When The Majority Is Wrong
Segments of his battle line were falling back in disorder and defeat. “Beat a retreat!” shouted Napoleon to a drummer boy. Saluting smartly, the heroic drummer boy said, “Sir, you never taught me to beat a retreat. I can only beat a charge!” The lad’s reply kindled new courage in Napoleon, who instantly gave the command, “Then beat a charge, drummer boy!” He did, and seeming defeat was turned into victory. The Captain of our salvation, the Lord Jesus, commands, “Forward!”
A missionary society was deeply impressed by the courageous devotion of David Livingstone who worked singlehandedly for God in Africa. The society wrote to Livingstone. “Have you found any good road where you are? If so, we want to send other men to join you.”
Livingstone replied, “If you have men who will come only if there is a good journal, I never saw the hand of God so plainly shown as here.”
- THE SELECTION OF LEADERS AND THEIR MISSION
When the people of Israel reached Kadesh-barnea, the Lord spoke to
Moses to send out men to spy Canaan, the “Promised Land.” How is Moses to send them? Moses is to choose the head of each tribe from the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses sends these men at the command of God from the wilderness of Paran. The mission of these spies is to determine the fertility of the land, the military strength of the people who live in the cities of Canaan, the wealth of the people, and the extent of the natural forces. They are to bring back some of the fruit of the land. You and I serve a wise God. Why are they to bring fruit from Canaan? If they leave the presence of Moses and the people and go to hide somewhere else, nobody would know. But, if they do not return with some fruit then, it would be a sure sign that they did not go to the Promised Land.
The twelve leaders set out to spy the Promised Land. They spied the whole land. They have even seen the descendants of Anak. The descendants of Anak were giants. These twelve spies have got a good view of the land, the military might of the inhabitants, and the richness of the land. I admire the readiness with which they responded to the mission. It seems to me that nobody raised any objection or gave excuses. The twelve spies go to Canaan, the Promised Land by faith. The question is when God asks you to do something do you do it by faith or do you rationalize?
- THE RETURN OF THE SPIES AND THE
REPORT OF THE TEN VV. 23-29
The mission of the twelve men lasted for forty days. They returned with a huge cluster of grapes and some pomegranates, and figs. Indeed, the land of Canaan flows with “milk and honey.” It is a productive country. These spies cannot wait to tell of their adventure in Canaan. Perhaps at their return, all the people were summoned to meet them in a big assembly. They are to give accounts of their mission to the entire community. They say by the way, for you to know that we have been to Canaan, here are some of the fruit we have brought. This is our evidence that we have been in the land. They have established their credibility. They say to Moses and the people, it is true that the land flows with milk and honey. These fruits bear witness to that fact. In verse 28, their report begins to take on a negative twist. They say that the land is flowing with milk and honey but the people in the land are strong and their cities are fortified. The ten spies are overwhelmed by the strength of the people of Canaan. To make matters even worse, they add by the way, we saw the descendants of Anak there. I imagine that as soon as they mentioned that the descendants of Anak, the hearts of the people in the assembly sank. To make matters worse, they added that not only are the descendants of Anak there, there are also the Amalekites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Amorites, and Canaanites. You are talking about discouragement and fear. You could hear murmuring and whispering going on in the camp. You could imagine the fury on the faces of the people and all eyes riveted on Moses. Some of them are shivering with fear and trepidation and saying not again. Let us go back to Egypt and die there rather than to die in Canaan. Others muttered, let us listen to the report of the two spies.
- CALEB GIVES AN ENCOURAGING REPORT V. 30
When the ten people were giving their disheartening report, Caleb and
Joshua remained silent and calm. It is now time for Caleb to speak. Caleb takes the floor. He says something like this: ladies and gentlemen, do not be afraid. There is no going back to Egypt. We should certainly go up and possess the land. We will surely overcome it. Maybe the African-Americans got one of the Negro spirituals from Caleb’s statement, “We shall overcome some day.” Caleb says we shall surely overcome. Caleb has confidence in the Almighty God. This is one of the places in the Bible where the majority voice is wrong. Why did Caleb and Joshua see things more different than the ten other spies? Why are Caleb and Joshua positive and confident but the other ten spies being negative and conflicting? It is a matter of the disposition of the heart. Caleb and Joshua have the truth, so they don’t have to spend enough time to argue or convince anybody. The spokespersons for the ten spies may have used one hour to give their report. Caleb on the other hand perhaps used five minutes. When you are deliberating on an issue that involves two parties, observe how both parties express themselves. In most cases the party that speaks at length and tries to defend everything that is said might not be telling the truth. Caleb’s positive and encouraging report takes only one verse (v. 30).
