Strength for the Journey: “Fear Factor” – Numbers 13

fear1Without a healthy fear, we would be a very unhealthy people. In some situations, fear is the healthiest emotional response we can have. If we weren’t afraid of alligators, we would become complacent hiking through the swampy areas of Florida. If we weren’t afraid of sheer cliffs, we would see people toppling off the side of the Grand Canyon daily, because they foolishly hung over the rocks. If we weren’t afraid of catastrophic failure, we would routinely take unreasonable engineering risks. Fear isn’t intrinsically a bad thing – it can be the very deterrence you need to keep you from doing something incredibly dumb, or permanently crippling. One more thing about fear – it can be an instrument in the toolbox of God to teach us some very important truths about life. God can use our fears to graphically illustrate to us our constant need of Him.

When the late President Roosevelt said on December 8, 1947: “We have nothing more to fear than fear itself.” He meant to instruct the American people they need not fear the Japanese ability to overtake them – but needed to fear a reaction that was not wise or healthy. The American people needed resolve – not cowardice. They needed determination, not bickering in the halls of power. In every case we have seen, the response to fear is what defines it as a valuable emotion to instruct us.

• If we begin in fear and end trusting God – we learn anew of His faithfulness.
• If we begin in fear and end victimized, blaming and scorning God’s plan – we have gained nothing of value. Rather, we have let the size of the problem block our view of God’s faithfulness, God’s majesty and God’s power.

The key is in our response…

Key Principle: Being afraid isn’t the problem – that is just acknowledging that you can’t do something without God. The issue is what you do next.

Fear isn’t wrong in itself, but poses a test that can only be passed with proper response. We ALL have fears, and God acknowledged at our Creation that we were not equipped to handle life alone. Man was made with the need for others, incomplete in himself. It was for that reason, even before the entrance of sin – God said: “It is NOT GOOD for man to be alone.” Fear is an acknowledgement that many things in life are beyond my control. Somehow, just having another person to share the fear with is helpful – even if they have no more ability to control the circumstances than we do. Fear points out to us that we cannot do things alone – life is just too hard to take it on without help.

Young people know something about fear. They are facing a turbulent world that is changing fast. The field they study for today will likely dramatically change three or four times in their career. They will begin young and ahead of the curve, but they know they won’t stay that way. Some of us remember the birth of color television while they have never lived without a microwave oven. What changes will be ahead for them? They don’t know – and the smart ones have a healthy mistrust for the future.

Young parents know fear. God invested into your life this precious and helpless little life. You wake from sleep when they cry, and you hear their tiny breaths against their bassinette pillow and count them. You know when they have the slightest sniffle, or when their bottom is not dry. You feel their pain before they understand it. What parent cannot understand? We saw the pain in the eyes of parents of Newtown, Connecticut. We know we are raising their children in a world that can be perilous to its weakest members. The faces of missing children sit on the breakfast table affixed to the milk carton – a reminder that there are evil people in the world that are willing to harm its tender citizens. They learn to let them go to school that first year, but it is not without reticence and pain.

Seniors know fear. For those among us with fewer calendar days ahead than behind, they know about fear. As the body slowly ages and loses strength, the fears increase. We watch friends fade in failing health, and we know the same will probably be our lot – save God’s intervention. We see more and more the failing of our faculties even as we watch a dramatic rise of victimization – and the response is that we are more and more afraid.

Being afraid isn’t our big problem…responding incorrectly is.

Let me show you a story that was recorded to instruct us in this truth in Numbers 13 and 14.

The Instruction (13:1-20)

13:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses saying, 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.” 3 So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran at the command of the LORD, all of them men who were heads of the sons of Israel. 4 These then were their names: from the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur; 5 from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori; 6 from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh; 7 from the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph; 8 from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun; 9 from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu; 10 from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi; 11 from the tribe of Joseph, from the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi; 12 from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli; 13 from the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael; 14 from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi; 15 from the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi. 16 These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land; but Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua. 17When Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, he said to them, “Go up there into the Negev; then go up into the hill country. 18 “See what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many. 19 “How is the land in which they live, is it good or bad? And how are the cities in which they live, are they like open camps or with fortifications? 20 “How is the land, is it fat or lean? Are there trees in it or not? Make an effort then to get some of the fruit of the land.” Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes.

