“BUT.” It’s such a small word that we use every day, yet it’s a word that can have dire consequences.
The Israelites moved to Egypt during a time of severe famine. Joseph had become Pharaoh’s right-hand man, and under his protection, the Israelites put down roots and prospered. Fast-forward 400 years and instead of prospering, the Israelites found themselves in slavery to the Egyptians. For hundreds of years, they prayed for God to deliver them. Generation after generation labored and died under the Egyptians’ whips. Until one day Moses came out of the desert, approached Pharaoh, and demanded: “The Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go.’” (Exodus 5:1). Then began an amazing display of God’s power. God beat down Pharaoh, the Egyptian empire, and the Egyptian gods to the point that the Egyptian people begged and pleaded with Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. And when the Israelites left, they set off through the desert to a place they’d never been to before, a place promised to them by God.
God had a whole new life planned for His people in the land of Canaan: the Promised Land. He guided them and took care of them until they got there. Over and over, He displayed His power to them. At the Red Sea, God destroyed the Egyptian army. Daily, He made bread appear on the ground and meat fall from the sky. He brought water out of a rock. They saw His glory surround a mountain and descend upon the Tent of Meeting, a sign that His Presence was with them. He protected them from marauders and bandits. And then, true to His word, He brought them right up to the edge of Canaan. They were right there, looking across the Jordan River, ready to go into the Promised Land. But God commanded them to wait and send men to scout the land.
For forty days the Israelites waited for the scouts to return and give their report, which they did: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey!” (Numbers 13:27). Think about how that sounded to a people who were slaves in Egypt just a short while before. I’m surprised they didn’t pack up right then and start marching across the Jordan into Canaan. Everything appeared to be exactly as God promised. However, the report continued: “BUT the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.” (Numbers 13:28). So, on one hand, the report was good – the land was everything that God had promised. BUT, on the other hand, the scouts doubted that the Israelites could go against the people who were already living there because they were too strong. So instead of moving forward, the Israelites were paralyzed with fear, except for Caleb and Joshua.
The thing about fear is that it not only paralyzes, it also breeds more fear. As if the Israelites weren’t frightened enough, the scouts added to the people’s fear with embellishments. “They said, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw Nephilim there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.’” (Numbers 13:32–33). Canaan went from being a land flowing with milk and honey to a land that would devour them. The people living there went from being strong people to all of them being giants. Fear breeds fear, then it amplifies until it paralyzes, and then it strangles hope and faith. After the superfluous report, “all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud … and the whole assembly said, ‘If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness!” (Numbers 14:1–2).
Everyone, except Caleb and Joshua, was gripped with fear. They attempted to comfort the people: “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:7-9).
What was the people’s reaction to Caleb and Joshua? They began to look for rocks to stone them to death. They allowed their insecurities to influence their faith. What they failed to see, and what they were about to learn in a very painful way, was that their fear caused them to doubt God. The problem with fear is what it reveals about our concept of God and how little we truly trust Him. Standing on the banks of the Jordan River, refusing to cross over into the Promised Land, God saw right into their hearts of fear and was displeased with their unfaithfulness. “’As surely as I live,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: In this wilderness your bodies will fall – every one of you twenty years old or more … who has grumbled against Me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb … and Joshua. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. For forty years – one year for each of the forty days you explored the land – you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have Me against you. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against Me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.’” (Numbers 14:28–30, 33–35).
When the Israelites heard God’s judgment, they did what people usually do: they tried to avoid the consequences by bargaining. They rose early in the morning and went up to the heights of the country and told God that they would be good and march into Canaan now to take it. BUT, it was too little, too late. They were attacked by the Amalekites and Canaanites and driven back into the wilderness. Caleb and Joshua were just ordinary people like you and me. Their faith was not based on theory, it was based on what they had personally witnessed God do over and over again. For Caleb and Joshua, trust and faith in God was a no-brainer. All the Israelites had witnessed the same miracles and demonstrations of God’s power. They all had experienced the same protection and care. BUT, they still let their fear take over their hearts. “BUT.” The one word that made a huge difference, keeping those fear-filled Israelites from ever entering the Promised Land.
What can we learn about faith from ordinary men like Caleb and Joshua? Canaan was to be a place where former slaves would be able to live in peace with God’s promise. Today, the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven is given to every believer and former slave to sin through Jesus Christ. How many of us, like the Israelites, come right up to the edge of salvation, feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, BUT pull away because the giants of this world beckon us? How many of us come right up to the edge of walking in total obedience to God, like Caleb and Joshua, BUT decide that the price is too high?
When life challenges us and we are faced with giants, who should we turn to? GOD!!! When we persevere and overcome those giants because God gives us the strength and endurance to do so, our faith in Him grows. Caleb and Joshua trusted the Lord their God and went against the fear-driven wishes of their own people. Thus, FEAR NOT! Trust the Lord your God, never forget His unending faithfulness, and you shall dwell in His Promised Land forever. Amen!