Trusting our Forerunner Joshua and His Firstfruits

What controls you more – the firstfruits of your future hope, or the giants?

The seventh sermon in our Church in the Wilderness series.  On Numbers 13-14.

Excerpt:

Joshua goes into the promised land with a man after his heart (Caleb) and those are the only ones who survive this wicked generation – the One called Jesus and the one after His heart. And chapter 14 is all about whether Israel would trust the one whose name is Jesus as he brings back the firstfruits of the promised land.

From v7 it’s his speech that is make or break for the Israelites – will they trust their forerunner?  He comes to them with proof of the goodness of the future hope but they fail to trust Him and bring judgement on themselves.

Jesus Christ is the true Joshua who has gone into the promised hope ahead of us.  And after His death, He came back from that future glory bearing the firstfruits of the new creation – that’s how 1 Corinthians 15 describes the resurrection.  And we are in the position of Israel, assessing Jesus the Forerunner.  Can we trust Him?  Does He know what He’s talking about?  Do His firstfruits look worth pursuing?

Audio here.

Text below…

Last year we began a series called the Church in the Wilderness.  We thought about how the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years and how that is a picture of our Christian lives.

They were trapped in slavery in Egypt.  We were trapped in slavery to sin.  They were saved from darkness and oppression through the sacrifice of the passover lamb.  We were saved when Christ our Passover Lamb died on the cross.  As 1 Corinthians 10 puts it – they were baptised into Moses when they went through the Red Sea.  We were united to Christ when we were baptised.  And in both cases we don’t actually go straight from darkness into the promised land.  There is a time of testing in between.

The Israelites were saved from their slavery in Egypt and they were saved for the promised land – Canaan.  But in between they had 40 years – a whole generation – of trial and testing and hardship and discipline.  40 years in the wilderness.

And again in 1 Corinthians 10 the Apostle Paul says ‘That’s just like the Christian life.’

We have been saved from sin and judgement and Satan.  And the minute we trusted Christ we were as saved as we’ll ever be – then, now, in ten thousand years time.  We are as saved and secure as we’ll ever be the minute we trust Christ.  But the Father doesn’t immediately teleport us up to heaven the minute we’re saved. He doesn’t physically bring us into the promised land right away.  Instead there’s trial, testing, hardship, discipline.  Jesus advertised the Christian life as ‘Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.’  (Mark 8:34).  That’s the Christian life.  Dying with Jesus to this present age, following Him now through hardship and opposition and trusting His promise for the future.  We are in a wilderness.  And the things that we want, the things we might feel that we desperately need – we will have to do without.  Here’s how Deuteronomy 8 put it:

2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

When you step into the desert you don’t have anything to sustain you – not even your basic needs.  These verses even say that the LORD caused the Israelites to hunger.  All they had in the desert was the LORD Himself.  No other supplies, no reserves, no safety nets – only the LORD.  But what the Israelites would learn is that the LORD was a good Father – who knows how to take care of His children.

As one African bishop has put it: “I never knew that Christ was all I needed until Christ was all I had.”  The Israelites were learning that lesson.  All they had was the LORD and the lesson they were being taught was that all they needed was the LORD.

He fed them day by day with the manna – the bread of heaven.  It was all they needed for the day.  They weren’t to horde it for tomorrow but to trust their heavenly Father to give them today their daily bread.  Just like we pray.

He led them day by day in the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire.  When the pillar of cloud stopped, they stopped.  When He set out – they set out.  They had to trust the LORD for daily bread and daily guidance, just like us.  And we have to trust the LORD when He leads us in surprising ways.

We’ve thought in the past about the straight route from Egypt to the Promised Land.  You’d just keep the Mediterranean on your left and you’d get there in about a fortnight.  But that’s not the way the LORD led them.

