Numbers 13; Joshua. 14.
It is most important to understand the moral condition of Israel at this time; otherwise great difficulty must be experienced in seeking to apprehend why Jehovah permitted Moses to send out spies to search the land of Canaan. A careful study of Deuteronomy will very clearly demonstrate the fact that unbelief on the part of Israel was the origin of the mission of the spies, though allowed of God, who can work His sovereign will in spite of all; just as the demand for a king afterwards, though Jehovah acceded to it and allowed it, was a virtual denial of His regal titles and claims over the rebellious nation. There is one important fact which appears to me to place the question of the searching of the land beyond all dispute. In the third chapter of Exodus, where the earliest intimation of His purpose is recorded, there is likewise a description of the character of the land as it existed to His eye — its exceeding goodness, fertility, and beauty are all there delineated and traced. How, then, could it have been possible for God, having cast Israel on the fidelity of His word and promise, to originate that which virtually was a slur upon His veracity and the certainty of His word? No; Jehovah permitted it, but never originated it.
There is a principle of weighty import in the circumstances which attended the searching of the land. First, observe how the testimony of the spies was but confirmatory of Jehovah's word: "And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs. . . . And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it." But then, immediately, other principles began to work. The goodness of the land was not denied — how could it, in the presence of the earnest before their eyes? But between them where they were and the possession of this goodly land there were difficulties, and these are all mapped out with the accuracy of unbelief: "Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan." And these obstacles and impediments, by occupation with them, obtained such a hold over their hearts, that they were, in their own sight, as well as in the sight of their enemies, but grasshoppers.
Now it is very important to observe how a sight of the land tests them; and, in truth, nothing tests like it. This principle stands true in regard to all God's ways with His people at all times. As soon as ever He discloses His purpose regarding us, His mind and thoughts for the time present, then it is that all the difficulties standing in our way are presented in full array; and hence it is, at this present time, that those who see what God's great thought is concerning His beloved Son, have difficulties and opposition that all others are strangers to. If any doubt the application of this principle, they have only to study the history of God's testimony on the earth, in order to be certified as to its truth. Who, may I ask, are beset with every kind of opposition at this present time? Are they not those who seek to keep the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace"? Only give up the truth of Christ's body on the earth as a practical one, and you will be promoted to great honour; stand out as a unit, and you will be let pass. But connect yourself practically with the great truth — "There is one body, and one Spirit," and you are at once subjected to all the opposition of men, and the most malignant hatred of Satan. You are surrounded with difficulties on every side; and if you allow such between you and God, instead of having Him between you and them, your heart will lose confidence, as Israel's did, and the test will become to you an occasion which Satan will use to turn you away from God, instead of being an opportunity to turn to God. Now observe the consequence of failing before this test. First, there is weeping, next murmuring, then hard thoughts of God; and lastly, they propose crowning self-will — "Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt." Observe how gradual the nature of their declensions — of every declension — is. They had forgotten the living God, and His interest in them as His people; they had preferred the estimate which their foolish hearts had formed of God's land in the light of the difficulties between them where they were and it; and now the issue is complete — a captain of their own choosing is their resource. This gradual character of all decline is very solemn, and has a special voice, because of the spurious notion that our falls are immediate, or all at once. Not so, beloved reader; like everything else, they have their beginnings, and hence the solemnity of the words — "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."
But now let us turn for a moment and look at a bright side of this dark picture. The dismal dreariness of unbelief serves ends we should little fancy. The crisis not only brings out the man of unbelief, it likewise calls to the front the man of faith; and this scene is no exception. Joshua and Caleb, men for a crisis, are equal to the emergency; and their united testimony at this moment is very beautiful — "We are well able to overcome," is the language of the one, and "If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us," is the testimony of both. That is to say, the hand and heart of God are the resources of men of faith in a crisis. Is it not blessed to see a man like Caleb hiding himself behind the power of Jehovah, the arm of God? — so that forgetting the weakness of Israel, and the strength of both giants and walled cities, he rallies, as it were, the broken ranks of his people with these words — "Let us go up at once and possess it for we are all well able to overcome it," because the right hand of Jehovah's power, which was celebrated on the shores of the Red Sea, as having dashed in pieces the enemy (Ex. 15:6), was before Caleb's heart and thoughts he goes back to that wondrous scene in his testimony, and seeks to connect his people thereby with that same Jehovah who always triumphs gloriously.
