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13. The Giant Of Discouragement (Num. 13:1-14:45)

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Before we leave this significant episode in the life of Moses, let’s review what we have studied thus far in previous editions of this series and then draw out some principles concerning the causes, characteristics, and consequences of “The Giant of Discouragement.”

1. The Task (13:1-3; 17-20). The 12 spies who were sent into the land of Canaan (the promised land) were given the task of searching out the land and bringing back a report. God had told them many times what Canaan was like, what nations were there, how he would defeat their enemies and give them their promised inheritance.

Note that the request for a search and report came from the people, not from God. 20 I (Moses) said to you (Israel): ‘You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. 21 See, the Lord your God has set the land before you. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has told you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.’ 22 Then all of you approached me and said, ‘Let’s send men ahead of us, so that they may explore the land for us and bring us back a report about the route we should go up and the cities we will come to.’ 23 The plan seemed good to me, so I selected twelve men from among you, one man for each tribe” (Deut. 1:20-23). Perhaps God permitted this search in order to reveal what their hearts were really like.

Accordingly, the spies brought back some of the wonderful fruit of the land, but they also brought back mixed reports.

2. The Reports (13:26-33). The two spies (Caleb and Joshua) brought back a good report. “Caleb quieted the people in the presence of Moses and said, “Let’s go up now and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!” (13:30). They saw victory, they saw milk and honey, grapes, pomegranates and figs. These 2 spies were characterized by courage and confidence in God.

But the ten spies brought back a bad report. They admitted that it was a good land but they saw danger and defeat. They said, “It’s a good land – it flows with milk and honey - but…” (13:27-29). “But” is usually a sign of unbelief. They saw giants, fortified cities, and all the “-ites” (Amalekites etc.). Their conclusion? “We will be soundly defeated” (13:31-33). These 10 spies were paralyzed by fear.

3. The Attitude. All 12 spies saw the same land and the same people. They all had the same instructions from Moses. They all came from the same ethnic background and culture. They all had the same experiences and history. So, why the difference in attitude and outlook? The difference was because of their confidence in God. Joshua, Caleb, and Moses believed God but the rest didn’t believe that God would keep His promises.

The attitude of the 10 is typical of so many Christians. They have the assurance of salvation; they know all the Christian doctrines; they know the good things of Christianity (the “milk and honey”), but they are overwhelmed with dangers, problems, and the possibility of defeat - i.e. the giants of the Christian life. Their eyes are on the obstacles, not on God. Instead of seeing the blessing, they see the difficulties. Warren Wiersbe writes: “Unbelief always sees the obstacles… Faith always sees the opportunities.”

The refusal to enter the land is a type of the believer’s refusal to claim his or her blessings in Christ. Instead of trusting Him, doubting Christians are filled with fear. Instead of believing His promises, doubting Christians are overcome by the potential problems.

Make no doubt about it, giants are real. They were real in Canaan - no sense pretending they aren’t. The question is: How do we deal with them?

4. The Result. A night of complete discouragement followed, resulting in (a) open rebellion against God (14:1-3), (b) a proposal to elect a new leader (14:4), and (c) the cry to return to Egypt (14:4).

Discouragement is a very powerful tool of Satan. It attacks all ages, destroys thousands, robs Christians of their joy, and makes mountains out of molehills. Discouragement causes all kinds of side effects - bitterness; anger; depression etc. So, what was the cause of their discouragement?

I. The Causes Of Discouragement (13:26-33)

1. Dependence on men, not God. God had said He was giving the land of Canaan to them (13:2), but they neglected God’s promise and listened to men. All their trust was in the 10 men, not God.

Take the example of David. Goliath paraded his bravado before the children of Israel morning and evening. “When Saul and all Israel heard these words from the Philistine, they lost their courage and were terrified” (1 Sam. 17:11). But to David, Goliath was merely an “uncircumcised Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:26). To him Goliath was defying the “armies of the living God” (1 Sam. 17:36). God, through the means of nothing but a stone and a sling, was who he trusted despite the doubts of his brothers and King Saul. He was the epitome of courage when everyone around him cowered with fear.

So, the cause of their discouragement was, first, their dependence on men not God. Second…

2. Listening to the many, not the few. The report of the ten spies was accepted but the report of the two was rejected. The ten spies discouraged the people from going forward in faith. The two spies urged the people to trust God - taking Canaan, for them, was not a problem (13:30).

There are so many voices in the world (1 Cor. 14:10). The temptation is to be drawn in by those who are the most persuasive, or by those who are the most popular, or by those who seem to offer us the most benefit. The question is: Whose voice will we listen to? The voice of God, which gives courage and leads to victory, or the voice of the people, which instills fear and leads to failure?

