Now then, give me this hill country about which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out, as the LORD has spoken.

Joshua 14:12

 

These are the words of Caleb to Joshua. Caleb is now 85 years old. He has journeyed through the wilderness with the Israelites for 45 years. The rebels, who refused to take the land when God first offered it to them, have died off. Their children, however, have now entered it, destroyed many (though not yet all) of the Canaanite kings and peoples, and taken their cities. And now Joshua is bestowing upon each tribe and each family its allotment of territory in the Promised Land. Joshua’s friend Caleb knows exactly the parcel he desires.

“Give me this hill country,” he cries. Why? Presumably because he had caught a glimpse of it 45 years earlier, when he and the other eleven spies had done reconnaissance in the land, and marveled at the majestic city of Hebron. Yes, he had seen the Anakim there—the giant forefathers of Goliath. Yes, he had seen their great cities and fortifications, seemingly rising up to heaven itself. And yes, for a moment at least, he may have felt like a grasshopper in the face of such mighty warriors, cities, and fortifications.

But none of that stopped Caleb then, and none of it would stop him now. For he had also seen the goodness of that hill country, how it flowed with milk and honey, how it dripped with beauty, how it beckoned to be sown and cultivated, how it whispered soul-stirring promises of massive crops thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold. Oh yes, Caleb had seen all that as well, and he had not forgotten. The vision still burned in his heart. He wanted to seize and occupy forever the hill country of the Amorites—and if God was pleased with him, he would.

Brothers and sisters, do you hear the Spirit of Promise speaking to you through this text? I think you do, for if you have been born again you have already caught a glimpse of what the hill country represents. It is not just heaven, the Land and City above, though it is indeed that. Rather, it is the One who created the Land and City above, the One who lives there, seated at the right hand of the Father. John writes, “And we beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” You have glimpsed the grace and truth, for you have glimpsed the Holy One in whom they reside.

But like Caleb of old, you and I have not yet fully occupied the heavenly Hebron; we have not yet fully come to know the Lord who calls us to the deep spiritual knowledge of himself (John 17:3). And yet, also like Caleb of old, we are intent on doing so. Indeed, what choice do we have? God’s Calebs cannot possibly be content with the lowlands. Moreover, they know this good hill country is theirs for the taking, for through the Spirit they know the LORD is with them, pleased with them, and (no matter what their age) eager to give them strength to fight, prevail, and enter in.

If you doubt all this, please listen to the voice of an outstanding New Testament Caleb: Not that I have already obtained these things, or already reached perfection; but I eagerly pursue them, so that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself as having attained. But this one thing I do: forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forward to the things up ahead, I race towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:12f) Where does such a spirit come from? Surely it comes from God himself, who is at work within us, both to will and to do according to his good pleasure. Surely it is God himself who offers us the hill country of the Amorites.

At the close of our text it is written that Hebron was formerly called Kiriath-arba, for Arba—the greatest man among the Anakim—once lived there. He still does. Your adversary the devil did not create the hill country, nor does he own it. As a matter of fact, he altogether hates it. And yet, in a mystery, he surrounds it and has a measure of power to keep people from it.

But not the Caleb’s of God. By God’s purpose and grace, they WILL take it and keep it. For as their strength was in the day when they caught their first glimpse of Christ, so it is now, only more. More than ever, the fire burns. More than ever they are eager and ready for war with every enemy of their sanctification. More than ever they go out and come in, joyful and victorious after the fight.

Yes, more than ever they are indeed occupying the hill country for which they pleaded with their dear friend and comrade, Joshua. And more than ever he thoroughly delights to give it to them.

 

“Go and report to John what you see and hear . . . that the poor have good news proclaimed to them!”

(Mt. 11:4-5)

 

What makes the poor poor? Surprisingly, it often has little to do with health, wealth, or station in life. There are many who have humble incomes, or who are sick in their bodies, or who live in obscurity, but who would never dream of calling themselves poor. In fact, despite their hard circumstances, they would tell you they feel quite rich.

That’s because real poverty–the kind Jesus has in mind–is spiritual. In particular, it is the poverty of hopelessness. No matter how much money we may have, or how many businesses or houses or lands or cars we may own, if we walk through this world without hope, we are paupers.

But to fully appreciate the good news that Jesus was speaking of, we need first to pause a moment and consider the bad.

