Sunday, March 4, 2018


It should not be a forty-year journey from Egypt to Canaan.

True, the trip was never meant to be a direct one—nonstop to Canaan. After all, what Moses had told the Pharaoh was correct; he actually did intend to take the Hebrew people into the wilderness to worship the Lord. It was in the wilderness and specifically at Mount Sinai where God had planned to give instructions to this new nation that he was forming. Before the people were to enter into their promised land, God wanted to teach them his law, as well give them the instructions for the building of the tabernacle.

But despite these matters, when Moses and the Israelites left Egypt, no one expected this to be a forty-year stint in the wilderness. The time required for the instructions at Mount Sinai was only a matter of a few months at the most, and the journey itself should not have taken more than an additional month.

But things got complicated.
The people did not take to the instructions of God as well as hoped. In fact, they fell into the habit of complaining to Moses about the conditions, and they rebelled against God. It seems they fought Moses and they fought God at every step.

Even so, they did arrive at a place near to their goal within a relatively short time. The came to a place called Kadesh Barnea. It was from here, on the edge of the Desert of Paran, that God instructed Moses to send out an exploratory company of men, twelve in all, to search out the land into which the Israelites were to soon enter and then to settle. The party of twelve men included one representative from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. 

The Reconnaissance Party
The instructions that Moses gave the men were clear. He told them, “Go north into the Negev and then continue up into the hill country. See what the land is like. Try to make a determination whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, and whether they are few or many.”

Moses wanted the men to get a thorough sense of what the area and what the people who lived there were like. He continued with the instructions for spies:
“Look to determine whether the land in which the people dwell is good or bad. Are the cities of the people mere camps, or do they live in fortified strongholds, complete with walls? Inspect the soil to see if it is rich or poor. Take note to see if there are many trees, or if the land is mostly barren of forests. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.” (Numbers 13:17-20).

It was no doubt with great anticipation and excitement that the twelve scouts went forth. They were eager to see the land in which they would all make their home. They made a very thorough reconnaissance of the land, even bringing back a cluster of grapes so large that it was carried on a pole between two men. So impressed were they by the grapes in the valley where they had cut the cluster, that they even referred to the place as the “valley of the cluster—Eshcol.”

In fact, everything about the land seemed to impress them. They described it as “a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Milk and Honey
  This term did not originate with the spies. It was first used by God when he spoke to Moses at the burning bush. It was there that he told Moses that it was his intention to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians and to bring them into “a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8).

God used that term several other times as well. Each time, he was referring to the land of Canaan—the land into which he was leading the Israelites.

To the twelve men who had been sent to scout out the land, there seemed to be no better description. In addition to the grapes, they had also brought back samples of some pomegranates and some figs. They showed the fruit to the people, which no doubt were also impressive in size and quality. This surely was a land of plenty! Certainly the Israelites were getting excited and eager to see this land for themselves. 

However, there was a “But.” That came next in the report of the spies.

They next reported to Moses, “But the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there.”

This is the first mention in the Bible of this name “Anak.” A few verses after this, we learn that these “sons of Anak” were in turn descendants of the Nephilim. 

The Nephilim
 The information about the sons of Anak being the descendants of the Nephilim may help us in knowing about them a little, but not much. The only other reference that we have in the Bible that would give us any information on this race of people is found in Genesis chapter six. Here is what we read there: 

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.

Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:2-5 ESV) 

What does it mean: “The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were attractive, and took them as their wives?”

To say the least, these are very enigmatic words and they have given rise to all sorts of theories and speculations about the Nephilim, including the idea that this was a race of people who were half heavenly beings and half human. Personally, I have serious questions about this. I am inclined to think that there is additional information about this that we do not know.

However, if it is indeed the case that these are half angel half human, then these heavenly beings that were involved with this race of Nephilim must have been among those fallen angels who had rebelled against the sovereignty of God. 

Facing the Giants
But this is a line of speculation that I do not want to explore at this moment. I only want to point out that whomever the “sons of Anak” and the “Nephilim” were, this was a race of people who were known by reputation—large in stature, and mighty in battle.

The mere mention of the sons of Anak was enough to create an immediate great stir among the people, so much so that one of the spies who had seen them, the man Caleb from the tribe of Issachar, had to step up to the microphone (if they would have had one) to try to calm the people.

“Settle down!” he told them. “We should by all means go and take possession of this land. We shall surely overcome!”

But the other spies did not back Caleb up. “We cannot go against these people!” the other spies countered. “They are too strong for us!”

These naysayer spies were not content in merely stopping there. They continued on with their warnings, even elaborating on their description: “In spying out the land into which we have gone, we saw that it is a land that devours its inhabitants.  All the people whom we saw in it are men of great size.”

Then again the spies again invoked the dreaded image of the Nephilim, revealing their own fears and to arouse the fears of the Israelites.

“There also we saw the Nephilim” the spies said, “and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:32-33). 