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. Exodus 13:17

No, He led them this way.  Which is a surprising way to be led.  And not only this but the LORD stirred up Pharaoh’s army to pursue the Israelites to the shore of the Red Sea. Again, the LORD brings His people to the end of themselves.  They have no resources to deal with this situation and the people all grumble.  They say “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?! …It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

But the LORD leads us into these humanly impossible situations to prove His divine power and love.  As chapter 13 says, He shows His glory when He saves His people from helpless situations.  So the LORD led them through the Red Sea on dry ground and into the wilderness.

They are now no longer in Egypt – they are saved.  But they are not yet in the promised land either.  And they will have to depend on the LORD for everything.

Well, cutting a long story short, the LORD leads them to Mount Sinai, where they are given the law and then instructions to build the tabernacle.  They build this, which takes them about a year, and and then they set off from the desert of Sinai and head towards the desert of Paran.

That’s where we are in Numbers 13.

And the idea is to do some reconnaissance.  They want to spy out the land.  They select one spy from each of the 12 tribes and in Numbers 13:18 we hear Moses’ instructions:

18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 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? 20 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.) 21 So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, towards Lebo  Hamath.

So these 12 men head off to spy out an area of about 200 miles.  And it takes them 40 days.

And as they spy out the land there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is – it’s every bit as fruitful as the LORD had promised.

They take a massive cluster of grapes back with them, carried on a pole, and also some pomegranates and figs.  These are described as the firstfruits of the land and it’s the fruit of the vine especially that’s highlighted.

And so the good news is – the promised land is wonderful.  Here’s what the spies say in v27:

“We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.

That’s quite a muted description.  These spies are trying desperately not to be too enthuisiastic.  Caleb in chapter 14 verse 7 calls it “exceedingly good”.

That’s the good news.  The land is exceedingly good.  But for ten of the 12 spies, the only thing they can think of is the bad news.  And this is the bad news.

28 The people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there…. 31 “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” 32 “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

So what to do?  There’s good news and bad news:

Ten spies say it’s too much, only Joshua and Caleb are positive.  The people do what the people do best.

Grumble. Numbers 14:1

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 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! 3 Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

That’s the reaction of the crowd.  Moses and Aaron fall on their faces, Joshua and Caleb appeal to the people – halfway through v7:

“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8 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. 9 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.” 10 But the whole assembly talked about stoning them.

The people will not be convinced, and so the LORD appears and through a discussion with Moses, eventually He says v23:

23 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.

Only Joshua and Caleb from this whole generation – only they will enter into the promised land.  The LORD will bring a people into the promised land – He will bring the Israelites in.  But not these Israelites.  Not this generation.  There would have to be a new Israel to inherit the new land.  Only through death will Israel enter the promise.

And so the LORD condemns Israel to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. A year for every day of the spies’ visit.

And so the discipline of  the LORD is increased and that generation dies out.  Even Aaron and Moses die in the wilderness, short of the promised land.  The LORD forgives them – v20 – but in this grand presentation of  gospel truth – this faithless generation falls short.

What about us?  Do we move forwards in line with God’s promise?  Do we eagerly enter into all that God has for us to do, or do we shrink back.  Twice in this passage the LORD says that His people have treated Him with contempt.  When we don’t press on into the LORD’s promised future we treat Him with contempt.  Because there He is saying “I’m with you, I’ve saved you, I’ve cared for you all this time and I promise you this is the way towards immeasurable blessing, trust me and you’ll inherit it all.”  And all we see are the giants in the way.  And we say verse 2 and 3:

“If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! 3 Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?”

I don’t know how you’re looking forward to 2010.  January has taken me by complete surprise.  I am not ready for the challenges of this year.  I don’t feel ready to move forwards into all God has for me this year.  What do I need to consider?

Well I think there are a few things I need to know, which if the Israelites followed them, would have saved a lot of grief.

First I need to think about the past rightly.

The Israelites think about their past in Egypt and they say v4:

“We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

They’re always remembering Egypt with rose-tinted glasses.  It even gets to the point where in Numbers 16:13 they actually call Egypt a land flowing with milk and honey!  Forget the promised land – Egypt is the land of milk and honey.  They seem to have completely forgotten their slavery in Egypt.  Only a couple of years prior to this and they were groaning under the weight of intolerable burdens, desperate for salvation, victims of a genocide with all the male children killed off – but in fear of the future they look back to a golden past that never actually existed.

