A Golden Opportunity - Blown To Smithereens

Bible Book: Numbers 
Subject: Opportunity Lost; God's Open Doors; Self Defeat; Disobedience

Numbers 13-14

Many years ago, when Branson, Missouri, was just a little country town, a friend of mine in Memphis, Tennessee, was given the opportunity to buy a huge tract of land in Branson for a piddling amount of money. However, my friend turned it down. He said, “Branson will never amount to anything.” Of course, as it turns out, had he bought that land he would now be a multi-millionaire, or possibly even a billionaire. He bypassed an outstanding opportunity.

That was a missed financial opportunity. But in Numbers 13-14 we read of a far more significant missed opportunity. I’ve entitled this message, “A Golden Opportunity - Blown to Smithereens.” And I’m going to outline the message with six words, each beginning with the letter “R,” in the hope of making the main points clear and, hopefully, more likely to be remembered. (For the most part I’ll be using the HCSB, with occasional uses of the KJV.)

Under the leadership of Moses, God delivered the people of Israel from their Egyptian bondage in approximately 1446 B.C., and they began their journey toward the promised land. They crossed the Red Sea into the wilderness of Sin [a Hebrew word unrelated to English word “sin”]. God led them by day with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire.

In the early months after leaving Egypt they arrived at Mt. Sinai, elsewhere called Mt. Horeb, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and many other laws and regulations, and also where God instructed Moses and the Israelites to build the tabernacle. They camped for many months at or near Mt. Sinai, then took the 11-day journey [a distance of approximately 200 miles] to Kadesh-Barnea.

All totaled, by the time the Israelites reached Kadesh-Barnea, they had been out of Egypt for about two years. So, now the time has come for them to enter the promised land, conquer the heathen tribes living there, and take possession.

However, before actually crossing into the land, they were to do some…

I. Reconnaissance

Numbers 13:1-2: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them.”

God had already assured them of victory over the heathen inhabitants of Canaan, so why this reconnaissance assignment? Perhaps to test their faith. But could it also be that another purpose was for them to “get the lay of the land,” so to speak, so that they could devise an appropriate, orderly plan of action?

We see all through the Bible that our God has an affinity for orderliness and planning. We see that in the detailed instructions he gave regarding the building and then relocating of the tabernacle. We see it in the way Jesus, in feeding the multitude, has the people sit down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 1 Corinthians 14:40 says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.”

Planning is important. Bob Buford said, “Tarzan’s first law of the jungle is, you don’t turn loose of the vine you’re on until you see another vine.” We all need to plan our work, and then work our plan. God is dishonored when we do any job in a haphazard, sloppy manner. One businessman, explaining to his colleagues why one of their recent projects had failed, said, “We had a severe waterfowl misalignment problem - we didn’t have our ducks in a row!”

In the remainder of chapter 13 we read of how those ten spies carried out that reconnaissance assignment, and after 40 days returned with a sample of the lush fruit they found in the land. Numbers 13:23 says, “ And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs.”

So, God had them explore the territory so they could make a plan - but sadly that isn’t what they did. They explored, all right, but they stopped short of making a plan and going forward. Let’s look now at their…

II. Report

A. Negativeness and Positiveness

Here are some excerpts from Numbers 13:26-28: “And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel…and said, We came unto the land whither thou sendest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there.”

From that  opening part of their report we can see where they’re headed….

Caleb sees it, too, and he jumps in at verse 30: “And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.”

Thank the Lord for people like Caleb - people with a positive attitude. Lt. General “Chesty” Puller, who died in 1971, was the most decorated U. S. Marine in history. During the Korean war, he and his division found themselves surrounded by 22 hostile Chinese divisions. “Chesty” Puller said to his troops, "All right, they're on our left, they're on our right, they're in front of us, they're behind us…Great. Now we can shoot…from every direction….they can't get away this time." He and his First Marine Division successfully broke through the Chinese lines and advanced south, destroying seven of those Chinese divisions in the process.

“Chesty” Puller would have agreed with the man who once said, “Problems are just opportunities with overalls on!”

How sad, though, that some folks always see things from a negative standpoint. Two ladies came out in their adjoining back yards. It was a lovely Spring day, and the sun was shining brightly. The first lady said to her neighbor, “Oh, what a beautiful day!” The other lady gloomily said,”Yes, but it’s probably raining somewhere.”

In Psalm 1:1 (KJV) we read: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” Let me zero in on the last part of that verse: “nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” To put it in plain ninth grade English, the inspired penman is saying, “Blessed is the person who looks on the bright side!”

