Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Joshua 14: 6 – 14
Hebron Allotted to Caleb
Then the people of Judah came to 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 in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. 7I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land; and I brought him an honest report. 8But my companions who went up with me made the heart of the people fail; yet I wholeheartedly followed the Lord my God. 9And Moses swore on that day, saying, “Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children for ever, because you have wholeheartedly followed the Lord my God.” 10And now, as you see, the Lord has kept me alive, as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel was journeying through the wilderness; and here I am today, eighty-five years old. 11I am still as strong today as I was on the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war, and for going and coming. 12So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day; for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; it may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out, as the Lord said.’
13 Then Joshua blessed him, and gave Hebron to Caleb son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. 14So Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholeheartedly followed the Lord, the God of Israel.
Matthew 12: 1 – 21
Plucking Grain on the Sabbath
12At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ 3He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’
The Man with a Withered Hand
9 He left that place and entered their synagogue; 10a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?’ so that they might accuse him. 11He said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.’ 13Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. 14But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
God’s Chosen Servant
15 When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds* followed him, and he cured all of them, 16and he ordered them not to make him known. 17This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
18 ‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
20 He will not break a bruised reed
or quench a smouldering wick
until he brings justice to victory.
21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope.’
I have a very short sermon this evening.
The background to our Old Testament reading is this: Moses has died. Joshua has taken over and the Israelites are well into their conquest of Canaan, the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants.
It’s then that Caleb approaches Joshua and reminds him of an incident that happened about 40 years ago.
You may recall the story from Numbers 13: The Israelites have escaped from Egypt and are on the brink of entering Canaan. Moses sends 12 spies into the land, two of whom are Joshua and Caleb.
Ten of the spies are filled with fear at what they see and bring back a negative report. However, Joshua and Caleb claim that in spite of the dangers the Israelites are well able to take the land and that they should go up at once and occupy it.
To cut a long story short God is displeased with the fear-mongers and the Israelites are forced to wander in the Wilderness for another 40 years before being allowed another shot at entering the Promised Land.
But here’s the thing: Caleb claims that he brought an honest report and that Moses commended him for that and promised him a significant section of land – including the city of Hebron where the Anakim lived – very large and fierce warriors apparently descended from the Nephilim of Genesis 6.
What is an honest report? Is it simply a realistic assessment, or is there something else at play?
In the original story Caleb and Joshua don’t deny the problems. We read their words to the terrified people in Numbers 14: ‘The land that we went through as spies is an exceedingly good land. 8If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. 9Only, do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they are no more than bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.’ 10But the whole congregation threatened to stone them.
But they don’t prevail. The people refuse to advance.
It was all about how people responded to the news that Canaan was better than they had imagined but a tough place to take.
Caleb clearly was acting in faith, but was it faith or presumption? Where does one end and the other begin?
We’ve all heard of people who make grandiose statements claiming God’s help and it all comes to nothing. Just recently we heard that the world was going to end on Wednesday 7th October. I have a few atheist friends who made a meal out of that as they no doubt have on a number of occasions over the years when similar claims have been made.
By its very nature faith entails what one might call an element of presumption. It has to, otherwise it isn’t faith. So why does some faith succeed and other faith fail?
Caleb’s words to Joshua reveal something: 8But my companions who went up with me made the heart of the people fail; yet I wholeheartedly followed the Lord my God.
Caleb associates his honest report with wholeheartedly following God, and I think the simple message of the passage is this: when we wholeheartedly follow God our mindset is more attuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit, who – let’s face it – seldom uses a megaphone.
When our life is centred in God we learn (not so much to read the subtle signs of a situation and thereby assess the degree to which a venture of faith may succeed or not – that’s just intelligence) rather, we are more alive to the promptings of God’s Spirit and are less likely to stray into presumption.
In Caleb’s language, when we wholeheartedly followed the Lord our God, we tend to act in faith more because we trust more and know God better.
As a result we are rewarded more. 13 Then Joshua blessed him, and gave Hebron to Caleb son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. 14So Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholeheartedly followed the Lord, the God of Israel.
As Christians we are helped by the fact that Jesus is such an expansive, inclusive and positive person. Jesus brought a new and magnanimous order of justice and compassion, he brought hope.
As the Gospel reading puts it: 21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope.’
In the end it’s about the quality of our relationship with God. I’m unlikely to err into presumption if I am getting along with God like a house on fire. However, if I use God as a crutch, or simply ignore God for most of time, I could very well miss the boat and either make a fool of myself or simply miss out on the goodness God offers.
It’s always relationship and the degree to which we are prepared to die to our independent agendas and take on the agenda of God. The wise do so. The foolish don’t. That’s it.
God bless you.