Three truths are offered in the opening verses of the story to set up the scene for the FEAR FACTOR lesson:

The story began with an instruction of God. The Lord told Moses to send the spies to Canaan (13:1). This is so important to the narrative that it is repeated in 13:3 “at the command of the Lord”. It wasn’t an inner yearning to get out of the desert by the leader – it was the prompting of God that set up the story.

We have seen numerous times a simple truth: “Where God guides, God provides.” The men were not instructed to walk into the situation unwatched and unguarded. God was calling them. At the same time, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that obedience is often a call to real courage. As our world continually frames Jesus as the enemy of tolerance, this is becoming a more and more important observation – our faith in the coming days will urgently call us to the “courage of obedience”:

To stand up for Jesus Christ in the co-ed dorm, without being a judgmental and obnoxious person will take courage.

• To stand with conviction at the local scout troop meeting and frame “character” as that which continues the values of the Judeo-Christian heritage the scout troop was founded upon will take courage.

• To push back in a school system that offers a month of witches and demons at Halloween, but forces a Christmas celebration into a “Winter holiday” will take courage.

• To go to the office and learn to serve the other people there without descending into a course joke or extravagant drinking binge at the office party will take courage.

• To resist the overtures of a co-worker who is unhappily married while you are desperately hoping to meet someone to spend your life with will take courage.

Jesus didn’t call us to the easy. He called us to have courage – to believe that He will guide us and He will supply us what we need to follow Him. He will offer the companionship, the clarity and the concern to keep us going when we are different than those around us. Obedience takes courage.

They were to send one man from each tribe (13:2-16). One of the ways God provides for us to muster courage is through offering us companionship. The list of the people is carefully included in the ancient text:

• From Reuben was sent Shammua son of Zaccur (13:4).
• From Simeon was sent Shaphat son of Hori (13:5).
• From Judah was sent Caleb son of Jephunneh (13:6).
• From Isaachar was sent Yigal son of Joseph (13:7).
• From Ephraim was sent Hoshea (Joshua) son of Nun (13:8).
• From Benjamin was sent Palti son of Raphu (13:9).
• From Zebulun was sent Gaddiel son of Sodi (13:10).
• From Manasseh was sent Gaddi son of Susi (13:11).
• From Dan was sent Ammiel son of Gemalli (13:12).
• From Asher was sent Sethur son of Michael (13:13).
• From Naphtali was sent Nahbi son of Vophsi (13:14).
• From Gad was sent Geuel son of Machi (13:15).

The list is not in the order of the rank in the camp – the birth order of the sons (Genesis 29 and 35). It was not in the order of their encampment around the Tabernacle (Numbers 2). The order likely reflects the ORDER THE MEN SHOWED UP to check in for the purpose of following God’s instruction. God knew that it was essential that the witness of the events be given by those who were trusted across the ranks of society. He ordered specifically that the men were to be called from among the recognized leaders of the tribe.

The men were directed by Moses where to go and what to do – first to the Negev (north of them) and then across the depression into the mountains (13:18-20). Their seven-part assignment was to do the following:

1. See what the land is like – generally map out the area (13:18a).
2. See the condition of the people – individually are they well fed and strong or weak and sickly (13:18b).
3. Examine the terrain for movement and development – scope out roads, connections between people, etc (13:19a).
4. Identify if the people are living in tent camps or along fortified (walled) cities (13:19b).
5. Look specifically at the soil for agricultural capability and discern if there is sufficient top soil for farming staple crops (13:20a).
6. Define the area for forest cover and grove production (13:20b).
7. If possible, get some fruit from the field (it was the season of new grapes) (13:20b).

