Moses appoints 12 men to spy out the land of Canaan, each man a tribal leader in Israel. The spies are to bring back answers to some key questions. How heavily is Canaan populated? Are its people militarily strong? Are its cities fortified? Is its soil fertile? Is it rich with natural resources?
After investigating the land of Canaan for 40 days, the 12 spies return to Israel’s encampment at Kadesh. Almost all the men feel pessimistic. Sure, the land is fertile and productive. They have brought back samples of grapes, figs, and pomegranates to prove that. But Israel is no match for the mighty warriors of Canaan.
Two of the spies vigorously disagree with the pessimists. Caleb and Joshua are excited about Canaan’s rich resources, and they completely trust in God’s promise to dispossess the Canaanites and protect the Israelites. If the Lord is with us, they say, we will easily swallow them.
The Israelites seem to relish every opportunity to criticize and complain. They immediately side with the faithless spies. They mourn and cry, wishing they were dead. They speak of replacing Moses with a new captain and returning to Egypt. They threaten to stone Caleb and Joshua – faith and optimism make grumblers sick and angry.
Then the glory of the Lord appears at the tent of meeting. “How long will this people despise me?” he asks Moses. “And how long will they not believe in me?” (Num. 14:11). God has performed mighty signs in Israel’s presence. He has struck the Egyptians with plagues, parted the Red Sea, and provided water and manna in the desert. Why is his power to strike down the Canaanites so hard to believe?
“How long will they not believe in me?” Important question. The Israelites see God’s signs with their own eyes and hear his thundering voice with their own ears. They believe in his existence, of course, but they reject his guidance and question his promises.
It’s so easy to make the same terrible mistake. Simply knowing that God is out there somewhere isn’t real faith. Just believing in all the miracles recorded in scripture isn’t genuine faith either. True faith is trusting in God. It’s letting him tell me what to do in difficult situations and believing that he keeps his promises even when his doing so seems impossible.