When the 12 spies returned from spying out the land, they reported that the land was just as God had promised (see vv. 25-27). But they made the observation that some of the cities were large and fortified and that some of the inhabitants were big people (see v. 28). In verse 31 we read that ten of the spies moved from an observation to a negative interpretation that the inhabitants were too strong for them, so they shouldnt attempt to go in. Then their negative interpretation led to a major exaggeration. Now “all” the inhabitants were men of great size. The result of these distortions is stated in verse 33: “And we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (NASB).
Ten of the 12 spies forgot Gods promises. They forgot His works, His faithfulness, His provision. All they could see was the problem. They took their eyes off the solution, off what they knew to be true, and dwelt on the problem. The more they focused on their observations, the easier it was to make a negative interpretation. As soon as they made a negative interpretation, they became more vulnerable to exaggeration. In time their exaggeration led to paralyzation; and in the first part of chapter 14, we read that they experienced emotional devastation.
A shoe salesman was sent to a remote part of the country. When he arrived, he was dismayed because everyone went around barefooted. So he wired the company, “No prospect for sales. People dont wear shoes here.” Later another salesman went to the same territory. He too immediately sent word to the home office. But his telegram read, “Great potential! People dont wear shoes here!”
Several generations ago, during one of the most turbulent of the desert wars in the Middle East, a spy was captured and sentenced to death by a general of the Persian army. The general, a man of intelligence and compassion, had adopted a strange and unusual custom in such cases. He permitted the condemned person to make a choice. The prisoner could either face the firing squad or pass through the Black Door.
As the moment of the execution drew near, the general ordered the spy to be brought before him for a short, final interview, the primary purpose of which was to receive the answer of the doomed man to the query: “What shall it bethe firing squad or the Black Door?” This was not an easy decision and the prisoner hesitated, but soon made it known that he much preferred the firing squad to the unknown horrors that might await him behind the ominous and mysterious door.
Not long thereafter, a volley of shots in the courtyard announced that the grim sentence had been fulfilled. The general, staring at his boots, turned to his aide and said, “You see how it is with men; they will always prefer the known way to the unknown. It is characteristic of people to be afraid of the undefined. Yet I gave him his choice.”
“What lies behind the Black Door?” asked the aide. “Freedom,” replied the general, “and Ive known only a few brave enough to take it.”