FROM OUR WILDERNESS
TO OUR PROMISED LAND
Hebrews 11 must be one
of the most famous chapters in the New Testament. It’s
commonly called the faith chapter. Because in this chapter, the
writer of the book of Hebrews gives a series of short potted
histories – almost a series of headlines – about men and
women of OT times who showed by their lives, and the experiences they
went through that their faith in God was a very real and living
thing. Almost you could say faith made tangible and very practical
by the examples of the people listed
Now faith is the
substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
For by it the elders
obtained a good
That’s from the
New King James (which I’ll be using today) but I also find the
way the Revised Standard Version translates these verses to be
Now faith is the
assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
For by it the men of
old received divine approval.
Now the rest of chapter
11 is more or less an elaboration of those first two verses. They are
a succession of, if you like, “good reports” about men
and women who showed by their lives that they were convicted of
things as yet unseen.
Let’s notice a
few of the names. There’s Abel (verse.4), Enoch (v.5), Noah
(v.7), Abraham (v.8). Down in verse 23 Moses. By the time we get
down to verse 32, I counted about 15 or 16 of them although your
ability to count may be better than mine!
32 And what shall I
more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak,
and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the
33 Who through faith
subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped
the mouths of lions, 34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the
edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in
fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the
Now, I don’t
think that the writer of Hebrews intended chapter 11 to be a complete
and definite list of all people in the Old Testament who had faith.
And I think you can see this quite clearly in verse 32 where the
writer seem to realise that he’s spent enough time on this
particular topic, throws in a few more names for good measure,
mentions the prophets as a category (but not their individual names)
and says that “time would fail me” to go into more
details. He’s given us some examples of the type of people he
has in mind, but leaves us in effect to fill in the gaps ourselves.
So I am going to talk
about someone whose name is not mentioned at all in Hebrews 11, but
whose life I think without any shadow of a doubt entitles him to be
included in that chapter. He is one of the missing names - if you
like an honoury member of Hebrews 11.
Now the story of Israel
in the wilderness and it’s subsequent entry into the promised
land is one that many Christians would be familiar with. And it is
actually quite a well-known story even among people who are not
Christians. I remember many years ago going to see the film “The
Ten Commandments”. A good old traditional Hollywood epic with
state of the art special effects - for the 1950s anyway - and a cast
of thousands. They don’t make them like that any more!
And, of course, it
never does us any harm to review something that we are familiar with.
However we can approach the story in a number of difference ways.
One way is simply to recount the facts about Israel’s time in
the wilderness and their subsequent conquest in of the promised land
as though it was more or less just a piece of history, in the same
way that we might learn about history at school. And that’s a
valid way of looking at it.
But I think that God
would really like us to do more than just look at it as a piece of
history. The Old Testament Israelites are long since dead and buried.
What he really wants is for us to learn the lessons of their history
that will benefit us.
You can see this from
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
1 Cor 10:1-6 (NKJV)
1 Moreover, brethren, I
do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the
cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in
the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and
all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual
Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. 5 But with most
of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in
6 Now these things
became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil
things as they also lusted.
1 Cor 10:11 (NKJV)
11 Now all these things
happened to them as examples, and they were written for our
admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
the story of Israel in the wilderness and it’s subsequent entry
into the promised land is a very long one, and it’s not
possible in a reasonably short sermon to go into much detail. So the
approach I've adopted today to look very briefly at Israel's time in
the wilderness and its entry into the promised land through the eyes
and personal experience of one
to see some lessons we can learn that would be helpful to us as
So to start, let’s
turn back to the Book of Numbers chapter 13.
the beginning of chapter 13 we find that the Israelites, having left
Egypt and gone through the Red Sea maybe about a year to eighteen
months before, are in the wilderness making progress towards their
destination of the land of Canaan.
By now, they have
arrived at a place called Kadesh Barnea. (You
can see this from the parallel account in Deut 1.) I recently looked
at a map of the area in a Bible reference work to see where Kadesh
Barnea actually was and I was amazed how close they were to the
promised land. I knew that they weren’t that far away, but when
you look at it on a map it hit me that the Israelites had arrived at
what was virtually a kind of frontier post. More or less on the
border of the promised land itself. They could virtually have put
their foot across the border and been there already.
