30 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.
31 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.
32 And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.
33 And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.
Open your Bibles to the book of Numbers 13:33, which will be the focal point of the message for today.
Sometime ago I read that the East Germans had abandoned it efforts to man with armed guards the towers that were along the border between East Germany and West Germany. The border was 850 miles long. The East Germans, the communists, had erected more than 700 watchtowers to keep the enemy out and to keep their own people in. Through the years they tried to man those watchtowers with armed soldiers. It became such a difficult and expensive task that bit by bit they were abandoning that. They replaced those armed soldiers periodically and from place to place with life-sized cardboard soldiers. From a distance, as close as you could get, they looked like the real thing, but they weren’t. They moved them around from tower to tower—sometimes they would have a cardboard soldier in a tower for just a few hours, sometimes for a few days. People never knew whether it was a real soldier or a cardboard soldier and whether it was safe to make a run for the border.
I got to thinking that in life a lot of our enemies are like that. They are imaginary, they are not real, they are just cardboard, they exist only in our minds. But because we think those enemies are real, because we perceive them to be real, they can enslave us, they can paralyze us, they can terrorize us and they can restrict what we do and where we go and how we live.
There is always the danger that we should be held captive by cardboard, by imaginary soldiers. That very thing happened to the nation of Israel. And it is expressed to us in Numbers 13:33. When the spies who came back from searching out the land of Canaan they said, “We were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”
I want you to notice very carefully what these spies said. They said we were “in our own sight as grasshoppers.” We saw ourselves as grasshoppers, as small nobodies. And then it always follows that if you see yourself as a grasshopper, other people will soon see yourself as a grasshopper. They will soon have the same opinion of you that you have of yourself. So we saw ourselves as grasshoppers and so we were in their sight also.
A little background to this experience will help you to understand that statement even better. For hundreds of years occupying the land of Canaan had been the dream of the Jewish nation. God had made the promise to them in the days of Abraham: “I am going to give you this land to be your very own land.” And Abraham lived and died with the promise and the hope that one day the land of Canaan would be his. That hope and dream passed on to his successors Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. And then the children of Israel found themselves in Egyptian bondage for 400 years. Through all of that period of time the flame of hope never went out. And they dreamed of the time when that land, the Promised Land, would be given to them. God had said so and they believed that it would happen. In the fullness of time God raised up Moses and he delivered the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. They started toward the Promised Land and on their way they went south and camped at the base of Mount Sinai where God gave the ten commandments and the other laws that were to govern and regulate their life together. And then 18 months out of Egypt they came to Kadesh Barnea, the border of the Promised Land, just 18 months from captivity. The Lord told Moses that he should chose 12 spies, one from each of the 12 tribes of Israel and they should go into the land and should search it out and come back with the report. So those 12 spies went into the Promised Land and they stayed there for 40 days.
They came back with this report. They said the land is everything you could imagine, everything you could want it to be. They described it this way. They called it “the land that flows with milk and honey. It is a beautiful land and fertile and fruitful land that God has offered to us.” And if they had stopped right there, it would have been a wonderful report but they added “nevertheless.” It is a wonderful land, nevertheless. And then they began to speak in negative terms about all of the obstacles and all of the difficulties that confronted them in taking the land. They said in that land there are walled cities. There are well-fortified communities. And there are soldiers and there are many different tribes and some of those soldiers are huge. They are giants to us. And we are afraid that we cannot possibly take the land.
Caleb, one of those 12 spies, could see how the negative talking was building up more and more as they talked about the reasons why it couldn’t be done. And so Caleb spoke up in verse 30 and said, “I want you to be quiet. I want you to possess it for we are able to overcome it.” Caleb was a man of faith. Caleb was a man who believed that God was with them and he said, “In spite of all the obstacles, in spite of the walled city, in spite of the greatness of these people we can overcome it. Let’s go. Let’s get it. Let’s go and take the land right now.” But the other spies, 10 out of the 12 were convinced that it could not be done. And so they continued to speak despairingly of the possibility of taking the land and when they finished their discourse to the children of Israel this is what they said: “That we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in theirs. We saw ourselves as grasshoppers and they saw us as grasshoppers also.”
When the children of Israel heard this they were greatly distressed. They lifted up their voices and they wept day and night. And they began to complain about Moses and about God having brought them out of the land of Egypt and the wilderness to die. In fact they said it would have better for them to have died in the wilderness. It would have better to have died in Egypt than for Moses to bring them out of there and the would certainly die if they tried to go into Canaan. And they even began to organize and to plan a way to go back into Egypt. Now, there are people who had been in bondage for 400 years and now for 18 months had been free and they are talking about going back into bondage. Can you imagine that? Every once in a while people defect from Eastern Europe and come to the United States. People come from Russia. And then occasionally we will read about people deciding to go back to Russia.
