Tag Archives: Numbers 13

Expecting to Fear No Man

I’m pretty sure that it has been at least 20 years since I attended my last Kansas City Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium. That changed Sunday when my son bought us tickets to see the home team play the Jacksonville Jaguars. All week long, the hubbub from people who know things about football had been trumpeting the “elite” Jacksonville defense. “Sure,” they suggested. “The Chiefs have a good offense, but they haven’t been up against a unit like this one.”

By the end of the day, the Chiefs offense had scored a healthy 23 points on this elite defense (the KC defense adding another touchdown), and the Browning boys went home happy. We can be certain that the Chiefs knew very well how talented their opponents would be, but they believed in themselves, in each other, and in their leaders.

Why do I mention something as unspiritual as NFL football? Am I dealing with my feelings of guilt for playing hooky from worship? I don’t think so. Instead, I’m reminded of a simple fact about life: when we expect ourselves to fail, we usually come through and live down to that expectation.

Read Numbers 13 and consider the differing responses of the scouts sent by Moses into the Promised Land. After some vocal members of the scouting party have bragged on the place, somebody, Numbers 13:28 tells us, voices that troubling word: “however.” Yeah, the land is great; however, the people are giants. We can’t beat them.

In response to these words, up jumps Caleb: “Let’s go up now and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!” What a guy, this Caleb! Wouldn’t you be inclined to follow his leadership. He heard the same things that the others heard. He saw the same walled cities and tall enemies. So why was Caleb saying “Let’s go up now” while the others were drifting toward the rear?

Clearly Caleb believed in himself. For some reason, despite what he’d heard, he believed in his fellow Israelites, but most importantly, he believed in their leaders–yes, Moses and Aaron, but their ultimate leader, God himself.

When we believe that we will be defeated by whatever faces us this week, we’ve taken the first step to failure. Rarely do we succeed when we expect to fail. On the other hand, we sometimes fail when we expect to succeed, but the odds are far stronger.

This week, I expect to face a few challenges from other people. I can shrink from them or I can assume that God will be beside me. Like Caleb, I can say, “Let’s go up now!”

Grasshopper or Locust, Part II

I can’t get past Numbers 13, so bear with me. Last time, I focused on the end of the chapter when the bulk of the scouts sent to check out the Promised Land declared themselves grasshoppers in comparison to the scary people they would be facing. Today, I’d like to slide back to the opening of the chapter, Numbers 13:1-3:

The Lord spoke to Moses:  “Send men to scout out the land of Canaan I am giving to the Israelites. Send one man who is a leader among them from each of their ancestral tribes.”  Moses sent them from the Wilderness of Paran at the Lord’s command. All the men were leaders in Israel.

The twelve men sent out, men who are named in the ensuing verses, were leaders among their respective tribes. Lest we miss that fact, it’s repeated in these verses. They were leaders.

Leaders? This is what leaders do? These guys came back from their little tour. From everything I can discern they all stayed together and saw the same things. After seeing those things, some of them–we don’t know how many–said, “Yeah, the land’s really great but there’s no way we can conquer it.”

Were these guys really leaders? Weren’t they the same leaders who had seen all the mighty works of the Lord in the preceding year? Honestly, they behaved more like Muppets than men.

After this Muppetry, Caleb stands up and presents the minority report:

Let’s go up now and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!

That’s a leader! But the others became more determined in their cowardice. They compared themselves, as we saw before, to grasshoppers. Are you a grasshopper or a locust? These guys were content to be grasshoppers.

Before you jump to their defense and say things about the better part of valor and leaders exercising prudence, let’s look back to Numbers 13:17-20. Did Moses ask them to determine whether or not they advised an attack? No. Back in Numbers 13:2, God declared this to be “the land of Canaan I am giving to the Israelites.” He was giving it to them. These twelve were just to figure out the details.

The last two instructions Moses gave are intriguing to me:

Be courageous. Bring back some fruit from the land.

Be courageous and bring me some fruit. What a combo! The twelve men did the second of these but failed in the first. Why, if the people were so formidable, did the scouts slow themselves down with a two-person bunch of grapes? Could it be that they had more of a stomach for grapes than for any hint of danger?

Of course, the ten weak-willed spies received their punishment fairly quickly. But how often are we just as faithless? We’re pleased to accept the fruits of God’s provision but we back away when there’s a whisper of risk. Am I man or am I muppet? A grasshopper or a locust?

Grasshopper or Locust?

One of the key moments in Israelite history, a moment that we don’t always place in the first rank, comes with a supreme lack of faith in Numbers 13, when a dozen spies/scouts/explorers are sent to obtain a report on the Promised Land and come with a good news/bad news result.

The land is fabulous, they insist, leading with the good news.

But the people who live there are giants, they quickly continue. “To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them,” they conclude in Numbers 13:33.

A grasshopper–or a locust, the Hebrew word is the same–is a creature that, on its own, is pretty vulnerable. The biggest locust is no match for the smallest human. If these critters had human-level thinking skills, they’d be just as scared as the Israelites that day.

But there’s another aspect to these insects and actually something that differentiates them from grasshoppers. While both locusts and grasshoppers spend a good part of their lives as solitary beings, jumping around and munching on plant matter, locusts have a gregarious phase when they gather together. National Geographic describes the phase like this:

When environmental conditions produce many green plants and promote breeding, locusts can congregate into thick, mobile, ravenous swarms.

While a single locust is no match for a single foot, millions of these things can wreak havoc. One of the ten plagues of Egypt had been the worst infestation of locusts of all time; thus, the Israelites should have known about them. The prophet Joel refers to an infamous locust plague to speak of the coming Day of the Lord:

What the devouring locust has left,
the swarming locust has eaten;
what the swarming locust has left,
the young locust has eaten;
and what the young locust has left,
the destroying locust has eaten. (Joel 1:4)

To this day, a swarm or plague of locusts is a largely irresistible force in an agricultural setting. In recent years these swarms have posed a problem in Middle Eastern countries.

So did the scouts of Numbers 13 mean relatively solitary and harmless grasshoppers or swarming, devastating locusts? We can’t really know for sure, but clearly they didn’t see themselves as terrifying creatures when they called themselves chagab or locusts/grasshoppers.

As individuals, those Israelites were perhaps no match for the individuals in the Promised Land. But God had not called them to conquer the land as individuals. They were supposed to operate together. As a group together, they would be seen as locusts–a plague of terrifying locusts–by the land’s inhabitants. Sure, the Canaanites, giants or not, might squash a few of them, but the swarm would prevail.

What’s more, this swarm had God on its side. This wouldn’t be some mindless, instinct-driven mob but rather the army of the Lord. These people had seen what God could do without requiring them to take any significant action. Did they believe that they’d become less powerful when they joined in at his guidance?

Those who follow God cannot be ultimately defeated. When we follow Him, we’re, like Paul says in Romans, “more than conquerors.” That’s what Caleb must have known when, in Numbers 13, he urged his countrymen to go on the offensive. But the others resisted and delayed the entry into the land by forty years.

Christians, we’re more than grasshoppers. We’re locusts!