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Jan 15, 2023

The Battle for Faith

Passage: Deuteronomy 1:19-46

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Deuteronomy

Keywords: faith, sin, moses, fear, joshua, wilderness, caleb, promised land, deserts, generational issues


The second half of Deut. 1 deals with the good plan of sending spies into the Promised Land that resulted in the bad outcome of faithlessness, disobedience, rebellion, grumbling and persistent sinfulness. This message takes lessons from this event that the people of God today need to embrace.


The Battle for Faith

Deuteronomy 1:19-46


Welcome to our second week in a new series in the O.T. book of Deuteronomy.  By way of review:

  • is Moses’ review (2nd giving) of the Law of God with a new, younger generation who is about to enter the Promised Land and fight new battles.
  • It takes place on the edge of the Promised Land, after the doubting previous generation has all passed away.
  • It is Moses’ last message to the people of God before God takes him home at 120 years of age.
  • Everything that he is going to reference has the power to be either good or bad examples of how to handle life as the people of God even today. (1 Cor. 10:6)
  • Moses just finished telling us about the structure of leadership God’s people had adopted for their future civil and military life together.

Today we are going to look at a specific challenge that first generation coming out of Egypt faced to their faith.  Let me remind you that every one of us here today is facing challenges to our faith in God and our obedience to Him.  Every one of your battles for faith relates to this battle we’re going to see the Israelites face in the last half of Deuteronomy 1. 

We pick up the story in 1:19.

Deuteronomy 1:19 “Then we set out from Horeb and went through all that great and terrifying wilderness that you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, as the Lord our God commanded us. And we came to Kadesh-barnea. 

From the powerful and frightening encounters with God at Mt. Sinai (or Horeb), God told them to “move on” and position themselves at the edge of the Promised Land that they were to enter and conquer.  But the process getting from slavery in Egypt to freedom and blessing in Canaan took them through a “great and terrifying wilderness.”  Other versions say “a vast and dreadful” wilderness.  Any way you translate it, it was an experience that was no tropical vacation.  It was desolate, difficult, hard, dusty and demanding. 

Here’s the spiritual reality Moses is highlighting for us:

  1. In preparation for greater victories, God will take us through personal wildernesses in life that can strengthen our own faith and spiritual muscles. (1:19)
  • Jesus began his 3 ½ years of ministry with 40 days in the wilderness/desert. He experienced deprivation, isolation and temptations that was apparently necessary before he began healing the sick, casting out demons and establishing the kingdom of God among broken sinners.
  • The Israelites’ passage through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land was divinely orchestrated by God to toughen them up spiritually. It was a season of the “trial of their faith” they needed to get them ready for the even more challenging battles they would face in taking the Promised Land.

Q:  Why does God lead us into ‘vast/dreadful/terrifying wilderness’ before launching us into some of His seasons of blessing? 

I would suggest that the foundational battles of our lives are with ourselves.  Life’s ‘deserts’ or ‘wilderness experiences’ are times when God has designed life to force us to look inside, at ourselves.  In wildernesses you feel alone.  Wildernesses test your metal.  They reveal weaknesses and lack of ability or character.  They cause us to realize that we must face our own internal giants before we are ready to do battle against the ‘giants’ of our families, churches, communities and nation.

ILL:  I’ve been through periodic ‘desert wildernesses’ at different times in my life which now, in retrospect, I see God had scheduled for me to address some personal weaknesses and flaws in my own character.  Ministry overseas:  revealed to me both physical, spiritual and relational weakness in my character.  Showed me where I wasn’t strong, where I needed to build my life, not on successes or strengths, but upon Christ.  Showed me that I was leaning far too much on my own achievements and brought me in touch with my own sinfulness.  It was a painful process.  But without it, I would have likely self-destructed in pastoral ministry and damaged far more people than I already have by my weaknesses, shortcomings and failings. 

            Let me encourage you not to lose heart when life feels like a desert.  God may well be doing more in you than any other time in your life.  And He is doing in deserts the most essential work needed for us to eventually move into new arenas of blessing and spiritual victory.  The most important question to ask ourselves and God during ‘wilderness’ experiences is, “What is being revealed about MY life/character/make-up that God needs to change?” 

            By the way, Kadesh-barnea was a place the Israelites would often return to during the 40 years of wandering in the desert.  It was a place that would repeatedly reveal the shortcomings of their faith and even the weaknesses of their leaders. 

APP:  God has a way of doing that with all of us.  There are certain places/issues in our lives that need repeated refining and testing.  So, God schedules different trials and tests for us in his divine curriculum that are “required courses”.  Oh, we get to choose certain “electives” in our spiritual coursework.  But God alone knows what things we individually need to experience so as to grow us in ways He knows are critical to our future battles and victories. 