We do the same.  Especially when the future looks daunting or the present is unfulfilling, we are always fooling ourselves about our former lives.  How do you think about life before you were a Christian?  Or how do you start imagining life if you weren’t following Jesus?  How do you imagine the life of your non-Christian friends and family?  Be aware that those images might well be about as realistic as describing Egypt as a land flowing with milk and honey.  Do we realize what a slavery it was living without Jesus?  We must consider the past rightly.

We should also consider the present.

There was one thing that the Israelites had.  They had the LORD with them.

Verse 14: And [The Egyptians] will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, O LORD, are with these people and that You, O LORD, have been seen face to face, that Your cloud stays over them, and that You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

We’ve thought about this before but what do you need in a desert?  Shade by day and heat by night – and the LORD is WITH the people in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  And He is a face to face kind of LORD.  An intimate kind of LORD.  Someone who wants to know and be known.  That’s who the Israelites have in the present.  The LORD is with them in intimacy, protection, provision, daily concern and love.

But when things go wrong, all the Israelites see in the present are deprivations and dangers.

A friend of mine has been planning on preaching a sermon at some point with the title ‘Cucumbers or Christ’.  His sermon text is Numbers 11:16, where the Israelites grumble saying: “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.”

They value the cucumbers of Egypt higher than the LORD in their midst.  But my friend says, we always make that calculation.  We are forever prizing cucumbers over Christ.

How are you considering the present?  You are surrounded by deprivations and dangers.  Are they the biggest thing in our vision or is the intimate presence of Jesus a more controlling consideration?

Do we know Jesus to the extent that we’d say “I’ll take the deprivations and the dangers with Jesus over the comfort of life without Him?

How do we consider the present – do we know what we’ve got – or rather WHO we’ve got?

Then we should consider the future.

Joshua calls the promised land an ‘exceedingly good land’.  Moses in Deuteronomy 8 describes it like this.

“A land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig-trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.”  (Deut 8:7-9)

Moses is here painting a picture of the promised land for the new generation.  As Moses preaches this, he’s preaching to the sons and daughters of the old generation.  A major part of their problem was that they had a failure of imagination.  They simply could not imagine a future great enough to overcome their fears.  The promise of the promised land just wasn’t large enough in their hearts and minds to be able to motivate them.  And so Moses here helps them – he paints a picture that they can get excited about.

What about us?  If we’re apprehensive about this year, one of our big challenges is to imagine the kind of future that God has promised us.  To take His promises seriously and to have them affect us and shape us.

And one of the things that church and bible reading and growth groups does is that these things are a bit like the report from the spies.  And it’s about right too, because 10 out of every 12 things you hear about the future in your week will make you utterly fearful.  But opening the bible is like listening to Joshua and Caleb and listening again to their description of the promised hope.

And that means the promises for today – things like “I will never leave you, I will never forsake you.” (Heb 13:5).  And it means the promises for the distant future.  Things like this from Isaiah 25:

6 On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine–the best of meats and the finest of wines. 7 On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8 he will swallow up death for ever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.”  (Isaiah 25:6-8)

Is that a future hope that can capture you and motivate you?  Find something that does, because if we’re not captivated by God’s future the deprivations and dangers of today will drive us.

Fourthly, the Israelites needed to consider God’s character.

Now from verse 11 we get something very interesting.  Here we have the LORD entering into a conversation with Moses about what should happen.  It’s incredible that God doesn’t just say ‘Here’s how it is’.  But instead the LORD allows Moses to hold Him to account.  The LORD says he could always just wipe them out there and then, but then Moses says v13

“Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. 14 And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, O LORD, are with these people and that you, O LORD, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. 15 If you put these people to death all at one time, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16 `The LORD was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath; so he slaughtered them in the desert.’

