Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.
Pharaoh feared the people of Israel. His fear led him to enslave them. Why? Because He recognized that if they ever realized how powerful they were, they could take His kingdom. With the bondage of slavery & the use of Task Masters to rule over them, Pharoah was purposefully belittling Israel and doing everything he could to make them feel small and less than. The saddest part of all? Israel let him.
They didn’t fight it. They didn’t rise up in revolt. No one questioned Pharoah’s right to enslave them. Israel just accepted the label he placed upon them and bent low to embrace the role he told them to play. Skip ahead in your Bible to Numbers 13:33 and you will see that even after Israel is delivered from Egypt and the control of its Pharoah, they continue to see themselves as “less than” and “small.” Reaching the land that was promised to them by God Himself, they refuse to go in because they doubt they are able to defeat the people that posses it, still hearing the voice of Pharoah echoing within their hearts and minds years later.
“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. 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. 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.”
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.” 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.”
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. 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.”
The people of Israel saw themselves as “grasshoppers ” – easily squashed and completely incapable of defeating the inhabitants of their promised land. When given the opportunity to listen to the voice of Caleb telling them they were “well able” to overcome or to listen to the voices of the other spies who doubted them – Israel chose to listen to the latter and make the largest U-turn in all of history back in to the desert from which they had just come.
When I read this story, it always breaks my heart. Because Israel was looking in the wrong mirror, listening to the wrong voice, and still accepting the lies of the Pharoah as the truth of their identity – they missed out on years that could have been enjoyed in the land of promise. In fact, if you read on in the story – none of those who turned back and refused to enter the promise land were alive at the time that Israel finally went in except for Caleb. Caleb who saw himself as “well able.”
I find it interesting that this portion does not record the spies saying that the enemy had said they were small. Instead, it says, “We seemed to ourselves.” This is what happens too often for many of us. The lie that was once told to us by another, becomes a lie that we tell ourselves. We own it. We accept it. We no longer need others to tell us we are “small.” We tell ourselves everyday as we look into mirrors, face challenges, and walk into opportunities. “I can’t,” “I’m not,” and “I’ll never,” become a normal part of our everyday vocabulary and, as they do, the lies of the enemy “creep” their way into our identity and take up residence.
In 1 Samuel 17 we find the people of Israel up against yet another foe – a literal “giant” among men. This is years after their failed attempt to enter the promise land in Numbers 13. Since then, they had battled multiple armies and found victory, taken possession of the land God had promised them, conquered cities, crowned a king and established themselves as a people to be feared. You would think that after all of this, their view of themselves would have changed. Yet here we find them “dismayed and greatly afraid.”
A number of years ago, I was at the altar of our church praying with a group of women. Once they left, another lady came towards me from the back of the room and asked me for prayer. As a young child, she had been told she was unwanted. Her parents never really wanted a child. Especially not a girl. All her life, their words had haunted her. They followed her into every relationship, making her feel unworthy of the love offered. Her marriage had ended because of it. Her children – feeling their many attempts to love her were rejected – had finally pushed her away. She was now in late 70s and very much alone. She feared no one would miss her when she died. Her story tore at my heart. It reminded of how powerful words can be and how long they can stay with us. Just like the people of Israel, this woman’s life was continuing to be shaped by words that had been spoken over her years and years before. And maybe, yours it too.
· Take a moment to reach back into your childhood and ask, “Are there words that were spoken over me a child that are still affecting me today?"
Friends, our enemy, Satan, is no different than Israel’s enemy of old, the Pharoah of Egypt. He fights what He fears. He knows that if we ever understand who we are and begin to walk in it – we will be a force that he cannot stop. So, he “creeps” in and he speaks over us lies that feel too right to be wrong. And we, like Israel, let him – spending years of our lives feeling “less than” when we are so much more. Israel’s story reminds us yet again that what voice we choose to listen to matters. Who we are allow to define who we are matters. What we accept as truth matters.
We can’t be gullible.
We can’t be easily swayed.
We must know the truth.
In John 8:31, Jesus encourages His disciples to abide (remain in, stay steadfast in) His Word and then He promises that if they will do this, they will know the truth and that truth will set them free (vs 32). The word “truth” in this portion of Scripture is defined in the original text as synonymous with the word “reality.”
The reality of who you are and the reality of who I am can only be found in God’s Word.
In His Word and His Word alone will we find the truth of our identity. What will be read within the pages of His Word will be the only real and accurate picture of you and I.
His voice – the voice of our Creator- is to be the only voice that defines us.
His voice is to be the voice that shapes our identity.
His voice is to be the voice that tells us who we are.
Friend, who has been telling YOU? What voice have you been listening to? I encourage you today as you close the book on this lesson to go to God's Word. Allow His Word to define who you are and wherever you have accepted a lie - allow God's truth to reshape your view of yourself. You are loved, valuable, beautiful, smart, capable, chosen, called, fully known, invited, wanted, sought-after...and made with purpose. It's time for you - and for me - to know the truth and walk in our freedom.