I am not certain whether or not it was a slip of the tongue when the men said, “We became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

It seems a particularly cowardly statement. Notice that the men were not stating what the Nephilim had said about the Israelite men. We do not even know if the spies had been seen by the inhabitants. The twelve men may have very well slipped in and out of the land undetected. The Israelite spies were not restating something that had been told to them by the inhabitants of the land, but only revealing their own inward timidity and anxieties.

“We became like grasshoppers in our own sight,” they said. 

Back to Slavery!
These words brought another round of loud wailing from the people. The Israelites continued to wail all that night. By the following morning, their crying had turned into grumbling. The grumbling, as usual, was against the two people in authority, Moses and Aaron.

“It would have been better to die in Egypt, or even to die in this wilderness!” the multitude complained. “Why is the Lord even bringing us into this land? Is it only to fall by the sword and so that our wives and children become plunder for the inhabitants?

“Would it not be better to return to Egypt?”

This last question may have been rhetorical, but it soon turned into an actual alternative. The people began saying to one another, “We should appoint a leader to bring us back to Egypt!”  

A Rebellious Spirit
These are words of blatant rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron, whom God had appointed to lead the people into “the land of milk and honey.” Nevertheless, the response of these two leaders in the face of this revolt was not that of power-fueled dictators who would use any available force to crush this rebellion.

Nor was their reaction like what Moses did earlier to stop the rebellion in the incident of the golden calf, when the issue was mere idolatry. The idolatry was serious enough, but this was insurrection. However, in the face of this insurrection, Moses and Aaron did not try to crush it as Moses did in the golden calf incident.

Instead, in response to this rebellion against the two leaders, Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the people. It was an act of total humility. They realized that the rebellion was not merely against them as the authorities, but it was against God himself.

They fell on their faces because they realized that the situation was now out of their hands. This was not mere rebellion against their own authority as the leaders of the nation, but it was rebellion even against God himself and his entire purpose for them as a people. This was rebellion at a deeper level.

They knew that God would intervene. What this would mean—Moses and Aaron did not know. 

The Spy Joshua
And now a second spy now spoke up. This one was Joshua, the same Joshua who had been with Moses on Mount Sinai. He had remained silent up until now, but as Moses and Aaron fell prostrate before the people, Joshua and Caleb first tore their clothes in a sign of anguish. Then Joshua pled with the people. He said this: 

The land through which we passed and which we explored is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey, and God will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them! Their protection is gone from them, but the Lord is with us! Do not be afraid of them. (Numbers 14:7-9) 

But despite these words of encouragement by Joshua, the people refused to be moved. Instead, words of stoning Joshua and Caleb began to be heard in the murmuring of the crowd. 

When the Man Comes Around  (Song by Johnny Cash)
God determined that the situation had become bad enough that he needed to intervene. His glory appeared to speak with Moses. God, it seemed, had had enough.

He said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with such contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?”

God had come to the point where he told Moses that he was going to strike the people down with a plague and destroy them. He would then raise up a new nation. He had once began the nation of Israel with the patriarch Abraham, and it seems now, God was at the point of doing away with that nation and establishing a new nation beginning with Moses.

It also seems, at least from what we are given to understand, that it was only with the intervention of Moses on behalf of the Israelites that stayed the hand of God.

This conversation that took place between God and Moses is a study onto itself, but the end result of it was that God decided to forgive the people once again. However, despite the forgiveness, everything did not return to the point as if nothing had occurred. With their rebellion came some consequences.

Here is how God responded to Moses at the end of the conversation: 

The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 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. (Numbers 14:20-23 NIV) 

God later repeated this statement to Moses and to Aaron, elaborating on the severity of the consequences of the continued rebellion of the people: 

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home… 

And as for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ 

I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.” (Numbers 14:27-35 NIV) 

Imagine hearing these words from the LORD, the God of all creation, speaking the judgment that has come against you because of the repeated rebellion and grumbling against him. The words must have fallen like Black Death upon the ears of the Israelites. 

A Different Spirit
But there was an exception to this judgment—actually two exceptions. God also spoke of these. One of these exceptions was Joshua, who although was not mentioned to have spoken up with Caleb when Caleb initially countered the other spies, must have not at least been among the naysayers about entering the land of the Nephilim. And as we saw, Joshua later did speak strongly in favor of entering the land.

The other exception to the judgment of God was Caleb himself. God made special mention of this man. After stating the judgment upon all the others, God spoke of Caleb, saying, “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” (Numbers 14:24 NIV).

Caleb is one of those persons in the Bible about whom relatively little is written, but who nevertheless has much to teach us. While the people of Israel are said to have “despised” the Lord (ESV), or have “treated him with contempt” (NIV), God said that Caleb “followed him wholeheartedly.” 

In order to understand what God meant when he spoke of following him wholeheartedly, it helps us to contrast this with how he spoke of the rest of the Israelites. As we see, God said that the Israelites as a whole “despised him” and “treated him with contempt.”

