An Old Testament Braveheart

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According to Webster, the word “courage” means this:

mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty

That’s a good definition as far as it goes. But where does this “mental or moral strength” come from? According to the Bible, courage comes from a deep faith in God’s power or abilities. Real courage doesn’t spring from inside a believer, but comes from trusting One greater, stronger, more powerful than ones’ self.

Leading your people into a strange, new land is something that takes courage. Just ask Moses. That was what God called Moses to do. You recall the story of the Exodus. Moses, who by nature wasn’t Braveheart by any stretch of the imagination, was commissioned by God to take the Israelites out from the land of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Moses had some help from his brother, Aaron, and some other Israelites, but leading the frightened, confused, often faithless mass of humanity took courage. A lot of courage. Moses’ courage wasn’t in him naturally. Moses wasn’t a great military leader or politician. For decades he was a sheep herder. By the time Moses was called by God to lead the Israelites, Moses was an old man.

But lead them he did, out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, across the desert, and right up to the very border of Canaan, the land God had promised to give him.

Jehovah now instructed Moses, “Send spies into the land of Canaan—the land I am giving to Israel; send one leader from each tribe.” (Numbers 13:1, 2 TLB)

From the tribe of Judah, a man named Caleb was chosen. Caleb, along with spies from the other tribes, was to sneak into Canaan, and quietly observe. They were to report on three aspects of Canaan: (1) Was the land itself suitable for farming? (2) Were the inhabitants of Canaan weak or strong? How many were there? And (3) Were the cities of Canaan advanced or little more than camps?

“Don’t be afraid, and bring back some samples of the crops you see.” (The first of the grapes were being harvested at that time.) (Numbers 13:20 TLB)

Conflicting Reports, Numbers 13:17 – 33

In all, the spies’ mission took 40 days. The spies did exactly as they were instructed to do. From the wilderness of Zin in the south to the Hamath in the north and all points in between. They brought back samples of the local food. All the spies saw exactly the same things.

Here was their report:

“We arrived in the land you sent us to see, and it is indeed a magnificent country—a land ‘flowing with milk and honey.’ Here is some fruit we have brought as proof. But the people living there are powerful, and their cities are fortified and very large; and what’s more, we saw Anakim giants there! The Amalekites live in the south, while in the hill country there are the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites; down along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and in the Jordan River Valley are the Canaanites.” (Numbers 13:27 – 29 TLB)

Reading the words, we get the impression something was wrong. It wasn’t a very objective report. Note the phrases, “but the people” and “what’s more.” We’re reading a highly subjective report; the spies injecting their own opinions into it. Caleb, though, would have nothing to do with the subjective report of a bunch of frightened spies.

But Caleb reassured the people as they stood before Moses. “Let us go up at once and possess it,” he said, “for we are well able to conquer it!” (Numbers 13:30 TLB)

Here was a man who had courage. In spite of the report of so-called giants, Caleb knew the Israelites would be more than able to subdue them and take the land. What did Caleb know that the other spies didn’t? Caleb’s opinion was based on his faith in God. He didn’t deny seeing the giants or the fortified cities. He saw them, but he remembered what God had promised them earlier. He remembered this:

When you go to war in your land against the enemy who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the Lord your God, and you will be saved from your enemies. (Numbers 10:9 NKJV)

His courage was based on what God had told them back at Mount Sinai. Giants and fortified cities were no match for God. Caleb knew this.

Speaking Boldly for God, Numbers 14:1 – 10

The response of the people who heard the report of the spies was immediate:

Then all the people began weeping aloud, and they carried on all night. Their voices rose in a great chorus of complaint against Moses and Aaron. “We wish we had died in Egypt,” they wailed, “or even here in the wilderness, rather than be taken into this country ahead of us. Jehovah will kill us there, and our wives and little ones will become slaves. Let’s get out of here and return to Egypt!” The idea swept the camp. “Let’s elect a leader to take us back to Egypt!” they shouted. (Numbers 14:1 – 4 TLB)

Here were people just looking for an excuse to complain. They took the majority report and got totally carried away with emotion. Their response was irrational; they basically heard what they wanted to hear and based their response on that.

As is so common with most people, they seized on the negative. They grabbed onto the pessimism of most of the spies instead of the optimism of Caleb. Just how extreme was the pessimism of the people:

But the only response of the people was to talk of stoning them. (Numbers 14:10 TLB)

What prompted this? It was the optimistic attitude of four men who had faith, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb.