Deut. 1: 20 And I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. 21 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.’ 

  1. Victory in life’s battles requires a recognition of reality AND an affirmation of God in those realities. (1:20-21)

Moses is reviewing what had happened nearly 40 years earlier at this same location.  He’s telling the people of God, “There are some realities you need to recognize and affirm both about the challenges ahead and the God you serve.” Moses didn’t sugar-coat the immensity of the task facing them in order to move into the life and place of blessing God wanted for them.  He reminded them of the reality of…

  • The place: hill country—there would be mountains to climb and elevation gains to be made.
  • The people: The Amorites—big, giant, fierce, pagan, barbaric, armed and fortified people who would not give up their land without a fight. 

Successful spiritual battles require that we honestly face the odds…and the odds will rarely, if ever, be in our favor.  Whether you’re looking at a habit or addiction you’ve had for decades or some ministry God is calling you into, being honest about the battles that will be required is really important.  And if you come up short, feeling like you’re just a ‘grasshopper’ in comparison to the size of the opposition, that’s GOOD!  We don’t need God to guide us or empower us of even show up if the battles we’re facing are manageable for us.  But when we know we won’t succeed unless there is divine intervention in our lives, then we will be ready to move into new ‘promised land’ territory in life. 

            In order for the first part (recognition of reality) not to overwhelm the second part (God present in that reality), we must hold firmly to BOTH realities.  In fact, not to hold to both realities will put us in an equally dangerous ditch.  People who underestimate the reality of the enemy we are facing and only acknowledge that our Almighty God is with us no matter where we go will tend to be blindsided by the tactics and power of the Enemy in ways that may knock them out of the battle.  Fear is never to keep us from pushing back the gates of hell.  But failure to recognize how strong those gates can be and how hot the battle will be has led to many a spiritual casualty as well.  

Victory in life’s battles requires a recognition of reality AND an affirmation of God in those realities.

            What does Moses affirm about God’s place in the impending battles…and, by extension, what must we continue to affirm about God in our battles?

  1. God is the One who gives victory. So, what is our only hope for victory?  To focus on staying close to Him.  Victory doesn’t ultimately depend on our strength, our numbers, our weapons, or training.  It depends on being sure we are in line with God, obedient to Him and responsive to HIM. 
  2. God is the one who has put this challenge (‘land’) in my life.
  3. God’s commands/word must determine my actions, not the situation, opportunity or opposition.
  4. God has given me enough proof of His protective presence in the past in order to exercise needed obedience in the present. Notice Moses’ reference to “the God of your Fathers.” He’s pointing back to the likes of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  If you go back to Genesis 14:7, God had worked with Abraham and fought on his behalf to defeat the Amalekites 430 years earlier in the same place!  The man God had promised this land to had already seen, in his day, God do what was now being asked of his offspring.  God had already supplied the past facts needed for their present faith.

APP:  Each of us now has a whole Bible full of the victories of God through weak people like us throughout centuries of different battles.  In addition, we have 20 centuries of a world-wide church that is historical proof of the power of God on behalf of His people.  God is never going to ask us to do something beyond our power for which He hasn’t already given us multiple models of people who saw Him do it before for them. 

APP:  When God asks us to tackle some new territory in our lives or ministries, it will serve us well to find biblical examples, historical church examples or contemporary models of people who saw God do things very similar to what He’s calling us to do. 

Then Moses calls out the internal danger that he knows could dissuade them from moving into the Promised Land: (vs. 21) “Do not fear or be dismayed.”  Fear of anything but God is almost always a very bad basis for making life-altering decisions.  As we saw back in our study of fear during Covid, the fear of God is the only healthy fear we are called to cultivate in our lives.  The fear of anything else in life will lead us to ineffectiveness, anxiety, faithlessness and defeat.  Moses knew that the Enemy of our souls is a celestial bully.  He thrives on the fear of his enemies.  And, as we all know, the only way to stop a bully is to surprise him with the first punch and wade into the fight, not cower in fear. 

The story continues.  If you want the fuller version, go back and read Numbers 13-14. Here in Dt. 1 is the condensed version.

22 Then all of you came near me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities into which we shall come.’ 23 The thing seemed good to me, and I took twelve men from you, one man from each tribe. 24 And they turned and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshcol and spied it out. 25 And they took in their hands some of the fruit of the land and brought it down to us, and brought us word again and said, ‘It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.’

            All’s well that ends well, no?  Sounds like a pretty faith-filled finish to me!  Would that the story ended there with this good report about the good land to the people of God. 

26 “Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. 27 And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. 28 Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’

There is so much that can be said about this sad event.  But let’s limit to a few hopefully helpful observations.

