I taught my first bible lesson to adults today. It was sort of scary; I’m used to teaching 3rd graders for bible study where the most complex scriptural question is, “Mr. Mike, can I go to the restroom?” The opportunity arose to teach this week came up and (gulp) I took the bait. It’s been something I’ve been wanting to do, but there’s something intimidating about teaching bible study to 140 Christians for a half hour. I don’t know why.
The lesson was on how fear can keep up from God’s promises. Soon I marveled at the irony of God’s plan – here I am, answering the call to teach, and I’m a little fearful of the experience, and the lesson I’m going to teach is why fear is a bad thing when it comes to faith. God certainly has a sense of humor.
Once upon a time, I used to skydive. Made around 500 jumps, in fact. I remember that first day, heading out to the drop zone to get my training. The instructors spent 8 hours with me and a few others that day, teaching about how the equipment works, how to operate it, when to operate it, how to recover from a parachute malfunction, and so on. It was an intense course that taught a lot in a short period of time. Then we met our jumpmasters, received a last minute briefing, then climbed in the airplane for the ride to altitude, about 2-1/2 miles up.
As the plane lifts off, there’s a short period where a fear of heights sets in, just above the treetop level. As the ride continues, though, you can no longer make out the individual trees, and that fear fades. It doesn’t look high to you, it just looks… distant.
But when that airplane door opens and the instructor tells you it’s time to jump, there’s a new fear. Many people do not jump at this point. They freeze, paralyzed. What are they afraid of? I’ll tell you what they’re afraid of – they’re afraid the promises made to them earlier that day aren’t true. The equipment won’t work, the training was faulty, and this is generally a very stupid idea. A lack of faith.
So let me tell you a story about Caleb, a man of faith who had no fear because he trusted in the promise of God. In the beginning, God created Heaven and Earthâ€¦
Well, that’s probably going too far back. Let’s move up in time to about 1500 BC, the exodus from Egypt and the escape from Yul Brynner. Here we can see the path Moses took out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, down to Mount Sinai, then up to the Desert of Paran.
Now this desert was a fairly desolate place – hence the name “desert.”
Let’s turn to the bible, the book of Numbers.
Numbers 13: 1-2
The LORD said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.”
Notice how direct the Lordâ€™s promise is. “I am giving this land to the Israelites.” No ifs or buts, no conditions, a free gifts from God. All they have to do is claim it.
Numbers 13: 4-16
These are their names:
from the tribe of Reuben, Shammua son of Zaccur;
from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat son of Hori;
from the tribe of Judah, Caleb son of Jephunneh;
from the tribe of Issachar, Igal son of Joseph;
from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea son of Nun;
from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti son of Raphu;
from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel son of Sodi;
from the tribe of Manasseh (a tribe of Joseph), Gaddi son of Susi;
from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel son of Gemalli;
from the tribe of Asher, Sethur son of Michael;
from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi son of Vophsi;
from the tribe of Gad, Geuel son of Maki.
These are the names of the men Moses sent to explore the land. (Moses gave Hoshea son of Nun the name Joshua.)
Whoa, too many names. I want to highlight two of them though. There’s Caleb and there’s Joshua. Actually, I’m not sure why Moses gave Hoshea the name of Joshua. They sound like the same name to me. And then the Lord directed Moses to send from each ancestral tribe one of its leaders. There were twelve tribes of Israel, and each of the 12 tribes of Israel would have a representative on this mission.
Numbers 13: 17-20
When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees on it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.”
This is the reconnaissance mission. They are to observe the land and bring back a report. Sort of like before you move to a new city, you would check out the schools, the cost of living, local attractions, housing market, etc. So Moses sends the scouts into the land, and they are charged to bring back word of the landâ€™s produce, inhabitants and military strongholds.
Numbers 13: 21-25
So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin [â€¦] When they reached the Valley of Eshcol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. [â€¦] At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.
What struck me about this is… man, those are some big grapes that you have to carry it on a pole between two men. A notice how green and lush the land looks from up here. The land of Canaan is a nice dark green in this photo compared to the rocks of Paran. At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land to give their report.
They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.
â€œIt does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.â€ The spies confirm that the land God promised is indeed a good land. It is rich and abundant – just as He promised. “But” – in addition to reporting on the riches of the land, the spies begin to describe the obstacles that they will face – fortified cities and powerful people.
