Expository preaching from Numbers 13-14, delivered on October 16th, 2016
I have a confession to make this morning, it being that I have a tendency to gravitate to the New Testament for the majority of my quiet times and Scripture readings. So, I wonder if because of that, the Lord placed on my heart a conviction to bring a message from the Old Testament this morning. That’s where we’re going to be, in the book of Numbers, chapters 13 and 14 specifically. This is also a first for me to deliver a message on two chapters of Scripture, but I think it’s important to cover the entire account, so here we go.
When I first started forming this message, I thought for sure that the theme of the message was going to be faith, and specifically the astounding faith of two of the twelve spies dispatched by Moses in chapter 13 of Numbers, those two being Caleb and Joshua. And faith is a big part of the overall theme for sure. But as I read and re-read the account, and studied it over and over again, I realized that this story was about much more than faith, it was ultimately about belief.
Let me explain. There’s no better source for the definition of a word than the perfect Word itself, so in Hebrews 11:1 we have the definition of faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Now I think we would all agree that in order to have real conviction about something, we have to believe in it, right? According to the dictionary, that is what conviction is: “a fixed or firm belief in something”. So faith then could be defined as the assurance of things hoped for, the belief of things not seen, the point being here that belief is an essential component of faith, right?
The next verse that I’d like you to consider this morning is found a few verses later in the same chapter, and it’s Hebrews 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
I would like for us all to keep those two verses, Hebrews 11:1 and 11:6, in our memory banks this morning as we delve into the account of the twelve spies in Numbers chapters 13 and 14.
There are four things that I’d like to point out from this account this morning, and unfortunately I don’t have time to read the entirety of both chapters, but the four points are:
What did God say about the promised land?
How did the majority of the spies/people react to what He said?
What are the consequences of false faith accompanied by unbelief?
What are the rewards of true faith accompanied by belief and obedience?
1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “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, everyone a chief among them.” (Numbers 13:1-2)
So let’s get right to the first point. What was the message God gave to Moses about the promised land here? Well, to help us answer that, we first step back to the third chapter of Exodus, when the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush.
Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:7-8)
So the Lord tells Moses here that He is going to bring them out of their sufferings in the land of Egypt and into a good and broad land that is flowing with milk and honey. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good exchange to me.
This is a promise from God, not just a passing statement the Lord is making. It’s a covenant between Him and His people.
And not only here in Exodus does He make this promise, but He makes it some twenty times between Genesis and this passage in Numbers. For example, in Genesis 17:8, speaking to Abraham, the Lord says, “And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” Then in Leviticus 20:24, the Lord says to Moses: “But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’”
So here we have a repetitive promise that God has made with the people of Israel for multiple generations. We read that Moses had dispatched the twelve men to spy out the land of Canaan, the land that the Lord promised to give to them. So now let’s look at the response to the spies’ report, which is our second point. Specifically how the majority of the spies and the people react to God’s promise. Let’s take a closer look at the report that was given by the spies when they returned from their mission.
25 At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. 26 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. 27 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. 28 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. 29 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.”
30 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.” 31 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.” 32 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 all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 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.” (Numbers 13:25-33)
So their report started out pretty good, right? The land flows with milk and honey just like God said, but then they quickly digress to the “however.” And right there, their fear of the looming giants became much more visible than any of the blessings or promises that God had made to them. You see, they were comparing the inhabitants of the land with themselves, instead of with Almighty God, who remember, had promised to deliver the land to them.
When you are afraid, and you give into your fear, and you start doubting God’s power and sovereignty, the result is that your difficulties and problems become magnified, don’t they? And they appear to be overwhelming to you. You drift toward hopelessness and it may seem that there is no way out for you. But when you believe in God and trust in His promises, then your enemies and obstacles become small compared to God. Don’t let your circumstances blind you to God’s power to help.
The ten spies’ real problem was not the strength of their enemy, but the weakness of their faith, and their unbelief. This is clearly stated by the Lord Himself.
And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? (Numbers 14:11)
Then it only gets worse, you see, as their unbelief spreads like a disease among the people. After the majority of the spies gave their negative, pessimistic, faithless report, notice in chapter 14 how the report infected the congregation.
