(Click to listen to an audio recording of this article, read by the author)
The twelve spies returned from scouting the land of Canaan to report to Moses and the people of Israel. The people were all eagerness. God Himself had led them up from Egypt, and finally the moment of truth had arrived. Forty days ago Moses had sent out the spies, with instructions to find out as much as they could before the Israelites would enter the land to take it as their own. His parting words were, “Be of good courage. And bring some of the fruit of the land.” (Read Numbers 13 and 14.)
And here they were, carrying a bunch of grapes so large that two men had to carry it between them! “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.” Excitedly the people gathered around to see for themselves. Everyone wanted to have a share of the fruit.
The Promised Land
In the New Covenant we have also been told to take a Promised Land. As Christians we have the greatest and most precious promises: to be finished with sin and be partakers of divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4). The fruits of this land are the virtues and blessings we receive: love, joy, patience, goodness, and peace. Who doesn’t want those?
But the Israelites’ rejoicing didn’t last long. The spies had also encountered the inhabitants of the land: strong people dwelling in fortified cities. Their report was dismal: “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. … We were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”
The people of Israel sank into despondency and wept the whole night through. Had all their dreams come to this? Had they really suffered so much hardship, only to be thwarted at the very threshold of the Promised Land?
Do you believe?
It can often seem like that in our Christian lives as well. We give up our old life to follow Jesus, with high hopes of a better life. But then our enemy, the sin in in our nature, looms up large and threatening, seemingly impossible to overcome. We begin to feel that being a Christian costs too much; that it’s too much work, after all. Why doesn’t God help us?
God can’t help those who don’t want to believe. He has too much respect for the free will He has given us. In fact, without faith, it is impossible to please God. On the other hand, He richly rewards those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Joshua and Caleb, two of the spies, spoke up. “If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us … Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us.”
You would have thought the people took heart, remembering the promises God had made and the miracles they had seen Him perform. But no. Because of unbelief, when they came up against resistance, they would rather have stoned these men of faith than take up a battle and fight for the Promised Land.
Faith is a choice
But then God stepped in. By not believing Him, the people of Israel were in effect denying God’s power and glory. His righteous anger was kindled against them and He swore that no one over the age of twenty would ever enter the land, but they would all perish in the wilderness.
With two exceptions: “My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it. … Except for Caleb and Joshua, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in.”
This different spirit was a spirit of faith. Faith means not looking at what is visible, but believing that God is Almighty. Faith means being obedient even when we can’t see the results. Faith means action. Faith gives results.
God wants us to choose to believe, and choose to obey. He wants us to sacrifice something. God was with Joshua and the Israelites, but they had to show that they wanted it. In the conquest of Canaan that followed the fall of Jericho, not one city was taken without a fight.
Tasting the fruit
In that same spirit of faith we fight our own battle against the sin in our nature. We must give up our own will and sinful desires. God gives us strength when we diligently seek Him in faith, and when we overcome, all the glory goes to Him.
Nothing is taken without a fight, but when we fight, there is nothing that we cannot take. One by one the enemies will fall before us. Then we will do more than see the “fruit of the land” from a distance. Love, joy, peace, and all the virtues – we will hold them in our grasp and taste them. The Promised Land will be ours.