When the children of Israel came to the edge of the Promised Land, they sent spies to scope out the area and take stock of what was awaiting them. They discovered beauty unimaginable and resources beyond comprehension, but they were also faced with the imminent threat of giants. The fear that filled their hearts became larger than the giants themselves, and they refused to enter the land that was already theirs. They were left to wander in the wilderness for nearly 40 more years because of their unbelief. It almost seems wasteful. Why would they not enter the home that was promised to them? But if we reflect on the prayers in our lives that we feel God has left unanswered for far too long, we may better understand the experience of the Israelites.
A closer analysis of the Israelites’ response at the edge of the Promised Land highlights the very human experience of trauma or repeated disappointment. For many years Israel had lived in Egypt as slaves. Their lives were not their own. They didn’t control their own destinies. Daily they encountered human beings that weren’t giants in stature but still lorded over every movement and moment of their lives. I imagine that the Israelites prayed for deliverance—year after year, generation after generation. They heard stories of their forefather Joseph saving the land from famine, and perhaps they wondered how God had used him to save the land that was now destroying them. Perhaps they prayed for the same abundance Joseph and his immediate descendants received, but year after year, generation after generation, they lived and died with that request unanswered.
After years of bondage, the narrative in the Israelites’ minds was one of oppression. Disappointment had become deeply ingrained in the fiber of their being and the fabric of their culture. “Slave” had become their identity, disappointment their expectation.
I’m sure it came as a great shock when they tasted freedom for the first time. And although freedom was what they always desired, I can’t help wondering: How easy would it be for their minds to reconcile the pain of a lifetime with the deliverance of that moment? Were their hearts filled with reverence after witnessing the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, or did they question where this Deliverer had been all along? Did they wonder how the same God who had allowed them to live in bondage and oppression for hundreds of years only now presented them with a new home? Could this gift truly be theirs? When they discovered giants in the land—people capable of oppressing and enslaving them—did it trigger their deepest pains and fears?
It’s impossible to know exactly what the Israelites thought as they stood at the edge of the Promised Land, but it’s evident that although God intended to bless them, to their fearful and distrustful hearts it may have felt like a trap. They chose not to enter the land and witness the answer to their prayers. It was clear from their decision that while they had gained their physical freedom, their hearts and minds were still in bondage.
It’s easy to look at Israel with contempt, but if you have ever prayed for the same thing for an extended period of time, you will know how difficult it is to keep trusting God after being disappointed repeatedly. It’s also difficult to trust God with the areas of our lives in which we have experienced deep trauma and pain. Sometimes we unknowingly view God through the lens of the emotions we feel and the experiences we have or had. We attribute our discomfort to Him, and we judge His heart toward us based on our external circumstances. The children of Israel were no different. They didn’t trust God to give them a safe home, because for hundreds of years that was exactly the thing they didn’t have. There, at the edge of the Promised Land, we see a broken people, required to pick up their courage and believe that this time God would do for them what they had never seen Him do before.
This is exactly where God desires to meet us. God isn’t impervious to the obstacles that litter our paths. He isn’t unaware of the anxiety and consternation we feel about our future, or blind to the pain and brokenness of our past. But God is a Redeemer, and He wants to meet us in the place of our greatest disappointment and pain.
He wants to rewrite the story, but only if we entrust that part of our lives to Him.
Do you find yourself praying once again for the same breakthrough, blessing, or miracle? Do you feel as if your hope has betrayed you? Do you cry out, God, why should I trust You when I’ve trusted You before, only to be met with disappointment, rejection, or pain? You are exactly where you need to be! God’s response to your disappointed hopes is I don’t just want you to trust Me; I want to do more for you than you could ever imagine. When we trust God with our deepest desires, He will redeem the years of pain we may have experienced. In His time He will make all things new. What the children of Israel were unable to see is that God will fulfill His promises to us even if it seems impossible from our vantage point. It may seem as if we’ve wasted years or months praying or seeking while God was moving on our behalf the entire time.
The failures and disappointments of our past in no way point to any ill intention of God, despite what our hearts may say. God has not forgotten the promises He made to us, but He will not force us to trust His goodness either. Right now we may be on the edge of a breakthrough, but our fear and anxiety cripple us. Maybe the stories of our disappointments are busy replaying in our mind? We can take comfort in knowing that God is tender with our broken hearts. When we come face to face with the disappointments that have enslaved us and we choose once again to trust God with them, we’ve chosen to enter our “Promised Land,” and we will be able to truly recognize His goodness. Despite the pain of being disappointed again and again, don’t let those disappointments behind you prevent you from entering the Promised Land before you.