  1. Israel’s faithlessness teaches us… (1:26-28)
  2. The majority is often dead wrong! This wasn’t just a majority; it was a super­-  There were only 3 people out of the entire company of Israelites who advocated to move forward by faith.  Three out of over a million people!  Talk about the majority being wrong. 

Don’t go thinking this just applies to elections… or corporations… or mob riots.  This applies to the church too.  It is disappointing but not terribly surprising that more and more churches and self-proclaimed “Christians” in America are abandoning at a rapid rate some very clear and plain teachings of Scripture that have been held as orthodox for centuries on such basic issues as sexual morality, marriage, genuine justice and human life.   Young people in particular, I apologize for how many pastors and churches are abandoning the clear Word of God in favor of joining the majority of our culture on these issues.  It will not go well.  It will not end well.  And it is not teaching you the fundamental lesson God’s people have embraced from the first day of the church—that being a Christ-follower means you will always be in the minority in this world and be vilified for living by faith in God rather than the perceptions, reasoning and rationalizations of faithless people. Remember, the majority is often dead wrong!

This passage also teaches us that we are constantly choosing which counselors we will listen to. So, be careful how you listen.  The plan to send in 12 spies, one from each tribe, was a decent plan.  Moses thought it was good.  The people thought it was good.  And God thought it was good.  The problem was not with the structure or plan on this one; it was with the spiritual life of the 12.  After 40 days of looking over the land (Nu. 13:25), they came back with amazing stories and amazing proof.  Just one bunch of grapes was so huge it had to be put on a pole and carried by two men (Nu. 13:23). 

But sometime during those 40 days of seeing a land just like Moses told them it would be, 83% of them turned from faith-directed men to fear-dominated men…and they eventually convinced 99.9997% of the nation to agree with their faithlessness.  Their arguments weren’t better than Joshua, Caleb and Moses’.  Their spiritual lives obviously weren’t better.  But the weakness of their faith fed the weakness of the nation’s faith. 

Every one of those 20+ old, million+ adults chose to listen to one of two camps on the issue of obeying God or caving to fear.  All but 3 of them listened to the majority report. 

APP:  we must be careful WHO we listen to, especially when we are facing decisions of obedience to God that demand faith in the unseen God rather than fear of the visible threats.  This is why it is truly important that we have a core group of people around us who are constantly pressing the envelope of faith rather than complaining about the ‘giants in the land.’ 

This passage also identifies some common characteristics of failed faith:

  • Disobedience—“…they would not go up….” God had commanded them to take the land, but they simply chose disobedience.  While disobedience can seem at times to be just passive (failing to DO something commanded by God), unless repented of, it will lead to more active sin such as…
  • Rebellion—If you read the more extensive version of the story in Numbers 13-14, you find that simply saying, “No, count me out of the battle,” turned in, “Well, this has got to be Moses’ and Aaron’s fault, so let’s kill/stone them, pick new leadership and head back to Egypt.” That’s not passive disobedience anymore.  And it took a divine intervention of God and a threat to wipe them all out to stop their mob-behavior (Nu. 14:10f).
  • Lying to ourselves/murmuring—Deut. 1:27 “Because the Lordhated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us….”  Perhaps THE greatest danger in our down, faithless times is that we lie to ourselves not just about ourselves (“we’re nothing but grasshoppers in their eyes”) and visible realities (“the cities have walls that reach to heaven”) but we lie to ourselves about God!  Believing things that are not true about life around us and ourselves is damaging
  • enough.  But when we choose to lie to ourselves about God, the effects can be catastrophic. God didn’t “hate them.”  He loved them.  His plans were not to hand them over to their enemies and destroy them.  His plans were to hand their enemies over to them and destroy their enemies.  Everything that Moses, Joshua and Caleb reminded them of countered this convoluted belief…but they refused to listen.    
  • Conflating fear over faith. When we are facing trials and temptations, we can either feed our faith OR our fears.  If we choose to feed faith, we’ll talk with God about the challenges.  We’ll ask Him to show us ways through impossibilities.  We’ll sink our spiritual teeth into His promises and sit around with faith-filled people reminding each other of who God really is, what He has really promised and make plans for attacking the Enemy instead of killing each other!  WE get to choose whether we will grow faith or fear.  One will increase and the other will decrease.
  • Persistent unbelief—again, without genuine repentance of passing faithlessness, it will become persistent and deeply destructive. We’ve all known, sadly, people who allowed doubt to dominate faith and eventually shipwrecked their faith.  When God and people call us on our unbelief, repentance is the only adequate antidote.  

29 Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31 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.’ 32 Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God, 33 who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.

God had given the Israelites not only proof from Abraham’s history that He would fight their battles; He had given them proof from their own recent personal histories that God had gone before them in the past and would do the same in the future.

