Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land” (Numbers 14:1–3a, ESV)?
Doubt never stands still. It’s always sliding somewhere worse. The journey from doubt to despair is short and slippery. It doesn’t take months or even weeks; doubt can evolve into despair in a matter of a few, short days. A crisis can accelerate the trip even faster.
In the case of the children of Israel, who were really good at doubting, slipping into despair took only a few hours. After ten of their twelve spies returned from the Promised Land with a gloomy report, “all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness’” (Numbers 14:1–2)! Soon enough that wish would be fulfilled. Then they said these tragic words: “‘Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?’ And they said to one another, ‘Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt’” (14:3–4).
So not only did they lack the faith to believe God would do what He said He would (give them the Promised Land), but they also believed He would allow them to be slaughtered—their soldiers killed in battle and their wives and children brutalized. Concluding they’d be better off as slaves in Egypt, the Israelites suggested mutiny against Moses as a good first step in that direction. They essentially spit in the face of God.
Is that thinking messed up or what? Talk about a bad plan! Here’s why:
First, their despair was totally contrary to their amazing experiences. They had forgotten God’s continual provision: a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night, the parting of the Red Sea, daily manna, and on and on. Had God not provided for them every step of the way?
Second, if they did turn around and go back to Egypt, did they expect God would continue to provide manna for them on the way back across the Sinai Desert? That seems unlikely.
Third, if they did—by some slim chance—make it back to Egypt, what was their sales pitch? They had drowned all of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea. Would they waltz into Egypt and announce, “Sorry about all of that. We want to make up with you now”? That wouldn’t sit well with the surviving Egyptians.
Fourth, and most importantly, this was a bad plan because it rose from desperation. Desperate plans come from despairing hearts. “You’re planning to do what?!” It’s a short journey from doubt to despair, where the future is not bright like the promises of God. In a dark place, some people make desperate plans because, like a tumor growing out of control, their doubts metastasize into despair.
You will never, ever trust God and regret it. Never! Whether the choices are momentary or the challenges are huge, if you choose to trust God and keep going, you will never regret it. In contrast, any time you choose doubt, you miss incredible opportunities to prove the faithfulness of God.
In spiritual matters, it isn’t “I’ll believe it when I see it;” it’s “I’ll see it when I believe it.”
Father, I can see in the Israelites what I’m blind to in myself: doubt, despair, and irrational thinking. Please help me to see clearly in the mirror of Your Word. Where do I doubt You? Forgive me, God, and bolster my faith. You have never failed me, and You will never fail me. I have never trusted You and regretted it. I choose to believe in Your Word and to act on it, no matter how I feel, because You promise a good result. “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24)! In the name of Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of [my] faith” (Hebrews 12:2), amen.