I’ve been studying and teaching Hebrews. I find it a really interesting book, and a really difficult book to relate to the first and second graders I teach. The vocabulary alone is difficult. (When asked if they knew what it meant to be an “heir,” because Hebrews 1:1-2 says Jesus was “appointed heir of all things,” one little girl answered, “I think it means you get someone’s soul.”) Add in all of the references to the Old Testament books, and things get confusing quickly for the seven-year-old mind. I’m not just teaching Hebrews, I’m teaching parts of the history and culture and laws of God’s chosen people.
This week, the section we studied called our attention to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert after being rescued from Egypt. Moses, at God’s command, had sent a group of men into the promised land to scope it out before they entered. When they came back,
They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak [basically giants] there.” (Numbers 13:27-28)
“We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there [the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim]. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:31b-33)
These spies had witnessed great miracles. They had seen the plagues God rained on Egypt. They had crossed the parted Red Sea. They had followed God as a pillar of smoke by day and of fire by night. They had received manna from heaven. Their clothes never wore thin. It’s easy to think that they, of all people, should have trusted in God’s strength and ability to lead them to victory in the promised land.
But they didn’t.
Did they think that as big as God may be, he wasn’t big enough? Maybe they simply did not consider God at all but continued to put their faith only in their own strength. And they saw their strength was insufficient. Alone, without God, they stood no chance against giants!
They needed to relinquish self-reliance before they could truly rely on God.
And they needed to realize that their God is bigger than they can imagine.
The Israelites weren’t all of one mind in this. One of the spies spoke up for God:
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (Numbers 13:30)
Why was Caleb’s calculation so different from the rest? After all, he’d seen the same things as the others. But he added in one important part: God. God had told the people he would give them the promised land, and Caleb (and Joshua) believed him:
Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:6-9)
As a result of their unbelief, the Israelites were made to wander 40 years in the desert until the older generations had passed away. Caleb and Joshua, who stood up for God and believed him to be big enough, ultimately led the people into the promised land.
I like to think that I would have been better than the Israelites. That I would have been on the side of Caleb and Joshua in this. That I would have trusted God.
But then I remember how often I have failed to trust him through infertility. How I have tried to will myself to believe he can work a miracle in our life while also secretly doubting the possibility.
I’m not saying believing will mean never suffering, never struggling, never longing for something.
But I think maybe I need to examine the boundaries I’ve put on God. Do I think to myself, he can do A, but B is too much (or too far-fetched, or too unlikely)? Am I limiting him in my mind?
My God can best the giants. My God can knit together a baby in my womb. My God is big enough.
And I am foolish not to relinquish my own self-reliance.
I pray for faith like Caleb’s.