Unless we enjoyed the special blessings of coming up in a Christian home, we enter this world and walk through it with no real hope. Yes, in many ways it’s a beautiful world, lavish with pleasures to receive and enjoy. And yes, for a season such goodness can stimulate worthy temporal hopes, whether of a good education, a happy family, a meaningful job, a solid income, etc.  Indeed, from time to time we cannot help but see the hand of a kind and loving Creator at work in such a world, bestowing both opportunity and blessing upon it.

Yet sooner or later we begin to realize that something is dreadfully wrong; that ours is also a mysteriously and maddeningly mixed world. For woven deep into the fabric of daily life are thick, dark strands of ignorance, confusion, fear, guilt, evil, injustice, suffering, and—hovering over them all—the all-consuming specter of death itself.

Just here is where we encounter our native spiritual poverty. For as we confront these enemies, we find we have no answers to the great questions they bring to our minds: Where did this world come from? Why are we even here? Is there any remedy for all this evil and suffering? What’s going to happen when I die? And in the end, what will become of the universe, life, and man?

Moreover, it’s not just these unanswerable questions that make us feel poor; it’s also our constant contact with the palpable realities of evil, suffering, and death themselves, together with our inability to defeat or even escape them in any permanent way. As these menacing opponents press in around us, we find we have not a penny’s worth of wisdom or power to push them back once and for all.

Here, then, is why the Gospel is such astonishingly good news: It equips us to confront and fight our enemies with confidence and joy, and to win!

How exactly does this work? It works because in the Gospel God gives us “exceedingly wonderful” truths, exceedingly wonderful promises, and through them both, exceedingly wonderful hopes!

For consider: In the Gospel God reveals the origin of evil, suffering, and death, taking us back to the sin and fall of man, and to a curse that He himself wisely placed upon the whole creation, with the result that all things are now subject to decay and futility. But then He gives us a countervailing hope by taking us to Christ, and by showing us that on the cross He freely suffered the penalty for our sin, so that we, by simple faith, might enjoy forgiveness and eternal spiritual life in Him.

But that is only the beginning, for now the good news gets better and better as we encounter more and more of the hope it gives. Thus, through the study of Scripture we learn that God will never leave us or forsake us; that in every circumstance He is working all things for our good; that in this process He is gradually conforming us to the image of His Son; that at the moment of death our spirits, now perfected, will ascend into heaven, where we will see and rejoice in Him; that at the end of the age Christ will return to join our spirits with glorious new resurrection bodies; and that in those bodies we will forever worship and live with the Triune God in a fabulously beautiful new World to Come. In that day, He who bore the curse of death for us will lift the curse from all things, once and for all.

The Bible refers to these as LIVING hopes. In part, that means the more we ponder them, the more they grow; and the more they grow, the more they crowd out fear, sorrow, and pain, rendering the momentary light afflictions of this present life unworthy to be compared with the glories that will soon be revealed to us.

In short, whatever  our physical circumstances may be, we become spiritually rich as our inner treasure chest is increasingly filled with the pure gold of Gospel hope!

These truths, these promises, and these hopes are the good news Jesus proclaimed to the poor. And despite the vast material wealth of our modern world, the poor are still very much with us today. Let us remember that fact, no matter how rich or happy people may look; and let us remember to proclaim the good news to such folks at every opportunity. Let us tell them, “Yes, in the world we will meet the painful mysteries of evil, suffering, and death; but in Christ Jesus we will meet the exceedingly wonderful HOPE that gives us final victory over them all!”

Reverently: As though you were coming to God himself, for in a sense you are, since in and through these words, and these alone, God is pleased to speak to his people (1 Thess. 2, John Calvin)

Prayerfully: Recognizing that we can do nothing—including understanding, enjoying, and rightly responding to Scripture—apart from him (John 15, Eph. 1)

Slowly: As though you were walking arm in arm with your beloved down a beautiful country lane, having a deep heart-to-heart talk; and stopping to linger over any word, phrase, verse, or thought to which the Spirit of your Beloved seems to be pointing (Luke 24)

Meditatively: Scanning the sky of your mind for the sudden appearance of biblical cross-references, memories, quotes, or images of everyday objects and events—anything that seems to illuminate the word, phrase, or verse you are reading (Psalm 1)

Expectantly: Waiting on spiritual tip-toe for new insights—or a holy rekindling of old insights—as though a storm were on the horizon, and you were watching for lightning and listening for thunder (1 Kings 18)

