“And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.” – Numbers 13:30-31
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” – Proverbs 18:21
“For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.” – Mark 11:23
I have seen God’s grace shatter a lot of nevers in recent weeks – from simple, everyday things to desperate, seemingly-impossible prayers. I’ve had to admit my own faithlessness, my own preconceived notions, and the words like “never”, “can’t”, and “always” that I have stubbornly and shortsightedly willed into fact. And it strikes me that, in matters of faith, we need to choose our words carefully.
In Numbers 13, we see careless, faithless, fear-filled words showcased side by side with words that are well-chosen, fearless, and faith-filled. The Children of Israel are on the outskirts of the Promised Land. They are camped in the wilderness of Paran, and God has given Moses a command – send men to search out the land of Canaan (Verses 1-3). Moses chooses a man to represent each tribe, and the twelve spies embark on a 40-day, fact-finding mission in uncharted territory (Verses 17-25).
In the 20/20 vision of hindsight, we can see that this mission was actually a test. God certainly knew what was in the Promised Land – good and bad – and He had repeatedly promised victory and blessing for His chosen people, in return for obedience and faith (Genesis 12:7, 13:15, 17:8, 50:24, Exodus 6:8, Leviticus 20:24). Now, it was time to see if the Children of Israel could trust and obey when promises and problems collided.
The spies return with the fruit of the land – including a single cluster of grapes so large that two men have to carry it on a pole that extends from one’s shoulder to the other’s (Verses 23, 26). But this physical, tangible, edible proof of God’s abundant promise will soon be overshadowed by the foreshadowing of doom by ten of the spies.
Don’t miss the weight of words here. While the ten spies concede that the land is amazing and beyond all expectations, their report (defined as an “evil” report in Verse 32) of giants and fortified cities is laden with heavy words of discouragement, statements of absolute impossibility, and declarations of failure (Verses 28-29, 32-33).
Their pragmatism is prophetic. It sends the masses into such an emotional tailspin that they actually start talking about returning to Egypt, and it guarantees that an entire generation will die in the wilderness without ever seeing the Promised Land (Numbers 14:2-4, 20-24).
Caleb and Joshua speak words of faith and hope (Numbers 13:30, 14:6-9), and they will live to lead the next generation to possess the land (Numbers 14:30-33). But the evil report of the other spies literally keeps the rest of Israel out of the place of blessing, by feeding their fears and starving their already-emaciated faith.
Too often, we take pride in “calling it”. We want to be the pragmatic prophet of doom who saw failure looming on the horizon before anyone else did, and we take some sort of sick satisfaction in predicting evil and then watching it come true (James 5:6-10). We label people and situations with words like “never”, “can’t”, and “always” and then wonder why God’s promises don’t take root in our lives.
Let me set the record straight – God delights in dreamers (I Chronicles 4:10, II Chronicles 16:9, Proverbs 3:5-6, Nahum 1:7, Matthew 8:10, 15:28, Ephesians 3:20-21). He unleashes His greatest blessings in the lives of the unrealistic – the ones who choose promises over practicality and press forward in hope (Matthew 17:20, 19:26, Luke 1:37, Hebrews 11).
Today, I don’t want to be the one who “called it”, the one who “saw it coming”, or the one who “knew it all along”. I want to be the one who spoke faith and hope into a situation and saw God do the impossible. I want to be the one who held on to the promise in the face of the problem and believed that God would make a way.
Call the impossible “possible”. Call God true and every man a liar. Fill the hopeless with hope, and feed the fearful with faith. Say that He is able to do it, and He will.
Choose your words carefully. Speak hope and blessing to the people and situations in your life – even when the words don’t seem to make sense. Trust that God is faithful, and He will do what He has promised.