Our emphasis over the past several posts has been this: the children of Israel could not enter the promised land on the first try (Numbers 13-14) due to a lack of faith. Likewise, the book of Hebrews looking back at their example, teaches us that faith is required of us to enter the believer’s rest. The offer for us to enter a life of rest – walking in the Spirit by faith and experiencing the power of Christ living in us – it is accepted and received and embraced by faith.
Looking back at Israel’s example in the book of Numbers, there is an obscure incident in Israel’s refusal to enter the land that again illuminates our own walk of faith. Recall that when Israel first arrived on the doorstep of the promised land, ten of the spies who scouted out Canaan came back with a message of doom. “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants” (Num 13:32) And by implication … “it will devour us and our children if we go in.”
The children of Israel believed the spies report and turned their back on God’s promise to give them the land. “And all the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! And why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’ So they said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt’ ” (Num 14:2-4).
We know what happens next. As a result of Israel’s refusal to go in, God delivers a curse. “Say to this evil congregation, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘just as you have spoken in my hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses shall fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me…Your children, however, whom you said would become prey – I will bring them in, and they shall know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses shall fall in this wilderness’ ” (Num 14:28-32).
Now comes the less well-known next scene. Did you know that faced with God’s punishment of a 40 year trek across the wilderness, the children of Israel change course and decide to go into the land after all – right here in Numbers 14?
But it is too late. Moses warns the children of Israel against this plan. “But Moses said, ‘Why then are you transgressing the mouth of the Lord, when it will not succeed? Do not go up, lest you be struck down before your enemies, for the Lord is not among you’ ” (Num 14:41-42)
But they went up anyway against the Canaanites. “But the children of Israel went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country; neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses left the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in the hill country came down, and struck them and beat them down as far as Hormah” (Num 14:44-45). The Israelites struck out on their own and the result was disaster and defeat because “the Lord was not among them.”
Here is the application for us in light of all we have been studying in Israel’s example. God has promised us a rest that comes from abiding in Him (Matt 11, Jn 15, Heb 4, and many New Testament passages). This rest is characterized by a complete trust in Him. Trusting Christ to keep His promises of love, acceptance, forgiveness, peace, power, victory, and so much more. But it only happens if we put our full trust in God’s promise of provision.
When we follow Israel’s example of rejecting God’s plan and seeking to accomplish the same result on their own terms, we are living the Christian life with Christ out of the picture. We are living the Christian life on our own. We are following the rules in our own power and putting our trust in our own checklist. We are engaged in “sin management” through our own self-effort with no regard for His promise to live His life through us.
This is Israel trying to take the land in their own power in Numbers 14. And this is us, trying to live the life in our own power; trying to work hard enough to gain God’s acceptance and approval. Israel’s effort ended in disaster and defeat. Our self-effort will also end in defeat; lost in a cycle of pride when we are doing well and shame when we fail. A lost peace, lost power, and lost victory. A lost closeness to the Father, a lost connection with the Son, and a lost power from the Holy Spirit.
The Father is reaching out to you today. Will you embrace His offer of rest for your soul?