The fulness of blessing

by Sarah Frances Smiley

+ Larger Font | - Smaller Font

The Creation Concept

Single file



I. The land of Promise

II. The failure of unbelief

III. Change of Leadership

IV. The Boundary Line

V. The Triple Preparation

VI. The Ark of the Covenant

VII. Memorial Stones

VIII. The Reproach of Egypt

IX. The Passover in Canaan

X. The New Corn And Fruit of the Land

XI. Seeing The Captain

XII. The Good Fight of Faith

XIII. Failure and Mistakes

XIV. Choice Possessions

XV. The Last Charge of Joshua



"So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief"--(Heb. iii. 19.)

The men to whom the searching of the land was entrusted were no ordinary spies. Chosen from each of the tribes, they were all "heads of the children of Israel"--"every one a ruler." "So they went up and searched the land;" [1] and a search that extended through forty days must have been a thorough one. From north to south they saw with wondering eyes such bounties as they had never seen before. They passed on to the shores of the great sea. They beheld Lebanon and its cedars. They rested before the peaks of Hermon and Carmel. They followed the bed of the Jordan from the beautiful lake where it is born, to that sea in which it dies. They marked the countless hills and valleys, and the multitude of brooks. They saw, also, their enemies, the strongholds, and the very giants. They went to the graves of their fathers at Hebron, and saw there in that old city the three sons of Anak, whose names are so singularly preserved. [2]

One can but listen in imagination to the talk of these men as they journey over those hills. What outbursts of joy--what sighs of dismay! What reasoning in their hearts, and what constant interchange of hopes and fears!

And now they have returned, and the whole congregation, with Moses and Aaron at their head, stand around, ready to listen to the travellers. "Beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings;" and blessed might their feet have been that day. There is a hush of expectation: "We came into the land and surely it floweth with milk and honey;" and then, slowly lifting that heavy cluster of grapes of Eshcol from the staff resting upon the shoulders of two of them, and upraising it in the sight of all,-- "This is the fruit of it!" [3] What visions of plenty are swimming before all those straining eyes! How the little children even clap their hands for joy!

But listen, the men have not told all! "Nevertheless 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." And now, with a minuteness not given to the other side of the picture, they go on to describe their enemies: "The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and by the coast of Jordan." [4]

At once all those eager faces are downcast, and murmurs and cries are heard. And why should they not fear? These men who speak are their rulers-- their leaders. If such are terrified, why not they? Therefore, it seems a decisive voice--a voice of authority. But now Caleb, who has claimed by faith his own possession, and knows better than any what foes they have to meet, stands forth to still the people: "Let us go up at once and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it." [5] By his side is Joshua, but they are only two, and the ten again repeat: "We be not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we." [6] And now they forget all else, and their fears swollen by this tide of popular feeling, they go on to present the darkest possible picture, which, as truthful men, they could venture to give: "The land through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And 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!" [7]

O Princes of Israel! if only as ye went upon your way, ye had bethought yourselves to sing once more the song ye once sang so well: "All the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Thy right hand, O Lord, is glorious in power!" [8] But no, they forgot even to make mention of His name. They saw only themselves and their enemies; and so seeing, it was but a slight hyperbole to draw the contrast of grasshoppers and giants. They had lost sight of the Lord. Had they only lost sight of themselves, while they looked to Him, how different had been the contrast-- no longer between grasshoppers and giants, but between giants and God! Would the feet of a giant fall heavily upon the grasshopper in his path? Much more would the strongest enemy melt away before the advancing feet of the Lord strong and mighty! And herein it was "an evil report" rather than a false one, that it ignored God--His promise and His power.

All that night throughout the vast camp, lying down but the night before to happy dreams of the land so close before them, is heard the sound of weeping. [9] And well may they weep, since they had lost that buoyant hope. The terror and grief become at last a panic. As the strong men look upon their wives and children, who give way to still more violent emotion, they ask, with indignation, "Are these to be a prey? Wherefore hath the Lord brought us into this land? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt?" [10] And at once the bold decision is made by which they take themselves out of God's hand--"Let us make a Captain and let us return into Egypt."

