As we face the dark and ominous challenges of the coming year, we need a clear, concise word from God. All of us need to know what to avoid and how to advance in the days ahead. Nothing we face, as intriguing as it may be, is more needed than humility of spirit and integrity of character.
The challenges before us are not greater than the God with us and the Christ within us. So, let’s learn from an ancient mistake made by the people in Moses’ day and avoid it ourselves. The theme that is now so timely needs to be studied and applied. Let us go on seeking to discover what the Spirit of God is now saying through His Word to this generation today.
WE WILL NOT MAKE THIS MISTAKE
“Nevertheless, in their presumption, they went up toward the high hill country …” (NIV)
What a terrible mistake, and yet we need to learn from this; it is a vitally important incident because it teaches us a lesson we all need—it can be so pivotal to us all.
Moses is the commander of these Hebrew people who had just left Sinai and they explored the land of promise. We find these people were guilty of insubordination and foolishly thinking, “We don’t need Moses or Aaron, we can just go into the land of promise on our own—we can handle it—this is no big challenge!”
This is called reckless presumption. Moses warned them that they could not succeed—and then our text flashes before us.
“But they went ahead into the hill country, despite the fact that neither the Ark nor Moses left the camp.” (Numbers 14:44, Living Bible) What arrogance this was on display!
There is an old Dutch saying that goes something like this: “We are too soon stupid and too late smart!” And all of us can make unbelievable mistakes even trying to serve God—we become our own worst enemies; we, as they say, “shoot ourselves in the foot as we march out in God’s name.”
And very often something very close to what happened here occurs. “in their presumption, they went up”
Paul warned us about this dangerous attitude. “he that thinks he stands take heed [that is, don’t be presumptuous] lest he fall.” (I Corinthians 10:12)
James warns us not to make the mistake of being presumptuous. He said you cannot even say what you will do tomorrow—do not boast. (see James 4:13-14) James said, “you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil” (verse 16).
Pride leads to presumption! Listen, “A man’s pride brings him low” (Proverbs 29:23). Isaiah said, “Woe to those who are … clever in their own eyes.” (Isaiah 5:21) Presumption leads to this kind of thinking, “Come, let us … make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4).
These vain Hebrew rebels with a prideful spirit, more or less, said, “Let’s go up, we can do this job—we don’t need Moses or require God’s help—we are totally adequate to meet this challenge before us—we will go up on our own.”
And within hours they were cut to pieces by the pagan tribes. It was an absolute slaughter! Total disaster overwhelmed them—they became a symbol of the destructive power of presumption.
Why is the Old Testament so very important to us? Paul tells us one of the reasons, I Corinthians 10:6; listen carefully: “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” And that is why the study of this passage is so very vital for us. So let’s walk together:
“… if we think we can do anything of ourselves all we shall get from God will be the opportunity to try.”
C. H. Spurgeon
I. THE OUTRAGEOUS PRESUMPTION
“… ‘We will go up …’ But Moses said, ‘… This will not succeed … because the Lord is not with you …’” (verses 40-42)
Sampson is one of the best illustrations of sinful presumption. After telling Delilah his secret, when he was encircled by the Philistines, “He awoke from his sleep and thought, ‘I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him.” (Judges 16:20, NIV)
1. Their Misguided Enthusiasm~
“We will go up …”
“I will go out …”
Notice their misguided exuberance, “Early the next morning they went up” [saying] “We will go up to the place the Lord promised.” (verse 40) Forty inexperienced men strutted into the battlefield to be met by very experienced pagan warriors armed and ready. Now, they said all the right words, “Let’s go get what God promises us!” but it was not in coordination with His plans and they presumed on God’s protection and His help.
We can do it! Total misguided enthusiasm!
2. Their Mistaken Expectancy~
These rebels fully expected it to be easy. They had no idea of a serious conflict and what they would face in battle.
When the Civil War started, coaches filled with women in their best attire went out to watch one of the first battles thinking it was more of a playground instead of a battleground. They went to be entertained! But when bullets started flying and men were getting their heads blown off, these spectators were horrified! It was real blood and real death before their eyes. — They never imagined it would be like this—never!
And I have seen a short film clip of British soldiers on the battlefront in World War I acting out bayonetting each other and lying on the ground acting dead—and they had no idea that very soon it wouldn’t be a silly stunt! They would see each other bleeding to death on the actual battlefield. For the moment it was all a joke—a silly pantomime—but soon it would be pandemonium and panic! And that’s exactly what happened to these men who thought that they could do it on their own.