Believingly: Remembering that he is still teaching in the temple daily, that he has declared himself the Rewarder of all who diligently seek him, and that it is actually a mark of healthy faith to let him know, respectfully, that you are counting on it! (Luke 19, Hebrews 11)

Responsively: Praying, thanking, singing, dancing, kneeling, repenting, re-committing, delighting, calling, writing, going, or otherwise responding to the specific move of the Spirit in your heart as you read (Acts 2)

Joyfully: Choosing at all times—even in a seemingly dry Quiet Time—to celebrate the fact that he is eternally and immutably rejoicing over all who are in Christ; and cheerfully expressing confidence that if the promised blessing has not yet reached your heart, it surely will, in a time that Wisdom and Love have specially chosen for you (Zephaniah 3, Luke 15)

Wisely: Knowing that ours is a God who tests his people, to see if they will love him for who he is, and not simply for the good feelings he can give them; and that he is pleased to train them, sometimes with tough love, in this higher form of love for him (John 6)

Faithfully: Going out early every morning onto the broad plain of Scripture to gather up your meal of Manna, confident that it—and he—is waiting for you there (Exodus16)

 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Heb. 11:1

 

It’s midnight in the mountains, and you’re sound asleep in your cabin. Suddenly you’re awakened by a strong desire to get up, go outside, and look at the sky. You do, and to your amazement it’s pitch black. All around you is inky darkness; you are adrift, dizzy, almost nauseated in a sea of nothingness. You rush back into the cabin, turn on the light, and anxiously wait for the dawn, wondering if you’ve gone mad.

The next night, the same thing happens. But fearful though you are, when the impulse to go outside comes upon you, you obey it. Once again the sky overhead is a sea of darkness. This time, however, something is different. This time you notice a single star, twinkling in the heights above. Though you are still afraid and shaken by the strangeness of the sky, the tiny star brings a measure of comfort, even joy. “Strange,” you say to yourself, “how such a small a thing can dominate such big a thing, and calm my fears in the process.” Fascinated, you stay outside for half an hour, gazing at that one little star.

In the weeks ahead, this scenario repeats itself, but with an important difference: Each time you go outside there are new stars. Eagerly you scan the heavens to find them. Appreciatively, you notice the slight variations in their size, shape, and color. Delightfully, you discover that with each new addition, constellations are taking shape before your eyes; that the various shapes in the heavens—objects, animals, men, women, events—seem to be speaking to one another, and to you as well; that they seem to be telling a great story, the gist of which is slowly—all too slowly—coming into focus in your mind.

And something else is happening. Each time you go outside, you realize the stars are now casting a heavenly light on earthly things; earthly things you thought you saw clearly beneath the light of the sun, but which now, beneath the light of the stars, are quietly, willingly, even joyfully disclosing to you new forms and features you had failed to see before. Indeed, it is now becoming a passion with you to see how the old world is touched and unveiled by this new light. Not that you no longer enjoy the daytime; to the contrary, now you look for it more expectantly than ever, eager to examine in the light of day what you previously beheld in the light of night. Nevertheless, something mysterious and something profoundly important is happening; for as much as you still love the day, it is the call of the night that has captured your imagination. Now your spirit hungers and thirsts to rise and go in search of new stars and new constellations, even as you pause over and again to see how the earth is reflecting and echoing the unfolding story of heaven.

Finally, it all becomes clear: There is a heavenly Someone, a divine Awakener whose loving purpose is to introduce you to a whole new world; indeed, his loving purpose is actually to change your very place of residence, spiritually speaking. Yes, day by day you still walk the earth beneath the light of the sun. But henceforth, because of the super-added light of the stars, you realize that from now on your true home is in the sky.

____

Such, I think, is the message of Hebrews 11:1, a verse of Scripture that sets the stage for a roll call of the saints of old, men and women who obtained a glowing testimony from God because of their tenacious faith in unseen things that the invisible God was pleased to reveal to them. Indeed, whether we think of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Isaiah, John the Baptist, the Sons of Thunder, Peter, Paul, or any other saints of the times before our own, it is always the same story:

The Lord Himself came to them in the pitch darkness of their spiritual night. He placed a single star—a single truth, a single revelation, a single promise—in the sky of their mind. In so doing, He assured them of something devoutly to be hoped for; He convinced them of something altogether unseen by the eye of flesh, yet utterly real to the eye of faith. So day by day (and night by night) they steadily gazed, through the window of Scripture, upon that star. And as they did, more such stars began to appear, and constellations as well, until at last they found themselves dwelling beneath a mighty tapestry of divine revelation comprised of story, teaching, law, warning, promise, proverb, poetry, letter, faith, hope, and love; a vast tapestry of heavenly truth that overshadowed, bathed, and illuminated the things of earth, disclosing the ultimate meanings buried deep within them all. Finally, these saints realized that they were no longer at home in the earth, but at home in the sky; that from now on their pilgrim bodies were simply making their way to a world where their hearts and minds already lived; and that one day soon, the Lord himself, descending from above, would fully drape the great tapestry of heavenly light over a whole new earth, so that heaven, earth, sky, and light will all at last be one.

