Missing Out on the Promised Land: Distrust and Disobedience (Deuteronomy 1:19-35)


We’re going to look at Deuteronomy 1:19-35 this morning, if you will turn there in your Bibles.

History is full of great leaders, but some stand tall above the rest. Moses was one of those leaders in the Bible. He was the George Washington of God’s people, ancient Israel. Many of George Washington’s words are recorded for us…but imagine, for a moment, that it’s 1799 and you are at his bedside, and he’s about die, and he whispers, “Come here son, I want to tell you something.” You’d be there in a second. Your ears would perk up. You’d really listen. That’s what’s happening in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is Moses’ last words to God’s people before he passes off the scene and is replaced by another leader. Moses’ words here are weighty words. They are full of warning and promise for the next generation.

Most importantly, 2 Peter 1:21 tells us that Moses “spoke from God as [he was] carried along by the Holy Spirit,” so that what he wrote has total authority over our lives. Jesus treated Deuteronomy this way, and so should we; Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy more than any other book except the Psalms, and we should heed its warnings. God wants to speak to us this morning through these words. And if you open your heart, he will speak to you. I promise you that.

Moses begins here with a history lesson, and that’s what we are going to look at. If you are here and don’t know much about the Bible, that’s okay, because we’re going to get a refresher from Moses himself. Deuteronomy 1:19-35:

19 And when we departed from Horeb [Horeb is another name for Mt. Sinai—the place where God gave the ten commandments], we went through all that great and terrible wilderness, which ye saw by the way of the mountain of the Amorites, as the Lord our God commanded us; and we came to Kadeshbarnea.
20 And I said unto you, Ye are come unto the mountain of the Amorites, which the Lord our God doth give unto us.
21 Behold, the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged.
22 And ye came near unto me every one of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come.
23 And the saying pleased me well: and I took twelve men of you, one of a tribe:
24 And they turned and went up into the mountain, and came unto the valley of Eshcol, and searched it out.
25 And they took of the fruit of the land in their hands, and brought it down unto us, and brought us word again, and said, It is a good land which the Lord our God doth give us.
26 Notwithstanding ye would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God:
27 And ye murmured in your tents, and said, Because the Lord hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.
28 Whither shall we go up? our brethren [some of the other spies, who Moses doesn’t mention here] have discouraged our heart, saying, The people is greater and taller than we; the cities are great and walled up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakims there.
29 Then I said unto you, Dread not, neither be afraid of them.
30 The Lord your God which goeth before you, he shall fight for you, according to all that he did for you in Egypt before your eyes;
31 And in the wilderness, where thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came into this place.
32 Yet in this thing ye did not believe the Lord your God,
33 Who went in the way before you, to search you out a place to pitch your tents in, in fire by night, to shew you by what way ye should go, and in a cloud by day.
34 And the Lord heard the voice of your words, and was wroth, and sware, saying,
35 Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land, which I sware to give unto your fathers.

God goes on to say that only Joshua and Caleb would be spared from his judgment. The rest of that whole generation died in the desert. They never experienced God’s blessing in the land. Instead, God promised to give the land to their children, and that’s who Moses is talking to in this passage. He’s addressing the second generation of Israelites after they have grown up in the wilderness, and he is warning them through a history lesson: Don’t do what your parents did!

Don’t Follow Your Ungodly Parents

Some of you can relate pretty well to these Israelites. Your mom or dad have walked in disobedience to God. Your home life was (or still is) a mess. Your parents didn’t (or don’t) love, worship, or adore Jesus, read God’s word, seek him in prayer, or go to church. And now you have to make a choice about whether or not you are going to trust and serve God. It’s extra hard because you have baggage to overcome. But at the end of the day, our parents are not the measuring stick for determining what God wants from us. If you are just trying to do better than your parents did, you have a wrong reference point. You need to do what God wants you to do.

