Leaders from the twelve tribes were chosen by Moses to go and explore the Promised Land and choose areas for each tribe and encourage the people about the abundance therein. The Canaanites and other inhabitants were to be evicted and destroyed for their sinful living and God was to help the Israelites do that. But ten of the twelve returned filled with fear of the people living there and expressed total inability of the people to occupy the land. But Joshua and Caleb remained steadfast in their faith in the LORD and tried to encourage others but failed.
Why did Moses send the spies? – Adam and Eve were the only ones who received every blessing in the Garden of Eden and dominion rights over everything before facing any trial or temptation. Otherwise all of mankind, including the Son of God Himself, had to face the test before being assigned the role and getting equipped for that. The Israelites period of exile in the land that was not theirs was supposed to be four hundred years and the land Abraham came to from his people was also not his. Their actual stay in Egypt was about 200-230 years and the slavery only started from a new king ‘who did not know Joseph’ (Exodus 1:8). But this period was full of great oppression for them and the Pharaoh commanded the Jewish midwives to kill all Jewish male children to stop their increase in numbers, which they did not obey (Exodus 1:15-21). Pharaoh’s daughter pulled out the child from the Nile and named him Moses which means ‘draw out of water’ for his mother had tried to save his life by putting him in water in a basket (Exodus 2: 5).
Such atmosphere created a mentality of slavery where group loyalties were dominated by personal interests and urge to resist had died out gradually. God put Moses in the Pharaoh’s palace to save him from this mentality to prepare him to be a leader of his people. Miraculous deeds were performed by Moses and Aaron to force Pharaoh to let them go and Egypt, the greatest nation of that time, faced ruin. As per Moses’ command the Israelites asked for and received from the Egyptians articles of gold, silver and clothing, ‘Thus they plundered the Egyptians’. And the biggest miracle of parting of the Red Sea and subsequent destruction of the Egyptian forces was seen by all (Exodus 12:35-36). God took them by a longer route to the Promised Land to get Egypt out of them and build up their faith.
They fought and defeated the Amalekites, a ferocious enemy (Exodus 17:8-16). After crossing the Red Sea they had sung to the LORD, ‘You have guided them (Israelites) in Your strength to Your holy habitation. The people will hear and be afraid; sorrow will take hold of the inhabitants of Philistia…. All the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away’ (Exodus 15:13-15).
The message is that the LORD asked Moses to send out 12 leaders of all tribes (Numbers 13:1-2) whereas later Moses revealed that the Israelites asked for this to ‘search out the land for us, and bring back word to us of the way by which we should go up’ (Deuteronomy 1:20-38). And God allowed them to ‘send out men for yourselves’. The Hebrew word ‘tur’ used here has been used where the Ark of the LORD went before them ‘to search out’ a resting place for them for the three days journey (Numbers 10:33). The word means ‘to seek out, spy out, explore’ and the mission of the 12 leaders of all tribes from God was not to spy out but to explore ‘the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel’. The purpose of their journey was not to plan the strategies for conquering the land but to come back and prepare the people for the conquest and occupation of the land.
Caleb had faith that their victory is in the LORD and even forty years later asked for the same mountain area that he had earlier visited, despite the fact that Anakim, the race of giants, occupied the area around Hebron and the cities were ‘great and fortified’ (Joshua 14:12). The fact of their song after crossing the Red Sea was later confirmed by Rahab to the two spies sent by Joshua but the twelve leaders failed to remember this as well as the task that was given to them by Moses (Joshua 2:9-11). They were so fearful of the strength of the inhabitants of the land that they even ascribed power to the land that it ‘devours its inhabitants, and all that we saw in it are of great height…. We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them’ (Numbers 13:33).