Here is the heart of the matter: God did not keep them from a realistic view of what they were facing – He directed them right into the core of the challenge. Like a dentist that doesn’t withhold the size of the needle that we will be experiencing, God let the men see the challenge ahead. Because God knows our hearts, He had something in mind. Have you ever wondered: “What was the benefit of letting them see the walled cities and mightily prepared men before they were to engage them?” Some may feel God cruel for firing the warning shot into their hearts – but the daunting size of the challenge is part of the lesson of the FEAR FACTOR. God was removing the UNKNOWN from them, and replacing it with the IDENTIFIED and RECOGNIZED size of the true challenge.

Many times our fears are conjured up – and often they are sized beyond any reasonable proportion. We see through the eyes of fear EVERYTHING as too hard, too powerful for us. We dream up fears and add to our anxiety based on problems that are solely creations of our own mind. God wants us to face the TRUTH about the size of a task, and our need of Him in all of it – but not to conjure up bigger mountains to climb then the real ones. Life is challenging enough – He doesn’t call us to fret the unseen. He sees. Yet, in His mercy, sometimes we get a glimpse of the weight of the coming commission – and we should look carefully.

It is in the nature of people to minimize the challenge involved in something they DESIRE, and to maximize the challenge is something they DREAD. If you dangle before a man something he longs for, he will devise a plan to attain it – no matter the risk. If you place before him a task that he does NOT DESIRE to do – he will find an excuse to avoid it. The people had already been complaining about the terrain, the menu and the God that was leading them. God opened their eyes to the land before them to GROW THEIR HUNGER for the land ahead – and allow Egypt to fade behind them. When He did, they reacted with the Egyptian hunger still very much intact.

The Journey (13:21-24)

13:21 So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob, at Lebo-hamath. 22 When they had gone up into the Negev, they came to Hebron where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 Then they came to the valley of Eshcol and from there cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes; and they carried it on a pole between two men, with some of the pomegranates and the figs. 24 That place was called the valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster which the sons of Israel cut down from there.

The men did as instructed (13:21-24). The narrative followed the report of their specific journey:

• They came up through the wilderness of Zin to the open area of the Negev (Rehob may be a city, or may simply be the enlarged area) into Levo-Hamath (“to come in to the hot place” – again either an encampment, or more likely a description of the area – a broad and hot bowl) as recorded in Numbers 13:21.

The wilderness of Zin is an area surrounding and including the deep ravine of Wadi Zin – a wild goat refuge (ibex) with waterfalls and springs. It is a steep, cave-filled, brown rocky plateau above and green valley below. The descent it tricky, and the fragmentation of the rock makes it even more dangerous. As they began, they had the advantage of cliff lookouts, and caves. Mesopotamian Pistachio trees grow in the bottom today – perhaps memorials of older trees from that time. Coming from the Wilderness of Paran, a largely barren wasteland, these trees provided excellent cover for spies. At the same time, their absolute best cloak was the Summer heat – for no one ventures far in that place during the heat of the year..

• Passing through the Negev depression, they ascended to the mountains of the Hebron plateau and descended along the slope of the Eschol (“cluster”) wadi to the west, gathering a large vine of new grapes, along with some pomegranates and figs. The first figs come out in Spring (around May or June) but many are not harvested until later in the summer – because their large leaves protect the fruit from spoiling quickly. Summer grapes begin to ripen in July and August. That means the spies were sent during the hottest part of the year – Summer in the desert, as recorded in Numbers 13:22-24.

Eventually it was time to “step out” of the shadows of the cliffs into the open area of the Negev basin. Even in the summer, men could be spotted miles away from the encampments at Arad, Beersheva or Gerar. The men must have traveled in the dark of night, risking the dangers of travel without sight – and being forced to trust God as they moved around inhabited tent camps that looked more like their own. There were fortifications, but they were seeing but a few of them, surrounded by massive tent caravan camps – as traders moved about in this southern east-west depression of the country where the rail line travels today.