3. Heeding the bad news, not the good. There were four pieces of bad news and three pieces of good news. The bad news was:

a) The strength of their army. “The people living in the land are strong…stronger than we are” (13:28a, 31b). The implication? “We are too weak.”

b) The size of their cities. “The cities are large and fortified.” The implication? “We can’t penetrate them or overcome them.”

c) The ferocious cannibals. “The land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants (13:32a). The implication? “They’ll eat us alive.”

d) The size and strength of the men. “We also saw the descendants of Anak there… All the people we saw in it are men of great size. We even saw the Nephilim there—the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim! To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them” (13:28b, 32b, 33). The implication? “We are puny, small, like grasshoppers in comparison.”

All the bad news had to do with size and strength, but there was also good news:

a) The land was rich and nourishing. “It is flowing with milk and honey” (13:27). The implication? “What God had said was true. “

b) They could take the land. “Let’s go up now and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!” (13:30). The implication? “God is able to give us victory in spite of what things look like.”

c) Their diet would change. “They cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes, which was carried on a pole by two men. They also took some pomegranates and figs” (13:23). The implication? “We will have a wonderful diet after only having quails and manna for so long. This land is plentiful, full of sweetness and nourishment. No more nasty tasting leeks, onions, and garlic as in Egypt, but sweet tasting fruit.”

Bad news always seems to outshine good news. Often we get drawn in to listening to it as these people did. You can have lots of good news and only one piece of bad news and guess what dominates your thinking, your mood, your outlook? The bad news! Pessimism always seems to overshadow optimism. Potential always seems to eclipse opportunity.

It’s not that we should be foolhardy. We need to be realistic and responsible. But let’s not allow the “naysayers” to rob us of our confidence in the Lord.

So, the cause of their discouragement was (1) dependence on men not God; (2) listening to the many not the few; (3) heeding the bad news not the good. And four…

4. Responding with fear, not courage. Moses had said: “Be courageous” (13:20). But fear gripped their hearts. They were afraid of the giants and the walled cities. They had to make a choice – “fight or flight.” Courage said: “Fight.” Fear said: “Flight.”

Elijah was faced with the same choice. God had answered his prayers and the rain stopped (1 Kgs 17). God fed him by ravens bringing him bread and meat. He had performed miracles by the power of God. The widow’s barrel of flour and jar of oil never ran out (1 Kgs 17:8-16). He had raised the widow’s son from the dead (1 Kgs 17:17-24). He had called fire down from heaven to consume the water-soaked sacrifice (1 Kgs 18:20-40). But when Jezebel threatened his life, fear struck his heart (1 Kgs 19:1-4)) and discouragement set in. He became so discouraged that he wanted to die. He did the worst thing he could do – isolated himself. He thought he was the only one left who served God (1 Kings 19:10). He engaged in this pity-party, this “poor me” attitude: “I’m the only one left. Things are really bad. There’s no hope for me. I can’t do this on my own.”

Have there been times in your life when you have experienced great fear and discouragement? What are some of the factors that seem to generate discouragement? Often, self pity and loneliness foster discouragement. Elijah thought he was all alone in serving the Lord. “I’m the only faithful one. Everyone else has given up. Nobody cares about me. Nobody knows the troubles I’ve had.” But God still had 7000 faithful to Him.

Often, discouragement comes right at the time of a spiritual high. It doesn’t back off because we read our Bible and pray. In fact, it may even get worse as Satan ramps up his attack. Satan loves to harass us when we are discouraged – he takes full advantage of our moments of weakness.

The final cause of the Israelites’ discouragement was fifthly…

5. Walking by sight, not faith. They saw the walled cities, the giants, and the cannibals. They weighed their options and decided that the cards were stacked against them. Things were not the way they had first appeared or that they expected.

We see an example of this in Cleopas and the other disciple (Lk. 24:13-35). The crucifixion was over, the news of the empty tomb was out but the disciples did not remember Jesus’ promise of resurrection. Things hadn’t turn out the way they were supposed to. They expected Jesus to be reigning as king, not crucified like a common criminal. Their hopes and expectations were shattered. Discouraged, Cleopas and the other disciple were on their way out of Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus. They were going away from the centre of blessing. They were trusting their own resources, not trusting the Savior’s promise. Then, Jesus revealed himself to them, their hearts burned, and their eyes were opened.

Living by sight puts the burden on you, but living by faith roles the burden onto God. Trusting in circumstances is risky at best and disastrous at worst. People of God must walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).

Those, then, were the causes of discouragement. Now let’s look at…

II. The Characteristics Of Discouragement (14:1-10)

1. Weeping. “Then the whole community broke into loud cries, and the people wept that night” (14:1). Weeping can come from many sources. Sometimes people weep for joy. Sometimes people weep from anger. Emotional circumstances can cause weeping, like the death of a loved one. The children of Israel were weeping here because of hopelessness, despair. They had nowhere to turn - behind them was the wilderness, in front of them the walled cities and giants. They felt trapped, hopeless and they wept from despair. What could they do?