APP:  If God is calling you to do something seemingly insurmountable, take time to look back into His Word, into church history, into the lives of believers you know, into your own past experience with God and find examples of how God could, might and just may do the impossible in your life.  Look at how He has brought you thus far…and trust Him to be able to carry you over the finish line, no matter how long and grueling this life’s marathon may feel. 

            The alternatives to faith are almost always far more painful and tragic than we imagine.  From the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the Battle of Armageddon in Revelation, failure to believe God, as reasonable as it may seem in the moment, always produces bitter fruit.  Moses is here reminding a couple of generations that had endured that bitter fruits of their parents’ faithlessness for 40 years that they had a different option. 

34 “And the Lord heard your words and was angered, and he swore, 35 ‘Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, 36 except Caleb …and… 38 Joshua…

39 And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it. 40 But as for you, turn, and journey into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.’

Moses is reminding them that they are the new generations of promise, a promise their parents and grandparents rejected.  But it is a promise they will have the opportunity to walk into by faith… or reject again by fear, doubt and disobedience. 

TRUTH:  this is a reminder to us that we do not have to follow in the mistakes and failures of our parents or previous generations.

Here is another, seemingly harsh, truth from this story.

  1. Opportunities for obedient faith sometimes have limited windows.

41 “Then you answered me, ‘We have sinned against the Lord. We ourselves will go up and fight, just as the Lord our God commanded us.’ And every one of you fastened on his weapons of war and thought it easy to go up into the hill country. 42 And the Lord said to me, ‘Say to them, Do not go up or fight, for I am not in your midst, lest you be defeated before your enemies.’ 43 So I spoke to you, and you would not listen; but you rebelled against the command of the Lord and presumptuously went up into the hill country. 44 Then the Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you and chased you as bees do and beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah. 45 And you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord did not listen to your voice or give ear to you. 46 So you remained at Kadesh many days, the days that you remained there.

Parents, children need to be taught that continued disobedience over time has negative consequences while prompt, timely obedience brings blessings.  If you’re a parent, you know that kids will obey you when you expect to be obeyed.  If it’s the 8th time you tell them, they won’t obey until the 8th time.  If it’s the 3rd time you say something…or when you count to 3…they’ll obey you the 3rd time…or when you get to 2.5 in the count.  But rest assured that when you finally lower the boom with some negative consequences, many a child will try to escape those negative consequences by finally trying to do what they should have done the first time you told them.  A truly loving parent won’t cave to that kind of behavior.  Why?  Because there is a great difference between wanting to just escape the unpleasant consequences of disobedience and wanting to stop being disobedient or becoming an obedient child. 

  1. True repentance does not lead to ongoing disobedience as it did with the Israelites. Had they been truly repentant, they would not have tried to go into battle knowing that God was not with them.  True repentance would have valued the fellowship, presence and discipline of God more than their own agenda.  It would have rejected yet another step of disobedience that pretended to be obedience.  False repentance tries to escape the consequence of disobedience; true repentance tries to restore the broken relationship. 

Conclusion:  there is plenty to apply to our lives here. 

  • I encourage you to use the “Questions for Further Consideration & Discussion” on the back this week.
  • Take time to consider what God is trying to do in your life with the desert wilderness experiences. What’s he trying to get out of you and build into you?
  • Take the necessary steps to surround yourself with faith-filled people and limit the voices of faith-less ones.
  • When you fail at immediate obedience, don’t run from the loving discipline of the Father. Instead spend your energies figuring out how to get reconnected with Him rather than how to run from the discipline.  Experience genuine repentance that restores the relationship, not just human regret that tries to avoid the consequences. 




Questions for Further Consideration & Discussion this Week:

  1. God often stairsteps our faith-challenges in order to strengthen, build and encourage our faith.
    1. How have you seen that true in your life already?
    2. What life challenges of late my fit into that reality?
    3. What do you need to do to feed faith rather than doubts or fear in the present challenges?
  1. With regard to your future “promised land” of blessed obedience…
    1. What ‘giants’ or battles is God putting before you to fight? How humanly intimidating or impossible do they seem at present?
    2. What new spiritual territory has God been calling you to conquer?
    3. What might you do to better prepare for that conquest?
    4. What do you need to avoid doing to strengthen rather than weaken your faith in the battle?
    5. What challenging realities about your battles do you need to recognize? What divine realities do you need to affirm at the same time to live well by faith?


  1. Who are the faith-filled Calebs and Joshuas (counselors) in your life that you should be listening to more? Who are the doubt-dominated voices/people in your life you should avoid joining?  How do you need to exercise care about who you listen to, agree with or disagree with?


  1. How can you process your doubts and questions honestly yet righteously without having it lead you away from faith in God’s promises and presence?


  1. Which of the “characteristics of failed faith” are you most in danger of participating in or adopting when your faith is being tested? How can you better protect yourself from that danger?