The Wilderness

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 10
As the children of Israel turned back into the wilderness to wander for many years, we find nothing more is said about Caleb, until after they had crossed the Jordan River and began to take possession of the promised land, by driving out their enemies.
I have often pondered why we have no mention of Caleb for all those years. Why is Scripture so silent concerning the life of this man of God, during the wilderness journey? The following remarks are some meditations in this connection.
It is most instructive to see that Caleb was willing to go on quietly following the Lord, amidst much failure and discontentment on every hand. Firstly, there were the physical difficulties connected with the desert terrain and climate. I’ve traveled on the Sinai Peninsula on more than one occasion, and it is certainly a barren piece of land. Hot and arid in the day, cold at night, scorched sand and rock as far as the eye can see, with nothing green, and not a drop of water for miles. Yet, we never hear of Caleb grumbling or complaining. We never read of him blaming God or his brethren. He counted on the Lord! He knew that what He was doing, with His people, and in his own life was right and just, and that all would work out for His glory in the end. He trusted, and with unwavering faith waited for the day when he would be able to cross the Jordan River, set foot on his inheritance, and enjoy the promised land. He never tried to get ahead of the Lord, which is a great test of faith, especially in the twenty-first century, where we are used to everything being instantaneous. We like our high-speed internet, speed-dial calling, microwave lunches, and everything at our fingertips. We are a generation that does not like to wait for anything, but remember, to run ahead of the Lord puts us on very shaky and dangerous ground. He does not always operate as quickly as we would like and as fast as we think it should be. His timing is always right and always the best for us! Not only does he order our circumstances, but the timing of them as well.
We have the New Testament principle in Romans 8:2828And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28). “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” It is not necessarily that all things are good, but that in the final scheme of things, in God’s plan for the overall blessing of our lives, circumstances work together for good. When my wife makes a cake she uses both bitter and sweet ingredients. Some of those ingredients are tasty by themselves and just as they are, others are not palatable or even good for you on their own and without baking. However, when it is all mixed together in the proper proportions, stirred and beaten according to the recipe, and baked in the heat of the oven for the proper length of time, all those ingredients work together for good to make a very delicious product. So it is in our lives, God mixes the bitter with the sweet, and through the furnace of affliction, works it all out for our good in the end. We may not always see the finished product this side of heaven, but when we do, we will realize that it was indeed all for our good, and we will praise Him for all His ways with us, and the perfection of His timing.
In this connection I enjoyed reading of another man of God who lived centuries later. Bernard Gilpen, who was sentenced in the reign of Queen Mary to die for his faith, audibly repeated the text during his imprisonment each morning and night, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” On his way to execution he fell and broke his leg, and was ordered back to prison where he moaned in pain. The jailor taunted him with his text. “Ah!” he said, “but it is true just the same.” Sure enough, it was, for while he lay in that damp cell, Queen Mary died, Elizabeth ascended the throne of England, and Bernard Gilpen was set at liberty.
Caleb must have had a sense that nothing happens by chance, and that the Lord had a perfect plan and timetable for his servant. Psalm 37:55Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. (Psalm 37:5), gives us good counsel on this subject. “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass.” It may not always be to pass in the way or time that we thought it should be, but if we are willing to commit it into His hand, it will be to pass in the way that He sees is the very best, and the timing will be perfect too. To commit and submit is the very best way, and it will help us not to complain and grumble, and I repeat, it will keep us from trying to get ahead of the Lord and running on what we think is the best timetable, which may not be what His schedule for our lives is.
It must have really pained the heart of Caleb to have to turn back into the wilderness, when he knew that in the strength of the Lord they were well able to overcome the enemies living in Canaan, and take possession of their inheritance. It must have further distressed his soul to hear the continual murmuring and complaining of his own brethren all around him day after day and year after year, throughout the duration of the desolate desert trek. Unquestionably it troubled him to see those of his own generation fall in the wilderness, and the governmental hand of God on His people time and time again. Yet he goes on quietly year in and year out. God honors tireless, unseen obedience and service! He values an unwearied continuance in well-doing! Quiet, patient ongoing, faithful obedience, notwithstanding human praise or blame, is to Him of a great price. To trust when there is nothing else to be done, is of such delight to the heart of the Lord that he has promised a special reward for it.
The story is told of a young man who was visiting an elderly Christian in the hospital, and the lady complained that there was nothing that she could do for the Lord, or to earn reward, lying there in her debilitated, chronic condition. The young man turned to Hebrews 10:3535Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. (Hebrews 10:35), and read the promise: “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.” She might not be able to do anything else but trust, yet that was enough to invoke the favor of the Lord, and to be assured of His reward.
Caleb’s attitude might have been, to continue to follow the Lord, but not to go on with his brethren who acted in such unbelief and rebellion. But no, he associates with the people of God in spite of everything, and continues on in the path of individual faithfulness despite the general failure and deplorable spirit and attitude that so often invaded the camp of Israel and raised its ugly head around him during those years.
Now let us be very clear, that we are never to be indifferent to sin, nor are we to tolerate evil. Scripture teaches that sin is a thing not fit for the Lord’s presence nor the presence of His people. Yet, sad to say, when difficulties arise amongst our brethren, sometimes the initial reaction is that we are not going to associate with them anymore. It is not that we are going to leave off from following the Lord, but just not with those who do not seem to appreciate us, or our service, or the truth that we feel we are seeking to uphold and be faithful to. But let’s learn from Caleb, the blessedness of going on simply and quietly with the people of God, knowing that there is one in full control, and one who gives His sense of approval and commendation. Like Paul, who said, “Wherefore we labor, that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him” (2 Corinthians 5:99Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. (2 Corinthians 5:9)). No matter how misunderstood he was by those he loved and served, he was willing to go on in fellowship with them, knowing that there is one who “judgeth righteously” (1 Peter 2:2323Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: (1 Peter 2:23)).
As we noted earlier, in a day of ruin Timothy was told to “follow righteousness, faith, charity [love], peace, with them that call on the Lord out of pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:2222Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)). To go on with the people of God in a day of weakness and failure is often a real test of faith, as it was, no doubt, in the case of Caleb.