The first thing that
happens is that the Israelites decide to send out an advance party to
spy out the land.
Now Num 13:1 does say
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 "Send
men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children
of Israel… "
Now, although this give
the impression that the initiative for the mission of the spies came
from God, if you look at Deut 1:22-23 you can
see that the initiative for the mission in fact came from the
22 "And everyone
of you came near to me [this is Moses speaking] and said, 'Let us
send men before us, and let them search out the land for us, and
bring back word to us of the way by which we should go up, and of the
cities into which we shall come.'
Sounds pretty innocent,
doesn’t it? And Moses doesn’t see a problem with that.
23 "The plan
pleased me well; so I took twelve of your men, one man from each
So what happened is
that after the people decide that that is what they wanted, God
allowed the spy mission, in response to their request, but commanded
that it should be done in an orderly way.
Between verses 4 and 13
there is a list of the names of all the people involved. They’re
all prominent people in the individual tribes of Israel. However, in
verse 6 we see the first mention of someone we're going to hear more
about during this sermon, which is
Num 13:6 Of the tribe
of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh.
Now we don’t
actually know an enormous amount about Caleb. However, we do know
that by the time we come across him in Number 13 Caleb was already 40
years old (you can see this from Joshua 14:10). So, what had Caleb
been doing for most of those previous 40 years? Well, he was a slave
of the Egyptians of course, like the rest of the Israelites, and he
would have lived the kind of life that slaves normally had in that
kind of society, which was harsh, unpleasant and probably fairly
short. Caleb really did not have any prospects in life to look
Does that ring any
bells with us brethren? When I read this it reminds me of
For you see
your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh,
not many mighty, not many noble, are
But God has
chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and
God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the
things which are mighty; 28
and the base
things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen,
and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that
that no flesh
should glory in His presence.
and despised”? I think that is a pretty good description of a
slave. When you are a slave you really don’t have many
prospects in life. How many prospects did we have brethren
before God called us? We weren’t slaves in a literal Egypt.
But we were slaves to sin, and our future was only death . The good
news for us is that when God calls us he takes us out of a position
where we had no hope to one in which we have an eternal hope, and one
in which he takes us out of our position of spiritual bondage to
Back to Num 13. In
verse 17 onwards we see Moses commissioning the spies to search the
land and report back. Which is what they do beginning in verse 21.
Num 13: 21 So they went
up, and searched the land from the wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, as
men come to Hamath.
they departed and came back to Moses and Aaron and all the
congregation of the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran, at
Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation,
and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 Then they
told him, and said: "We went to the land where you sent us. It
truly flows with milk and honey, and this is
its fruit. 28 Nevertheless the people who dwell in
the land are strong; the cities are
fortified and very large; moreover we saw
the descendants of Anak there.
And in verse 29 he
lists all the different nations.
that this report causes an immediate negative reaction among the
Israelites. And now we see Caleb getting involved for the first time.
Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, "Let us go up
at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it."
Now I think, to some
extent, Moses has been caught napping here. But in fairness to him,
he wasn’t expecting this problem, because the spies were simply
asked to survey the land - they were not asked for their opinion
about whether or not Israel should actually go there, which God had
already commanded them to do. So notice how Caleb takes the
initiative here. He spots that the report of the spies is beginning
to cause a problem and tries to nip it in the bud. He doesn’t
wait for Moses to become involved - he takes responsibility himself,
quite legitimately because he is one of the spies.
the men who had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up
against the people, for they are stronger
than we." 32 And they gave the children of
Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying,
"The land through which we have gone as spies is
a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw
in it are men of great
stature. 33 There we saw the giants (the descendants
of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our
own sight, and so we were in their sight."
Num 14: 1 And all the
congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept
that night. 2 And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses
and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would
God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died
in this wilderness! 3 And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto
this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children
should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt? 4
And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us
return into Egypt.
I find the reaction of
the Israelites quite astounding. There is an enormous outpouring of
emotion. It’s like the release of some kind of inward
pressure. Rather like when you open a can of a fizzy drink of some
kind and the contents suddenly spurt all over you. It’s fairly
obvious that some kind of emotional mood or attitude has been bottled
up inside the Israelites and, suddenly, it’s released and comes
to the surface. And I am also sure that it has suddenly become
horribly clear to Moses as to what the Israelites’ motives
really were when they asked for the spies to be sent into the
promised land in the first place.