They did not take the warning seriously. Moses warned them and said, “You will not succeed!” (verse 41)
It’s one thing to be confident, and another thing to be conceited. It’s one thing to be prepared and another thing to be prideful. It’s one thing to have God’s assistance, it’s another thing to have man’s arrogance as the controlling force in action. Let it be said always—yes, always— “Pride goeth before destruction …” (Proverbs 16:18)
“I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom—but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (I Corinthians 1:3-4).
II. THE OFFENDING PROCESSION
“Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up … though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord’s covenant …” (verse 44)
Let me emphasize—this was well organized, fully decided upon without God’s blessing or favor. Superficially, they had all they needed—except one thing: God’s blessing!
Proverbs tells us we do not know what tomorrow will be like, so do not carelessly boast about it saying, “Everything will be fine!” Isaiah quoted evil men saying, “… tomorrow will be like today or even better” (Isaiah 56:12). — Their attitude was, “No! We don’t need to worry, we do not need Moses with us or the ark!” They said that with presumption and pride!
1. How Sternly They Challenged Their Leader!~
They even said, “We should choose [another] leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:4) “… the whole assembly talked about stoning them.” (Numbers 14:10)
God gives us leaders and the Bible says, “Lay not your hands on the Lord’s anointed” (I Samuel 24:10). Let’s walk in humility with our God-given leaders in their proper role of giving us guidance. We must honor them!
Even when King Saul was backslidden, David refused to strike him even then. Why? Because he was still God’s anointed, even backslidden, and David refused to take him down.
God appoints leaders and we must serve God under their guidance. Moses was right, he said, “This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you.” (verses 41-42) But they refused that advice.
They totally disregarded Moses and went out to battle without God’s blessing; it was bold presumption. They were so full of themselves and so empty of God!
2. How Stupidly They Charged Their Enemy!~
Always this eternal principle applies: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6) Without God we are stripped of all power, all strength, and all victory—without that, it was impossible! We must continually confess, “You armed me with strength for battle; you made my adversaries bow at my feet.” (II Samuel 22:40) That’s my success!
But let me show you a striking contrast. Here is the opposite. In Judges the Bible says, “Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them” (Judges 2:15, NIV). God does bring down the proud—even when they are facing pagans!
And these presumptuous warriors—without Moses and without God’s power and in their false confidence, they were quickly defeated and totally disgraced.
What can we learn from this? — In fact, I need to make it more powerful, “What must we learn from this?” There is a powerful principle that must not be missed—let’s make sure we learn it.
III. THE OVERLOOKED PRINCIPLE
“… he [God] will not be with you and you will fall …” (verse 43)
“So I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against the Lord’s command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country.” (Deuteronomy 1:43, NIV)
Listen to Peter, “This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of their nature and despise authority.” (II Peter 2:10) We must be under authority and in obedience to the principles laid out in Scripture. Never “despise authority.”
May we learn something here that we should already know. It’s this: just because we are doing a good project, that does not mean we are assured success. It may be a good project but not in God’s timing, or using methods that God will not honor.
This we know, God is not obligated to bless all that is done in His name. We can attempt a right thing in a wrong way and God’s blessing will be withheld.
Taking the land promised was a good thing, but the project failed terribly. — Why? Moses explained, “… the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated …” (verse 42)
1. An Action We Will Not Take!~
Listen carefully to David Livingstone, “I will not step over the portal of my front door without God’s blessing.”
We will not go forth to do any project in our own strength and without God’s hand of blessing. We will seek His face.
We can fall back on that familiar verse in Matthew 6:33; Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (NIV) Let Him add to our lives.
And I love Deuteronomy 23:5, “… the Lord your God … turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you.” (NIV) He will do that for us and He will do it now if we allow it to happen.
2. An Assumption We Will Not Make!~
This is not just high-sounding religious talk—it’s not just empty words. All we do must be based on principle. We will learn and avoid this same disaster in our own lives.
Isaiah spoke of people who wake up listening to God. Let me quote, “He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.” (Isaiah 50:4, NIV) Let us all be that type of person—let’s wake up humble in spirit with a listening ear, ready to be taught.
Remember John’s words in Revelation 2:29, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit [of God] says …” Thank God we have ears to hear and also, a heart to respond! This is a mistake caused by presumption. Thank God in advance for what He just revealed of how to avoid it.
Several years ago, I stood on a famous battlefield in Crimea. The Charge of the Light Brigade occurred on this spot. The greatest cavalry ever trained in England was cut to pieces because of foolish pride of their commander, who broke every law of a cavalry charge in battle. “… in their presumption they went …”