1 Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 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! 3 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?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:1-4)
Let me remind you that these are the same people that had recently been delivered out of slavery from Egypt, and had witnessed firsthand the Lord parting the Red Sea and allowing them to escape and then covering up the pursuing Egyptians to their deaths.
These people, these unbelieving Israelites were nothing more than apostates. Apostates are those who fall away from the true faith, abandoning what they formerly professed to believe. Notice I said “professed to believe.” Key differentiator here because we know the Scriptures are clear that a true believer cannot fall away and lose their salvation. True Christians do not apostatize. Those who fall away into apostasy demonstrate that their faith was never real to begin with, as described in 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” I say this with a heavy heart too, because the number of Israelites that died in the wilderness during the forty years of wandering is estimated to be between 1.1 and 1.3 million people.
You see, unbelief is a serious offense, because it is an outright rejection of God. As God responds to the situation, He says in verse 11, “How long will these people despise Me?” Or other translations use a stronger word, “reject.” So unbelief is ultimately an insult to the character and person of God. It not only is an affront to the power of God, but to the love of God. Notice again what the people say in verse 3: “Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” Their unbelief here is causing them to question God’s motive for bringing them out of Egypt. They are insinuating that God was leading them into a trap. They are even suggesting, no, even worse, actually accusing God of not caring what happens to their children.
Verse 4 says, “So they said to one another, “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.”” Unbelief has led them to reject God, reject His appointed leaders, and choose to return to their slavery in Egypt. The sad reality of this situation is that their unbelief actually brought them to the point that they concluded that God was their enemy! It was their children who ultimately took possession of the land! The author of Hebrews gives his own application to this account when, in Hebrews 3:12, he says, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.”
So now let’s talk about the third point. What are the consequences of false faith accompanied by unbelief? Well I think the best answer to this question lies in the Scriptures, so let’s go directly there. In Numbers 14 we’ll see God’s promise of judgment on the Israelites.
20 Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. 21 But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22 none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. 24 But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. 25 Now, since the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwell in the valleys, turn tomorrow and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.”
26 And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 27 “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. 28 Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: 29 your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, 30 not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. 31 But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. 32 But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. 33 And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ 35 I, the Lord, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”
36 And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report about the land— 37 the men who brought up a bad report of the land—died by plague before the Lord. 38 Of those men who went to spy out the land, only Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive. (Numbers 14:20-38)
So simply put, the consequence of unbelief is death and separation from God, as the Scriptures depict here. The unbelief of these people caused them to die in the wilderness, apart from the eternal rest that God had promised them. If you think this is harsh, look at what the author of Hebrews says.
15 As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:15-19)
But even in this judgment meted out by God, He shows His grace and mercy when in Numbers 14:3 He says, “But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected.”
So do you see the risks of following someone other than the Lord and His Word and promises? It is always a foolish and dangerous path to take the council of other men over the Word and promises of God. Oh the perils of adopting another man’s faith and not owning your own. Come judgment day, you will be standing alone in front of your maker, before the judgment throne of God. And where is your friend and trusted companion now? Where is that eloquent gregarious friend of yours that could so cleverly concoct such a believable and convincing story why he or she, or you for that matter, should wait any longer on God to answer, and take things in your own hands and go a direction contrary to God’s Word and promise?
You see, faith is a very personal thing, isn’t it? You cannot claim or experience the faith of another, it is a personal and intimate relationship that you possess with your Savior. Just like a child cannot be saved by the faith of their parents, neither can an adult lay claim to the faith of a friend or relative. I stress this point because of the mob mentality we see in these verses. They fed off the fear of the negative report given by the ten spies and allowed their fear to overshadow the promise that God had made to them.
Unfortunately I think we sometimes have a tendency to give the word of a friend or relative equal or possibly even greater gravitas than the Word of God. That’s exactly what happened in this account we are studying today, is it not? The Israelites had heard many times God’s promise to give them the land of Canaan, the land that flows with milk and honey, and yet, from one single report from ten faithless men they opted to abandon and disavow the Word of God and flee back to their former state of slavery. A tragic decision that yielded tragic consequences.
And now for the fourth and final point: what are the rewards of true faith accompanied by belief and obedience? To answer this question, we first need to look at the faithful servant Caleb and how he exhibited true faith and belief in God’s promise. After the spies gave their negative report and the people respond in kind with their faithless diatribe that I read earlier, let’s look at Joshua and Caleb’s response.