But who shall be the Captain to lead them back? Not Moses, not Aaron. They are fallen flat upon their faces before all the people. Meanwhile, Joshua and Caleb make another attempt to rally the host. "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 defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not." [11] The bravest and noblest words that ever came to rally a panic-stricken host! Yet they only vex and anger the people. And for standing there and saying no new thing, saying only what God had always said, they well-nigh met the fate of Stephen--"All the congregation bade stone them with stones." [12]

But another voice is heard. As they look up, before . all their eyes, shining from out the Tabernacle, appears the glory of the Lord. He speaks to Moses: "How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?" [13] In these words we see at once their real offence, and what sin of sins it was that stirred Him thus. Even at their last rebellion it was something deeper than their lust that had chiefly grieved Him; for "a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger came up against Israel, because they believed not in God, and trusted not in hie salvation." [14] But this word of God which they believed not now, was a word so often given, so old, so ever new, that not to believe it was, indeed, to deny Him. What marvel that He said to Moses, "I will disinherit them!" The sublime pleading of Moses with his God, that unworthy as the people were, He would yet regard His own honor among the heathen, won at last the gracious answer, "I have pardoned according to thy word." [15] But Pardon more often wisely includes chastisement, than excludes it; and even because He kept them as His children, must His hand be heavy upon them. Ten times the men who had seen His glory, and all His signs, had tempted Him. [16] Their trial was complete. They could not see the land.--"To-morrow turn you and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea." And, so saying, He did but take them at their own word. They would not believe His Word, therefore their own should come to pass--"As truly as I live, saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in my ears, so will I do to you: Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness Doubtless ye shall not come into the land concerning which, I sware to make you dwell therein And ye shall know my breach of promise." [17]

Slowly, but surely, the weary length of forty years, were more than half a million of men to whom God had given a home in Canaan, to find their graves in the sand of the desert. There was little to break the monotony of that nomad existence; but one toil never ceased. Day after day, they carried forth out of their camp the score or more of corpses of soldiers, who had fallen, not in battle, but because of their unbelief.

A still sadder doom was assigned to the ten spies. We justly count among the sins of darkest dye the deliberate slander of a fellow-being. But these men had slandered God. Upon the face of it, it was only an evil report against the land. But in reality it was charging God both with untruthfulness and inefficiency: and for such a sin as this, "they died by the plague before the Lord." [18]

Finally, we find that presumption takes the place of faith. They recognize at last their fearful mistake, but not to humbly repent of it. Only their strong and stubborn wills refuse the punishment. Going up against their enemies to be smitten and discomfited, they have to learn that not a step is safe unless God go before them.

Forty years in the wilderness! For forty years grieving the Lord; and chastened by Him! And yet even this is used to show forth His long-suffering and goodness-- "Being full of compassion," not even then did He "stir up all His wrath."

There is a brief review of this period in the Acts, which forms a most interesting sequel to a statement of Moses. The latter, in reviewing the period previous to the provocation, says to the people: "Thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went until ye came unto this place." [19] The Apostle Paul takes the same view of the entire period. "And about the time of forty years, even as a nurse beareth her child, so bare He them through the wilderness." [20]

So they were still His people--fed, guided, and defended by Him; and possibly abusing these very mercies, in concluding that even by these they might measure the lightness of their offence.

