Do you ever secretly scoff at Israel’s failures in the wilderness, thoroughly convinced that you would’ve done so much better? They were firsthand witnesses to so many instances of God’s saving power and miraculous and faithful provision. “Come on now!” we may think. “What is their problem?” How could they so easily drift from obedience into ungrateful rebellion?
In Numbers 13, twelve spies are chosen to go take a peek at the promised land and bring back a report. Why did God send these men? He had already told the people that the land was good, flowing with milk and honey. Was he testing them to see what was in their hearts? He undoubtedly already knew what was in their hearts based on how much the people had already complained and grumbled along the way. Whatever God’s reason was, these men, chiefs of the people, went and took a good look at the land. They spent forty days there and came back with some of the bountiful produce. What would they say to the people when they returned? Would they focus on God’s promise or on what they saw?
Faith believes in spite of what we see. And it’s clear that ten of the twelve spies did not have faith. They confirmed what God had said about the land. Indeed it was bountiful. But they immediately focused on the might of the enemies within the land, and the people’s inability to overcome them.
But how different are we? How different am I? I have all of God’s promises spread abundantly throughout the Word but what do I focus on? I focus instead on the enemies and difficulties before my eyes. I easily allow doubt to creep back in right after I’ve lifted my head from meditating on God’s promises of grace and provision. How does this doubt manifest itself? In the way I talk about the things I’ve prayed about. In the report I give to my friends. I may say I believe God is sovereign over my family or finances, but when I speak about those things with friends, do I instead complain about how I wish things were different? Do I speak confidently of God’s provision or do I communicate worry and panic? If I truly believed in those promises of God’s faithfulness and provision, my speech should reflect that more, shouldn’t it? I shouldn’t be giving a bad report about the way God has arranged the circumstances of my life.
We all want to be the hero of the story, but what if we’re more like the villain? What if we’re more like the ten bad spies than the two good ones? We may be tempted to scoff at how quickly Israel drifts from the Lord in spite of everything they’d seen, but I think it’s meant as a warning to us about the desperate slipperiness of our sinful hearts. Reading through Numbers this time has revealed to me how quickly the human heart abandons God no matter how much of his power he has displayed, and how much my own heart, apart from Christ, is just the same.