Lessons from the Children of Israel, Part I

Perhaps, if you are familiar with my previous articles in LandMarks, you have already determined that my favorite portion of the Bible is the Old Testament. I love the Old Testament, because it provides a foundation and a depth for our understanding of where we are today. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, we are told this very thing: “The thing that hath been, it [is that] which shall be; and that which is done [is] that which shall be done: and [there is] no new [thing] under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9. Chapter 3, verse 15, says something very similar: “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.” When we stop and think about this, history does have a way of repeating itself. If we do not learn the lessons that are in the past for us, that which has been will be. We will go back through those cycles again. God is working with us as a people to bring us to a point where we will not be repeating history.

But, on the other side, we find that just the opposite is true. “Satan is working that the history of the Jewish nation may be repeated in the experience of those who claim to believe present truth.” Selected Messages, Book 2, 111. This is why the Old Testament is a favorite of mine to study, because we need to learn the lessons from those things that have been. We need to see how the people conducted themselves then, what failures and victories their conduct brought, and how God dealt with them, so we can cling to the promises that He has for us as we make our way into the future, looking forward to the Second Coming of Jesus.

Spy Out the Land

Eleven days after leaving Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel arrived at a little place called Kadesh, which was in the wilderness of Paran, not too far from the Promised Land. If we were to draw a parallel to see how this may apply to us, we may find ourselves at Kadesh today. As the children of Israel arrived at this point, they were not too sure what the land of Canaan held for them. They knew that God was leading them; they knew what direction they were heading, but they really did not know very much about that land.

The people approached Moses with the idea that they needed to search this land so that they might know what was there. Moses was unsure how to answer this suggestion; he did not know whether to say yes or no. So, as when we do not know what to do, the best thing that we can do is to present the situation before the Lord and ask, “Lord, what would you have us to do?” This is what Moses did. The Lord told him that it was all right to go and to select one man from each tribe for this special job. (See Patriarchs and Prophets, 387.)

This brings us, in the story, to Numbers 13:17. “And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up this [way] southward, and go up into the mountain: And see the land, what it [is]; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they [be] strong or weak, few or many; And what the land [is] that they dwell in, whether it [be] good or bad; and what cities [they be] that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds; And what the land [is], whether it [be] fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring the fruit of the land. Now the time [was] the time of the firstripe grapes.” Verses 17–20.

So the story goes that the selected men went up; they surveyed the whole land, and they returned, after being gone 40 days, with their report. News of their return, as you can imagine, spread very rapidly throughout the camp, and the people rushed out to meet these messengers, anxious to hear what the Promised Land was like.

Tell Us About It

What would the interest be if Elijah or Enoch, who dwell in the heavenly Canaan, should come down into our midst? Would we have any interest in attending the meeting where they were going to share their experiences in the heavenly Canaan? We really do not know very much about heaven. We have some little vignettes of understanding that have been given to us in Scripture and by the Pen of Inspiration, but we look through a glass very darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12). We do not begin to understand just what it is that God has in store for us in heaven. If Elijah or Enoch or Moses were here, we would be very anxious to hear what they had to say.

The same thing was true for these spies who had now been in the land that God had promised to the children of Israel, and they wanted to hear the story. What was it like? Was it lean? Was it fat? Was it a land of plenty or not? “And they returned from searching of the land after forty days. And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this [is] the fruit of it.” Verses 25–27. Now, we can imagine how the people of the congregation felt when they heard this news.

There is a whole background of information that comes with this. They had come out of Egypt as slaves. They owned nothing. Everything they had involved plunder; they had plundered the Egyptians and brought the goods with them. Everything they had formerly belonged to the Egyptians, and now they were coming into a land that was flowing with milk and honey, a land that was filled with plenty. Imagine the enthusiasm that was circulating amongst them when they heard this story! All they wanted at that moment was to fulfill the word of the Lord that they should go up and possess the land.

When I was a student at Walla Walla College (Walla Walla, Washington), having just been converted, there was nothing more that I wanted than to see the Second Coming of Jesus take place. I went through my four-year experience in two years and eleven months, because I just knew that Jesus was going to come before I could enter His work, and I wanted to have a part in it. I knew a little bit about what it would be like to be transported into the Promised Land, and I was anxious to get there. I wanted to get into the work, so I could have a part in bringing some sheaves with me. That is the way the children of Israel were in this experience. They had heard what the Promised Land was like; now they wanted to go over and possess that land. Probably they were not any more prepared to go into the Promised Land than I was when I was making my way through Walla Walla College. It has been a long time since then. A lot of refining experiences have taken place since then. God knows what is necessary for the development of our characters. What we have failed to learn in times of ease and prosperity, we will have to learn under the most discouraging and forbidding of circumstances. During the last movements of earth’s history, those learning experiences are going to rapidly take place.

Catch of Faith

The children of Israel wanted to go up and possess that land immediately. But there was a catch to it all. They could never move forward without faith. They were called upon to have faith in what God had said, but at this point, we find that their faith was failing. God had led them in a very marked way, no question about that. Their history had been recounted to them of the wonderful things that God had worked out in their behalf, but somehow they began to fail in their faith.

After describing all the beauty and the fertility of the land that they had seen, ten of the spies began to tell about the difficulties that they would come up against. They began to tell about the nations—how strong they were, how great the walled cities were, and how strong the people were. On top of all of this, they told them about giants being in the land. Their faith began to fail.

