Theme: God provides graciously for those who wholeheartedly step into his future for them.
Purpose: Motivate those on the edge of new lives to lean into the risk.
a. Where were the Hebrews’ headed after leaving Egypt?
b. What did they have to cross to get to the promised land?
c. How long did it take?
a. How long was it supposed to take?
It wasn’t supposed to take that long. It’s only about 200 – 300 miles as the crow flies.
That’s no afternoon hike but it could have taken weeks or months. Not years.
Why did it take so long?
Our scripture passage today gets down to the heart of the reason.
After 400 years of bondage in Egypt, God miraculously gave the Hebrew people a free pass to a brand new land, a land “flowing with milk and honey.”
I guess that meant there were a lot of bees and a lot of cows. I’m not sure they knew what that meant!
But whatever the case they would be on their own!
So after a 200+ mile journey they could begin a new life!
But guess what: the distance from Egypt to the Promised Land wasn’t just a geographic gap.
There was a big difference between living as slaves in one country and living as free landowners in another.
African Americans in this country after the civil war certainly had to deal with this shift.
It’s not just a shift in employment status, or income, or civil liberties.
There is also a spiritual shift that must take place.
This is a much more substantial shift to make and we see here in chapter 14 of Numbers that the people of God have clearly not yet made this spiritual shift.
Listen to how the Israelites respond to their first little roadblock, namely, when the spies sent out by Moses come back and tell the Israelites that the land is filled with powerful, well-armed residents who are bigger than they are:
vss. 2 - 4
Do they sound ready to enter a fertile land, take over, build homes, plant crops, defend themselves against intruders, and flourish?
No. Why? Their hearts are still in Egypt.
They haven’t made the spiritual shift yet.
I vividly remember in 2003 sitting with a parishioner from my first congregation in a courtroom in Pasadena, CA, waiting for his case to come up. He had gotten pulled over for drinking and driving and given parole a couple of years before. He had then broken his parole the year before and now he had gotten summoned back to court.
The public defendant arrived and called us out into the hallway to speak to us. He looked over his case and said, “Are you kidding? There’s no way they’re going to let you go after breaking your parole. They’re gonna lock you up!”
There we were in the hallway standing between a new life of freedom and an old life of hiding and dodging the law. But the old life seemed a lot more attractive than the new. My parishioner knew that all he had to do was walk to the nearest exit and he could continue his former life of law-dodging. It would last months, maybe even years. But it wouldn’t last forever. Was he prepared spiritually to face his sentence?
I’m going to hope no one here broke their parole. But nonetheless I’ll bet some of you are standing between and old way of living and a new way . . .
Old attitude, new attitude,
Old relationships, new relationships,
Old affiliations, new affiliations,
Old vocation, new vocation,
And the old one would be a whole lot easier to step back into than the new.
The old is familiar, it’s known territory, it’s safe, it has its security.
Never mind that it’s abusive, it’s toxic, and it’s leading you nowhere. At least you know the ropes.
Hence, “Let’s choose a captain [e.g. other than Moses] and head back to Egypt.”
Then Caleb spoke up.
Caleb, son of Jephunneh, was from the tribe of Judah and he had been selected to represent his tribe among those who were sent out as spies to survey the land.
He saw what the other spies saw. He came back with them.
But apparently he saw the land with a different lens.
He had one claim to fame: he was ‘wholehearted.’
‘wholehearted’ - having or showing no doubt or uncertainty about doing something, supporting someone, etc.
Listen to how Caleb responds – same situations, same destination, same tour of the promised land that the other spies had gotten:
Vss. 7 – 9
Can you hear the difference?
Caleb has already made the spiritual shift!
His heart is already in the promised land.
He believes in his heart in that promised land.
He’s living into that promised land.
He’s stepping toward it.
He’s already owned God’s future for him.
That’s what comes from wholehearted engagement.
At the end of the day, he’s all in.
In honor of our service men and women today, I want to mention . . .
There’s a short little book that I only found out about a few years ago that has sold over 40 million copies.
I always get a little miffed when I find out about fame of that magnitude that I haven’t heard about!
It’s called A Message to Garcia and it was written in 1899. If you were ever in the military, you may have heard of this little book.
It’s a curious book because Garcia we never meet, the one who carries the message to him – a Mr. Rowan - has no lines in the book, and the writer of the book, Elbert Hubbard, never met either of them!
In fact, the book is less a story than an essay. Mr. Hubbard discovers that at the onset of the Spanish-American war in 1898, the U.S. President desperately needed to get a message to the head of the insurgents in Cuba who was a General Garcia.
He needed someone who could get through enemy lines, find out where this Garcia was, and deliver the message, no questions asked.
Everyone said Mr. Rowan was the man to do it. And he did it.
Why did everyone recommend Mr. Rowan? Because Mr. Rowan was known for getting the job done, no questions asked.
He didn’t ask: who is this Garcia? Where will he be? Is it even possible to get to him? Does he know about this message? Will he be receptive? Is this a dangerous mission?
Instead, he took the message and left for Cuba.
The writer bemoans the fact that there are so few in this world who will simply do what they’re told to do, no questions asked.
As you stand on the brink of a new life, with one foot in the old . . .
Are you asking a lot of questions?
Sometimes, it’s good to ask questions. Our faith needs to wrestle with them.
But other times, when we KNOW we need to leave our old life behind,
And that it is God who is leading us to our new life
and that it WILL be a good life
and that God wouldn’t be leading us there if it weren’t good for us . . .
Then we really DON’T need to be asking questions, do we?
It’s time to let go, jump in, and wholeheartedly embrace the new life God has given us.
Vss. 8 - 9
While the other spies and the people in general hemmed and hawed in half-heartedness,
Caleb embraced God’s future for him and leaned into it with his whole heart!
Joshua was the only other spy who had this same attitude.
Guess what we find out?
Of the 600,000 men not including women and children that left Egypt and marched into the wilderness, only 2, not 2,000, not 200, not 20, but 2 people of the original emigrants from Egypt actually get to the promised land.
Joshua and Caleb.
I think of the lives of the hundreds of thousands of armed soldiers who died fighting for our freedom.
They didn’t decide that they would consider sacrificing their life for their country.
They didn’t say if I’m confronted with a dangerous situation, if my troop is counting on me to take the plunge to carry out our orders, I will give the decision to sacrifice my life for my country a fair shot.
No, they died the minute they enlisted. A half-hearted army is no army at all.
And so many of them did not reach their promised land.
How much more should we, Americans who have full lives to live in this free country, give our whole hearts to the Lord in honest service to our homes, to our towns, to our communities, to our country.
So what if you don’t like the 2016 political process: it’s still an exceedingly good land! And if the lord is pleased with us, he will make us a blessing in it!
After we were through with our little briefing with the public defendant, I brought my parishioner back into the courtroom, sat him back down, and pointed to the seal of the state of California that hung on the wall behind the judge and I said: your future lies behind that seal. Now, sit tight, and let’s face this future together.
A half an hour later, his case came up for consideration. I remember thinking, I wish I could funnel every prayer that has been prayed for my parishioner into the next 30 seconds of time.
We watched the judge flip through the folder, dreading the verdict.
Finally, he barked out: 6 months parole and 12 months mandatory participation in a 12-step AA group. And he banged the gavel and that was that!
It was a gracious sentence but my parishioner learned his lesson: facing the future wholeheartedly beats clinging to the past with half your heart.
Folks, whether you’ve lost a loved one, or a job, or a marriage, or just peace and security, cling to the Lord with your whole heart and let him carry you into your future.
Proverbs 3: 5 – 6