And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding 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 him not.–Numbers xiv. 7-9.
THE Israelites had passed from Sinai, where they had made a long sojourn, and advanced into the wilderness of Paran. When the first enthusiasm of their deliverance was over they had passed through strange experiences. They had suffered themselves to fall into doubts and rebellions. They murmured at times against their food, and loathed the manna. They had become seditious, objecting to Moses and Aaron, as taking too much upon them: not considering that order requires subordination, and some must necessarily occupy the chief, and others the inferior position, for the good of the whole. And, where humility is in the heart, the greatest ruler may be the meekest man. Where each takes the position for which Divine Providence has fitted him, from a sincere allegiance to truth and goodness, it is not the man who rules, but the Lord through the man.
These checkered states brought checkered joys and sorrows. At times they began to doubt whether the Promised Land was, after all, worth the labor and the trials they had to endure in this long journey, and its various hardships. To meet their state of despondency, and to rouse their hopes, Moses selected twelve chief men, one from each tribe, and ordered them to go and explore, and bring back a faithful report. The explorers went forth and saw the Land of Canaan; they were away forty days, and observed much of the southern portion of the land. It was the time of the first ripe grapes. They saw the glorious mountains of Judah. They went as far as Hebron, the old home of Abraham and Sarah; and as they returned from the magnificent hills and fertile vales, they cut down a bunch of grapes, so large as to need a staff borne by two men to carry it.
They brought also excellent pomegranates and figs.
So far as the land was concerned they all agreed that it was indeed a noble country. In other respects they exemplified the observation that in this world as well as in the next each person sees what he is adapted to see. The timid saw difficulties, enemies, and giants; they trembled at the dangers to be encountered; they shuddered at the walled towns, and the men of great stature: while the valiant Joshua and the courageous Caleb cared little for the obstacles, for God was with them. Their exhortation was, Let us go up at once and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.
The distrustful and fearful Spies dwelt so much upon the terrors, partly of the real dangers and partly the exaggerated horrors of their excited and alarmed imaginations, that they carried almost the whole people with them, and spread through the best a chilling discouragement and deep despair.
If it had not been for the firmness of Moses and Aaron, and the two brave men who faced the excited people, and roused them with generous energy to be ashamed of their false fears and to rouse up to noble sentiments, the whole people would have perished. They were bent on going back to certain ruin. Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt, they said, insanely determined to let their prospective difficulties overcome all their experience of Divine guardianship of days gone by, and the living protection they enjoyed every hour from the present and all-seeing God, whose pillar of fire was with them every night, and the pillar of cloud every day.
Let us bring these circumstances livingly before us. The excited people, in a tumult of grief and discouragement, ready to stone their best friends; Moses and Aaron prostrate with shame; the desert around, the sacred enterprise half completed, and for wane of manly firmness about to be completely ruined; and then see the excitement quelled and the danger averted by the two brave servants of God, who stood forth and uttered the noble, indignant, and grand words of our text, The land which we passed through to search it is an exceeding good land. If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us: a land flowing 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.
One can hardly contemplate this whole exciting scene without being astonished at the blindness of mortals in days gone by: and we are apt to assume that we have a, right to condemn such folly as quite beyond any reasonable excuse. We are satisfied, thankless as we often are, we should not have been so faithless, so ungrateful for mercies past, and so wanting in confidence in the divine promises and protection as these unhappy Israelites. Yet, let us not be too confident. The Church of the past is a type of the Church of the future. The law was a shadow of good things (and a manifestation of evil things) to come.
We must never forget that we cannot be made heavenly all at once. Between Egypt and Canaan there is a long and checkered journey to be effected spiritually, as well as there was one naturally in the days of Moses.
The events which took place with the sons of Jacob are just the picture which the Divine Word holds up to us of states to be realized in the experience of today. Let us ponder over this chart of our spiritual life, that we may walk wisely in a perfect way, and be of those concerning whom it is written, He that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God.
Our experience has, no doubt, corresponded to that of the Israelites, in discovering more difficulties in our way to the land of Canaan we seek than we expected.
We have been discouraged at times; troubled at things around us, troubled with things within us. We had hoped we should have attained a state of serene peace before this time; and although we have won many a victory, and rejoiced on many a happy day, yet there have been periods of weakness which have humbled us to the dust. We have been obliged to confess that our supposed strength has not preserved us from bitterness, when we have been annoyed from slips of temper under provocation; and from defects in word and work, at which we feel greatly humbled and abased. Canaan lies before us, but at a great distance. The thought comes home with a sigh, Shall we ever reach it? Is it indeed worth all this labor, all this endurance? Is not peace a long time in coming? Will it ever come?
