The Only Thing We Have to Fear

Numbers 13

 

In many ways, our children are fearless.  Wouldn’t you agree?  Part of it is because they don’t know any better.

They don’t understand what dangers are out there.  They don’t understand how certain things might hurt or upset them.

Some of it also has to do with their inability to perceive how the larger world around them works.  Look at it like this.

 

From time to time, my boys play each other in some sort of competition.  It may be a video game.  It may be a baseball game in the backyard.  You name it.

As their dad, I often play with them.  On one particular occasion, the game ended in a tie.  One of my boys, frustrated, announced, “It seems like we always end in a tie.”

I responded, “That just means dad’s doing his job.”  Of course, that’s just a joke.  But there are plenty of times when one of my boys loses.

Quite often, they don’t handle it well.  They throw fits.  They cry foul.  They complain or demand a rematch.

 

At one point, I approached one of them during one of these fits and said, “What are you going to do when baseball season gets here?”

“Is this how you’re going to handle it when we lose a game?”  I’ll never forget the response.  “Why do you say we are going to lose a game?” he said.

I answered, “Everybody loses now and again.  It’s how things go with baseball and other sports.”  He continued his argument.

“You don’t know that.  You don’t know that we’re going to lose a game.”  I left the conversation on the horns of a dilemma.

 

First of all, we all fail from time to time.  We have to be able to handle failure with grace, manners, and gamesmanship.

Children need to know this.  There are times in life when things don’t go the way we intend them to go.  But there’s another side to this.

I love the fearlessness in this conversation.  Of course he wasn’t afraid of losing.  In his mind, there was no chance losing would even enter the picture.

Without question, we become more and more fearful the older we get.  This has both its positive and negative sides.

 

Most three-year-olds will wander into traffic, pick up the scary spider, or jump down from the top of the stairs—without blinking or thinking.

They don’t have a healthy fear in regards to the consequences of those actions.

These are good fears to develop.  There are certain dangers that are obvious.  It’s good to develop a sense of caution about these things.

Unfortunately, as we get older, we often tend to lose all sense of fearlessness.

We create concerns and issues that might not ever pop up or perhaps aren’t even there.  We hesitate.  We cringe.  We waver.  We flip-flop.  We worry.

 

These are the kinds of fears that children rarely experience.  When raised in a healthy environment, most children are bold and confident.

They know they have caring and attentive parents watching out for them, so they step right into whatever situation presents itself, full throttle.

Perhaps this is a partial indicator of what Jesus meant when He said, “Enter God’s kingdom as a child,” or “You must have the faith of a little child.”

 

In any case, today we will look at a saga from the OT.  In this passage, found in the 13th chapter of Numbers, we will find this idea played out.

There are some who demonstrate this childlike faith and fearlessness.  But there are others—a majority, if you will—who cower in fear.

The lesson found in this passage could have major implications on the way we live our lives.  I’ll begin with verse one.  (Read Numbers 13:1-20.)

 

So I don’t know if you know the context of our passage today.  You see, the people of Israel have been wandering—for quite some time.

Back in the book of Exodus, they were led out of Egypt by God’s mighty hand.  But something happened on the way to the Promised Land.

They complained.  They wavered in their faith.  They complained about lack of food, type of food, lack of water, and oh so many other things.

They tried God’s patience and pushed Moses to the brink.  But, in spite of all this, here they are on this day—on the cusp of the Promised Land.

 

And God has given a command, through Moses.  The command is found in verse two.

You see, this land is not uninhabited.  God actually saw to it that the land He had prepared for His people stayed cultivated and cared for.

But that also meant that the people of Israel might not be able to simply enter the land and start acting as though they own the place.

They needed to take some preparatory steps.  That’s the command, found in verse two.  Send some men to spy out the land.  Each of the 12 tribes was to send a rep.

 

God had promised this land to these people.  It was a foregone conclusion.  But God’s promises never negate our need for preparedness.

The Bible is full of commands to be aware, alert, and ready for whatever God might do.  And we never know His means or His timing.  We just need to be prepared.

You know the old joke about the man caught in the terrible flood?  (Tell joke.)

 

Look at what all the scouts are to check out.  It’s found in verses 18-20.  They are to check out the people within the land.

Do they appear to be strong people, or weak ones?  Does it look densely populated, or fairly sparse in regards to people?

