Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 remind us that God rescued the Israelites from their slavery among the Egyptians, bringing them through the Red Sea miraculously, then through the desert for training in trust. God promised them a land filled with “milk and honey,” a good land, unlike anything they had experienced in the days of slavery past. But in the desert trek, things take a turn for the worse: instead of praising God for the Promised Land to which He is surely leading them, they complain over their current harsh conditions. After one final act of rebellion, in which they sent spies into the land and panic when they find it filled with monsters, God decides to leave all the complainers outside the Land and let in only the two who held fast to God’s promise – Joshua and Caleb – and bring in the children of those who did not believe. So all the adults of that time died in the wilderness.
Christians can shrink back, too. We can get our eyes off the certainty of God’s promise and be obsessed with our problems. Tensions mount year by year, and with them the complaints and murmurings:
“Why does it have to be so hard?”
“If God is good, why doesn’t He do something to help us?”
“Things are never going to get better.”
It’s all wilderness training. Wilderness survivalist Bear Grylls in his TV shows survived the many perils that came his way by staying true to his compass. Get down from the mountain. Get to the top of the tree to see the lay of the land. Follow the river to civilization. Conserve your energy and eat whatever’s available along the way. Yes, it’s only a TV show, and he has done his research ahead of time, so he knows the problems in advance.
But so do we. We have the Script that tells us what we’ll go through before we reach the Promised Land in this life. We also know the Guide who has already walked this same path and made it through. He will take us through the hard spots — not mire us in them. And the end of the Bible tells us what we have to look forward to. It will happen no matter what. But will we be there with honor, or shame?
The children of Israel did not enter into the Promised Land because they did not enter through the door of believing God. (Believing = Entering.) They heard God’s voice telling them what to do and they did not believe Him, as evidenced by their complaining. (Complaint = Unbelief.) But we have a chance to hear and believe. Joshua and Caleb heard and believed all the way through the wilderness, and as a result, when they reached the Land, they were able to slay the enemies with the two-edged sword and rest in victory.
There is something sharper than a two-edged sword. It is more sure in eradicating enemies than Joshua’s sword. With this weapon at work in our lives, victory is a sure thing, as Hebrews 4:12 tells us:
“The Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
The Word of God reveals the truth about our circumstances and the nature of the enemy we face, cutting into us to show us awful glimpses of our troubled soul and spirit. It reveals the raging enemy in the Promised Land, that is, in us.
This weapon reveals the truth about ourselves, that when we believed Christ, our old nature went into the grave with Him, and our new creation rose with Him into the heavenly places, and we are with Him there. The old person is in the grave, and all it can do is expel horrid fumes of decay. So when those strong feelings arise of fear of the unknown, or of panic attacks in the moment, we are smelling the fumes, but the body is dead. In reality, we are risen with Christ and seated with Him.
So there we are, in the wilderness trek with the Israelites — what will we believe: that the harsh conditions are temporary and God will get us through this as Joshua believed, or pay attention to the stink and fall in despair or anger as did the rest of the people? The enemy has no strength against us; it is all smoke and shadows.
Bear Grylls used his prior knowledge of the land’s many treacherous conditions and learned how to overcome them. So can we. We know that the enemy in us is powerless. We feel the rising anger and are impelled to act unrighteously. But we know it’s only a feeling, and we wait until it passes, then make judgments from a clear head. We feel despair about the circumstances and instead of acting in fear and stress, we remind ourselves of the promises and take courage, for nothing is impossible with God. We don’t fight but stand our ground.
Know your enemy. Know what trips you up again and again. Learn what triggers your slide from trust in God to unbelief and rebellion. Use this knowledge to your advantage. Accept the sickening revelations of the two-edged sword, then run “boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
The two-edged sword is not held by our own strength. This sword is wielded by the Lord of Hosts who trains us to war. The enemy is in you, so the sword cuts through you. You are the problem; sin is in you. But Jesus is the solution; He saves us from our sin. God wields the sword; we trust Him that the enemy is finished. God wields the sword; we trust that the feeling of fear, stink of despair, stench of hopelessness, is merely smoke rising from a slain foe.