When our son Dan first began chemo treatments five years ago, the doctor said, “Dan, as you go through these next months of harsh chemo, one precaution I urge you to take is this: surround yourself with positive people - don’t hang around with gripers and complainers!

Philippians 2:14-15 (KJV): “Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;”

A sure way for a Christian to turn people off and lose his testimony is to be constantly critical, to be a griper and complainer.

B. Cowardice and Courage

Along with their positive attitude, Caleb and Joshua also had courage - an absolute essential for any of us if we are to experience God’s highest and best for our lives - if we are to ward off or overcome temptation or despair or any kind of adversity.

Some people talk a good game regarding courage, but don’t really practice it. Adrian Rogers told about a man who bragged that he had cut off the tail of a man-eating lion with his pocketknife. Asked why he hadn't cut off the lion's head, the man replied: "Someone had already done that."

Eddie Rickenbacker, an American hero, said: “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do.” Karla W. Baker defined it like this: “Courage is armor A blind man wears;  That calloused scar Of outlived despairs; Courage is Fear That has said its prayers.”

Courage is what ten of those spies did not have. A preacher named Jimmy Chapman described Caleb, who along with Joshua brought back a positive report, like this: “Caleb was a brave man among cowards, an assured man among skeptics. I challenge anyone to name from memory the ten spies who ran, were faithless and fearful. They are all named for us but no one remembers faithlessness, cowards, and quitters. We remember Caleb because he dared to risk everything for God.”

But God not only honors courage, he gives courage to those who, in a surrendered spirit, ask him for it. At the end of the 40 years in the wilderness, here’s what the Lord said to Joshua, Moses’ successor, in Joshua 1:9: “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” God was saying, in effect, the way to overcome your fears is to remember that I, the Almighty Sovereign of the universe, for whom nothing is too hard, am there with you at all times, and whatever the situation I’ll see you through.”

When you and I are tempted to cave under the pressure of pain, or disappointment, or betrayal, or grief, or any of life’s setbacks, we need to go to our knees and remember that what God said to Joshua, he says to all who are his children: ““Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”

I wish I had made a note as to the source of this statement, for I would like to give credit where credit is due. Someone wrote the following:

The greatest act of courage this world has ever known is when the Son of God, Jesus Christ, went on His final walk to Jerusalem. The Bible tells us that even though Jesus knew that He was going to be crucified, He set His face toward Jerusalem. And He didn't flinch, because He had decided that even though He had to die to reconcile this world back to God, He was going to go through with it. He went knowing what was ahead. And let me tell you, it's here that we find the greatest motivator for courage: it's called love.

We read then of the tragedy of ...

III. Rebellion

Numbers 13:31-33: “But the men who had gone up with him responded, “We can’t go up against the people because they are stronger than we are!” So they gave a negative report [KJV, “evil report”] to the Israelites about the land they had scouted: “The land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants, and 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.”

What a sad thing for anyone to have such a pathetic absence of self-respect! You can be sure that if you see yourself as a grasshopper, others will see you the same way!

Numbers 14:5-9: Then Moses and Aaron fell down with their faces to the ground in front of the whole assembly of the Israelite community. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who scouted out the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite community: “The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us. Only don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land, for we will devour them. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us. Don’t be afraid of them!”

But, rebel is exactly what they did! God had promised to help them, protect them, and give them victory - yet they bull-heatedly refused to obey God by forging ahead! A dear friend of mine is Dr. Dan Smith, who effectively served for 40 years as a Christian Psychologist in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Commenting on the rebellion of these ten spies, he said, “They were thinking about what they could, not what God could do.”

This experience from the long ago is a reminder to you and me that God requires obedience from his people, if we are to expect his blessings.

It’s always inspirational to see examples of obedience, wherever we find them.

John Kenneth Galbraith, in his autobiography, A Life in Our Times, illustrates the devotion of Emily Gloria Wilson, his family’s housekeeper:

It had been a wearying day, and I asked Emily to hold all telephone calls while I had a nap. Shortly thereafter the phone rang. Lyndon Johnson was calling from the White House. “Get me Ken Galbraith. This is Lyndon Johnson.”

“He is sleeping, Mr. President. He said not to disturb him.”

“Well, wake him up. I want to talk to him.”

“No, Mr. President. I work for him, not you.” When I called the President back, he could scarcely control his pleasure. “Tell that woman I want her here in the White House.” (Published by Houghton Mifflin, Reader’s Digest, December, 1981)

May the Lord help you and me to show that kind of loyalty and obedience to our God.

1 Samuel 15:22: “And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

1 Samuel 15:23 says, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry….”

God’s reaction to all of that negativism and rebellion was…

IV. Revulsion

Revulsion - meaning, “a strong feeling of disgust or disapproval.”