They are to observe the cities, complete with what sorts of military readiness or protection they have.

And what about the condition of the land?  Does it look like good, abundant produce?  And what of trees?  And what of the fruit they bear?

 

This is pretty in depth stuff!  Keep in mind, this land has been promised to them.

That’s why we call it the Promised Land.  And yet, they have a responsibility to be prepared.  I would say the same is true for us.

God has made promises to us.  In Christ, we have the promise of eternal life with Him.  We also have the promise that He will one day return.

But we are called to live in readiness for these promises.  We must live as though He might come back at any moment.

We must be prepared in our hearts and in our minds.  Jesus promises eternal life, but He calls us to be prepared to tell others about it.

Jesus promises abundant life, but He calls us to be prepared to experience it and to live it out in our words and actions.

Yes, God’s promises never cancel out our urgency to be prepared for whatever He might do, and whenever He might do it.

 

So you have seen the scouting crew selected from the people of Israel.  We read about them in verses 4-15.

Let’s see what awaits as they embark on their mission.  (Read Numbers 13:21-24.)

So we see that they did what they were told, as far as we can tell.  In fact, verse 25 tells us they were thorough, spending 40 days scouting the land.

They checked up on the people, as we saw mention in verse 22 of what folks lived in the town of Hebron.

We also saw that they inspected to produce of the land.  They even removed some grapes, pomegranates, and figs to bring back to the people.

And so they return to Moses and Israel with their report.  (Read Numbers 13:26-29.)

 

Do you see what happened there?  Their report started out just fine.  They told the people about the land and showed them the fresh, abundant fruit.

They even referred to the land as one that appears to “flow with milk and honey”.

This is simply a way of gushing over the fertility and productivity of the land.  It was a beautiful land.  It was a plentiful land.  Much to be excited about!

And then comes that key word in verse 28.  “Nevertheless,” the scouting team reports.  This is one of those words that can often signify trouble, especially in Biblical accounts.  This is certainly the case here.

 

Notice what the report says.  The people in the land are strong.  The cities are huge and soundly fortified.  Even the descendants of Anak lived there.

This refers to a group of people renowned for their giant size.  In fact, the people are everywhere—very numerous.

Amalekites are there.  So are Hittites and Jebusites, not to mention Canaanites and Amorites.  You see it, don’t you?  Fear is setting in.

And what was the source of this fear?  This fear came as a result of God’s people focusing on circumstances instead of His promises.

God has promised this magnificent blessing, this land flowing with milk and honey.

But the people in the land look big and bad.  They have weapons.  They have defenses.  Maybe we should just leave.  Circumstances trumped promises.

 

Lest we fault these people for handling this situation in this way, let’s remember how prone we are to do the same thing.

Understandably, tragedies such as terminal illness, loss of a loved one, or even abandonment can cause even the strongest of faiths to waver.

But we even allow the so-called “smaller” circumstances to trump God’s promises.

We give up on prayer because our schedules are too hectic.  We give up on God’s word because it just seems too difficult to read sometimes.

We give up on church because so-and-so did thus-and-such to us.  And, in reality, it all boils down to this sort of thought process.

“I’m with you God.  I’m ready to experience your promised blessings!  Just don’t make me have to do anything to get ready for them.”

“And don’t make it too difficult.  And make sure everything goes according to my plans.”  Before you know it, ourselves and our circumstances have become our gods.

 

That’s why we so often act out of self-preservation.  Remember that fear we mentioned at the beginning of the sermon?

And I’m sure you’ve noticed the fear in the voices of those scouts giving this report to the people of Israel.  It’s a selfish fear.

Most of our fear, I would imagine, is this sort of selfish fear.  It’s a fear of losing our place and power.  It’s a fear of losing our lifestyle and our desires.

It’s a fear that we have no control.  And that fear drives us to grasp at control.  It drives us to preserve ourselves.

That fear drives us to sacrifice the well being of others for the preservation of our way of life, our comfort, and our security.

To be sure, there is no way to honor God with that sort of fear in our lives.

 

Now, one of the scouts had no such fear.  His name was Caleb, of the tribe of Judah.

He’s one of the reasons I liked the name “Caleb” for our younger son.  Caleb is a warrior.  Caleb is brave and bold.

