"The Caleb Option"
(Delivered Sunday, January 14, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
This morning, I'd like to ask you to turn with me to the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of the Old Testament book of Numbers. I had a chance to read from the book of Numbers while I was away last week. And even though I've preached from this passage before, it struck me with a new freshness. I feel very strongly the Lord's leading to share with you what He has been teaching me from it.
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To walk us through this passage this morning, I'm going to ask you to think about three questions. These are questions that it would be good to ask as individual believers; but I think it would also be possible for us to ask them corporately as a church family. I'll be explaining these questions as we go along.
The first question I ask you is this:
1. WHAT IS THE CANAAN-LAND OPPORTUNITY THAT GOD IS PLACING BEFORE YOU TODAY?
You see; I am taking it for granted, that, somewhere in your life today, there is a great and wonderful challenge that God is placing before you—some thing that He is calling you to do. The opportunity that I have in mind is something that is bigger than you can do in your own power. But it's something that God, in His mercy, is calling you to do by faith; because there is rich blessing from Him on the other side of your faithfully doing it. It's a gift of His grace to you in Christ that requires that you rise up and boldly seize hold of it.
Now, I call it a Canaan-Land opportunity for two reasons. First, it is truly an “opportunity”. It's not something that God is forcing you to take; but it's something that is there for the taking if you are willing to put forth the effort to take it. It's something that He will help you to do; but only if you will rise up and do it. It's an opportunity from Him.
But I also call it a “Canaan-Land” opportunity because it is illustrated to us in the story in Numbers 13-14; that is, the story of the people of Israel at the time when God called them to rise up and take possession of the Land of Canaan that He had promised to them.
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Our God is a God who makes promises; and who keeps every promise He makes. Long ago, He made a promise to a man named Abraham. He called Abraham from out of a pagan land, and brought him to the land of Canaan. He told old childless Abraham that He would make him into a great nation of people. And right there, in Canaan-Land, He told Abraham, “Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you” (Genesis 13:17). Later, He entered into a covenant with Abraham; and told him, “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates”. He even specified which land He would give to the descendants of Abraham; that is, the land of “the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites” (Gen. 15:18-19).
It took four hundred years for this promise to actually begin to be fulfilled; but God keeps every promise He makes. And so, at just the right time, He called Moses from out of the sheep fields to lead His captive people to the land of promise. God told Him, “So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites” (Exodus 3:8).
And that brings us to the story in our passage this morning. It takes place during the second year after the people had been delivered from their bondage in Egypt and had begun their trek to the land of God's promise. A lot had happened in that year's time. God had entered into a covenant with the people of Israel—promising that He would be their God and they would be His people. God's Law had been given to them—as they heard God's voice thundering that Law from the mountain, and saw the tablets of stone on which the Law had been written with God's finger. The Tabernacle—God's "portable temple"—had been constructed in accordance with His specific commands; and now, God Himself was dwelling there in the midst of His people. He had given them a priesthood through the family of Aaron; and these priests had been consecrated and had begun their ministry for the holiness of the people. God had numbered the men of each tribe; and had organized them into camps for their march through the wilderness to the land God was giving them. Each day, God provided for their daily nourishment through the manna. And each day, He provided for their leading through the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.
And now, at the beginning of their second year, they began their march; and in a short amount of time, they arrived to the southern regions of Canaan-Land—the land that God was giving them. They came to the very threshold of taking possession of God's promise to them!
Numbers 13 tells us,
Elsewhere in the Bible, we're told that it was the people's idea to send out spies to search out the land (Deut. 1:22). It certainly wasn't that God needed the land to be examined first; but the people requested it, God permitted it, and Moses consented to send them out. A leader from every tribe—twelve men in all—was sent by Moses in a northerly direction into the land with this command:
These twelve men went up along the mountains on the western side of the Jordan River—as far north as near what we now call the Sea of Galilee. Then, they came back down again to Kadesh Barnea from where they started. Along the way—as proof of the fruitfulness of the land—they stopped and cut down a cluster of grapes that was so large that it took two men to carry on a pole. They also brought other pieces of fruit from the land. All twelve of the spies were in agreement about the land—that “It truly flows with milk and honey” (Num. 13:27). It was everything that God said it was.
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Now; there was no doubt that the land was theirs. It could not fail to belong to them, because God Himself was giving it to them. But they had to rise up and take possession of it. God had done His part; and now, it was up to them to take courage and do their part.
