Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Christian Conduct, Struggles

Of the numerous regrets I’ve had in my life, both big and small, I’d have to say that leaving my master’s degree is probably joint first.  The fact that I ‘left’ a long time before I officially withdrew from the course was definitely the most difficult pill to swallow. That is, I told myself I wouldn’t make it, and I didn’t, as prophesied.

“Now tell them this: ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say.” (Numbers 14:28, NLT)

In Context

Self-fulfilling prophecy = something that you cause to happen by saying and expecting that it will happen (Cambridge Dictionary)

Twelve spies are sent to evaluate the Promised Land, Canaan, but they give the Israelites conflicting reports upon their return. The proponents of the bad report (13:31) outnumbered their counterparts and perhaps the Israelites assumed this  implied credibility. Consequently, they opted to be ‘realistic’ given the prospect of facing actual giants to whom they would appear as ‘grasshoppers’ (v33). However, in some cases, realism is simply a palatable form of pessimism. The Israelites had accepted the worst, but Joshua and Caleb hadn’t (14:8-9).

Assuming the worst is usually easier than believing the best.

The Israelites invested in the bad report without giving it a second thought. Such was their conviction that they had already begun contemplating how they would make it back to Egypt (14:4), and they wanted to stone Joshua and Caleb for their optimism (14:10). Isn’t it funny how negative thinking will make you jump to crazy conclusions, and you won’t even stop to think? They believed that death was inevitable. They acted as if death was inevitable. In verse 28, God guarantees the ‘inevitable.’ It was certainly not what God had intended, but it clearly what they expected (despite numerous examples of His providence).

Attaining the worst is bittersweet.

The Israelites were right about not making it to Canaan, but they certainly weren’t happy about it. The battle they lost wasn’t with giants… it was with themselves. Keen to ‘undo’ their self-fulfilling prophecy, they pursued a futile attempt to invade Canaan (14:39-45). However, it was too little, too late. It’s important to note that Caleb (presumably Joshua, too) is spared because of his ‘spirit’:

“But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it.” (Numbers 14:24)

The Right Spirit

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgement and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].” (2 Timothy 1:7, AMP)

Fear is natural, and we all experience it from time to time; hence, the Bible is awash with verses which reiterate the need to “fear not” (e.g. Deuteronomy 31:6-8; Joshua 10:8; Isaiah 43:1). Clearly such reminders wouldn’t be necessary if we were unlikely to experience said feeling. However, how you respond to fear is far more important than the feeling itself. The good and bad reports arose from identical stimuli – so how did the spies reach differing conclusions?

Faith determines how you interpret fear-inducing stimuli.

The 10 spies should have leveraged their God-given protection. Assuming defeat wasn’t logical. It was convenient. They had the option of trusting that God would assist them despite the obvious disadvantage posed by stature. Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, saw their predicament as an opportunity to rely on God. The actions of these faithful spies brought two texts to mind:

  • Acts 1:8 – The apostles accomplished many things when they received power [dunamis]. The Greek word for power is the same in the text above. Having the ‘spirit of dynamite’ (derived from dunamis) should alter the way you view challenges. I’m not a fan of violence, but blowing up a trial/problem/issue instead of assuming the worst does sound appealing!
  • 1 John 4:18 – According to this verse, love and fear cannot coexist. Could it be that Joshua and Caleb loved and trusted God so much that there was literally no room for fear to cloud their judgement?

God gave the 10 spies and the Israelites every reason not to be afraid. However, they didn’t have the right spirit to process their fear correctly.


In my case, I’d never failed an assignment before and failing one assignment led me to think I’d fail the course. Passing subsequent assignments didn’t deter me from my faulty thinking because I presumed they were a fluke. On the other hand,  failing others confirmed what I assumed to be true: I wouldn’t make it.

Essentially all I needed to do was analyse what went wrong, and implement practical measures to ensure it didn’t happen again. However, I was definitely lacking in ‘dynamite’ power… It was far more comforting to set the bar lower (failure) and achieve it, than set it higher (success) and miss it. Although it can be difficult to discern when to persevere and when to give up, in most cases you dictate how the story ends.

Approach fear positively.

Fear is much more positive than I have typically given it credit e.g. self-awareness, creative problem solving. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to choose the correct spirit to handle the situation. Fear isn’t bad. Allowing it to overwhelm you is.


The children of those who didn’t believe they could enter Canaan eventually saw the Promised Land. However, their parents could have been part of that group. They deprived themselves of something within their grasp. Is there a narrative you’re erroneously allowing to come to fruition?


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