If they wanted they could walk round the bottom of it which would be relatively easy but take a long time. Alternatively, if they took His hand He would climb the mountain with them and when they got down the other side they would be transformed and stronger. Now here’s the fascinating thing. In the picture when they got to the top after a long climb, they were able to look back but now behind them it was completely flat. What had appeared an impossible climb was, with the Lord a relatively easy walk.
Of course Jesus said, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20) Now I take this to have two possible interpretations. First, if moving this mountain is God’s will, you only need to catch a whisper from Him to be able to speak and He will move it or, second, as we step forward with tiny faith, it grows with every step we take until we can boldly address the mountain and it will be dealt with. Have fun moving your mountain!