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  • Writer's pictureDavid Voncannon

The Tragedy of Numbers 13

This morning, I read through a story in Numbers that I frequently talk about when I teach on prayer. It is in Numbers 13&14 and is the story of when Moses sent the spies into the promised land. I love this story because it reveals how Moses, through prayer, was able to impact a decision that God had made to destroy the nation of Israel for their grumbling and disobedience. It also reveals the impact that the enemy can have on a nation through the negative reports of a few leaders who did not look at things through God’s eyes.

However, this morning I saw something different that I had always glanced by each time I had read it in the past.

In Numbers 13:1-2, we see the Lord speaking to Moses and asking him to send out men to spy on the land that God was preparing to send them into. We then read about Moses choosing 12 men, leaders from each of the tribes, to go spy on the land and check out the people. Everything seems perfectly as God designed, or at least that is how most of us read it.

Lets look again at what God said to Moses in verse 2. “Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel; you shall send a man from each of their fathers’ tribes, every one a leader among them.” Now look at verse 18 when Moses gives out instructions to the 12 men that were chosen. “See what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many.”

Do you see what just happened? Do you see the difference?

In verse 2, God tells Moses to have the spies check out the LAND. In verse 18, Moses tells them to check out the land AND THE PEOPLE.

Later in verse 27-28, the spies returned and said “We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there.”

This led to an unfortunate response by the people of Israel. Number 14:1-3 says “Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”

Do you see what happened?

Why are they crying out in fear? Why are they grumbling and longing to return to the slavery in Egypt?

Moses receives a specific word to only spy out the land. Nothing more. However, the word he communicates is to not just spy out the land but also check out the people!

This is a small detail that Moses added that deeply impacted the plan of God for the nation of Israel. At no point in scripture do we see God intending to make them wander around a desert aimlessly for 40 years. Up until this moment in time, everything had been a preparation for them to enter the promised land. All the laws, all the instructions, and all the preparations for Aaron and his sons were given so that they would be set apart for Him when they cross the Jordan and enter Canaan.

Sending the spies to scout the land was the final step and was likely meant to get everyone excited about crossing the Jordan. It was to be a “movie trailer” of sorts as the spies were to return with great reports over the fruitfulness of the land and also bring back some of the fruit of the land for the people to taste!

But that didn’t happen and sadly, the Israelites now have to wander around the desert wondering what would have been.

Church, this brings such a valuable and challenging point for us to learn from. Though there was nothing inherently wrong with what Moses asked, it still proved to be extremely destructive to the plan that God had for His people. God did not ask him to scout out the inhabitants of the land as He knew that the people would allow fear to root in their hearts which would paralyze them from moving forward into the promises of God.

In all truth, what Moses asked his leaders to do would have actually been considered wise by the standards of the world. After all, it did make perfect sense. Why not find out about who they will be fighting so that they can be ready for the battles that they are about to fight? But sometimes, rather many times, what is considered wise by the world’s standard, is not wise at all when it comes to life in the Kingdom of God.

“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” 1 Corinthians 1:27

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness” 1 Corinthians 3:19

The bottom line is that we need to be careful not to mix our own ideas and our own wisdom in the things that God is speaking to us to do. Yesterday’s experiences do not belong to today. As God’s people, it is crucial that we listen to Him today and resist the temptations to add our own wisdom to the directions that God has given us. Otherwise, we may find ourselves wandering around an empty desert wondering what might have been.

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