Readings: Numbers. Chapters13&14. Deuteronomy 1:34-36. Joshua 14:6-15.
Of the many thousands of adult men who departed from Egypt only two finally entered the land promised by God to His people. One was Caleb; the other, Joshua. Over a period of some weeks now, I felt that the Lord was directing me to meditate on the life and example of this man, Caleb, as having lessons of timely relevance and force for those of us who, over the past few years, have been called of God to leave the organised systems of church life to seek "a better country".
What was Caleb's inner secret? What was it that made him tick? How was it that he made it when thousands of others did not? The key, I believe lies in Joshua 14:7, where Caleb says, "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 him word again as it was in my heart." Something had been implanted and engraved in the heart of this man which sustained him through the drama of the Passover feast in Egypt, through the amazing deliverance at the Red Sea, through all the testings and trials of the wanderings in the wilderness and through that long, long time of waiting after the Lord turned back the people at Kadesh-barnea. It was the promise of God of a "land flowing with milk and honey", of a land "not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and watered it with your feet like a garden of vegetables; but the land which you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land which the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year."(Deuteronomy 11:10-12) Etched indelibly in Caleb's heart were these promises of God and, like Abraham before him, "no distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God." (Romans 4:20)
The promise had first been embedded in his spirit when, as a youth, he heard Moses in Egypt speak of the land. He received the word with faith and clung to it. Nothing could shake his inner conviction. It endured through the most terrible testings. No testing more severe than when the word seemed on the point of fulfilment, when the people first arrived at Kadesh-barnea, and he went in with others and had a foretaste, of the goodness of the land. Because of the corporate unbelief of the people he was obliged to wait forty more years, but even that trial of patience could not erase what had been the cherished desire of his heart. I find all that most movingly impressive. What is its message for us?
It is my conviction that we are entering a time of testing for those
who have come out from the familiar old territory of the systems of Christendom.
If you like, we are at a Kadesh-barnea. What is going to be revealed here
is what is in our hearts. Our Father has shown us in His word a Church
and a Church-life radically different from that which we see in the denominational
organisations collectively perceived as "the church." Such revelations
are given in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, or in 1 Corinthians 12-14,
or in 1 Peter 2:4-10, and of course in such a vivid way in the early chapters
of "The Acts". Have these revelations been burned into our spirits?
Are we going to cling with the fiercest tenacity of faith to what God
has said? Are we going to hold on whatever happens around us to the belief
that what God has promised He is able also to perform, and that there
is an experience of Church and of fellowship that far transcends anything
we knew in that old and tired system. If the ancient Scriptures concerning
Caleb have anything to say to us it is supremely this: only those of the
Caleb-heart will make it through to the promised inheritance. May I ask
is your heart settled, as was Caleb's?
In the promise of the land in Deuteronomy 11:10-12 previously quoted there is the brief but incredibly significant phrase "not like Egypt from which you have come." It turned out that many of Caleb's contemporaries had not perceived the significance of that "not like". It became evident that Egypt lingered in their hearts, and when they were confronted with difficulties and the possiblity of conflict, their true yearnings were seen to be for the cucumbers, melons, onions and garlic of where they had come from. They had come out physically, but in their hearts they still desired something "like" what they had had. When the crunch came they even talked of appointing a leader to take them back. Caleb on the other hand was open to whatever God had, and fully accepting that it would bear no likeness to where they had come from. He had wholly let go of the past. That had died and been buried and his eye was single, focussed only on what God had promised.
It was at Kadesh-Barnea that the division between Caleb and Joshua and the mass of the people became evident. Look at Deuteronomy 1:19. We set out from Horeb, and went through all that great and terrible wilderness , which you saw.... and we came to Kadesh-barnea." The three underlined verbs leapt out at me as I read this passage recently. It is sadly possible to set out, to pass through and to come to the very borders of the inheritance and yet not go in.
In every fresh movement of God there is a working out of these three things, and the grievous testimony of history is that some Kadesh-barnea has been the graveyard of many a movement,which at the first gave promise of possessing the land. With whom will we stand at our present Kadesh ? With the minority of two whose hearts were captured by the promises of God, or with the vast multitude whose hearts melted when they contemplated the possible cost? These things have been played out before the eyes of our generation. Think of the early days of the charismatic renewal, of the thousands who set out towards a new land of God's promise, who endured much from their previous religious companions and passed through various trials. But then they came to Kadesh-barnea. There was a fear to go on. The old traditions, the denominational identities, the ecclesiastical authority structures meetings, ministries were all under threat. The huge majority opted for something "like" what they had left and it was back to the wilderness.
