Part 1 of a conference address
Reading: Numbers 13. 1,2 & 17-33
When we talk of giants, probably the first thing that comes to mind is the old fairy tale of the giant at the top of Jack's beanstalk. But to the Christian, giants are not men standing ten feet tall and wearing seven league boots, they are the great obstacles and difficulties that beset us and giants are everywhere.
We all come across them at some time or other. They are in our families, in our churches, in our social life; they are in our own minds, and they must be overcome or, as the men of old said of the giants of Canaan at the end of Numbers 13 "They will eat us up." but the men of faith said; "They are bread for us, we will eat them up." in other words, by facing up to them, and overcoming them with God's help, we will be stronger than if there had been no giants to overcome
Let me remind you of a story that illustrates this. An old man sat on the ground, with his back to a rock, looking out over the lower slopes of Mount Horeb, the Mountain of God. For the last forty years he had been looking after the flocks of his father-in-law and now he was watching as the sheep wandered over the side of the mountain in their search for food.
He was a Hebrew and, as he had done so often during the eighty years of his life, he was brooding on the sufferings of his people in Egypt. He wondered how much longer they would have to wait for God to fulfil His promise to bring them safely out of the land where they were held in slavery.
Suddenly a nearby bush burst into flames, (the story is in Exodus 3 & 4) but, after idly watching it for a few minutes, he realised that something strange was happening. Although the bush was on fire, it wasn't turning to ashes as it burned. He thought he had better go and have a closer look to see if he could find out why the bush wasn't burning away to nothing. As he got nearer a voice spoke to him from the flames "You can be sure I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries for deliverance from their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come to rescue them from the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own good and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey - the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites live. ^The cries of the people of Israel have reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians have oppressed them with heavy tasks. ^Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You will lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt" (Exodus 3. 7‑10).
Now Moses does not seem to have been too happy about this idea, he was an old man and this job wasn't going to be easy: so he raised every objection he could think of. First he said that he was a nobody and that Pharaoh would not take any notice of him. Then he said that in any case, even if Pharaoh did listen to him, the Israelites probably would not believe that he had been sent by God to help them. Then lastly, he said that he was not a good talker, was slow of speech and not quick witted. But God overruled every one of these objections, so as a last resort Moses said; "Lord, please! Send someone else." (Exodus 4.13)
It wasn't because he was afraid of going back into Egypt, even though he had had to leave there in rather a hurry because he had killed an overseer who was beating one of the Hebrews. That had been over forty years ago and was probably forgotten now, and no-one was going to recognise, in an old shepherd a former member of the Egyptian court. It was just that he could see all the problems that were going to crop up and he just had not got enough confidence in himself, or enough faith in God, to trust that if God said; "Go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You will lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt," (Exodus 3.10) then God would make sure that nothing, and no-one, would stop that happening.
Anyway, like it or not, Moses went. We are not going through the whole history of how God, through Moses, brought the Israelites out of Egypt and up to the borders of the Promised Land. Nor how the spies were sent out to explore the land of Canaan, but we'll take up the story just after the spies had returned and given their report.
What these men reported gives us a perfect example of how men can allow their fears to get such a big hold on their minds that they no longer trust God's Word. God had caused Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt, had protected them when they were pursued, fed them when they were hungry and led them to the borders of the land which He had promised Moses that He would give them for their own. It was a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. They had seen, with their own eyes, how God had protected them until now. The spies had actually brought them evidence of the abundant fruit of the land. Now, because the men who occupied this promised land were evidently well built and warlike, and the cities that they lived in were strong and well fortified, they were afraid to trust that God would lead them victoriously into it. This, in spite of all He had done for them on their journey.
The spies said, "There are giants in the land, men so big that we look like grasshoppers beside them, we can't possibly defeat men like that". These were respected men, leaders of the twelve tribes, men whose opinions were accepted, and if these men said that their people could never capture that land, because of the giants they had seen, then the people would believe them, as they did, even though two of their number, Caleb and Joshua, said that with God's help they could possess the land. Yes, they saw Giants: but Caleb and Joshua saw more ‑ they saw God and they were quite convinced that nothing is impossible with God and that if He said He would take the land from its present occupants and give it to them then all they had to do was follow His leading and it would be so.
Now the fact is, that unless we have an overcoming faith, we shall be eaten up, - we shall be consumed by the Giants which are the difficulties in our path. Those who doubt, as the ten leaders did, say "We're not able to go up; we can't do it." But those who believe, as Caleb and Joshua did, say, "Let's go up and possess it, - we can do it."
We need to have the same spirit of faith as these men of old. We need to see God in everything, and trust in Him, then He will take care of the difficulties. As James tells us, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double minded man in all he does" James 1.2‑8.