 

So they said, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds;

and what is more, he even drew the water for us and watered the flock!”

Exodus 1:19

 

If pressed, I might well identify John 5:39 as my life verse: “You search the (Old Testament) Scriptures, because in them you think you possess eternal life. But these very writings testify of Me!” No, I never tire of meandering through the OT, looking for, and finding, the Person and Work of Christ at every turn!

So it is with today’s text. Moses, recently escaped from Egypt, has made his way to the deserts of Midian, where he rescues the seven daughters of Reuel, the priest of Midian, from some decidedly unchivalrous shepherds who are trying to drive the girls and their flocks from the village well. The shepherds should have thought twice about that! More importantly, we ourselves should think twice about what happened, for here we learn some precious truths about Moses’ anti-type: the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, he is a strong deliverer. You don’t scatter a gang of rough shepherds unless you are built for it. In film versions of the Exodus, I have seen Moses portrayed both by Ben Kingsley and Charlton Heston. Today’s text tells me Charlton filled the role far better than Ben! Despite appearances to the contrary, the Lord Jesus Christ—through whom are all things, for whom are all things, and by whom all things are held together and make their way to the Consummation—is way strong! The seven daughters of Reuel need always to believe and take comfort in that fact; and fake shepherds everywhere would be wise to discover it before it’s too late.

Secondly, he delivers from false shepherds. Now I rejoice in the many good shepherds who serve under Christ around the world; indeed, I suspect that the vast majority of them are godly men, trying to do their best for the Lord and his flock. But I’ve also lived long enough to know there are plenty of fake shepherds out there, and that part of the long, winding course of our sanctification is that we should come upon them from time to time, and perhaps even be taken in and wounded by them. Nevertheless, sooner or later all of God’s daughters, and all of God’s flock, will come to their senses and will behold the falseness in the false shepherds. Moreover, when they do, they will be united as never before with the one Great Shepherd of the sheep. Henceforth, they will appreciate and submit to good under-shepherds whenever they find them; but they will adore and cling to only one. And in this, all true under-shepherds will rejoice.

Thirdly, he draws water for the flock. When you read this phrase, can you not hear the Lord saying, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked of him, and he would have given you living water”? Think of it: Christ himself, the very well of God, drawing from himself to give of himself (and the Father and the Holy Spirit) to us! Are we spending meaningful time every day beside this well, drinking in the truth, life, and love of Christ? I certainly hope so, for the deserts of Midian are terribly dry, and it is terribly easy to perish therein.

Finally, and most intriguingly of all, Christ is to his people, if only for a brief season, an Egyptian Shepherd. But how so? Well, it is certainly not because he really is an Egyptian—a mere man, a man of the flesh and a man of the world at heart. No, it is simply because we, like the seven daughters of Reuel, do not really know or recognize him. Yes, at our new birth we caught a glimpse of him as he truly is. But being Egyptians from our old birth, and dealing with Egyptians all day every day, we tend to see our Lord through Egyptian eyes. We do not readily see that he—like all Hebrews—is a shepherd at heart; that he is the Promised and Chosen Shepherd of the Israel of God, whose heart so burned with divine purpose and love that he was willing to enter the deserted hell-hole of this fallen world system in order to live for, die for, rise for, find, rescue, and eternally water his perfect, seven-fold Bride and her flock.

And this, beloveds, is why we must keep on reading the OT, and all of Scripture. We do so because we hope and trust that our gracious heavenly Father, by his Spirit and in his mercy, will be pleased to open our eyes more and more, to see more and more of his Christ; to see him, not as a mere Egyptian, but as the Hebrew of all Hebrews—as that strong, brave, loving, and divine Shepherd who infallibly rescues his Bride and her flock from every false shepherd, and grants that they should rest and drink with him at the eternal well of God.