Israel had seen one of the world’s mightiest nations broken like a twig under the mighty hand of God. They had walked through a sea that gave way at His command. They had followed Him through the wilderness—a pillar of cloud by day; a pillar of fire by night. They were filled with water He brought forth from rocks and with bread he caused to fall from the skies. No obstacle could stand before the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as He led His chosen people to the land promised to their fathers.
And now, at long last, Israel had reached the edge of that Promised Land—a land flowing with milk and honey, to be given to them and their descendants forever. How long they had waited for this day! How often they had cried out for deliverance under the cruel yoke of Egyptian slavery! The air must have been aquiver with anticipation as the people waited for the return of the twelve spies sent to survey the land.
And what excitement must have shot like electricity through the assembly when the first of the Israelite spies was seen descending the mountains of Canaan, bringing with him a report, a glimpse, into their treasured inheritance. What silence must have fallen as the twelve spies gathered before the whole congregation and prepared to speak.
“We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit” (Numbers 13:27), they said, showing a cluster of grapes so large that two men were needed to carry it on a branch. After so long in servitude, such a description no doubt exceeded the Israelites’ wildest dreams. But the spies weren’t finished. “Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there” (Numbers 13:28).
Israel’s heart sank. Fortified cities. Mighty warriors. Giants. What chance did a ragtag band of escaped slaves have against the trained militaries of such expansive cities? The spies’ words only confirmed their fears: “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we… The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature…we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:31-33).
In a moment, the mood swung from ecstasy to terror. It was a trap! Clearly God had led them miraculously out of slavery and sustained them through the wilderness only to shatter them against the war machine that now waited before them.
Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, took a stand to oppose the shameful fear of their colleagues. They tore their clothes and pleaded with the people, “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them” (Numbers 14:7-9). Israel responded with its usual careful balance of reason and thoughtfulness and called for the two spies to be stoned to death immediately while they prepared to return to slavery in Egypt.
And that’s when God stepped in. At the end of His patience with a people determined to undermine and reject Him at even the slightest whisper of hardship, He proposed destroying the entire nation and starting over with patient, patient Moses. At Moses’ plea, however, God agreed to spare Israel—although still refusing to allow the current generation in. For their complete and total lack of faith in the face of countless miracles direct from the hand of God, their carcasses would litter the wilderness. The Promised Land would go to a generation of Israelites who could trust the God who brought them into it. Only Caleb and Joshua would be allowed to outlive their faithless peers and enter that promise.
Fast forward to today. Not even a week ago, we were at the Feast of Tabernacles, observing God’s commanded convocations, being reminded of the plan and the promises our Father has for us—a plan stretching far beyond this present evil age and into a “better, that is, a heavenly country” (Hebrews 11:16) to be established on a new Earth.
You were spying out the Promised Land. You caught a glimpse, a brief picture, of the vastness of the inheritance God has promised you. Like those twelve men from so long ago, you’ve seen firsthand that it is truly a land flowing with milk and honey—a future of countless blessings.
You also, no doubt, caught a glimpse of something a little less welcoming while you were there: our enemy. The Israelites faced giants and skillful men of war; we face “a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He is an enemy who has existed for longer than the earth itself, fiercer than any giant, more cunning than the craftiest general, and deadlier than the sharpest weapon.
So. Welcome back, spies. What is your report?
Because at this point, you have two choices. You’ve seen the land. You’ve seen the enemy. And now it’s time to decide: Are you able to go up and take the land? Or is the enemy standing in your way too strong?
I don’t know your conversion story. I have no idea what life God called you from or how He made it clear to you that He alone is God and that “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6), but I do know what He’s done in my life. I know He’s made that abundantly clear to me there is nothing—NOTHING—on this Earth or in this universe that can stand between Him and His purpose for me and the rest of humanity.
When the Israelite spies gave their report, no one argued over how wonderful the Promised Land was. That was clear to every single one of them. No one doubted that it was flowing with milk and honey.
What they doubted was God.
Asaph was inspired to record of Israel in the Psalms, “How often they provoked Him in the wilderness, and grieved Him in the desert! Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember His power: The day when He redeemed them from the enemy” (Psalm 78:40-42). In spite of witnessing with their own eyes the fantastic wonders God was capable of performing—in spite of watching Him break kingdoms before them and shake food from the heavens for them, Israel doubted God. In their minds, they limited Him. And when it came to entering the Promised Land, they felt a handful of giants were bigger than God.
And what of our enemy? Do you and I doubt God’s ability to handle Satan—a rogue cherub, a created being? Do we ever start to believe the lie that our enemy is too powerful for us when we stand under the wings of the Creator of the universe?
Or are we convinced, like the apostle Paul was so many years ago, that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)?
Brothers and sisters, if we truly believe that no enemy is too great for God—if we truly believe that the Promised Land is worth entering and that God has promised to lead us there, then what could possibly hold us back from developing the Godly character and mindset we need to be there?
The children of Israel were given by God the opportunity to lay hold of their Promised Land, but they wasted it through doubt and fear. Today, Christ tells us that “from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). We must be willing to spiritually fight our way to the crown laid up for us.
Our Promised Land—our homeland—is waiting. With God, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30).
Until next time,