A memorable but melancholy narrative is recorded in this and the following chapter. The children of Israel were just on the verge of entering the Promised Land that had been pledged to their ancestors for hundreds of years; but they were suddenly made to turn back from the borders of Canaan, and they were sentenced to wander and perish in the wilderness because of their unbelief and murmuring. This chapter shows us how often we ruin ourselves by believing the evil reports and representations of our senses and feelings, rather than the truth of Divine revelation. Let us pray for grace to walk by faith, and not by sight!
Twelve men were selected – one from each tribe – to go and search out the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 1:19-23 reveals that this idea actually originated in the minds of some of the people. By permission of the Lord, Moses had agreed to the suggestion (verses 1, 2); however, he added a warning to the spies to “be of good courage” (verse 20), because this whole idea seemed to be associated with a fear in the people’s minds concerning the land of Canaan. The Lord Himself had spied out the land for them long before this point. He had declared it to be a good land, and He had promised it to their forefathers. Nevertheless, the people desired to get their own report, for they did not entirely trust the Lord’s power and promises.
The spies went through the whole country, from south to north and then back again. When they were in the area of the brook of Eshcol, they cut down an enormous bunch of grapes to bring back with them, as well as some other fruits. These were to serve as proofs of the richness and abundance of the land. To the people of Israel, these grapes and pomegranates and figs would be foretastes and examples of all the fruits of Canaan. But to us, these fruits are a picture of the present comforts which we have in communion with God; they are foretastes of the fullness of joy which we expect to have in the heavenly Canaan. By them, we may see what heaven is like. They are like a pledge, so to speak, of what the soul will be fully satisfied with in heaven.
After 40 days, the spies returned; but ten out of the twelve discouraged the people from going forward to Canaan. Alas! The Israelites were justly left to this temptation; for they put their confidence in the judgment and opinion of men, when they had the Word of God to trust in. The representation that the evil spies put upon the Promised Land was a very sinful one. They could not help acknowledging the fruitfulness of the land – for the grapes, pomegranates, and figs were plain evidence of that. But when they magnified the power of the enemy, whom God had promised to drive out from before them – what a wretched proof they displayed of unbelief, impatience, disobedience, and distrust! Although the spies had found the land to be as good as God had said it was, yet they would not believe that it was as easy to possess as He had said it was. Instead, they despaired of being able to obtain it, even though Eternal Truth had pledged it to them.
Let us pause in our study of this rebellious spirit of the Israelites, and let us search our own hearts for similar instances of the same behavior in your own experience. Has not God promised us an even better country than the land of Canaan? Has not our Joshua (the Greek equivalent of that name is Jesus!) already gone ahead of us, in order to take possession of it in our name? And in the sweet influences of His blessed Spirit, does He not send to us the plainest tokens of its reality, and of our assurance of one day obtaining it by His blood and righteousness? And yet perhaps we have sometimes found ourselves questioning the whole thing, as if it were a delusion. Lord, we beseech You to increase our faith!
The report of the ten wicked spies produced immediate terror among the people, which Caleb (one of the two faithful spies) tried in vain to calm. He encouraged the people to trust in God, to go forward, and to obtain the land of promise for themselves – even though he was only seconded by Joshua (chapter 14:6-9). Any difficulties that are in the way of salvation will dwindle and vanish before a lively, active faith in the power and promises of God; but unbelief overlooks those promises, magnifies every danger and difficulty, and fills the heart with discouragement.
Caleb’s opposition to the other spies’ testimony only elicited stronger language on their part. It finally culminated in their assertion that even if Israel was able to possess the land, it was a place “that eateth up the inhabitants thereof.” In other words, it was a country that was surrounded and populated by fierce people who were in a state of constant warfare in order to retain its possession. Hereupon, the most trustworthy and brave from among the tribes of Israel, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua alone, now declared their inability to take possession of the land – for the sake of which, they had left the comforts of Egypt and endured the hardships and dangers of “the great and terrible wilderness.”
As we read here of Caleb’s zeal for the Lord, let us not fail to notice the blessed characteristics of God’s distinguishing grace! And is not Caleb, in this instance, a picture of all the true soldiers of the Lord Jesus? In spite of the evil report of the ungodly, such persons encourage the hearts of the Lord’s heritage to hold on and hold out – being assured of victory through the blood of the Lamb!
Lord, give us the spirit of Caleb, to know and believe that we shall at length overcome all the enemies of our salvation, and be more than conquerors through Your grace enabling us! Amen.
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