Bible Studies in Israel’s Wilderness Wanderings
Presumptuous sins and the faith of Caleb.
By Fraser Gordon
To re-cap we were in Numbers chapter 13 last time and we looked at “spying out the land.” We saw that the thought of “spying out the land” didn't actually originate with God and it didn't originate with Moses but it originated with the unbelief of the nation. God had told them that they had enough faith to come out of Egypt and they were to go in to the land of Canaan but they were not ready to completely trust God to do it. So the nation came up with the idea “Let’s send some people in to see what it looks like and if it looks alright, then yes, we will trust God.” But obviously when they did go into the land everything that they saw seemed to be a hindrance. They saw that the cities were really big and they were walled and they saw that there were giants in the land and that frightened them, so they bought back a bad report.
So what was the response of the nation? They complained and they wanted to select a new leader. They didn’t believe what Moses said, or for that matter what Joshua and Caleb said either. They said “let's select a new leader and we will go back to Egypt.” Joshua and Caleb tried to encourage them again by saying “we are able to do this; God is with us, we are able to go into the land.” The people’s response was “let's stone them.” Their journey comprised of one blunder after another. They complained and they moaned, showing their lack of trust in God. Unfortunately this is what sometimes happens to us as well, because yes, we have times of faith but we also have times of unbelief and doubt. So we are involved in this story just as they were. Chapter 14 tells us that God also had enough of them and He tells Moses “I really want to wipe them out and start again” which is a very big call. He says to Moses from verse 11 through – I have had enough of them and I will make of you a nation – I am going to start again. But Moses appeals to God and says “You are long suffering, and You are gracious and You are merciful and what are the other nations going to say when they hear that you bought these people out of Egypt and then wiped them out and started again?. And God listened to Moses. Let’s pick up the story from there.
God tested ten times...
Num 14:20-22 The LORD replied, "I have forgiven them, as you asked. (21) Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, (22) not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times.
It is interesting that God actually states right there that from the time they left Egypt to this place called Kadesh Barnea they had put God to the test ten times. Ten times where they didn’t believe that God was enough for them; To name a few we would have the time of going through the Red Sea, the lack of water, the experience with the Manna, the lack of meat and the golden calf... and that’s just some of them!
Dramatic consequences for the sin of unbelief
Num 14:23-39 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. (24) But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. (25) Since the Amalekites and Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea. " (26) The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: (27) How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. (28) So tell them, 'As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: (29) In this 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. (30) 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. (31) As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. (32) But you-- your bodies will fall in this desert. (33) Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert. (34) For forty years-- one year for each of the forty days you explored the land--you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.' (35) I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this desert; here they will die." (36) So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it-- (37) these men responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the LORD. (38) Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived. (39) When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly.
Now there were consequences which had to be faced. The result of their unbelief was that their carcasses were going to fall in the desert. They were not going to be able to enter into the land of promise that God had spoken about...the land of Canaan. So Moses told them all of these words and you can see from these verses that the people mourned greatly. When the consequences of their unbelief and rejection of God actually became apparent to them, they were incredibly sad. When I read through this passage it reminded me of being a parent. When you have a child there are certain standards that you have and breaking these standards will lead to consequences for the child. This is how it was for the nation of Israel.
Num 14:40-41 Early the next morning they went up toward the high hill country. "We have sinned," they said. "We will go up to the place the LORD promised." (41) But Moses said, "Why are you disobeying the LORD's command? This will not succeed!
When this finally dawns on them, they are instantly ready to go up. They said, “No, no, now we are ready!” This reminds me again of when young children are faced with consequences they are usually ready to behave too. The consequences for Israel were very big indeed. They were not going to get to enter the land. Not only that, they were going to die - but in saying that there was still hope. They were told “Your little ones, whom you said would be victims I will bring in and they shall know the land and they shall inherit it” (verse 31)
But as we said before, they are instantly ready to do what they were not able to do before -which is crazy because when God had told them to go into the land, they looked for every hindrance. They didn't want to trust God and now that God has said “Well this is what is going to happen” they are ready to go. God wasn't actually going with them, but now they are determined to go. At this point they obviously realized that they had done wrong, but it was too late for them.
Pressing forward... in disobedience.
Num 14:42-44 Do not go up, because the LORD is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, (43) for the Amalekites and Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the LORD, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword." (44) Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the LORD's covenant moved from the camp.
