Self-image psychology has become popular in recent years under a variety of names. A simplification of the principle might go like this: “You are what you think you are.” It is not at all surprising to find that God’s Word gives much more information concerning who we really are and who we think we are. One aspect of this truth is brought to life in an incident recorded in the Book of Numbers. It concerns the ever-present problem of people who will always speak and think less of themselves than they really are. There is a term for the condition: self-denigration. This means to blacken your own reputation. In the light of the record I want to share with you, I will use the more expressive term, the Grasshopper Philosophy.
The record in Numbers chapters 13 and 14 concerns the nation of Israel immediately after their deliverance from Egypt. There are some matters in the record that are not applicable today in the Church age, but many things apply to every age or administration. I want you to keep your eyes open to the principles demonstrated, and to especially notice the consequences of the attitudes held by the various people.
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.’ So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel” (Numbers 13:1-3 ESV). Why did God give Moses permission to send out men to search Canaan? God’s original command as declared by Moses was this: “See, the Lord your God has set the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 1:21). But the leaders of the people, the heads of the families, came to Moses and suggested that he should send some men ahead and find out what the country and its inhabitants were like. Then the whole nation could go into Canaan.
This did not agree with the concept Moses had of God’s provision for the nation, and so he sought God’s guidance regarding this request. God gave Moses permission to carry out the leader’s suggestion. However, note that the sending of the spies into the promised land was actually a manifestation of the unbelief of the Israelites in the Word of God. This is the first of ten occasions they queried God’s Word, from the time they left Egypt to when they turned back into the desert again.
“Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, ‘Go up into the Negeb [Negev, the dry south] and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.’ Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes [about July]” (Numbers 13:17-20).
None of the items listed for checking were really of any importance, since God had declared they should go up and possess the land. Did it make any difference to God whether the people were strong or weak? Did it worry God if the people were few or many, if the crops were good or bad, if the people lived in tents or in fortified towns? Of course not! Then the desire of the leaders of the people to check out the land in this way was nothing less than unbelief.
God has already provided for the nation in their journey from Egypt. They had been fed by the biggest quail hunt in history and by manna [bread] from heaven. The people had no problems, there was no sickness in their midst, and yet, in the face of abundance, they wanted to check out first if what God had said was a certainty. We cannot experiment with God’s Word, but we should accept His gracious invitation to experience and enjoy all that He makes available to His children.
“So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, near Lebo-hamath… And they came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs… At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land” (Numbers 13:21, 23, 25). Forty days of unbelief, searching to see if God’s Word was true. There is surely a parallel in modern times, for some of us have taken far longer than forty days to discover that God’s Word is true.
The report of the spies
“And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, ‘We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit…'” (Numbers 13:26-27). Here we have the only statement on which the twelve spies could agree: it was a land that flowed with milk and honey, and hanging from the staff was proof in the form of a huge bunch of grapes. Then they continued with the report: “However [But]…” Have you noticed how often people are inclined to first say something good about a person or situation, but before long they come out with a negative statement that cancels out the good? “Yes, he’s a good man, but…” “Sure, he’s alright but I don’t like the way he combs his hair (or something).” Remember Naaman the leper? “Naaman… was a great man… but he was a leper” (II Kings 5:1). The fruit is marvelous… but you should see the people!
“However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there” (Numbers 13:28). Certainly the people might have been strong, but how strong is God? And the cities may have been fortified, but did that make any difference at Jericho? And the descendants of Anak may have been considered giants in relation to their own height, but height was no problem when David overcame Goliath!
Yet that is not all. In verse 29, “The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” Oh yes, the neighbors. Whenever there is a choice between believing God’s Word or following the dictates of sense knowledge, a barrage of little “ites” will surround us with negative ideas. What will my family think, what will my friends think, what will the neighbors think? Yet what did God promise? He promised them the land, He said that wherever the soles of their feet were placed it would be theirs (Deuteronomy 11:24), yet they were concerned because there happened to be a few people around.
Although all twelve spies had covered the same ground and seen the same sights, two of them did not share the negativism of the majority. When it is a matter of truth, the majority is not always right. “But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it'” (Numbers 13:30). Isn’t that beautiful? At last we have a positive statement that aligns itself with God’s Word about the situation. Now we have two denominations: on the one hand the cold First Church of the Refrigerator with its majority proclaiming a negative viewpoint, and on the other hand the Church of the Activators with a positive message in spite of its minority. Yes, it does take courage and conviction to stand against any majority and proclaim what you consider to be right. Perhaps the greatest need today is for believers to take a stand for the truth, the integrity of God’s Word.
However, the ten negative spies pressed their majority to have the final word: “Then the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are'” (Numbers 13:31). There is nothing unusual about unbelievers being stronger than negative Christians, for Satan has delighted in staging this situation throughout Church history and even to this present day. Yet the people of Canaan were not stronger than God. A positive and believing nation of Israel would have run all over the Canaanites.
“So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, ‘The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height'” (Numbers 13:32). Did you notice how the negative attitude of verse 28 has now grown until all the people are now viewed as giants? Doubt and worry breed unbelief, and unbelief snowballs until it dominates the person. “All the people… are of great height…” This is the figure of hyperbole, exaggeration; and here we see it taken to the fullest measure. Unbelief always exaggerates; belief always stands on the truth.
“And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:33). There is the Grasshopper Philosophy! Self-denigration, low self-esteem, an inferiority complex! It did not matter what they were in the sight of the Nephilim, the Canaanites, the Amalekites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, or the Amorites. And it is still the same today. It does not matter what my neighbors think of me, what the people I work with think of me — all of this has very little to do with my making a success of life. The one thing that does count is what God says about me and whether I believe it or not.