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
Just imagine as Caleb stands in front of all this adversity and displays a confident faith in God. He believes Israel will take the land because his faith is in Godâ€™s ability rather than the circumstances before him.
Numbers 13: 31-33
But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. [â€¦] We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
Here’s that “but” again. The other 10 spies spread stories about the land and telling the people that the land which God promised wasnâ€™t good and that they would not be able to take it. These men do not trust in Godâ€™s promises and in His ability to deliver His people. No way, those guys are monstrous.
What do you trust? Do you trust your own eyes, your own feelings? Or if youâ€™ve been given Godâ€™s promise, do you trust God? I can certainly understand why the people were afraid. Letâ€™s say youâ€™re John Ruiz of the U.S. this past December, and your opponent is Nikolai Valuev, also known as the â€œBeast from the East.â€
Nikolai Valuev is 7 feet even and weighs 323 pounds. I mean, he’s truly a giant. I mean, I’m 6′ 2″, but 7′ just towers over me. And he weighs 323 pounds, almost as much as me. If I got into the ring with him, I’d be like a grasshopper in his eyes, and worse, I’d look like a grasshopper in my own eyes, too.
Numbers 14: 1-4
That night all the people raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “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? [â€¦] Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?”
The Israelites are already defeated. In fact, rather than let the Canaanites kill them, they wish the Egyptians had killed them. What is causing Israelâ€™s emotional turmoil? Fear. Israelâ€™s fear is a result of looking at their circumstances, the obstacles in front of them instead of looking at the Lord. They are forgetting how the Lord has provided for them, delivered them and promised to give them this land. I once heard fear described as â€œfaith in the enemy.â€ That is exactly what we see here with the Israelites. They believe more in the enemyâ€™s power to defeat than the Lordâ€™s power to deliver.
Often when I find myself troubled, I find the root of the issue is fear: fear of not having; fear of rejection; fear of man; fear of the future. Sort of like the fear I have of standing here in front of you now. Yet, like the Israelites, all of these fears are in direct opposition to Godâ€™s Word.
What do our fears reveal about our faith? For the Israelites, their fears revealed that they didnâ€™t believe God, that God either was not able to keep His Word or not able to deliver them into the promised land. Their fear revealed how small their faith was in their God. Ultimately, Israelâ€™s fear is rooted in unbelief in the goodness of God. They doubt all the good promises God has given them and ultimately doubt if the Lord Himself is good.
Numbers 14: 5-9
Joshua [â€¦] and Caleb [â€¦], who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”
Caleb tries to combat the peopleâ€™s unbelief and fear with faith in the Lord. Victory does not depend on manâ€™s ability but Godâ€™s ability. Let us live by our convictions so that there will be no doubt where we stand regarding our beliefs, ideals and practices. Sometimes we’re afraid to share those convictions. I recently heard a story from a man that, instead of telling people about Jesus was content to just be a living example. You know, to let his little light shine. After a year of this, one of his co-workers came up to him and said, “you know, I’ve always thought there was something different about you, a peace and a joy. Are you a vegetarian?”
You have to have courage to tell people about why your little light is shining. Given a chance, people will attribute your peace to everything but Jesus.
â€œThe Lord is with us; do not fear them.â€ The Lord is the basis of Calebâ€™s confidence. The same God who delivered His people from slavery, parted the Red Sea, provided for their every need, and led them by cloud by day and fire by night was more than able to give them this land. Now note that Calebâ€™s confidence was in Godâ€™s Word. Faith is NOT positive thinking, nor is it optimism or looking on the bright side. Faith is acting on what God said!
So when the people heard this message from God, they immediately said, Oh, sorry, youâ€™re right. Letâ€™s pack and move to Canaan tonight!
Numbers 14: 10
But the whole assembly talked about stoning them.
Well, ok, so that was not quite their reaction. It is not uncommon to find yourself alone when following your convictions. Society may not only tell you something different, but do it forcefully. There’s not so much stoning going on today, but there’s still resistance to God’s Word.
Numbers 14: 21-24
Nevertheless, as surely as I [the Lord] live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, 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 – 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.
Needless to say, God is unhappy with the Israelites. “I gave you something simple to do, just go to Canaan and take the landâ€¦ but nooooo.” God decides to send the Israelites back to the Desert of Paran to wander.
For 40 years.
Forty years is a long time.
Now letâ€™s look at how the Lord viewed Caleb.
Numbers 14: 21-24
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.