Numbers 14:10-12: While the whole community threatened to stone them, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the tent of meeting. The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people despise Me? How long will they not trust in Me despite all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them with a plague and destroy them. Then I will make you into a greater and mightier nation than they are.”

God said, in effect, “Enough is enough!” He had put up with their griping and grumbling and lack of gratitude long enough. Psalm 103:8-9 (KJV) says, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.”

The poet said, “There is a line by us unseen, That crosses every path; The hidden boundary Between God’s patience and his wrath.”

While one of God’s most defining characteristics is love, at the same time he is capable of anger. Hebrews 12:29, “For our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

He was ready to wipe this bunch of unbelieving, cowardly ingrates off the face of the earth!

But then we see Moses' ...

V. Request

Seen in Numbers 14:13-19:

But Moses replied to the Lord, “The Egyptians will hear about it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from them. They will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, Lord, are among these people, how You, Lord, are seen face to face, how Your cloud stands over them, and how You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. If You kill this people with a single blow, the nations that have heard of Your fame will declare, ‘Since the Lord wasn’t able to bring this people into the land He swore to give them, He has slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ “So now, may my Lord’s power be magnified just as You have spoken: The Lord is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation. Please pardon the wrongdoing of this people, in keeping with the greatness of Your faithful love, just as You have forgiven them from Egypt until now.”

Moses was pleading; he was begging; he was heartbroken, and crushed. He was concerned about the people of Israel, for sure - but even more concerned about God’s glory not being diminished in the eyes of the surrounding nations.

Moses was a great intercessor - but the greatest intercessory prayer of all time and eternity was the prayer of our Lord Jesus as he hung on the cross. Suffering indescribable agony, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, in behalf of all who had had any part, directly or indirectly, in his crucifixion, he cried out, as recorded in Luke 23:24, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do….” This was a fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah 53:12, which contains the phrase, “he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Jesus was not excusing anyone’s spiritual ignorance, nor was he automatically absolving his enemies of their sins - rather, he was expressing to the Father his love and compassion for all whose sins had nailed him to that cross, and his yearning for forgiveness to be extended to them. But he was not contradicting the clear Biblical proclamation that the actual receiving of that forgiveness can only result from repentance and faith.

VI. Response

We read of God’s Response  to Moses’ prayer in Numbers 14:20-38, and here are some excerpts from that passage:

The Lord responded, “I have pardoned them as you requested. Yet as surely as I live and as the whole earth is filled with the Lord’s glory, none of the men who have seen My glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tested Me these 10 times and did not obey Me, will ever see the land I swore to give their fathers….Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron:….Tell them: As surely as I live,…your corpses will fall in this wilderness…the entire number of you 20 years old or more - because you have complained about Me….none of you will enter the land I promised to settle you in, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun…. So the men Moses sent to scout out the land, and… who returned and incited the entire community to complain about him by spreading a negative report…were struck down by the Lord. Only Joshua…and Caleb…remained alive of those men who went to scout out the land.

A. Sin has Consequences

God’s response makes clear that sin has consequences - and those consequences can be dire. Proverbs 29:1, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.

B. God Answers Prayer

We also see in God’s response the power of prayer. In answer to Moses’ intercessory prayer, God didn’t wipe out the entire nation and start over, but spared those under 20 years old.

I remember reading about a unit of foot soldiers in one of our earlier wars. To engage the enemy required that they climb a steep mountain, for the enemy camp was in a valley on the other side. As those men were making their way up that rough, slippery terrain, a sudden storm came up, with ferocious wind - wind was so powerful that those soldiers were in danger of being swept off their feet and sent tumbling down that rugged mountainside, which would have resulted in serious injury or even death. Over the almost deafening sound of that howling wind, the Commander of that unit cried out at the top of his voice: “To your knees, men - it’s the only way!”

And that’s the only way you and I are going to make it victoriously through the storms of adversity and pain and heartache. Our Lord Jesus put it like this in Luke 18:1 (KJV): “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”

What a marvelous thing - God answers prayer!

If you’ve never been saved, repent of your sins and in faith ask him to come into your heart and be your personal Lord and Savior. Here is God’s promise in Romans 10:9-12: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.”

When you don’t know which way to turn, call on him for guidance. Proverbs 3:5-6 says: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

In times of grief, pain, loneliness, and heartache, or adversity of any kind, claim these great promises from his Word:

Psalm 147:3 “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.”

Isaiah 41:10: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-5: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.”

Isaiah 40:27-31: “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Jeremiah 32:17: “Ah Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee:”

Matthew 11:28: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”