Now anyone who takes
the time to think about the spies’ report should be able to see
that there might some contradictions in what is being said. On the
one hand the spies say that the land is a land of milk and honey, and
that the inhabitants live in very large cities. On the other hand it
is supposed to be a land that “devours its inhabitants”.
One obvious point is that if the land devours its inhabitants, then
surely they shouldn’t need large cities to live in - should
But the Israelites
don’t think about that one. They immediately fall for the spies
story “hook, line and sinker”. Why was this? The
fundamental reason for the Israelite’s reaction is that the
spies have told them what they wanted to hear. They haven’t
really been persuaded by the spies story of disbelief - they
disbelieved all along. And now they have found someone to tell
them what they want to hear.
All of us have a
tendency to listen to the people who tell us what we want to hear,
and blot out those people who say things we don’t want to hear.
In the field of politics, politicians long since learnt that, if you
tell the public what they want to hear, they are liable to vote for
you. And that human tendency can act as a barrier to us
listening to the word of God if it conflicts with our previous
opinions or preconceptions.
I remember somebody
once saying that a person’s choice of who he listens to is one
of the most important decisions he can make. A very profound comment
I think, which reminds me of Adam and Eve’s own choice back in
the garden of Eden. Christ himself warned his followers to be
careful how they heard.
heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more
will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have
will be taken from him."
Israel are not being
careful how they hear, so what they “seem to have” -
which in their case is the promised land - is about to be taken away
What does God expect
Christians to do? The Biblical pattern is that we should listen with
a ready mind, but prove what has been said.
10 Then the brethren
immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they
arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were
more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received
the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to
find out whether these things were so.
12 Therefore many of
them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as
well as men.
Israelites did not
listen with a ready mind, and did not
prove what had been said – they just believed what they wanted
Back to Numbers 14.
Joshua and Caleb make a
last ditch attempt to change the Israelites mind.
Num 14:6-9 (NKJV)
Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who
were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes;
they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying:
"The land we passed through to spy out is
an exceedingly good land. 8 If
the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and
give it to us, 'a land which flows with milk and honey.' 9 Only
do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for
they are our bread; their protection has
departed from them, and the Lord is with us.
Do not fear them
and Caleb had seen the same things in Canaan as the other spies. But
their mindsets were different. The other spies saw only the
difficulties. They saw how big the giants were, and bigger than they
were – they exaggerated the difficulties. Joshua and Caleb saw
how big God
But their plea doesn’t
make any difference to the Israelites.
Verse 10 But all the
congregation bade stone them with stones.
God now intervenes, and
threatens to destroy the whole nation. Moses prays for the people
(verses 13 – 19). God pardons but also passes judgement on the
Israelites by condemning them to stay in the wilderness for 40 years
and to die there. (verses 32 – 34)
But notice verse 24
24 but my servant
Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and has followed me
fully, him will I bring into the land into which he went; and his
seed shall possess it.
I don't know if you
have ever had the experience when reading a passage of scripture that
some verse, or phrase or even word suddenly seems to leap out of the
page at you. Almost as if the passage in question is underlined,
written in bold letters and is almost jumping up and down shouting
“look at me, look at me, I've got a message for you”.
Well, verse 24 is a verse which has such an effect on me, and the
word which jumps out of the page at me is the word "fully".
Now I think that is a
tremendous complement to Caleb that God could say such a thing.
But it made me think:
what about me? In fact, what about all of us?
I think this is a tough
one to answer, because sometimes there is a tension between what we
know we really ought to be able to say – which is that, of
course, we follow God fully - and what perhaps sometimes what
happens in reality. Because the reality is that our aspirations
don’t always match our actual performance.
When the Bible says
that Caleb followed God fully, what does it mean? Does it mean that
Caleb never sinned, for example? What was the difference really
between him and the rest of the Israelites?
Caleb had faith in God,
and his works showed that. The Israelites did not have faith in God,
and their works also showed that. The difference between Caleb and
the Israelites was the difference between faith, and lack of faith.