Interestingly, what has been, is destined to be again, and either corporately or individually we are destined to repeat these kinds of things, unless we are able to get above and beyond the circumstances that were prevailing then. Do we have any giants in our experiences? As we look out across the horizon, do we see giants out there and think that what God has asked us to do seems almost impossible? As we look out, do we see walled cities that are supposedly impervious? Really, we are no different than the children of Israel. We may not have physical giants with which to contend, but there are things that loom in our minds and make it seem almost impossible for us to move forward in the experience to which God is calling us. So we hesitate, and we begin to fail in our faith, and when that begins to happen, the devil moves right in and causes an upset in the whole program.

Verses 28 and 29 say, “Nevertheless the people [be] strong that dwell in the land, and the cities [are] walled, [and] very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan.” The spies were telling that there were people everywhere, and it did not look like they would be able to get into the Promised Land at all.

Over the years, I have sat in board meetings and business meetings where, when some path that God has brought before us seems to be beckoning us, there are suddenly giants in the land. There are walled cities that seem impervious. I have seen people who have exercised faith and climbed mountains that seemed insurmountable. Always there were those people who would try to discourage anyone from climbing the mountain for God and gaining victory. There was always some reason given why we should not move forward, even though God had said so. All the bad things that they could, with the devil’s help, bring up, they would present and would begin to dwell on the negative side of things. The devil would be allowed to come in, and he would begin to take control of their minds to such an extent that the situation being considered looked like a lost cause.

Ellen White, writing of this situation, said, “Hope and courage gave place to cowardly despair, as the spies uttered the sentiments of their unbelieving hearts, which were filled with discouragement prompted by Satan. Their unbelief cast a gloomy shadow over the congregation, and the mighty power of God, so often manifested in behalf of the chosen nation, was forgotten.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 388. Has God done great things for you in the past? Or have you just kind of wandered along in the wilderness of Paran, wondering if indeed there is a Promised Land? Do you have any reference points to which you can actually anchor, acknowledging that, yes, God manifested Himself here, and because I know that, I am going to exercise faith, and I am going to go beyond the giants and walled cities in my mind and do what God has asked me to do, regardless of what the circumstances are or what consequences may come?

Forbidding Circumstances

That is no different than what the children of Israel were facing. They saw forbidding circumstances that would swallow them up, unless they just took God at His word, stepped out in faith, and went the direction that He wanted them to go. The judgments that were upon Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the manna in the wilderness, the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night were all forgotten. It was all forgotten because of what a few people had to say. Think about that for a minute.

All the experiences that you have had—that you have been able to mark down that God has done for you, that you have said, “God met me here”—under certain kinds of circumstances, can all be blown away because of what a few people say. It is something to ponder. History has a nasty way of repeating itself. Unless we learn the lessons that are there for us, we are destined to repeat those things.

Who is it that is there, trying to repeat that same kind of history? Who is it that is urging those things to take place? It is the devil. As noted previously, the devil is trying to repeat the history of the experiences of the children of Israel in those who are believers of present truth.

It is amazing how just a few people can cause real problems for the children of God—that is, if people will listen to them. Have you ever noticed that? Many times the conversation that comes from the few who try to discourage others from moving forward in God’s program does not provide enough time for us to reflect upon what God has given to us. But if we have taken the time to reflect, then our faith can continue and grow.

The children of Israel did not take time to reflect that, if God had done all of those wonderful things for them in the past and had brought them thus far, He would continue taking them on into the Promised Land. They had forgotten about all those things. They acted as if they had to depend upon their own force of arms.

That is not the way God works. He desires more than anything for us to develop a dependency on Him based upon what He has done for us in the past. He wants nothing to deter us from moving ahead and accomplishing the tasks that are yet before us. If we limit God’s power by our unbelief, as did the children of Israel, can God work for us at all? No, yet we find ourselves, so many times, doing the exact same thing. We limit God’s power as we begin to entertain the doubts and the thoughts about whether this is really what God would want for us. Can God really protect us? Can God really override circumstances and see us through a situation? We look at our lives, and we see that there are those things that we would like to accomplish or have, but they seem to be beyond our grasp. They are just too far away. Yet, all the while, God is there saying, “Move forward; move forward.” I can guarantee you this much: If God has ordained that something is to be, then He will empower us to see that it becomes a reality in our lives. It may appear to be impossible, but He can accomplish it.

Looking at the Negative

You see, the children of Israel were looking at those walled cities; they were looking at those giants, as if they had to go out and do all the conquering on their own. God said, “No, I am going to take care of all this for you. You just move ahead.”

The people, however, began to talk amongst themselves about the problem. The more they talked about the problem, the more their unbelief in God increased in their minds. As they faced the problem and as they began to exercise their unbelief, they began murmuring and complaining.

The servant of the Lord says that Caleb comprehended the situation and tried for all that he was worth to stand in defense of the Word of God. He tried to do everything in his power to counteract the evil influence of his unfaithful associates. (Patriarchs and Prophets, 388.) The spies had been in the Promised Land for 40 days. They had all been there together. Numbers 13:30 says, “Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they [are] stronger than we.”

There is always a process that takes place in situations such as this. Somehow, if we can recognize the circumstances of process, we can stop that process so that we do not get caught in the trap. There was a process taking place with the spies and the children of Israel.

“These men, having entered upon a wrong course, stubbornly set themselves against Caleb and Joshua, against Moses, and against God.” Ibid., 389. Do you know what was driving that process? It was driven by pride. That was the underlying foundation of the whole thing. Pride is of such a nature that it absolutely abhors failure.

To be continued . . .

Pastor Mike Baugher is Associate Speaker for Steps to Life. He may be contacted by e-mail at: mikebaugher@stepstolife.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.