We might well suppose such a lesson as this history furnishes to be too significant for the Scriptures to be silent respecting it. It is, in fact, one of the most clearly applied among all these allegorical events. Unquestionably it is the key-note of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and with what distinctness is it announced:--"With whom was He grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the Gospel preached, as well as unto them; but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest." [21]

Alas! that the any for whom He feared should ever mean the many--that a time should come when the majority of Christians--the great mass of them, indeed--should at least seem to come short of this fulness of blessing. We believe them to be children of God--for they have known the sprinkling of the blood of the Lamb, and have come out from the world into new life in Christ Jesus. They have been at Sinai and have listened to the Law, and have come up more or less fully to its moral standard. But beyond their present experience lie half the promises of God, and by far the more glorious half yet unfulfilled. No one could venture to claim that the rich gifts of God, even to all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, are in the general possession of the Church. The spirituality of Christians does not satisfy themselves, even according to their own low standard.

There is a class of teachers who distinguish very widely between our standing and our state; claiming that however it may be as to the latter, any one who is in Christ at all has, by reason of the former, all these blessings. But it is this practical difference, phrase it as we may, that is so emphasized in Holy Scripture. It was a difference wide enough between promise and possession,to call forth God's utter displeasure of old. It is a difference wide enough now, between what He has given us in Christ, and what we have received in Him, to leave room for holy fear of exceeding loss. The poor man may call himself rich the moment he hears of the estate bequeathed him; but it still profits him nothing till he has obtained it; as we find, indeed, the bequest itself declares: "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you."

There is, however, another distinction to be drawn between the Travellers and the Wanderers; between the Travellers following Him who leadeth them about even with all their lingering, and who will speedily bring them to the Border of the Land; and the wanderers turning back in unbelief and disobedience to spend all their lives in that wilderness--always coming short.

As to the manner of this failure, the analogy is very close between theirs and ours. It came about then, by their pausing to prove the promises of God by human opinion. When God said, "Go up all of you and possess the land," they said, "Nay, but we will let twelve of our foremost men go up first, and bring is word about it, and we will abide by their judgment." And it is still,through leaning to the word of man, instead of listening singly to the voice of God, that we expose ourselves to further temptation.

But how justly responsible were they held, who let their own faithless fears turn back the multitude! Do the ministers of Christ, indeed, understand what it means to be set for the defence of the Gospel? Do they all remember that only as they are taught by the Holy Spirit, can they possibly teach spiritual truth? Do not some of them assume the guidance of immortal souls, when with a like lack of knowledge they would never dream of steering a ship upon the seas?

And what is the report which they bring of our Land of Promise? As they stand before the people, do they cheer them on, by telling them what good things are in reserve for them, and how sure God is to give them to all that seek?

We touch upon a most vital theme when we ask, What is the ministry of this age?

There is one sort more prevalent than is suspected, in which Christ and His doctrines are made subordinate--often one may hope unconsciously--to philosophy, erudition, and rhetoric. The only place which is left for the Gospel,is that of a prologue, or a peroration, or sometimes even a parenthesis. The sadness of it is, that such sermons are often preached with much acceptance; and the sorrow of it is, they are sometimes preached by, apparently, earnest and sincere men, who are trammeled by training, or what they suppose to be the demands of the age. They are men it may be of many gifts; but none the less is the hearer left like the poor starved Traveller in the fable, who found a pilgrim's pouch beside a well, and cried, "Here is my food!" but as he opened it, he sighed, "Alas! they are only pearls!" O ye who teach the people,--tricking out the Truth of God in all your finery that she may pass with credit--trust her in her white-robed simplicity. Have you not sometimes seen with shame how the homely, wholesome barley-loaf was eagerly eaten, when all your fine confections failed!

But passing by this class, and coming to the devoted men who desire to be utterly faithful in their stewardship -- do they tell of these spiritual privileges? Do they seek--"striving mightily"--to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus? Do not even these falter? Or, if the fulness of Christ be proclaimed, is it not often as a study for our admiration? If the beauty of holiness be delineated, is it not as one of the lost arts? Is it often preached not only as a possible, but a probable attainment?

There is a reason for this neglect, which may be assigned the more freely, as it would be the reason often given by God's servants themselves--that they have no such experience; and that they can not really expect their hearers to be influenced by mere precept. A joint reason might be added, that they do not see around them the living examples of such truth.

