Friday, March 22, 2013

Caleb, A Man Of God

In my continued reading of Joshua, I came into contact again with my namesake, Caleb the Kenizzite. I find Caleb to be one of the most interesting and awesome people that are in the Bible, perhaps I am a bit biased, but the way he lived his life is a great example to me, and to Christians in general.

In some ways his story begins long before he was born. Genesis 6:1-4, "When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.  Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown."

Not much is known about the Nephilim, other than that most of them where descended from Anak, and the where children of angels and women. The Bible tells us that they where large men, strong, and most likely powerful warriors. "Where can we go? Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear. They say, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there." -Deuteronomy 1:28. The descendants of these "heroes" would play an important role in Caleb's life.

The defining moment of Caleb's life came about when he was selected by Moses to represent the tribe of Judah in spying out the Promised Land. (Numbers 13) Moses commands the twelve spies to,"“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 in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (13:17b-20a) The spies depart on their reconnaissance mission; "So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai,the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, 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. That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land."

The spies have a successful mission and return to the Israelite camp. This is the moment when Caleb showed his true mettle in standing with his God trusting compatriot, Joshua. "They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 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. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.
 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.”
 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. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them. -Numbers 13:26-33

Joshua and Caleb would be the only two men of the unfaithful generation who had faith that God was calling them to take the Promised Land, and would protect and guide them. Not even Moses, the servant of God, would be allowed to partake of God's fulfilled promise of Canaan. "The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth,  not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.  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. Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea." Numbers 14: 20-24. In Numbers 14 God tells the people of Israel the consequences of what they have done by not listening to Joshua and Caleb. Verse 30 says,"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." 

The Israelites would wander aimlessly in the desert for 40 years following their grevious mistake, until all the men of military age had died, and a new generation of faithful men had arisen. Again in Deuteronomy 1:36-37, “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors,  except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.Now this is Caleb's #1 character quality, that he followed God wholeheartedly. The Bible mentions this fact four times or five times. He obeys the Great commandment (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.") without hesitation. Because of his wholehearted faith and trust in God, God blessed him. 

After the Israelites under Joshua crossed over the Jordan and conquered the promised land, God fulfilled the promise he had made to Caleb in Deuteronomy 1:37. "Now the people of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions,  but my fellow Israelites who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear. I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.

“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 wilderness. 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 hill country 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.”
 Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly." -Joshua 14:6-14.  Not only did God bring Caleb into the Promised Land, but he kept him in terrific health, so that when he was eighty-five years old he could still fight in battle just as well as when he left to spy out the Promise Land. Caleb had been promised the land of Hebron, the fertile mountainous region. The land, prior to the Israelite invasion, had been controlled by the descendants of Anak, the Anakites. Now the time had come for Caleb to follow God in taking over that region. "In accordance with the Lord’s command to him, Joshua gave to Caleb son of Jephunneh a portion in Judah—Kiriath Arba, that is, Hebron. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites—Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai, the sons of Anak. From there he marched against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher). And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.”  Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage." -Joshua 15: 13-17. 

Thus Caleb was rewarded for his following after God, and the second part of God's promise "I will give him and his descendants the land" is shown to come true in 1 Samuel 25:2-3, "A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite." The Bible does not mention Caleb's death, but we can assume that if by the age of 85 he was still in good health, he probably would have lived for quite some time following his war against Hebron. Although Caleb is gone now, his legacy still lives on. No matter how much time goes by his wholehearted, God-oriented, childlike faith will always be an example to me and to others who read the Bible. I pray that we all might be able to seek after our Maker with the same zeal that Caleb the Kenizzite did.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lambing Season

Rebecca's sheep recently have reached the special time of the year in which they give birth to the cutest little lambs. This year we all received a pleasant surprise in the arrival of twins, one of which is a vanilla white, even though its mother and father are both brown. I am pleased that the lambs have arrived, because so does spring! 

Friday, March 08, 2013

White As Snow

Yesterday we had (as I am sure some of you have had) a March snowstorm that lasted through the night and deposited six inches of snow on this area. The ground really looks beautiful when covered with snow, as the death and hibernation of the plants is covered with a perfect white blanket. 