6 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 7 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. 8 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. 9 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.” 10 Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel. (Numbers 14:6-10
I love their statement about “not fearing the people of the land, for they are bread for us.” This is a stark contrast to the other ten spies who said the inhabitants of the land would devour them.
In Chapter 14, as God is dispensing His judgment on the faithless spies, He inserted the following statement about Caleb: “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.” So Caleb’s reward is that he is going to be able to enter into the land of Canaan, into eternal rest with the Lord. Only he and Joshua of the twelve spies sent out by Moses are rewarded for their faith, and as the Lord says he was of a different spirit and followed Him fully.
F.B Meyer in his commentary wrote the following about Caleb: “amid the marchings and the counter marchings, the innumerable deaths, the murmurings of the rebellious, Caleb retained the steadfast purpose to do only God’s will…to please Him, to know no other…to heed no other voice.”
I wanted to point out another Scriptural account of men whose faith exhibited belief and obedience, and that is the account of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (also known as their Pagan names given to them by the Babylonians: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). If you recall, these men refused to bow before the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar had fashioned. This infuriated him, and so they faced what appeared to be sure death in a furnace that was heated to seven times its already scorching temperature.
With this ominous destiny right before them, they could have relented and just bowed down. I mean just once to save their life, what would that hurt, who would see them anyway? But no, being true believers in Christ, here’s what they said instead.
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)
Not only did God save them, but their witness, their faith and unwavering belief in God when faced with what appeared to be imminent death, had a significant impact on Nebuchadnezzar we see here and in the next chapter of Daniel.
So if you’re here this morning and saying, this is all great, but what does God’s promise of bringing the Israelites into the promised land mean to me today? How does it help my dire situation? Well let me ask you a question. Do you know the promises that God has made to you and me as believers, and if you know of them, the real question then is do you believe them, and will you move out in faith trusting in them? Here is a small sampling of His promises to us to ponder.
25 Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:25-26)
28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” (John 10:28-30)
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. (Psalm 91:3-4)
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Now we have to ask ourselves about this one. Do we really come to Him in earnest, seeking refuge, without our own imposed agendas and timelines, with full intentions of taking His yoke upon us? Relinquishing ours and replacing it with His that is easy and light, resulting in rest for our souls? Oh what a comforting and magnificent promise this is. But we must do some self-examination here.
For example, do we, after our third or fourth conversation with a rebelling teen that yields no results that we can see, do we give up and throw in the towel and say that the situation is impossible and they will never listen or change, or do we look at this promise He’s given us here and believe in Him and run back to Him to seek rest for our weary souls and ask Him for guidance, direction, wisdom, and patience so we can go back for further communication?
Or when we’ve submitted twenty or thirty resumés for job offers and not heard back from a single one, do we deem the situation as hopeless and become bitter and stop searching, or do we cling to this promise and believe that He is able to provide for us?
Or when you’ve received an unfavorable result from a medical exam that requires additional tests to determine the severity of the diagnosis, do we fall to pieces and shrink into isolation, abandoning our hope and forsaking this promise to find peace and rest in Him and Him alone?
What camp do we fall in when our faith is tested? Are we like the weak Israelites that have short memories of God’s faithfulness and love for us and quickly abandon our faith and belief in Him, or are we like Caleb and Joshua and hang on His Word and His promises until the very end? Do we “fully follow” Him like Caleb, or is it only a halfhearted following when we can see tangible results?
I want to close with the following Scripture about this faithful servant Caleb today.
6 Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. 7 I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. 8 But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. 9 And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’ 10 And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. 12 So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” (Joshua 14:6-12)
At the age of 85, Caleb took the toughest assignment, which was the land where the Anakim dwelt, who were descendants of the Nephalim, the giants mentioned in Genesis, and he drove them out. We know this because verse 14 in the next chapter says, “And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak, Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the descendants of Anak.”
So in summary, we’ve seen the devastation of unbelief that results in the separation from God, and we’ve seen the rewards of belief and obedience which results in eternal rest with the Lord. It is my prayer that it is said of us at the end of our days that, like Caleb, we wholly followed the Lord.