Faith is about putting
your trust in God instead of in yourself – God-reliance instead
of self-reliance. It’s a change in how you think. It’s a
change of perspective, from seeing ourselves as the centre of our
world, to seeing God as the centre. It’s about our intentions,
our hopes and our aspirations. It may not always be about our
performance. God in his mercy takes note of our real motives and
intent, and covers the rest with the blood of Christ.
Given that the
Israelites had only been in the wilderness at that point for about a
year or 18 months, they had to spend about 38 to 39 long years in the
desert during which of course they all died. It was their punishment
for not believing God. It is perhaps possible to overestimate the
punishment angle, because its worth remembering that during this time
God never left them. They had the pillar of cloud by day (and of
course fire by night) that led the Israelites to the specific places
God wanted them to be. And of course they had the tabernacle which
was the means by which the Israelites could formally approach God.
God provided them with manna everyday, so they didn't starve which
was more than probably could be said for some other nations at the
time. So God continued to care for them. But, they were in the
desert, following their flocks and herds and living a pretty mundane
The punishment for
Israel was really lack of opportunity. Being in the
wilderness, when they could have been in the promised land.
But, imagine what it
was like for Caleb. I could imagine that it would have been an
absolutely shattering disappointment for him. Just think. He
believed that he (along all the other Israelites) was on the brink of
a new and happy life in prosperity and freedom, in a place where God
wants them to be. Furthermore he has been give the privilege of going
on ahead to look at it. And not merely that, he has for 40 days
actually been in the promised land. And then, in the space
of probably less time that it takes for us to tell it, it all falls
I think that would have
been very discouraging for Caleb, and very hard to take. Initially,
to compare it with a modern situation, it must have felt like the
prospect of a 40 year prison sentence.
I would suggest we as
Christians probably have all gone through or are going through what
you might call “wilderness” situations. I'm reluctant to
offer any particular examples in case anybody thinks that I am
referring to them specifically. But, I suspect that all of us
individually can think back to times that were very difficult for us,
and hard to live through. I know I can. And some of us may not have
to think back very far, because we are going through such times right
And we are in good
company because there are plenty of examples in the Bible of other
people who went through similar experiences. A couple of examples
(no need to turn there).
You remember the
prophet Elijah after the incident with the prophets of Baal on Mount
Carmel, how he ran for his life when he was threatened with death by
Jezebel took a journey into the desert, sat down under a tree and
wished that he might die. That's in I Kings 19:4.
The apostle Paul
recounted in I Cor 7:5 For, when we were come into Macedonia, our
flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without [were]
fightings, within [were] fears.
However, when we get
discouraged it is often because at that particular moment we are
looking at what is seen, and the here and now. Rather than the
things that are unseen, and are in the future
I think I should
interject here to say that I am not talking about clinical
depression. That is a medical condition for which professional help
is needed and about which I certainly can't express any opinions.
But how do you deal
with discouragement? I think it's clear that one answer is through
faith. All of the people in Heb 11 (and Caleb himself), had the
ability to see through the eyes of faith things that were unseen,
because they were yet future.
24 By faith Moses, when
he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's
daughter; 25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of
God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26 Esteeming
the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt:
for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. 27 By faith he
forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as
seeing him who is invisible.
1 If ye then be risen
with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth
on the right hand of God. 2 Set your affection on things above, not
on things on the earth. 3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with
Christ in God. 4 When Christ, [who is] our life, shall appear, then
shall ye also appear with him in glory.
These are scriptures
which are very easy to read – but much more difficult to apply.
read the story of a man who was asked what was his favourite Bible
verse. And he said that it was: "It came to pass." I
suspect there are quite a few verses which say that, especially in
the old King James (Authorised) Version! So people were naturally a
bit puzzled, and when they asked him what he meant he said, "When
I get into any trouble and my problems pile up, I look at my verse
and I know my troubles have not come to stay; they have come to
pass." In other words he knew
that his problems would one day pass away and be no more.
I think there is a lot
of wisdom in that comment. We all I suspect at some point complain
about the present – I know I do. But do we also remember to
rejoice in the future?
Well, and this point
let's press the fast forward button and go forward into Caleb's own
future after the Israelites finally did enter into the promised land.
We catch up with him
again in Joshua14:
6 Then the children of
Judah came to Joshua in Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the
Kenizzite said to him: "You know the word which the LORD said to
Moses the man of God concerning you and me in Kadesh Barnea.