On a more personal level, some ten years ago, I saw these things worked out. I was part of a group of people who felt called of God to step out from the organised religious system simply to meet for fellowship in homes. We "set out" with great joy and unity and for over a year witnessed the blessings of God flowing in abundance. We "passed through" many things together. Then a subtle change insinuated itself, when we ordained elders and began to meet in public place. There was less prayer, less spontaneity and more organisation and we began to move towards being "like" what we had come from. We found ourselves at our Kadesh-barnea. A few, compelled in spirit, chose to pursue the original call, while the others continued towards the "like". That Fellowship today has become simply one of the choices on the town's multi-denominational smorgasbord.
This brings me to the consideration of another great quality of Caleb,
his amazing patient endurance. Read here the thrilling passage in Joshua
14:6-15. Caleb says "And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive,
as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke
this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness; and now, lo,
I am this day eighty-five years old. " Caleb had to wait while he
and Joshua watched a whole generation of their fellows die one by one,
as the people wandered around in the wilderness year after long year.
But even as his hair grew grey with age one thing never died. That which
God had planted in his heart as a living, sure and vivid vision, that
there was an inheritance for him in the land of promise.
We live in the "instant "generation. People today want things now, if not sooner, and Christians are not immune from the disease. There is always the urge to try to make things happen. When the people of Israel finally realised that they had missed it at Kadesh-barnea they tried in presumption to go up in their own strength, and with tragic consequences. They had missed God's moment. Caleb had however wholly followed the Lord, and for him there was to be a time to go in and possess. We need to learn from Caleb, those of us who have set out for a new way of Church. Like him we are going to have to exercise great endurance. We have to be prepared to wait God's time. I confess to discerning signs of impatience on the part of some." Why is it taking so long?" "Why is nothing happening?" "Why don't we do something, organise something?" Listen to Caleb's "forty-five years." Think of Moses forty years in the desert of Midian or of David out in the cave of Adullam. Pauls prayer in Colossians 1:11 "May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy." is striking. Most Christians want that power for ostentatious ministries, but Paul rightly discerns where it is most required, and that is to enable God's people to hang in there come what may. It is worth it!
Look now at Caleb's inheritance, Hebron. To me this is thrillingly significant. Here is what had been in his heart all these years. On his spying mission he had caught a glimpse of it, and his burning desire was to come there and fully possess it. In the Hebrew the meaning of Hebron is "Fellowship." Fellowship in its full New Testament meaning is the Hebron which the Spirit of God has written in our hearts. It is the place where "Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1John 1:3), where we are "called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ."(1 Corinthians 1:9), where the "fellowship of the Holy Spirit" (2 Corinthians 13:14) is a reality. It is the fellowship with others who have come to "The Living Stone", have received His life and themselves like "living stones" are being built (not building) into a "Spiritual house" (1Peter 2:4-5) . It is the fellowship of the two or three drawn together in His name and finding Him in the midst.
The taking of this inheritance, this Hebron will be opposed by the strongest
powers of the devil, even as the physical Hebron Caleb took was occupied
by the giants we read about in Joshua 15:14, "And Caleb drove out
from there the three sons of Anak, Shesai and Ahaman and Talmai."
It is likewise of immense significance that Caleb, whose heart was set on Hebron, the place of true fellowship, had to endure years of separation from his fellow-Israelites. They would have said of him "He doesn't fellowship", never perceiving that the cause of his separation was his undivided commitment to the promise of God to give him true scriptural fellowship.
To get to Hebron Caleb had had to learn to stand alone. Of all the multitudes of Israel the only men who understood his heart were Moses and Joshua. This too has a message for us. In the letter to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22 many Biblical students see a picture of the church of the latter days. In this letter Jesus is pictured standing outside the door of the church, knocking and saying "If any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." The promise of fellowship with Jesus, eating with him and he with us, has been narrowed down to "any one". Kadesh-barnea likewise narrows things down to the individual heart. Caleb could have sincerely sung the words of the hymn, "Though none go with me, I still will follow. No turning back, no turning back." That still must be the theme of those who would possess Hebron. Will we foot it with our illustrious brother of old Caleb, even if our brothers speak of stoning us, and if we have to take a lonely walk, perhaps for years and years or will we go the easy road with the multitude and fail to possess the richness of the inheritance which God had prepared for us. ?
The above is the fruit of my own meditation and prayer. I submit it, trusting that it may be of help and encouragement to some. But, I urge you to ponder and pray over these scriptures for yourself, and ask the Holy Spirit what their message is for you. Are you for Hebron? Are you with Caleb?