Bypassing the camps, they began to climb along the defined roadways into the mountains. The steady incline was somewhat arduous, but they must have been thrilled with approaching the land of Father Abraham, and using (perhaps for the first time) roadways that were familiar to him. In the walk, the men learned that one way to build faith and defeat fear is to REMEMBER. God hadn’t left their fathers – and He wouldn’t leave THEM. The stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph were the stories of God encountering men in fear, but leaving them in FAITH.

Let me offer this advice: When God is calling you to do something that requires conviction and courage, look back. Look in your own life, and in the testimonies of those around you. Look back to the lives of those who followed God in days long ago, their tales enshrined in the Scriptures of long ago. Draw courage from God’s record of faithfulness. Learn about right and proper expectation so that the days ahead will not surprise you. God hasn’t just done things in the past – He RECORDED THEM – because He intended you to learn of Him and be strengthened.

The Spies Returned (13:25-29)

13:25 When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days, 26 they proceeded to come to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 Thus they told him, 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. 28 “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. 29 “Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are living in the hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan.”

The spies were gone for forty days – but finally returned and came to Moses and Aaron who remained encamped in the wilderness of Paran, in the area of Kadesh (probably the designation of the placement of the Tabernacle and center camp – thus designated “holy” or “sacred”. They offered the following report:

The Initial Good Report:

• We went into the land as instructed, and the land is abundant (zub is “gushing”) with agriculture and pasturing flocks (13:27).
• Here is a sample of the fruit we secured for you (13:27b).

The Initial Bad Report:

• The people are fierce (‘az can be used for “fierce” or “rugged”).
• The cities are fortified and impregnable (“batzar” is fortified and also impossible).
• The children of the Anakim live in the hill country.
• The desert marauding Amalekites live in the Negev basin.
• The highly developed city culture of the Hittites and several other Canaanite tribes are scattered through the mountain region.

Several things are clear about their report. They traveled across the breadth of the southern mountains of what would one day be called Judah. The saw the low hills of the Shephelah on the west – where the grapes grew in the Sorek and Eschol valleys, the high limestone plateau of Hebron and the roadway up to Jebus (future Jerusalem), and the eastern wilderness that drops dramatically off to the Jordan River and Dead Sea. They saw the people, and assessed well the landscape and population. Archaeology of the Canaanite (Bronze Age) culture in the land bears out the description we see in Numbers 13. This was a prosperous city culture with caravan traders that brought riches from afar.

Let me ask again: “Why would God send the men to see the power of the enemy they were going to have to face?”

It wasn’t simply to SCARE THEM. It was as much to PREPARE THEM. It was to SHAKE THEM from their visions of Egypt and give them a taste of a future THEY COULD HAVE if they followed Him!

Recently I counseled a young man that was very much in love with a young lady that did not want the relationship to continue. He was heartbroken. He cried out to God: “Why did you let me have such a wonderful relationship if you were only going to take her away?” I thought about his question, and I am convinced it was to help him see his future. There IS a woman for him – he just hasn’t found her yet. He was beginning to believe it wouldn’t happen, and the experience in the last year with her has revived the dream and given him a hunger to seek God’s best for him. It also did something else… it helped strengthen his heart and teach him about giving it away too quickly. Part of the foreshadowing is about VISION, and part about PREPARATION – but all of it is about learning to trust God.

The Recommendations (13:30-33)

13:30 Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.” 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” 32 So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. 33 “There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

Contrasting calls confused the people. Caleb’s call to move forward was swiftly shouted down by counting off the number of obstacles before the crowd. At the heart of their argument was the statement “We are not able”. They were completely correct. If they were to attempt to take possession of their inheritance in their own strength – they would be humiliated (which we will see graphically illustrated in the next chapter). The truth is LIFE IS NOT DESIGNED FOR YOU TO BE ABLE TO HANDLE IT ALONE. Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do NOTHING.” The simple fact is that life doesn’t work when lived on our own strength and our own resources. The sooner we understand that, the less painful life will be.

