You remember how it began: There was great excitement about that new ministry that was being formed. There was great anticipation about that new mission work that was being planned. You could feel the energy growing as hearts were beginning to be aroused with a new understanding of discipleship.
Then it happened. People began to question the effort. They began to balk at the price that would need to be paid.
Or perhaps circumstances changed and excitement waned, for example, as in-person gatherings were being hindered. The “What now?” question began to invade your mind.
I love the story of God rescuing the Israelites from captivity in Egypt and bringing them into the land He had promised to their forefather Abraham more than 400 years earlier. Yes, God does keep his promises!
As we read about their journey from captivity to freedom, we see the joy and elation of the people. Then we see discouragement and rebellion in the people. We see the people praising and thanking God for His provision and then we see them forgetting all that He provided. We see them take hold of a mighty dream, and then we see them lose sight of that dream.
We see God’s great love and power in rescuing His people. We see His faithfulness to the people, even when they become unfaithful. We see God’s abundant grace continually being expressed and poured out. We see God’s justice and we see God’s mercy. We see God being present with the people and making his presence known.
We see people at their worst and we see people at their best. We see real life.
As this story unfolds, we come to a scene in Numbers 14 where the nation is on the brink of entering the Promised Land, the “land of milk and honey,” the land of abundance and freedom. Moses sends twelve representatives, one from each tribe, to explore the land and bring back a report of what they find.
The reports come back one by one: “The land is great!” “The land has abundant food, wonderful food, here are some samples!” All twelve agree; it is unanimous. “It is wonderful, it is great, it is just what we have been looking for.”
Then the tone of the committee changes. Ten of the twelve respond with the proverbial, “But …”
They bring up the challenges and the reasons why this was a great idea but not an idea we want to pursue. The challenges are just too great.
But, then we hear from Joshua and Caleb who recognize the challenges, yet encourage the people to move on with what they know God wants them to do. I can understand why Joshua might have seen things differently; after all, he was on the mountain with Moses when Moses went up to be with God. Joshua was Moses’ aide, spending a lot of time with Moses and being discipled by Moses. Joshua stood at the Tent of Meeting, where God would meet with Moses face to face.
But what about Caleb? From what little we know, Caleb was someone just like you and me. With no special experiences or special training that we know of, he experienced God the same way everyone else did.
So, what made Caleb see things differently?
Caleb himself gives us the key. Forty-five years after the nation’s decision not to enter into the Promised Land, the nation finally entered. As they settled, they divided the land amongst the tribes. Caleb recalls,
“I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my fellow Israelites who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear. I, however, followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly” (Joshua 14:7-8).
What made Caleb different was that Caleb lived his life and made his decisions based on his convictions.
What were the convictions that Caleb lived by?
God will lead us.
The Lord is with us.
The Lord will help us.
The Lord is powerful enough to overcome.
Fueled by these convictions, Caleb followed God wholeheartedly. Numbers 14:6-9 continues the story:
Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and 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, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”
In Joshua 14:12, Caleb, by now an old man, requested permission to conquer a piece of land:
Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.
In Deuteronomy 7:17, Moses told the Israelites who were now going to enter the Promised Land for real this time,
You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the LORD your God brought you out. The LORD your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear.”
Here’s the challenge for us: When God calls my church, calls my small group, calls me to be involved in something that is bringing God’s kingdom into this world, am I filled with the conviction that God will lead us?
Am I filled with the conviction that God is with us?
Am I filled with the conviction that God will work in us, through us, and for us, despite the circumstances? Am I filled with the conviction that God is powerful enough to overcome any obstacle we see–powerful enough to overcome the giants, the lions, the fiery furnaces, our own lack of confidence?
Like Caleb, when God puts before us something that needs to be done for Him, it is not about our talent, our ability, our strength, or our resources. It is not even about the circumstances around us. It is about serving God wholeheartedly, knowing what God can do and has done, and being convinced that God will do the same thing with any challenges we see.
In the life of Caleb, we see a faithful man who trusted God to fulfill His promises when others allowed their fears to override their small faith. Like Caleb, we should be prepared to follow God in every circumstance, knowing God will fulfill His promises and be ready to take action when the time is right.
Then, like Caleb, we will hear God say,
“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.” (Num 14:24)