Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.”Numbers 13:31
If this battle was about strength then everything these spies were saying was correct.
But the battle here isn’t about strength, it’s about promises.
In the very next verse (v 33) the information that these particular spies deliver to the people of Israel is referred to as a “bad report.“ And it’s a bad report because it’s reporting a multi-layered situation as if it is one dimensional. As if the most crucial and load-bearing elements of the battles Israel faced was their strength, their size, their military prowess or anything else that defined the other nation’s success. This was the blunder. And this blunder was made by 83% of the spies who went to scout the land of Canaan.
Let that sink in: 83% of the people who were sent to assess the situation chose to judge their potential for success without allowing the power of God to even enter the equation.
There is no reasonable way to make sense of God’s work of salvation, His purpose and calling on our lives or what He has told us what can be ours beyond this life if we are basing our access to all of it on our own strength and ability. In fact, if there is anything that will limit the effectiveness of our life and place an unnecessarily low ceiling on our joy and calling it is to assume that our own strength and ability are the primary metrics that inform our potential.
As a follower of Jesus I am thankful that what I have access to is not defined by what I can accomplish, it is defined by how far I can trust and obey. Israel was looking across the river at the very promises of God to them and their generations. A people not so far removed from Divine liberation from national slavery and an unexplainable, miraculous escape at the Red Sea were now looking at the size of humans on the other side of a river and getting ready to give up on all they’d been promised.
The tragedy of this moment is rivaled only by the arrogance of these spies as they were preparing their report.
It doesn’t look like arrogance at first because there’s no swagger here. On the surface it seems like the opposite of a warrior’s bravado. But it’s important to know that there are two ways to be arrogant: 1. To assume you can do anything because you are independently sufficient, or 2. To assume that you are so profoundly insufficient that even God can’t get you through the trial or challenge you’re facing and bring you to victory.
Pride and arrogance will always produce a “bad report.”
And the challenge that we face is the same as the one the spies faced: to stop assessing the possibilities in front of us by using ourselves as the measuring sticks. Into every challenge, into every trial, into every confusing moment where victory, vision and direction are needed we have to develop the discipline of remembering and including God. It is easy to lose sight of Him in the planning stages and then wait to invite Him in when things have gone or are threatening to go horribly wrong. But trust isn’t just a crisis function, it’s supposed to be integral in the engineering and planning stages as well!
How many struggles and how much stress could we avoid if we invited God into our planning and received His promises, listened to His voice and used His resources instead of trying to do all of the preparation work ourselves and then crying out to Him later in the process because our plans aren’t working or our strength isn’t sufficient?
This heard-hearted oversight cost Israel an entire generation of people. What will it cost us?