God Uses Ordinary People: Caleb

Numbers 13-14

August 24, 2008 | Brian Bill

There are some things that just stick with us over the years.  I remember a jingle called “Conjunction Junction” from Schoolhouse Rock that I can’t get out of my head.  Some of you could sing it with me.  The song goes like this: “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?  Hooking up words and phrases and clauses…I got ‘and,’ ‘but,’ and ‘or,’ they’ll get you pretty far.  

  • And,’ that’s an additive, like ‘this and that.’ 
  • But,’ that’s sort of the opposite, ‘not this but that.’  
  • And then there’s ‘or,’ O-R, when you have a choice like ‘this or that.’”

I want to wrap up our morning with some brief thoughts concerning a courageous man named Caleb who knew how to use conjunctions correctly.

We won’t take the time to study Numbers 13 in great detail but I urge you to do it on your own because what happens here explains why Israel had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.  The Israelites are very near the land of promise and so 12 spies are sent out and are gone for 40 days.  When they return they report what they saw in verse 27: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey!  Here is its fruit.”  

There were no faucets with milk coming out and no jars of honey lying on the ground but rather the land was filled with pastures for cows and goats that make milk and there was so much produce that the bees were able to make a huge amount of honey.  To go from marching through a dry dessert to lush pastures and limitless produce had to be very exciting.  In fact, there is so much fruit that the grapes are brought back on a pole carried by two men. 

Before we look at what happens next, remember that these men were supposed to do a survey and report their findings.  Period.  God has already given them this land.  But look at the conjunction they use in verse 28: But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.  We even saw descendants of Anak there…”  They come to conjunction junction again in verse 31: But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’”  

And then they go from intimidation to exaggeration in verses 32-33: “The land we explored devours those living in it.  All the people we saw there are of great size.  We saw the Nephilim there…We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”  They felt like little insects that were about to squashed on Anak’s windshield.  

Whenever you hear yourself saying in response to one of God’s promises, “But…” you are probably being controlled by fear not faith.  

  • I would come to church more, but…
  • I would give more, but…
  • I want to go through that open door, but…
  • I know I should forgive that person, but…
  • I know God is with me, but…

Ten of the spies bring back a bad report and the people get really discouraged.  Instead of moving forward in faith they become filleted by fear.  Caleb and Joshua try to dissuade the discouragers to no avail.  Verse 30 says that Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”  He was simply taking God at His word for in verse 2 God said He was giving the land to the Israelites.

Instead of going forward, all the people grumble against Moses and Aaron and start weeping aloud.  They then talk about wanting to go back to Egypt.  Imagine that!  They’d rather go back to bondage than to take God at His Word.  They chose instant gratification instead of the cultivation of their character.  That still happens today.  Even though sin and bondage and disobedience is not a place to be, for some it’s comfortable and predictable and they’d rather stay there than move into the unknown.  

As a result, the 10 spies are snuffed out immediately (Numbers 14:37) and the entire community, which has been camped near the border of Canaan, has to spend 40 years in the wilderness, one year for every day the spies were gone, as punishment.  The entire generation of fearful gripers and faithless complainers will die in the desert, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua who operate in faith. 

Will I take God at His word and will I trust Him with my problems?

Some of you have a grasshopper complex.  You think you are insignificant and you’ve allowed your insecurities to influence your faith.  Friends, the issue isn’t whether or not you are competent or strong enough.  The question is really this: Will I take God at His word and will I trust Him with my problems?  The problem with our fears is not fear itself, but what they reveal about our concept of God, for at the deepest level, some of us believe that that if we cling completely to God, He will let us down.  That’s why some of you struggle to really honor God with your giving, or in your relationships, or in your serving.

Caleb knows how to use conjunctions as well.  Listen to what he says in 14:9: “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.”  The people magnified their problems and minimized the power of God.  Caleb saw the same challenges as the others did but his reply was this: “But the Lord is with us.”  I don’t know what you’re going through today, but you have a choice to make.  It’s really an “either-or” deal.  “But I can’t” or “But God is with me.”  

Life Lessons

  1. The problem is not that there are giants the land; our problem is that there are giants like fear and unbelief in our hearts.  The biggest giant in my life is me.
  2. Every Promised Land has its problems; every blessing has some bumps with it.  Canaan always comes with Canaanites in it.  Obstacles are those frightening things we see when we take our eyes off the objective.  Let’s remember that no matter how big the problems are, God is bigger.
  3. Because God is faithful and powerful, He will fulfill His promises – but we must be proactive and not passive if we hope to possess those promises. Deuteronomy 1:21: “See, the Lord your God has given you the land.  Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your fathers, told you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
  4. Focus on the fruit to come (hold up grapes).  Let’s celebrate the 21 baptisms last Sunday, all the short-term mission trips and the open doors that God gives us in this community to minister to families.  Let’s prepare ourselves for the Missions Festival in October as we focus on the fruit to come.

Let’s see if I can bring this section of Scripture to intersect with where we are today.

  • As a church.  We’re standing at the edge of what God yet has for us.  Let’s follow Him faithfully as He opens doors for us.
  • As a community.  There’s a lot of fear and anxiety in our county right now due to the possibility of the prison closing.  The concern was palpable at the hearing on Wednesday night.  I’m thankful for how we’ve all came together and did what we could do humanly speaking.  But now I want to call us to prayer.  Proverbs 21:1 says: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; He directs it like a watercourse.”  Even when things look bleak, God can change the heart of our governor.  

Let’s also remember that God is sovereign and that whatever happens He will weave His ways and will in a way that will give Him the most glory.  God is good and through this community-shaking time, I’m praying that He will send revival and that people will turn to God.  We might all feel like little grasshoppers, but God is great!

  • Personally.  What great challenge are you facing right now?  Is there an open door?  What new ministry is God calling you to this fall?  What giants are in your land today?  What is it that you’re afraid of?  You have a choice to make.  What conjunction will you choose?  Will you choose fear or faith?  Will you do what you can do and will you trust Him to do what only He can do?  Will you say, But the problems are powerful” or will you say, But the Lord is with me?”  

Caleb’s Character

But he chose to trust an extraordinary God

Caleb was just an ordinary person…like you and like me.  But he chose to trust an extraordinary God.  In 14:24 God celebrates two things about Caleb.  First, the Spirit was at work in His life.  Second, he was surrendered.  

God uses a conjunction to show how different Caleb is from the others: But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to…”  Are you spirit-led and are you surrendered?  Is there any area of your life in which you are not following Him fully?

There are certain decision points in life that are pivotal.  At the right time, God’s people got it wrong and spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness, just stumbling through life.  I know you don’t want to do the same.  I wonder if you’re ready to fully surrender today.  Would you please stand and as a statement of surrender, will you repeat these words after me?  “God I yield myself fully to you.  I will do your bidding without delay.  I will refuse you nothing.  Here am I, send me.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?