Hebrews 11 must be one of the most famous chapters in the New Testament. It’s commonly called the faith chapter. Because in this chapter, the writer of the book of Hebrews gives a series of short potted histories – almost a series of headlines – about men and women of OT times who showed by their lives, and the experiences they went through that their faith in God was a very real and living thing. Almost you could say faith made tangible and very practical by the examples of the people listed

Heb 11:1-2 (NKJV)

1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.

That’s from the New King James (which I’ll be using today) but I also find the way the Revised Standard Version translates these verses to be helpful.

Heb 11:1-2 (RSV)

1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

2 For by it the men of old received divine approval.

Now the rest of chapter 11 is more or less an elaboration of those first two verses. They are a succession of, if you like, “good reports” about men and women who showed by their lives that they were convicted of things as yet unseen.

Let’s notice a few of the names. There’s Abel (verse.4), Enoch (v.5), Noah (v.7), Abraham (v.8). Down in verse 23 Moses. By the time we get down to verse 32, I counted about 15 or 16 of them although your ability to count may be better than mine!

32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:

33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

38 …..they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

Now, I don’t think that the writer of Hebrews intended chapter 11 to be a complete and definite list of all people in the Old Testament who had faith. And I think you can see this quite clearly in verse 32 where the writer seem to realise that he’s spent enough time on this particular topic, throws in a few more names for good measure, mentions the prophets as a category (but not their individual names) and says that “time would fail me” to go into more details. He’s given us some examples of the type of people he has in mind, but leaves us in effect to fill in the gaps ourselves.

So I am going to talk about someone whose name is not mentioned at all in Hebrews 11, but whose life I think without any shadow of a doubt entitles him to be included in that chapter. He is one of the missing names - if you like an honoury member of Hebrews 11.

Now the story of Israel in the wilderness and it’s subsequent entry into the promised land is one that many Christians would be familiar with. And it is actually quite a well-known story even among people who are not Christians. I remember many years ago going to see the film “The Ten Commandments”. A good old traditional Hollywood epic with state of the art special effects - for the 1950s anyway - and a cast of thousands. They don’t make them like that any more!

And, of course, it never does us any harm to review something that we are familiar with. However we can approach the story in a number of difference ways. One way is simply to recount the facts about Israel’s time in the wilderness and their subsequent conquest in of the promised land as though it was more or less just a piece of history, in the same way that we might learn about history at school. And that’s a valid way of looking at it.

But I think that God would really like us to do more than just look at it as a piece of history. The Old Testament Israelites are long since dead and buried. What he really wants is for us to learn the lessons of their history that will benefit us.

You can see this from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

1 Cor 10:1-6 (NKJV)

1 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. 5 But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.

1 Cor 10:11 (NKJV)

11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Now the story of Israel in the wilderness and it’s subsequent entry into the promised land is a very long one, and it’s not possible in a reasonably short sermon to go into much detail. So the approach I've adopted today to look very briefly at Israel's time in the wilderness and its entry into the promised land through the eyes and personal experience of one particular individual to see some lessons we can learn that would be helpful to us as Christians today.

So to start, let’s turn back to the Book of Numbers chapter 13.

At the beginning of chapter 13 we find that the Israelites, having left Egypt and gone through the Red Sea maybe about a year to eighteen months before, are in the wilderness making progress towards their destination of the land of Canaan.

By now, they have arrived at a place called Kadesh Barnea. (You can see this from the parallel account in Deut 1.) I recently looked at a map of the area in a Bible reference work to see where Kadesh Barnea actually was and I was amazed how close they were to the promised land. I knew that they weren’t that far away, but when you look at it on a map it hit me that the Israelites had arrived at what was virtually a kind of frontier post. More or less on the border of the promised land itself. They could virtually have put their foot across the border and been there already.

The first thing that happens is that the Israelites decide to send out an advance party to spy out the land.

Now Num 13:1 does say “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 "Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel… "

Now, although this give the impression that the initiative for the mission of the spies came from God, if you look at Deut 1:22-23 you can see that the initiative for the mission in fact came from the people.

22 "And everyone of you came near to me [this is Moses speaking] and said, 'Let us send men before us, and let them search out the land for us, and bring back word to us of the way by which we should go up, and of the cities into which we shall come.'

Sounds pretty innocent, doesn’t it? And Moses doesn’t see a problem with that.

23 "The plan pleased me well; so I took twelve of your men, one man from each tribe.

So what happened is that after the people decide that that is what they wanted, God allowed the spy mission, in response to their request, but commanded that it should be done in an orderly way.

