Don’t test God’s promises. Upon arriving at the edge of the Promised Land, the people were on the verge of success. God had crushed Pharaoh’s army before their eyes at the Red Sea. He fed them manna in the wilderness for a year. He also led them by a pillar of light. Ten times, He promised that He would give the Jews the Promised Land (Gen. 12:6-7; 13:14-15; 15:7; 17:8; 26:4; 28:13-15; 50:24; Ex. 12:25; 23:20-31; 33:1-3). He also promised to send an angel before them (Ex. 23:23). He further promised to “completely destroy” “the Amorites, Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites.” (Ex. 23:23). As He once told Abraham: “Is there anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14). But Jews were not convinced. They first demanded to send spies to see the land that they were about to invade (Dt. 1:22-23). In response to their demand, God handed them over to their desires of the flesh (Ro. 1:28). He told Moses to send men to scout out the Promised Land (Nu. 13:1-2). There was simply no reason for the Jews to demand to send spies to enter the Promised Land. They showed that they did not trust in His promises. Do you trust God’s promises? If so, how many can you name?
To have faith, don’t rely upon your senses. God promised the Jews that He would send an angel before them as they journeyed into the promised land (Ex. 23:23). Unlike God’s pillar of light, they would not see His angel. They would need to trust God knowing that the angel went before them. Before Jesus left, He promised that He would leave us with “a helper” – the Holy Spirit – to teach us His will (Jo. 14:26). But we cannot see Him directly. We need to trust the Spirit and know that He is there. Jesus explained that many see without seeing and hear without hearing (Matt. 13:13; Mk. 4:12; Lk. 8:10). The Jews had seen God’s miracles many times. But that was not enough for them to trust Him. You have most likely seen a miracle in your life or someone you know that can only be attributed to God. Has that been enough for you to trust God when you have faced hardships? If the answer is no, Jesus explains that believers sometimes “see” without “seeing” (Jo. 1:5; 3:19). To have faith, “[t]rust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5).
Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Faith is defined as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) (NASB). If you act only upon what you can see and not by faith when you cannot see the road ahead, it is impossible to please God with your actions: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6). Do you trust in Him even when things seem hopeless?
Background. In the Bible, names have special meanings. God further reveals truths by studying Biblical names in the context in which they arise. The meaning behind God’s name, for example, is so important that it is the Third Commandment not to defame it (Ex. 20:7; Dt. 5:11). We know that most of the spies ultimately failed in their journey. By studying their names, God tells us how we can avoid failures of faith on our journey to His Promised Land.
(1) God listens to and never forgets the righteous (Reuben). From the tribe of Reuben, the spy Shammua’s name means “he has listened.” His father Zaccur’s name means “mindful.” (Nu. 13:4). From these names, God reveals listens to and is mindful of the righteous. Shammua later rebelled against God. But his name suggests that God did not mean for him to fail. God does not want any to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). When you sin, do you trust in His forgiveness?
(2) No evil shall escape God’s avengers (Simeon). From the tribe of Simeon, the spy Shaphat’s name means “he has judged.” He was the son of Hori “cavern,” i.e, those in hiding (Nu. 13:5). Paul said: “But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” (Rom. 13:4). God also told Abraham that after four generations or 400 years “they [the Jews] shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Gen. 15:16). Approximately 400 years after God made this promise, He brought the Jews to the edge of the Promised Land. If Shaphat had remembered God’s promises, would he have had any reason to be fearful? Do you trust in God to avenge the wrongs against you?
(3) God will transform those who turn from sin (Judah). From the tribe of Judah, the spy Caleb’s name means “dog.” He was the son of Jephumneh, whose name means “he has turned.” (Nu. 13:6). The dog is considered a dirty animal in Middle Eastern culture. Caleb’s name suggests that he was not a great man at first. But, just as father’s name suggests, “he turned” to God in faith when others feared the giants in the Promised Land (Nu. 13:30). When you turn from sin and trust in Jesus, He will also transform you (2 Cor. 5:17). Are you still clinging to the things that drove you as a nonbeliever? Or, are you acting like a transformed believer in Christ?
(4) God’s redeemed shall prosper (Issachar). From the tribe of Issachar, the spy Igal’s name means “he has redeemed.” He was the son of Joseph, whose name means “God shall multiply.” (Nu. 13:7). Igal later failed in his test of faith. But God redeemed him. His father’s name suggests that God also never meant for him to fail. God meant to prosper and multiply His people in the Promised Land. The same true for any believer in Christ: ‘“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”’ (Jer. 29:11). When things feel out of control, do you trust in His plans for you?
