Moses is going to retell the tale of the rebellion that occurred when the twelve spies returned from Canaan. He's telling the tale to a new generation---to the generation that will enter the promised land. They've no doubt heard the story many times before but it bears repeating now as they have come full circle and are camped at Kadesh again nearly forty years later. He doesn't want them to make the same mistake their parents made.
When it was time to begin taking hold of the promised land almost four decades earlier, the people balked and would not go because ten of the twelve spies had nothing but negative things to say about it. "But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 1:26) I think their reasoning went like this: "Ten out of twelve spies say it can't be done. That's a majority. We trust their opinion more than the opinion of the two who say we can scale walls and fight giants."
The ten spies, and those who trusted their opinion, might have been correct if God had not been on the side of Israel. Israel's soldiers might have been no match for the fierce tribes of Canaan if the Lord had not fought along with them. In their minds many of the people subtracted God from the equation and lost heart, which is something that can happen to any of us. When we try to face the obstacles and troubles of this life all on our own, success begins to look impossible. And in many ways it is impossible to live a victorious life with peace in our hearts if we leave God out of the equation. If we aren't depending on the Lord's help, every wall begins to look too tall to scale and every trial looms over us like a giant. But with God all things are possible. With God on our side, it doesn't matter who or what is against us. We are in the majority with God. We are on the winning team with God. If He says it can be done then it can be done because He's going to supply the power to get it done.
Moses reminds his audience of the discouraging words spoken by their forefathers who came out of Egypt. "You grumbled in your tents and said, 'The Lord hates us; so He brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. Where can we go? Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear. They say, 'The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.'" (Deuteronomy 1:27-28)
When we are deeply troubled we may not think clearly and I believe that's why the Israelites accused the Lord of having bad intentions toward them. Did it make sense to claim the Lord brought them out of Egypt to kill them years later as they attempted to take over the promised land? No, because if the Lord truly had hated them and wanted them dead He could have killed them in Egypt. He could have allowed a plague to fall on the whole community while they still lived in the land of oppression. If He didn't have good intentions toward Israel, there would have been no need to perform signs and wonders in Egypt. There would have been no need to bring them all out boldly in the light of day, loaded down with gold and silver and clothing from the Egyptians. Doing all those great things for Israel would have been a waste of time and effort if the Lord had bad intentions toward them in the wilderness or inside the borders of Canaan.
I too have questioned the Lord's intentions when I've been under great duress. I can't criticize the Israelites without being a hypocrite. There have been times in my life when circumstances have become so difficult that I've felt angry toward God. I've questioned God. I've been offended by what He's allowed to happen. I've gone through a season already this year of questioning why He allowed a particular unfair, unexpected thing to happen. In my shock and anger and disappointment I felt a sense of betrayal. But as these circumstances begin to turn around I am seeing how foolish I was not to hold firm to the promise that, "In all things God works for the good of those who love Him". (Romans 8:28) As I'm coming out the other side of this thing I'm wondering why I ever tossed and turned in the dark of night worrying and complaining. Why did I ever wonder whether God had my best interests at heart? Why was I angry? Why was I offended? I wish I could say I've never had that reaction before in my life. I wish I could say I'll never have this reaction again. But human nature being what it is, and knowing myself, I wouldn't dare boast that I'll never fall into this type of negative thinking again.
Moses knows human nature. He hasn't led an enormous congregation through the wilderness for forty years for nothing. He's learned a thing or two about how the human mind works. He's seen the discouraging words of only ten men affect a congregation that likely numbered over 2,000,000. He knows it's quite possible that this new generation will make the same type of mistakes the older generation made. They may doubt God's goodness when troubles come. They may question His motives. They will certainly, at times, ask the age-old question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" This is why Moses reminds the new generation of the words of encouragement he spoke to the previous generation, "Then I said to you, 'Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as He did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.'" (Dueteronomy 1:29-31)
One of the best ways to encourage ourselves in the Lord is to think back on all the times He came through for us in the past. If the people had taken heed to Moses' words and encouraged themselves in the Lord then they would not have rebelled during their first sojourn at Kadesh, but they were overwhelmed with fear of the unknown and didn't listen. We can understand their thought process because they'd never laid eyes on or set foot in the promised land. They'd never fought armies or taken fortified cities or faced literal giants. But on the other hand, great victories already lay in their past---victories won by the Lord---and this is why Moses urged them to strengthen their faith by thinking back on those victories. The Lord performed mighty signs and wonders in their sight in Egypt. He brought them out without them having to lift a finger against the Egyptians. He parted the Red Sea for them and led them through on dry ground. He caused water to flow for them from solid rock in the desert. He provided food for them in a barren wasteland. Could He not also subdue Canaan for them? Could He not give them victory in battle? Could He not cause them to take over, inhabit, and prosper in this new land? Was He not capable of keeping the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Moses asked the previous generation, "Can the God who carried you in His arms like a child from Egypt not also carry you into the promised land?"
I'm ashamed of the times I've doubted God and yet I'm sure there will be times in the future when I'll be caught off guard or become stricken by fear and will again struggle with doubts and anxieties. Moses knows the Israelites will go through trials and tribulations in this world. He knows they'll be tempted to doubt the goodness of God or wonder why bad things sometimes happen to good people. He reminds them that the best way to combat negative thinking is to replace it with positive thinking: to list in their minds all the times in the past the Lord came through for them. When faced with hardship they must think back on how the Lord worked things out for their good in the past. This will help them to trust Him in the future.