Between verses 4 and 13 there is a list of the names of all the people involved. They’re all prominent people in the individual tribes of Israel. However, in verse 6 we see the first mention of someone we're going to hear more about during this sermon, which is

Num 13:6 Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh.

Now we don’t actually know an enormous amount about Caleb. However, we do know that by the time we come across him in Number 13 Caleb was already 40 years old (you can see this from Joshua 14:10). So, what had Caleb been doing for most of those previous 40 years? Well, he was a slave of the Egyptians of course, like the rest of the Israelites, and he would have lived the kind of life that slaves normally had in that kind of society, which was harsh, unpleasant and probably fairly short. Caleb really did not have any prospects in life to look forward to.

Does that ring any bells with us brethren? When I read this it reminds me of

1 Cor 1:26-29

26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.

“Base and despised”? I think that is a pretty good description of a slave. When you are a slave you really don’t have many prospects in life. How many prospects did we have brethren before God called us? We weren’t slaves in a literal Egypt. But we were slaves to sin, and our future was only death . The good news for us is that when God calls us he takes us out of a position where we had no hope to one in which we have an eternal hope, and one in which he takes us out of our position of spiritual bondage to spiritual freedom.

Back to Num 13. In verse 17 onwards we see Moses commissioning the spies to search the land and report back. Which is what they do beginning in verse 21.

Num 13: 21 So they went up, and searched the land from the wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath.

Num 13:26-29

26 Now they departed and came back to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 Then they told him, and said: "We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there.

And in verse 29 he lists all the different nations.

It’s noticeable that this report causes an immediate negative reaction among the Israelites. And now we see Caleb getting involved for the first time.

30 Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, "Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it."

Now I think, to some extent, Moses has been caught napping here. But in fairness to him, he wasn’t expecting this problem, because the spies were simply asked to survey the land - they were not asked for their opinion about whether or not Israel should actually go there, which God had already commanded them to do. So notice how Caleb takes the initiative here. He spots that the report of the spies is beginning to cause a problem and tries to nip it in the bud. He doesn’t wait for Moses to become involved - he takes responsibility himself, quite legitimately because he is one of the spies.

31 But the men who had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we." 32 And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, "The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. 33 There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight."

Num 14: 1 And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. 2 And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! 3 And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt? 4 And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.

I find the reaction of the Israelites quite astounding. There is an enormous outpouring of emotion. It’s like the release of some kind of inward pressure. Rather like when you open a can of a fizzy drink of some kind and the contents suddenly spurt all over you. It’s fairly obvious that some kind of emotional mood or attitude has been bottled up inside the Israelites and, suddenly, it’s released and comes to the surface. And I am also sure that it has suddenly become horribly clear to Moses as to what the Israelites’ motives really were when they asked for the spies to be sent into the promised land in the first place.

Now anyone who takes the time to think about the spies’ report should be able to see that there might some contradictions in what is being said. On the one hand the spies say that the land is a land of milk and honey, and that the inhabitants live in very large cities. On the other hand it is supposed to be a land that “devours its inhabitants”. One obvious point is that if the land devours its inhabitants, then surely they shouldn’t need large cities to live in - should they?

But the Israelites don’t think about that one. They immediately fall for the spies story “hook, line and sinker”. Why was this? The fundamental reason for the Israelite’s reaction is that the spies have told them what they wanted to hear. They haven’t really been persuaded by the spies story of disbelief - they disbelieved all along. And now they have found someone to tell them what they want to hear.

All of us have a tendency to listen to the people who tell us what we want to hear, and blot out those people who say things we don’t want to hear. In the field of politics, politicians long since learnt that, if you tell the public what they want to hear, they are liable to vote for you. And that human tendency can act as a barrier to us listening to the word of God if it conflicts with our previous opinions or preconceptions.

I remember somebody once saying that a person’s choice of who he listens to is one of the most important decisions he can make. A very profound comment I think, which reminds me of Adam and Eve’s own choice back in the garden of Eden. Christ himself warned his followers to be careful how they heard.

Luke 8:18 (NKJV)

18 "Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him."

Israel are not being careful how they hear, so what they “seem to have” - which in their case is the promised land - is about to be taken away from them.

What does God expect Christians to do? The Biblical pattern is that we should listen with a ready mind, but prove what has been said.

Acts 17:10-12

10 Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

12 Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.

The Israelites did not listen with a ready mind, and did not prove what had been said – they just believed what they wanted to hear.

Back to Numbers 14.

Joshua and Caleb make a last ditch attempt to change the Israelites mind.

