Choose to Be Caleb

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In the book of Numbers, chapter 13, Moses and the people of Israel stand at the threshold of the Promised Land.

Behind them lies slavery in Egypt.  Ahead lies the land “flowing with milk and honey,” the place God had promised to Abraham.

The Lord says to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites.”  Twelve spies secretly step into the territory now known as Palestine.  Over a period of 40 days they conduct a thorough investigation. 

What do they find?  They come back with a cluster of grapes so big that it takes two of them to carry it on a pole. 

But not everything in the land turns out to be sunshine and rainbows.  They report, “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey!  Here is its fruit.  But [and at this point you’ve just got to believe that Moses is thinking, “Oh please, don’t say but…”] the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.”

Public morale promptly implodes.  

One of the spies, however, a man named Caleb, decides to present a different perspective.  In one of the great can-do moments of the Bible, he turns to the crowd and shouts, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it!”    

Joshua enthusiastically sides with Caleb.  But the other 10 spies press the panic button. 

“The land we explored devours those living in it.  All the people we saw there are of great size… We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.’”

What’s going on here?  The twelve spies agree on the same basic data concerning the Promised Land.  It is a wonderful place.  But it is also a supremely challenging place. 

So the issue becomes:  What should be done with this data? 

Here the spies cleave into two groups.  Ten of the spies sign their names to a scandalously negative majority report.  The other two present an upbeat minority report. 

The ten spies gasp, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes!”  Joshua and Caleb don’t deny that perception.  Their response is simply, in Howard Hendricks’ wonderful words, “God’s grasshoppers reporting for duty…sir!”  In their minds, the only size that matters here is the size of God.

Day by day, we also face a future that is simultaneously wonderful and supremely challenging. 

What we choose to do with the data that we experience will depend on which path we choose to follow:  Trust or Fear.

Tragically, in the tents of the Israelites, Fear rules. 

Beginning in Numbers 14:1 they wail, “‘If only we had died in Egypt!  Or in this desert!  Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?  Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?’  And they said to each other, ‘We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.’”

This is what is known as a bankrupt definition of leadership.  “Let’s choose a leader and go backwards.” 

For the Israelites, slavery to what they have always known is preferable to trusting God concerning the unknown.  They have fallen under the enchantment of personal security, beguiled by the lie that safety is the most important concern in their lives.  Therefore they refuse to trust God.  As the succeeding chapters in the book of Numbers reveal, the consequences are tragic.

In one way or another, we all have one foot back in Egypt and another foot in the Promised Land. 

So where do we go next?

Choose to be Caleb.

It is better to face giants while trusting God than to waste our lives trying to ensure a safety that never really existed in the first place.          

At the intersection of Trust and Fear – whether in your family room, at that upcoming meeting, or in the quiet places of your heart – be the one to stand up and say, “With God’s help, we can do this.”