“Twelve Men Went To Spy On Canaan” Part One / by Shane Anderson

Over the next several posts, I hope to look at a scene from the life of Israel recorded in Numbers 13-14. If you can, open your Bible and read through these two chapters, reacquainting yourself with this well known story. The Lord has used this passage in my own life through the years to bring me repentance, to show me the way forward as a Christian, and to encourage other believers. It is the story of the people of Israel at the entrance to the promised land: spies were sent, grumbling ensues, few have faith, and many die in the wilderness under God’s judgement. It is, I believe, one of the saddest episodes in Israel’s life and demonstrates an important truth that must be firm in our hearts if we are to pass the test: “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)

In an act of strategic planning on God’s part, he commanded Moses, to send twelve spies to survey the future plunder of His people. Moses obeyed and commanded them to look carefully at the whole region for who lived there and how strong they were, what the land was like and what was its bounty. But alongside these instructions he gave an important command, one that would be disobeyed by ten of the spies and the mass of the people:

“Be of good courage” (vs. 20) 

None could know from the reappearance of the spies back in the camp, loaded down with grapes, pomegranates, and figs that they had disobeyed this most important command, yet the fruits of that heart-disobedience among the spies and congregation ripened instantly. They and the whole congregation begin to grumble. Against this unified dismay, a righteous division emerges. A hopeful and powerful man, Caleb, silences the grumbling, submits to God’s government in Moses, and demonstrates that unlike the mass of the spies, he was of good courage:

“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.’” (vs. 30) Let me stop here to note that such behavior is completely unacceptable in American Christianity: he made the aggrieved, the anxious, the reasonable, the deeply-convinced, the very-concerned, and all other forms of unbelieving congregants basically shut up. What a jerk! He quieted them under the command and commander given by God. What a patriarchal oppressor! He then turned them away from their doubts to the obedience of faith. What a legalist! As icing to the jerk-cake he could have added, “Turn in your Trinity Hymnals to selection 672, ‘Trust And Obey.’”

Imagine all the weak-hearted, unbelieving congregation! “He first tells us to be quiet; then he says ‘obey! God is with us!’ Then he has the nerve to choose that hymn? He doesn’t care how we feeeel! (BTW: I love Bible heroes who make me look winsome!)

Against the mob of worry and unbelief, this one voice of faith is the hero of this part of the story. He was the lone obedient, believing one. He had taken good courage in God’s promise and it gave him an entirely different perspective on the massive challenges ahead. Like the others, he knew this meant war. Unlike the others he knew that the roots of fear and unbelief would mean utter failure. Against the misery-wallowers of his time, through faith in God’s promise and power, he exclaimed, “We are well able to overcome it!”

Dear Christian, have you failed the test that you are facing from the outset? Did you forget that in order to survey the difficult obedience in front of you the right way you need to “be of good courage?” There is only one way forward in the Christian life: trust and obey! And without such trust it is impossible to please God.