As Israel stood (for the first time) on the edge of the Promised Land, she sent twelve spies to see what kind of good promises her God had made to her. They were to scout out the land, bring back its fruit, and report on the glory that the people of God were about to enter.
With bated breath, the Israelites waited forty days for their faithful entourage to return, and return they did with fresh grapes and promises of milk and honey. The land, they said, was indeed very good.
The only problem is: there are other peoples living there. Settled peoples. Peoples with the resources to fight hard. And, oh yeah, giants.
So the people get scared, decide that maybe they're not up to the challenge, and they start to grumble against God. They take a vote of 'no confidence' in their Lord and start to wonder to themselves if they wouldn't have been better off staying slaves in Egypt or, at the very least, dying in this wilderness where at least the elements would kill them instead of the sword.
In His graciousness, God decides to give them exactly what they want - He will let them die in this wilderness. In fact, He will make them die in this wilderness. This entire generation will get exactly what they asked for, and they will wander until the elements of age and time eat away at them and they all pass away (save for Caleb and Joshua, the two faithful spies who were confident in God's goodness). Then, and only then, He will lead their children into the land that they were too afraid to take.
Immediately after God grants them their wish, immediately after He tells them that they will die in this wilderness and not have to worry about the land, He reaffirms His promise about what the land will be like...for their children. He reaffirms to them what it will be like to have the abundance of this land, to live as a settled people in peace, to be confident of the goodness of their God.
This affirmation of His promises stirs something in Israel that she seems to have forgotten, and all of a sudden, she's ready to take the land that just five minutes ago, she was sure she could never have. The men who were ready to turn back toward Egypt instead turn toward Canaan, and they press forward with swords drawn, even though Moses tells them not to do that. Even though Moses tells them the moment has passed. Even though Moses tells them that God's plan has changed.
God will not go with them now. Five minutes ago, He would have, but not any more. In the blink of an eye, everything has changed and this has gone from a battle they could not lose to one that they cannot win.
And of course, just as they didn't listen to God, they don't listen to Moses and are soundly defeated, just as they feared they would be before they were confident they couldn't be.
This story, found beginning in Numbers 14, has a couple of very profound insights for us as a people of God, particularly as a people of God's promise (which we know best through His Word). So we're going to take a couple of days and talk about some of that. Stay tuned.
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