By J.R. Miller
"The LORD now said to Moses--Send men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to Israel. Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes."
The story of the spies is very interesting. Just how it came that spies were sent is not very clear. From Deuteronomy it seems that it was at the demand of the people. Moses says, "You said, Let us send men before us, that they may search the land for us, and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up, and the cities unto which we shall come." In Numbers, however, it is said that the Lord commanded Moses to send men to spy out the land. The meaning would seem to be that the people requested it, and the Lord approved the request and gave the command to Moses. The sending of the spies was a wise and natural precaution, and did not necessarily imply doubt. God wants us to use our sense and judgment in all possible cases. What we can find out for ourselves, He does not wish to teach us in a supernatural way. He never works an unnecessary miracle.
The task of the spies was important. They were to learn all they could about the country and the people. They should find out whether the inhabitants were weak or strong, so that they would know how to meet them. Anxiety is forbidden--but forethought is not. We should study out problems--that we may know how to meet them.
The spies did their work thoroughly. They studied the people, their resources, their cities, their defenses. They studied also the land, its quality, its fruitfulness, its possibilities. We are not to go blindly through life, when it is possible for us to learn the condition of our pilgrimage. Many times we cannot know--there are mysteries in the Divine Providence, which we cannot now comprehend. Then it is our duty to go forward in faith, knowing that God understands, and trusting Him. But when we can learn--we ought to seek to know.
When the spies came back they brought samples of the fruits of the land. They cut down a branch with one cluster of grapes, and carried it on a pole between two men. It must have been a large cluster to require two men to carry it in this way. When the people saw the fruit they asked: "Are there more of these?" The spies answered: "Yes; we brought just this one cluster to let you see how fine the fruit is. But there are more clusters just as fine."
Is there not something very like this going on in this world all the time? No spies have gone over into heaven to bring back any of the specimens of fruit that grow there. But God has sent into our earthly wilderness-life many samples of the good things of the heavenly life, foretastes of the full glories awaiting us there. All spiritual blessings enjoyed here on earth--are mere samples of what life in heaven will be. The joy, the peace, the love, the grace we get in time of need--are very sweet--but they are just little specimens of fruits that grow everywhere in the heavenly Canaan.
The blessings of Divine grace which we enjoy in this world--are little more than the husks of the heavenly good things sent down on the river of Divine grace, as foretastes or intimations of what is in store for us in heaven. The peace we get here is very sweet--but it is only the faintest image of the peace of heaven. The joy the Christian has here is deep and rich--but heaven's joy is infinitely deeper and richer. The communion of earth is very precious, as we turn over the Bible pages or sit at the Lord's table--but it is nothing to compare with the fellowship of heaven. "To depart and be with Christ--is very far better!" Every true Christian we see is carrying on his shoulder a cluster of Eshcol grapes gathered from heaven's vines. Heaven is full of just such blessings. The best spiritual things of earth--are but hints of the glorious things that wait for us!
There must have been great excitement when the spies were seen returning. Crowds would run to meet them. Then came their report. They spoke enthusiastically of the country; it was a land flowing with milk and honey. Its fruits were luxuriant. It produced golden harvests. Its soil was rich. Its hills were full of minerals. They could not speak too enthusiastically of what they saw. But they went on to speak of things not so pleasant. They were afraid of the inhabitants. It was a good country--but it would have to be conquered, and they feared that they were not able to conquer it. They had seen giants there, and they were dismayed at the thought of meeting these men in battle.
It is easy to find something like this in these days of ours. People stand by the edge of the new life and look over into it. They cannot help seeing that it is a good thing to be a Christian, that the Christian life has many comforts and blessings, which those living a worldly life can never have. But they are afraid of the opposition they will have to meet if they accept Christ and come out on His side. There are enemies to fight, too, strongholds to conquer, evils to overcome. There are even giants--giants of temptation--and these seem terrible to the timid people, who fear to move forward.
Too many see only this side of life, the dark side, the side of trial and hardship, of sacrifice and cost--and do not see the side of help, of promise, of victory. They magnify all difficulties, and the commonest forms of opposition become great hobgoblins of terror to them. It is a poor, cowardly way to live, unworthy of anyone who wears the human form, especially of those who are God's children. Of course we shall have our battles. Of course there are enemies, even giants, to meet. But if God is for us, we need not fear any enemies.
It is to be remembered that we need opposition and struggle, if we are to grow into moral and spiritual strength. Jesus Himself was tempted, tried, put to the test--that His life might be developed and made strong. He was "made perfect through suffering." A soldier can learn to fight--only by fighting. Without the exercise which comes through meeting enemies, we never could attain the stature of full-grown men.
We know also that the opposition we have to meet in our Christian life, is not an evidence that God is fighting against us. He is not trying to defeat us. James says: "Blessed is the man who endures temptation." There is a blessing, therefore, in being tempted--only thus can we win the crown. Again James says: "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you fall into manifold temptations." Temptations work patience in us. God's intention when He allows us to be tempted, is not to cause us to sin--that is Satan's object--but God's is that we shall be made stronger and that we may endure and be victorious and receive the crown of life! Of course, there are giants--but we shall overcome them, and the overcoming will make men of us.
There were two brave men among the spies, two men who believed in God in spite of all the obstacles and difficulties they saw. These were Caleb and Joshua. Joshua here reminds the people of what Caleb had said to them that day: "Caleb stilled the people... and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it--the land of promise--for we are well able to overcome it." That was the right kind of talk. Caleb was a true hero. He did not make little of the dangers and difficulties--but he believed in God and in the invincibility of the human courage that is faithful to duty and obedient to the Divine command.
We should learn much from Caleb's splendid heroism of faith on this occasion. We should learn never to doubt God's power to help us to do whatever He has commanded us to do. We have nothing to do with dangers and difficulties--our whole duty is to believe in God and obey what He commands. Every Christian young man should get Caleb's ringing words and Caleb's sublime courage, into his heart.
But Caleb's words were not sufficient to turn the tide of discouragement in the hearts of the people. There were ten men against two, and the ten still persisted in saying: "We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than us!" There is something very pitiful in the behavior of these men as we see it here. They ought to have been leaders of courage and hope--but, instead, they were discouragers.
It is easy to dishearten people--but we have no right to do so. It is said that during the South African War a civilian was arrested, tried by court-martial, and sentenced to a year's imprisonment for being a discourager. He was a loyal Englishman and did nothing against his government--but he had lost heart himself, had given up, and felt that there was no use in trying to hold out, and then he went about among the soldiers who were conducting the siege, saying discouraging things which made it harder for them to be brave and strong in the face of danger. The court-martial adjudged that the discourager was guilty of disloyalty, and inflicted upon him severe punishment. And the court-martial was right! It is a crime against others to be a discourager.
These ten men brought disaster upon their whole nation. They started a panic of fear among the people, the result of which was a revolt. The people even went so far as to organize for a return to Egypt, intending to depose Moses and put a new captain in his place. The penalty for this sin was the shutting of the gates of the promised land upon all that generation. For nearly forty years the people wandered in the wilderness, until all the men who rebelled that day had died.
The lesson should not be lost upon us. We never should be discouragers of others--we should always be encouragers. Emerson says: "It is cheap and easy to destroy. There is not a joyful boy or an innocent girl, buoyant with fine purpose of duty, in all the streets full of eager and rosy faces--but a cynic can chill and dishearten with a single word. . . . Yes, this is easy; but to help the young soul, add energy, inspire hopes, and blow the coals into a useful flame; to redeem defeat by new thought, by firm action, that is not easy--that is the work of Divine men."