These were people who were initially perfectly willing to follow God if they could see some immediate benefit from doing so. If God would deliver them from the slavery of Egypt, they would follow him. When God provided for them food and water in the wilderness, they still were willing to follow, albeit with increasing reluctance.

In all of this they were being tested. God was trying to build in them a faith that would make them stronger persons. We know that when everything comes without effort, there is no strength of commitment. God wanted better things than this for his people. This was true in the days when the Israelites were on their journey to the land of their promise, and it is true today.

The final truth of the matter is this: God extends his offer of grace to everyone, but it is only to those who decide to follow him wholeheartedly who will see the full benefit of his promises. It is true that to all those who are willing to follow him initially, God will deliver them from the slavery of their former life. God offers them a new life of freedom.

However (I emphasize this conditional word), as we see in this contrast between Caleb and the rest of the multitude of Israelites, it is only those who decide to believe in the promise of God and who determine to follow God with every fabric of their being who will see the full benefit of those promises. If we are to learn anything from the lesson of Caleb, it must be this. 

One Half of a Heart + One Half of a Heart = Nothing
For the Israelites who were not willing to follow wholeheartedly, they were forced to live the remainder of their lives in a pitiable state. When faced with choosing to believe God in the face of difficulty, they instead wanted to return to Egypt, this even despite the fact that they had been in slavery in that land. Instead of choosing to believe God, they instead chose the unrealistic memory of their lives in Egypt.

They remembered the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlics of Egypt that they enjoyed in that land (yum) (Numbers 11:5), but conveniently forgot that they had been slaves. They remembered the immediate pleasures, but ignored the fact that their spirits were  repressed and in bondage.

Their end condition was that they were prevented from entering into the full promise of God, but neither could they even return to what they thought were the benefits of the past. They were left in a miserable limbo. They instead were destined to live aimlessly in the wilderness until they died.

I have a two-fold lesson in this for us. There is some good news and some bad news in it for all of us.

Which do you want first?

I think that I first will give you that bad news, then follow it with the good. 

The Bad News
It is a sad thing for me to say that in my opinion, the way that the Israelites in the wilderness lived the remainder of their lives is how most people who call themselves Christians in the United States today have chosen to live. These are Christians who were willing to follow Christ and to have Christ rescue them from a former life of slavery. They had been slaves to one form of lifestyle or another in the world, and God saved them from that.

However (I again emphasize this conditional word), despite the fact that God had saved them, they still have not chosen to follow God fully. When they were tested in some way that was meant to help them grow in their spiritual conviction to God, they instead decided to shrink back. They were not willing to take that step. The cost seemed too great.

“After all,” they said to themselves, “these are giants that I am facing! I look like a grasshopper in the sight of this obstacle!

Instead, these Christians decided to dream about their former life in the world. “I remember when my life was one of a party animal and I was just in pursuit of fun. Life was all cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlics.”

They remember the things that gave them empty pleasures, but conveniently forget that they were slaves.

If this describes your life, what may be the sad news for you is that you can never return to that life of slavery of a party animal or whatever kind of slave you were. God has rescued you and you can never be a slave again. You think that you would enjoy your former life, but you cannot. The Holy Spirit lives within you, and he will not allow you to again become a slave to the world.

In those moments when you think you want to return to that former life, you may not thank the Lord for preventing you from returning to that life now, but eventually you will. You will thank him with certainty, and you will from the bottom of your heart.

But what is even the sadder news is that, if this describes your life, as long as you live in this condition, neither can you enjoy the full goodness of the Lord. You are locked out of the promises of God and destined to wander aimlessly in a wilderness of existence in this life. Your life will become a largely meaningless passage of time until the day that you die.

Depressing, isn’t it?

The Good News
But here is the good news. You are not locked out of the promises of God yet. God is still calling you to enter.

The land that God has promised you is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with you, he will lead you into that land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey, and God will give it to you. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the obstacles that you may encounter in that land. You will devour them! Their protection is gone from them, but the Lord is with you! Do not be afraid of those that come against you! 

The Inheritance of Caleb
Skipping some forty-something years ahead in the story of Caleb, we come to this interesting verse in the chronicles of Joshua. Joshua eventually became the captain of the forces when the remaining nation of Israel entered into the land that God had promised to them. It is in the Old Testament book of Joshua that we read about these experiences.

In the account left to us about that time, we again find the words of Caleb. The tribes of the Israelites were deciding where they were going to live.

Caleb approached Joshua about this and said to him, “I am still as strong today as I was in the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and coming in. Now then, give me this hill country about which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the LORD will be with me, and I will drive them out as the LORD has spoken” (Joshua 14:11-13 NAS).

It was that very land, the beautiful country that the people refused to enter because of their fear of the giants that they would face, that eventually became the inheritance of Caleb and his family. 

Where is your inheritance? What is it that God has in reserve for you if you decide to follow him fully—follow him wholeheartedly?

There is also a beautiful land that is waiting for you.

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