Numbers 12: Follow God Wholeheartedly.
There aren’t many heroes in Numbers, but Caleb is one. Even Moses makes his mistakes and loses heart (11:13-15; 20:10-12). The other leaders were even worse, jealous and fractious (Numbers 12 & 16). The spies who came back to the camp spread fear and discouragement, and the people at large spend most of the book grumbling and in a state of near perpetual rebellion. But Caleb had ‘a different spirit’ (14:24).
Really it should be Caleb and Joshua that we point to as heroes. They both believed in God’s promises and both tried together to persuade the people to go on into the Promised Land. They are the only two members of their generation who are permitted to take possession of the Promised Land ‘for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly‘. Joshua was a great and courageous leader through whom the Lord worked powerfully, but there was something about Caleb that was unique. He is the only person in the whole Bible who we’re told ‘has a different spirit‘.
This distinction puts Caleb in a very special group of people in the Bible who were sold out for God. Alongside Abraham who ‘was called God’s friend‘ (James 2:23), Moses, who would speak with God face to face ‘as one speaks to a friend‘ (Exodus 33:11) and David, ‘a man after my [God’s] own heart‘ (Acts 13:22), should be Caleb, who had ‘a different spirit‘. Strangely neither Caleb nor Joshua are mentioned in Hebrews 11’s list of heroes of the faith, though surely verse 33 applies to them: ‘who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice and gained what was promised’.
Why is it so unusual and distinctive to be wholehearted for God? It’s a rare enough quality that the phrase only occurs a few times in the Bible in a descriptive sense, and obviously rare enough for the author of Numbers to draw attention to it in Caleb’s case. The truth is, there are many of us who are half-hearted for God, but very few who are wholehearted.
Why do so few people find God? It’s because they do not seek Him with all their heart. Loads of us can quote Jeremiah 29:11 off by heart, because we want to prosper and love the thought that God has ‘plans to give you a hope and a future‘, but very few of us know Jeremiah 29:13, where God says, ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’ I know loads of people who have sought God but not found Him and come away frustrated and disillusioned. Could it be that they didn’t seek Him with all their hearts? Maybe some of us keep missing God because we’re only half-interested: we want all the good stuff but aren’t willing to give up control or do things His way. It’s very hard to follow God wholeheartedly if a big part of us wants to still be our own boss.
Intentionality, not Perfection
What does it mean to follow God wholeheartedly? It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. If it did, then only Jesus could ever have done it, because only He was perfect (2 Cor. 5:21). You can be wholehearted and still get it wrong sometimes. We all mess up, and that includes Caleb. He wasn’t perfect, any more than those other heroes, Abraham, Moses and David, were perfect. They all made mistakes, we’re just not told about any of Caleb’s failures in Numbers. We shouldn’t idolise these men or put them on pedestals, but we should aim to learn from them and emulate them.
So, if it’s not about perfection, what it is about? It’s about following God even when the place He’s leading you is scary. It’s about trusting God, even if you don’t understand what’s going on. It’s about living by faith, and having the courage to follow God wherever He goes. It doesn’t matter if you stumble along the way, what matters is when the crunch decision moments come up you: are you going to follow God or shy away? When push comes to shove, those who are wholehearted will choose God and those who aren’t will fall away.
Being wholehearted is about being intentional. It’s about choosing to do things God’s way on a daily basis (Luke 9:23). Every day we have the same choice: do I live for myself today, or do I live for God? Being wholehearted is when we answer that question routinely with a commitment to God’s way.
The things of this world are constantly playing upon our fallen human nature to capture our hearts and divide our loyalty to God by mixing it with other things. Pleasures, privileges and possessions are constantly trying to tug us towards the world and away from God, and each of us face a daily battle to say no to these things and keep our hearts wholly for God. We need the Holy Spirit’s help to do this, but we are succeeding when we move more towards God than towards the world. Our goal should be to become a little bit more dedicated to him every day.
A Daily Decision
Wholeheartedness doesn’t come all at once. It’s a daily decision. It’s a state of being built up over many years and many little steps. If you’re not wholehearted now, you can be. You simply have to choose to be. Make this your prayer every day: ‘May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees, that I may not be put to shame.’ (Psalm 119:80). In whatever we do, let us follow Paul’s urging: ‘Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do‘. (Ephesians 6:7-8).
Caleb and Joshua can testify to the rewards of wholeheartedness. Not only do we have the privilege of finding God and entering His good plans for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11-13), but we’ll be blessed. Caleb and Joshua entered their inheritance from the Lord because they followed God wholeheartedly (Joshua 14:6-9). Caleb drove out of Hebron ‘the three Anakites’ (Joshua 15:14) – the very people the rest of the Israelites and had been so afraid of (Numbers 13:33). They received land, wealth, prosperity and peace. Caleb boasted that he was as vigorous at 85 as he had been at 40 (Joshua 14:10-11), so good health was clearly part of the reward as well. Theirs was a physical inheritance, but ours is a spiritual, eternal inheritance. I believe we’ll be blessed in this life if we follow God wholeheartedly, but how much more will we be blessed in heaven, thanks to Jesus?
All this leaves us with a question: what can you do today to be more wholehearted?
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