The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “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, every one a chief among them.”
At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. 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. 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. 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. 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.”
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.” 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.” 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. 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.”
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 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! 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?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel. 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 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. 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. 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.” 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 13:1-2, 25-33; 14:1-10
In Numbers 13 and 14, the Lord sent twelve men “to spy out the land of Canaan” (Numbers 13:2), and “at the end of forty days they returned” (Numbers 13:25). Ten of the twelve men reported that the land was good, but they added that the people of the land were strong, and the cities were fortified and large (Numbers 13:27-28). This majority report made sense from a human perspective. The ten spies simply shared what they saw as they looked around at the land, the people, and the culture. It was a good location, yes. But in their estimation, it was simply too hard to move into the neighborhood. The Israelites were in the wilderness, but they were standing on the threshold of the Promised Land…and they chose unbelief over belief. The ten didn’t even mention the Lord in their report. The fruit of the land was alluring, the people of the land were intimidating, but the Lord of the land was forgotten. Only Caleb and Joshua offered a dissenting voice. They saw the same land and people, but with eyes of faith they saw more. They remembered the Lord—His promises, His presence, and His power (Numbers 13:30, 14:6-10). By trusting in His faithfulness, these two men were faithful in a faithless generation.
The wilderness is never easy. Ever since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, the world has felt more like wilderness than paradise. The wilderness is the space between promise and fulfillment, the wasteland where we’re tempted to doubt God’s promises and think crazy thoughts. In the wilderness, the Israelites started to like the idea of returning to Egypt (Numbers 14:1-4). In the wilderness, Satan tempted Jesus to abandon His mission (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). Humans have always failed the test of the wilderness, but where we failed, Jesus succeeded, both in the desert and on the cross. Imagine all of humanity coming together to offer a majority report at the cross. We doubted, rejected, and slandered the Son of God. And yet this one Man was faithful, even to death. Jesus provided the ultimate minority report about the God of perfect love and justice. This God has done everything necessary to rescue His people and bring them into the promised land of His presence forever. Do we believe this?
In the wilderness of this world, we’re tempted to believe the majority report of the people around us. We absorb and then echo the slander of the world. God is not here. God is not good. What we do in life does not matter. Like the Israelites, we see the life the Lord is offering, but we lose sight of the Lord and focus on all the obstacles. God becomes small, and people and problems look like giants walking the earth. What are the “giants” that fill up our vision and lead us to give a report that doesn’t even mention the Lord and King of all the earth (Joshua 3:13, Psalm 47:7)?
How do we not lose heart when the majority sees things so differently? Joshua and Caleb—and especially Jesus—remind us that the Lord is always working through a faithful remnant. We may feel like a voice crying in the wilderness, but that doesn’t mean we’re wrong. As we look to the Lord, He can give us the courage to cling to His promises and to remain faithful in the wilderness. He can give us the conviction that the wilderness is not our permanent address. The Scriptures allow us to “spy out the land,” and the glory that is to come is greater than anything Canaan had to offer. Soon Jesus will return and make all things new. On that day, the folly of unbelief and wisdom of belief will be obvious. And until that day, we have the privilege of being a light in this dark world. Of all people, shouldn’t we be filled with dissenting hope?
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
my salvation and my God.