Numbers 11: Ignore the Giants.
This is the moment the Israelites have been waiting for. Canaan has been the distant dream on their horizon for hundreds of years, ever since God first promised to give the land to Abraham’s descendants. Everything since the Exodus has been building up to this: rescued from slavery, crossing the Red Sea, fighting off enemies, camping in the wilderness at Mt. Sinai and learning to be God’s people. Now they’ve finally moved to within striking distance of their destination, and some of them would set foot there for the first time since Jacob left, way back in Genesis. Finally, the Promised Land was within reach.
What promises from God have you been holding on to? What dreams have you been working towards? How long has it been? Months? Years? Decades? These Israelites had been waiting all their lives, and it had been 400 years since God first spoke the promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:13-16). Don’t be discouraged if there is a delay or if it feels like God is making you wait; you’re not the only one. His timing is perfect and He is not slow in keeping His promises, as some understand slowness (2 Peter 3:9). If your dream hasn’t come true yet, that doesn’t mean it won’t. Keep believing. Keep chasing it. If God’s promise to you hasn’t been fulfilled yet, hold on to it – it’s coming.
Moses sent 12 men to spy out the land, one from each tribe, and they explored the land from top to bottom. They all came back confirming that the land was good and rich (v. 27), but that was all they could agree on. For 10 of the spies there was a ‘but’: “But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.” (v. 28). They even claimed to have seen giants, men of great size who reminded them of the infamous Nephilim from Genesis chapter 6. Caleb and Joshua brought a better report and looked at things differently. “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (v. 30). They backed themselves and were excited by the prospect.
The spies saw the same things but each had a choice to make as to what they would focus on. Would they focus on the giant enemies (13:32) or the giant grapes (13:23)? Would they fixate on the fortified cities or faithfully concentrate on the freedom and prosperity that was on offer. They could choose what lenses to see things through: eyes of faith or eyes of fear. And it was down to them what spin to put on things when they reported back to the whole community, and then the community at large would have the same choice.
Would they be daring, or would they be daunted?
These chapters are a watershed moment for the people of Israel: they were on the cusp, the dream was on the verge of becoming reality, and they had a choice. They could believe that God would deliver what He had promised for so long, or they could lose heart and be ruled by their doubts instead. There were two possible outcomes here: either they could march triumphantly into the Promised Land there and then, trusting God for victory, or they could turn and slink away, nursing their fears as they continue to wander in the wilderness. The Old Testament as a whole teaches us the importance of waiting for God and that we can rely on Him totally to do what He promises. But the book of Numbers has a unique lesson: do not stumble when your promise is within reach.
I think most of us know how this story goes. They failed the test. They chose doubt over faith and focused on the giants rather than on God. The Israelites allowed themselves to be intimidated by the obstacles in their path, and as a result they turned back to the desert. None of them ever came to the Promised Land. With the exception of Caleb and Joshua, they all died in the wilderness. We should all sit up and take notice of this, because these same choices and dangers still confront us today. There’s a few really important lessons that I want to draw out here.
First, there’s always an obstacle. The path to realising our dreams is very rarely smooth or free of obstacles or opposition. For the Israelites that obstacle was lots of formidable fortified cities between them and the land they wanted. For Abraham it was old age between him and his descendants. For David it was King Saul and his murderous persecution between him and the promised throne. For Paul in the New Testament it was shackles, shipwrecks and scourging between him and his dream of spreading the gospel throughout the Mediterranean. I could go on and on. Everywhere you look in the Bible there are obstacles between God’s people and God’s promises. When approached with faith, all those obstacles came crashing down, because nothing can stop God delivering what He’s promised. The only obstacles that remained were for those who didn’t trust God.
It’s the same for us – there will always be obstacles between us and our dreams. The presence of an obstacle doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track or doing the wrong thing. Often the opposite is true. Don’t be discouraged just because there’s an obstacle. But you have a choice – believe in faith that God can help you overcome it, or baulk in fear and back down from our dreams. How many dreams go unachieved because of fear, because we backed away when we hit a roadblock? Let’s learn from the Israelites and not make the same mistake they did. Let’s overcome the obstacles in our path with God’s help.
Second, Beware of exaggeration. Notice how the spies exaggerate what they saw, claiming they’d seen demi-gods when they’d only seen ordinary humans; inflating the other guys into giants and reducing themselves to grasshoppers (13:33)? It was nonsense, but it’s a natural human tendency to exaggerate the difficulties before us. What we focus on we magnify, like putting a magnifying glass over the things we’re looking at. When you focus on the problems, they get bigger in your mind until you’re cowed. When you focus on God His presence increases in your life. Remember how Jesus inspired Peter to walk on water until he switched his focus to the wind and waves (Matt. 14:25-33)? We too can begin to sink when we take our eyes off Him. But if we remain steadfast, He’ll hold us steady.
The truth is, you have no idea how flimsy those walls in your way really are. The daunting walls of Jericho collapsed like a house of cards when God touched them (Joshua 6:20). And we discover later that those giants were actually ‘melting in fear’ of the Israelites the whole time (Joshua 2:11). What if your opponents were more scared of you than you were of them, but you never realised? Don’t make a grasshopper of yourself – God can give you giant-sized faith and a victory that dwarfs your worries.
Third, fear is contagious. The words of the spies infect the nation of Israel like a plague and within a single verse they are all weeping and grumbling (14:1-4). Let’s be mindful of our influence over others, which is often far larger than we realise. In this story the doubts of a few men quickly caused an entire nation to freak out. Why do we so easily get psyched out? Because we follow the crowd and take our cue from those around us. It’s all too easy to listen to others instead of trusting in God. We need discernment, because God will speak through others, but as in this case it may be the minority view that represents God’s will. We can listen to the Calebs and Joshuas in our life who encourage and empower us, or we can listen to the multitudes who are spreading conspiracy theories or casting doubt on everything.
And for our part, we can either spread faith or spread fear. You’re going to spread something, so what will you spread to those around you?
Fourth, why do we so often fall at the final hurdle? The Israelites had already done extraordinary things with God, escaping the Egyptian chariots (Exodus 14), annihilating the Amalekites (Exodus 17), finding food and water in the desert where there was none (Exodus 16-17). Why stumble now? Was this last step really so much harder than the rest? Sometimes that final step is the hardest one. Maybe the step of faith to walk out of Egypt is actually smaller and easier than the step of faith to walk into Canaan. What was your Egypt and what is your Canaan? Maybe it was easy to take that first step and leave the prison behind, but maybe it’s really hard to take that final step and seize what you’ve always wanted.
I know from personal experience that the fear can hit fever pitch just when the dream is about to become a reality, and that it’s so easy to bottle it and never actually take that final step. But let’s learn from this story that God is with you just as much in the final and hardest steps as He was in the first and easiest steps. Don’t let go and don’t hold back. Follow him into the reality, into the dream, into the promise.
What can we learn from this pivotal moment in Numbers?
1) Just because there’s an obstacle doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track.
2) Don’t exaggerate the difficulties – keep your eyes on God.
3) Fear and faith are both contagious – make sure it’s the latter you’re passing on.
4) The final hurdle might be the hardest, but with God’s help you can still clear it.
What giants are in your path? We all have them, and we all need to ignore them. Press forward to what God has promised you. If you give in to fear, you’ll forfeit God’s blessings and miss out on your best. But if you keep believing, He’ll take you further than you ever thought possible.
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