Joshua and Caleb: The 12 Spies and 40 Years in the Wilderness

5 Min Read

During their time in the wilderness, the Israelites encountered an array of challenges. Each challenge was meant to grow their faith in God; his love, his watch-care, and his provision for them. But instead of inspiring, educating, and challenging them, the trials they went through only served to make the Israelites, bitter, resentful and grouchy.

They complained at every opportunity and heaved long-suffering sighs at each trifle they endured. When they couldn’t find water they railed. When they were running low on food they cringed and mourned. It was easier to whine than it was to turn to God on their knees, asking for help. 

But Moses was like a rock in their midst. He was unflinching in the face of trial, constantly directing the people to look up and look to God for hope. When their food ran low and they complained Moses took their petitions to God. God sent quails, a great cloud of fluttering wings rushing over the camp, ready for the taking.

And then the next day, like the dew, clammy on the ground was a small frosted seed. Manna. Sweet and light like a wafer and pliable enough to be shaped into cakes and bread. The Israelites called it Manna because they saw it as angel food, food directly from heaven and so it was. The manna fell six days a week but on the seventh day, there was no Manna. It was an object lesson, intended to teach the Israelites the importance of keeping the Sabbath holy. 

A short while after the manna began to fall the children of Israel camped near Mount Sinai. It was here that God gave them his law. It was here that Moses encountered God and spoke to Him face to face. It was here that God gave Moses the schematics for the sanctuary, a living object lesson designed to teach his people the good news of salvation. 

It was also at Sinai that Israel fell into deep apostasy. When Moses delayed coming down from the mountain the Hebrews turned to Aaron and demanded that he make them a god who would then lead them back to Egypt. Their fickle and reckless behavior would have hurt God deeply. After everything He had done for them; championing their freedom, defeating their enemies, providing for all their needs, at the first hint of trial they abandoned him.

But this was not the end of their unwillingness to trust God. After their brief time at Sinai, they traveled towards Canaan. The presence of God guiding them in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. They soon camped at Kadesh Barnea and were instructed by God to send twelve men, one from each tribe to spy out the land. 

The spies toured the land for forty days and when they came back they brought samples of what the land had to offer, with them. Grapes that were so large that they had to be carried on thick poles, swinging between the shoulders of two men. But while they reported that the land was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey, they fixed their minds on the giants that inhabited it. 

The people who inhabited Canaan lived in large fortified cities, they were aggressive, used to war, and well-armed. Ten of the spies saw themselves as grasshoppers scuttling before the giant frames of the warriors of the land.

They told the rest of the camp that conquering the land was an impossibility. God had brought them on a fool’s errand. Forced them to leave Egypt, which they now looked on as a land of prosperity and peace, notwithstanding centuries of bitter slavery. Forced them to trudge through a dry and wasted wilderness and for what? To face giants they had no hope of conquering. 

An anguished wail broke through the crowd. The people, rashly, foolishly, plunged into mourning, bewailing their miserable fortune. 

But two of the spies, Cable and Joshua rushed into the midst of the mourning crowd and gave them a different report. They didn’t deny that the giants were large and the cities nigh impregnable, but they pointed to the God who had vanquished the Egyptians, drowning them in a watery grave. With God on their side Israel could take the land, they insisted. With God on their side, nothing was impossible. 

It was a moment of reckoning for Israel. They were faced with a choice. Listen to the voices of the majority who were against conquering the land or the voices of the minority who insisted that the land was well within their grasp. 

Ultimately they gave in to fear and desperation. Blocking out the voice of God that called on them to rise up and take the land they shrank back in fear and unbelief. Their lack of faith cost them a great deal. Every adult who had left Egypt died in the wilderness. Every adult, save the two spies whose unwavering faith was rewarded. Of the entire multitude that left Egypt, including Moses and Aaron, the only adults to enter the land were Caleb and Joshua. 

Forty years later, pushing 87, Caleb enters the land. He sets his eyes on a part of the land which had the fiercest giants and boldly asks to be given that mountain. His words were poignant “if God is with me, then I shall be able to drive them out” 

The story of the twelve spies reminds us that while the giants may loom large in the land that spreads out before us, God’s shadow is larger. May we look up and hide in His shadow, going up to conquer the giants in our paths, regardless of how forbidding they may look.

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