The 13th and 14th chapters of Numbers describe the Jewish people coming to the border of the Promised Land. God commanded Moses to send out 12 spies, each a leader of his respective tribe, and in Numbers 13:17-20 Moses briefed them, saying:
Get you up this way into the Negev, and go up into the mountain, And see the land, what it is; and the people who dwell therein, whether they are strong or weak, few or many; And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it is good or bad; and what cities they are that they dwell in, whether in camps, or in strongholds; And what the land is, whether it is fat or lean, whether there is wood therein, or not…and bring of the fruit of the land.
It is crucial to understand that the spies were on an intelligence-gathering mission. They were not going up to determine the feasibility of the occupation, but how it was to be carried out. Their success had been guaranteed by the much repeated promise of God, first made to Abraham some 600 years earlier.
Although Scripture records the name of each of the 12, only two spies are familiar to us today. This is because only two were faithful to their mission. Only two brought back intelligence about the land with confidence that what God had promised he was surely able to accomplish. Those two faithful men were Caleb and Joshua, the Marvelous Minority.”
The other 10 spies had terrified the people with overblown accounts of the size and fierceness of their opponents and the obstacles of taking the land. Those unfaithful 10 had lost sight of the sure promises of God, causing their own hearts and those of the people to be filled with unbelief and fear. Their evil report turned hearts so far from the frontiers of faith that the people held a mass meeting and decided, “Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt” (Numbers 14:4).
At this blasphemous suggestion, Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in the presence of the congregation, demonstrating horror at the mere thought. Joshua and Caleb also reacted with horror to the vote of unbelief. They pleaded with the people, saying:
The land, which we passed through to search it, is a very good land. If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us: a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us; their defense is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not (Numbers 14:7-9).
What a contrast between Joshua and Caleb’s report and that of the faithless 10 and the subsequent reaction of the faithless people. God’s assessment of Caleb and Joshua versus the faithless majority contrasts just as much:
How long will this people provoke me? And how long will it be before they believe me, for all the signs which I have shown among them? I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them…Surely they shall not see the land which I swore to give unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it. But my servant, Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land…and his seed shall possess it (Numbers 14:11-12, 23, 24).
Forty-five years later we again pick up the trail of faithful Caleb. Remarkably, but not surprisingly, he has retained the same reputation as one who follows the Lord fully. At this point the Israelites have been wandering in the wilderness for more than 40 years—long enough for God’s curse to have overtaken them. That entire blasphemous, unbelieving generation has died off. Only Caleb and Joshua remain.
At last the time for taking possession of the land has come. Once more at the border we hear the voice of faithful Caleb, now 85 years old:
Forty years old was I when Moses, the servant of the LORD, sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land; and I brought him word again as it was in mine heart. Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; but I wholly followed the LORD my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, Surely the land whereon thy feet have trodden shall be thine inheritance, and thy children’s forever, because thou hast wholly followed the LORD…And now, behold, the LORD hath kept me alive, as he said…while the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, lo, I am this day fourscore and five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me; as my strength was then, even so is my strength now, for war, both to go out, and to come in. Now, therefore, give me this mountain, of which the LORD spoke in that day…if so be the LORD will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the Lord said (Joshua 14:7-12).
Caleb was a remarkable man. Not only was his physical vigor impressive, but more so his spiritual vigor. The faith and optimism that continued to characterize him in old age set him and Joshua apart as the “Marvelous Minority.” The rest of their generation, the “Meandering Majority,” had wandered and died in the wilderness.
That “Marvelous Minority” followed the Lord fully. What does this mean to 20th century Christians? What are some of the ways that we miss out on the faith and excitement that characterized Joshua and Caleb’s lives? Let’s consider three qualities for following the Lord fully:
We Must Follow Him In Obedience
Caleb’s determination to enter the Promised Land was not based upon any militaristic impulse of his own, nor failure to assess adequately the obstacles that Israel faced as would-be conquerors. No! Caleb was eager and willing to go up into the land because that was God’s command. Surely the Lord had commanded all the Israelites to go and take possession. Yet besides Moses and Aaron, only Joshua and Caleb stood ready to obey. Obedience is the first prerequisite for following the Lord fully.
We Must Follow Him In Confidence (Faith)
Obedience is impossible if we lose sight of God’s faithfulness to honor his Word, to protect us and to fight those spiritual battles that we find ourselves inadequate to face in our own strength. The one who follows fully will be characterized by confidence in God. But be careful! Confidence in God is confidence that he will do as he has said, not as we have said.