Num 14:6-9 (NKJV)

6 But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; 7 and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: "The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. 8 If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, 'a land which flows with milk and honey.' 9 Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them

Joshua and Caleb had seen the same things in Canaan as the other spies. But their mindsets were different. The other spies saw only the difficulties. They saw how big the giants were, and bigger than they were – they exaggerated the difficulties. Joshua and Caleb saw how big God was.

But their plea doesn’t make any difference to the Israelites.

Verse 10 But all the congregation bade stone them with stones.

God now intervenes, and threatens to destroy the whole nation. Moses prays for the people (verses 13 – 19). God pardons but also passes judgement on the Israelites by condemning them to stay in the wilderness for 40 years and to die there. (verses 32 – 34)

But notice verse 24

24 but my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and has followed me fully, him will I bring into the land into which he went; and his seed shall possess it.

I don't know if you have ever had the experience when reading a passage of scripture that some verse, or phrase or even word suddenly seems to leap out of the page at you. Almost as if the passage in question is underlined, written in bold letters and is almost jumping up and down shouting “look at me, look at me, I've got a message for you”. Well, verse 24 is a verse which has such an effect on me, and the word which jumps out of the page at me is the word "fully".

Now I think that is a tremendous complement to Caleb that God could say such a thing.

But it made me think: what about me? In fact, what about all of us?

I think this is a tough one to answer, because sometimes there is a tension between what we know we really ought to be able to say – which is that, of course, we follow God fully - and what perhaps sometimes what happens in reality. Because the reality is that our aspirations don’t always match our actual performance.

When the Bible says that Caleb followed God fully, what does it mean? Does it mean that Caleb never sinned, for example? What was the difference really between him and the rest of the Israelites?

Caleb had faith in God, and his works showed that. The Israelites did not have faith in God, and their works also showed that. The difference between Caleb and the Israelites was the difference between faith, and lack of faith.

Faith is about putting your trust in God instead of in yourself – God-reliance instead of self-reliance. It’s a change in how you think. It’s a change of perspective, from seeing ourselves as the centre of our world, to seeing God as the centre. It’s about our intentions, our hopes and our aspirations. It may not always be about our performance. God in his mercy takes note of our real motives and intent, and covers the rest with the blood of Christ.

Given that the Israelites had only been in the wilderness at that point for about a year or 18 months, they had to spend about 38 to 39 long years in the desert during which of course they all died. It was their punishment for not believing God. It is perhaps possible to overestimate the punishment angle, because its worth remembering that during this time God never left them. They had the pillar of cloud by day (and of course fire by night) that led the Israelites to the specific places God wanted them to be. And of course they had the tabernacle which was the means by which the Israelites could formally approach God. God provided them with manna everyday, so they didn't starve which was more than probably could be said for some other nations at the time. So God continued to care for them. But, they were in the desert, following their flocks and herds and living a pretty mundane life.

The punishment for Israel was really lack of opportunity. Being in the wilderness, when they could have been in the promised land.

But, imagine what it was like for Caleb. I could imagine that it would have been an absolutely shattering disappointment for him. Just think. He believed that he (along all the other Israelites) was on the brink of a new and happy life in prosperity and freedom, in a place where God wants them to be. Furthermore he has been give the privilege of going on ahead to look at it. And not merely that, he has for 40 days actually been in the promised land. And then, in the space of probably less time that it takes for us to tell it, it all falls apart.

I think that would have been very discouraging for Caleb, and very hard to take. Initially, to compare it with a modern situation, it must have felt like the prospect of a 40 year prison sentence.

I would suggest we as Christians probably have all gone through or are going through what you might call “wilderness” situations. I'm reluctant to offer any particular examples in case anybody thinks that I am referring to them specifically. But, I suspect that all of us individually can think back to times that were very difficult for us, and hard to live through. I know I can. And some of us may not have to think back very far, because we are going through such times right now.

And we are in good company because there are plenty of examples in the Bible of other people who went through similar experiences. A couple of examples (no need to turn there).

You remember the prophet Elijah after the incident with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, how he ran for his life when he was threatened with death by Jezebel took a journey into the desert, sat down under a tree and wished that he might die. That's in I Kings 19:4.

The apostle Paul recounted in I Cor 7:5 For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without [were] fightings, within [were] fears.

However, when we get discouraged it is often because at that particular moment we are looking at what is seen, and the here and now. Rather than the things that are unseen, and are in the future

I think I should interject here to say that I am not talking about clinical depression. That is a medical condition for which professional help is needed and about which I certainly can't express any opinions.

But how do you deal with discouragement? I think it's clear that one answer is through faith. All of the people in Heb 11 (and Caleb himself), had the ability to see through the eyes of faith things that were unseen, because they were yet future.

Heb 11:

24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; 25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. 27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.

