************ Sermon on Numbers 13:21-14:12 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 26, 1998
"The Eye of Faith"
Title: Lost the vision
About 350 years ago a shipload of travelers landed on the northeast coast of America. The first year they established a town site.
The next year they elected a town government.
The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness.
In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build a road five miles westward into a wilderness. Who needed to go there anyway?
Here were people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome great obstacles to get there. But in just a few years they were not able to see even five miles out of town. They had lost their pioneering vision.
This reminds us there are always two ways of looking at things: with the eye of faith or without the eye of faith. Tell me, when you face life's problems, perplexities, trials, and tribulations do you look at things with the eye of faith? When tragedy strikes, or sickness, or death, or calamity, do you face these things with the eye of faith? When you look at the wicked world we live in, a world that we are to conquer in Christ's name, do you get discouraged and say "What can I do?" or do you look at the church's task with the eye of faith? It all comes down to this: Do you have faith in the power of God Who raised His Son from the grave?
Today, let's look at the eye of faith in the light of Israel's experience at the border of the land of Canaan.
I Two Ways of Viewing Canaan's Conquest
A For two years Israel has been traveling through the wilderness. Now, at last, the people are perched on the southern edge of the Promised Land. How exciting that they are now on the verge of entering the land God had promised to Abraham so many years before.
However, before Israel goes into Canaan to take possession of the land it is thought best to send spies or scouts ahead. According to Deuteronomy 1 these spies are to do three things: they are to spy out the land; they are to report back on the best route to enter the land; and they are to report on the cities in the land (Deut 1:22).
Moses picks out one man from each of the twelve tribes. These twelve men act as a sort of commando group behind enemy lines: scouting the land; counting soldiers, horses, and chariots; checking out Canaan's readiness for war; looking at city walls and gates. For forty days these men cautiously travel through the land watching, looking, counting, measuring, and taking notes.
The spies started at the south end of Canaan and traveled all the way to the northern edge and back again. In traveling they took one of the main caravan routes through the land. We are not told, but probably they disguised themselves as just another group of traders, blending in with the other caravans traveling the same route.
B Verses 22-24 notes for us two things the spies see when they come to Hebron, two things of great significance for the congregation of Israel. First, they see with open mouths the abundance, variety, and size of the fruit. We are told about one cluster of grapes so big that it took two men to carry it. The second discovery is not as nice as the first: the descendants of Anak, or, as they are called elsewhere in Scripture, the Nephilim. The Nephilim are a race of giants, mighty men who inspire fear and dread in the hearts of lesser men (cf Gen 6:4; Deut 1:28).
When the twelve spies return to the camp of Israel they report on the two things they notice at Hebron. First, they make mention of how fertile the land is and how splendid its fruits are:
(Num 13:27) "We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit."The expression "milk and honey" signifies the richness of the land. An abundance of milk means rich pasture land for the herds and the delicacies of cream and cheese for the people. An abundance of honey means many flowers and bushes and that the people's craving for sweets can be satisfied.
Second, the spies also make a report on the inhabitants of the land:
(Num 13:28) But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there.
II Faith or Unbelief
A If you were part of Israel listening to the report of the spies what would your reaction be? How would you look at the Promised Land after hearing the report of the spies. Numbers 13 relates for us two different ways of looking at the Promised Land.
The first way of looking at the Promise Land is the way of ten of the spies. These ten looked at the land and came to the conclusion it could not be conquered. They said, "The land we explored devours those living in it" (Num 13:32). The land of Canaan was unusually fertile and was fought over by those tribes and nations looking for a homeland or a better homeland; so its ownership was constantly being contested. Also, the land of Canaan stood at the crossroads of Asia and Africa. Invading armies and traders from both continents passed through the land and also contested its ownership.
They also said "We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are" (Num 13:31). The Canaanites were so big and so strong that next to them they felt like little bugs, they felt like grasshoppers next to giants (Num 13:33).
Imagine this! For two years the Israelites had been traveling to reach the Promised Land. They had faced enemies, drought, hunger; they had spent long hours traveling through the wilderness. Their goal was the land of Canaan. Finally they were at its border. The spies went into the land. They found grapes of such enormous clusters they had to be carried on a pole by two men. Why, the Promised Land was even better than they had dreamed it would be. Yet, the majority presented an unfavorable report. So they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored (Num 13:32).
The second way of looking at the Promised Land was the way of Joshua and Caleb. They simply said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it" (Num 13:30).
B As I already said, there are two ways of seeing things: with the eye of faith or without the eye of faith.
The 10 spies were pessimists; they were discouragers. And, I want to warn you, congregation, about discouragers. The discourager undercuts noble motives, makes a good cause look bad, and ridicules people who sacrifice for the common good. Discouragers, those who always look at the bad side or dark side of everything, are dangerous.
Topic: DiscouragementTen of the twelve spies sent out by Moses to scout the Promise Land also spoke disheartening words at the critical hour; they spread gloomy tidings about the colossal power of the native people; they frightened the Israelites with their talk of giants and grasshoppers.