Moses is saying “God is not going to be with you, so why are you pursuing this, why are you trying to go into the Land?” He also said “The Amalekites are there waiting for you”. Do you remember when we looked at the Amalekite story; there will always be an Amalekite there to hinder your walk with God. How was victory won over the Amalekites? Surrender! Whose battle was it when they fought the Amalekites? God's! Moses isn't going to leave the camp, but they presume to go anyway. That word “presume” caught my attention. The dictionary meaning of “presumptuous“ is to do something that one has no right or authority to do. To presume is bold, insolent behavior. What it really means is “I will do what I want regardless of the consequences”. And this is what the nation is doing. Moses is saying “Look, don't do it” but they said “We are ready; we are going to go anyway.” So they presumed to go up to the mountain top. It is that independent self-life that we have; that proud attitude which says “this is what I am going to do because I want to do it.” There are other examples of presumption in the Bible. Cain was presumptuous when he offered a sacrifice to God in his own way; taking crops which he had grown for the offering when he knew that God required an offering of a lamb. The Tower of Babel is another – and the first attempt at world government on earth. They presumed to build this tower up to the heavens where they could have a centre for everyone to be located, after God had specifically told them to spread abroad in the earth. Because of this God came down and said “what is happening here is not right” so He confused the languages and sent them out into the whole earth. Nadab and Abihu, Aaron's sons, offered profane fire before the Lord. They presumed to take the position that they didn't actually have that of offering sacrifices to God. A couple of chapters over in Numbers we have Korah's rebellion, which is the same sort of instance of people putting themselves into a position which they have no right to be in. So these are all instances of presumption which is a type of sin that we need to be aware of.
Psa 19:7-13 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. (8) The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. (9) The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. (10) They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. (11) By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (12) Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. (13) Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.
David makes a distinction here between secret sins and presumptuous sins. Secret things are really those things that we do which only we know about and which fall short of the glory of God. They are the things that we do just because we are fallen and have a sinful nature. But there is a distinction here between those sins and what David referred to when he said “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins.” Presumptuous sins are those that we talked about, sins that are really born in that self attitude of pride and arrogance. I am going to do this because it is something I want to do.’
Has anyone ever felt that they shouldn't, before God, be doing something, but are going to do it anyway? Lots of Christians get into trouble in many different areas just by making really bad decisions. And when it all turns to custard and the consequences begin to hit home, they want God to rescue them. Sometimes He does and sometimes He doesn't. Sometimes God allows those consequences to fall. David here is saying “cleanse me from those sins that I do wrong, but keep me back from presumptuous sins.” This is something that only God can do as you yield your life to Him. He can hold you back from those independent decisions that you make which leave God out of your life.
Back to Numbers 14 – What should their response have been, what should they have done? As hard as it was they should have just yielded to what God had said, (which is what we want from our children.) You want them to respect what you have said and just and suffer the consequences. Even though all the men of war, over the age of 20 years are going to die in the wilderness, God still loved them and He still cared for them. He clothed them all the way through their wilderness wanderings. He provided manna in the morning and meat in the evenings and there was nothing that they actually lacked. So God's care is still there, but they are not going to inherit all that God had for them. This is a picture of the carnal Christian who has enough faith to be saved but is dominated by unbelief and failure. He is saved and he is loved by God but he might not walk into everything that God has for him.
As a little side note... we were talking about sins and presumptuous sins. Under the law for the Jewish nation all of the sacrifices were for sins of ignorance. In Deuteronomy there is a verse that says “the man that sins presumptuously shall die”. So there wasn't a sacrifice for presumptuous sin. But we know that Christ has taken not only all of the sins that we have committed but also the power of sin into the grave. Christ dealt with both types of sins. Acts 13v.39 makes this clear.
Caleb – A man apart
Let's have a look at Caleb because he was one of the two exceptions to this whole sad story. Caleb is such a good picture of one who stands out as a man of faith, and not only just faith but also the perseverance of faith.
Num14:24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.
