When Israel was to go into the Promised Land, they sent twelve spies to scout out the land for forty days. Upon return, they reported that the land was good and fruitful, but also inhabited by many strong opponents. Ten of the spies said, “we can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31). But Caleb and Joshua said, “we should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it” (13:30).
The people followed the advice of the ten spies opposed to entering the land, but the Lord issued a strong rebuke through Moses: “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 1:35). Here at the beginning of this momentous story, we find the Israelites overcome by their fears. They did not trust God’s promise, but instead trusted in their own assessment of the difficult situation.
In response to Moses’ strong words and fueled by despair, however, the people as one turned in the opposite direction, vowing immediately to go into the land and take possession of it. They said, “We have sinned against the Lord. We will go up and fight, as the Lord our God commanded us” (1:41). Once again, they exhibit doubt of God’s words and a misplaced trust in themselves. Moses comments on the Israelites’ response in this way: “so every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country” (1:41b). In Numbers, we hear Moses say: “do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated” (Numbers 14:42). Going into battle without God will lead to defeat.
The problem with the Israelites’ approach throughout the story is this: the desire to move forward without God while trusting in themselves.
In our lives, we face similar temptations as those faced by the Israelites. Their temptation to trust in themselves went in two entirely different directions. The first was to trust in their own fear-filled assessment of an apparently overwhelming challenge: defeating the powerful inhabitants of Canaan. Put simply, they thought the challenges before them were too difficult not only for themselves but also too difficult for God.They looked at the opposition before them in Canaan without considering God’s promise to powerfully help. In time past God had said to Moses: “I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession” (Exodus 6:8).
The second temptation of the Israelites was to trust in their own power and abilities to overcome their challenges. Again, to put it simply they thought the challenges before them were too easy and that they didn’t need God at all. They were overconfident in themselves. In reaction to God’s judgment upon them – that the entire generation would die in the wilderness because of their previous lack of obedience – the people rashly commit to action without fully considering the omission of God’s blessing upon them or powerful presence with them.
The end result of the Israelites’ trust in themselves and distrust of God was twofold: a curse to not enter the land of promise and defeat in battle with the Amorites.
So, in our lives today, how are we exhibiting trust in God or trust in ourselves? What is before us that God is calling us into? What challenges loom up before us in the pathway of God’s call that seem insurmountable? What will our response be? What activities seem so easy that we develop a misplaced self-confidence about success even without God’s help?
Will we draw near to God with both the apparently overpowering challenges and apparently easy things? He is powerful to act on our behalf, but apart from Him we can truly do nothing.