The first generation of Israelites stand as a warning for all of us to make sure that we are doing what God wants us to do. This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10. Paul writes to a church in a culture a lot like ours, and he rewinds to the wilderness generation, just like we are doing this morning. These are his words:

I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea [they left Egypt and were on their way to the promised land]. … Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.  These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

If you think you have life figured out, and you know where you’re going, and you don’t need a history lesson from 3,500 years ago, look out. You’re going to fall—you’re going to crash and burn. God knows what he’s talking about. It’s not going to end well. So let’s look closely at Deuteronomy 1:19-35 and see what God wants to tell us through this passage. Because his will for us is not that we would fall, but that we would be saved. If he didn’t love us, he wouldn’t even bother to warn us.

Distrusting God’s Goodness

First, we see that Israel distrusted God’s goodness. Look at verses 22-28. Before they will enter the land, Israel wants to send twelve spies to check it out. Joshua and Caleb come back and say, “It is a good land which the Lord our God is giving us!” Duhhhh. Of course it is. That’s like mom calling her two boys to dinner, but first the older brother sends the younger brother ahead to make sure it’s not poisonous, and the younger brother says, “It is a good dinner which our mother is giving us!” Of course it is. You know mom. You know that she has your best interests at heart. God had already told them that the land was a good land! God only gives good gifts to his children.

But the other ten spies couldn’t see the big picture of what God was trying to do. All they could see was the obstacles. There were giants in the land! And I’ll admit, that was a big obstacle to overcome. We’re not talking about the Jack and the Beanstalk kind of giants that go “Fee-fi-fo-fum.” We’re talking about warriors that were inexplicably large. We’re talking David and Goliath giants. And there’s good archeological evidence to support that they really existed. These spies insisted, “It’s just too much for us. We can’t beat these guys.”

Verse 27 says that Israel “murmured in their tents, and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt…to destroy us.” When things looked rough, they decided God wasn’t as good as they thought he was. They impugned God’s character! They put God on trial and found him wanting! And it’s significant that they did so in their tents. Some people will go to church and sing “God is so good, God is so good,” but what happens behind closed doors reveals what they really think about God. They live like he doesn’t exist. They don’t really trust him. In their marriages, relationships, jobs, parenting, and decision-making, they aren’t staking their lives on God’s goodness. If things are going well, they will say, “Oh yes, I believe in God. Yes, God is good.” But as soon as some obstacles come up, where are they? On their knees looking for God to come through? No. They are grumbling.

“Why is God allowing these financial problems? Why is God allowing this cancer? Why is God allowing me to suffer so much at work? Why is my family a mess? He doesn’t care about me. I’m done with God.” They are Christians by profession but atheists by practice. They can’t see the big picture of what God is trying to do. They can’t see the truth of Romans 8:28, that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” They distrust God’s goodness.

God wanted to bless his people out of their minds in the promised land. But the God’s path to blessing is never without hardship; it’s always through hardship. Acts 14:22 says, “through many afflictions we must enter into the Kingdom of God.” If you want to serve God, he is going to ask you to face some hard things. To take on some serious giants. The Christian life is full of battles.

Consider just a few of Jesus’ words in Matthew’s gospel. (These are his words, not mine:)

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Jesus wants to bless you, but it will come at a cost. Some people start following God, and things are going okay, but then they get to the border of Canaan. God’s ready to take them in, but they see the giants and say, “woah woah woah. I didn’t know he was going to ask me to face that.” Suddenly, they realize that being all in for Jesus can be a pretty risky thing. Strain on relationships. Division in the family. And when things start getting rough, they say, “Jesus, what are you trying to do here? I thought you were my buddy. I said that little prayer because I thought you were going to help me out. Give me a lift. Now you say that you’ll only bless me if I face that obstacle? I don’t know about that…”

They are judging God’s goodness based on their circumstances instead of judging their circumstances based on God’s goodness.

The big problem is that they are judging God’s goodness based on their circumstances instead of judging their circumstances based on God’s goodness. They think their perspective is the right one. They are just like the Israelites. And if we look closely at the passage in front of us, I think we’ll see something else that is pretty revealing.