“It is a wonderful country ahead, and the Lord loves us. He will bring us safely into the land and give it to us. It is very fertile, a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’! Oh, do not rebel against the Lord, and do not fear the people of the land. For they are but bread for us to eat! The Lord is with us and he has removed his protection from them! Don’t be afraid of them!” (Numbers 14:7 – 9 TLB)

That’s what speaking for God will get you, sometimes! Say the right thing and be threatened with a stoning. But that’s how the world often rewards those who speak for God. Think about all the martyrs down through the centuries. The response of the Israelites was telling. It showed how fickle and far from God they truly were. Thankfully in this case, the stoning was averted by God’s miraculous intervention.

Courageous Faith Recognized, Numbers 14:20 – 24

Needless to say, God was not at all pleased with His people. He was annoyed and angry with them. God had more than enough of His rebellious people and He was ready to rid Himself of them. He was ready to destroy them and replace Abraham with Moses as the head of the nation. But Moses intervened on behalf of His wayward people, as he had done before.

Then the Lord said, “All right, I will pardon them as you have requested. But I vow by my own name that just as it is true that all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” (Numbers 14:21, 22 TLB)

In spite of His people, God’s will was going to come to fruition. But – and here’s the kicker – not everybody was gong to get off scott-free.

…not one of the men who has seen my glory and the miracles I did both in Egypt and in the wilderness—and ten times refused to trust me and obey me—shall even see the land I promised to this people’s ancestors. (Numbers 14:22b – 23a TLB)

That’s a lot of people who won’t be going into the Promised Land! Essentially everybody who left Egypt with Moses would not be going into the Promised Land because of their lack of faith. There was, however, an exception: Caleb.

But my servant Caleb is a different kind of man—he has obeyed me fully. I will bring him into the land he entered as a spy, and his descendants shall have their full share in it. (Numbers 14:24 TLB)

Yes, there is a high price to pay in showing at least a modicum of courage. But at the same time, courageous faith is recognized and rewarded by God. Caleb was completely devoted to God. Notice what God called him: a different kind of man. But really, he shouldn’t have been. He was acting as any child of God ought to act: in faith, trusting God completely. Why wouldn’t you trust the God who delivered you out of bondage with miracles galore? That kind of devotion, apparently, was rare in Moses’ day. It’s rare, today, too.

Receiving the Inheritance, Joshua 14:6 – 14

It took some 40 years for those faithless, unbelieving Israelites to die out. That’s why Moses led them around the desert instead of going in and possessing the Land. Imagine how disheartening it was. Forty years ago, Israel could have walked in and taken the Land as God had promised. But because of their blatant disregard for God’s promises, they were forced to turn around and trudge around and around and around in the desert until the trouble makers at last died out. That has to happen some times, even today. Sometimes in the life of a church, a faithless generation has to either leave the church or die before the Lord can move that church to the next level.

They all died, save Caleb. He wasn’t a young man now. Neither was Joshua, but both of these old guys were about see God deliver on His promise to them. Joshua and Caleb were the only two spies who had courage and they were the only two spies to gain their inheritance.

“I was forty years old at the time, and Moses had sent us from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land of Canaan. I reported what I felt was the truth, but our brothers who went with us frightened the people and discouraged them from entering the Promised Land. But since I had followed the Lord my God.” (Joshua 14:7, 8 TLB)

Caleb never forgot happened. And forty years is a long time to remember a single event or two. But it’s important to remember what God did and said in the past. Christians can take a lesson from Caleb. It’s good to remember and talk about things like this. It not only keeps the memory alive, it keeps the power of God and His Word in the front of your mind.

It took a long time, but Caleb finally got his reward. Forty years may be a long time remember something, but it’s also a long to wait for something!

So Joshua blessed him and gave him Hebron as a permanent inheritance because he had followed the Lord God of Israel. (Joshua 14:13, 14 TLB)

But that wasn’t the end of it. Caleb, now over 80 years of age, had to rise to the occasion. Joshua may have given this Old Testament Braveheart some prime acreage, but Caleb had to actually take the land from those already living in it. He did. Our octogenarian hero drove out the enemy in style –

Caleb drove out the descendants of the three sons of Anak: Talmai, Sheshai, and Ahiman. Then he fought against the people living in the city of Debir (formerly called Kiriath-sepher). (Joshua 15:14, 15 TLB)

A courageous man never rests. The unwavering faith and inner fortitude of this man Caleb should be an inspiration to all Christians. For too many of us, seeing is believing. Waiting wears us out. Growing old means retiring. But for Caleb, believing turned into seeing. He knew Canaan was conquerable. It took forty years, but he was proven right. He waited all through the wilderness wanderings. He never grew weary of waiting for his inheritance. He patiently put up with the faithless bunch he was living with. And at an age when most of us would be sitting on our stoops, watching the world pass by, waiting for our funerals, Caleb picked up the sword on last time. Caleb won his prize in Canaan because he was 100% sold out, committed to the His God.

Are you?

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