cat hanging by a rope March 4 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Numbers 13, 14, 15

Faith or Fear?

When we encounter some giant challenges in our lives, how do we respond? Do we respond with faith or fear? What do we hang on to? It is only natural to respond in fear, but what if we knew God was directing our path, and we already had a history with him acting mightily on our behalf—would we still act with fear and rebel or would we act in faith?

The moment of ultimate testing arrives for the Israelites. After two years and a few months traveling in the wildernesses of Sinai and Zin, they are at the southern border of Canaan in Kadesh Barnea. The people of Israel are ready to enter the land long promised to them by the LORD. Their hopes are about to be realized.

Under the advisement of the people (Deuteronomy 1:22-23), Moses asks the LORD, and he directs Moses to send twelve men to serve as spies to explore the land of Canaan, one leader from every tribe. The spies travel from Kadesh Barnea all the way to Lebo Hamath, Zedad, Ziphron and Hazar Enan in the extreme northern borders of Canaan, into areas called Lebanon, Syria and parts of Jordan in today's world. The trip takes forty days by foot. They survey the people, the cities and their fortifications, and the fruit and trees of the land.

When they return, what is the report of the twelve spies? They confirm that this is indeed a prosperous land! They show the people a single cluster of grapes which is so big and heavy that it is carried on a pole between two men! (Numbers 13:23). This is the good news. The bad news is that the cities are large and well-fortified, and there are giants in the land. What giants do we have in our lives? Are there problems which seem insurmountable that keep us from enjoying what God wants to give us? What is often the real problem? It is fear.

The report of the spies causes great murmuring and fear in the congregation of the Israelites. But, not all the spies are afraid. One of the spies speaks differently than ten of them. “... Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it’” (Numbers 13:30, NIV). Although he does not speak up at this occasion, we soon discover that Joshua is in agreement with Caleb (Numbers 14:30, 38) .

The other ten spies respond, “we can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31, NIV). They do not have confidence in God; they only have confidence in their own strength, which is lacking.

An insurrection builds up against Moses. The report from ten of the spies discourages the people, and they want to appoint someone else to lead them back to Egypt.

Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who are among those who explored the land, tear their clothes and say to the entire Israelite assembly,

“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.

Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:6-9, NIV)

In whom do Caleb and Joshua have confidence? Their confidence is in the LORD, the Almighty God who is with them. In whom is our confidence—in our own abilities or in his abilities?

Unfortunately, the people believe the report of the ten spies (Numbers 14:1-4, 10). They lose faith in God and in their leaders, Moses and Aaron, and proceed to make plans for returning to Egypt.

God is angry with their rejection.

The LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they” (Numbers 14:11-12, NIV).

Moses is concerned about the Israelites and about God's reputation. He begs the LORD to forgive the people so other nations will not mock him for failing to bring them through the desert.

In response to Moses' plea, God forgives them. However, in the congregation all who are at least twenty years old will die in the desert over a forty year span. They are held accountable. Those born in the desert and under twenty years old will serve as shepherds, wandering around in the wilderness because of the unfaithfulness of their parents and grandparents. It will be difficult for the children to watch their parents and grandparents die wandering around in the wilderness without inheriting the Promised Land. It will also be difficult for the parents and grandparents to watch their children suffer the hardships of desert life and not inherit the land for forty years because they (the parents and grandparents) rebelled against God. Furthermore, those ten spies (respected leaders of the people) who brought a message of fear and discouraged the people from following the LORD are killed with a plague. What can we learn from this? It is dangerous to discourage faith in God, and especially if you are a parent or are in other leadership roles.

When the people of Israel hear of God's judgment, they mourn and then act in presumption. They presume that if they now act, the LORD will change his mind (Numbers 14:44-45). The Israelites attack Canaan in their own strength, but the Almighty is no longer with them and they are defeated. They suffer heavy losses. We cannot make God bend to our will; we must bend to his. The LORD is pleased with those who are faithful, not rebellious.

Nevertheless, despite the judgment against the Israelites, God is gracious. After sentencing the rebellious Israelites, he gives instructions about sacrifices the Israelites are to make when they enter the land. The instructions for their future in Canaan bring hope to the people; even though the parents and grandparents will die in the wilderness, still their children will have a future in the Promised Land. God disciplines us for our good and to share in his holiness (Hebrews 12:10). Disobedience has consequences, but the LORD is merciful, gracious, and forgiving to his people (Numbers 14:18-19). When we discipline others, we should be like God and forgive, and then encourage their hearts by speaking of a future.

Lessons to Live By

  • Do not give into fear. Remember your Almighty God is with you—have faith in him. He gets the glory when he conquers the giants in our lives. If we could do it ourselves, we wouldn't need God.
  • Do you know the LORD? He offers us forgiveness, peace, and spiritual life. Through him we can gain the victory (more...)
  • It is dangerous to discourage faith in God, especially if you are a parent or are in other leadership roles.
  • Sin does not affect just us; sin also has consequences for others around us.
  • We cannot make God bend to our will—we must bend to his. The LORD is pleased with those who are faithful, not rebellious. Do not act on your own. Let God lead you and then obey.
  • The LORD is merciful and gracious. We may, like the Israelites, rebel, mess up and suffer the consequences. If we repent, however, we, too, can know he is still gracious.
  • When we discipline others, we should be like God and forgive, and then encourage their hearts by speaking of a future.

Focus Verse

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NIV).

praying hands Write a private prayer response to today’s Bible study:

Please send your comments to

A Look Ahead: How can people be discouraged from rebellion against their leadership? Find out in our Next Lesson.

Previous Lesson  |  Next Lesson

Back to top of page
Return to Chronological Bible Studies main page
Go to Scriptures main page
Go to Topics main page
Go to Home page

Contact Us