Isn’t that interesting? Moses says – LORD your reputation is entirely bound up with your people.  As you well know LORD, if you don’t completely save the Israelites then the world will hear that you’re not the Saviour You claim to be.  So LORD, be the Saviour you claim to be…

This is right at the heart of prayer you know.  We come to a heavenly Father and we come quoting His own promises back to Him.   And we say – BE the God your word says that you are.  We depend on God’s character – and His character is to finish what He started.

That’s the character of God – He finishes what He starts. And so Moses says – ‘You’ve brought your people out of Egypt, finish the job – bring them into the promised land.’

If the people had really grasped this they wouldn’t have hesitated to cross over into the promised land.  They would have said ‘He did not bring us up from Egypt to have us die at the hands of the Canaanites – that’s not God’s character.’  God’s character should have made them confident.  And it should make us confident too.  Philippians 1:6 says “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

God starts what He finishes.  Has He started work on you?  He’ll finish it.  And He’s carry on completing it throughout 2010, you can move forwards trusting God’s character.

Then finally, we must consider Jesus.

It’s fascinating in this little passage who the good spies are.  There’s Joshua and Caleb.  Joshua is just the Hebrew form of the name Jesus.  And He would be the one to lead all the people into the promised land once the first generation had died.  The one whose name is Jesus is the one who will, in the fullness of time, bring all His people into the promised hope.  But here he goes into that land as a forerunner to bring back evidence of its goodness.  And he goes with a spy called Caleb.  Caleb is a name that means ‘After His heart.’  And you’re meant to think ‘After the LORD’s heart.’  Caleb is a man after the LORD’s heart – he is wholehearted.  It’s how David is described – a man after the LORD’s heart.  So Joshua goes into the promised land with a man after his heart and those are the only ones who survive this wicked generation – the One called Jesus and the one after His heart.

And chapter 14 is all about whether Israel would trust the one whose name is Jesus as he brings back the firstfruits of the promised land.  From v7 it’s his speech that is make or break for the Israelites – will they trust their forerunner, he comes to them with proof of the goodness of the future hope but they fail to trust Him and bring judgement on themselves.

Jesus Christ is the true Joshua who has gone into the promised hope ahead of us.  And after His death, He came back from that future glory bearing the firstfruits of the new creation – that’s how 1 Corinthians 15 describes the resurrection.  And we are in the position of Israel, assessing Jesus the Forerunner.  Can we trust Him?  Does He know what He’s talking about?  Do His firstfruits look worth pursuing?

You know I can never get over John chapter 21 when Jesus appears to the disciples and cooks them breakfast on the beach.  Because here is the firstfruits of our future hope.  Jesus is showing us what the new creation will be all about.  Barbecues.  Beaches.  Good friends.  Good food.  Being in the presence of Jesus – face to face with the LORD of Israel.  All those appearances of Jesus in the Gospels are like clusters of fat juicy grapes telling you that the promised land is exceedingly good.

Do we trust Jesus?

Jesus says to us in 2010 – Follow me.  There will be deprivations, there will be dangers but you’ll have ME.  Follow me and every step you take is a step closer to an exceedingly good future hope.  Do you trust Jesus?  Then don’t make the same mistake.

Properly consider the past, properly consider the present, the future, God’s character – and look to Jesus – He is leading us to a land of milk and honey. We can trust Him.

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Posted on by Glen in faith, Old Testament, pastoral theology, sermons

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

0 Responses to Trusting our Forerunner Joshua and His Firstfruits

  1. Hiram

    Hey Glen!

    Just thought I’d spam your page. I recently wrote on the firstfruits of the promised land in Numbers 13.

    http://involutedgenealogies.wordpress.com/2010/01/06/a-branch-a-budding-branch-and-a-bronze-serpent-christ-in-the-book-of-numbers/

    I think you’d dig it.

    -h.

  2. Glen

    Read it
    Dug it
    Linked it
    Nice!

  3. Hiram

    Glad you dug :)
    And Linked :)

  4. Pingback: Church in the Wilderness 8 – Christ in the Wilderness « Christ the Truth

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