(5) Only God delivers and saves us (Ephraim). From the tribe of Ephraim, the spy Hoshea’s name means “deliverance.” He was the son of Nun, which means “fish,” a symbol used for Christ (Nu. 13:8). Moses later renamed him as “Joshua,” which means “the Lord is deliverance.” (Nu. 13:16). Joshua was one of two to have faith when the 10 spies rebelled. His name prefigures Christ. When Joshua is written in Aramaic (the language of Christ), it is translated as “Yehoshua.” “Yeshua,” the Hebrew name for Christ, is a shortened version of this word. Joshua, like Jesus, knew that God would deliver the Promised Land to them. Jesus is the one who will deliver you: “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Ps. 18:2; 68:20). If you are trapped in bondage or under attack, are you turning to Him?
(6) God delivers and heals us (Benjamin). From the tribe of Benjamin, the spy Palti’s name means “my deliverance.” He was the son of Raphu, which means “healed.” (Nu. 13:9). As your “deliver,” Christ can also heal you. Through the Holy Spirit, He can heal you of the sin of fear and give you a spirit of strength (2 Tim. 1:7; Ps. 23:4; 27:1; Ro. 8:15). Paltri, however, did not trust in His deliverer. As a result, he later fell victim to the bondage of fear. If you have lost faith in God, a spirit of fear may also grip you. Do you fear anything besides God?
(7) God protects those who seek His counsel (Zebulun). From the tribe of Zebulun, the spy Gaddiel’s name means “God is my fortune.” He was the son of Sodi, whose name means “counsel of the Lord.” (Nu. 13:10). God provides protection and blessings for those who seek His counsel. Jeremiah warned: “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord.” (Jer. 17:5). The ways of men may seem right to us, but they only lead to misery (Prov. 14:12). Gaddiel unfortunately trusted in the counsel of men instead of God and feared what he saw. If he had trusted in God, he would not have been afraid (Ps. 4:5; 7:10; 56:11; Heb. 2:13). If you are facing a challenge or an obstacle, are you taking your counsel from God or others?
(8) Don’t rely upon your own understandings (Manasseh/Joseph). From the tribe of Manassah, the spy Gaddi’s name means “my fortune.” He was the son of Susi, whose name means “my horse” (Nu. 13:11). Neither Gaddi’s name nor his father’s name has anything to do with God. This suggests that Gaddi relied solely upon his own strength and understanding. Even worse than depending upon the counsel of men, is simply relying upon oneself. Gaddi may have been the instigator of the rebellion. When Jesus was alive, one of the 12 disciples turned against God and caused the others to scatter. If you simply depend upon your own strengths, like Satan and Judas did, you will fail: “Your wisdom and your knowledge, they have deluded you; for you have said in your heart, I am, and there is no one besides me.” (Is. 47:10). When you face a challenge or a problem, are you turning to yourself to solve the problem?
(9) Seek the kinship of God and store your wealth in heaven (Dan). From the tribe of Dan, the spy Ammiel’s name means “God is my kinsman.” He was the son of Gemalli, which means a “camel owner”. (Nu. 13:12). In that day, being a camel owner was a symbol of great wealth. Putting the two names together, God reveals that His people who trust in Him are rich in the Spirit. Ammiel failed the test of faith. He did not take refuge with God’s kinsmen, Joshua and Caleb. He saw the riches of the Promised Land (symbolized by the fruit), but he did not want to make the sacrifices –putting his life on the line–to obtain them. Instead of being rich in the Spirit, he reaped the fruit of the flesh. In this case, he felt fear. Are you trusting in Him to become rich in the fruit of the Spirit? Or, are you looking for the riches of the world?
(10) The things of God are hidden from this world (Asher). From the tribe of Asher, the spy Sethur’s name means “hidden” or “mystery.” He was the son of Michael, which means “who is like God.” (Nu. 13:13). “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; but the glory of kings to search out a matter.” (Prov. 25:2). “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.” (1 Cor. 1:27). Yet, “[l]et a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Cor. 4:1). Sethur also failed in his test of faith. He trusted in his own understanding based upon what he saw. If he had trusted upon God when he did not understand, he would not have failed. Do you need to understand everything before you will trust in God?
(11) Those who live by faith are remembered by God (Naphtali). From the tribe of Naphtali, the spy Nahbi’s name means “timid.” The meaning of his father’s name, Vophsi, has been lost over time (Nu. 13:14). Neither name is ever repeated in the Bible because Nahbi feared and failed the test of faith. All of the heroes of the Bible were those who lived by faith (Heb. 7:7-32). “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” (Ro. 1:17). Those who fear men and the things of this world are without faith. God only rewards those who have faith (Heb. 11:6). If the book of your life in heaven only recorded your acts of faith, will there be much written in it?
(12) Don’t defame God as a carnal believer (Gad). From the tribe of Gad, the spy Guel’s name means the “majesty of God.” He was the son of Machi, which means “reduced”. (Nu. 13:15). Guel was one of the leaders whose fear caused a panic across the Jewish nation. His lack of faith diminished the glory of God amongst His people. When you act as carnal believer and show fear, you disparage His holy name. Is your life a good advertisement for Christianity?
