Now that Israel is nearing the end of her time in the wilderness, Moses recaps various events in her history since she left Egypt. Today he talks about the time, almost forty years prior, when he sent the twelve spies to look at the land of Canaan.
"Then, as the Lord our God commanded us, we set out from Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites through all that vast and dreadful wilderness that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea." (Deuteronomy 1:19) At this time the Israelites have come full circle. They have previously been at Kadesh Barnea and now they are in that region again, but nearly forty years have separated their lodging there. The first time the Lord told the people to leave the region and enter the promised land, they did not do so because of the bad report of ten of the twelve spies.
The first time they were getting ready to break camp from Kadesh Barnea, Moses announced to them that it was time to go in and take the promised land. "Then I said to you, 'You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.'" (Deuteronomy 1:20-21) It was never what the Lord wanted for Israel---remaining so many years in the wilderness. As the general of her army, He gave her the marching orders a long time ago, but she did the very thing Moses encouraged her not to do: she became afraid and discouraged.
Fears and doubts can keep us from receiving blessings at the appointed time or keep us from receiving particular blessings altogether. When the Lord says, "It's time to move ahead. I'm giving you this blessing. Move forward and take this opportunity.", and when we say, "I can't do it. The job is too big for me. I won't be able to accomplish this.", we run the risk of having our blessing delayed or missing out on the blessing completely. Here's a simple example to prove our point: Have you ever tried to give your child something good but they've refused to take it or try it? Let's say you've made a delicious chocolate dessert that you know your small chocolate-loving child would really like but because the dessert is something new he shakes his head and won't open his mouth to taste it. Obviously you aren't going to force some of the dessert into his mouth, so he ends up missing out on a yummy food that might have become one of his favorites. Our heavenly Father is a gentleman and He doesn't force us to try the blessings He's holding out to us. If we refuse to accept whatever good thing He's offering, He accepts our refusal. He respects our human dignity. He respects our right---as creatures with free will---to say no.
When Moses told the Israelites it was time to take hold of the promised land, instead of moving boldly forward they wanted to first send in some men on a reconnaissance mission. They wanted to know what they were getting into before they crossed over into Canaan. Did it matter what they were getting into? No, because the Lord was going to make certain they accomplished the takeover of this territory. But it's human nature to want to size up a new situation before beginning to work on it. "Then all of you came to me and said, 'Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.'" (Deuteronomy 1:22) Of course the Lord Himself was going to tell them which route to take. The Lord is in command of this army and He is in charge of the battle plans. He never intended them to rush blindly forward with no strategy in place; He intended to tell them when and how and where to attack the pagan tribes of Canaan.
The idea to send in spies originated in Numbers 13. At that time we weren't told it was the people's idea. We were simply informed that the Lord instructed Moses to select a man from each tribe to go on the mission. It appears that the Lord's instructions involve how to carry out this mission, not that the Lord ordered them to send in spies. I believe the idea came from the people, then Moses agreed to it, and then Moses consulted the Lord about how many men he should send and which men he should send. "The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe. They left and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshkol and explored it. Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they brought it down to us and reported, 'It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.'" (Deuteronomy 1:23-25)
Moses must have regretted agreeing to their request. Ten of the twelve spies came back with such a negative, discouraging report that almost the entire congregation rebelled. They even wanted to stone Moses and Aaron to death, appoint a new leader, and go back to Egypt. I think Moses consulted the Lord about how to select and send out the spies, but perhaps he didn't ask the Lord whether he should do it. This mistake, and the mistake most of the people made after the spies returned, cost them forty years.
As we've seen time and time again, all of our big decisions need to be made with the help of the Lord. In addition, we need to stand firm on His promises to begin with. If all the people had just stood firm on His promise that He was going to enable them to take over the promised land, it would not have occurred to them to send spies into the land first. If Moses had stood firm on the Lord's promise and had not given into the people's wishes, no bad reports would have come to anyone's ears and caused them to rebel against going forward. Forty years could have been saved. They could have been inhabiting and enjoying the land for four decades. Rather than criticizing Israel for this, we need to take stock of our own lives and consider all the times when we've behaved similarly. I know I have had doubts and fears when there was no reason for me to feel doubtful or fearful. I could have enjoyed more blessings if I'd only stood firm on the Lord's promises. I could have enjoyed some of the blessings I did take hold of a lot sooner if I hadn't wasted time worrying and fretting. No wonder the Bible says over and over, "Do not fear," because we are so prone to giving in to fear. But we'd give in to fear less often if we just said to ourselves, "The Lord told me not to fear. So I'm not going to."