At the same time there can be little doubt that many most honestly hold back, because they have proved some flaw in the teaching, or some falsity in the life, of those who have attempted to present the higher truths of the Gospel. They are thus far right, that of all shams, that of Sanctification is the most sickening--of all hollow pretences, that of holiness is most fearful. But all falsities, all crudities, by which man may surround the Truth, do not for a moment make that Truth itself less real or less lovely.

Of old, they were ten against two, who brought the evil report, and discouraged the hearts of the people. What a warning against being guided by majorities in the things of God, or entrusting His cause to a human jury! Has He not said, "Let God be true and every man a liar!"

Yet the Lord does not so leave His truth to be utterly deserted. He had His two witnesses even then. And who now ever cares to remember those other ten? Their names are put on record, but are read unheeded--Caleb and Joshua are alone remembered and honored. Their nobility and their fidelity make every kindred chord throughout our hearts to vibrate. Surely no other two than they could have borne upon their shoulders those grapes of Eshcol! Bringing their good report they brought its proof also. The Lord be praised that He ever reserves such witnesses. In every age there have been those who not only spoke glorious things of the City of God, but showed in their lives the choicest fruits of the Spirit. True, men instead of tasting their grapes, try to stone them with stones. They are ready to fling their hard thoughts and hard speeches against them for a time, but in the end they trust them.

But while such is the responsibility of the leaders of the people, there is another resting upon all. It is no real excuse to say as they did of old, "Our brethren have discouraged our heart," since our responsibility is this:--"Yet in this thing ye did not believe the Lord your God."

There are few Christians who appear to understand how fatal a sin is distrust. They are very apt to regard it as at worst an amiable weakness, while the real stamp of it is this: "He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar." [22] We try to disguise this doubting of God and His Word, by claiming that it is only doubt of ourselves; that in our case, God's Word still remaining true, there are such very practical difficulties that it can not be fulfilled; forgetting that these promises of God were addressed to man as he is, in all the weakness and disadvantage of his fallen nature, and that nothing in our own constitution or circumstances can be any hindrance to the mighty power of God.

What if we should begin to discount human promises as we do these Divine pledges? We see at once that we could do no greater wrong to the friends who love us. Every doubting of God's Word is a distinct step towards atheism--for if we take away from our thought of God our confidence in His love, or power, or truthfulness, what is there left to receive the name of God? Yet Christians who would be shocked beyond measure at the thought of committing such sins as either theft or falsehood, commit with scarcely a thought of wrong, this great sin of making God a liar! And then as He lets it happen to them according to their fears, they are foolish enough to accept this as a confirmation that they were right in their judgment. And because He still keeps over them His fatherly care, they are presumptuous enough to think that there is nothing so greatly amiss in their present position.

And thus there are those who will tell you that the Church of Christ was never more flourishing than now. They are ready to prove it by statistics of all sorts. Busy with their counting, they forget the ways of God, and see not the fingers that silently write amid their boasting, "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting." The Laodicean sign of entire satisfaction with themselves is fulfilled. They appeal to the wealth and solid worldly standing of their organizations, and say complacently, "We are rich and increased with goods." Success is their idol, and spirituality is set at naught. Mean time they seem blinded as to the final effect of such a low state of Christian attainment upon the world, and forget how powerless to win souls is a Church that is not Christ-like!

But along with the classes thus indicated, there is a large and daily increasing number, who earnestly desire some better thing; who have never assumed for themselves any such position of unfaithfulness, but simply find themselves involved in the general shortcoming. They are bent upon wholly following the Lord their God, if only He will show them His way, and lead them out of their perplexities. For all such may the blessed lessons that follow in the Book of Joshua be as a message from the living God. May He send out His light and truth, and guide them, and bring them to this land of blessing.

And now let some of these suggestions be still further enforced by a simple sequel to the fable that closed the preceding chapter.

Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, is sitting at the hour of the evening sacrifice in his tent door. Leaning upon his staff, he is watching with dim eyes the smoke of the Altar as it rises against the westward sky. Suddenly he is startled by a voice: "Art thou Nahshon the Prince of Judah?"

And he answered, "I am he, but I can not behold thy face. Tell me whence thou comest, and wherefore."

And the voice made answer, "I am Suli, from the land of Egypt. Dost thou not remember that eight and thirty years ago, I did eat bread in thy tent? Suffer me again to salute thee."

"Thou art welcome, O Suli, and it pleaseth me that thou hast turned thy feet hither once more while I am yet alive."

"I thank thee for thy welcome, O Prince, but I can not say in truth that I also am pleased to find thee where thou art. Despise not my pity, but I remember thy expectation of that 'good land and large,' as thou didst love to call it. Yet thou hast only shared the common doom of man. He is born to hope and disappointment. But thy sorrow, O Nahshon, is great beyond that of most!"

"Nay, Suli, thou art mistaken. I do not need thy pity. Hast thou not heard how great a nation we are become? When I was set over the house of Judah, they were but threescore and fourteen thousand and six hundred, and behold how greatly my own tribe has multiplied. See, also, how large are the camps of Issachar and Zebulun, who do pitch with me. Whereas those that are numbered in the camp of Ephraim are nearly fourscore thousand less. My own tribe has always taken the lead in our march. All this rejoiceth my heart."

"But I see not, O Nahshon, how this can comfort thee under the failure of which I spake."

"Failure, didst thou say? Suli, thou art mistaken. I do assure thee we have had great success. Behold, now, our Tabernacle. When I made my first offering therein, I gave one silver charger, the weight whereof was an hundred and thirty shekels. Likewise a silver bowl of seventy shekels. I filled them, moreover, with fine flour and oil, and gave with them a golden spoon full of incense: and one and twenty sacrifices, for burnt-offerings, and sin-offerings, and peace-offerings. Likewise did all the Princes. When I had first made mine own offering, no man of them all offered less."

"But thou art telling me of things that happened long since. I did hear of this offering of thine as I left thy tent before."

"Let me tell thee, then, of our present prosperity. Didst thou behold as thou earnest the cattle of Reuben and of Gad upon the pastures of Bashan? It is a land they say that excelleth for cattle, and their flocks and their herds have greatly multiplied."

"Thou dost not, O Nahshon, understand my thought. I spake concerning men, and not of cattle."

"Hast thou not, then, regarded the order of our camp? Behold our men of war--how they are trained to great skill! Behold the discipline that is observed through all the host!"

"I have observed all these things this day; but still I can but judge that all this training is only to be accounted of as the means unto some end. I do not behold an end that is worthy of it. With all these men of war you have not been able to enter that land."

"But hast thou considered, O Suli, what a training this manner of life is for us? Have we no need to be taught patient waiting and submission? It is a part of our belief that our shortcomings work together in the end for good. We are kept humble by this proving. Who knoweth how our heart might have been lifted up in pride had we dwelt upon the other side of Jordan?"

"How is it, O Nahshon, that in all this thou dost not speak of thy God? Thou didst ever make mention of Him, and not of thyself, when I did enter thy tent before. Is He still the God whom thou dost worship?"

"The same, O Suli! and He forgiveth us oft."

"Thou art wise, O Nahshon, and thy people with thee, to make the best of this failure, but it seemeth to me that thou art not wise when thou sayest that all is well with thee. Suffer me to ask one question further of thee. If, when Moses came to call you, he had only given you the promise of your God to bring you out of Egypt, and had said nothing at all of Canaan, but, furthermore, had told you plainly that you would spend forty years in the Desert, would you have followed him? Thinkest thou he could have roused the nation without so great a promise?"

"Thou hast spoken rightly, and therein, as it seemeth to me, was the wisdom of such a promise. We needed to set out with high hopes. There was time enough to learn afterwards to give them up, and to take the other blessings of which I spake."