Parallels to Jesus’ Commission of the 12 Disciples. Moses sent the 12 spies to Israel to make way for the restoration of the Promised Land. Jesus initially told the 12 disciples to restore “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 10:6). Through the 12 spies, Moses sought to bring people into the physical Promised Land. Through the 12 disciples, Jesus sought to bring people into the eternal Promised Land. Moses named each of the 12 by name before he sent them out. So did Jesus. Joshua and Caleb are believed to have gone out together and encouraged one another. Jesus also sent the disciples out in pairs. The failure of faith of the 12 spies brought judgment upon all of Israel. The Jews spent the next 38 years in the wilderness. When Israel later rejected the 12 disciples, Jesus warned that the Jews would again be judged (Matt. 10:15). After Jesus’ death, judgment fell upon the nation of Israel at the hands of their Roman occupiers, just as Jesus predicted. The Jews lived in exile from the Promised Land for the next 2,000 years.
(1) Remember that God keeps His promises, including His promise to love us. The 12 men traveled north from Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran through the wilderness of Zin, the Negev desert, the hill country, Rehob, the valley of Eshcol and finally to Hebron (Nu. 13:17-23). The word “to spy” in 13:1 can also be translated as “to explore.” God essentially invited the Jews to see if His promises of a land of milk and honey were true. At the valley of Eshcol, they found clusters of grapes, just as the Lord promised. They also found the land overflowing with milk and honey, just as God had promised (Nu. 13:27; 14:8). Thus, God proved that His promises were true. The Jews had no reason to doubt Him. David advised: “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” (Ps. 37:5). God promises to love each one of us. His love is so great that He sent His only son to die for each of us (John 3:16). Knowing His love for you can help to cast out your fear: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. . . ” (1 Jo. 4:18). Can you name one promise of God in your life that God has failed to keep? If you don’t know what God’s promises are, how much faith can you have in them? When was the last time you prayed for God’s perfect love to cast out your fear, just as Satan was cast out from heaven?
(2) Remember that God tests us to build up our faith. The 12 spies were gone a total of 40 days (Nu. 13:25). The number 40 in the Bible symbolizes testing. Moses lived in the wilderness for 40 years (Ex. 2:16-25). The Jews later wandered in the wilderness for 40 years (Nu. 14:34; Dt. 8:2). Jesus was likewise in the wilderness for 40 days (Matt. 4:1-4). The spies were shown the mighty Amalekite warrior peoples (Dt. 9:2). They were powerful nomads from the southern deserts south of Negev. The Hittites were a strong nation from Asia minor. The Amorites came to Canaan from modern day Iraq. Their fear caused them to imagine that their enemies were more powerful than they actually were. To the Jews, they seemed like the giant Nephilim, who lived before the Flood (Gen. 6:1-4). God revealed to the 10 men that they doubted God’s promises by fearing their enemies. “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” (Prov. 29:25). Once God revealed the sin of fear in their hearts, He expected them to repent (Matt. 4:17). Has your faith grown from your past mistakes? If so, have you encouraged others with your lessons?
(3) Remember that God promises victory “little by little.” The size of their enemies caused 10 of the men to feel like grasshoppers (Nu. 13:33). They knew that they could not dislodge the “giants” all at once. But God did not promise to instantaneously remove the Canaanites from the land. He instead promised to drive them out “little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land.” (Ex. 23:30). If the spies knew God’s promises, they would not have felt the need to conquer everything at once. Will you find victory with God if He rewards you “little by little?” Or, do you expect Him to give you everything at once?
(4) Remember that God promises us victory, but not without struggle. God has not promised us a pain free life. We live in a cursed world where we must toil to support ourselves (Gen. 3:17). Thus, Christ warns that we will experience tribulation in the world (John 16:33). But God promises us that He will provide for us (Matt. 6:25-34). He also promises us the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). This means that we will find peace in the midst of struggle. Have you imposed upon God a requirement that He free you of all struggles to be happy? Or, are you seeking His peace in the midst of struggle? Once you put your trust in Him, He will strengthen you (Phil. 4:13).
(5) Remember that some of God’s blessings are conditional upon your faith. You do not earn our salvation by our works. But many blessings or curses on Earth turn upon the fruit of your faith. An “unbelieving heart” will cause a person to fall away from God (Heb. 3:12). God warned Abraham to obey His angel: “Be on your guard before him [God’s angel] and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him and obey his voice . . But if you obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.” (Ex. 23:21-22; see also Lev. 26:7-8; Nu 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17). This was therefore a conditional promise. Abraham had to obey to receive the blessing. The Jews were later barred from entering to the Promised Land because of their unbelief and disobedience. “So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.” (Heb. 3:19; 4:6, 11). God also warned that He would vomit the Jews out of the Promised Land if they did not keep His statutes. “You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out.” (Lev. 20:22). Are you living a carnal life? If so, should it be any mystery why you live without peace and without God’s blessings? Or, do you live by faith and keep His Ten Commandments?
