Have you ever met a person that struck you as truly remarkable for their brilliance, their charisma or their attitude? Someone like no one you have ever met before? Today we are going to consider two such people.
The faith of Joshua and Caleb is rather startling when you consider it carefully. Here are two men who had spirits within them that were superior to their peers on every level. These peers, however, were the “leaders’ of their nation. They were well-respected members of the elders of Israel – each a mighty man representing his own tribe. Unfortunately, when a true life-test of faith came along, these men melted into puddles of fear and unbelief. It is worth asking ourselves if we have an exceptional world-view of faith like Joshua and Caleb, or whether we fall into the doubter category.
I bring this up today because I have been thinking recently that the truth of Jesus’ words: “Many are called but few are chosen,” is really quite sobering. Matthew 22:14 This story of the 12 spies is a good illustration of that truth. The person who sees giants as mere bumps in the road – because of God’s reality in their thinking – is truly exceptional. Men like Noah, who was the only man in his entire generation, to “find grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Genesis 6:8 Or like David who is noted to have “served the purpose of God in his own generation.” Acts 13:36 These are not lukewarm, run-of-the-mill people. They are truly unique people – set apart from others by their noteworthy faith.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here in Numbers 13, the spies, having completed their 40 day assignment, and returned to Moses with their assessments of the state of the land they are to enter. All of the congregation is eagerly gathered together to hear the report of these specially selected leaders after their long absence. It started off on a good foot. They “showed them the fruit of the land” and confirmed that the land “certainly does flow with milk and honey.” v.27 Excitement is building among the people – but is quickly deflated because next comes the big “NEVERTHELESS”.
People who only see life in the dimension of the flesh, are quick to be negative and to point out problems. Focusing on the difficulties rather than the possibilities is one of the biggest errors of human nature. Especially when God and His potential miracles are muscled out of our thinking. And so, the spies (minus J & C) ramble on about the giants living in the land and the other enemies scattered all over the territory. They use defeatist rhetoric – “not able”, they are “too strong”, their cities are “fortified”, “devours settlers”, we are “grasshoppers” compared to them! The chapter ends with the description of these giants. The giants seem to be the ubiquitous straw that broke the camel’s back for them. Giants in the land had caused them to change their view of themselves. Because they were not factoring God into their thinking, they considered themselves as good as dead.
This report apparently brought on a huge noisy outcry and wail of despair among the people – because the next thing we know “Caleb quieted the people.” He delivers a much different message – “We should by all means go up…we shall surely overcome it!” v.30 But his words have zero impact. Probably they were met with snorts of disbelief. Perhaps he was characterized by positive thinking so they just wrote him off. Majority rules. 10 say it’s bad news = so it’s Bad News!
After a long night of weeping and wallowing in self-pity, “all the congregation” works itself into a tizzy. It would be better for us to have died in Egypt or the wilderness than this fate! God is going to kill us all by their hands! Let’s go back to Egypt – it’s our only hope of survival! And after all this misery, too! Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb try to dissuade them from this ridiculous thinking. But the peoples’ spiraling out-of-control foolishness leads them even to decide to murder these long-term faithful (to the people and to God!) men so they don’t stand in the way of heading back to Egypt! Numbers 14:1-10
It is so silly when we objectively read it now – but it is so common in the way each of us often are tempted to look at our own problems. That’s why it is written here “for our instruction.” Compare Paul’s discussion of this type of sad story of Israel in the wilderness when he says:
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
We too, frequently fall into rabbit holes of defeatist thinking that lead to pathway after pathway of foolish decision-making. Dead-ends, literally.
Let’s turn our focus to our faithful heroes as they step into the spotlight. I wonder if Joshua and Caleb perhaps were a team of two sent together? And perhaps they had long, excited discussions about how wonderful the land was, and how exciting that God was going to give them deliverance and possession! Long nights for 40 evenings around a campfire perhaps they spoke hopefully, joyfully, and prayed thankfully for this very real situation. And by the time they come back before Moses they are convicted – confirmed in faith. Speaking for himself and Joshua, Caleb states, without hesitation;
“We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.”
This is a profound moment – because it revealed the true character of these men. God says in the next chapter, “My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land…” v.24 This type of faith is a rare thing! It reminds me of David’s assurance of victory over Goliath, and of Paul’s famous words of conviction, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31
Now what I find so remarkable here, is that this is not a moment of extreme courage on the part of Joshua & Caleb (or David or Paul). It was a natural response of people who have geared their lives completely (through years and years of experience and dependence on the God they serve) to thinking in the dimension of faith. Interesting that the passage even points out that the ten were basing their assessments on what they “saw.” But Joshua and Caleb were “walking by faith and not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7
And so, I picture them perhaps looking up in complete surprise at the frightened account of the ten spies – because this idea had not even entered their minds. Or perhaps they had inklings of this bad report before they got back, and they knew they had to offset the negative outlook with strong words of faith. Perhaps they were hoping-against-hope that there would be enough faith among the congregation that the scare tactics of their peers would not rule the day.
Whatever the case, it is truly inspiring to read the account of their readiness to stand up to the flesh and it’s faithless worldview, and try to convince their brethren that victory was certain to come by God’s Hand. My point is that there was nothing else they could have done because this was who they were at their core – men who knew God and knew His power of deliverance. All of the miracles God had already performed in all of their lives had born good fruit of faith in these two men.
We know the end of the story. As so often occurs in this current world – faithlessness overrules the voice of the faithful. And the naysayers bring more trouble and distress upon them all. Big time. But this single and singular act of courage and heartfelt faith would grant these two special men – and only them – the privilege of entering the Promised Land. And they thereby enact a parable for us to heed. Only those with the worldview of faith “overcome” in the long run, just as Caleb had said. John puts it this way,
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.
Who is the one that overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the son of God?
There is a lesson here – to embrace the idea that we are called to be truly exceptional people. Even when compared to our religious peers. To grow in trust and expect the miracle because God is powerful and He is on our side and He sent His son because He loves. Let’s aspire to knowing Him in the way Joshua and Caleb did. Let’s focus on the grapes in our lives, and not the giants. Let’s look to the greater Joshua – Jesus!
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us (like Joshua and Caleb!), let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.