Stalin’s daughter was one of them. Do you know why that happens? It is because those people prefer the security of slavery to the risk and the responsibility of freedom. You see, to be a free person, to live in this country incurs a lot of responsibilities. You’ve got to work for a living. You’ve got to make your own way. You’ve got to make a lot of decisions. There are untold responsibilities wrapped up in the freedom that you enjoy. But if you live in a Soviet Bloc country there is a lot of security. They tell you what job to work at. They tell what you can buy. They tell you where you can travel. They tell you how much you are going to make. And it takes a lot of the responsibilities of decision-making off of a person and there are people in this world today who prefer the security of slavery to the risk of freedom.
That’s the way these Israelites were. They were saying that back in Egypt we had plenty to eat. The government provided for us. We didn’t have to make all of these decisions. We didn’t run all of these risks and they talked about going back to Egypt. Joshua spoke up, a second of those spies, who had gone into the Promised Land and had seen that God was in all of this. He said to these people, “Look, God is with us and let’s don’t provoke God. Let’s don’t rebel against God by going back. Let’s follow him. Let’s go into the land.” But the people steadfastly refused and they determined they would not go into the Promised Land—they would listen to the report, the negative report of the 10 spies. They believed as the spies did, that they were grasshoppers in their faith, they were grasshoppers and they could not take the land and they refused to do so.
And God was angered at Israel. So he said, every person 20 years of age and up will die in the wilderness. And the only two who are above 20 years of age who will ever enter into the Promised Land are Joshua and Caleb, who believe me enough to risk taking the land. The rest of you shall wander around in the wilderness for 40 years. They were going to wander in the wilderness one year for every day that the spies searched out the land. They were in that land for 40 days and 40 nights and then they came back with a negative report and God said, “Okay, if you are not willing to take the land you shall wander in the wilderness one year for every one of those 40 days and every one of you above 20 years of age will die and you will never see the land.”
But Caleb would see the land. For the Lord said that Caleb had a spirit different from the spirit of these other people. Now I want you to see this about the children of Israel. They left God out of the picture. They were not convinced that God was going to be with them. And without God, they sensed their own weakness and their own frailness and their own littleness and they felt that they were grasshoppers in their own sight and that they were grasshoppers in the sight of these other men.
Because they left God out of their lives they were not willing to try to take the land. And the bottom line is that it wasn’t giants that kept Israel out of the Promised Land, it was their own wrong thinking and their own wrong believing, and their own wrong talking. Now the evidence for that is that 40 years later they did take the Promised Land. When they sent spies into to search it out they went first to Rahab the harlot, and she said, “You know when we first heard about you. When we heard about God parting the waters of the Red Sea and you come into the Promised Land our hearts melted within us.” The people in that land had been ready to give up the fight. They would have thrown down their arms, they would have surrendered from the very beginning if Israel had just had enough faith to go on. And they never encountered any giants when they entered the land. If they did the giants fled from them because they never had to fight them. And even when they went up against those walled cities they never fired a shot, they just marched around those walls again and again and they sounded the blast of a trumpet and the walls fell down and God gave them the land.
Beware of being a grasshopper Christian. There are so many of them around today. And they look around and they see the enemy and they perceive him to be something he is not. They overestimate his strength, they underestimate their own power in the Lord, and because of their wrong perception of things, because their faith is so weak, they never venture out to attempt anything for God. And God is not able to prove himself and to demonstrate his power in their lives.
From this experience there are three truths that I want to draw. They are not necessarily parallel truths, but they are all related to this experience.
How we see God determines how we see ourselves. If you don’t see God at all, you think of yourself as a grasshopper. If you ever see God at work in the world in your life, you will never see yourself as a grasshopper again. How you see God determines how you see yourself.
The second truth is this, that negative thinking is infectious. It has a way of spreading and multiplying and people catch that kind of thinking. They are very susceptible to negative thinking.
And the third truth is this, that we limit God by our unbelief. Those truths are only indirectly related to one another, but they all come directly out of this passage of scripture.
1. How you see God determines how you see yourself.
There were 12 spies who went into the Promised Land and those spies saw the land as a rich and fertile land. They saw walled cities. They saw a strong enemy. The other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, went into the land and they saw exactly the same thing. They were exposed to the same terrain and the same people and the same cities, and the same set of facts, but they did not see the same thing. When they got through 10 of them they said, “We were grasshoppers in their sight. We were grasshoppers in our own sight.” And the other two said that this land was theirs for the taking. What was the difference? The difference is that behind the scenes Joshua and Caleb saw the mighty hand of God. And the other 10 saw only themselves.
How you see God will determine how you see yourself. It will determine what you believe can be done in you and from you. It will determine what you are willing to risk. And if you ever see that your life is in the hand of God and that God is in control of your situation and that you are committed to him and surrendered to him, then you will never ever again think of yourself as a grasshopper. You will think of yourself as a giant in the hands of God. It is a matter of perception, seeing things as they are.
