In Deuteronomy 1-3, Moses recounts to Israel their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, including all of their triumphs, tragedies, and embarrassments. “Remember when we did this and we went there, and then we fought those people, and I told you this thing, then you did that, and we had that other war with those other people, and God was really mad at you about this thing, and don’t mess with these people, but don’t be afraid of these others…” It’s all quite a story.
Most of Torah is concerned with how people are to relate to each other and to God as individuals, but this passage is much more interested in how Israel had behaved as a nation in relation to other nations. There were essentially three ways that God told Israel to treat with the peoples they encountered:
They attacked you. Destroy them.
I’ve given their land to you. Destroy them and take it.
If they leave you alone, you leave them alone.
Does this resemble American foreign policy? Not even remotely. We are constantly meddling in the internal affairs of foreign nations for any number of reasons. We invade countries all over the world because we don’t like how they do business or how they treat their own people or their neighbors. The precedent that God set with Israel and her neighbors is simple: If they’re not actively attacking you, then stay out of their business.
It’s not isolationism to avoid military adventurism. Would you call a neighbor antisocial if he didn’t break down your door and shoot one of your children before borrowing a tool? You don’t have to shoot and bomb people to have a relationship with them.
It’s not a bad idea to have a “big stick” at hand, though, just in case.
Deuteronomy 1:23-33 “The plan pleased me well; so I took twelve of your men, one man from each tribe. And they departed and went up into the mountains, and came to the Valley of Eshcol, and spied it out. They also took some of the fruit of the land in their hands and brought it down to us; and they brought back word to us, saying, ‘It is a good land which YHWH our God is giving us.’… Yet, for all that, you did not believe YHWH your God, who went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go, in the fire by night and in the cloud by day.
When Moses recounted the story of the twelve spies, he left out an important detail: ten of the twelve spies brought back a bad report. “The land is bountiful and beautiful, but we are grasshoppers next to the inhabitants!” Is it any wonder that the people lost their faith? Why did Moses make it sound as if the Israelites doubted God for no good reason?
Because they did! God promised to bring them into the Land. He destroyed Pharaoh’s army and spectacularly broke Egypt’s power. The whole world was soon talking about Israel and her God in fear. Yet when ten men told them how mighty were their enemies, they turned on the God whose presence was physically manifested among them in a gigantic pillar of fire. What were they thinking!? It didn’t matter how many spies came back with a bad report. It didn’t even matter that two of them spoke truthfully. No handful or army of men can stand in the way of God fulfilling his promises to us.
But we can.
If you say that you are inadequate to the mission God has assigned to you, then you are completely misunderstanding your mission. The problem with saying that “We are grasshoppers in our eyes” is that we are irrelevant. Stop looking at yourself and start looking at God! Is He a grasshopper in our eyes?
Fear is so easy. We entertain it and feed it our whole lives while we starve faith. It’s no wonder we don’t see miracles when by our constant expectations of disaster we accuse God of faithlessness.