Even though snow is not to common of a occurrence in the Middle Eastern areas, the Bible still mentions it twenty-three times. As the snow blots out the sickly brown grass, the blood of Jesus wipe away the the blackness of our sins.

"Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." -Psalm 51:7

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." -Isaiah 1:18 

Monday, March 04, 2013

Fighting God's Battles

Recently in skimming through the book of Joshua, a particular passage really stood out to me. It was in Chapter 5, which describes the events of the Israelites preparing spiritually for the conquest of the Promised Land. They have just crossed over the Jordan River which God had rolled back, signifying His involvement and renewing the faith of the Israelite nation. In verse 1, it reads, "Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites." The other nations had realized a frightening truth (at least for them), that this new invading force had a supernatural power guiding them. 

But God had a desire for his people to not just be physically prepared for conquest of the Promised Land, He wanted their hearts to be in the right place. Verses 2-3, "At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth." This was a renewal of their covenant with God through the rite of circumcision. It goes on to explain this renewal in verses 4-8, "Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt.  All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not.  The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way.  And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed." The unfaithful and cowardly generation had been purged by their 40 year exile in the wastelands of the Middle East. A new generation had been raised up that sought God wholeheartedly and had faith in His power. 

God now brings attention to that fact in verse 9, "Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day." The Israelites have finally put their many sins of their Exodus behind them and are now prepared to see the promise of God to Abraham fulfilled. "The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west.  All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.  I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you." -Genesis 13: 14-17.

In verses 10-12 it goes on to record "On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.  The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan." For many years  God had provided manna, a breadlike substance, dutifully, as sustenance for His people. It had appeared on the ground every morning, and was harvested by the Israelites every morning. But now, because of the Israelites arrival in the "land of milk and honey", there was no longer a need for it, as these lands were fertile and could easily supply their agrarian needs. 

Now at this part of the chapter begins the passage that impressed me. The great and debauched city of Jericho stands in front of God's people. It is their first objective in their conquest of the Promised Land, and Joshua well recognizes this, he has already sent two spies to test out the militant strength of the city, and knows with God's help it will be possible to take it. When this next part begins I imagine him strategizing with his generals, perhaps trying to find the best way to attack the city. Verse 13 begins, "Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?" The Israelites were on guard, realizing that the other nations might decide to launch an attack at them. So you can imagine when a man pops up in front of Joshua with a drawn sword, a sign of offense, that his first response was equally aggressive. Joshua desired to know if the man was a threat or an ally. Now this next verse really made me think. “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The Israelites are about to launch their biggest offensive ever, which they know will be ulitmately successful because of God's assistance to their cause. But when the man replies "neither" Joshua (and I) realized that this was man was a representative of a third party. The third party being the Army of the Lord. The man himself, was not just an angel, he is believed by many Bible scholars to be none other than the impersonifed Son of God. The Son of God had been sent to deliver a important message with a double meaning to the Israelites. The first meaning is the plans of God's perfect plan to destroy Jericho. ("Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. ave seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets.  When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.” Joshua 6:2-5) But the second meaning is even more powerful, and has many implications for us in this day. When the pre-personifed Christ says "neither" He is communicating the fact that the Israelites cannot claim God's allegiance with their cause, even if they believe they are fulfilling His promise to them. The Son of God is putting them in their place, making it crystal clear that they are to be following God's plan for them. Not making their own plans and expecting God to assist them in the fulfillment of them. God has His own side. We are to be on that side, not desire for God to come to our side and help us. When the Son of God says, "but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.", He had come to take charge, not to be ordered about. We are all familiar with the verse, "For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. -Philippians 4:13. I believe that we take this verse out of context often, in the sense that if we have a mission and desire God's help with that, we can ask to be strengthened to complete. But I believe that God wants His children in this day to follow His plans, His directives, His orders, His missions and in doing so, like the Israelites, we will be blessed and be serving God in the way He desires us to. 

The last verse (15) says, "The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so." Obedience is key in following our great God. Jeremiah 29:11 proclaims, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." My prayer is that we all might learn to follow His perfect plans for our lives, so that we might be able to say as Jesus did, "I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do." -John 17:4 

On a side note, I apologize for the low volume of posts recently, I will be trying to remedy that.