We are prompted by the Divine Word within, our Moses, to send Spies forward. We have thrown our contemplations forward. The observations which are made respecting states which lie before us, but which are not yet realized, are the observations of Spies.
He who has fully made heavenly states his own has become a citizen of the heavenly Canaan. Those blessed principles which the Lord implants in the inmost nature of children, and which give them the capacity of becoming angels, are natives of heaven, of such is the kingdom of God.
But as to the lower part of our nature, the natural man, when the work of reformation and regeneration commences, there is a calling up of sentiments, ideas, and impulses, which have been in captivity there, and which have to be transferred from the memory and lower regions of the mind into the heart and the inner man. This great emigration has to be effected by changes which were prefigured by all that happened to Israel.
There are apparent pauses in this great work. There are periods of disheartenment, times of spiritual dryness and cold. And then it is needful to send Spies forward to animate our flagging courage by a knowledge of the blessings which are to be attained, and lie in the certain future. We send our minds forward in meditation, and ponder on the blessed things of heaven. We have the means in ourselves, and by the Word, of exhibiting to ourselves all the riches of heaven.
Within the hearts of all men lie
These promises of future bliss,
Which blossom into hopes that cannot die
In sunny hours like this.
All that hath been majestical
In life or death since time began
Is native in the simple heart of all,
The angel-heart of man.
The Spies were twelve, one from each tribe, representing every department of religious life and thought. Moses directed them to go southward, and to ascend into the mountainous region of Judah, which lay before them (Num. xiii. 17). This going southward and up into the mountain corresponds, in spiritual language, to entering into the light of heavenly intelligence, and into celestial love; the south where the sun is at midday corresponding to the full light of intelligence in the soul; and the mountain to a high state of love.
The season of the exploration is said to have been the time of the first ripe grapes, and it represented for us the period when spiritual life had matured some virtues of real Christian faith. Some branches of the holy vines had begun to bear. Some holy states of worship had been fully realized. Some purposes, and aims, and efforts, had been really accomplished, and made us feel how happy we should be if it were always so. It is the time of the first ripe grapes.
The Spies penetrated to Hebron, the old capital of the country, the land where Abraham dwelt, the center of ancient devotion, wisdom, and worship.
They came to the brook Eshcol, named so from the surprising bunch of grapes which was there obtained. They searched the land for forty days, and returned to Moses and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. But they had also another report to give. They saw great difficulties. The people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover, we saw the children of Anak there. There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.–Num. xiii. 33. How descriptive is all this of those internal self-revealings which come to all Christians at certain portions of their spiritual journey.
They admit that heaven is a beautiful and blessed state. The joys of its goodness and truth, the milk and honey of the land are rich and ineffable. The virtues of heaven are full of grace and glory, these are the fruits of it. Heaven in the abstract, goodness in the abstract, a state in which every motive and impulse spring from love to God and man, a state in which every energy shall be the operation of doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God, is the object of every sincere disciple of the Lord. But there are the difficulties. There are the lowlanders, the Canaanites, which dwell by the sea; and the highlanders, the Amorites, which dwell in the mountains.
There are numerous habits of everyday life which are opposed to our progress in divine things. We are constantly shewing a multitude of small faults in our intercourse with others, which are not in harmony with entire heavenly-mindedness, these are the inner lowlanders which dwell by the sea. Then, supposing these to be overcome, what a number of Amorites there are which dwell in the mountains-dispositions to idolize our family, our class, our country, our prejudices, our customs. There are strong interior attachments to evil in a thousand forms which pervade our inner life, dwelling on the mountains of our being and forming inner secret repugnancies to an entrance of the kingdom of the Lord into the soul. Then there are Hittites and Jebusites; things partly good and partly bad, expediencies, accommodations, condescensions, doing as other people do, so far as indispensable conformity requires, and yet things not to be justified at the bar of real righteousness. All these constitute spiritual wickednesses against which we have to wrestle. And some of them are terrible giants. There is the great giant of self-love, that terrible Anak, the father of a monstrous brood, and one who never dies but after many a severe campaign and awful struggle.
Then there are the great giants which come of this giant hereditarily–self -will, pride, and lusts of various kinds, which have grown up by indulgence until they shadow over our whole mind and life. There is the giant ignorance, the giant superstition, and a great ponderous creature, the giant apathy. Alas, we seem grasshoppers compared with these terrible phantoms which darken our way and threaten us. Our hearts fail within us, and we exclaim like the frightened Israelites, We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. And so long as this dismay, this unfortunate persuasion is with us, we are paralyzed. We even begin to look back, and talk of going again to Egypt. Let us, however, hear what those two noble souls, Caleb and Joshua, say, who uttered, by Divine Inspiration, the words of our text, which they addressed to all the company of the children of Israel. The land which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding 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.
