The valley of Eshkol takes centre stage on one of the Old Testaments saddest days. Having seen God rescue the people of God from Egypt Moses led them to the edge of the Promised Land. This was the land that God had promised to Abraham and then to each subsequent generation…
6 Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:6-7
In Numbers 13-14 we read that God instructed Moses to send men ahead of them to explore and spy out the land. Twelve men (one from each tribe) were sent to see what the land was like (was the land good or bad), what kind of towns they lived in (open or fortified), how was the soil (fertile or poor) and were there fruitful trees. Moses charged them to bring back some of the fruit of the land for them to see.
They reported back that the land indeed flowed with milk and honey just as God has said it would: they also brought the fruit back to prove it! The valley was called ‘Eshkol’ (meaning cluster) because of the grapes they brought back. Deuteronomy 1:25 reports that “It’s a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.” However they also reported back that the people who lived there were powerful, their cities were fortified and very large. They saw the nations who lived there and they said that they seemed like grasshoppers in comparison with them.
The men however were divided with their advice about how to proceed. Joshua and Caleb made a strong case to go and take possession of the land. They said that the land was exceedingly good and that God would give it to them as He had promised. They argued that Israel could certainly do it and that God would enable them to devour the inhabitants of the land. Joshua and Caleb confidently declared that God was with them and that would make all the difference.
“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” Numbers 14:7b-9
However the other ten spies held the opposite view. Though they acknowledged the goodness of the land they did not think they could do it. They saw that the people in the land were much stronger than God’s people. They felt that the land would devour whoever lived there and that the people already living there were giants compared to them.
Moses encouraged them not to give in to fear but to move forward in faith. He told them that God would go before them and fight for them as He had done in the past. Their experience of God should have helped them to trust God for this next challenge.
29 Then I said to you, ‘Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, 31 and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.’
The next verse sums it up well as it says “In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God” (v32). The spies spread a bad report amongst the people and turned them against the idea of trying to enter the land. So the people rebelled and refused to enter the land. They even talked about choosing a leader to take them back to Egypt (Numbers 14:4) and stoning Moses and Aaron (Numbers 14:10)!
Soon we find God talking about destroying the people of Israel and starting again through Moses (Numbers 14:12). Moses intercedes on their behalf and God relents from His anger and He forgives Israel. However God declares that this generation of Israel would die in the wilderness and not enter the Promised Land. It did not go so well for the spies who spread the bad report and soon they are struck dead by a plague. The people mourn bitterly about their sin (Numbers 14:39) but soon disobey God again as they try and enter of their own accord. Moses warns them that God would not be with them but they do not listen and are driven back and beaten all the way back. Only Joshua and Caleb followed God wholeheartedly and they were the only ones from that Generation to enter the land (Numbers 32:12).
Lessons from the Valley of Eshkol
If that is the big picture of what happened, we now turn to think about what we can learn from this sorry episode.
#1 God Keeps His Promises
Some years later before his death Joshua (the same man who had been one of the twelve spies and finally led Israel into the land) reflected on all that He had seen God do:
“Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” Joshua 21:45
“Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” Joshua 23:14
God keeps His promises but the big question is ‘will we trust in Him?’ At this time Israel were led by fear (rather than faith) and they failed to trust in God. Faith said ‘we can do this because God is with us’ but fear said ‘no we can’t do it for the challenge is too big for us’. Before them was God’s abundant provision and the fulfilment of God’s promises to them. Yet they couldn’t do it and instead their focus was on the scale of the task ahead of them and not on the God who had been with them every step of the way. It would prove to be one of the biggest mistakes God’s people ever made.
As I look back on God’s promises to us it is so encouraging to think about how God has kept His promises to us. Has God made it an easy journey through the valley? No but He never promised to do that. Has He been with us every step of the way? You bet He has although at times it has been harder to see Him at work. Has God given us the grace to deal with all that life has brought our way? Yes although I cannot say that I have always had the perspective to see it. God really does keep His promises!
#2 Fear Freezes out faith
Giving into fear comes with consequences. For this generation of Israelite’s this meant their opportunity to enter the land was gone. Fear had won the day and it would be another 40 years before their children had another chance to enter. Their decision was made out of fear and not faith and you see Fear freezes our future and their future was on ice for 40 years because of fear.
Just recently we have been going through another tough patch and when that happens my inclination is to let go of faith and give in to fear. When that happens I begin to doubt the future and I can’t see very clearly what is on the horizon. When that happens I need to keep in mind Philippians 4:6-7 which encourages me not to be anxious, but to pray, to be thankful and then to allow the peace of God to guard my heart and mind.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
#3 There is no need to be afraid
Under Joshua’s leadership the next generation did eventually enter the land and his challenge to Israel was the same as that Moses had given to them:
“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” Joshua 1:6
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’ Joshua 1:9
God is never going to let us down. He will be with us. Perhaps at times it will feel like He has but I can assure you that that is not the case. In those times we need to listen to the words of Joshua and be strong and courageous. Worry and fear will do nothing to help our situation. Instead our response should be one of faith in the one who made us, loves us and sent His son to die for us. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). I don’t know your situation or what you are facing right now but I do know that God is faithful. Be encouraged: the lessons of the valley of Eshkol will help us move from fear to faith…
Experiencing God in the Valleys Series