Title: Discouragers Not Tolerated
In the American War of Independence a critical battle took place near Saratoga, New York. Just before the battle took place one of the American soldiers, frightened by the sight of the British redcoats, tried to talk his comrades into surrendering or escaping with him. Luckily an officer happened to come by and hear him. The man was arrested, immediately court-martialed, and executed on the spot because he spoke disheartening words to the soldiers in the critical hour. He easily could have lost the entire war for the Americans.
The real tragedy here is that the spies were blind to the power of God. They forgot the miracles God had done. They did not view the Promised Land through the eye of faith. So they became scared and pessimistic and discouraged.
Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, were optimists; they were full of courage and good cheer.
C What makes some people courageous and others cowardly? Is courage an inborn gift which some people have and others don't?
It is not that simple.
Courage basically has to do with what we see.
The ten spies saw with their physical eyes. And, indeed, their eyes did not lie. The inhabitants of Canaan were heavily armed giants. The two spies saw them too, but they saw more; with their spiritual eyes they saw God. And that gave them courage. By looking at Canaan through the eye of faith they saw a land that their covenant God would give them just as He promised. And that gave them courage. With God they knew that nothing was impossible.
Seen physically, Israel may seem as grasshoppers next to the giants of Canaan. But seen spiritually, through the eyes of faith, because of the presence of God, it is the Israelites who are the giants and the Canaanites who are the grasshoppers. It is Canaan, not Israel, that should be in fear and trembling.
Everything here depends upon one's point-of-view; everything depends on the way one looks at the land. Caleb and Joshua viewed the land in faith, in the light of God's promises. When they had wandered through the land they had wandered through it as their future possession. For them the land lay wide open, and they believed that God would indeed give it to them.
I want to tell you what a great man of faith Caleb really was. When Israel finally came into the Promised Land some forty years later, Caleb – as a reward for his faith – was allowed to pick out any section of the land for himself and his family forever. Do you know what section he asked for? He asked for Hebron. You heard me right. He wanted that piece of land inhabited by the Nephilim. He had such trust and faith in God that he knew he and his family, with God's help, would be able to drive out the giants by themselves. This man of faith knew that with God nothing is impossible – if it is done out of faith.
D What we see, congregation, also depends on how we look at things. If we look with the eye of faith, nothing is impossible for us, but without faith nothing is truly possible.
So I need to ask, "How do you look at things? Do you look with the eye of faith or do you look with the eye of unbelief?
Like Israel it seems that there are impossible tasks in front of us some times. We have been called to possess and claim the earth in Christ's name. What a big job! If we look at this challenge without the eye of faith, the world looks scary and our mission seems like MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.
We are called upon to bring the Gospel to our neighbors and communities and to the teeming hordes of humanity. It is so easy to say, "It is impossible to do this Lord. There are so few of us and so many of them. Where will we get the money and the missionaries from?"
We are called upon to fight abortion and euthanasia. Every single minute another baby loses its life. Hardly a week goes by without a "mercy-killing" taking place. It is so easy to say, "What can I do? They will laugh at me."
We are called upon to arouse the conscience of our continent against the great moral decline that we see around us: adultery, homosexual and lesbian practice, same-sex marriage, divorce, bloodshed, alcohol and drug abuse, and so on. Without faith it is easy to give up, shrug one's shoulders, and to stop being the salt of the earth.
We are called upon to support Christian Education. Without the eye of faith one can worry where the money will come from.
Faith says all things are possible with God. When we look at our impossible missions with the eye of faith then MISSION IMPOSSIBLE becomes MISSION POSSIBLE. Faith says all things and all people will someday bow down before God and His Christ – even giants and fortified cities.
Do you know what it comes down to? It comes down to whether you have faith in the power of God Who raised His Son from the grave!
III Unbelief Results in Unhappiness
A I want you to notice what happens when God's people take their eyes away from God and His power. Turning a blind eye to God results in unhappiness. For even happiness and security is a matter of what one sees. The first three verses of Numbers 14 tells us what happens. The people did not look at the fortified cities and giants with the eye of faith. So they became scared and unhappy and actually wanted to go back to the slavery of Egypt. Their lack of faith made them so unhappy that they wept. They wept for the entire night. Without faith, you see, life becomes scary, threatening, frightening, and discouraging.
B For a number of years sociologists have been conducting tests to determine what makes people happy. They have finally concluded what we Christians have known since the days of Christ. We know that jobs, living conditions, sexual satisfaction, and wealth have little to do with happiness. Professor Jonathan Freedman of Yale University concluded his study vaguely with this statement: "Happiness is in the head, not the wallet." Happiness depends upon how one looks at things. Happiness depends upon the eye of faith.
Being a Christian doesn't automatically bring happiness. Because you know as well as I do that there are many unhappy Christians. Yet, deep down within their hearts, Christians know the secret to happiness – a quiet trust and faith in Christ as Savior and Lord.
We have a choice congregation. We can look at life, we can live life, with faith in the power of God and His Christ, or we can look at life and can live life without faith in the power of God.
I urge you, like Joshua and Caleb, to live by faith.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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