We Must Follow Him No Matter What Others May Say Or Do
This last thought is perhaps the most important of all for those who would follow God. Joshua and Caleb lived it. They stood as the “Marvelous Minority” against an entire nation. All the people had voted that the wisest move was to return to Egypt. Only Joshua and Caleb, those two stubborn but God-honoring men, stood with Moses and Aaron and said, “NO!”
The principle holds true for us, as well. Surely there will come times when obedience to God will mean doing what is right, or refusing to do what is wrong, despite all the pressures, psychological and otherwise, that others may bring to bear upon us. Regarding this point, note that Joshua and Caleb were not hard-nosed mavericks. Their perception of right and wrong was in accord with the God-ordained leadership in their lives (Moses and Aaron) and in accord with the clearly revealed Word of God.
Unfortunately today, as in Bible times, most of God’s people tend to fall in with the “Meandering Majority” rather than with the “Joshuas” and “Calebs.” This happens because we substitute our own counterfeits for the bona fide obedience that truly honors God.
What Are Those Counterfeits?
Selective Obedience—doing what God wants only insofar as it does not contradict our own preferences. There are many who will honor God in certain areas of their lives, yet in some way declare other areas to be “off-limits” to the Holy Spirit. For example, there are some who never miss a Sunday service or a midweek prayer meeting, yet they persist in treating members of their families in ways that they know to be contrary to the will of God. Others, long accustomed to some habit that Scripture condemns, will persist in that habit, either because of the pleasure it affords, or in order to avoid paying the cost of breaking with it.
Partial Obedience or Tokenism—failing to follow through in doing the will of God. This is a very common failure in the Christian life. For example, a person may become aware that he has consistently slandered a fellow worker, perhaps because that co-worker has the kind of personality that drives others “up the wall.” The slanderer becomes convicted about making things right. One day he approaches the co-worker in the company lunchroom and says, “Jim, I think that you and I need to talk. Do you have some time?”
“Well, I don’t want to talk to you!” is the brusque retort.
At that point, the one who should be persevering in an attempt to make things right gives up, consoling himself by muttering under his breath, “Well, I tried.” Yes, he did try, but it was only a token effort. His purpose was not really to make things right, but to assuage his own conscience. Those who would follow God fully must want to obey fully. Tokenism will not satisfy them.
Privately Defined Obedience—calling something obedience that the wider Body of Christ recognizes to be sin. All of us in ministry—and many laypeople as well—sooner or later meet someone who is living in direct opposition to a clearly-defined New Testament adjuration. When confronted, the person responds to the exhortation by saying, “Well, I’ve prayed about this, and I have peace about doing it.” Perhaps such individuals do have peace, having anesthetized their consciences, but they certainly do not have obedience. Such persons, like the children of Israel at Kadesh-barnea, are losing a blessing and courting God’s curse as long as they persist in their self-delusion.
There is a choice to make. Which will it be? It is easy to be part of the crowd—that “Meandering Majority” who is glad to be out of slavery to sin, but not willing to pay the uncomfortable cost of inheriting the fullness of God’s promise. Today, as in Joshua and Caleb’s time, those who would follow fully are a small minority, yet it is this minority that inherits the promised blessing. It is this minority that grows old retaining a vigorous faith and confidence in God. It is this minority that merits remembering when the names of the faithless have long been forgotten.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews had a comment and warning about the sorry incident at Kadesh-barnea that we today ought to heed:
Wherefore, as the Holy Spirit saith, Today if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of trial in the wilderness, When your fathers put me to the test, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore, I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do always err in their heart, and they have not known my ways. So I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.…So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief (Hebrews 3:7-11, 19).
Another, more contemporary writer has commented on the solution to the dilemma of following Christ fully in these memorable words:
The Christian disciple will obey…the disciple’s obedience is built on a love that calls him to hear and to do what the Master asks.
Have you told God yet that you love him? Have you told him yet that you are willing to obey him? What are you waiting for?
Many will be coming to this late in life. We cannot undo our undisciplined years. We cannot give back what we have already taken, nor rebuild what our rebellion has destroyed. We cannot fully heal what we have hurt. But we can begin again now, and God wants us to. He makes possible the new beginning. He is the giver of our desire for obedience and the rewarder of our attempts at the disciplined life…”
(Roger Palms, The Pleasure of His Company: How to Be a Friend of God, Wheaton, Illinois, Tyndale Press, 1983)
Let’s go on, then. Through confident obedience, let’s do the will of God from our hearts, regardless of what those around us may say or do. So we, too, shall join the ranks of those few who, like Joshua and Caleb, constitute the “Marvelous Minority” of those who know what it is to follow the Lord fully.