By Bruce Green
Teaching Minister at 10th Street Church of Christ
Last week, we talked about the failure of Israel to believe that God could take them to the promised land of Canaan. Numbers 13 begins with God telling Israel to send spies into the land of Canaan (v. 1-2). From there, it’s a small step to assume the spies were God’s idea, but I’m not sure we are supposed to take that step. We’re told in Deuteronomy 1:22ff that it was Israel who asked Moses to send out the spies. The best way to reconcile the two texts is that Israel came up with the idea and brought it to Moses. Moses then apparently took it to God who permitted it. But we recognize that’s not the same thing as saying it was the intent of His heart. God permitted hard-hearted Israel to divorce on a whim, but that was never His intent for marriage (Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 19:8-9).
It seems the same thing is true with the spies. After all, God had promised Israel Canaan; why was it necessary to spy out the land? More to the point, the reconnaissance mission resulted in a shift in the ten spies’ focus from trusting God to becoming fearful and giving a bad report. They won the nation over to their point of view, rebelled against God’s purpose for them and they all ended up dying in the desert. Viewed from this perspective, sending out the spies was the beginning of the end for the exodus generation.
This episode reinforces a spiritual truth that is often mentioned but seldom taken seriously—be careful what you ask for. From the request of James and John’s mother for special places for her sons to Israel asking for a king, we have examples of people asking for wrong things and receiving them. This should bring to mind the model prayer’s petition of “Your kingdom come, Your will be done.” It’s also instructive that Paul’s prayer for the disciples at Philippi was that their love “would abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” so they might be able to “discern what is best” (1:9-10). That’s the kind of thing you can always ask for.
You can find more of Bruce’s writings at his website: www.atasteofgracewithbrucegreen.com.