12 Spies – What is Truth?

“Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”” (John 18:38 ESV)

Living in both the power of the Spirit and the truth of revelation (John 1:17) has been and will remain one of the most difficult balancing acts for God’s people. This is a lesson that is often forgotten despite constant examples from the Old and New Testaments. The tension between these two necessary axioms can be observed in the lives of the Patriarchs (e.g. Jacob – trusting in the truth of his father’s covenant with God, but not being believing in the promise himself until he met God), Judges (e.g. Samson – desire of Philistine women vs. his role as the covenant representative), Kings (e.g. Saul vs. David), and Apostles (Peter – anyone?!?).

In my estimation, their and our greatest difficulty in living in the power of the Spirit is that we trust in the “truth” of the reality around us more than we trust in the one who provides the Spirit that enables the accomplishing of the promised, revealed truth. Significantly, this latter truth is not merely based on a whimsical, ephemeral trust, but a belief in the fact that the God who has followed through on his plan and promise, often miraculously so, will continue to act according to his promise.

I was once again struck by this tension in the so-called “bad report” of the 10 spies.

“They (spies) brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit (the cluster – see below). However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” (Numbers 13:26-29 ESV)

Two Israelite spies carrying a grape cluster (eshkol) from the area of Hebron to Kadesh-barnea, in order to show the wealth of the land

They came back with two truths – 1.) the land was extremely fruitful. 2.) its inhabitants were impossible to conquer. And here is the thing… They were not wrong – the land was/is fruitful and they had no chance against the Canaanite city states and their massive fortifications. Archaeological work over the last century have revealed huge earthen fortifications in the very places that the spies were said to have travelled (e.g. Hebron). Their reconnaissance mission was a success and they delivered a honest report from a strictly human perspective of wisdom (James 3:15), however, one of their number had a very different conclusion despite observing the same situation.

But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” (Numbers 13:30–33 ESV)

Caleb’s report, unlike that of the 10 spies, took into account the faithfulness of God as revealed through the miraculous salvation of Israel from Egypt and the ongoing physical sustenance of Israel by the direct, visible presence of God’s Spirit (via the cloud/pillar of fire). Therefore, Caleb’s suggested plan to attack was influenced by both the truth of the obstacles in their path (i.e. the Canaanites) and the reality of God’s supremacy over these obstacles. Unlike his peers, Caleb’s wisdom was “from above” (James 3:17) and his report was based on both the promise and faithfulness of God that he had witnessed with his very own eyes. This is the crux of the matter – do we trust in the physical, natural wisdom of the world and its assumed end-results or do we presently trust in the providential care and promise of God who has acted in the past and will continue to act in the future.

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