I'm intrigued by the things that they were told at this crucial point in their history. Elsewhere in the Bible, we're told that God Himself had said to them, “See, I have set the land before you; go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—to give to them and their descendants after them” (Deut. 1:8). And Moses, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, likewise exhorted them, “Look, the LORD your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the LORD God of your fathers has spoken to you; do not fear or be discouraged” (v. 21).
God Himself had “set” the land before them! What a great opportunity it was that God was giving them! All they needed to do was rise up and take possession of it. But please note: God made it so that they couldn't just passively receive the land. He made it so that they had to rise up and take possession of what He was giving them.
This reminds me of our position in Jesus Christ, dear brothers and sisters. God has provided for our salvation—not only in terms of our deliverance from the guilt of our past sins, but also the promise of eternal glory. He even provides all that is needed for our life and godliness right now; so that we can be whole persons in every respect. But you and I must rise up and take possession of what He has provided for us. The Bible's instruction to us is given through the apostle Paul; and is found in Philippians 2:12-13;
Everything that is needed for us to become everything that God intends for us to be is provided to us by God as a free gift. All the ramifications and implications of our salvation in Christ are there for us to take and enjoy. He has worked into us to will and to do of His good pleasure. But it's up to us to “work out” what He has “worked in”. He has set it all before us; but it's up to us to rise up, put forth the effort, and take possession of it.
And so, I repeat my first question to you: What is the Canaan-Land opportunity that God is placing before you today? What area of sin in your life is He calling you to rise up and conquer in His power? What new area of ministry is He calling you to step into? Is there some old habit of the old life of sin He is calling you to leave behind? Is there some new habit He is calling you to take up? Is there some new path or direction He is calling you to follow in His service? Do you hear the gentle prompting of his Holy Spirit, as He is commanding you to do that which is bigger than your own, frail human abilities to do?
That thing He is calling you to is an “opportunity”. It's there for the taking—but it's up to you whether or not you will take it. On the other side of that thing that God is calling you to do is, if I may put it this way, a fruitful land—a land flowing with milk and honey. He is setting it all before you. But as hard as it is—as impossible in the flesh as it seems—you must rise up and, in the strength He provides, take possession!
So please think about it! What is the Canaan-Land He is calling you to conquer in His power today? What is the Canaan-Land opportunity He has placed before you?
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I suspect that some of you don't have to think very hard at all about that first question. I suspect that some of you have been thinking about that Canaan-Land opportunity for a long time. I suspect that some of you have been wrestling with God about it for quite a while.
The fact is that those Canaan-Land opportunities can be the most frightening things we can ever encounter; because God is calling us to take possession of something that it is not in our poor, weak, human abilities to seize. The opposition to our seizing it can be ominous and fearsome. You see; the problem with taking possession of Canaan-Land is that it is filled with Canaanites! All of hell, it would seem, fights against our taking possession of what God graciously sets before us. We can only do so in the strength that He provides; and yet, He will provide the victory if we will go forward at His command and take possession!
This leads me, then, to my second question:
2. WHAT IS THE CANAANITE OPPOSITION THAT IS CAUSING YOU TO HESITATE?
Tragically, when the great opportunity from God finally came, the people of Israel failed to seize it—because they were afraid of the Canaanites who dwelt in the land. The spies reported to Moses and the people and said,
There were two men who stood out from the other ten spies. One was Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim—the man who later became the one who would lead the people of the next generation into the land. The other was Caleb of the tribe of Judah. I believe that Caleb was singled out because he was the most vocal in his dissent from the other ten.
But it was to no avail. The other ten countered Caleb's faithful appeal, and focused on how humanly impossible it would be to do seize hold of the opportunity God was giving them.
These ten spies caused all the congregation to rebel against God and the opportunity that He had placed before them! Imagine; a four-hundred year old promise was now, at last, being kept; and yet, they talked themselves out of trusting God for it because of the Canaanites—as if God had somehow failed to take into account that Canaan-Land was filled with Canaanites!
The Bible tells us that the whole congregation of Israel spent the night weeping. And then, they woke up and, lifting their complaint to Moses, said something unspeakably horrible to say in the presence of God—the very same mighty God who had delivered them from out of their hard bondage in Egypt covenanted to claim them as His own people;
Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the people. Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes, and made the plea to the people to trust God and rise up and take the land. But the people threatened to stone them to death.
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Because they were afraid of the Canaanites, they rebelled against God and refused to take possession of the land. They were more afraid of the Canaanites than they were of God! And what happened as a result? They utterly lost the opportunity God was giving them.