Does anyone know what Caleb means? It actually means “dog” and I have no idea how or why it should. In scripture, unfortunately, “dog” always has a negative connotation. But as a dog owner I don’t look at it like this. A dog always follows its master wholeheartedly if it has been trained to do so. That is, if you have an obedient dog. Dogs love to be where their master is and to be obedient and to please him; wherever their master is that is where they want to be. And in that respect I like Caleb. The thing that set Caleb apart from the nation around him was that he had a different spirit and he had followed God fully. He was someone who was one hundred percent committed to God. With all of his being he wanted to follow the Lord God. We don’t know his background in scripture, we don’t know any of God’s dealings with him as a person; he just appears as one of the heads of the tribes which goes to spy out the land. Numbers chapter 13 verse 30 tells us that he said to Israel “Let us go up at once and take possession for we are well able to overcome.” He is ready to go. He believes in God and he believes in God's word. This is Caleb.
Another thing about him is that despite the hindrances, he is willing to stand out. He had the whole nation complaining about what he said but he was willing to be separate and stand among those who believed in God. He was not afraid to be unpopular. He was willing to be someone who didn't just go along with the rest of the crowd. At this point in his life, he is about 45 years of age, and the same judgment that comes upon the nation also comes upon him and Joshua. Just think about that, though he is faithful to God, he has to wander with the nation forty years round and round in the wilderness until all the people of fighting age had died. This is a wonderful picture of the perseverance of faith. When you look at his life, you could actually think that he has been hard done by. He is someone that believed God; was ready to go in, but unfortunately he had to suffer the same consequences as the nation- apart from the fact that he didn't lose his life. But he was 40 years among those complainers. When I read that I thought that is actually not easy, in reality it is very hard! And, quite often, God will do the same thing with us. He might set us aside for a period of time, just like He did Caleb and Joshua. But what happened to their faith in that time? You see that they had to suffer but they suffered patiently. It wasn't their weakness, their unbelief or failings which put them in this position of suffering, but they endured the long 40 year trial quietly. This is a picture of the perseverance of faith. .
Caleb – A consistent faith all his days
Num14:24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.
So you have Caleb, a man of faith, appearing on the scene at about forty five years of age. He disappears for forty years and there is nothing else recorded about him in the wilderness wanderings. And then he appears again at 85. He is a wonderful picture of someone whose faith doesn't dwindle. His faith stays the same and that is why Caleb is such a good picture of a man of faith, and the perseverance of faith. He doesn't go up and down. There are no fits and starts with him. He is not in the Lord one day and not the next. And in that regard he is someone for all of us to look at and say “that is actually what I want for my life.” The same zeal I had for the Lord when I was first saved; I want to remain at the end. At 85 years old he enters the land, and is ready to fight. He doesn’t want to be booked into the Canaan retirement village. He is ready to do battle and he says I am as strong this day as I was the day Moses sent me to spy out the land; just as my strength was then, so is my strength now for war, both for going out and coming in. Now, therefore, give me this mountain.” What was the nation was afraid of at the very beginning? The giants! What is the very thing that Caleb wants to take out– the giants! He is going to fight that very same battle that everyone was afraid of way back 40 years ago. And he says “this is mine,” even though it is the hardest battle. Caleb is saying “This is for me, this is my inheritance, I am ready to go. If God is with me I will be able to take it.” Amazing! And it is something for all of us to aspire to, because many people start well but don't actually finish well. He is wholly committed at the beginning and he is wholly committed at the end. No fits and starts.
Jos 15:13-16 In accordance with the LORD's command to him, Joshua gave to Caleb son of Jephunneh a portion in Judah--KiriathArba, that is, Hebron. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) (14) From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites--Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai--descendants of Anak. (15) From there he marched against the people living in Debir (formerly called KiriathSepher). (16) And Caleb said, "I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures KiriathSepher."
He accomplished what he intended to do. He defeated the giants and he took Hebron as his inheritance. And the last little picture you have is of his daughter coming to him to ask for a blessing.
Jos 15:18-19 One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, "What can I do for you?" (19) She replied, "Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water." So Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.
We read that he is able to do what his daughter asked of him. He is able to give an inheritance of springs of water to her. Springs speak to us of spiritual blessings in Christ. So the picture here is that when he reached the end of his life he had something of Christ to pass onto those who came after him.
So in these passages we see a great contrast between those that are truly for the Lord (Caleb) and those who would rather walk in their own way. The first lived by faith. The latter by their own desires which lead to the presumption sins and disobedience. But in Caleb we see a different spirit. One that didn’t change no matter what his age or what the circumstances. He was able to provide strength, courage and blessing to those close to him for he wavered not in his faith.