Do you despise God? I imagine that most people confronted with this question would answer negatively. Relatively few would be so bold as to admit that they despise God. They may not believe in God. They may not fully submit to God. They may not think much about God. But despise God? Surely not. Despise is, after all, such a strong word.
It is, of course, quite plausible that an unbeliever might be so arrogant as to admit that he or she despises God, but professing believers are another story. No one who claims to live in some form of relationship with God would dare to say that they despise him. We love God, revere God, fear God—but we do not despise him.
As I was reading through Numbers recently, I came across a statement that caught my attention. The record in chapter 13 is well known. The Lord there instructed Moses to send twelve spies into the land of Canaan. The intention was for them to return and encourage the Israelites to believe God and to therefore conquer the Canaanites and take the Promised Land. Sadly, only two of the spies—Joshua and Caleb—returned a faithful report. The ten despairingly reported that, though the land was good, the inhabitants were too strong. The people chose to believe the majority, faithless report rather than the minority, faithful report. Threatening to stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, they felt that their only hope was to return to Egypt.
Chapter 14 records God’s response to the unbelief of the Israelites. In short, God refused the entire faithless generation entry into the Promised Land. Of those over the age of twenty, Joshua and Caleb alone would be allowed to cross the Jordan into Canaan. The rest would die as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years.
As I read these chapters, I was struck by the way in which the Lord confronted his covenant people: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?’” (Numbers 14:11). to Moses, “he Lord confronted his covenant people: y wandered in the wilderness for forty years.ord there inst (Numbers 14:11). From God’s perspective, the people did not merely disbelieve or disobey him; they despised him. The NKJV translates the word as “reject,” but the original carries the idea of scorning, abhorring or even blaspheming.
Notice a couple of things about these people who despised God.
First, notice who despised God. They were not pagans. They were not atheists. They were not idol-worshipping heathen. They were his covenant people!
The Israelites were those who professed allegiance to Yahweh. At Sinai, they had declared, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8). But just a few short months later they refused to enter Canaan and take their inheritance as the Lord had commanded them to do.
How would you describe their failure to take the land? Would you say that they did not take the land because they despised Yahweh? Probably not, but that is exactly how he viewed their disobedience.
There is a lesson here, no doubt: It is possible for a believer to despise God. To be sure, a good many of these covenant people were in fact God’s people in name only, but it does not change the principle: God’s covenant people can be guilty of despising him.
Second, notice how they despised God. They despised him, not by harbouring seething hatred for him, but simply by distrusting and disobeying him. The conquest of Canaan was a foregone conclusion—or, at least, it should have been. Yes, there were Anakim in the land, but Yahweh, who is supremely more powerful than even the greatest of the Anakim, had given them his word. All they needed to do was to trust and obey.
But they didn’t. They didn’t believe that God could overpower the inhabitants of the land and give it to Israel. And because they distrusted God, they disobeyed him. They refused to enter the land and instead chose to revert to Egypt. Their distrust and disobedience amounted to despising God.
So, let me ask again: Do you despise God? As God defines it, despising him is not about your feelings or sentiments toward him, but about your trust and obedience. Perhaps a concrete example or two would help to illustrate the point.
Consider, first, the example of our stewardship. God promises that he will meet the needs of those who trust him, and who display their trust by obedience. Through Malachi, the Lord challenged his covenant people, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Malachi 3:10).
The challenge was for the people to bring the full tithe into the storehouse, and the Lord would bless “until there is no more need.” It doesn’t appear that they had completely neglected to tithe, but that they had neglected to do so fully. The implication is that faithful stewardship would create a need in their life, but that the Lord would bless their faithful stewardship by meeting that need.
In the New Testament, this principle is repeated in Philippians 4:14–20. There, Paul acknowledges that the Philippians alone sacrificed financially to meet his needs. Their gift was not a once off gift, but a consistent financial sacrifice for his benefit. He acknowledges that he has “received full payment,” and then gives them a wonderful, inspired promise: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Once again, the implication is that their sacrifice for Paul’s benefit had created a need in their lives, but God promised to meet the need.
And so the principle is there in both testaments. If we sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom, thereby creating need in our lives, God will meet that need. Will we trust? Will we obey? Or will we despise God?
As a second example, think of God’s promise for grace to overcome sin. God’s will is for us to be sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Jesus came to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). According to Romans 6, we have the choice to present our bodies as either instruments of righteousness or unrighteousness. Will we trust God for grace to overcome sin, and therefore obey him by presenting our bodies as instruments of righteousness? Or will we despise God?
The same principle can apply for God’s promises in any sphere of life: marriage, parenting, church life—everything! If we do not trust God’s promises and therefore obey his commands, we despise him. And he will respond in kind. To Moses, he said, “I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they” (Numbers 14:12).
Thankfully, however, God’s grace is ever available. Moses pleaded with God to forgive his people, and though there were still consequences to their sin, the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word” (Numbers 14:20). If you despise God, there is hope for pardon because “the LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression” (Numbers 14:18).