And their united testimony in chapter 14 is not less beautiful. The delight of Jehovah in His Israel — that is, His affections, His heart — is a sufficient plea that He would surely bring them in, thus in the light of this love, this delight of God, they can say, "the Lord is with us." Oh, what rich resources of faith a crisis calls forth! It is very striking to see how it is all that is in God they testify unto. The springs of delight in God's own heart, motives there entirely apart from the objects of His favour, are wondrous topics for faith to rest on. And hence it is that even the acknowledged difficulties become tributary to His own, "the people of the land are bread for us." Our God delights in difficulties, to show how entirely above and beyond them He is. The faith of God's elect, these crisis men, look upon them as bread! There is another point of great beauty here. These men of faith are exposed in this crisis to be turned upon by their own — "The congregation bade stone them with stones;" then it is the glory of Jehovah appears, to vindicate the witnesses to the power of His hand and His heart: "The glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel." Now, ere we pass from this part of our subject to pursue the history of the land possessed, let me point out the immense advantage a saint now has over any of God's people at any previous period, but only to take shame to ourselves that so few of us are crisis men in purpose and heart at this present time.
Most blessed as this testimony of Caleb and Joshua was, as far as they could witness to the ability and delight of God to bring His people into possession of what His heart had in store for them, yet what is it if compared with the witness which a saint now can bear to power and love? Who, for instance, in olden times, knew the power of His right hand, in taking the beloved Son out of death, and seating Him in highest glory? How blessed by faith to be spectators of the glory of the Father visiting the grave of Jesus, raising Him up and claiming Him as His own! How blessed to-day to be witnesses, in the power of the indwelling Spirit, to such glory! Truly we are they who are privileged to know "what is the exceeding greatness of his power. . . . . which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." Blessed and wondrous vision this is to occupy faith, the Christ of God, the glorious Man, constituting as His point of departure all those things which are termini with us. Principality, power, dominion, names, are the extent to which poor things like us can reach in comprehension; but when we look at Jesus raised and exalted by the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, we behold Him departing only from that which bounds our ken. So much for the power of His hand. If again we think of His heart, His affections, when were they proclaimed or known until the beloved Son, ever in His bosom, disclosed them? Joshua could say, "If the Lord delight in us, he will bring us in." I hesitate not to say that an "if" now, in the light of the cross, and the glory, of the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as the position of the saint by virtue of union with the beloved Son as man, would be the unbelief which casts a slur on the love which has disclosed itself in such a manner as to secure confidence in itself. "All the Father's heart made known" — marks the wondrous place into which we have, through His sovereign grace, been introduced.
How it speaks to the heart and moves the affections, the thought that this marvellous love of God (His own peculiar love) has been made known in the sorrows of His own Son, His Lamb! The agonies and the blood of Jesus not only measured the distance of ruined creatures from God they also measured the affections of God. Is it too much to say so? When you and I, beloved, by faith visit that wondrous scene of sorrow and love, when by faith we see His travail and sorrow, do we not also see the heart of God therein expressed as never before; and we, by virtue of the same agony and blood standing, not only to witness such love, but to adore the source and the channel through which it flowed forth so blessedly to us?
