This was one of those times where God apparently said yes to something that wasn’t so great for the Israelites. That is, sending in spies to scout out the Promised Land.
Although it’s not apparent from this chapter of Numbers, when Moses recounted the story to the Israelites in Deuteronomy, this is what he said: "Then I [Moses] said to you [the Israelites], 'You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.' Then all of you came to me and said, 'Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.'" (Deut 1:20-22)
So, it seems that the idea to send spies to check out the land ahead of time wasn’t in God’s original plan. If Moses’ memory is serving him well in Deuteronomy, when the people came to the Promised Land, they were simply supposed to go in and take it, trusting in God to show them how. But they weren’t ready to "rest on the promises." They wanted to scout out the task ahead so they would know the best way to go about it.
After more than a year of being in the desert with the Lord — after being miraculously rescued from Egypt, seeing water come out of a rock, seeing bread appear on the ground every day, and following the cloud by day and fire by night — they still weren’t ready to simply trust. They wanted to make sure they were going to be "in control" of the Promised Land acquisition.
Of course, after reading the rest of Numbers 13, it seems quite clear why God wouldn’t have wanted them to scout things out ahead of time — they saw that there were a bunch of giants living there. And they lived in fortified cities. Giants in walled cities. Doesn’t sound too promising, does it? But that’s what they saw because they were determined to look through their eyes and not the eyes of faith.
This story reminded me of one of my all-time favorite Bible passages:
"Look around at the nations; look and be amazed! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it." (Hab 1:5) This is God’s response to Habakkuk, a prophet who was distressed about the state of the world around him. All he could see was evil and wickedness, and his question was, "How long will you be silent, Lord?!" And, in response, God said, "I’m doing something that you wouldn’t believe... even if I told you."
This is how God works — in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. So when He sees giants in walled cities, He thinks, no problem. He knows how to bring those walls down with... army tanks? heat-seeking missiles? atom bombs? No, He brings down walls with trumpets and people marching in circles. Ridiculous! Who would use that as a military strategy?
God’s ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. And because of that, He tries to shelter us from unnecessary fears. If it wasn’t His plan to have the Israelites scouting out the Promised Land ahead of time, it was because their fear of the giants was unnecessary. God knew just how to deal with the people who were occupying the land... the Israelites didn’t need to be burdened with such concerns.
As I write this, I am once again asking myself, how many things in my life do I demand to be burdened with? How many stresses would God like to keep from me... but I insist on trying to take matters into my own hands? Surely, God has proven Himself capable of keeping His promises! I don’t want to second-guess Him anymore.
In this journey we’re on together, I want to allow myself to be sheltered by God from unnecessary burdens. So the next time I’m at the edge of the Promised Land, I’m not going to send in spies!