WHEN ONE MAN BELIEVES
In the book of Numbers, chapters 13 and 14, is a story of wholehearted faith and its opposite, faithlessness.
When the Israelite community was in reach of Canaan, the Promised Land, Caleb, an Israelite leader, was sent by Moses as a spy to explore the land with eleven other leaders/spies. So, at the Lord’s command, one leader from each tribe of Israel was sent together on a mission. They went up through the Negev and came to the land of Hebron. For forty days, they assessed the strength of the people, the goodness of the land, the fertileness of the soil, and the quality of the vegetation. When they returned, they reported what they saw. All twelve agreed the land “flow[s] with milk and honey,” and they brought back fruit to prove it.
However, not all agreed the land could be seized. The majority focused on what they saw instead of what they heard God promising for forty years. Ten of the twelve leaders saw large fortified cities and large powerful people who were descendants of Anak (Anakites) in Hebron—men of great stature who brought fear to those who encountered them. Ten of the Israelite leaders were afraid of them, two were not.
Caleb heard the promise of God ringing in his ear instead of fearing the obstacles he saw. Caleb stands and silences the people before Moses. He says, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
The next word in the Bible is “But,” spoken by the other leaders who spied out the land. They said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” They spread a negative, unfaithful report to the Israelites who were waiting for God’s promise to come true—that he would bring them into the Promised Land. After all, it was promised. But most of the leaders weren’t leading; they were spreading fear. They said to everyone, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
So, with that report, the whole community lost hope and wept and grumbled against God. The community wanted to go back to Egypt. Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the assembly. Joshua (one of the twelve spies) and Caleb tore their clothes and stated to the crowd, “If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”
But the Israelite people considered stoning Joshua, and Caleb because they were in the minority. They didn’t follow the crowd of whiners and complainers into disbelief.
Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the Tent of Meeting. “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?”
God wanted to destroy the Israelites for their continual faithlessness, sin, and grumbling over their forty years in the desert. But Moses speaks up on behalf of the Israelites, asking God to forgive them. The Lord agrees to forgive them but says to the disbelieving people, “I will do to you the very things I heard you say: in the desert, your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But you—your bodies will fall in this desert. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert…I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me.”
Because of the ten leaders and their follower’s faithlessness, they were struck down and died. Only Joshua, Caleb, and those 19 years and younger survived. Two of the ten leaders led with belief in God’s promises and didn’t let their eyes deceive them from believing what they heard God promise. They believed the LORD would keep his word no matter the obstacles. God had indeed brought them to the Promised Land, and surely, he would help them possess it.
Moses and Aaron also did not enter the Canaan because of their rebellion against God’s command at the waters of Meribah. God told Moses to speak to the rock to provide water for the thirsty Israelites. Instead, he struck the rock. In doing so, he dishonored the LORD in the sight of the Israelites by disobeying the LORD’s command.
Even if we are regarded as grasshoppers by people, or feel like a grasshopper facing obstacles, we must remember Caleb’s words, “we will swallow them up.” “We can do this”, Caleb believed, and he did. Sometimes God uses one believer to change the direction of the future for others when s/he believes the LORD is with them. The key? Belief that God will fulfill each of his promises. God had already promised many years prior that he would give them victory and take them into Canaan. But most of the leaders and people forgot.
Forty-five years later, Caleb was given the land of Hebron as an inheritance, as he is the one who drove from it the large and strong three sons of Anak (Anakites). “Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years…. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day.” Joshua gave Hebron to Caleb along with a blessing. “Then the land had rest from war.”
Sometimes we wait a lifetime for a blessing from the LORD. We must believe wholeheartedly like Caleb and lead people who are watching us to never give up despite challenges. The LORD is always faithful to his promises if we are faithful to him. We must not discourage others with faithlessness; it could lead them down a destructive path. We have a responsibility to God, to ourselves, and to others to believe God. When we waver, we must remember God’s faithfulness to his promises in the past to help us remain faithful in our future.
There is another land that has been promised for believers—our heavenly home. Sure, there are obstacles, but God has promised heaven to us if we believe. Many leaders will fall into disbelief, and many of their followers will “band together” and also disbelieve, prompting even more people to disbelieve.
Remember the faith of Caleb—with God, you can “swallow up” any obstacle that deters you from believing His promises and, “We can certainly do it!”