Col 3

1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, [who is] our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.

These are scriptures which are very easy to read – but much more difficult to apply.

I read the story of a man who was asked what was his favourite Bible verse. And he said that it was: "It came to pass." I suspect there are quite a few verses which say that, especially in the old King James (Authorised) Version! So people were naturally a bit puzzled, and when they asked him what he meant he said, "When I get into any trouble and my problems pile up, I look at my verse and I know my troubles have not come to stay; they have come to pass." In other words he knew that his problems would one day pass away and be no more.

I think there is a lot of wisdom in that comment. We all I suspect at some point complain about the present – I know I do. But do we also remember to rejoice in the future?

Well, and this point let's press the fast forward button and go forward into Caleb's own future after the Israelites finally did enter into the promised land.

We catch up with him again in Joshua14:

6 Then the children of Judah came to Joshua in Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him: "You know the word which the LORD said to Moses the man of God concerning you and me in Kadesh Barnea.

7 "I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was in my heart.

8 "Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I wholly followed the LORD my God.

9 "So Moses swore on that day, saying, 'Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children's forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.'

Notice again the phrase “wholly followed” the Lord my God.

10 "And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old.

11 "As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in.

God had kept Caleb alive in order to fulfil his promise to him. Of course, it's not necessarily a promise to us that we are going to live to a ripe old age! But, it is a reminder that however old we get, we never retire from being a Christian.

12 "Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said."

You may get the impression from the first half of verse 12 that the Anakim – who were the giants that the spies had come across 40 years previously – were no longer around. But I think that Caleb is speaking about what he had found 40 years previously. You can see that 40 years later the giants are still around because in second half of the verse Caleb says “It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be [future tense] able to drive them out as the LORD said."

Now I think this is a very interesting verse. I doubt if anyone among the Israelites would have blamed Caleb if, after all the years of waiting, he had said, “look, I'm 85 now - getting on in years. Too old to battle with anybody now. Time to put my feet up now, build a nice retirement home in some sleepy valley, and sit out on the veranda in my rocking chair rocking to and fro waiting to die. Instead, he chooses the most challenging assignment he possibly can. Instead of the sleepy valley he asks for a mountain and, by the way, the mountain is inhabited by giants!

This is, I think, another example of Caleb's desire to follow God fully. Instead of doing the least he can for God, he wants to do the most he can.

How about us? I think it’s worth asking the question. Are we inhabiting some kind of spiritual “sleepy valley” where we do as little as we can – just the bare minimum that we hope that God will accept. Or are there some personal spiritual mountains we could occupy if we really wanted to? Worth thinking about.

We don’t know how long Caleb lived in the promised land before he died. So the summary of his life is that he lived as a slave in Egypt for 40 years. Then that he lived in the wilderness for another 40 years. And then that he lived for indeterminate length of time in the promised land, and some of that was taken up by fighting to occupy the land.

Caleb really had quite a hard life. He didn’t ask to be born and live as a slave. He didn’t ask to have to live in the wilderness for another 40 years because of the decisions of others. And I suspect he might have preferred not to fight his battles in the promised land.

I think the lesson for us today is that life will not necessarily contain everything we want it to. In fact, I strongly suspect that if you asked any person in this room today, you would find somewhere - if they were prepared to tell you – that life contains some things that they would prefer it did not, and does not include some things they would prefer it did. It’s true for me. I suspect that’s its true for every Christian.

We remember that Christ said in John 16:33

33 "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

Paul said in Acts 14:22

22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God."

Unfortunately, we can - subconsciously - all too easily buy into the western cultural myth that life is perfectible and there are people out there who “have it all”. You see this in the media all the time. They hold up some celebrity or other in front of you who, you are assured, “has it all”. But, if they are the kind of people that the media follow over a period of time, pretty well without fail you discover, some months or years down the line, that they didn’t “have it all” after all. And eventually, and that is without fail, they don’t even have life itself.

What really matters to us as Christians is not the physical circumstances of this life, but how we deal with it. Whether we live by faith or by sight. The Israelites lived by sight and the result was that they died in the wilderness. Caleb lived by faith and God in due time brought him into his promised land.

We, like Caleb, may enjoy some of the physical blessing of the promised land in this life, or we may not. But whether we do or whether we don’t, lets remember that what God has in store for us exceeds anything this life has to offer.

As it says in Hebrews 11:40 God has provided “something better for us”.

In conclusion, I think the lesson of Caleb's life is that God always rewards those who have faith in him, and is with us in the bad time and the good times; in times of trial and times of opportunity and fruitfulness. Let's make the most of the times he gives us, whatever they are.

Peter Howick