If the view was a test, there is little question that the sons of Jacob and their tribes failed miserably. They heard the challenge, and it set them back on their heels. Why? Did they think the land was going to be vacated before them by God? There are many believers in our day that have been poorly taught that such should be their expectation. They believe if “God is in it” things will go smoothly, and troubles will melt on the road – like a mirage on a hot roadway in summer. It is a false view of the world, and a flawed view of God that weakens them and makes perilous their real preparedness for the days ahead.

Perhaps, like most believers today, the issue wasn’t that they didn’t expect a fight, but that they expected the fight to be something THEY could do. They believed that God should lead them into a life that THEY could provide with their hands, their ingenuity, their might. They saw themselves as part pioneer and part servant… but that isn’t the right view. They didn’t understand the God of the Bible. He doesn’t WANT you to be fully able to live life in YOUR STRENGTH. He wants you to KNOW you need Him. He wants you to learn to LEAN on Him for both the daily and the critical issues of your life. He wants to walk through life WITH YOU.

A self-reliant person sees the problems and possibilities – and matches them to his or her strengths and weaknesses. God’s man or woman faces the challenges with the “X” factor of God’s call and God’s enabling. How do I get that perspective?

• First, look at Caleb’s short testimony. He hushed the people – because reacting to the problem solves NOTHING.

• Second, he called on the people to move toward what God promised them.

He saw all that the others saw – but he remembered the promises of God. He didn’t say they should simply CONQUER it – he said they should TAKE POSSESSION of it (“yarash” is to dispossess the others of it). He argued as one who was confident that God would give them their inheritance – because God promised it to them.

When we say:

• It’s impossible. God says- All things are possible with Me.
• I can’t do it. God says- You can do all things through Christ.
• I’m too tired. God says- Come to Me, I will give you rest.
• I’m worried and frustrated. God says- Cast all your cares on Me.
• I can’t go on. God says- My grace is sufficient for you.
• I can’t figure things out. God says- I will direct your steps.
• I’m not able. God says- I am able.
• It’s not worth it. God says- It will be worth it.
• I can’t manage. God says- I will supply all your needs.
• I’m afraid. God says- I have not given you a spirit of fear.
• I don’t have enough faith. God says- I’ve given everyone a measure of faith.
• I’m not smart enough. God says- I give you wisdom.
• I feel all alone. God says- I will never leave you or forsake you.

A mature believer clothes himself with the promises of God. He isn’t presumptive, but he learns them, and he celebrates them. He anticipates God’s goodness and faithfulness to fulfill God’s ends. He looks for ways for God to work in and through him to stabilize and complete a work in others. He seeks God’s call, and follows God’s lead…. And he doesn’t let fear deter him from following God’s Word and holding God’s hand.

Being afraid isn’t the problem – that is just acknowledging that you can’t do something without God. The issue is what you do next.

When you don’t face fear and respond in faith – you walk in hesitance. You are never quite sure…A man flew into Chicago & hired a taxi to take him downtown. As he was riding along they came to a red light & the driver went right on through the red light. The man said, “Hey, the light was red. You’re supposed to stop.” The driver said, “Yeah, I know, but my brother does it all the time.” Soon they came to a second red light & again he went right straight through. The passenger said, “You’re going to get us killed. That light was red. Why didn’t you stop?” The driver said, “Don’t worry about it. My brother does it all the time.” Then they came to a green light & he stopped. The man said, “The light is green. Now is the time to go. Why don’t you go on through?” The driver answered, “I know it’s green. But you never know when my brother may be coming through.” Fear has to be dealt with properly – or it will paralyze our ability to accomplish God’s call! (from sermon central illustrations).