The Temptation to Doubt.
Numbers 13-14, Luke 22
And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” – Numbers 14:11 ESV
Doubting God seemed to be the national pastime of the nation of Israel. But before we cast stones, we might consider just how often and easy we find it to doubt God in our own lives. The fact is, doubt is a constant companion to the people of God, and it is one of the greatest tools in the arsenal of the enemy. All the way back in the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted Eve to doubt God’s word when he said, “Did God actually say…?” He caused her to question the veracity of God’s word. He even disputed God’s decree that death would be the outcome of eating the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. He told Eve, “You will not surely die!” (Genesis 3:4). As a result, Eve doubted and eventually disobeyed. One of the natural outcomes of doubt is always disobedience. If you don’t trust God’s Word, you will eventually disobey it. And that’s exactly what happened to the Israelites. After reaching the border of the land of promise, Moses sent in 12 spies, a special reconnaissance task force, to check out the situation. After 40 days, they came back with a report. They had good news and bad news. The good news was that the land was indeed fruitful. They admitted that it flowed with milk and honey, just as God had promised. They even brought back a single cluster of grapes that was so large it had to be carried on a pole by two men. But there was also bad news: “However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large” (Numbers 13:28 ESV). What these men didn’t realize was that this was actually meant to be good news. God had told them that He was going to bring them to a land “with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant” (Deuteronomy 6:10-11 ESV). He had promised, “I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:2-3 ESV). But not that they were there, they began to doubt God’s word. Their doubt caused them to question His promises and deny His power to do what He said He would do. Caleb, one of the spies, encouraged them to “go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30 ESV). But the rest of the spies said, “We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31 ESV). Their doubt would quickly turn to disobedience.
What does this passage reveal about God?
God had promised. He had never denied that the land was full of powerful nations. But those same powerful nations had built fortified cities and had established strong infrastructures to support their sizable populations. Had the land been empty, there would have been no cities, towns, vineyards, fields, or homes. The land was flowing with milk and honey because it was crawling with powerful enemies. But God was going to hand all of it over to the people of Israel, if they would simply trust His word. It was the very presence of the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Canaanites and Amorites that made the land worth having. Had no one been living there, it would have been a wasteland. There would have been no giant cluster of grapes. There would have been no flowing milk because there would have been no livestock. What to men appears as opposition, God sees as opportunity. God had proven His ability to protect and provide. He had revealed His power of their enemies. His miraculous defeat of the armies of Pharaoh should have been more than enough proof that the occupants of the land of promise were not going to be a problem. But the people doubted, and God saw their doubt for what it really was. “How long will these people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” (Numbers 14:11 ESV). To doubt God is to despise Him. The Hebrew word means “to condemn or spurn, to treat with contempt, to reject.” Doubt is directly tied to disbelief. They were rejecting God’s word by refusing to believe it. In essence, they were calling God a liar. They were denying His power. They were questioning His faithfulness.
What does this passage reveal about man?
Doubt is a natural human response to difficulty. When we face trials and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, it is easy to doubt. But as followers of God, we must learn to view our circumstances through the lens of God’s character and past performances in the lives of His people. He has a track record of faithfulness. He has a history of doing the seemingly impossible and accomplishing the highly improbable. But too often we allow doubt to turn to disobedience. And when we do, we actually despise the One we say we love. In the gospel of Luke, we have the sad story of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. As one of the twelve, Judas had seen all the miracles of Jesus. He had listened to His teaching. He had witnessed His power to heal the sick and even raise the dead. But somewhere in his heart he doubted the words of Jesus. And he began to deny the truth that Jesus truly was the Messiah. Jesus said of him, “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” (Luke 22:22 ESV). Judas doubted and his doubt turned to disobedience and, ultimately, the betrayal of Jesus. But he was not alone in his doubt. Peter too would find himself doubting the words of Jesus. He struggled with believing that God’s plan really did include the death of Jesus. He wanted to prevent it. And when put into a difficult spot, this member of Jesus’ inner circle of the disciples even denied that he even knew Him. His doubt turned to disobedience. When things didn’t turn out quite the way he had expected, he found himself questioning God’s word and doubting Jesus’ promises.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
I find doubt to be a constant companion in my life. When faced with difficulty, it is so easy to focus on my circumstances and fail to see what God is really doing. Like the Israelites, I can see the “giants” in my life as nothing more than insurmountable obstacles, rather than God-ordained opportunities for blessing. God has promised to bless me. He has promised me joy everlasting and abundant life. But according to the Scriptures, “joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5 ESV). In other words, it comes after a period of darkness. Victory can only come when there has been an enemy to defeat. There is no healing without sickness. There is no need for forgiveness if there is an absence of sin. King David knew these truths all too well. He faced many trials and difficulties in his life. He was surrounded by enemies of all kinds. But he was able to say of God, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12 ESV). David found doubt to be a regular companion in his life. But he refused to allow that doubt to take root and lead to disobedience. He knew that doubting was just another form of despising and denying the goodness and grace of God.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones” (Proverbs 3:5-8 ESV).
Father, I want to trust You more and doubt less. I want to see the obstacles in my life as opportunities to see You work. Forgive me for making more out of my difficulties than I make out of You. I want to acknowledge You in ALL MY WAYS – the good times and the seeming bad times. I want to continue to recognize that with You on my side, there really is no such thing as bad news, because You can use the worst of circumstances to accomplish Your best in my life. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men