Skip to main content

The Good, The Bad, and the Promises of God

Numbers 13 & 14 record the event of Moses' sending of the spies. This record is important for us to consider in our day. In what follows, I want to look at the story, and then explain why it is one we should reflect on as we hear apocalyptic prophecy after apocalyptic prophecy coming the secular news media.

In Numbers 13, The Lord spoke to Moses, issuing him the following command:
"Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them."1
 And this is what Moses did.
So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel.2
The spies saw the promised land, and uniformly spoke about the beauty of the place and its great provisions.
At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land.  And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.  And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit."3
However, while they all acknowledged that the land was beautiful and flowing with milk and honey - exactly how the Lord had described it to them4 - the majority of the spies stated:
"However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.”5 And when a word of hope was spoken, the majority of the spies resisted it. 
But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and fall the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”6
The spies did not deny that the land was exactly what the Lord had promised to them. Although they knew what God had promised, and they saw the physical reality of it, they continued in unbelief, fearing the inhabitants of the land rather than God.
Numbers 14:1-10 goes on to tell us -
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”  
And Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones...
The people knew that the Lord had promised the land to them. The people knew that the Lord had accurately described the land to them. And yet they did not believe that the Lord would bring them into the land, despite the fact that God had demonstrated his faithfulness and power to them time and again. The people feared the inhabitants of Canaan, but they didn't fear the Lord. They were afraid of fighting and killing the enemies of God, but they were not afraid of grumbling against God's prophet (Moses), God's priest (Aaron), and killing God's chosen military leaders (Joshua and Caleb).

A Brief Reflection
One of the many striking things about this story is that the unbelieving spies and the believing spies share the same information. They all knew that the Lord promised Israel a land flowing with milk and honey, that the land of Canaan was, indeed, a land flowing with milk and honey, and that the Lord had the power to destroy the Canaanites and grant Israel complete victory over them. Moreover, they all knew that the land of Canaan was inhabited by men who were much bigger, stronger, and better equipped to fight than they were. We can even say that they both assessed the risk they faced in fighting against the Canaanites.

It isn't information that separated these two camps, but whether or not they believed the promises of God to his people. Faith in the promises of God to bring the children of Israel into Canaan led Joshua and Caleb to argue that the people of land would be conquered by Israel because God would empower them to succeed in their military campaign. Unbelief in the promises of God led the unbelieving spies to think only about saving their lives. While they presented their resistance to God as concern for the safety of the people of Israel, the Lord explicitly says that the unbelieving spies "despised" him.7

The unbelieving spies were correct in their assessment of the giants. They were correct in their assessment of how poorly they would naturally fare in battle against the giants. However, they were incorrect to conclude that these realities spelled certain death for them. God had spoken. Would he not bring his will to pass? God had conquered Pharaoh, split the sea, and thrown the horses of Egypt and their riders into the sea - would he now be perturbed by a few giants?

We can easily see the fault of the unbelieving spies. Yet, in our own situation are we not divided into these two camps? The believers and the unbelievers? Is it not the case that if we but believe the promises of God for his people, we will be blessed and prosper in everything we do8 (even if we become poverty stricken, get sick, and die)?

We are told that those who oppose the quarantine measures/stay-at-home "orders" do so recklessly and ignorantly, while those who follow the dictates and decrees given to them by their government and medical experts are making an informed and careful decision. We're also told that those who disobey illegal government prohibitions of public worship are not considering the risks involved in meeting as the body of Christ to pray and sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, listen to the Word of God preached, baptize the newly converted sheep, and partake of the Lord's body and blood.

But are these things true? Or is it the case, rather, that we have considered the risks involved in having church through the lens of Scripture? Could it be that just as Joshua and Caleb saw the real threat of death in the land of Canaan but believed God's promises and, consequently, sought to do what they were told by God to do, knowing that God would not fail to do what he had promised to do?

God hasn't promised us that we will not contract coronavirus. God has not promised us that we will be healed if we contract the virus. But God has promised us that he will bless our souls with spiritual riches if we remember the Sabbath, worshiping him as he has ordained for us to do (i.e. in public, with one another, physically present to fellowship together). Isaiah 58:13-14 -

"If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, 
from doing your pleasure on my holy day, 
and call the Sabbath a delight 
and the holy day of the Lord honorable; 
if you honor it, not going your own ways, 
or seeking your own pleasure,or talking idly; 
then you shall take delight in the Lord, 
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; 
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, 
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
And God has promised us that although we may suffer and die from a virus or persecution, we will one day be blessed with immortal and incorruptible bodies9 because we have been saved from the greater suffering of eternal damnation by the grace of God.

So we judge the situation we are in - the good and the bad - by the inscripturated promises of God. We judge whether or not we are to gather for public worship by the Word of God. We determine to continue to work or not by what the Scripture clearly teaches us. For if we believe the Word of God, then neither the good nor the bad are what determine how we are to think and speak and live, but the Word of God. We seek to fear our Creator rather than his creatures (in this case, viruses).

We seek to not judge according to appearance, as the unbelieving spies did, but with a righteous judgment,10 a believing judgment, as Caleb and Joshua did.

1 Num 13:2.
2 Num 13:3.
3 Num 13:25-27.
4 See Ex 3:8 & 17, 33:3; Lev 20:24.
5 Num 13:28-29.
6 Num 13:30-33.
7 Num 14:11.
8 This is an allusion to Ps 1:3.
9 See 1st Cor 15:22-26 & 35-49.
10 cf. John 7:24.