Unbelievers are “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). They have nowhere to turn. Believers, on the other hand (a) “do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13); (b) “boast in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2); (c) trust in “the God of hope” (Rom. 15:13); (d) have “hope in Christ” Cor, 15:19); (e) have the “the hope of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8). (f) rejoice in the “hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2; 3:7); (g) are waiting for “the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).

So, weeping is often a first characteristic of discouragement. Second is…

2. Complaining. “All the Israelites complained about Moses and Aaron” (Num. 14:2). Complaining had become their way of life in the wilderness. They grumbled about being thirsty (Ex. 15:24; Ex. 17:3) and God gave them water. They grumbled about being hungry (Ex. 16:2) and God gave them manna. Then they grumbled about the manna (Num. 11:4-6) and God gave them quails. They grumbled that God had brought them out to die (Deut 1:27) and repeatedly God protected them, delivered them, provided for them.

“The whole community told them, ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness!’” (14:2). Did they really think that death in Egypt would be better? How soon their memories of bondage in Egypt had faded. They had lived for 400 years in abject slavery, surrounded by death, abuse, and hatred. And now they are complaining?

How often we look upon grumbling as a little sin. But what seems like a little sin soon gets possession of us. Grumbling and complaining quickly affect your outlook on the whole of life – it becomes part of your personality. But Christians should be known for our thankfulness, for all the blessings God showers upon us. Do you know how blessed we really are? What blessings come to mind right now? We should be the most thankful people.

Christians should be the most positive-thinking people. We have everything to be positive about. What should we be positive about? We know who we are, why we’re here, and where we’re going. We have everything to live for in hope and security.

If we become infected with the sin of grumbling, it can come back at any time and for the slightest of reasons. It soon becomes the standard way we respond to any negative circumstance – we can’t see beyond it.

Eve’s heart-problem was a secret complaint. Her underlying attitude seems to have been a secret grumble as evidenced in her misquote of what God said: “You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die” (Gen. 3:3). Her secret grumble soon got out of control. Urged on by Satan she said in her heart: “Why shouldn’t we eat of this tree anyway. God isn’t the good God we thought. He’s depriving us of a benefit that is rightly ours.” This is how easily a secret complaint can become outright rebellion and then blame: “The serpent deceived me and I ate” (Gen. 3:13). Just so with the Israelites. There was weeping and complaining, and then…

3. Blaming. “Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to die by the sword? Our wives and children will become plunder” (14:3). Blame is the core of most negative emotions. It is the reason why we get angry, jealous, envious. We don’t want to take responsibility for our own actions.

Blame is holding someone else responsible for hurting us, depriving us of something, cheating us etc. “God is responsible for this problem at the edge of Canaan. He brought us out here - we didn’t want to come at all. We’re victims of a mean trick!”

Blame never affirms but criticizes. Never builds up, but destroys. Never defends, but attacks. Never forgets, but remembers. Never forgives, but accuses. Never restores, but wounds. Never smiles, but frowns. Never solves, but complicates. Never unites, but separates.

For several years my wife and I volunteered in the chaplaincy program at a prison. All the men in that prison were there because they had done something wrong, but they always had an excuse. It was their parents’ fault or, they hit hard times, or the judicial system isn’t fair. They constantly had to justify themselves by blaming someone else.

We must take responsibility for our own actions. The lawyer in Lk. 10:29 didn’t want to take responsibility so he attempted to justify himself. Jesus never tried to justify himself - even when he was wrongfully accused (cf. Luke 4:30; Luke 23:9; 1 Pet. 2:22-24).

We should practice self-examination not self-justification. Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God” and 1 Cor. 11:28, “Let a man examine himself…”

Instead of the works of the flesh (like hate and blame), we should produce the fruit of the Spirit “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22).

Weeping, complaining, blaming all led to…

4. Rebellion. “So they said to one another, ‘Let’s appoint a leader and go back to Egypt’” (Num. 14:4). God and Moses are out of the picture now. “Let us…” They were saying: “It’s all up to us now. Let’s take control – self-government is what we need.” This was out-and-out rebellion. The Israelites never judged their rebellious spirit even after this experience. Eventually, they provoked Moses, causing him to lash out in anger against them - “Listen, you rebels!” (Num. 20:10) - as a result of which he was barred from entering the promised land.

Rebellion is the overthrow of authority, resistance to government. Rebellion reveals underlying attitudes like insubordination, disobedience, distrust, anger, cynicism.

Jesus was never rebellious. Isaiah prophesied of Jesus, “I was not rebellious…” (Isa. 50:5). Peter says, “When he was insulted, he did not insult in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23).