Why were the ten spies so filled with fear? – Late Lord Jonathan Sachs, the Chief Rabbi of England, has said, the basic task of a leader, from president to parent, is to give people a sense of confidence: in themselves, in the group of which they are a part and in the mission itself. A leader must have faith in the people he leads and inspire that same faith in them. Latin word ‘confidenta’ meaning confidence is about ‘having faith together’. During the battle with the Amalekites, Moses’ raising of hands was about looking up in confidence in help of the LORD and when the Israelites looked up they won and when they looked down they started to lose.
The Shema command of the LORD to love Him with all the heart, mind and strength is about looking unto Him alone for what is inside would be on the tongue (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Thus those who say, ‘We cannot do it’ and those who say, ‘WE can’ are both right for it is about confidence in God, the team and oneself all put together that wins battles or face defeat. Jeremiah and Amos were prophets of pessimism but still preached the message of hope. Ten out of the twelve leaders became the messengers of defeatism and failed as followers by misunderstanding their role, faith in God and His promises.
But why did they fail so miserably? – The spies being heads of tribes or leaders, knew the facts that God was with them and with His help they could do anything and that God would not have promised something that was beyond their capability. The reason of their action is ascribed to be fear of the inhabitants, their cities being well fortified and their physical attributes.
A Jewish Rabbi, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, head of Chabad Organization from 1950 till his death gave a diametrically different reason for the spies report. As per him the spies were not afraid of defeat but of victory and this led them to say what they did. Their situation in the wilderness then was a life in close proximity to God, water from the rock and food from heaven, Clouds of Glory of God surrounded them with miracles happening all around them. Their life in the land would mean, fighting wars to take over the land and even later, plough the land, plant seed, cultivate, harvest and maintain an army permanently to fight their enemies and live in this fallen world like all others. Their changed relationship with God would mean that though God would be there blessing them through rain, good crops, prosperity in cities and in fields and in the Tabernacle amidst them but not in a visible form, intimate and miraculously with them.
As per the Rebbe it was a noble act but still a great sin for they and all others who believed them had rebelled against God and died in the wilderness. The Israelites had to wander for forty years before getting another chance to go into the Promised Land. God did not kill all the adult population immediately but left them to realize their mistake through being in His presence everyday.
The ten leaders did not present the details of the actual situation in the land, and thus leaving the planning to Moses in consultation with God but added their opinion about impossibility of success. Their action led the entire population away from their God given destiny. Their task was to facilitate planning of ‘how we shall conquer the land’ but they delivered a final decision, ‘we cannot do it’.
God wants us to live in the real world with all the enemy forces of darkness around us to ‘create a dwelling place in the fallen world’. It may be easy to find God in total seclusion but the command is to ‘dominate the earth and subdue it’ and His daily visits to Adam and Eve were about bringing His Shechinah glory into our daily life. The ten spies’ trip was a spiritual failure to establish God’s presence, the banner of Yehowah Nissi, in the land in which the inhabitants were doomed to destruction due to their sinful living.
The Rebbe’s words are equally relevant for the present generation where fear of success is more real than the fear of failure. With the world in permanent turmoil, most people want to remain or return to the safety of their comfort zones rather than take risks. Daniel and his three friends were taken into captivity as young children and their faith in God was strengthened in every difficult situation. Though David had already been anointed as the next king of Israel while he was yet 15 to 17 years old, he challenged Goliath, the giant, declaring, ‘This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you…. that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel’ (1 Samuel 17:45-47). Lord Jesus has taught that ‘from the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks’ (Luke 6:45). David’s heart was full of faith in God and his anointing and that the LORD God who had done this will give him victory so that God may be glorified. The ten leaders so filled the minds of all Israelites with fear that everyone forgot what God had done for them in the past.