The Bible tells us that God appeared in glory before the people; and it was only Moses' appeals to God for mercy that prevented Him from slaying them all on the spot. God told him;
You see; God had made a promise, and He was going to keep it. The people of Israel would possess the land that He had promised them. His purpose remained firm. But that first generation had lost the opportunity of enjoying that promise. They would now wander in the desert for forty years—in an area, if you can imagine it, that they easily could have traveled in eleven days! They would wander in dismal circles until that entire generation died out; and it would be their children who would take the land in their place.
Out of that whole generation, only Joshua and Caleb would enter the land. All of the other ten spies who gave an evil report died of a plague before the Lord (14:36-38). And thus, God gave the people what they wanted. They didn't wish to enter the land; and so they would not.
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And so, I return to my second question to you, dear brothers and sisters. God has offered a Canaan-Land opportunity to you; but what is the Canaanite-opposition that is causing you to hesitate to seize that opportunity and take possession of all that He is offering you?
Is God calling you to leave some old sinful habit behind and follow him in holiness? If so, you're going to hear the voices of those who “think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you” (1 Peter 4:4). The Bible warns that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Do you fear those voices? Do you fear the names you'll be called and the rejection you'll be subject to—and maybe even the physical opposition you'll receive—if you chose to follow Jesus and turn from sin? Those are Canaanites in the land! Don't let them rob you of the opportunity to take possession of Canaan!
Is God calling you to leave the comfortable life of the 'known' and follow Him into the 'unknown' through some new area of ministry? Are you fearful of losing security? Are you fearful of the disappointment or disapproval you'll feel from family and friends? Jesus said, “. . . [E]veryone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). Don't ever be disrespectful or negligent of those whom God has entrusted to your care. But at the same time, when you feel the irresistible call of the Lord to follow Him in service, don't be afraid of the worldly things that it may cost you. Those are the threats of Canaanites in the land! Trust God, and don't let them stop you!
Or is God calling you to depend upon Him in faith as He takes you into some new level of maturity? Is He calling you to leave the past behind and walk in His strength in wholeness and soundness? Are you afraid of how hard that will be to allow Him to make significant changes in your life, or how painful the changes might feel? It's as if Jesus walks up and says to, extends a hand to you, and says, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6). And are you too afraid of what it might involve if you were to say, “Yes, Lord; I want to be made well”? Are you afraid of what being “well” might cost you? Don't listen to that fear! That's the voice of the Canaanites in the land! Don't let those fears paralyze you from seizing hold of all that God is offering to you!
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I've asked two questions so far. In the first, I have asked what Canaan-Land opportunity it is that God is placing before you today. And in the second, I have asked what Canaanite-opposition it is that might be causing you to hesitate—or even to rebel against God's good offer to you, and against His good will for your life.
Now that you've had a chance to think about these two questions, I'd like to ask you a third;
3. WILL YOU EMBRACE THE CALEB OPTION IN THE FACE OF THIS CHALLENGE?
I call this the “Caleb option” because, when the opportunity was presented to him, Caleb made it very clear that he was going to follow a different option than that of the other ten spies.
When the other spies were hesitating and were saying, “The people who dwell in this land are too strong”, Caleb said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it” (13:30). It wasn't that Caleb was over-confident in the ability of the Israelites to take the land. Rather, he was appropriately confident that the same mighty God who set the land before them was also able to give them victory in taking it. He was fully aware of the Canaanites. He saw them just as much as the others did. But he didn't have his eyes fixed on the Canaanites of the land. He had his eye fixed on the promise of God . . . and on the God of the promise!
What's more, Caleb also sought to encourage others. Everyone in the congregation was saying, “If only we had died in Egypt! If only we had died in the wilderness! Why has God brought us out here to die? Why has God made our wives and children victims? Let's select a leader and go back to Egypt!” But Caleb—along with Joshua—spoke to the congregation and said,
God commended Caleb for this. He said of that unbelieving generation of Israelites that
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So, in the end, God kept His promise. The people of Israel entered the land and took possession of it—forty years later. That first generation lost the opportunity; and it was given instead to their children.
And would you like to know what the Bible tells us happened at that time? The children of these unbelieving and disobedient Israelites had taken full possession of the land that God promised them under the leadership of Joshua. And we're told, in the fourteenth chapter of Joshua, that Caleb—strong and healthy forty-five years later; even up to the ripe old age of eighty-five—was given the city of Hebron. Hebron was a chief city very close to the place where the rebellion had first occurred. We're told,
And so, I ask once more: Will you—this day—embrace the 'Caleb option' with respect to the challenge that God is placing before you?
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