The spread of negatives
What started as a low attitude regarding their abilities and resources has now spread like a forest fire at the height of summer. “Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night” (Numbers 14:1). It was a night of howling, frustration, and depression. And guess who got the blame! Not their own unbelief but the leaders, the men of God. “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, 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'” (verses 2-5).
It must surely be the depth of unbelief to want to die rather than follow the guidance of God’s Word! God did not bring them to the border of the land in order for the inhabitants to stomp on them like they would on grasshoppers. His desire for His people was that they might enjoy the rich and fertile land, and have a prosperous and happy life. However, if they consider themselves to be grasshoppers, they will soon start acting like grasshoppers, and will experience the results of their unbelief. Believers are not to react to circumstances, but to act upon God’s Word regardless of limiting circumstances.
We now have a third denomination: the Back to Bondage Church. “Let’s elect a new leader who is in step with the times. We didn’t realize how well off we were back in Egypt. Oh, if only we could have the ‘good old days’ again — the fish, the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” (see Numbers 11:5). Unbelief drags people down, lowers their sights, destroys their initiative. The people now thought that bondage in Egypt was good and that milk and honey in Canaan would spell disaster! They were by now so accustomed to hearing negative statements that they thought positive statements were false.
I have even had this reaction from believers today when I have dare to suggest that God has provided for them a successful, abundant life, that they are blessed with heaven’s best, that they are complete in Him. In fact, some cannot even take the truth that they are sons and daughters of God with power. Humans do not seem to have changed much since the days of Moses!
When the positive spies once again attempted to give their viewpoint, they got into trouble. “‘The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.’ Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones…” (Numbers 14:7-10a). The people’s reaction was not good, but unbelief seems to go to almost any length to ridicule and fight a positive word of truth. What a difference in the two viewpoints! On the one hand “we were like grasshoppers to them” and on the other hand “we will swallow them up; their protection is gone.” The two positive spies, Joshua and Caleb, are saying that the inhabitants are just like the manna they picked up every morning, without shade (the Hebrew word for “protection” in verse 9) they will turn bad and melt away. Above all, they said, “The Lord is with us. We have the guarantee of God’s presence and God’s power, provided you do not rebel against the Lord.” And for this positive advice they were to be stoned!
Before the people had time to carry out their threat against the two positive spies, “… the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel” (Numbers 14:10b). God does not guarantee to display His power every time His people have a disagreement, but on this occasion a phenomenon was necessary to catch the people’s attention and remind them that God was still in business. “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they'” (Numbers 14:11-12). However, Moses interceded with God on their behalf, and he reminded God the effect such an action would have upon the thinking of the Egyptians and the Canaanites. “‘Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.’ Then the Lord said, ‘I have pardoned, according to your word'” (Numbers 14:19-20).
Forty years later, just prior to the final march into the promised land, Moses was guided to remind the nation of past events. After describing the journey of the spies and the varying reports they brought, Moses declared, “Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place'” (Deuteronomy 1:29-31). One piece of additional information is given to us in this record. Not only did the two positive spies press for an immediate possession of the land, but Moses also spoke on their behalf and encouraged the people to rise up and possess all that God had promised them.
The principle of believing
The principle of believing can be simply stated: If you believe what God promised, you receive. Positive believing will produce positive results; negative believing will produce negative results. If you believe you are a grasshopper, then you will approach life from a grasshopper’s viewpoint. If you believe who God says you are, you will approach life from His viewpoint. What a difference that will be!
The nation of Israel received the results of their believing… and Joshua and Caleb received the results of their believing also. God made this quite clear, as Moses recounted, “‘Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord!’ Even with me [Moses] the Lord was angry on your account and said, ‘You also shall not go in there. Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it'” (Deuteronomy 1:35-38).
God had allowed the nation to send spies into the land to check on His Word. Three times the positive report had been given by Caleb and Joshua, with Moses defending their statements, and yet the people wanted to stone them. They had made up their minds, and now they must endure the results of their negative believing. For forty years –one year for each day the spies were in the land (Numbers 14:33-34) –the Israelites went around in circles on a desert merry-go-round until the whole generation of unbelieving adults had died out. Forty years on the roundabout of unbelief! “There’s no relief in unbelief!” Positive believing had declared, when only a few days away from abundance and prosperity, “Let us go up at once and occupy it.” A few days or weeks compared to forty long years in the desert! Such is the power of negative believing!
Forty-five years later, when the promised land had been occupied and the twelve tribes were being assigned their portion, Caleb came to Joshua, now leader of the nation. “And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day…” (Joshua 14:10-12).
“Give me this mountain…” (KJV). What a testimony to the power of positive believing! What possibilities it suggests to us who claim to be believers! “Give me this mountain. When I was forty I said we could lick them, giants and all. Now I am eighty-five and my believing and strength have not changed. Give me this mountain… and all the giants who live there!” I suppose that today there would be someone who would advise Caleb, “Come on, Caleb, you’re an old man now. Why don’t you settle for some of that rich earth down by the river, where it is nice and flat, and let the young man take the mountain.” But Caleb was made of different stuff. His philosophy was: God said it, that settles it!
Perhaps you can now see the futility of the Grasshopper Philosophy. Unbelief will have you running around in circles; positive believing will have you climbing mountains! Unbelief will say you cannot do it; positive believing will say you can do all things through the Christ in you. Unbelief will say you are a failure; positive believing says you are God’s living enterprise and God cannot fail! Throw out the Grasshopper Philosophy and say what God’s Word says about you!
Copyright © 1989 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the English Standard Version (ESV). Used by permission. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/.