By Numbers 13, the Israelites had been free from slavery for two years. They were in the Wilderness of Paran, setting up camp at Kadesh Barnea. This was exciting—they were just a few miles from the Promised Land! After two long and arduous years, they were about to inherit the land that flowed with milk and honey, which Moses had described so many times.
At that point God commanded Moses, “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, which I’m giving to the Israelites. Send one man from each ancestral tribe, each a chief among them” (Numbers 13:2).
The scouts spent the next forty days exploring the Promised Land. Here was the scouts’ report when they returned: “We entered the land to which you sent us. It’s actually full of milk and honey, and this is its fruit. There are, however, powerful people who live in the land. The cities have huge fortifications” (13:27-28).
Upon hearing this report, the people of Israel became anxious, but Caleb, one of the scouts, spoke up:
“We must go up and take possession of it, because we are more than able to do it.”
But the men who went up with him said, “We can’t go up against the people because they are stronger than we. . . . All the people we saw in it are huge men. . . .We saw ourselves as grasshoppers, and that’s how we appeared to them.” (Number 13:30-33)
Notice how the Israelites responded: they became paralyzed by fear.
The entire community raised their voice and the people wept that night. All the Israelites criticized Moses and Aaron. The entire community said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt or if only we had died in this desert! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our children will be taken by force. Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to each other, “Let’s pick a leader and let’s go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:1-4)
This was the tenth incident of the people complaining against Moses and, by implication, against God. The people even planned to stone Moses and Aaron! (14:10). Their attitude roused God’s anger. After all God had done for them, the people still didn’t trust God! And so God announced to Moses,
None of the people who have seen my glory and the signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tested me these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their ancestors; none of those who despised me shall see it. (Numbers 14:22-23 NRSV)
As a result of God’s pronouncement, no one twenty years of age and older who had cried out against God and against Moses would be allowed to enter the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb would go, because they had encouraged the people to enter the land and take it. This is the reason the Israelites spent the next thirty-eight years in the desert: they had allowed fear to stop them just miles from the Promised Land.
At times all of us wrestle with fear—of failure, of success, of others, of being poor, of growing old, and a thousand other fears. And our fear, when we give in to it, keeps us living in the wilderness, just a few miles outside the Promised Land.
It’s not that there aren’t legitimate things to fear. The people in the new land were strong and the cities were fortified, as the scouts had reported. But God was with the Israelites. And the God who parted the Reed Sea and raised Jesus Christ from the dead is also with us! That means that no matter how tall the giants may be, if God is with us we can move forward, and somehow, some way, he will lead us to the “Promised Land.”
Today’s post is an excerpt from Chapter Five, “Lessons from the Wilderness,” from my latest book, Moses: In the Footsteps of the Reluctant Prophet. Click here to find more information about all Moses products, including the primary book, a DVD, a Leader Guide, a Children's Leader Guide, and a Youth Study book.