Numbers 13-14 contains the history of God’s people being given over to His fatherly judgement after turning away in unbelief from a difficult obedience. In my first post I pointed out that they had sadly failed the test before they started: the recon team failed to obey in faith Moses’ command to “be of good courage.” Their timidity and doubts spread rapidly among the congregation, and only Caleb had the faith to stand up and silence the revolt against God’s Word and His established church government.
In this post I’m hoping to dig deeper and press some applications to our consciences before we move on farther in the story.
We all know the temptation Israel fell under, and if honest, we know the experience of such a failure (known in the Bible as sin, wickedness, unbelief, and other non-PC things that offend the tenderhearted.) Like Israel, we cannot legitimately plead ignorance, instead we should admit to lacking courage and hope since we've not believed God's promises. We know what God’s word says: “Honor your father and mother.” “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together.” “In everything give thanks.” “Obey your rulers.” “Forgive as you have been forgiven.” “Do not lose heart.” He's even promised to bless these things. And yet, looking the obedience in the face it often appears: too difficult (the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large), nice but not rewarding enough (it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However…), and not what we would have chosen (we came to the land to which you sent us.)
There is a lot more in the passage for us, but maybe this is a good place to camp out and let it soak in: when I know what is right to do, the following lies are the enemies of my soul that I need to identify and fight:
- This difficulty isn’t best for me. I know how my life should feel.
- The blessings of obedience are good, but not good enough to justify the sacrifice.
- I can’t do this. It is too hard.
Against these lies, the Word of God gives us many remedies. Here are some I have found:
Against: “This difficulty isn’t best for me. I know how my life should be.”
“You sent us here” the spies opine against Moses, and by extension, God. Isn’t this doubt in God’s goodness and sovereignty, which later in the passage comes to full display, behind so many of our “reasons” (otherwise known as excuses) for not doing what we know is right. We often dress this unbelief up in nicer words, but its essence is the same. God is either not good, we believe, or he is not in charge of what I am facing. But even when we do not believe God is good, he still is. Even when we think he has made a mistake in our life, he has not. When everything around us looks and feels differently, the promise of God’s sovereignty & goodness to his children is a rock underneath our lives that holds firm, sustains hope, and motivates obedience. It’s only a cliche when you do not believe it: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” Romans 8:28
Against: “The blessings of obedience are good, but not good enough to justify the sacrifice.”
The spies saw the good stuff in Canaan, it just wasn’t good enough. I hate to say it, but I have seen this a hundred times in church life: “Look, what you’re teaching is good and I can see how it’s biblical and would work well, but for me it’s just too [hard, confusing, boring, painful, scary, unnecessary, inconvenient, harsh, heady, simple, etc., etc. etc.]” In this situation the failure consists in not appreciating the reward of obedience, not valuing the pleasures of God above our temporal or personal concerns. In Matthew 6:18-23 Christ teaches a piety that is concerned about the secret sight of the Father and his delight in graciously rewarding what he sees us doing to please Him. This reward has temporal dimensions but in Matthew 6 is primarily a heavenly treasure that is stored up like an account and will certainly have its payday. There are temporary rewards to serving the here and now, to serving what we see and feel to be circumstantially beneficial, but Jesus calls this laying up treasure on earth. He assures us that all such benefits will soon be destroyed, our joy lost with it. If we don’t see clearly the immeasurable difference between the pleasures of God and the temporal pleasures of unbelief and its disobedience, how great is our darkness!
...that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! Matthew 6:18-23
Against: “I can’t do this. It is too hard.”
Colossians 1:10-12 contains the apostle’s prayer for us to know God’s will, to live in a way that pleases God, growing in our good works and good doctrine. Part of his prayer is that we would have strength that comes directly from God: “all power, according to his glorious might.”
...so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Colossians 1:10-12
So pray, believing God is both able and willing to give us all the power we need for patience and endurance in doing his will more and more until the day of our inheritance in glory. That day is coming. Let’s not shrink back.
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
"Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him."
But we are not of those who shrink back but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Hebrews 10:35-39