First Mennonite Church
March 23, 2014
Profile of Wholehearted Devotion: Caleb
Texts: Numbers 13: 26-33; 14:20-24
Numbers 13: 26-33
26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”
30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
Numbers 14: 20-24
20 The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, 22 not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.
In movies and books the super hero is always the one who chooses to go where others do not dare to go. The super hero is always the one who pushes forward and regardless of all calling quits, the hero keeps going on and doing what he believes is the right thing to do. And usually in movies and book, the hero overcomes even if barely surviving and being carried on a stretcher heading to the ER.
The context of our passage today sets Israel at the threshold of the Promised Land. Moses had sent 12 men to explore the land God has promised to give the Israelites. It is important for us to pay attention to the word God uses when he instructs Moses to send those twelve. In chapter 13, verses 1 and 2 read: The Lord said to Moses, “Send men “to spy out” the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites…”
The word translated “spy out” (NRSV) is the Hebrew word “tur”, which some Bibles translate: “scout out” or “explore” (NIV), or “search” (KJV). But “tur” has the meaning of “diligent observation with the purpose of becoming wise or convinced”; thus any action taken is taken based on the wisdom or conviction acquired. God wanted Moses to send these 12 men so that they might see with their own eyes how good and great was the land He was giving them. God wanted these men to become convinced that the land was indeed a “land flowing with milk and honey” in order to motivate the Israelites to desire to live there. God wanted these men to become His witnesses of His goodness and faithfulness. He wanted to use these men to lead courageously His people into the Promised Land and to possess it.
Normally when people want to encourage someone regardless of a bad situation, they give the bad news first and then emphasize the good news. These ten men did the contrary.
When the men returned and gave their report, they not only gave an extremely short good news first, but they went on at length highlighting the bad news. In my Bible version (NRSV), the good news is only two lines, while the bad news is nine lines altogether (vv. 28-29, 31b). Their report did not reflect God’s intention in sending them. They had set their eyes on the dwellers and their dwelling place.
Out of 12 men, 10 emphasized the difficulty. Ten men focused on what they should not. They spoke about the Anakites and the Nephilim. These giant-sized human races are characterized as “freaks of nature” and as the offspring of divine-human relations, according to Genesis 6. The 10 emphasized the freakish nature of the Niphilim whose land indeed devoured its own inhabitants. In other word this emphasis about the unnaturalness of the land and its inhabitants that the ten men gave implied the land was a scary place to live in. The ten men slandered God. And their report filled the people of Israel with fear and doubt.
The result was obvious. The Israelites began to cry and they cried all night. In the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 1 verses 26 and 27, Moses quotes the grumbling words of the Israelites: “It is because the Lord hates us that he has brought us out of the land of Egypt to hand us over to be destroyed.”
In the passage for today, God speaks in response to Moses’ intercession on behalf of Israel. The first generation of Israelites who left Egypt and who had seen and experienced the greatest wonders performed by God started treating God with contempt. That first generation had seen God’s plagues come down upon the Egyptians. They had seen how God made distinction between the Hebrew and the Egyptian first-born. They had walked through the Red Sea on dry land. They had drunk from the Rock and had been fed with manna and meat, yet doubted that God was able to deliver on his promise. Therefore Yahweh solemnly declared:
Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.
God determined that no one from among that grumbling and faithless generation would enter the Promised Land He had promised them. God’s promise of a land flowing with milk and honey was to be transferred to the next generation. Although He spared that first generation from immediate death, that first generation never got to see what they had longed for for forty years.
This story highlights the danger of succumbing/falling prey to fear. Fear has a destructive power. Fear turns God’s free salvation through grace into foolish human entrepreneurship of good works. Fear causes some to make of other humans monsters. Fear leads to death and a dead of the heart cannot to love. Fear imprisons the spirit and the mind and thus the spirit and the mind cannot see and move beyond the walls that confine them.
Fear in the context of the church leads to missing the fullness of life God offers us as of now. Fear limits our growth. Fear makes us blind to see in the faces of our brothers and sisters the image of God. And just as fear held captive the 10 fearful spies, fear will make us see only the weaknesses and faults in our brothers and sisters. Fear feeds racism and disrespect for others who might be different from us. The destructive power of fear can push farther away the promises of God to us of making His church a space in which his grace flows like milk and honey.
But we should not stay with the report of those 10 fear-stricken spies. Caleb called for silence and gave his positive report with a call to go and take possession of the land. And while Caleb and Joshua spoke positively about the land (14:7) [Add a comma here after the introductory dependent clause.] their voice was drowned among 10 with a bad report and a large complaining congregation.
It is difficult to go against the voice of the majority. This happens everywhere including the church. It is easier to go with the flow of the majority. Many times it is easier to repeat what the majority of the people are saying. And sadly, there are times when we may prefer to keep silent instead of speaking contrary to the loudest voices. But Caleb and Joshua did not. They reaffirmed God’s power to fulfill his promise; they commanded the people “not to fear” and reiterated the goodness of the land by saying: The land we explored is an exceedingly good land (v7).
And God was taking notice of their actions. Yahweh declared: But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.
Caleb went to explore the land and his observation of the land and its resources convinced him that it was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey. He came inspired and ready to go and claim the land as promised by God. He came ready to encourage others to act immediately. His heart was totally devoted to carry out the purpose of his calling. That is why God declared Caleb to be his servant, one with a different spirit and one who follows wholeheartedly. He did not allow fear to take hold of his heart. He did not allow 10 unified voices to silence his voice. Caleb was a man with one devotion and one goal. His full devotion was to God alone and his goal was to lead the people as God had commanded him to do.
Caleb exemplifies the leader who leads based on his personal conviction. Caleb wanted to lead his people into the land not out of a sense of duty alone, but out obedience to the God who sent him. He went to explore the land and came back convinced that the land was exceedingly good. The land was worthy to invest all he had. Caleb is a model we as Christians must follow.
In Psalm 34, verses 7 and 8 we read, the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear hi [him], and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Caleb saw how exceedingly good the land was. He tasted its delicious fruit. He was totally convinced the favor of God was upon the people of Israel to lead them victoriously.
Therefore when he encouraged the congregation of Israel to move forward, he was speaking on the grounds of experience and conviction.
Unless we taste for ourselves the goodness and sweetness of God, it will be difficult for us to encourage others to try it themselves. Unless we are truly convinced of God’s faithfulness, encouraging others to trust in the Lord will not be our priority. Unless we as leaders follow God’s leading, we will have difficulty to be taken seriously in our leadership roles.
Let us strive to follow God’s order as Caleb did. Let us taste and see the goodness of God, and our words will be with authority and power. Let us lead by example and God might declare about us as he did about Caleb: Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly.
May the Spirit of the Lord move us to desire God and his will with a whole heart. Amen.