More importantly, Caleb took God at his word.  Look at the rest of our chapter today.  Yes, we are about to finish an entire OT chapter!  (Read Numbers 13:30-33.)

Look at the language again.  Caleb is forceful.  “We should by all means go up and take it,” he says to the people.

“We will surely overcome it,” he continues, doing his best to prod the people on to the right choice.  “But how can you know that we will?” someone may have asked.

“Because God promised it!” I imagine Caleb shouting.  Perhaps Caleb is this brave because of some misguided understanding of his own fighting ability.

More likely, however, Caleb is grounded and rooted by a strong faith in God and His word.  The blessings that come his way in later scriptures would seem to say so.

 

For all his passion and courage and fearlessness, Caleb’s pleas go unheeded.  The other scouts squelched his momentum quickly.

“We can’t do this!  They’re too big, too strong.  There’s too many of them.  They are everywhere!  This land devours people!”

Don’t you love the drama and theatrics there?  Who wants to be devoured?  “We would be like little tiny grasshoppers to them!”  More theatrics.

You know what this tells me?  People are more prone to get swept away by fear and panic than by boldness and faith.

Caleb was just one example of faith in the midst of rampant fearfulness.  He was a beacon of light for the Lord, but he was in the vast, vast minority.

Why?  It’s because it’s easier to fear.  The easy thing to do is to run away.  It’s not the path of blessing, but it’s the easier path.

The path of blessing is, as Jesus said, the narrow path.  Not many follow that path.  Only Calebs are found on that path.  We would all do well to strive to be Calebs, but we ought to understand that Calebs tend to be few and far between.

What’s more, Calebs don’t happen by accident.  They have to be cultivated, taught, and—better put—discipled.

And you don’t become a Caleb without first seeking out that sort of mentality, asking for that sort of large faith, and praying for boldness.

 

We have to flip fear upside down, if you ask me.  I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who once said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Interestingly enough, it was Franklin Roosevelt who said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Of course, I’m not talking about reverential fear of the Lord.

We’re talking about fear of circumstances.  That fear robs you of the blessings of obedience.  And you cannot run from that fear.  You cannot simply avoid fear.

Fear of fear is still fear.  I believe we must learn to embrace those things that, spiritually speaking, scare us to death.

Think about those things that we mentioned a moment ago—those things that drive most of our fears.

 

We fear losing our desires.  We fear losing our lifestyles.  We fear losing our place and our power.  We fear losing control.

Now, no one sets out to live this way.  It’s not natural to wake up every day and say, “I hope I have absolutely no control over anything that happens in my life today!”

But we must learn to embrace the truth that circumstances will sometimes be difficult to navigate, challenging, and even frightening.

We must learn that circumstances change, but our Almighty God never does.  We must learn that following Jesus means surrendering to Him on His terms, not partnering with Him on ours.

The disciples had to learn that lesson quickly and often.  I like Jesus’ words to Peter and the rest of the disciples in the gospel of Mark.  (Read Mark 10:28-30.)

 

The promises were there.  They would receive blessings, even on this earth.  They would receive the ultimate blessing of eternal life one day.

The victory was sure, but they had a charge to be prepared.  They had a charge to endure.  They had a charge to focus on God rather than circumstance.

They had a charge to sacrifice everything, to take a leap of faith, and to step out into the great unknown as they followed this divine Jewish carpenter.

The question for you today is, “What does your step entail?”  How is God calling you to be prepared?  How is He calling you to exercise your faith in the midst of uncertainty?  How is He calling you to trust Him, even if it means sacrificing your all?

The people of Israel faced the uncertainty of military victory, although in truth God had already made it a certainty.

Today, you might face the uncertainty of spiritual victory in Jesus, although in truth God has already made it a certainty on the cross.

The Israelites need only step into that land in faith.  And you need only step into God’s presence with that same sort of faith.

And I don’t know what it will cost you.  Maybe it will cost you the humility of confessed sin.  Maybe it will cost you the unpleasantness of admitting that you’re a churchgoer but not a true follower of Jesus Christ.

Maybe it will cost you reputation, status, or what you perceive to be embarrassment.

Whatever the case may be, your call is to step out in faith and follow Him wherever He may go.  Are you living out of fear?  Are your spiritual decisions made based on fear?  And is it time to be bold in doing the right thing?  (Pray.)