7 "I was forty
years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh
Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was
in my heart.
8 "Nevertheless my
brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I
wholly followed the LORD my God.
9 "So Moses swore
on that day, saying, 'Surely the land where your foot has trodden
shall be your inheritance and your children's forever, because you
have wholly followed the LORD my God.'
Notice again the phrase
“wholly followed” the Lord my God.
now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five
years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel
wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five
yet I am as
strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength
then, so now is
my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in.
God had kept Caleb
alive in order to fulfil his promise to him. Of course, it's not
necessarily a promise to us that we are going to live to a ripe old
age! But, it is a reminder that however old we get, we never retire
from being a Christian.
therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day;
for you heard in that day how the Anakim were
there, and that
the cities were
fortified. It may be that the LORD will
be with me, and I shall be able to
drive them out as the LORD said."
may get the impression from the first half of verse 12 that the
Anakim – who were the giants that the spies had come across 40
years previously – were no longer around. But I think that
Caleb is speaking about what he had found 40 years previously. You
can see that 40 years later the giants are still around because in
second half of the verse Caleb says “It may be that the LORD
with me, and I shall be
able to drive them out as the LORD said."
Now I think this is a
very interesting verse. I doubt if anyone among the Israelites would
have blamed Caleb if, after all the years of waiting, he had said,
“look, I'm 85 now - getting on in years. Too old to battle with
anybody now. Time to put my feet up now, build a nice retirement home
in some sleepy valley, and sit out on the veranda in my rocking chair
rocking to and fro waiting to die. Instead, he chooses the most
challenging assignment he possibly can. Instead of the sleepy valley
he asks for a mountain and, by the way, the mountain is inhabited by
This is, I think,
another example of Caleb's desire to follow God fully. Instead of
doing the least he can for God, he wants to do the most he can.
How about us? I think
it’s worth asking the question. Are we inhabiting some kind of
spiritual “sleepy valley” where we do as little as we can
– just the bare minimum that we hope that God will accept. Or
are there some personal spiritual mountains we could occupy if we
really wanted to? Worth thinking about.
We don’t know how
long Caleb lived in the promised land before he died. So the summary
of his life is that he lived as a slave in Egypt for 40 years. Then
that he lived in the wilderness for another 40 years. And then that
he lived for indeterminate length of time in the promised land, and
some of that was taken up by fighting to occupy the land.
Caleb really had quite
a hard life. He didn’t ask to be born and live as a slave. He
didn’t ask to have to live in the wilderness for another 40
years because of the decisions of others. And I suspect he might
have preferred not to fight his battles in the promised land.
I think the lesson for
us today is that life will not necessarily contain everything we
want it to. In fact, I strongly suspect that if you asked any
person in this room today, you would find somewhere - if they were
prepared to tell you – that life contains some things that they
would prefer it did not, and does not include some things they would
prefer it did. It’s true for me. I suspect that’s its
true for every Christian.
We remember that Christ
said in John 16:33
things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the
world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have
overcome the world."
in Acts 14:22
the souls of the disciples, exhorting them
to continue in the faith, and saying,
"We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God."
Unfortunately, we can
- subconsciously - all too easily buy into the western cultural myth
that life is perfectible and there are people out there who “have
it all”. You see this in the media all the time. They hold up
some celebrity or other in front of you who, you are assured, “has
it all”. But, if they are the kind of people that the media
follow over a period of time, pretty well without fail you discover,
some months or years down the line, that they didn’t “have
it all” after all. And eventually, and that is without
fail, they don’t even have life itself.
What really matters to
us as Christians is not the physical circumstances of this life, but
how we deal with it. Whether we live by faith or by sight. The
Israelites lived by sight and the result was that they died in the
wilderness. Caleb lived by faith and God in due time brought him into
his promised land.
We, like Caleb, may
enjoy some of the physical blessing of the promised land in this
life, or we may not. But whether we do or whether we don’t,
lets remember that what God has in store for us exceeds anything this
life has to offer.
As it says in Hebrews
11:40 God has provided
“something better for us”.
In conclusion, I think
the lesson of Caleb's life is that God always rewards those who have
faith in him, and is with us in the bad time and the good times; in
times of trial and times of opportunity and fruitfulness. Let's
make the most of the times he gives us, whatever they are.