Weeping, complaining, blaming, rebellion. Then…

5. Murder. “The whole community threatened to stone them” (14:10). Anger goes all the way from mild irritation, indignation, to wrath, fury, and to uncontrolled rage. When fully expressed, anger produces murder. That’s what Jesus said, “From the heart come evil thoughts, murders…” (Matt. 15:19).

What is the biblical teaching about anger? “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Anger is a God-given emotion but anger must not be sinful. It’s a question of controlling it, not letting it dominate you or be improperly expressed. Jesus expressed anger sometimes but he was only ever angry for the right reasons and with complete control (e.g. with the money changers, religious hypocrites).

Anger must have safeguards. Don’t prolong anger – “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger (Eph. 4:26b), Anger needs to be curtailed or it will turn into bitterness and sin. “Don’t give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:27). Don’t let your anger be expressed in such a way that you are weakened and the devil reproduces his character in you. Sustained, uncontrolled anger gives the devil an open door. When it gets beyond your control, you know this is not righteous anger. When you act in a way that fails to express the nature and character of Christ, you know this is not righteous anger. When your anger reflects badly on your testimony and the character of God, you know this is not righteous anger. Sadly, there are many angry people in our churches.

We’ve seen the causes of discouragement (13:26-33); the characteristics of discouragement (14:1-10). Now…

III. The Consequences Of Discouragement (14:22-45)

Unabated discouragement can lead to rebellion and even murderous intent. There are consequences for uncontrolled fleshly activity, for unabated discouragement. There is the consequence of…

1. Forfeiting God’s blessings. The Israelites were barred from the land and wandered 40 years. They missed out on God’s blessings - the very best that God had in store for them – and they didn’t even know it. What a tragedy of epic proportions! Here they were, on the verge of entering into all the glorious provision and promises of God and they lost it!

I wonder, sometimes, how many times we fail to enter into the wonderful provision and promises of God because of rebellion and uncontrolled anger, even murderous thoughts and intentions? How many times do we miss out on God’s blessings because of the unjudged activity of our flesh?

One consequence of unabated discouragement is forfeiting God’s blessings. There is also the consequence of…

2. God’s discipline that leads to death. The ten spies died (14:36-37) because they complained against Moses and caused the people to sin. God chastises his children as a faithful Father - “Whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son…” (Heb 12:6). If we persist in this way of thinking and living, we may come under God’s discipline. Sometimes, God’s discipline ends in death – e.g. if Christians do not judge their own sinful behavior (1 Cor. 11:30).

The consequence for unabated discouragement in this story is the discipline of God – forfeiting God’s blessing and even death itself, the most extreme form of God’s judgment.

There is the consequence of missing out on God’s blessings, the consequence of God’s discipline, and there is also the consequence of…

3. Disobedience that leads to defeat (14:25, 39-45). Disobedience may lead to defeat. Chastened by the death of the 10 spies, the people now tried to go into the land in their own strength and they suffered enormous defeat. Their confidence was in themselves, not God. As a result, they were defeated by the Amalekites (14:45).

Final Remarks

1. Conquering giants requires great skill and discipline. It requires expertise and self-control to throw a sling shot at giants. Ultimately, only God can defeat the giant, only he can win the victory.

2. Winning the battle over spiritual giants isn’t won with a sword. It’s won with the “shield of faith” (Eph. 6:16), which preserves us from enemy attacks, keeps us free from fear, protects us from the shouts of threats, gives us confidence in the midst of battle - confidence in God.

Billy Graham once said…

“Today many people are living in the bondage of fear. In a recent study, a psychiatrist said that the greatest problem facing his patients was fear. Afraid of going insane, committing suicide, being alone, or afraid of heart disease, cancer, disaster, or death. We are becoming a nation of fearful people. Down through the centuries in times of trouble, temptation, trial, bereavement, and crisis, God has brought courage to the hearts of those who love Him. The Bible is crowded with assurances of God’s help and comfort in every kind of trouble which might cause fears to arise in the human heart. Today, the Christian can come to the Scriptures with full assurance that God is going to deliver the person who puts his trust and confidence in God. Christians can look into the future with promise, hope, and joy, and without fear, discouragement, or despondency.”

3. The antidote for discouragement is courage (14:6-9). The 10 spies were frozen with fear. The 2 spies were motivated by courage - brave, fearless, unswerving in their faith in God. Remember: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (2 Tim. 1:7).

4. The giant of discouragement can be overcome through intercessory prayer (14:13-19). God offered to destroy the entire nation and make a new nation through Moses’ descendants (14:11-12). But Moses, in grace and mercy, interceded on behalf of the people (14:13-19). Such is the great value of intercessory prayer.

Related Topics: Christian Life