For the past few months we have been reviewing the history of the exodus in our current sermon series titled “The Wandering Church”. We have seen how God delivered His children from bondage in Egypt and promised to give them a land of their own. We have studied how the LORD developed and discipled His children at Mt. Sinai so that they could rightly live in their new home when the time came. Now He has finally led them to the very edge of Canaan, so that the conquest and occupation of this promised land can begin.
The Scriptures are clear that it was God’s will and desire for Israel to invade and claim Canaan. God promised to drive out the pagan inhabitants living there so that His children could settle in their place. He ensured the Hebrews that He’d fight on their behalf and give them the victory. The LORD Himself personally gifted this land to the descendants of Jacob and defined its borders in exact detail. God had called Israel for this purpose, and the land was now theirs for the taking.
When we concluded our message last week, the congregation had settled in the Wilderness of Paran. From this strategic location, they planned to launch their attack. This morning we will explore Moses’ invasion of Canaan. Was it successful? Why or why not? How do these past events apply to Christians today? We will seek to answer these questions and more as we consider their fateful decision...
I. TWELVE SCOUTS (Numbers 13:1-24)
Before launching a full scale assault on the Promised Land, God instructed Moses to investigate the area. This tactic would provide them with vital information about the size, strength, and location of their enemy. By sending a small group spies into Canaan, the children of Israel could develop a more effective battle plan. Also, they could confirm that this was truly a lush and fertile place just as God had promised.
Therefore Moses selected 12 men - one from each of the tribes - to serve as scouts. Among them were Joshua, from the tribe of Ephraim, and Caleb, from the tribe of Judah. Joshua was a dear companion of Moses who served as the military general of Israel. These dozen spies crept into the Promised Land and secretly explored it for 40 days, while Moses and the rest of the people remained in the region of Kadesh anxiously awaiting their return.
While gone, the scouts journeyed through or to the Wilderness of Zin, the Negev desert, the hill country of Canaan, the large city of Hebron, and the Valley of Eshcol. While in the valley, they cut down a large cluster of grapes to take back with them. As they made their circuit through the land, these 12 spies saw many things that they’d include in their report to Moses once they arrived safely back at camp.
II. TEN DOUBTS (Numbers 13:25-33; 14:1-38)
Almost a month and a half after being dispatched, the scouts finally returned. They spoke of a beautiful land that did indeed “flow with milk and honey”, just as God had promised. By they also worried because the people they’d seen living there were strong, the cities were fortified, and that the descendants of Anak (giants) were there. The spies had encountered several hostile and formidable groups including the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites.
Having observed all of these obstacles first hand, the majority opinion of the spies was not to invade Canaan. 10 of them concluded that the enemy was just too powerful, and that any attempt to attack would most certainly fail. Only 2 of them - Joshua and Caleb - trusted that God would deliver on His promises to Israel. They urged the people to obey the calling of God, and to invade the Promised Land as the LORD had directed. But the children of Israel rejected their pleas, were overwhelmed with fear and doubt, and chose not to strike.
Their decision was a direct violation of God’s expressed will. It demonstrated their lack of faith in Him. Not surprisingly, the LORD became quite upset because of His children’s rebellion. Again Moses lovingly intervened on behalf of Israel, but their disobedience was all but indefensible. God decreed a harsh punishment upon them - all of the people ages 20 and up, who had been included in the first census, would not enter the Promised Land. Instead they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years until all of them had died. Only Joshua and Caleb would be spared. The 10 scouts who led the camp astray all died by plague before the LORD.
The occupation of Canaan had been placed on hold. Because of Israel’s disobedience, God would now wait patiently for the next generation to arise. Perhaps someday they would fulfill their destiny, since their parents had failed to do so.
III. ONE ROUT (Numbers 14:39-45)
When the people realized their mistake, they mourned and sought to make it right. Thus, they came to Moses and told him that they’d changed their minds - they would attack Canaan after all. Upon hearing this, Moses warned them not to proceed. He knew that God’s power and presence had been withdrawn because of the people’s sin, and that any attempt to invade now would yield catastrophic results with many casualties.
But the people ignored Moses advice, and went up without him or the Ark of the Covenant. In other words, they advanced without the presence and blessing of God and without their leader. The Amalekites and Canaanites met their assault and drove them back as far as Hormah. Many Israelites fell. The invasion of the Promised Land had officially failed. Now the Hebrews were resigned to wander aimlessly in the wilderness without a homeland for the next 40 years.
As we conclude our study of the exodus today, there are three major points of application that I’d like to point out…
The first might strike some of you as controversial. Here it is… making decisions based upon majority vote is not always the best manner to discern God’s will. Joshua and Caleb were outvoted 10 to 2, but they were still right. Over the years I have seen many churches make decisions based more upon majority opinion rather than upon God’s clearly expressed will. Seeing the average maturity of most Christians, is it any surprise that often times the majority chooses to act contrary to the LORD’s desire? While the perspective of every member should be considered, church pastors and leaders should lovingly lead their flocks to follow the direction of God regardless of popular opinion.
The second lesson is this - some opportunities only come around once. The children of Israel were given one chance to invade Canaan with God’s blessing, but they declined. When they attempted to attack later on, it was too late and they utterly failed. The same is true for us - sometimes we have only one opportunity to answer God’s calling in a particular situation. If we allow that moment to pass, the window may forever close. While the LORD is always willing to forgive us of our sin, He does not guarantee us that we will be given second chances to seize missed opportunities.
This third and final application is the main point of my message this morning. We must make our decisions based upon faith, and not succumb to fear. Far too many Christians and churches see the obstacles before them only in humanistic terms. They cower in worry and in doubt. They walk by sight, rather than by faith. As such, they never reach the places that God has called them to. I am fully convinced that there are hundreds (if not thousands) of congregations in existence today that are wandering aimlessly in their own wildernesses, suffering the consequence of their own disobedience, biding their time year after year as members slowly die off one by one.
Our decisions, or lack thereof, have consequences. So… are you one that walks by faith, or are you one that walks by sight?