- THE COUNTER REPORT OF THE TEN SPIES VV. 31-38
As soon as Caleb finishes his report, the ten spies say to the people, Caleb is
lying to you. We cannot go up against the people of the land because they are too strong for us. They also give a bad report to the people. “Bad report” literally means, slanderous report that is meant to deter even the bravest from any attempt of conquest. They begin even to exaggerate to put more fear in the hearts of the people. They say, the land devours its settlers or inhabitants. They are saying to the people the land is too big. Not only that, the people of the land are men of great size. To heighten the fear, they say we even saw the sons of Anak—the Nephilim “and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight and so we were in their sight.” Talk about lies and exaggeration! We have a lot of people like these ten in our churches and organizations today. Such people throw cold water on every vision that the Lord gives to the church or the organization. Their motto is: “We haven’t done it this way before.”
Whenever the Lord is leading the pastor to make some changes and bring new things, these people would say, we have not done it this way before. Such people always resist a change. They haven’t done it this way before because they have not tried anything new. Tell them that you want to begin a new ministry in the church. The people would have panic attack. Caleb and Joshua are saying we can but the other ten are saying we can’t. Where do you find yourself? Are you among the we can’t, or you are with the we can? This passage is a great lesson to you and me. Either Caleb and Joshua are wrong in their over-confidence or the ten spies are wrong. Why do we have two conflicting reports? The ten spies saw God through circumstances; Joshua and Caleb saw circumstance through God. The God of the ten spies was too small for their circumstances. Joshua and Caleb have a God who is too big for their circumstances. The characteristic of unbelief is that it never proceeds beyond difficulties. How big is your God in your own personal struggles? How do you see God in your circumstances? Is there anything too hard for your God? Many people call themselves Christians, but their God is too small for their problems. In this text we have seen that sometimes the majority opinion is wrong. There are several instances in the Bible where the majority opinion was wrong (example, Noah and the people of his day, the prophet Jeremiah, the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees versus Jesus).
It is true that in a democratic society, majority rules but sometimes we need to listen to the voice of God rather than the majority devoid of God. We should make sure that the leaders we follow are in tune with God. What was the motivation of the ten spies? What was the motivation of Caleb and Joshua? What motivates you and I to do what we do? What motivates you to say what you say? What motivates you to behave the way you do? Is it rebellion or is it love? Is it fear or faith? The ten spies were rebelling against God. Caleb and Joshua were obedient to God. You would ask, how do you know? Who spoke to Moses to send the spies to spy the land in the first place? It is God who promised Abraham that He will give his descendants the Promised Land (Gen. 12:6-7). Who brought them out of bondage in Egypt to Kadesh-barnea? It was God. Who was leading them and who had led them thus far? God was leading them through the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). Who had clothed and fed them thus far? It was God. Therefore, the report of the ten spies was a rebellion against God. What is at stake here is the voice of God supported by a minority, and the voice of men supported by the majority. Here the integrity of God is at stake. The ten spies are making God to be a liar. They are rejecting the validity of God’s covenantal promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 15:18). They have magnified the impossibility of possessing the land by their own fear and intimidation to make God a liar. These people are saying we cannot go to possess the land. The majority is saying it is mission impossible. However, the minority is saying it is a possible mission. One thing we need to discern is not only the motive behind what people say and do but also with what spirit do they say and act the way they do. The spirit behind the majority report is outright rebellion and rejection of the will of God for the Hebrew people. The spirit of Caleb and Joshua is one of obedience and acceptance of the will of God for the Hebrew people. Do you have a spirit of discernment? The Bible urges us to test every spirit whether it is of the Lord (1 John 4:1). The disheartening thing is that these ten spies have not sought the face of God. They have not even prayed and out of the blue they put their own fear into the hearts of all the people. They can persuade the people so they all vent their anger and frustration upon Moses and Aaron who are their spiritual leaders.
Now Caleb and Joshua have become the enemies of the people because of the ill-advice of the ten spies. Due to this rebellion, a journey that should have taken them 40 days to possess the land, took them 40 years. Because of their rebellion against God, none of these Hebrew people entered the Promised Land. God killed the ten spies first. God later killed all the adults except for Caleb and Joshua. Besides Caleb and Joshua, anyone who was twenty years and above did not enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:29-38).
God is looking for leaders who would not contradict or distort His word. He is looking for leaders who listen to His still small voice. God said something very positive about Joshua. God said that Joshua had the right spirit (Numbers 27:18). God also fulfilled His promise to Caleb by giving him a city to dwell. Do you listen to the crowd or do you listen to God? Do you always follow the majority, or do you follow the leading of the Holy Spirit? I believe in consensus, but you and I are to seek the face of God before we give our approval to anything or anybody. Therefore, do not be a people pleaser but God pleaser. Paul advised Timothy not to be in a hurry to lay his hands on anybody. When a person is not living right for God, do not elect or choose him/her as a leader in a church. Choose leaders of vision, wisdom, who are filled with the Holy Spirit.
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