"How sayest thou, O Nahshon! Is thy God then a Deceiver, who must deal falsely with you to draw you on? Surely, thou didst tell me, eight and thirty years ago, that He had given you such a promise, and that He would without fail give you that Land."

"I marvel, O Suli, that thou dost not understand this. The Land is ours. The promise is the same. None of us for a moment doubt it. In all our holy songs we still sing about it. We speak of it sometimes to one another, that it is ours by right, for God hath given it to us. And, indeed, the only trouble is that while we know it to be our home, we have not yet reached it."

"Nay, Nahshon, if this be thy philosophy, it is falsely so called; for surely, not to possess that which we have been promised, is worse than any poverty whatsoever. Thy words as thou speakest now, do contradict all whereof thou didst once assure me. One word thou spakest then--the saying of thy father Abraham--hath ever been borne in mind by me as the sublimest speech mine ears have ever heard-- 'What God hath promised He is able also to perform!' Not until then had I ever heard of a God of real power, who had never failed to help His worshipers. A strange whisper sounded through my soul, 'This is that unknown God for whom thou seekest!' Yet have I wandered on, over many lands, having resolved to spend my days in seeking after that which is true, and to make out what I might of this great riddle of life, and to learn of those mysterious beings, whom we see not, but who no less clearly seem to exist. And now I had come back to thy people as the people of the True and Living God. But from that which thou hast told me, I perceive that thou wast mistaken. Even He is not true! All others, I am well persuaded, are false; and now I must die, despairing of ever knowing whether there be a God that has power upon earth or no. Thou mayest be satisfied for thyself, but thou hast made the heart of thy servant sad."

"Stay, stay, my friend! Thou dost force me to confess that which I should have told thee at the first. Our God was faithful and true; but we ourselves became disobedient, and refused to enter the land because of our fears. Therefore are all we who are men to die in the wilderness; and our children are yet to possess it, if they be willing and obedient. Only a few remain among the living, and already, as thou seest, O Suli! is my strength decaying before my time. So soon as the last of us hath departed, they will cross over Jordan and possess that land. I rejoice for the sake of my children, for far be it from them to live the life which I have lived. I can only trust that we may render this service to our God; that all who follow will be warned by our example, what a fearful thing and bitter it is not to believe iri the word of our God. Surely all generations to come will point the finger at us as they say, 'Take heed lest ye also come short after this example of unbelief.' I must die, but may thy life, O Suli! be spared to see with thine own eyes what glorious things the Lord our God can do. And then, surely, thou wilt cast in thy lot with this people, and thou wilt say, 'This God shall be my God for ever and ever. He is true and faithful altogether.'"


1. Num. xiii. 21.

2. Num. xiii. 22.

3. Num. xiii. 27.

4. Num. xiii. 28, 29.

5. Num. xiii. 30.

6. Num. xiii. 31.

7. Num. xiii. 33.

8. Ex. xv.

9. Num. xiv. i.

10. Num. xiv. 3, 4.

11. Num. xiv. 7-9.

12. Num. xiv. 10.

13. Num. xiv. 11.

14. Ps. lxxviii. 19-22

15. Num. xiv. 20.

16. Num. civ. 22.

17. Num. xiv. 28-34.

18. Num. xiv. 37.

19. Deut. i. 31.

20. Acts xiii. 18. "The beauty of this metaphor has been lost to the authorized version on account of the reading (...) adopted in the Textus Receptus. Griesbach, Scholz, and Lachman restored the latter reading on the authority of the Uncial MSS., A. C. E. We regret to see that Teschendorf has reinstated the former reading (because it has a somewhat greater weight of MSS. of the Greek Testament in its favor) without taking into account the evident allusion to Deut. i. 31, where ... is acknowledged to be the correct reading."--Conybeare and Howson's Life and Epistles of St. Paul, vol. i. chap. vi.

21. Heb. iii. 17--iv. 3.

22. 1 John v. 10.