It was a wonderful day for the earth and for Moses, when, in response to the desire of his heart to see His glory, Jehovah replied — "Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me, and live. And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen." Wonderful sight that for Moses, hid in a cleft of the rock, and covered by Jehovah's hand; but, let me ask, is that the sight He gives His saints now? Oh, beloved, if the eternal Son of the Father emptied Himself to become a man, and as a man humbled himself down to those depths of agony and grief, expressing therein God in His nature, as well as glorifying Him in meeting every one of His righteous claims, what could suit either that Son or the Father's heart, save the exaltation of the One in the highest place in heaven, and the manifestation of the other to poor things like us? It was in keeping with Moses that he should but see His back parts; and it was consonant with Jehovah's manifestation of Himself at that time to disclose no more, but now His righteousness as well as His love requires the full manifestation of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ. I have referred to these facts simply to point out the immense contrast between the testimony of a Caleb or a Joshua, blessed, faithful men though they were, and the witness expected from a saint now.
Let us now look a little at the history of the land possessed by the same Caleb whose testimony is recorded in Joshua 14. Forty-five years of endurance and faith had intervened between this scripture and the one we have already considered, and Caleb is now an old man of eighty-five years, yet with no mark of decay as regards the energy that characterised him at Kadesh. He had turned about and wandered with his nation for forty years in the wilderness, and that for no fault of his. If Israel were the people of God, let them be ever so bad in themselves, that is sufficient to connect them with the affections of the man of faith. But during those forty years of wilderness toil and trouble, he carried in his heart the beauty of that goodly land which his eyes had for a moment beheld. No protracted period of trial or provocation had prevailed to obliterate from his thoughts or affections Jehovah's land. It is not difficult to conceive how its richness and beauty lived in his heart, and comforted him many a weary day. How blessed to hear him trace up everything to its source in these words — "And now, behold, the Lord hath kept me alive, as he said these forty and five years." The sense of who He was to whom this aged warrior owed his stedfastness as well as his life, is not absent from his soul. Years only bring out with greater distinctness how completely cast he was upon Jehovah, and how his soul rejoiced in this blessed fact — the Lord was as good as His word.
Again, observe here the unfading nature of faith, it never wears a grey hair. Though Caleb was now an old man of eighty-five years, he was as fresh and vigorous, as young and as strong, as at forty. "As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so is my strength now, for war, both to go out, and come in. Now therefore give me this mountain, whereof the Lord spake in that day for thou heardest in that day how the Anakims were there, and that the cities were great and fenced if so be the Lord will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the Lord said." Then he receives his inheritance and his blessing — "And Joshua blessed him, and gave unto Caleb the son of Jephunneh Hebron for an inheritance. Hebron therefore became an inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite unto this day, because that he wholly followed the Lord God of Israel." How blessed to think of the spot which the faith of this crisis man claims and receives! Hebron was the place where David was anointed king (2 Sam. 2:4). It was a place signalised in many ways. Here it was that Sarah died (Gen. 13:2); here likewise Abner was buried (2 Sam. 3:32); but in no respect was it so remarkable as in the first-named instance. In this is there not the sweet and blessed picture of that spot where faith alone can fold her wings? The place that faith gets as its inheritance is where God's beloved one is crowned; there and there alone it rests, its repose and enchantment are there.
There is one other fact of great beauty in connection with this faithful servant of Jehovah, which I must not pass without notice; it serves to show how faith's surroundings and associations are ever of a like nature with itself. We are told in Joshua 15 how Caleb's walk at home was no exception to his testimony abroad; observe how he seeks to surround himself with associations of a like nature with himself. He will give his daughter to one who is not only worthy of Caleb's daughter, but who is distinguished by the same confidence and faith which made Caleb a crisis man. All this has its voice surely for us, beloved, in these days, when so much of the world, in one way or another, is sought after by those who, by profession at least, declare that they have been crucified to it and it to them.
We have thus examined a little of the history of the searching and possessing of the land of Canaan by these faithful true-hearted witnesses for Jehovah in their day. The Lord grant it may have been with profit, instruction, and encouragement, too, according to the power of His own Spirit, who loves to communicate the things of God to the children of His love, the heirs of glory.