The Bible teaches us that Israel was unable to enter the promised land because of a lack of faith. In Hebrews chapter 3, the author summarizes how the children of Israel “tried” God with their “evil unbelieving hearts” when they turned against God in the wilderness. He concludes the chapter with these haunting words, “And so we see that they [Israel] were not able to enter [the Promised Land] because of unbelief” (Heb 3:19).
The author of Hebrews goes on in chapter 4 to explain that similarly, there is a “rest” for New Testament believers; a life of restful walking in the Spirit’s power by faith. And just like the children of Israel, the danger for us is to miss that rest due to a lack of faith. But before we look at that application for us, let’s go back to the test of faith that Israel faced the first time they approached the promised land.
Accompanying the children of Israel on their escape from Egypt was the promise that God would bring them safely into Canaan, the Promised Land, at the end of their journey. They first arrived on the doorstep of Canaan in Numbers chapter 13 when “The Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel” (Num 13:1-2).
Notice that God restates His promise, “… land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel.” The mission of the spies was not to evaluate whether or not they should take the land. It was not to make a decision whether to go in or not. God had already promised to take them in and vanquish every foe in their way. The point of the spies was to plan their approach to entering the land.
If you are familiar with the story, you know that the spies did see a land flowing with milk and honey. The spies came back with pomegranates, figs, and giant clusters of grapes. But they also came back with fear of the “inhabitants of the land who were strong with large and fortified cities” (Num 13:28). And they turned their spy mission into a go or no-go decision about entering the land.
When Caleb reminded the children of Israel of God’s promise to take them in, the other spies (with the exception of Joshua), replied, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us. The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. And we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (Num 13:31-33).
The children of Israel turned their back on the Lord’s promise because of unbelief. They refused to enter the land because of a lack of faith in God’s promise. We see it in this passage, and we see it emphasized again in the New Testament. A lack of faith kept the children of Israel from entering into everything God had promised them.
Let’s fast forward to us today. We stand at the doorstep of living life with Christ at the center. Living life believing that God’s promises about His presence in us are true. Living life with a restful walking in the Spirit’s power. What lack of faith is holding you back?
Israel’s story was written as an example for us. And we will investigate next time more of the book of Hebrews to understand how Israel’s lack-of-faith decision at the doorstep to Canaan is a warning for us today.