I think about the experience of Elisha, the prophet of God. Israel was at war with Syria, and Elisha was getting messages from God and he was feeding those messages to the Israelite army and so they were able to anticipate the movement of the enemy. And so the enemy discovered that the person who was setting them up for ambush was the prophet Elisha and they decided that they would kill him. So the army of Syria sent their army down in the middle of the night to surround the village where Elisha was staying. Early the next morning Elisha’s servant got up and decided to wash his face. When he got through washing his face he saw in the mountains surrounding that little village the army of the Syrians. He saw soldiers and chariots and horses everywhere.
He rushed back in to tell Elisha was he had seen outside looked around and he saw those same soldiers and those same horses and those same chariots and he said to his servant, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16). And then he prayed a prayer. He said, “Lord, would you open the eyes of my servant that he may see the army of the Lord.” And when he prayed the servant’s spiritual eyes were opened and he saw behind the army of the Syrians the army of God—it had been there all along. He had not had eyes to see and once he saw the army of God behind the army of the Assyrians, the army of the Assyrians didn’t look nearly as big has it had before. And he lost his fear and regained his courage when he suddenly saw that God was there.
I am saying to you that how you see God determines how you see yourself. Some of you have a grasshopper faith. A grasshopper mentality. You think you are a nobody and you can’t do anything and it is because you have never seen the God with whom all things are possible. If you will link your life and heart with him, then he can give you victory over the greatest of enemies. You will discover that the victories come relatively easy. Sometimes they throw in the towel, they surrender without a fight, if you can ever see God at work in your life.
Beware of cardboard communists, of imaginary enemies of people out where who aren’t as strong and as mighty and as great as they might seem because God is with you. And when God is with you, you are somebody.
2. Negative thinking is infectious.
Twelve spies went out, 12 came back, two saying, “We can take the land,” 10 ten saying, “We cannot take the land.” They saw the same thing. They had a different interruption and understanding. The amazing thing is, but it really is not amazing, is that the pessimistic people had the loudest voices. It was the people who said, “It can’t be done,” who talked the loudest and the longest and convinced everybody else. Have you noticed that in life? The negative people are always the most zealous and most often the most convincing and if you aren’t careful you will listen to their negative thinking until you catch it, until it infects you, until it ruins your very spirit. They drag you down to their level of unbelief and pessimism and you don’t try what you ordinarily would try because you have caught their infection of negativism. It is a dangerous thing to be a negative thinker and a negative talker and to listen to people who are always telling you why something won’t work, why you can’t do something. The first thing you know you catch their spirit and you are just like them.
There are some people who seem to look on the dark side of almost everything. Think about the guy who was going to skydive for the first time. They took him up in the plane and his instructor said, “I don’t want you to get nervous. Everything is going to be okay. You are going to drop out of this plane, count to three, and pull the ripcord. That parachute is going to open and you'll just float gently down to the ground." He added, “Just in case something happens, there is an emergency ripcord you can pull. Either way, when you get to the bottom there is going to be a truck waiting to pick you up and bring you back to the hangar.” The man jumped out of the plane and he pulled that ripcord and nothing happened. He was just sailing through space at 120 miles an hour. And he pulled that emergency ripcord only to see nothing but cobwebs come out of that bag. And he said to himself, “I’ll bet when I get to the bottom, the truck won’t even be there.” Some people just look on the dark side of everything. You can’t listen to people like that. The first thing you know you will catch their negative spirit and you will be just like them.
Israel’s great tragedy is that they listened to the negative thinkers instead of Joshua and Caleb who said, “We can do it. We can possess the land. Come on.”
3. We limit God by unbelief.
In Psalm 78 there is a verse that makes a commentary on this whole experience. It says this: “They turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:41). You see there had been a time when God parted the waters of the Red Sea. When these people needed water he made it flow out of a rock. When they needed food to eat, he sent manna from heaven. When they encountered an enemy, God brought them victory. God had demonstrated his power to Israel again and again and again and now they came to the borders of the Promised Land and God was willing to give them the land. They could have taken it right then. They didn’t believe enough to try. If you don’t believe enough to try, you never get a chance to see what God can do. And so this verse, “They turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.” If you see yourself as a grasshopper, if you don’t see God at work in your life and in the world, then you will never be willing to risk, to take a chance, to launch out in faith, to act. And if you don’t act God will not demonstrate his power in your life. “They turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel,” and you limit him by your lack of faith.
The Lord said concerning Caleb, he is going to enter the Promised Land because Caleb has another spirit. He doesn’t have that negative, critical, unbelieving grasshopper spirit. He believes me. He trusts me and so Caleb shall enter into the land.
Harry Emerson Fosdick said, “It is not so much what life brings to us in her hands, it is what we bring to life in our spirit that makes the difference in people.” It is not what life brings to you, it is the spirit that you bring to life. The spirit of faith. The spirit of courage. The spirit of commitment. You bring that to God and he can give to you a Promised Land. Without it, you may miss it all. God deliver us from seeing ourselves as grasshoppers and from acting like we are grasshoppers.