Disregarding God’s Faithfulness

Second, we see that Israel disregarded God’s faithfulness. Look at verses 29-33. Moses tried to tell them, “God is going to fight for you like he did in Egypt before your eyes.” Don’t you remember what he did before your eyes? If you know the Bible, you’ll recall that these Israelites just saw God send ten plagues on the land of Egypt. They saw God defeat the Egyptian army on their behalf, and they never had to lift a finger. God literally parted a sea, allowed Israel cross over on dry land, then collapsed the walls of water on Pharaoh’s chariots. And through the wilderness, God took care of their every need. He sent bread from heaven so they didn’t starve, and water out of a rock so they didn’t thirst. He even made sure that their sandals didn’t wear out. (That’s actually in the Bible.)

And then verse 31 is really beautiful: “the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place” (NIV). If you’re a parent, this illustration should hit home with you. Do you remember feeding your child, and rocking him at night, and guiding him by the hand across the street, and holding on to him while he learned to take his fist steps? This is how well God treated Israel, but Israel “grew up” and rejected him. And not only that. Israel actually said, “you’re a bad father! You hate me!” (How many teenage kids have you heard say that to their parents?) The Israelites blamed their own choices on their Father and said, “You want me to suffer. If you really loved me, you would do this instead!” And if you’ve ever met a rotten child like this, you just want to shake them and say, “Don’t you realize what your dad has done for you!?!?” In other words, “How can you disregard his faithfulness!?!?”

Now listen carefully to what I’m going to say next, because this is extremely important: you will always distrust God’s goodness when you disregard God’s faithfulness. If you don’t give serious consideration to what God has done in history—if you forget what God has done in your life or the lives of others—you’re just one step away from questioning God’s character. It will happen much more quickly than you might think. How you answer the big questions in life will depends on how you answer the biggest question of all: “Who is God? Is he good?”

That’s what the whole LGBT issue centers around—to use an example that’s pretty sensitive in our culture right now. People say, “God doesn’t want me to be with the one I love? He must hate me.” They might even believe in Jesus, and say that he was a good moral teacher, but when obedience to him means facing something that they think is too hard for them, they are ready to jump ship on God’s character. Or even worse, they want to change God and turn him into a God that the Bible knows nothing about. The problem is, they’ve never stepped back for a moment and considered that the same God who said “no” to same-sex relationships is the God who lovingly created them, and has proven his goodness over and over and over again in history, and sent his own Son Jesus to die and bear their sins and burdens. So maybe God and Jesus know a thing or two about what’s really good for them. Maybe he’s saying “yes” to something much better. Maybe he’s protecting something really great.

Many other issues boil down to the same thing. Will we believe that God’s word is a good word on every issue? On marriage? Dating? The way we dress? The way we live? Family? Parenting? Whatever he tells you to do, it’s going to be good for you. Sometimes the “good” is an eternal good, but it’s always good. You have to believe that if you’re going to serve him. Or you’ll always end up picking and choosing which commands to obey and which ones, well, just aren’t right for you. Jesus said that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the  mouth of God. Every word! If you’re going to believe that every word of the Lord is good, you will need to see that God is faithful. You’ll need to remember what God has done in the past.

Moses goes on to develop this theme in the book of Deuteronomy: remember and do not forget the faithfulness of the Lord.

  • Deuteronomy 5:15 — “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt.”
  • Deuteronomy 16:3 — “That all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.”
  • And again in 7:18, 8:2, 8:18, 9:7, 15:15, 16:12, 24:9, and 24:18.

In other words, Israel’s obedience to God’s Word would largely depend on their remembrance of God’s activity in history. If they were not intentional about remembering, they would surely forget:

  • Deuteronomy 4:23 — “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you.”
  • Deuteronomy 6:12 — “Take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
  • And again in 8:11, 8:14,  8:19, 9:7, and so on.

We must regard the faithfulness of the Lord. We must remember and not forget what God has done. And for us, that means picking up the Bible, and reading it; coming to church and listening to preaching; talking to those who have experienced God’s faithfulness firsthand; stopping to reflect on what God has done in our own lives—how far the Lord has brought us. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. God has placed churches like this in your life so you can meet people who can say, “Jesus doeth all things well.”

