Every culture represents a hope, or a loss of hope…
Civilizations crumble when men lose hope.
—Rousas J. Rushdoony, Revolt Against Maturity (1977)
In war there is no substitute for victory.
—General Douglas MacArthur
Giants in the Earth
We usually associate giants with faerie tale and myth. But giants regularly appear in historical records as well. For example, De Soto, Coronado, and Magellan all had encounters with tribes of giants. So did Sir Francis Drake. None of these explorers had a tape measure handy, but their accounts seem to place these giants at over seven feet tall. There are also scattered excavations across North America that have turned up giant skeletons. Most have measured between seven and nine feet. A few have had six fingers per hand like Goliath’s brother (2 Sam. 21:20). In 1877 P. T. Barnum had a troop of giants who, he claimed, were all eight feet tall, but he seems to have exaggerated by several inches. At present, Earth’s tallest man is a Ukrainian, Leonid Stadnyk. He stands at eight feet five inches. But he would have looked up to the American record-holder, Robert Pershing Wadlow (b. 1918). Wadlow was eight feet eleven inches tall.
The most famous giant of all time is Goliath of Gath. At conservative estimates, he was about nine feet six inches tall. But Og, king of Bashan, was probably taller yet. Scripture says that his bed frame was nine cubits long. That’s about thirteen and half feet (Deut. 3:11). And Scripture mentions other giants as well. In fact, there was a whole tribe of giants in Canaan when Israel reached its borders. They were called the sons of Anak. They were very real and very terrifying.
Spying Out the Land
At God’s command, Moses appointed twelve men, one from each of the tribes, to spy out the land of Canaan (Num. 13). They went their way, and after forty days, they returned. They brought back a cluster of grapes so huge they had to carry it on two staves. They brought back beautiful figs and pomegranates as well. Yes, the spies freely admitted, the Land does flow with milk and honey just as Yahweh promised. But there’s a problem, they said. “The people are strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there” (v. 28).
Ah, the children of Anak. Giants. Suddenly conquest seemed out of the question.
There was one dissenting voice. Caleb the son of Jephunneh stood up before the assembly and said, “Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it” (v. 30). Caleb believed the promise of God. Ten of the spies turned on him and began to exaggerate: The land eats up its inhabitants; the giants made us feel like grasshoppers; the inhabitants are too strong for us. The whole assembly wept with disappointment and fear.
Discussion of the spies’ report continued through the night. So did the tears. By morning plans were afoot to elect a new leader and return to Egypt. At this point Caleb reasserted his testimony. This time he was joined by the twelfth spy, Joshua. Together they said, “The land… is an exceeding good land. If Yahweh delights in us, then He will bring us into this Land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only rebel not against Yahweh, neither fear ye the people of the Land…” (14:7-8). In other words, “Don’t be afraid of the giants. They can’t win. God is on our side.”
The assembly rejected this minority report. In fact, its members agreed that Joshua and Caleb ought to be stoned. Their call to engage in battle looked like a plot to get all of Israel killed. The proper judicial sentence for attempted murder was execution by stoning. At this point God stepped in.
Rationalization and Unbelief
Scripture doesn’t record the conversations around the campfires and in the tents of Israel that fateful night, so we don’t know how Israel justified her plan for a full-fledged retreat. The most obvious rationale would have been a complete rejection of the promise of God. Maybe Yahweh wasn’t who He said He was. Maybe He couldn’t do what He promised. Here’s the thing: Yahweh had destroyed Egypt, the mightiest nation on earth, with plagues of apocalyptic proportions. Did they think Yahweh had lost His power, or perhaps even that they had lost His good will?
Of course, there was also the issue of combat. These Israelites had been slaves all their lives and weren’t exactly seasoned combat soldiers. True, they had fought the Amalekites and driven them away (Ex. 17:8-16). But that was a single battle and one that had been forced upon them. Was Israel ready for several years of sustained warfare? Apparently not. Slavery seemed easier to them than the responsibility associated with doing what God required.
But did Israel, at this time see themselves as cowards? Don’t be so sure. Unbelief is good at making excuses. Sometimes excuses are theological in nature. Maybe they said something like this:
“God promised to give us the Land. There was nothing about human effort. Obviously, He doesn’t expect us to usher in His kingdom. Only He can do that! This whole project smacks of a false gospel.”
“Doubtless God will give us the Land… some day. Perhaps when Messiah comes. Sure, that’s it. In the meantime we are hardly safe here or competent enough to run a society. The Egyptians really ran an efficient country, though.”
“And think about it, do we even need this Land? We’re already God’s firstborn. He has made us a kingdom of priests. Not only that… we’re redeemed and have His word. God Himself dwells in our midst. What more do we need, save Messiah Himself? This whole business about conquering the Land seems like a carnal diversion from our true calling.”
When God appeared to Israel, He threatened to destroy the whole nation and begin His plans anew with Moses and his seed. Moses immediately intervened (I suppose as God intended) and reminded God of His promises, His character, and His reputation among the nations (Num. 14:11-38). God listened to his friend and only destroyed the unbelieving spies. But He sentenced Israel to wander in the wilderness for forty years. That generation wasn’t ready for the work of conquest, and the younger generation needed “boot camp” to prepare them for the tough work of conquest. Only Caleb and Joshua would live to see Israel’s eventual victory. In fact, Joshua would be the general who would lead the conquest.
Every age has its giants. Few are flesh and blood. At the end of the twentieth century, there were four dangerous giants, four worldviews, competing with Christianity for Earth’s future: Marxism, secular humanism, New Age humanism, and Islam. These four worldviews were all committed to historical optimism. Their adherents believed in the historical and cultural victory of their respective systems. Pure communism was an historical inevitability. Evolution would assuredly carry man into a scientifically planned utopia. The Age of Aquarius was written in the stars. The victory of Islam was the will of Allah. Evangelical Christians, on the other hand, generally professed a worldview that predicted its own historical and cultural failure. Most evangelicals embraced an eschatology of defeat. They majored on giants and forgot the promises of God. They forgot the conquest part of Lord’s Prayer (“Thy kingdom come”) and the Great Commission.
Paul says that we are saved by hope (Rom. 8:24). John Murray renders it, “For in hope were we saved.” That is, the salvation we already have is characterized by hope, conditioned by hope, and oriented towards hope. That hope is both temporal and eternal. The God who promised Israel the land of Canaan promises His Church the whole world (Matt. 28:18-20). But God works through historical means. He uses faithful servants, servants full of hope. He uses Calebs and Joshuas, and through such men and women… topples giants.
While visiting Germany recently, I was struck by giant architectural projects begun by folks who knew they would never see the completion of the projects but felt blessed to be working towards what they saw as kingdom work. My friend Jim Fullan always says there is “plenty to do.” Indeed. When we’re doing what God requires of us to advance His Kingdom, there are kinds of giants to topple and truly… plenty to do. Let’s get busy!