Caleb was an exception. A different spirit who followed God wholeheartedly. And God kept his promise. Caleb is an exception and will enter the Promised Land because he believed God and followed Him fully. Caleb’s faith was in the Lord, not himself. Just as unbelief is rebellion against God, obedience is the mark that we believe God.
Letâ€™s jump ahead to Joshua 14:1-24 to see how this ends.
Joshua 14: 10-12
“Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this mountain that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”
So after 40 years, everybody that was over the age of 20, except for Caleb and Joshua, the two spies that believed in Him, are dead. But the Lord kept Caleb alive because, the Lord said Caleb has â€œa different spirit.â€ And at the ripe old age of 85, after the previous generation had died off, Caleb will enter the Promised Land. I love this part, “Now then, give me this hill mountain.” Caleb claims his inheritance based on the promises of God and still believes that God is bigger than any enemy he might face. Caleb is resting in Godâ€™s power and ability to give him his promised inheritance. And what’s inspiring is that Caleb wants that same section of land that had frightened most of the spies. This was the inheritance he had waited 45 years to obtain. Forty-five years of waiting had reached a peak. Like a promise given in 1961, and now it’s 2006. “Give me this mountain!” Which one? The one where the giants were.
Just as He did for Caleb, God has many wonderful promises and blessings for us as believers today. All that is required of us is to believe Him and have faith. THe promise from God does not contain any ifs or buts! Here are a few of these promises God has made for us:
- Godâ€™s presence! Hebrews 13:5, â€œNever will I leave you; never will I forsake you.â€
- Godâ€™s protection! Genesis 15:1, â€œI am your shield.â€
- Godâ€™s power! Isaiah 41:10, â€œI will strengthen you.â€
- Godâ€™s provision! Philippians 4:19, â€œI will supply all your needs.â€
- Godâ€™s grace! 2 Corinthians 12:9, â€œMy grace is sufficient for you.â€
- Godâ€™s rest! Matthew 11:28, â€œCome to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. â€
- Godâ€™s cleansing! 1 John 1:9, â€œIf we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.â€
- Godâ€™s goodness! Psalm 84:11, â€œNo good thing will He withhold from them that work uprightlyâ€
- Godâ€™s faithfulness! 1 Samuel 12:22, â€œThe Lord will not forsake His people for His great nameâ€™s sakeâ€
- Godâ€™s guidance! Psalm 25:9, â€œThe meek will He guide.â€
- Godâ€™s plan! Romans 8:28, â€œAnd we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.â€
The two words used most often in the bible are “fear not.” Fear not! Here are some verses God has given us to give us courage. So what are you afraid of?
- Joshua 1:9 – Be strong and courageous and act. Do not fear or be dismayed, for the Lord God goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work of the house of God is finished.
- 2 Timothy 1:7 – God did not give us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-discipline.
- Phillipians 4:13 – I can do everything God asks me to do with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.
- Luke 19:19 – Jesus said, “I give you power that is greater than all the power of your enemies.”
- What are some fears Christians have? What does fear prevent them from doing?
- How was Caleb able to be so committed? How might we be so enabled?
- How can we know the promises God has for us?
Like Caleb, if we choose to believe God, we will receive our promised inheritance when we reach the Promised Land. Many of us miss out on the amazing blessings God has planned for us because of unbelief. Caleb is an example to us of believing God and taking Him at His Word because he was determined to take the Promised Land in spite of the obstacles which stood in the Israelitesâ€™ way. He believed God was able to defeat their enemies and give them the land as an inheritance.
In fear, Israel rebelled against the Lord. An entire generation did not enter the Promised Land because they did not believe God. But the Lord promised Caleb an inheritance because he walked in faith. Caleb claimed his inheritance, the Promised Land, by trusting in God’s promises. Like Caleb, as believers in Jesus Christ, God has amazing blessings for those who believe Him. Caleb followed the Lord despite the dangers, he was willing to face the giants in the land, the anger of his people, and he was willing to take a mountain from the giants in his old age. Instead of saying look how small we are compared to the giants, Caleb said, â€œlook how small the giants are compared to God. Many will serve the Lord only when it is convenient, when it is popular, like the crowds who followed Jesus, or when it is safe, like Peter before he denied the Lord three times.
- Half-hearted Christians never learn to conquer the giants in their lives.
- Fear is faith in the enemy instead of God.
- If we put our faith in the Lord, we will receive His promises. God has a Promised Land and amazing blessings for those who believe in Him.
And… I’m done. Whew.