Disobeying God’s Command

If you’re following this, you know where we are heading. If you disregard God’s faithfulness, you will distrust God’s goodness. And it’s just obvious that you’re going to disobey God’s commands. Israel refused to enter the land. And the way that we learn this is in verse 32, “in this thing ye did not believe the Lord your God.” Israel’s disobedience is called unbelief. Matthew Henry notes, “An unbelieving heart was at the bottom of all this. All disobedience to God’s laws, and distrust of his power and goodness, flow from disbelief of his word, as all true obedience springs from faith.”

There are many who identify with the people of God, and yet they are deliberately disobeying God in certain areas of their lives. If we’re at the place where we are saying “no” to God, we’re on dangerous ground. 1 John 2:4 tells us that, “If anyone says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not keep His commandments, he is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

That’s why the second generation of Israel needed a history lesson. And one of our greatest needs in this day is a history lesson. We need to look back and see, “wow, there’s been a whole lot of stupid people who haven’t trusted him, and the consequences have been tragic, so maybe I better get my act together.” And also, “Wow, God’s has been unbelievably good to every generation that has sought him.” But Israel disregarded God’s faithfulness and rebelled.

Missing the Blessing

Israel’s disregard for God’s faithfulness, distrust of God’s goodness, and disobedience of God’s commandments came at a huge price. Look at verses 34-35. The Lord was angry, and Israel missed out on the blessing of the promised land. The Lord was angry because his people had rejected his plan for their lives.

Verse 33 says that God “went in the way before you, to search you out a place to pitch your tents in, in fire by night, to shew you by what way ye should go, and in a cloud by day.” He sought out a place for them to pitch their tents, and he led them every step of the way. God wanted Israel to end up in the promised land. God was fully prepared to bless his people. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” But Israel threw God’s plan out the window, and pursued their own plan. They trusted their feelings more than God’s faithfulness. And looking back on the whole mess, the New Testament says, “their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.”

They trusted their feelings more than God’s faithfulness.

That’s where sin will take you. Ravi Zacharias has said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” Whatever we sow, we reap. Israel sowed in distrust and disobedience, and they reaped death in the wilderness.

Galatians 6:7-8 says, “Do not be deceived”—and it starts out that way, because many people are deceived. They think everyone gets a free pass to heaven — “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

If you sow to the flesh, you’ll miss out on the heavenly promised land. God is angry with sinners every day, and he isn’t going to let them in to heaven. “Or do you not know,” says the Bible, “that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” God’s people were so close to the promised land, but they missed it because of disobedience. It will be the anguish of many sinners in hell that they were not far from the kingdom of God. But close is not close enough. There is no middle ground between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. There are only two kinds of people: those who believe and live, and those who do not believe and die. There are those who obey, and go into the land, and those who do not obey.

For those who disobey God, God’s goodness becomes a fearsome thing. “The character of God is the guarantee that all wrongs will be righted someday; when the ‘day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed’ (Rom 2:5) arrives, retribution will be exact, and no problems of cosmic unfairness will remain to haunt us. God is the Judge, so justice will be done” (J. I. Packer). This is why “Jesus talks about hell more than he talks about heaven, and describes it more vividly. There’s no denying that Jesus knew, believed, and warned against the absolute reality of hell” (Leslie Schmucker).

Don’t Be Discouraged

The words of Moses in Deuteronomy 1 were spoken as a sober warning. It’s a good life and an eternal life that God wants to give you. But you’re going to have to trust him. You’re going to have to taste and see that he is faithful. And you’re going to have to obey him. The land of blessing is in front of you. But it’s only for those who repent and trust Jesus and persevere in holiness. The question is, “Will you press on and fight the good fight of faith?” If you won’t...the consequences are going to be tragic.

But if you willif you will…God’s going to fight for you. If you are trying to believe God; if you are trying to trust him; if you are doing your best to obey him, then God’s word for you this morning—and we see it clearly in verses 21 and 29—his word is, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged. I’m with you. I’m going to fight for you. You don’t have to fight the battles in your own strength! You don’t have to bear the burden alone. The cost of discipleship is more than you can bear on your own. But if you lean hard on me, be much in prayer, linger long in my word, I’ll help you conquer the land before you. If you love me, I’m going to work all things together for your good. I am the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is President and Founder of Holy Joys. He serves as a preaching and teaching pastor in Newport, PA, where he lives with his wife Alexandra and son Adam. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.