Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
After escaping from Pharaoh and crossing the desert, the Israelites found themselves nearly at the land promised to them by God. However, before the entire nation of Israel crossed into the land of Canaan, they spied it out (since they were commanded to displace its current occupants). Numbers 13:17-20 explains what exactly the spies were supposed to do,
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.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)
And so from the ranks of Israel, twelve spies were sent out, one from each tribe (well, technically two were from Joseph and none were from Levi but that is neither here or there for today’s topic). Scripture records in Numbers 13:21-22 where they adventured,
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.)
While I was reading this for myself, the Holy Spirit called out Hebron for me to pay particular attention to. I hadn’t really given it much thought on other read-throughs, but it’ll come back later. For now though, take notice of a neat fact that most of us skip over: Egypt was one of the oldest and greatest nations built and Hebron happened to have been built a little before the main part of Egypt, so just like Egypt, it had been around for quite a while.
Anyway, the spies came back with all the information they had gathered. We read,
They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to 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” (Numbers 13:26-27).
The land was totally awesome. And the fruit? Oh boy, check this out, “When they reached the Valley of Eshchol, they cut off a branch baring a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs” (Numbers 13:23). Just one cluster of grapes was so big that two men had to carry it. The hill country of Canaan was ridiculously plentiful. It was everything that God had promised when he said,
And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites- a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:17).
Needless to say, the people were very happy…until the report continued in Numbers 13:28, “But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there.” I suppose it makes sense, if the food is large and bountiful, the people probably should be large too. They make special note of the descendants of Anak (who as we read lived mostly around Hebron). For some reason or another, the Anakites were all big strong people, taller and all around larger than anyone else. They even try to connect these huge people to the supernatural. Numbers 13:33 records, “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.” Who are the Nephilim? To find that out we have to go back to before God wiped out most of the life on earth through a giant flood. See, there was a growing problem (aside from sin) which was that the human bloodlines were getting mixed up with heavenly beings, creating a super-race of sorts. The Bible explains,
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days- and also afterward- when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown (Genesis 6:4).
Not a whole lot is known about these people except for Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33. But it would seem that although the original Nephilim were wiped out by the flood, afterward another small patch cropped up (though apparently was discontinued by the Lord) and grew into the people of Anak. Either way, we’ve got a sort of leftover race of giants with huge fortified cities in the hill country of Canaan (most notably in Hebron, an old and great city).
Now anyone who’s gone to church for a year or two knows what happened next, the spies were terrified by what they saw and tried to dissuade their brothers from entering the Promised Land. Therefore we read,
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 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” (Numbers 13:31-32).
Most of the people felt that the commanded invasion of the land was a death sentence. Here the Israelites were tired; weak; and trained as slaves, not soldiers. Whereas the men of the hill country and Hebron were huge, built for combat, and protected by huge ancient walls. However, two of the spies still thought it was possible to take the land. One of them, Caleb was particularly outspoken about it, “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’” (Numbers 13:30). How was Caleb so confident? I mean, we just read, the odds were totally against the Israelites, so how could he stand up and proclaim that they’d take the land? Well, for starters, it was already promised them. Actually, God didn’t have them spy the land to figure out if taking the land was a good idea or not, they were sent to see how they’d do it, what they’d be up against, and what they’d gain. Before they even left camp we read in 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 me one of its leaders.’” God didn’t say maybe, he said that the land was for them, so presumably Caleb still had that mindset. Caleb also understood though that God was all-powerful and could help his people with anything. In fact, even before all of this, the Lord had been pressing on Moses his ability to handle everything for the Israelites. We read in Numbers 11:23, “The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.’” Surely Caleb knew about all of this because when the Israelites decided to not enter the Promised Land, Caleb and the other spy with him, Joshua, freaked out. The Bible tells us,
Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, 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, and 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” (Numbers 14:6-9).
Caleb and Joshua had complete faith that God would help them, no matter how much the odds were stacked against the people. It was their land and God would deliver on his promises. However, the rest of the camp disagreed and since Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb were tied to the other Israelites, they couldn’t enter into the Promised Land. God was not happy. And so the Lord pronounced a curse on the people. We can read about it in Psalm 95:10-11,
For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,
And they have not known my ways.”
So I declared on oath in my anger,
“They shall never enter my rest.”
The Lord said that since the people were too afraid to enter the Promised Land, then they never would (that generation anyway). However, Caleb and Joshua were not held guilty by association, and God blessed them: “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” (Numbers 14:24).
Alright, time for fast forward. Over the next forty years everyone of that generation died in the desert (including Moses and Aaron since they made God angry in a different situation) except for Caleb and Joshua. Joshua was now in charge of the next generation and Caleb was an old man who had spent the last forty years training for war. The Israelites (now confident, trained, and sick of living in the desert) took the land of Canaan by force and God drove out all their enemies. They took the whole land. …Well, except hardest lands to take, including that first city, Hebron. Most people were happy with the land they had acquired and were settling down. Most people were not Caleb. The Bible records,
Now the men 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 brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with 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’” (Joshua 14:6-9).
Caleb lived through forty years of watching his peers die in the desert, and all the time he was holding on to the promise that God made to him. Hebron and its surrounding area were his. So when the Israelites were settling the land before Hebron had been taken, Caleb wasn’t ready to give up on the dream. Therefore, he reminded Joshua of his claim on the land. However, before Joshua could get the people back into organization for war to help him, Caleb continued,
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 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” (Joshua 14:10-12).
I love this. After holding on to his promise from God for forty years in the desert and five years of war in Canaan, Caleb, old man that he was, would not be kept from his Promised Land. He finished his speech with, “I’ll take the land myself if I have to, and you’ll see that God will bless me and do it for me!” Joshua had no argument obviously (since he was the only person who agreed with Caleb forty-five years prior. Therefore we read in Joshua 14:13, “Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance.” There’s no attempt to dissuade him, no giving of supplies or men. The Bible just says that Joshua blessed him and said he could take the land. AND THE OLD MAN DID. The very next verse (Joshua 14:14) we learn, “So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kennizite ever since, because he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly.” After forty-five years, Caleb took the biggest, scariest, and best part of Canaan because he believed that God would do everything he promised.
Alright, what are we supposed to get out of all this? While I was reading in Numbers, the Holy Spirit reminded me that even if the road is long and doesn’t go the way we would like it to, we should never lose heart. God will give what he has promised to those who are with him in Christ Jesus. You might have a long and terrible walk through the desert- and not even of your own fault (Caleb and Joshua wanted to take the land the first time), but God will be faithful to his promises. Never give up your faith, just keep fighting and training, and hold onto his Word. When you were saved by the blood of Jesus through his atoning sacrifice, you received the promise of eternal life. Not only that, but you also can expect treasures in heaven. And on top of that you have the promise that the Lord is with you every step of the way until you get there. Trust in our Lord Jesus, he’ll get you where you need to go. Even if you’re not seeing fruit now in the desert, it will come, and the longer and harder the path, the greater the fruit at the end will be (remember, Hebron had the super-sized grapes). So when the obstacles in front of you look insurmountable, you stand up on your couch and silence the people (or do it by yourself so that people don’t think you’re crazy) and say, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it!” Remember along your walk the words of Paul in Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” And who is our strength? The Lord and his son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit. God is with you. His arm is never too short to save, nor his power weaker than anything we’ll ever encounter. Trust God, and take the biggest, the scariest, and the best!
“To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
-Paul (Philippians 4:20)