(6) Fear comes when you take your eyes off Jesus. The 12 men told Moses that they had returned from the land “to which you sent us.” (Nu. 13:27). They made no mention of the Lord. Their faith failed because they took their minds off the Lord. Likewise, Peter began to walk on water when the Lord called him (Matt. 14:29). “But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, Lord save me.” (Matt. 14:30). After saving him, Jesus responded: “You of little faith, why did you doubt.” (Matt. 14:31). J. Vernon McGee observed that: “when you are afraid and you have lost your faith, difficulties and problems are magnified. They become greater than they really are.” (Through the Bible Commentary Series, Numbers p. 90). Paul also reveals that it is the “spirit of slavery” which “lead[s] to fear.” (Ro. 8:15). The last time you felt fear, were you looking at the violent storms [or giants] around you? Did you take your eyes off Jesus?
(7) Fear comes when you act on your own accord as opposed to God’s. When the mighty Philistine army taunted Saul, he and his troops were afraid (1 Sam. 17:11). But David showed no fear when he approached the Philistine army. He said that they approached with swords and spears. But he approached in “the name of the Lord” (1 Sam. 17:45). Although David was the smallest man in his family, he feared no evil or any enemy. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?. . . Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear; though war arises against me, in spite of this I shall be confident.” (Ps. 27:1-3). “I fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Ps. 23:4). “How blessed in the man that fears the Lord . . . He will not fear evil tidings.” (Ps. 112:7). “Say to the anxious heart, ‘take courage, fear not.” (Is. 34:4). The last time you felt afraid, were you acting of your own accord or in God’s name?
A lack of faith brings fear and paranoia. Sadly, neither God’s provision and protection in the wilderness nor the confirmation of the fruit in the land was enough to placate the people. “Yet you were not willing to go up, but rebelled against the command of the LORD your God.” (Dt. 1:26). Their fear then turned to paranoia. The people went so far as to believe that God “hated” them, They felt this way even after God unleashed 10 plagues in Egypt to free them from captivity: “and you grumbled in your tents and said, ‘Because the LORD hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us.” (Dt. 1:27). “‘Where can we go up? Our brethren have made our hearts melt, saying, ‘The people are bigger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified to heaven. And besides, we saw the sons of the Anakim there.”’ (Dt. 1:28). Moses’ efforts to calm them were on no use. “Then I said to you, ‘Do not be shocked, nor fear them. ‘The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place.’” (Dt. 1:29-33). “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into land to fall by the sword?” (Nu. 14:2(b)-3(a)). They even tried to select a leader to head back to Egypt: “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” (Nu. 14:4). To have true peace “Shalom” you must trust God and be obedient (Lev. 26:6). To those who have faith and obey, Jesus promises the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). With faith and obedience, God also promises victory over your enemies. “But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.” (Lev. 26:7-8; Ex. 23:22; Nu 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17). By contrast, if you fail to trust God and if you are disobedient, He may bring upon you fear and paranoia (Lev. 26:14-17). You may also long for your prior bondage. Are you afraid of anything besides God? If so, how much trust do you have in Him to protect you?
Fear is false evidence appearing real. The Lord is the only thing that we are to fear. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7). The fear of the Lord is further defined as hating evil. “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; . . .” (Prov. 8:13). “The fear of man brings a snare. But he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” (Prov. 29:25). Are you fearing anything around you?
Fear comes from taking your eyes off Jesus. When Jesus kept his eyes on Jesus he could walk on water. Yet, his faith failed him when he took his eyes off Jesus: “And He said, ‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matt. 14:29-31). The last time you felt fear, did you take your eyes off Jesus?
Who are the giants in your path? We all have giants in our paths. To our human eyes, we seem like grasshoppers to them. But these giants many times are not physical enemies. For our enemies are spiritual and our weapons are spiritual (Eph. 6:10-20). Has your job situation caused you to become filled with fear? Are you afraid for your children? Are you afraid for your family or your marriage? Are you afraid for your health? If you are filled with fear about things of this world, is your sin any worse than the 10 men who saw the giants in the land and felt like grasshoppers. Is your faith as strong as a grasshopper or a giant?
God’s Word – the antidote to fear. If your faith is lacking, God promises that you can build it up like a muscle through constantly hearing or reading His Word: “[F]aith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Ro. 10:17). The next time fear overcomes you, recite God’s promises: “Do not fear for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand . . . Do not fear, I will help you.” (Is. 41:10, 13). “For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans for welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11). “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7). Are you seeking to build your faith by reading the Word?