In Numbers 13, we reach the part of the narrative of God’s story where His people are on the brink of realizing all they have been waiting for since the days of Abraham. They have been rescued from Egypt and now are so close to the Promised Land they can smell the honey in the air. But regardless of the promise, the final destination is an unknown land to them, shrouded in mystery and intrigue.
Had God really promised? Had Abraham misunderstood or had the story been passed on incorrectly? Had God given away the promise to someone new while the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt? And even if He had promised and the land was meant to be theirs…how were they going to make that happen? What was the best approach to the promised land?
So, they send 12 spies. Supposedly people that they trust to speak with wisdom. The 12 go out and they return in 40 days….there’s something about 40 days that tends to get the Israelites in trouble. Last time they sent someone on their behalf, by the time Moses got came back down the mountain with the 10 commandments, the Israelites had shifted from, “We will do whatever honors God. We will completely obey.”…to melting down all of their jewelry to make a golden calf to worship instead.
This time, the 40 days created space for doubt. Maybe they are wondering what is taking so long? Maybe the moms in the group are already dreaming up the worst, the way my mom can tend to do. Perhaps they are thinking the 12 men have been taken captive…and are being tortured…or maybe even they have been left for dead in a ditch. The Israelites don’t wait well. When the 12 spies return, my guess would be that the grounds are pretty ripe for fear.
And 2 spoke with wisdom, “Yes, it’s occupied, but God promised! Let’s go!”
However, 10 spoke from fear, “Yes, God promised, but it’s occupied…by giants”. And as that word spreads through the camp, giants become fierce warrior beasts who will crush the little Israelites. And the Israelites take the bait. Even though the 12 spies have brought back evidence of the goodness waiting for them in the promised land. Even though God had promised. Even though they have recent historic evidence of the power of God. After all, they had witnessed the plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the terrifying presence of God at Mt Sinai, bitter water turned sweet by tossing a tree into it, sweet bread from thin air, water bursting out from a rock. And yet, even with all of this evidence they give into fear.
Fear squashes faith unless we are purposeful about calling it out. Think about when you were little. Fear had a way of turning the shadow of a tree into a blood-sucking monster. Fear had a way of turning a creaky foundation into a burglar coming to take you away from your family. As a teenager, fear had a way of turning a careless word into a total rejection of all you are and a pimple into a grotesque deformity. As a parent, I’m guessing fear has a way of turning 5 minutes past curfew into a deadly car crash or a kidnapping. That is what fear does. And the way you combat that fear, is you shed light on it. When you turn on the light, a tree is just a tree, a careless word, even though it hurts, is just a careless word, not total rejection. When you turn on the light, 5 minutes late is just a teenager who lost track of time. When you turn on the light…darkness flees.
Ephesians 5:13-17 says
But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
The will of the Lord for the Israelites was to trust His promise and enter the land he had given them. But they let the darkness of fear convince them it was too scary.
For us, there will always be those who encourage our fears. And it may even be the people we trust to speak with wisdom. If we aren’t being intentional about shining the light into the places where fear has darkened the way, we will miss out on so much that the Lord has in store for us because we have trusted the ones who encourage our fears instead of our faith.
You know, the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land was only an 11 day journey if they had gone the short way. But, God purposefully took them the long way around because they needed to learn some lessons to be prepared for what they would later encounter. Some of us have been led the long way through the wilderness to where we are. I know I have. I knew as a 12 year old that God had called me to youth ministry and aside from an internship or two, it wasn’t until a year ago that I entered the world of youth ministry. Many of us are standing on the brink of realizing so much goodness that God has been storing up for us.
We can walk in faith and brave the things that are standing in the way of the promised land, or we can give into fear and hope that someone who comes after us will be willing to fight the battles we couldn’t. But here is the beauty of choosing to walk in faith. The God who promises, is the same one who fights for us. He is the one who accomplishes the victory.
Psalm 46:10 is a very familiar verse. We like to put it on coffee cups and cross stitched pillows. It’s usually accompanied by a gentle river or butterflies…something peaceful.
It starts, “ Be still and know that I am God.” That is usually the piece we pull out. But in context, that verse is not gentle and calm. Below is the whole of Psalm 46. But, before you read it, I want to point out that this is a war-time Psalm. It is about a God who is strong in battle. The command to be still and know that He is God is not as much about resting up as it is about taking up our courage and faith and knowing that our God is going to have the victory.
Psalm 46 English Standard Version (ESV)
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.