“Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, ‘We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.’ But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.’ So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There, also, we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (13:30-33).
The story of the sending of the twelve spies into Canaan, to view the land for Israel, is probably one of the most popular Bible stories ever studied. As we grew up in Sunday school, it was an often-repeated story. However, a close reading of the story, on an adult level, helps us gain some insights into principles important for us to live by.
I. Israel's lack of faith
It was God’s intention for Israel to take immediate possession of the land. The people had moved only three times from Sinai and, in all of these moves, their direction was toward the land of Canaan. From a parallel reading of Deuteronomy 1:21-23, we find that it was not God’s instigation to send men, as spies, into the land. The people insisted on seeing the land through the eyes of its own people. God simply went along with what Israel had already made up her mind to do. By sending the spies, Israel continued to walk by sight and not by faith in God. What did the people want to see? They wanted to see the land (13:18), the people (13:18), the geography of the land (13:19), the cities and their defenses (13:19) and the productivity of the land (13:20). The bottom line was this: They did not trust in the eyes of God (Hebrews 3:16-19). When the spies returned, they reported that the land was everything God had promised it to be. It was a very fruitful land (13:23, 24). To this day, Palestine produces some grape clusters weighing eight to twelve pounds. The land was also productive (13:26, 27). However, Israel looked beyond the land to the people occupying the territory. The size of the people, the number of the people, and the defenses of the city undermined the faith they had in God. With all of the difficulties in front of them, they did not see God behind them. They compared numbers and sizes (13:28, 32, 33). The “giants” of the land were men of height and strength and experienced in warfare. Goliath, David’s adversary, was about ten feet tall. How would someone about five feet tall appear in his sight? How would they appear to themselves in the sight of such men of war? The spies also reported that the land was in a constant state of warfare, between neighboring cities (13:32). The element of surprise or catching the Canaanites in a time of peace was not in their favor. Israel, having come out of Egyptian slavery, had little in the way of war equipment and they were not trained as an army. They would not be ready for open field marching against walled cities. The fall of Jericho had not occurred yet. Thus, they minimized their own self-worth and accepted defeat. Ten of the twelve spies voiced defeat and the people’s inability to take the land. Only Joshua and Caleb gave God’s view of victory by faith in Him. The majority, however, always seems to win. We need at this point to apply some lesson principles from the report of the spies and Israel’s reaction.
II. Israel's lack of focus
Faith in God is an abiding subject (1 Corinthians 13:13). It is the foundation of one’s relationship with God. Without faith, man will not be pleased and God cannot be pleased (Hebrews 11:6). Israel chose to walk by sight; God challenged them and challenges us to walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).
We must learn an analogy between faith and sight. Perfect sight requires three items:
While we are commanded to walk by faith, God encourages us in other ways. He has, through His Word, given us a glimpse into that promised rest - heaven. Paul described what most scholars believe was his own trip into the realm of paradise (2 Corinthians 12:2). Whoever it was, acted as if it were a “spy” who came back; and in a feeble way, described that other realm as a reality. Paul talked about how “far better” it is to be where Christ is (Philippians 1:21, 23) and of obtaining the prize (Philippians 3:8, 12). Revelation briefly gives us glimpses of the victorious church as she reigns with Christ, in eternity. In a way, God helps us, with our faith, by a little glimpse into the wonderful realities of His future promises.
I will never have the privilege of seeing many places of the world. Missing those places, however, will not have eternal consequences. But if you and I miss heaven, we have missed life and living. We must walk with God and walk by faith (Hebrews 4:1-3, 11-13). In which direction are you walking?