It's when we are in the way of duty that we find giants in our path. They come in many disguises, and they will always be there, especially when we want to do the Lord's will. In fact there will probably be more of them when we set out to do His will. It was when Israel were going forward that the Giants appeared. When they turned back into the wilderness they found none. But this had been the crucial point in their lives. Within sight of the Promised Land they had turned back because they were afraid to trust God, except for two men, Caleb and Joshua, who would have gone into Canaan and who trusted that God would give them the victory, the opportunity to enter the Promised Land never returned. Instead, they wandered around in the wilderness for forty years, and those two men were the only ones, from more than 600,000 men over the age of about twenty, who lived to enter Canaan.
What the Israelites ignored, and we are still liable to ignore, is that; "the battle is the Lords" (1 Samuel 17.47). Because we only see a small corner of the conflict, in which we're fighting, we tend to think that we're in charge of the battle. But if the battle is the Lord's, then the responsibility for planning everything connected with it, whether it's the line of attack or the method of defence, is also His. There is no need for us to worry about the enemy's strength or his subtlety because the Lord has a full view of all the enemy's movements, and a perfect knowledge of the enemy's defences. He has anticipated all His opponents wiles and it is impossible for Him to be deceived or be taken unawares. It is His glory that is at stake; the honour of His name that's being assailed and He is well able to deal with the strongest of foes.
The battle is the Lords, therefore the supplies will be more than sufficient. Ours is not the first battle the Lord has fought and no one knows better than a general who has directed many campaigns, just what is needed on the day of battle. We shall lack nothing that is needed to make us victorious. That we shall be victorious is beyond question, because He goes forth "Conquering and to Conquer" and He has never lost a battle. We should remember Paul's words in Ephesians 6.12, "We are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms". The enemy may at sometime during the fight appear to be gaining the advantage, but for Satan to gain the victory is simply impossible. However, the Lord does expect us to rest in His wisdom. In the thick of the fight, in the midst of the smoke and the noise of battle, we may fail to see the wisdom of the general's ways, but it it is then, when we cannot see, that we must trust Him and rest in His wisdom. We must be confident of His power and be obedient to His command. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church; "Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ" (2 Corinthians 2.14)
We can find inspiration in the faith and trust of the young David. He had been able to kill a lion and, at another time a bear, when they had each tried to carry off one of his sheep. He said that it was "The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the Bear." It was this faith in the Lord that later on, helped him to conquer the mighty Goliath. When the lion came to steal from his flock, it came as a marvellous opportunity for David. If he had faltered, or given in to his fears, he would have missed Gods' opportunity for him and probably would never have become God's chosen King of Israel. Now you would hardly think that facing a lion was a special blessing from God. But David's lion was Gods' opportunity, in disguise. The very trial that threatens to overcome us with discouragement and disaster, will become God's opportunity for the revelation of His grace and glory in our lives. As Paul wrote to the Philippians at the end of his letter; "God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
Although we may not know what trials await any of us we can believe that every difficulty that presents itself to us, if we face up to it, is God's opportunity, and we shouldn't forget that our impossibilities are Gods' certainties, or that because; "Nothing is impossible for God." that, if we trust in Him, and have faith that He is with us, then nothing will be impossible for us, through Christ. Trials and hard places are needed to press us forward. Even the difficulties that confront us are not intended to discourage us but to teach us new lessons in the life of faith and to test us to see if we will depend on Him and trust him to perform the impossible.
The Apostle John wrote at the beginning of the fifth chapter of his first letter; "For every child of God defeats this evil world by trusting Christ to give the victory" I wonder just how many opportunities we've lost during our lives because we gave in to our fears, just as the Israelites did, instead of trusting, like David, that the Lord would defeat the giants for us if only we would go on into the battle. But never forget the warning given in the last four verses of the third chapter of Hebrews; "Today you must listen to his voice. Don't harden your hearts against him as Israel did when they rebelled. And who were those people who rebelled against God. Were they not the ones Moses led out of Egypt and who made God angry for forty years? Was it not the people who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom was God speaking when he vowed that they would never enter his place of rest? He was speaking to those who disobeyed him. So we see that they were not allowed to enter his rest because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3.15‑19).
One way many people try to solve their difficulties is to get round them. They come to a desert, and instead of showing confidence in the Lord with prayer and trust, then pressing on across it, believing that He will provide them with water, they go round the desert so that they can find water for themselves. But the water they find is just water, dirty, polluted and germ laden. As we are told in John 4.13,14, Jesus told the woman of Samaria, when she came and talked with Him; "People soon become thirsty again after drinking this water. But the water I give them takes away thirst altogether. It becomes a perpetual spring within them, giving them eternal life." (John 4.13‑14)
If only they'd gone through their desert obstacle they would have been given the crystal clear water of life. They only had to ask, believing that it would be given, and they would have found that their desert had become an oasis. There are others who find mountains in their way and instead of climbing them and using the tops as stepping stones that will take them to the security of the Father's care, they try to find a way for themselves through the valleys. They find that the mountains get higher all the time while the valleys get narrower and twist and turn so much that there seems no way out. Yet there is a way, if we have faith. In Matthew 17.20 we are told that Jesus said;
"I assure you, even if you had faith as small as a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." (Matthew 17.20)