The first act after revealing the light of His glory, on the dark and void earth, God separated darkness from light (Genesis 1:4). After commission of sin of disobedience the darkness that was separated from man dwelt within and all of us have some part in us that needs to be conquered and turned into ‘holy land’. It could be fear, insecurity, temptation, addiction or shame or other challenges of life. Since these challenges appear frightening, we tend to believe the whispering of the devil about our incapability in dealing with it and we surrender to that, like the ten spies. This causes us to remain in the wilderness of weakness and insecurity instead of arriving victorious under the hand of God’s Spirit and enter our individual ‘Promised Land’. The presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit is to empower us to deal with every problem under His hand and discover our inner infinity (Ecclesiastes 3:11) to light our darkness. The only question to ask is, ‘LORD, teach me how to do it?’ and then step forward in faith.
Facing difficult situations in life – Everyone is a leader in his/her own sphere of life and whatever we say or do will have an impact on others. A father is a spiritual leader and mentor for his family and likewise the mother as also the children for their peer groups. The group you are leading may be of one or two or run into millions. Apostle Paul confidently declares in faith that ‘He who has begun a good work in you will complete it’ (Philippians 1:6). The Israelites were led out of slavery of Egypt with the promise of being led into and occupation of the ‘Promised Land’ and God was the initiator and finisher of this. The ten leaders however lost track of this and made the whole generation suffer and die in the wilderness.
There will always be voices of evil whispering into the ear about your past failures, difficulties and that it is just not worth the effort to try again and fail. To overcome this each one of us must take the necessary steps everyday.
First, Remember the source of your strength – The Psalmist declared, ‘My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever’. And then I will draw strength from this source, the Holy Spirit, who dwells in each one of us for this purpose.
Second, we are all human and likely to make mistakes and fail – ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace’ (Romans 3:23-24). Seek guidance and help from God, get up and start again.
Three, Replace fear, worry and shame with prayer petition and thanksgiving to God and seek His hand of guidance for victory. ‘Do not be anxious for anything (worry about nothing), but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6).
Four, Try again, Believe in the Lord and move forward for in Him ‘I can do all things’ and He strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
Five, Believe that there is more than you can see with your eyes – Solomon rightly advised us to ‘trust in the LORD’ and not in your own understanding, acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths and make them straight (Proverbs 3:5-60).
Six, God has a great plan, full of hope, for your future– God has Himself promised this and His words are true and He is able to fulfill the same (Jeremiah 29:11).
Seven, Every day you are maturing, a work in progress – The trials that we face are a test of faith to produce perseverance ‘so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing’ (James 1:2-4).
Eight, Fix your eyes on Lord Jesus and not on the storm – All those who have passed on these paths before us, cheer us on while the Lord leads us on to victory (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Nine, Do not lose heart, Even though we may be suffering in the body, the outward form, inside we are renewed every day, in the spirit (2 Corinthians 4:16). The road to success is through perseverance which eventually leads to hope of success (Romans 5:3-4).
Ten, You are not alone, Our God’s promise is sure to ‘uphold you with My righteous right hand’ (Isaiah 41:10). He will take our efforts to fruition and He is not done with us as yet (Philippians 1:6).
The question on our minds should everyday and always be how to do it and succeed so that God is glorified in our life for the Lord has paid a very heavy price to redeem us from that darkness of sin. Remember that ‘though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again’ and not in our own strength but through hope in the Savior Lord (Proverbs 24:16).
The reason of our being led into the wilderness by the Lord is ‘that He might humble you, and that He might test you, and to do you good in the end’ (Deuteronomy 8:16). He is always in control, whether we are in our bondage, in the wilderness of self efforts or fallen down, to lift us up and lead us to our ‘Promised Land’. It is up to us to go straight in, or perish in the way or see others going in while we remain lost in the desert.
Invariably when we fail we let it rule our heart causing discouragement, while we let success go to our head to fill us with pride and arrogance. In every situation, remember that God is in control and He has a reason to let us fail, so that we learn to be dependent on Him and not on our strength. Success is ensured when we seek God’s guidance before we start planning itself for in this way we seek His involvement. Then we fear neither success nor failure and after a fall, get up, dust our clothes and start afresh.