Two leading points were expressed in these earnest words: the beauty and richness of the country they had seen, its value being worth all the hopes and efforts of the people; and secondly, that they were not left to themselves; the Lord was with them, and had promised to give them the land for a possession, if they were faithful, obedient, and persevering. How true are these two assurances at the present day, when made to the disheartened pilgrim. The land which we go to possess is an exceedingly good land. It is the land of love, wisdom, order, joy, and peace.
Heaven is the land of conjunction with the Lord, and a constant reception from Him of the power of loving Him in return. It is the state of loving all that is His, in heaven and earth. It is a land of interior joys and of outward delights, by human language inexpressible in their fullness and extent. It is the land of high motives, of holiest sympathies, of sweet perennial desires to bless. It is a land where love and wisdom are effigied and portrayed in everything. It is the land of fountains of life, of rivers of life, of trees of life–that is, of love.
It is the land of Holy Wisdom, where each angel not only receives much wisdom from the Lord, because his love of wisdom gives him a great capacity to receive, but where communication of thought as well as outward expression, and the representation in every object around, of whatever is the object of thought, make the conveyance of wisdom from one to another far more perfect than earth can ever know.
Then all desire good to their fellow-angels: none envy, none trouble, or distress the rest: but each one increases the general bliss, by the reception from the Lord of peculiar gifts and talents, some great and some small, but according to all the requirements of order, and using these for the good of all the rest.
There is fullness of joy there. The plastic nature of spiritual substances, and the orderly character of angelic minds, produced by regeneration, make the circumstances around them full of order, full of harmony, life, and grace; their forms, their dresses, their houses, their paradises, their objects of every kind are most lovely. All these things are faintly and feeble, possessed by the good here, but in heaven they are wrought out to perfection. It is an exceedingly good land.
If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us. That is, if we are obedient, so that the Divine Love can carry out its own gracious purposes in our creation. The Divine Joy is felt in us, when we obey the precepts of His Word. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and your joy might be full.–John xv. 11.
If we obey the Lords words, then, without doubt, He will carry out His gracious ends and bring us into a state of heavenly order within, and finally into heaven. Has He not said, O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea. If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it us. Only rebel not ye against the Lord.
Fear ye not the people of the land; for they are bread for us. How unnecessary it was for the Israelites, so long as they were true to their call and mission, to fear the corrupt and effete nations of Palestine, their history fully shewed. It is equally so with us. Our evils are strong when we are half-hearted. When we are resolute to live for heaven, lovingly trusting in the Lord, the formidable character of our lusts and passions falls away, their defense is departed. The Lord is with us, fear them not.
The Lord is with us! What a grand assurance is that! The Lord, the Omnipotent, is with us! The Lord, the Conqueror of hell, is with us! The Lord who has assured us that He will give us power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and all the power of the enemy is with us! He who conquered all hell can surely conquer hell in us!
The Lord, who built up all heaven, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace is with us! Fear them not.
O! if this sad distrust and faintheartedness were done away with, what progress we should make! Our fears and hesitations alone give strength to evils. Look them boldly and steadily in the face and they die. How cowed and dismayed was Israel when the Giant of Gath day after day challenged any man of them to the fight, and defied the armies of the living God! But when a fearless youth stepped forth, and trusting in the Lord his Savior, and the simple weapons he knew well to use, how soon did Israels dread lie headless on the ground. So with our several sins. They are all impostures that live upon our terrors. With honest devotion to truth and goodness, trusting in God, their strength would be as weakness. Fear them not. Pride says I am rooted in your nature, without me you will be insulted and trampled upon, you cannot command respect, you must retaliate and resent. Avaunt, foul spirit, Christian principles, a firm and quiet regard for right, always command respect. I will strive to overcome evil with good by my Saviors help. Away, I fear thee not.
Covetousness says, Without me you cannot obtain the comforts of life in this world of competition, I am a giant, and I say you must overreach and lie, you must absorb your whole being in acquisitiveness to get more thousands, as though your existence depended upon it, although you can neither eat more, nor drink more, nor wear more, but only increase the figures in your bank-book, or obtain the hollow smiles of those who smirk upon the wealthy. Again, the true Christian can say, Away, false boaster, I fear thee not. I will steadily do my duty, using such talents as I uprightly can, and satisfied with what Providence gives, be it little or much.
All fears die beneath the faith of love, which rests upon the Savior. The lowly spirit unfolds itself to Him, in holy trust, and He lays His right hand upon its head and says, Fear not, I am the first and the last. The Lord is with us: fear them not.
Author: Jonathan Bayley — From Egypt to Canaan (1869)